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Inside: Why the spectacular travertine terraces of Pamukkale are a must-see in Turkey. Plus: Everything you need to know to plan your visit!
After a terrific stay near Ephesus, my next stop on this 30-day trip from Moscow to the Med is Pamukkale, Turkey.
Read More: Ephesus with Ease
But how to get from Ephesus to Pamukkale?
Research reveals that a combination of train and bus will do the trick. The train ride from Selcuk/Ephesus is a relaxed 3 ½ hours to Denizli.
I get my first glimpse of the white mountains of Pamukkale from the train as we pull into the Denzili station. It’s remarkable, even from a distance and I can’t wait to get up there and explore.
Once off the train in Denzili, I find the bus station and catch a “dolmas” (a shared mini-bus that is a staple of travel within Turkey) to Pamukkale, about 25 minutes away.
Dolmas leave every 15 minutes and luckily there is one ready and waiting.
Where to Stay in Pamukkale
For my brief stay in Pamukkale, I chose the Venus Hotel based on its glowing reviews and it did not disappoint. There’s not much to the actual town when you visit Pamukkale and the Venus Hotel seems to be the best choice in the area.
Owned and operated by the Dormus family since 1991, this small bed and breakfast is centrally located in Pamukkale. Just a short walk away from both the bus stop and the exit to the travertines.
My room is adorable (code for tiny but well-decorated). But the best part about staying at the Venus is the manager, Yusuf, who is always available to give you a lift up to the south entrance to the travertines.
This is a nice perk since the south entrance is WAY up at the top of the hill. From there, you can leisurely work your way down the hill exploring the terraces, and walk back to the hotel whenever you’re ready.
Yusef shows me a map of the site including the Heriopolis. He explains where he will drop me off, what to see, and finally how to get back to the hotel from the exit.
I’m really enjoying how helpful all of these small Turkish B&B’s have been so far, it’s like having a hotel, guide and driver all rolled into one.
And again, this hotel is a total bargain at around $60 a night.
Pamukkale Hours & Ticket Prices
Oddly, the opening hours for Pamukkale are unclear when you search online. Some sites say that summer hours are 8:00am – 7:00pm daily, while others maintain that the public pools are open 24 hours.
When I visited during July, the posted hours were 6:30am – 8:00pm daily. But they do vary by season. This hotel site is actually the most updated site I’ve found for checking the current opening hours for Pamukkale.
It’s not possible (or necessary) to book tickets in advance so you’ll need to book them on arrival at the ticket office. The basic entrance ticket is 110 Turkish Lira (about $7 US). The additional ticket for a swim in Cleopatra’s Pool is 50 Turkish Lira (about $3 USD).
Best Time of Day to Visit Pamukkale
Inside my room, there’s another helpful information book about the site of Pamukkale and some basic visitor info.
According to the book, the best time of day to visit Pamukkale is late in the afternoon around 4-5pm and then to stay until sunset. By now, it’s almost 3:00pm so this sounds like a great plan.
It’s been raining off and on all day but by 4:00pm the sun is shining so I head out. I’m only here for one day so, rain or shine, I’m going up that mountain!
When I come downstairs Yusuf looks at me appraisingly and asks if I have an umbrella.
I do not. Just a thin rain jacket stuffed in my bag.
He rummages around the office until he finds one to loan me and then drops me and a few other guests off at the top of the hill near the ticket booth. I buy my entrance ticket and begin the walk through the enormous grounds toward the travertine terraces.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pamukkale Turkey
Though photos of Pamukkale often just show the iconic travertine terraces, the entire site also includes the ruins of the ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis, which was built on top of the “cotton castle.”
The ancient Hierapolis (Holy City in Turkish) was founded as a thermal spa in the 2nd century BC. The ruins of this ancient Greek city are located atop the hot springs, adjacent to the travertine terraces.
While many visitors head straight for the billowing terraces and skip Hierapolis completely, it’s definitely worth a visit! Especially the incredible amphitheater.
Atop the travertine pools, there’s also a modern spa facility fed by the same hot springs known as Cleopatra’s Pool. Once favored by the Queen of Egypt, the pool’s clear warm healing waters are accented by fallen Roman columns to navigate around.
Note: If you want to swim in the pool, it’s a separate entrance fee from the terraces. But there’s no charge to enter the garden if you just want to see the pool.
The travertine terraces
Though they have the appearance of salt, the scalloped terraces of Pamukkale are actually made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by the thermal waters of 17 hot water springs.
The temperature of the water ranges from 95 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
Why are some pools at Pamukkale dry?
The first thing I notice at Pamukkale is that some pools are dry while others are filled with water.
The helpful book in my room explained there were once five hotels atop the travertine area taking water from the pools. During that time, the walking path used today was actually a road with vehicle traffic.
UNESCO Steps In
The hotels, the road, and the volume of people in the pools, caused a big environmental problem. And in 1997, UNESCO came in and took down the hotels and stopped people from going in all of the pools.
Today, there is a channel system in place to keep some pools dry for several days while water flows to others. This changes frequently and since the system was put in place the site has been slowly recovering.
Wearing shoes in the pools is strictly prohibited. If you forget to take them off you’ll quickly earn the attention of a security guard and a screech of his whistle.
Walking on the travertine is abrasive in a sandpaper-like way but comfortable in most places. Though some spots do feel a bit like walking on coral.
It is, however, remarkably non-slippery which makes for good footing. Always a helpful thing when wading through ankle-deep waters on the side of a mountain.
Can you swim in Pamukkale?
Yes. As you can see in the photo below, soaking in some of the therapeutic pools is indeed allowed. The particular pools where swimming is not allowed are clearly marked. However, since they are so shallow, actual swimming would be tough! But you should absolutely take the opportunity to soak your feet in the water, at the very least.
You can enjoy a soak in the public travertine pools (which are included with your ticket) or you can buy the additional ticket for Cleopatra’s Pool and swim there.
For a while, the sun is out and the weather is lovely. I walk leisurely from terrace to terrace, taking pictures and wading into the warm water up to my knees.
It really is like being at a spa. Lots of other people are milling about – tour groups and locals, alike – but since the site is so large it never feels crowded.
A Rain Delay
Two hours into my Pamukkale visit, storm clouds move in. It looks like we’re in for another torrential downpour.
No problem, I am prepared.
It’s still only 5:00pm and I am hopeful the storm will move through before sunset. Luckily, I brought my iPad just in case I needed to kill a little time waiting for sunset (or to wait out any possible thunderstorms).
There are two outdoor cafes at the top of the mountain offered refreshments but no real shelter other than some shady trees.
I choose the one with the most tree coverage, buy a beer and an ice cream (a perfectly balanced meal covering all the basic vacation food groups), and sit down to wait out the looming storm.
Just as I take my first sip of beer, I feel the first raindrops. Again, no problem. Thanks to Yusef, I am totally prepared!
I pop up my umbrella, pull out my rain jacket for a little extra protection for the electronics, and read my book while enjoying my beer and ice cream.
Meanwhile, everyone else around me declares Armageddon and runs screaming for cover under the café’s lone tiny awning. The few raindrops quickly escalate into a major downpour complete with thunder and lightning.
The torrential rain lasts nearly an hour and then it is safe to resume normal activity. The sun shines briefly but ominous clouds still loom in the distance. It’s pretty clear the rain is not done.
As the next storm moves closer, I continue exploring the terraces.
I’m pretty far from the exit by now, but I figure when the rain returns I’ll just pop up my umbrella and start heading down.
An ill-advised Pamukkale exit strategy…
The next storm comes quickly with rain in sheets this time, blowing strongly across the side of the mountain. Those already along the path toward the exit rapidly disappear down the hill toward the gate.
Suddenly I realize I’m just about the only one left on the hill. I quicken my pace across the top of the travertines toward the exit path.
The rain continues to pound my umbrella and the wind threatens to rip it from my hands. Head down, electronics bundled tightly, I move steadily forward down the long path.
Since I am still walking through travertine pools I am also still carrying my shoes. Awkward since the umbrella currently requires two hands to brace it against the wind.
Meanwhile, the lightning strikes that were cool for pictures a few minutes ago are now increasing in frequency and getting closer. Thunder booms after every strike.
I can’t help but think that it doesn’t seem super smart to be walking down the side of a mountain in ankle-deep water carrying a metal umbrella. But my options are few at this point, so I press on. The bottom of the hill is now in clear sight below.
Eventually, I make it safely past the exit gates and onto the main road in town.
Pamukkale Recovery Mode
The rain is relentless and I’m now drenched from the waist down. I’m also cold and hungry (beer and ice cream for lunch, not as filling as you might think).
With my visit to Pamukkale complete, I duck into the first restaurant I see for a hot meal.
After dinner, the rain abates for the 15-minute walk back to the hotel. Yusuf seems relieved to see me and I thank him profusely for the umbrella, without which I would have been completely sunk.
The World’s Greatest Pedicure
After a sorely-needed hot shower, I notice how amazingly smooth and soft my feet are!
I guess walking around for hours on travertine in the warm waters is a bit like walking on a pumice stone for hours.
Certainly better results than I’ve ever had from a pedicure and a nice little bonus to go along with my entry fee to visit Pamukkale!
The Best Way to Get From Pamukkale to Cappadocia
After a terrific Pamukkale visit, the next morning it’s time to begin the journey to my next stop, Cappadocia.
First up, a noon train to Izmir. The train from Pamukkale (Denizli station) to Izmir turns out to be a genius way to cover the 4-hour distance to Izmir.
Yesterday, my bus ride from Bodrum to Selcuk was pleasant enough, but the roads were a little too bumpy to get any real work done on my laptop during the drive.
The train, however, is a much smoother ride with more legroom and bigger tray tables for workspace. And as a bonus, thanks to a tip on the super helpful Turkey Travel Planner site, I find the one row of seats in the end car with a power outlet…score!
Yes, I’m backtracking to get to Cappadocia by going back through Izmir. But the travel options from Pamukkale to Cappadocia are surprisingly bleak (think 8-hour bus ride).
As it turns out, the best way to get from Pamukkale to Cappadocia is an inexpensive and comfortable train ride to Izmir. Followed by a flight from Izmir to Kayseri (one of the closest airports to Cappadocia). I managed to find a flight for less than $50 on Turkish low-cost carrier Sun Express.
So after one brief night in Izmir; tomorrow, it’s on to the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia!