Pamukkale – Unbelievably white and beautiful

Bear with me for the cheesy story ahead-

We met each other in 2009, and it was kind of love at first sight. Like any other Indian teenage couple in love, we loved this Hindi song called “Tu Jaane Na” that was released in the same year. Finding a song that we both like is rarer than finding a mermaid. Every time we listened to the song together, it felt special, as if we both were the main characters of the song :D. After listening to the song in a loop a million times, we wondered if those white terraces with water really exist or if it is a studio set up. One google search result led us to dream of a trip after marriage. We didn’t know when we would get married then, but we saved money exclusively for the Turkey trip since 2011. Nine years later, we stood on the mysterious whitewashed hills of travertines where warm Turquoise water flew over our foot with the snow-peaked mountains at a distance – A moment of a dream come true that is etched forever in our minds.

Keeping the love story aside, here is your little guide to the magical white terraces of Pamukkale, where the most famous Greek queen Cleopatra once bathed.

Index

What is Pamukkale?

Pamukkale translates to Cotton Castle in English. These are formed by the natural warm spring water running across with a high amount of calcium carbonate in them. Nature found its way to create these terraces at multiple levels making it the perfect plunge pool. The initial climb from the road takes you to the travertines: Climbing up further takes you to the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis – A typical ancient Roman city with a Semicircular Roman theatre, Cleopatra’s pool with natural spring hot water where the roof has fallen off, and those columns are settled underwater. This 2nd Century BC city is a UNESCO heritage along with a mindblowing natural wonder. 

Why you should visit Pamukkale

Pamukkale is not the only travertine in the whole world. There are several travertines in Mexico, the USA, Italy, Iran, etc. But Pamukkale stands unique by its size, slope of the travertines and architectural wonders. The thermal Spa built for queen Cleopatra is in ruins, but you can swim in the same pool where she did once. The pool where you can swim amidst Roman ruins! You can sit on a Roman column underwater, enjoying the sun. History and natural wonder coming together create a unique experience at Pamukkale.

Is it worth It? – Many tourists who are on a week’s visit to Turkey asked us this question/ Is it worth going all the way to western Turkey for this. The answer is YES. This is less touristy than Cappadocia and Istanbul. Only a few places in the world look like Pamukkale, but swimming in the pool once Cleopatra did! Ain’t that unique?

Things to know before you go to Pamukkale

  • Most tourists go to Pamukkale from Cappadocia. So did we. The nearest town to Pamukkale is 60km away, Denzil. Frequent flights from Kayseri (near Goreme), Istanbul, Anatolia fly from here. This is the fastest but expensive way to get to Pamukkale.
  • Denzil Bus station and railway station is 17km from Pamukkale. 
  • We took an overnight bus from Goreme at 9 PM to Denzil(600km, 10hr journey) from an agency called Suha, each ticket cost 120TL (2000INR.) The buses were more comfortable than most of the domestic flights we have ever travelled! Push back seats, clean aisles, loo breaks every one or two hours, bus manager with pull carts selling coffee and snacks! Way better than most of the domestic flights.
  • You don’t need any vehicle to move around Pamukkale unless you are going to a different town from here. The village is small; most eateries and places of tourist interest are within walkable distance.
  • Swimwears and bathing suits are all good when you get into the pools, but not in the village. Read our post on what to wear in Turkey to know more.
  • There are changing rooms and toilets near the Cleopatra pool.
  • The cafe and juice bars are expensive. The Orange juice cart is cheap and best to calm your thirst.
  • Wear slippers, not shoes. From the entrance gate, you are supposed to walk barefoot on the hills. Carry a bag to keep your footwear inside. Once you reach the Hierapolis at the top, you can wear footwear.
  • BEST TIME TO GO – April to June, where the daylight duration is more.
  • Opening hours – 6.30 AM TO 9 PM (April to June) and 6.30 AM to 7 PM rest of the year. Early morning and evenings are the best time to visit. Afternoons can get very harsh with the brimming sun. High temperature, shining sun and the white floors of the hills may cause sunstroke. Avoid Afternoons visits.
  • ENTRANCE FEES – 50TL or 850INR or 10EURO/person as of 2018. This excludes fees for getting into the Cleopatra pool, Parking fees, including seeing the pool from outside, Visiting ancient Roman Ruins.
  • There are two entries to the hill. One from the travertine side from the South and the anthoer from the Roman ruin in the Northern side. We took the first path and walked up to the Roman ruin site. The trail went through the travertines at various levels, museum, Cleopatra pool and the Hierapolis theatre at last. This trail is around 4km one way.
  • GETTING INTO CLEOPATRA POOL COSTS EXTRA – 35TL + 5TL for Locker or 680 INR or 8EURO including access to men and women changing rooms with shower for 2hr duration. It is an experience of a lifetime to be swimming among Roman ruins underwater and the pool where Egyptian-Greek queen Cleopatra swam, but we felt it was a bit Pricey. The water is warm (because of thermal springs, and we hope it is true), pools are shallow, so you can get soaked in the pool even if you are not a good swimmer. But be sure not to cross the rope that divides shallow and deeper areas of the pool.
  • USING DRONES – Drone usage is restricted in Pamukkale. You need to have special permission prior, or else the guards have the right to seize and destroy it. There were several security guards to look after this kind of activity.
  • NOT ALL THE TERRACE POOLS ARE MEANT FOR TOURISTS – Thanks to humans like us. In the name of tourism, we have successfully damaged the travertines enough that a few parts of the terrace are drained of water! People rode ATV, walked on the white hills with heals, used sharp objects to make a temporary shade. To preserve whatever is left out, few areas are restricted for tourists. You will be cautioned by the guard once or twice; later, they have the right to arrest you if you continue to enter the restricted areas.
  • There are hot air Baloon rides in Pamukkale too. 

How many days to spend in Pamukkale

I highly recommend one night & two days at Pamukkale for multiple reasons. First is, the pool water reflects different colours at different times. The evening golden glitter and afternoon’s Turquoise shade are not to be missed. If you make a day trip or “Visit on the way to Ephesus”, very likely you are going to miss one of these colours. Evenings are calmer with very few tourists. Most people either go back to Denzil or Ephesus. So that is when the couple come up for wedding photoshoots. The crowd vanishes, and you can own the entire place until the closing hours. You may not be able to enjoy the Cleopatra pool and the ruins in leisure on a half-day trip. Anything beyond two days may be boring here. The village neither has charming street lanes to explore nor sidewalk cafes to take a break. Other than a few locals who run restaurants, most locals live away from Cotton hill. If you have two full days, you can explore the less-visited Aphrodisias too.

Where to stay in Pamukkale

You can either choose Denizil or Pamukkale

  • Denzil – If you plan to visit the cotton castle only once during daylight and prefer staying in a city than a village, Denizil is the option. It is 16km away from the Pamukkale site. Lots of buses and shuttle services, shared taxis are available to reach Pamukkale from here.
  • Pamukkale – If you want to be in a quieter place, wanting to visit the hill twice (- early morning and evening), Pamukkale should be your choice of stay. A small sleepy town, with a limited option for food but good guesthouses and BnBs. It suited us well because we did visit the Cotton castle twice, on two different days.
  • WHERE DID WE STAY- HALTER Boutique. The location was ideal for us to visit the cotton hill twice. It was 5 min walk to the entrance of Pamukkale hills. It was listed on Air BnB as a guest house owned and run by a local family! But this turned out to be an excellent typical hotel. I recommend this hotel for its location and the friendly people who work here.

Our story of Two days at Pamukkale

When we arrived at Pamukkale in the morning, we could see a part of the white hill flashing from our room balcony. People walking over the hills looked like ants. Big buses kept on coming and going. We realised we haven’t come to a place that is a hidden gem. It is well known among Turkish travellers and even international. The difference between them and us is the reason for being there – Tu Jaane Na.

When the sun seemed to go down, we were out to fulfil our seven-year-old dream. After carrying the chappals in a given polythene bag at the ticket counter, fresh spring water flowed on foot with the white hill beneath the feet. What do you think the white hill felt like? Hard? Rubbery? Powder-ish? The rock was hard; it felt like someone painted it with “Anti-Skid, waterproof paint.”

The place was crowded; we found no joy in plunging into a pool where 100 others were bathing and posing for the photo. So we walked further up. There it was, the row of terraces where Ranbir Kapoor stood, and Katrina Kaif sat spreading her black gown dancing! That is the most beautiful part of the terrace, but visitors aren’t allowed to walk on them. A significant drawback of tourism is destroying the natural wonders.

The sun was still in the mood to shine bright, making it hard to open the eyes without goggles. We decided to sit and watch the place under the tree until things got mellowed down. The temperature was rising, and the crowd was getting furthermore extensive. At a distance, we saw a board saying Archeological museum. Being non-lovers of the museum, both of us didn’t want to enter it. But the tourist card we had in Istanbul let us enter the museum for free of cost. But why did these two museum haters go inside? Purely for air conditioning.

After a walk of an hour under the intense sun, this AC break was much needed. We looked around the museum for a few minutes. It was the usual Greek-Roman statues, coins and vessels. We asked the caretaker if we could sit on the floor for a while. He understood our plight and agreed smilingly. Half 45 minutes later, the caretaker came back and said, ‘You can go out now; it’s not that hot. Very few tourists outside” Yes, he was correct. We felt more energetic, and the place had become peaceful. Most tourists were already leaving. We had a cup of orange juice in the nearby cafe and walked to the Cleopatra pool.

The legendary queen Cleopatra bathed in these pools, and we were standing next to it.

The pool had an absolute Turquoise colour. I wanted to cross-check if someone has laid any mosaic tiles at the bottom. While we decided to get into the pool, the ticket counter had already closed as they were nearing the closing time. No worries, we have tomorrow, we said and began walking towards the Amphitheatre. The guards turned us back, saying if we went up further, we had to exit from North and couldn’t come back. Fine! We have time tomorrow.

The white terraces had begun to glow gold, and we could count the number of people then! I could see the entire site at one glance without anyone. This is the moment we had been waiting for. We sat on one of the pool’s edges, dipping our foot in the lukewarm water, watching the sunset behind the snow mountains far. The wind was chilling; water was warm, the sky turned orange – The place looked more magical than the song. The experience we had been dreaming of had happened! While we both sat as if we attended Nirvana with a sense of achieving a dream, the security guard began to whistle! It was 6.30 PM already. We had to leave the place. With our romance interrupted, we walked back to the hotel.

On day 2, we knew what to expect and how to escape the crowd plus heat. We were at the gate right at 6.30 AM- One among the few tourists. By 7, the sun was up, and the water turned turquoise. It was neither goldern like the previous evening nor grey like the previous noon. It is pure turquoise. The pool felt better without too many people bathing! The terraces feel manicured to perfection with blunt edges and the way they are arranged at different levels. Nature has its way of creating harmony by repeating patterns and still keeping them attractive. We enjoyed standing, watching and touching the pools more than dipping our feet or bathing there even when there was hardly anyone. They are so shallow that you can’t even get water up to the knees. We knew where the fun part lies. We walked straight to the Cleopatra pool without delay.

The uphill walk took us to the Cleopatra pool, but we felt like walking further up to the ancient ruins before the sun started to flood the heat. Once a glorious city, now left with a foundation and some columns. As an architect & history teacher, touching the flutings on the Doric column is the epitome of experience for me. Most places don’t let you touch ruins for obvious reasons. Here, I could walk around holding the column and wondering if the city was as good as Pompei.

From the Hierapolis side, a big bus of tourists arrived. They were in a rush to get into the pool for sure. So these columns and ruined walls seemed to be an obstacle on their way. Most of them talked in English, and one said,

” We should demolish all these columns and build a resort here. What’s the use of this crap” Another girl took a sharp stone to see if she could etch something on the columns. With no security guards to take care of these things, we both had to request them not to get into vandalism mode. Laughingly they said, ” ok. Walk ahead; you will find something better than this. Can you please tell me the route to the pool?”

Their Turkish tour guide had come from behind and took his herd to the pool. Not all are history buffs – Agreed. But it hurts to see tourists who don’t know anything and are least bothered to know things try to mock at something as ancient as this.

While walking, I talked about Greek architecture, and Ashrith kept wondering why his lady was so happy to see the least impressive ruins. But we both disagree on the lame idea of building resorts everywhere possible. The sun had begun his duty. The walk got brisk to avoid sunstroke, and it took us through dried bushes that covered the ancient Roman city. At times a taller wall, and other times just the foundation popped up. Only at one spot, the ruins of a few Roman columns stood. Ashrith’s lousy thoughts about the ruins were shaken when he saw the real Roman theatre for the first time in his life. If you have watched the movie Gladiator and played Assassins creed Odyssey/Origins, this place will undoubtedly give you chills, even if you aren’t a history lover.

The half-moon theatre of Hierapolis must have witnessed hundreds of gladiatorial fights and dramas. There may have been thousands of speeches by philosophers on the stage that is a ruin now. With half gone screen behind the stage stands part of Skene (the background) with detailed Roman statues. For the sake of its sound, going down to the area is restricted.

After spending an hour sitting and admiring the theatre, we walked down to the pool- A pool full of roman columns and people. A Doric column that once supported Cleopatra’s Spa was our Sunbed for a few moments. Along with Donkey’s milk, they say this natural spring hot water was the secret behind her beauty. I am no physicist to explain the properties of this water. But indeed, it was physically and mentally rejuvenating to swim and dip around in the soothing turquoise water with ancient ruins all over it. I felt keeping an extra cost to the pool is good. At most places, tourists do certain things just for the photos. Free stuff is mostly overused, like how it happened to the travertines at the entrance. But because of the extra price, a part of the crowd gets filtered.

We kept repeating the pool, walk and orange juice on a loop until it was time to get ready for our flight to Amsterdam. For sure, the experience of seeing a white terrace like this along with Roman ruins gave us a sense of surreal satisfaction.

Would you consider travelling 600km from Istanbul to see the cotton castle? Let us know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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