After my stay near Ephesus, I wasn’t sure how to get to Pamukkale, the next stop on my itinerary. But research revealed that a combination of train and bus would do the trick.
The train ride from Selcuk/Ephesus was a relaxed 3 ½ hours to Denizli where I’d need to find the bus station to catch a “dolmas” (a shared mini-bus that is a staple of travel within Turkey) to Pamukkale, about 25 minutes away. I’d gotten my first glimpse of the white mountains of Pamukkale from the train as we pulled into the Denzili station and I was excited to get up there and explore.
The bus station was pretty easy to find using my time-proven solid strategy of just following the other tourist-looking people with luggage. Since the dolmas leave every 15 minutes there was one waiting and we were off in just minutes.
Where to Stay in Pamukkale
For my brief stay in Pamukkale I chose the Venus Hotel based on its Trip Advisor reviews. There’s not much to the actual town when you visit Pamukkale and it seemed to be the best choice in the area.
Owned and operated by the Dormus family since 1991, this small bed and breakfast was centrally-located just a short walk away from both the bus stop and the exit to the travertines.
My room was adorable (code for tiny but well-decorated) but the best part about staying at the Venus is that the manager, Yusuf, was always available to give you a lift up to the south entrance to the travertines (way up at the top of the hill) and then you could leisurely work your way down the hill and walk back to the hotel whenever you were ready.
Yusef showed me a map of the site including the Heriopolis and explained where he would drop me, what there was to see and 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 was a bargain at around $60 a night.
Best Time of Day to Visit Pamukkale
Inside my room was 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 was late in the afternoon around 4-5pm and then to stay until sunset. It was almost 3:00pm by this time so that sounded like a great plan.
It had been raining off and on all day but by 4:00pm the sun was shining so I headed out. Rain or shine, I was going up that mountain.
When I came downstairs Yusuf looked at me appraisingly and asked if I had an umbrella. I didn’t, just a thin rain jacket stuffed in my bag.
He rummaged around the office until he found one to loan me and then dropped me and a few other guests off at the top of the hill near the ticket booth. I bought my entrance ticket and began 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 “white castle.”
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 dry?
The first thing I noticed was that some pools were dry while others were 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 a road with vehicle traffic.
UNESCO Steps In
The hotels, the road and just too many people in the pools, caused a big environmental problem. 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 and 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 was sandpaper-like abrasive but comfortable in most places. Though some spots felt like walking on coral. It was remarkably non-slippery which made for good footing – always a helpful thing while wading through ankle-deep waters on the side of a mountain.
For a while, the sun was out and the weather was nice. I walked leisurely from terrace to terrace, taking pictures and wading into the warm water up to my knees. It really was like being at a spa. Lots of other people milled about – tour groups and locals, alike – but since the site is so large it never felt crowded.
A Rain Delay
Two hours into my Pamukkale visit, storm clouds moved in. It looked like we were in for another torrential downpour.
No problem, I was prepared.
It was still only 5pm and I was hopeful that the storm would move through and there might still be a nice sunset to photograph so I’d brought my iPad in case I needed to kill a little time waiting for the light to change (and to wait out any possible thunderstorms).
Two outdoor cafes at the top of the mountain offered refreshments but no real shelter other than some shady trees. I chose the one with the most tree coverage, bought a beer and an ice cream (a perfectly balanced meal covering all the basic vacation food groups) and sat down to wait out the looming storm.
No sooner had I taken that first sip of beer, than I felt the first raindrops. Again, no problem. Totally prepared thanks to Yusuf. I popped up my umbrella, pulled 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 declared Armageddon and ran screaming for cover under the café’s lone tiny awning as the few rain drops quickly escalated into a major downpour complete with thunder and lightning.
The torrential rain lasted for about 45 minutes after which it was safe to resume normal activity. The sun came back out briefly but there were still ominous clouds looming in the distance so it was pretty clear the rain was not done.
As the next storm moved closer, I continued exploring the terraces and taking photos of the dark sky against the white terraces. Though I was far from the exit, I figured when the rain returned I’d just pop up my umbrella and start heading down.
An ill-advised exit strategy…
The next storm came quickly, with rain in sheets this time, blowing strongly across the side of the mountain. Those already along the path toward the exit rapidly disappeared down the hill toward the gate.
Suddenly I realized I was just about the only one left on the hill, so I quickened my pace across the top of the travertines toward the exit path.
The rain continued pounding my umbrella and the wind threatened to rip it from my hands. Head down, electronics bundled tightly, I moved steadily forward down the long path. Since I was still walking through travertine pools I also carried my shoes. Awkward since the umbrella currently required two hands to brace it against the wind.
Meanwhile, the lightning strikes that I’d thought were cool a few minutes ago increased in frequency and proximity and were regularly complemented by roars of thunder.
I couldn’t help thinking that it didn’t seem super smart to be walking down the side of a mountain in ankle-deep water carrying a metal umbrella. But options were few at this point, so I pressed on, the bottom of the hill in clear sight below.
I stepped gingerly over the coral-like rough stretches of travertine, focusing on remaining upright and eventually made it past the exit gates and onto the main road in town.
Pamukkale Recovery Mode
The rain was relentless. Drenched from the waist down, I was also cold and hungry (beer and ice cream for lunch, not as filling as you might think). With my visit to Pamukkale complete, I ducked into the first restaurant I saw and stopped for a hot meal.
After dinner, the rain abated for the 15-minute walk back to the hotel. Yusuf seemed relieved to see me and I thanked 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 noticed how amazingly smooth and soft my feet were! I guess walking around for hours on travertine in the warm waters was a bit like walking on a pumice stone for hours.
Certainly better results than I’d ever had from a pedicure and a little bonus to go along with the entry fee to visit Pamukkale!
The Best Way to Get From Pamukkale to Cappadocia
After a terrific Pamukkale visit, the next morning it was time to begin the journey to my next stop in Cappadocia.
First up, a noon train to Izmir. The train from Pamukkale (Denizli station) to Izmir turned out to be a genius way to cover the 4-hour distance to Izmir.
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 found 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 were 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 Cappadocia!