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 3 Turkish Airlines flights daily to and from Istanbul Atatürk Airport and one AnadoluJet flight daily to and from Sabiha Gökcen Airport. From the airport you can take a shuttle to Denizli or Pamukkale. Turkish Airlines offers the service to their customers for 10TL, and the company Baytur offers the service for 26TL.
- 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.
Bus to Pamukkale/Denizli can be found from almost all the cities of Turkey. Bus 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 minibus to Pamukkale (about 20 km away). The minibus might not be free. Metroturizm offers bus service which takes you directly to Pamukkale from Goreme. So does Pamukkale bus service.
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), from nearby Denizli. Frequent mini-buses serve the village of Pamukkale in a 20 minute ride. They leave from #75 in the bus terminal and it costs 4 TL per trip. It is also possible to make reservation the bus ticket from Pamukkale Village. And the bus company can arrange shuttle bus to bus station if there is enough number of people.
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.
The Travertines of Pamukkale
These are a set of bizarre calcium cliff bathing pools overlooking the town of Pamukkale. You can access them via a toll-booth, however 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. You can avoid the climb and take a taxi to the top of the hill and enter from the side of Hierapolis. But the real charm of the place lies in experiencing these travertines
These petrified waterfalls/travertine are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The admission cost is 25 TL (as of June 2014). This price includes addmission to nearby Roman city of Hierapolis as well. Lower parts of the travertine cascades are reported to have better views than the top.
Day tours are offered for around 45 Lira (as of January 2010) including English-speaking guide, entrance fee to Hierapolis and the travertines and buffet lunch. Different companies seem to offer similar tours, ask around. Such tours leave from the Pamukkale bus company office on the main street opposite the travertines, and the Koray Hotel. There may be tours starting from other places around the town as well. For those who rather not visit the travertines under the scorching sun, there are also night tours as well, which start from small guesthouses.
Other than the travertines, places worth a look around Pamukkale are:
- The great (12,000-seat) Roman amphitheater of Hierapolis should not be missed, and lies just above the travertines.
- Swim with roman ruins in a large natural swimming pool located just past the topmost travertines.
- Another lesser known site, but one that holds a considerable significance Biblically is Laodikya, just 10 km (10 minutes on a local dolmuş) from Pamukkale on the Denizli road. It’s mentioned in the Bible as one of the 7 Churches of Revelation 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.
- Karahayit, the red spring is also 5 minutes from Pamukkale, not even nearly as big as the calcium outcrop, but worth a look or if you want to try their mud baths. Springs and mud bath located at the northern edge of the town.
- Kaklik caves 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 a swimming suit. A lot of people bathe in the baths here.
- 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 bussing for 30-40 TL.
- Bathe in the mineral hot springs. This is an enclosed pool, with additional entrance fee of 32 TL as of September 2015, above waterfalls.
- Of moderate interest might be visiting Denizli. It’s a bit dull but there’s a lively market.