Have you ever seen infrared photographs? They take normal scenes and turn them into dreamy, unexpected colors. That’s kind of how I felt when I saw the calcium travertines of Pamukkale for the first time.
I’m from the Philippines so the only terraces I’ve ever known are green and brown. These were white as snow and filled with the cleanest, crispest, most powdery-looking blue water I had ever seen. It was like giant mirrors had been cut into the terraces to reflect the blue-ness of the sky. I’ve been wowed over and over by beautiful landscapes but this one was different. It was stunning and surreal, a sight I never would have thought existed had I not seen it for myself.
I think novel experiences are becoming a rarity in this digital age. We’re bombarded by so much media that it’s become uncommon to see things that genuinely blow our minds. This trip to Pamukkale was one of those experiences for me.
GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
HOW TO APPLY FOR AN E-VISA TO TURKEY
Applying for an e-visa to Turkey was a cinch. Travelers used to purchase their tourist visas upon arrival in Turkey but the government decided to transition to e-Visas in 2015 to reduce waiting times at border crossings. If you’re eligible, approval is instantaneous and you’ll be able to print out your e-Visa from the comfort of your own home in minutes. Check out my post on how to apply for an e-Visa to Turkey for a step-by-step process.
PAMUKKALE AT A GLANCE
Pamukkale is an area in Denizli province in Southwestern Turkey. It’s famous for its white terraces made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by water from the seventeen naturally occurring hot springs in the area. The water that emerges from these springs is supersaturated with calcium carbonate. When it reaches the surface, carbon dioxide de-gasses from the water, depositing the calcium carbonate as a soft gel which eventually crystallizes into travertine.
The water from these springs ranges in temperature from 35-100°C (95-212°F) so it’s been used as a spa since the second century BC. Unfortunately, the travertines have suffered damage from decades of tourism so the most beautiful terraces are now off-limits. To preserve their appearance, tourists are asked to remove their footwear and follow a set pathway, along which are shallow pools where you can dip your feet whilst crossing the travertines.
Together with Hierapolis, Pamukkale has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. The name Pamukkale literally means “cotton castle” in Turkish because of the white, cotton-like appearance of the calcium deposits.
BEST TIME TO VISIT PAMUKKALE
Ironically, Pamukkale’s peak season is also its most uncomfortable. Driven by summertime tourism to neighboring coastal destinations, Pamukkale is at its busiest from Jun-Aug when temperatures are known to reach a scorching 40°C (104°F). A more comfortable time to visit would be in the spring (Apr-May) when weather is moderate and days are long. Autumn (September-October) is also said to be favorable, with its mild weather but shorter days.
We went during shoulder season — during the first week of November — and found that the weather was still favorable and the crowds manageable. The temperature may not have been as ideal as spring, but it was just the start of winter so it wasn’t that cold yet. In fact, I was fine walking around in just a light sweater and a t-shirt.
MAR-MAY: Weather-wise, Spring is one of the best times to visit Pamukkale. The weather is mild with temperatures hovering around 20°C (68°F).
JUNE-AUG: This is peak season for local tourism in Pamukkale. It gets crowded and hot so you may want to skip these months if you can.
SEPT-OCT: Like Spring, Autumn is an ideal time to visit Pamukkale. The weather is mild and major festivals like the International Pamukkale Music and Culture Festival are held in Denizli in September. If you enjoy festivals, then this may be the best time to go.
NOV-FEB: This is winter in Pamukkale. If you don’t like cold weather, then this may not be the best time to go. It’s coldest in January when the temperature often goes below 0°C (32°F).
Climate: Annual Monthly Weather in Pamukkale
To help you better understand the weather in Pamukkale, I’ve included average temperature and annual rainfall graphs below. Suggested months to visit are indicated in orange.
TRAVELING TO PAMUKKALE
There are many ways to get to Pamukkale depending on where you’re coming from. But for the purpose of this guide, let’s assume you’ll be coming from the popular tourist destinations of Istanbul, Selçuk, and Cappadocia, and interested only in the fastest and/or cheapest options.
Flying, as you’d expect, is the fastest way to get anywhere in Turkey. There are two carriers with direct flights from Istanbul (Ataturk or Sabiha Gocken) to Denizli Çardak which is the nearest airport to Pamukkale — Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines.
Denizli Çardak Airport is about an hour from the city so a taxi will be expensive. The cheapest option would be to go by Bay Tur shuttle bus* from the airport to Denizli city’s otogar (bus station). There don’t seem to be any prices published on their website but I believe the cost is 15TL each way. You may want to contact them to be sure. From the otogar, you can then catch a minibus to Pamukkale. Minibuses depart for Pamukkale every 15-20 mins from gate 76 at the lower level of the station. For 5TL, they’ll drop you off on the main street in Pamukkale.
*The information on the Bay Tur website is vague. To be safe, I suggest contacting your hotel in Pamukkale and asking them for the best transfer options from the airport.
The cheapest and most reliable way to travel from Selçuk to Pamukkale is by train. The train from Selçuk to Denizli takes a little over three hours. Follow the link for the train schedule. Soon as you arrive at the gar (train station) in Denizli, walk over to the otogar which is on the other side of the highway and take a minibus to Pamukkale as described above.
You can take a bus from Selçuk to Denizli as well but I don’t recommend it. Though comfortable, they sometimes wait to fill up their buses with passengers so the three-hour ride can become four or five. That’s what happened to us.
There are no direct flights from Cappadocia to Denizli so your best bet would be to go by overnight bus. Which isn’t such a bad thing since Turkey’s buses are some of the nicest we’ve ever been on. Buses are the most popular form of travel for locals. Every seat on the bus has a touch screen where you can play games, watch movies, and listen to the radio. You even have a USB port where you can charge your mobile phone and other devices.
A direct bus ride from Cappadocia to Denizli is long, around ten hours, so it’s best that you take an overnight bus. They usually depart around 8PM and arrive the next day at 6AM. Several bus lines service Denizli from Cappadocia, like Suha Turizm, Metro Turizm, Kamil Koç, Nevsehir Seyahat, and Öz Elbistan. You can purchase your tickets online or at the station itself. If you’ll be traveling during peak season, then I suggest reserving your tickets beforehand.
WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY
I don’t recall seeing any currency exchange offices in Pamukkale town. There may be banks but we didn’t run into any. Nearby Denizli is a bigger city so you’re sure to find plenty there.
But instead of exchanging currency, a common practice by travelers in Turkey is to withdraw TL from an ATM instead. This is what we did. Not only is it the quickest and most convenient way to get TL, but ATMs are said to give the best rates as well. There are plenty of ATMs in Pamukkale. Depending on which one you use, your bank may impose daily withdrawal limits and charge you a processing fee per withdrawal. You should clarify this with your bank before your trip. You may have to activate your ATM card for overseas use as well. I did.
On top of bringing your ATM card, I suggest bringing some cash and credit cards in the event that your ATM card is rejected. You never know what could happen so it’s good to have a backup plan.
WHERE TO STAY IN PAMUKKALE
Pamukkale is small so there really is no best place to stay. Anywhere remotely near the travertines is perfect. You can stay in Denizli as well but why would you want to? You’ll have to take a minibus to get to Pamukkale. There are plenty of options in Pamukkale so it’s best to stay there.
We stayed in five different hotels during our 2-week trip to Turkey and Bellamaritimo Hotel in Pamukkale was the most comfortable. The room was big and the owner, Halim, really went out of his way to make our stay as comfortable as possible. We can’t recommend this hotel enough.
You can book at Bellamaritimo Hotel through AirBnB, Booking.com, or Agoda. If you don’t think that Bellamaritimo Hotel is the right place for you, then you can check these links for alternate listings in Pamukkale: AirBnB | Booking.com | Agoda. If you’re new to AirBnB, then you can get USD 31 free travel credit when you sign up via this link.
Approximate Room Rate: 69TL (dorm), 147TL (private room) per night (as of July 2018)
THINGS TO DO IN PAMUKKALE
1. Traverse the Calcium Travertines & Explore Hierapolis
This place is out of this world. Gleaming in its whiteness, these calcium travertines are what travelers flock to Pamukkale for. They’re a remarkable sight and something most people have probably never seen before. Cascading down the side of the plateau, you can cross the travertines to get to the top and the ancient ruins of Hierapolis. Check out my post on the calcium travertines and Hierapolis for more pictures and information.
You can easily visit these sites on your own, but if you’d like to go on a guided tour, then you can do so through Get Your Guide. Follow the link to book a full-day Pamukkale tour with Get Your Guide.
Suggested Length of Visit: At least half a day / Admission: 50TL
2. Swim with Roman Columns in Cleopatra’s Pool
As described, Pamukkale was once a prominent spa city famous for its mineral-rich water. Tourists today can still enjoy its calcium-laden mineral water here at the Antique Pool, which is also known as Cleopatra’s Pool because it was said to have been a gift from Marc Anthony to Cleopatra. What makes this beautiful tree-lined pool unique are the marble columns that litter its bottom. They date back to the 2nd century BC and are remnants from the nearby Temple of Apollo. Check out my post on the Antique Pool for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1-2 hrs / Cost to swim: 50TL
3. Visit Hierapolis Archaeology Museum
If you have an interest in archaeological artifacts, then you may want to visit this small but interesting museum. Housed in a former Roman bath, it’s home to historical artifacts from Hierapolis and Laodicea, as well as other archaeological sites. You’ll find some beautiful sarcophagi here. Check out my post on the Hierapolis Archaeology Museum for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 30 mins – 1 hr / Admission: 5TL
4. Go Paragliding Over the Travertines
I was really tempted to do this. If the travertines look stunning from the ground, I can only imagine what they look like from the sky. We only stayed in Pamukkale for one night and it was pretty expensive so I decided against it. But if you have enough time and enjoy doing adrenaline-filled activities, then you may want to try it. There are many travel agencies in town that can arrange this for you, or you can book it in advance through Get Your Guide. Follow the link to book this paragliding experience with Get Your Guide.
Picture borrowed from getyourguide.com
Duration of Activity: 30 mins / Cost: €70
DAY TRIPS FROM PAMUKKALE
1. Visit the Goddess of Love at Aphrodisias
Named after Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, Aphrodisias is home to some of the most beautiful and well-preserved ruins in Turkey. It was renowned for its school of sculpture during Roman times so the reliefs and sculptures here are second to none. About two-and-a-half hours from Pamukkale, it’s off the beaten path so the easiest way to get here would be to arrange for private transportation from Pamukkale. Check out my post on Aphrodisias in Geyre for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 3-4 hrs / Admission: 15TL
2. Explore the Ruins of Laodicea
Located just off the main road between Pamukkale and Denizli, you can make a stop at this ancient city that’s been the subject of much excavation and restoration work in the past decade. It’s an important archaeological site being home to one of the Seven Churches of Revelation. Much of it still looks like rubble but the team leading the excavation hopes to make Laodicea the next Ephesus. Check out my post on Laodicea for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 30 mins – 1 hr / Admission: 10TL
3. Enjoy the Subterranean Calcium Travertines of Kaklik Cave
You may have heard about the calcium travertines of Pamukkale, but did you know that you can see subterranean versions as well? Around 45 km from Pamukkale and 30 km from Denizli, you can visit this small cave that boasts the same travertine formations as its more famous neighbor, but in a cave and underground. It’s out of the way but worth it. Check out my post on Kaklik Cave for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 30 mins / Admission: 5TL
TURKISH FOOD GUIDE
Considered one of the world’s greatest cuisines because of its diversity, long history, and the legacy left behind by an imperial kitchen, it seemed that every region we visited had something interesting and tasty to offer. Check out my post for a list of 27 delicious things to eat and drink in Turkey.
WHERE TO EAT
White House Restaurant & Cafe
We only stayed one night in Pamukkale and spent a full day touring Aphrodisias so we couldn’t visit many restaurants. The one restaurant we did visit happens to be one of the best and most popular in Pamukkale according to TripAdvisor. White House is a family-run restaurant that serves generous portions of delicious home-cooked food. This plate of lamb chops — served with a heaping amount of salad, rice, and fries — was some of the best lamb that we had during our entire Turkey trip.
Pamukkale is small so you shouldn’t have trouble finding the restaurant.
White House Restaurant & Cafe
Address: Ataturk Cad. Pamukkale Mah. No 7, Pamukkale 20280, Turkey
Operating Hours: 10AM-10PM, daily
What to Eat: Lamb chops
Expect to Spend: Around 30TL per person with drinks
How to Get There: From the main road of Mehmet Akif Ersoy Blv, turn into Atatürk Caddesi and walk straight for about 100-150 meters. The restaurant will be on your right.
POINTS OF INTEREST IN PAMUKKALE
To help you get your bearings, I’ve created this map so you get a better sense of where everything is. All of the places recommended in this guide are pinned on this map.
HOW TO GET AROUND PAMUKKALE
Pamukkale is a small town so it’s easy to get around on foot. If you download Sygic Travel and have GPS switched on, then you should have no problem finding anything. From Pamukkale town, Hierapolis and the travertines are accessible by foot and Laodicea can easily be reached by minibus. The only time you may need to arrange for private transportation is if you decide to visit Kaklik Cave or Aphrodisias, though people determined to take public transportation can do so. Click on their respective links for more information.
HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY / SAMPLE ITINERARY
“Should I stay overnight?” was a question I encountered often in travel forums when doing research for Pamukkale. With Pamukkale being near Selçuk-Izmir and other coastal cities, many travelers choose to make it a day-only destination or a transit point between cities. A popular sentiment seems to be that Pamukkale just doesn’t have enough attractions to merit longer-term commitments.
While that may be true, we did enjoy staying the night in Pamukkale, but the decision to stay depends on your travel plans. If you’re only interested in the travertines and Hierapolis, and maybe Laodicea, then a day trip is possible. Just take the earliest train into Denizli and leave at the end of the day. But if you plan on visiting Aphrodisias as well, then staying the night is a must. Aphrodisias is a whole day excursion and won’t be possible on a day-only visit.
Assuming you’re interested only in Pamukkale, then here’s a one-day itinerary to help you plan your trip.
| PAMUKKALE DAY TRIP|
• Calcium travertines
• Hierapolis archaeological site
• Cleopatra’s Pool
• Hierapolis Archaeology Museum
BUDGET / SUMMARY OF EXPENSES
The unit of currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira (TL), though Euros and US Dollars are widely accepted as well. But just because you can pay for things with Euros or USD doesn’t mean that you should. Some things are better off paid in TL because they can turn out to be more expensive when converted to Euros or USD. Basically anything that was quoted in Euros or USD — like hotels and tours — I paid for with USD, and everything else — like meals, souvenirs, transportation, entrance fees, etc. — I paid for with TL.
If you’re taking a day trip and interested only in the Pamukkale area and Laodicea, then a budget of around 200TL for the entire day should be enough. This takes into account entrance fees (including swimming at the Antique Pool), transportation, meals, and pocket wifi rental.
| ENTRANCE FEES|
Admission to the travertines and Hierapolis is 50TL. Swimming in Cleopatra’s Pool will cost you 50TL. Entrance to Hierapolis Museum is 5TL while Laodicea charges 10TL. That brings it to a total of 115TL for admission fees.
It only costs 5TL to get from the Denizli otogar to Pamukkale, so you’ll probably spend no more than 10-15TL for transportation.
If you’ll only be spending the day in Pamukkale, the a food budget of 40TL should give you plenty of options.
| POCKET WIFI RENTAL|
The cost of a pocket wifi device is about USD 6 per day.
That comes out to about 198TL for the entire day trip. If you plan on staying overnight and visiting Aphrodisias, then you can factor in the cost of your hotel and tour.
1. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel (formerly Tripomatic)
This app is awesome. It’s a free app you can use on your desktop and mobile devices. Sygic Travel allows you to plot points of interest on a map, including your hotel, so you know exactly how far you need to travel between points. You can then lump attractions together per day based on their location. With pocket wifi, it turns your mobile phone into a GPS tracking device so you can easily find your way to each point. Pretty cool right? Check out my post on the Sygic Travel app for more information.
You can also get a download link to our entire 2-week Turkey itinerary in editable Word format by signing up for our FREE newsletter below.
2. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device
A constant wifi connection is a must when traveling these days, especially with Sygic Travel’s GPS tool being such a lifesaver. We never go anywhere now without renting a pocket wifi device first.
We rented the device from Alldaywifi for just USD 5 a day with unlimited data. We used it all throughout our Turkey trip — from Istanbul to Selçuk to Pamukkale to Cappadocia — without experiencing any interruptions in service. It also came with a powerbank which proved very handy. After using the device the entire day, the battery would go red around 6-7PM so we’d plug it in to the powerbank for a couple more hours of juice.
You can have it delivered to any hotel in Istanbul or pick it up at Ataturk Airport. Before departing Turkey, you can leave it with your hotel’s reception desk as they currently don’t offer airport drop-off. Delivery and pickup within Istanbul is free, but anywhere else will incur a shipment cost of USD 10 each way.
Follow the link to rent a pocket wifi device from Alldaywifi. I suggest reserving it at least a week before your trip.
3. Enter from the North & Exit Through Pamukkale Town Entrance
There are three entrances to Hierapolis and the travertines — North, South, and the Pamukkale town entrances. Most people without rental cars will probably enter the plateau through the Pamukkale town entrance. This is fine but it means that you’ll need to cross the travertines twice — going there and back — which isn’t as easy as it looks. Instead, I suggest taking the minibus all the way up to the north entrance and walking in from there.
You can walk through the vast necropolis and explore the Hierapolis ruins in about 1-2 hours. You can then spend around half an hour at the museum, go for a swim in the Antique Pool if you like, before making your way down the travertines and exiting the plateau through the Pamukkale town entrance.
4. Bring your own Towel
If you plan on taking a dip in the Antique Pool, please be advised that towels won’t be provided. You’ll need to buy one there or bring your own. Towels sold at the pool are expensive — 20TL for large and 11TL for small — so it’s best that you buy one instead in Pamukkale town or Denizli and bring it with you.
5. Arrange for Private Transportation to Aphrodisias through your Hotel
When preplanning our trip, booking a tour to Aphrodisias was challenging. I couldn’t find many operators online that offered affordable group rates. Most offered private tours only and were thus considerably more expensive.
In the end, I wound up arranging for private transportation through Bellamaritimo Hotel. Though it’s difficult to find any online, there are many tour operators in Pamukkale town that can arrange a similar trip for you. You can either book it yourself when you arrive in Pamukkale or ask your hotel for help. During peak seasons, it may be advisable to make advanced arrangements.
6. Check for Discount Passes
There are many websites that offer discount passes to tours and services. Among the sites I use, the ones with the most activities in Pamukkale are Get Your Guide and Viator. Both are solid, reputable companies that offer tours and activities to many destinations around the world, including Pamukkale. If you’re looking for deals on tours and activities, then you may want to search through the Get Your Guide and Viator websites for a list of attractions deals in Pamukkale.
7. Get Travel Insurance
To be honest, it was only recently when we started buying travel insurance. Back when we traveled just once or twice a year, travel insurance felt like an added expense, one we didn’t need. But now that we travel more, I understand how important it is to have it. Fact is, you never know what can happen. It’s one of those things that you hope you never have to use, but if you do wind up needing it, then you’ll be thanking the gods that you had it. Or cursing them if you didn’t.
Though I do find it more necessary now, it’s still up to you if you think you need it. A 3-day trip to Singapore just shopping and eating may not really call for insurance but if you plan on doing more active things like bungee jumping, horseback riding, or even going on a city bike tour, then I’d say travel insurance is a must. Here in Pamukkale, crossing the travertines isn’t exactly a cake-walk.
We buy travel insurance from World Nomads because every long-term traveler I know recommends it. From the sound of it, they’re the best in the industry by a mile. Not only do they provide a high coverage limit for medical expenses (up to USD 5 million with the Standard package), they also cover things like trip delays, missed flight connections, theft/loss of passport and luggage, etc. Follow the link or use the widget below to learn more and get a free travel insurance quote from World Nomads. It’s super quick and easy.
8. Know When and How Much to Tip
Tipping is generally modest in Turkey, around 5% at restaurants and a few lira for porters and other similar services. Try to tip in TL as much as possible and give it directly to your server. At inexpensive restaurants, around 5% is enough. At fine dining establishments, 10-15% is expected. For porters at hotels, airports, or train and bus stations, 2-3TL per bag should suffice. Taxi drivers usually aren’t given a tip, but you should round the fare up to a convenient amount (ie 20.30TL to 21TL). Tips to tour guides and drivers are at your discretion. If you were happy with the day’s tour, then a group tip of around 20TL for the guide and 15TL for the driver would be appreciated. Keep in mind that this is the total tip from the entire group, not each individual.
9. Bring the Right Power Adapter
10. Consult Turkey Travel Planner
A bible for all things Turkey. Tom Brosnahan is an American travel writer who’s been visiting Turkey for the greater part of 40 years. He’s about as knowledgeable and well-connected as any non-local, and his website — turkeytravelplanner.com — was an invaluable resource when planning our trip. The navigation is a little confusing but the wealth of information is impressive. I suggest referring to it should you need more in-depth knowledge of Turkey.
I’m not an expert on Pamukkale nor Turkey but I do hope that you find this guide useful. I’m only sharing some of the things I learned from our trip. If you have any suggestions or simply want to share your own experiences, then please feel free to do so in the comments section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well. We’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for stopping by and prepare to be awed by the calcium travertines of Pamukkale!
These are some of the things we brought with us to Pamukkale. As you can tell, I document a lot of content for this blog so most of the things I bring are photo and video equipment. 😆 If you’d like to see what other gear we use, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)
Some of the links in this guide are affiliate links, meaning we’ll get a small commission if you make a purchase at NO extra cost to you. We only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as this helps us make more of these free travel guides. Thank you!
JB and Renée are the Traveleaters behind Will Fly for Food, a travel blog for the gastronomically inclined. They enjoy experiencing food from different cultures so they’ve made it their mission to try every country’s national dish. Read more about them and their National Dish Quest here.