Pamukkale, Turkey - The Cotton Castle
Pamukkale literally translates to 'Cotton Castle' in Turkish... and once you get here, it's easy to see why...
How to get there?
We travelled up from Antalya by bus, it was about 3.5 hours drive to reach Denizli in southwestern Turkey. Many people come over on long day trips from Bodrum, Izmir, Kusadasi and Marmaris... they all range from 3-5 hour drives, usually arriving in the early afternoon and leaving again late day. We decided to stay over a couple nights, make sure we got some good weather, and its a good thing we did. Being end of February it's not quite as warm as it might appear in the photographs - unless you're nestled in a natural thermal pool that is. The temperature was 12 celsius at best and got as low as 5 degrees... so really not too bad but certainly not bikini weather aside from those cozy thermal pool moments.
Pamukkale is 20km away from Denizli. If you were to fly in to Denizli as some do on multi-centre trips from places like Istanbul, it's then just a 30-40 minute drive from Denizli town over to Pamukkale.
Where to stay?
A friend organised for us to stay right in Pamukkale town at Doga Thermal Hotel. It was amazing! This place specialises in health and wellness and the hotel has thermal red water pools from the natural hot springs. There's a health club, spa, indoor and outdoor thermal pools, they offer a whole range of spa treatments, massages and facials, there's a salon, Turkish bath, steam room, sauna... the works. They also have set times throughout the day when the natural thermal water is fed to the rooms. So we were able to run a bath with hot thermal red water right in our room. Theres free wifi, minibar with free water/tea/coffee. The rooms were of a decent size and modern, with toiletries, robe and spa slippers laid out on arrival. All rooms are on the outside of the building with the pools etc being in the hollow centre, which meant that all rooms had a balcony and landscape view. They have two restaurants and a bar/cafe.
I'd certainly recommend the hotel. It's not too far from the north entrance of Pamukkale pools and they have a shuttle running from the hotel, just a short 10 minute drive. It was a really nice stay, especially because the weather was really not good the first day. It was windy, raining, cold and just perfect for staying indoors and enjoying the thermal pools and spa facilities. I enjoyed an amazing coffee scrub massage in the Turkish baths... sooo good! Scrubbed and scrubbed with ground coffee beans then massaged with oil and bubbles, ahhh!
The most impressive part of the hotel for me was the large outdoor thermal pool sourced from the natural hot springs. The water was 40 degrees celsius against the cool crisp air was so good (until getting out and running for your robe). The pictures below are from the outdoor thermal pool... you can see in the first I'm wearing a required swimming cap, which of course was swiftly removed for the rest of the photographs :)
The best way to enjoy Pamukkale, based on both my personal experience and a little research of my own before visiting is to either:
A) arrive early on the day - this of course requires staying over but you can easily avoid the tour crowds arriving around lunch time due to their travel time in from the coast
B) as above, stay over - not only to beat the crowds but also to give yourself a better chance of good weather. If we'd been there for just the one day it would not have been fun going barefoot across that cold hard limestone, as pretty as it might be.
C) visit out of season - first of all, it can get incredibly cold here. So when I say out of season I mean spring/end of summer. We were there the first day of March and when we left in the morning to climb up from the lower entrance, it was 7 celsius and that limestone is cold, and rough and not very kind after it awakes from a night of coldness.
D) enter from the lower gates - I'd read about this a lot, and did have a moment of regret when my feet were crying at the beginning, however, I kinds got used to it. The main thing was that the walk up gave amazing views and was much less crowded(the coaches drop off at the top)... there was almost no-one aside from us and we were able to get some awesome photographs.
E) go beyond the travertine pools, there is so much to see! Like an entire ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage site. More about Hierapolis below...
Just look at how amazing this place is! I've wanted to come here for a few years, even when coming out on this trip I had no idea at all where it really was or how close I would be when in Antalya. This is one of the things I love best about Instagram. There's so much inspiration out there and my travel wish-list just gets longer everyday, every scroll, all that beautiful dreamy imagery luring me to the next adventure. I didn't even know Pamukkale existed until a few years ago when I more than likely paused and double clicked on someone like @beautifuldestinations link... and now I'm here!
The walk up from the southern gate takes you up through the formations of the travertine, passing smaller thermal pools that gradually increase in size as you incline. The terraces are made from travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by the water from the hot springs. It is permitted that when walking on the travertine all footwear is removed, no if's or but's, shoes are off to protect the delicate surface from unnecessary erosion. There are no lockers or anything of the sort so bring along a bag to carry your footwear. It's not exactly soft surfaces either, so if you struggle with walking, foot issues etc... I'd probably for that reason take the north route and avoid the travertine trail, but only if you have to as it's so beautiful! Definitely worth it.
The hot springs filling the thermal pools have been used as a spa since the 2nd century BC. The city of Hierapolis actually became a healing centre and doctors would bring their patients here to bathe, using the thermal springs as treatment. So bring along your swimwear, and have a splash in the beautiful warm pools as you make your way to the top. It wasn't really warm weather on the day we were there but there was no way I could skip getting in, so I just wore my bikini bottoms under my jeans and stripped off a for a little dip. The water in the pools across the site range from 35 celsius to 100... this must have been around 40 and felt so good with the silky soft white sand and the warm water after the hike up. Look at those photographs!
...really, you're not tempted yet? Then maybe the amazing addition of the ancient ruins of Hierapolis City will help...
Hierapolis, 'Holy City' in Ancient Greek, is just seconds away... and honestly for me, this is history that my mind can hardly comprehend. Founded at the end of the 2nd century BC, ceded to Rome in 133 BC. Destroyed by an earthquake in 60 AD and rebuilt. The theatre itself you see in the photographs below was built in 129 for a visit by the emperor Hadrian. The city reached its golden age in the 2nd/3rd century, thousands of people would come here to benefit from the medicinal properties of the hot springs. New building projects were started in this time... Roman baths, temples, a gymnasium. Hierapolis became a wealthy city with 100'000 inhabitants. In the 4th century the Roman baths were transformed to a Christian basilica... it just goes on... devastated by Persian armies, another destructive earthquake... the ruins slowly covered in a thick layer of limestone. Hierapolis was first excavated in the summer of 1887 by a German archeologist.
The grandeur of the structures and the outstanding history is really something difficult for me to wrap my head around. It almost doesn't feel real, it is but I can't quite get my thoughts fully there... like this is some kind of movie set. Sitting on the steps of the theatre that once held 15'000 and walking the grounds of the city over 2000 years old that was once occupied a population of 100'000 is beyond words.
Swim amongst the fallen columns in Cleopatra's antique thermal pools shown below, take in the magnificence of the grand theatre, view the artifacts of the museum inside the original Roman bath walls and go beyond the Cotton Castle. The beautiful blue waters of Pamukkale are breathtaking, but you'll be missing out if you leave without breathing in some of the history of Hierapolis.
Entrance fee + hours
The entrance ticket is 35 Turkish Lira TRY (about 9 Euros or 10 US Dollars) and free for children under 18. You will have to pay a parking fee if you come by car and park at the North or South entrances. If you wish to visit the Hierapolis Antique pool as well, you have to pay a separate entrance fee
From April 15 till October 2 – Open from 08:00 to 21:00 every day
From October 3 till April 14 – Open from 08:30 to 17:00 every day