Pamukkale, which has been used as a spa since the second century BC, literally means "cotton castle" in Turkish.
The travertine features have their origins in the shifting of a fault in the valley of the Menderes river (between here and Denizli). As the fault shifted, very hot springs with a very high mineral content (notably chalk) arose at this location. Apart from the slightly radioactive minerals, the calcium and hydrogen carbonate react to create calcium carbonate (also known as travertine) and limestone. This is what gives Pamukkale its whiteness and created the pools.
It can get quite hot in summer, a hat and especially sunglasses will certainly be very helpful against the sun and the reflecting sun rays from the chalky cascades. On the other hand, the cold winter climate could make the experience slightly uncomfortable. Climbing up the cascades barefoot, with cold water running downstream will be a tough task
The nearest major city is Denizli, where you will likely arrive first before getting to Pamukkale.
- Closest airport is Denizli - Cardak Airport is 65 km or 1 hour away and there are flights six times daily to Istanbul.
- Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport is another alternative to the area. Pamukkale is 252 km from the airport, a drive of about 4 hours (4-1/2 to 5 hours by bus) or 6-7 hours by train. (Check TCDD for train schedule.)
The nearest train station is in Denizli, which currently has services from Izmir only. The Istanbul service (Pamukkale Express) was suspended in 2008, presumably because of track renovations, and it is not certain when/if the services will re-start.
Buses to Pamukkale/Denizli can be found from almost all Turkish cities. Their services include water, hot drinks and a snack. There are virtually no bus companies that take you directly to Pamukkale despite what the ticket sellers tell you. The bus will drop you in Denizli and then you have to get on the free minibus to Pamukkale (about 20 km away).
From Denizli bus station, take a dolmuş, a type of cheap communal taxi that usually seats about 10 (but it's possible they'll squeeze in more). Frequent mini-buses serve the village of Pamukkale in a 20 minute ride, which costs 3 YTL per trip.
Even when you're way on the edge of the village, you can reach everything (i.e. the village center and the travertine pools) on foot in about ten to fifteen minutes.
Travertines and Hierapolis
There are three entry gates, one at the bottom of the travertines and two at the top. A shuttle will take you between gates for 2 TL. Entry to Hierapolis and the travertines is a single ticket that costs 35 TL (August 2016). Entrance is from 08:00 - 21:00 daily.
The travertine terraces above Pamukkale and below the ancient city of Hierapolis are a UNESCO World Heritage site. This "Cotton Castle" is accessed via a gate near Pamukkale, and the walk up takes about 30 minutes and offers numerous opportunities to soak in pools that are generally no more than a foot deep. Tough pollution control regulations require removing your shoes in order to walk on them (so bring something to put your shoes in!), so the travertines stay white as ever. This job is made tougher in winters when the water flowing down the chalky cascades will be freezing cold.
At the top of the travertines lies the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis. The ruins of the city sprawl over a large area, but sites are well-marked and there are trails that can be easily followed. The 12,000-seat amphitheater is in excellent condition and is a highlight, as are the town gates and main road. In addition, the town is home to the Martyrium of St. Phillip, a pilgrimage site that is supposedly the site where the apostle Philip was martyred and buried. The church at the site is in ruins, but its foundations reveal an unusual octagonal plan.
You can soak in the antique pool for an extra fee (32 TL combination ticket with the travertines and Heiroplolis), it's a hot spring pool that still has sections of the original marble columns in it. Additionally, the museum is housed in the former Roman baths and can be visited for an additiona 5 TL (opening hours 8am-5pm, Tu-Su). It contains three rooms housing some of the artifacts found during excavations of Hierapolis, including sarcophagi.
Other than the travertines and Roman city of Hierapolis, places worth a look around Pamukkale are:
- 1 Laodikya (6 km from Pamukkale on the Denizli road. Take the bus towards Denizli. Tell the driver you want to go to Laodikiya, he will drop you off on the side of the road next to the sign. From there, turn right following the sign and walk for about 15 minutes and you'll get to the site.). Another lesser known site, but one that holds a considerable significance Biblically is Laodikya. It's mentioned in the Bible as one of the 7 Churches of the Revelations and even though it hasn't been reconstructed as much as the more famous sites like Ephesus, is a great place to experience the Roman history without the crowds. A peaceful way to spend a day looking at ruins but also the beautiful scenery there as well. 10 TL.
- Colossae. Ancient ruins 7kms from Pamukkale. It used to be an ancient city of Phrygia. It has never been excavated.
- 2 Karahayit (5 minutes from Pamukkale by local bus. Once you get to the last bus stop head to the northern edge of the town where springs and mud bath located.). The red spring is not even nearly as big as the calcium outcrop in Pamukkale, but worth a look. You might also want to try their mud baths. The entry to the site is free.
- Kaklik caves. They are like a small version of Pamukkale, but in a cave, underground and are about 30 minutes from Pamukkale.
- You can walk down barefooted in the waterfalls from the village. The place is crowded when the tour-buses arrive. No shoes are allowed on the travertines. If you don't want to walk back to top, you can use the buses dropping off people back to top, which depart from near lower end of the travertines. You should wear swimming suit. A lot of people bath in the baths here.
- 1 Thermal pool in the Hierapolis area also called "Cleopatra Pool's". Swim with Roman ruins in a large natural swimming pool located just past the topmost travertines. 32 TL.
- Paragliding. Lots of paragliding options. Some are short another last longer.
- Boat riding (before entrance to travertines there is a nice park with a lake, free entrance). You can try riding a boat or feeding a ducks there.
The Pamukkale/Denizli area is famous for its cotton and homewares. These are becoming sought after world wide (Arnold Schwarzenegger decked out his house in curtains and furnishings especially made in Denizli - so the story goes!) and the best place to go is the town of Buldan, about 30 minutes drive from Pamukkale. Many of the other souvenirs and traditional Turkish wares that you can find in other parts of Turkey are cheaper around Denizli/Pamukkale because they are produced there.
Safak Halı Pazarı, Atatürk Caddesi No 30, ☎ . You can find locally handmade carpet and kilim, towels, tablecloths, ceramics, onyx, scarfs, and many different kind of souvenirs. Homewares are also cheap here.
The best and freshest food is to be found in the small family run pensions, but for a great open air restaurant where you can eat 'borek' the Turkish pancakes and gaze across the valley, try Alis on the main highway just before you come into the town.
- Mehmets Heaven, on the main street near the Travertines has an excellent view of Pamukkale from his porch out back. Great food and well priced. Super nice owner as well.
- Kayas Wine House, Kale Mah. Ataturk Cad. No 3 (centre), ☎ . Recently started serving food, not only Turkish but also international (Korean, Japanese...) in traditional but trendy surroundings. Located in the centre of town, close to all the major hotels.
- Lamuko's Lokanta, Main Street Pamukkale, ☎ . Japanese and Korean food in the centre of Pamukkale, next to Pamukkale Bus Company office. Delicious!
- Kale Hotel, Atatürk Cad. 16 (on the main street in the centre of town), ☎ . This place has great Chinese, Korean, and Japanese food at an excellent deal. It also serves Turkish food, but is a great change if you'd like something other than gözleme, pide or kebabs. Entrees are around 10 TL and it has beer and wine.
- Ayran is a salty yogurt drink similar to a salty lassi. It may be an acquired taste, but should be tried while in Turkey.
- The wines produced in the Pamukkale area are becoming quite famous and are winning awards for the quality and standard. Note that Turkish wine may disappoint.
- Raki is a traditional Turkish drink, generally served with mezes (tapas like appetizers, generally followed by a fish or meat dish). With an anise-seed flavor, it may be an acquired taste. Great with fish or any long meal as it is meant to open up your appetite.
- Efes or Tuborg are the go-to beers in all of Turkey, and are often the only beers available.
There are small family-run pensions at the village south of the travertines. Most have swimming-pools filled with the warm greenish milky water from the travertines. They also offer very delicious Turkish food.
- Artemis Yoruk Hotel, Atatürk Cad. 48/A, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Hotel just opposite the bus stop with a pool and a nice garden, and a rooftop restaurant which serves traditional Turkish food. Rooms with en-suite, TV, and air-con. Owners can speak English. € 12/€ 20 single/double rooms, including breakfast. On their advertisements, dorms are touted as € 9 pp, including breakfast, but they insist on a price of 25 TL (about € 14) if you just show up. There are cheaper accommodations of this type further down the road.
- Hotel Dört Mevsim (While the Turkish name dört mevsim translates to “Four Seasons”, the hotel is neither affiliated nor has any similarity to the hotel chain), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 7:30AM-11:30PM, check-out: 11:30AM. Very friendly and welcoming family-run hotel with free wi-fi, swimming pool, free car park, babysitting service, and air-con. They allow pets at no extra cost. They also have a campground on their yard. Very delicious dinner is freshly cooked in the evening for 15 TL pp. from € 18/€ 26 single/double rooms, € 10 pp dorms, all including breakfast. Visa, Euro/Mastercard are accepted.
- 1 Kale Hotel, Kale Mah. Atatürk Cad. 16 (on the main street in the centre of town), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: 11AM. A family-run guesthouse. Rooms with satellite TV. Roof-top terrace, swimming pool, free wi-fi, Ottoman Corner, restaurant, day trips and excursions.
Verify the reviews on popular booking sites, as they don't seem that good. € 12.
- Koray Hotel, Pamuk Mah. Fevzi Çakmak Cad. 29, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Friendly and family-run, with garden bar and restaurant and a large swimming pool. Rooms with satellite TV. The hotel can organize day tours, express bus tickets, plane tickets, and offers a transfer service.
- Melrose House Hotel, Vali Vekfi Ertürk Cad. 8, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A nice family-run pansiyon at the eastern end of town with nice rooms, all of which have air-con. The friendly owners serve cheap but tasty home cooked meals. There's a laundry service and a pool filled with spring water. They also used to allow campers to put up their tents. ~30€ double rooms, including breakfast. Credit cards are NOT accepted.
- Öztürk White Hill Hotel, Pamuk Mah. Fevzi Çakmak Cad. 31. A small family-owned hostel.
- Sinter Terasse Hause Hotel, Pamuk Mah. Hasan Tahsin Cad. 22, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. A comfortable, family run hotel with wireless internet access and cable TV. Rooms with en-suite, and air-con. Staff can speak English and German. € 20/€28 single/double rooms, including breakfast.
- Venüs Hotel, Pamuk Mah. Hasan Tahsin Cad. 16, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A comfortable hotel with wireless internet access, a swimming pool filled with thermal water from travertines. Rooms with en-suite, and air-con. Staff can speak English. € 20/€28 single/double rooms, including breakfast.
- It is also worth making the effort to get to the remains of the ancient city of Aphrodisias—one of the best preserved Roman sites in southeastern Aegean. You can rent a van from Denizli to get there. Local bus companies will arrange bus tours for 30-40 TL pp (usually a minimum of 4 people is required ).
- Of moderate interest might be visiting Denizli. It's a bit dull but there's a lively market.
- From Denizli one can transfer to, among other options, Selçuk & its Roman ruins of Ephesus, or the popular Mediterranean resort city of Antalya. Just shop around at the various travel agencies scattered throughout Pamukkale to get the best price quotes, though beware their mark-ups for fees/"taxes" (in particular, Neşe Tours charges high hidden "taxes": e.g. 45 TL for a bus to Bergama that was supposed to include the 3 TL dolmuş price to Denizli, when in fact the dolmuş must be paid extra upon arriving in Denizli, and one could buy the same Bergama bus ticket for a mere 30 TL at the Denizli bus station counter).