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.
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GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
Because of the global pandemic, travel guidelines change almost daily. Our friends at SafetyWing created a website that lists containment measures, testing and treatment information, and travel restrictions around the world.
Before doing any serious travel planning, be sure to check the Flatten the Curve website for information on travel restrictions to Turkey.
HOW TO APPLY FOR AN E-VISA TO TURKEY
Applying for an e-visa to Turkey isn’t difficult. In fact, it’s one of the easiest visa application procedures I’ve ever had to go through. Everything is coursed online so if you’re eligible, then you can get your e-visa in minutes. Just print it out and you’re all set. 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
Check out climate-data.org for a closer look at the weather in Pamukkale. For your convenience, I’ve put together average temperature and annual rainfall graphs below. Suggested months to visit are highlighted 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.
Here’s a short video I took of our overnight bus from Denizli to Cappadocia. It was on Suha Turizm but all long-haul buses in Turkey are pretty much like this.
WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY
The unit of currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira (TL). 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.
Instead of exchanging currency, it may be easier 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. Just be sure to inform your local bank that you plan on using your ATM card overseas so you don’t run into any problems. In my experience, my ATM card works in some machines but not in others.
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 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: Booking.com | Agoda.
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
We fell in love with Turkish food. It quickly became one of our favorite cuisines because of its diversity and emphasis on lamb dishes. We visited a few cities and it seemed that every region we went to had something different and tasty to offer. Check out my article on 27 delicious things to eat and drink in Turkey for more information.
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 White House Restaurant & Cafe.
POINTS OF INTEREST IN PAMUKKALE
I’ve created the map below to help you better understand 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
Along with the Turkish Lira, Euros and US Dollars are widely accepted in Turkey as well. But you should only consider using it to pay for things that are quoted in Euro or USD, like hotels or tours. If something is priced in TL, then you should pay for it in TL because paying in Euro or USD will almost always lead to poor exchange rates.
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.
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 is my go-to trip planning app. I’ve been using it to create all our itineraries since 2014. What it does is make it easy for me to pin points of interest on a map then move them around by day to come up with the most efficient itinerary possible. If you find trip planning daunting or tedious, then Sygic Travel should make it easier for you. Check out my post on the free Sygic Travel app for more information.
You can also get a download link to our entire 2-week Turkey itinerary in editable Word format from our EAT-ineraries page.
2. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device
It’s so important to have steady wifi access these days, especially when you’re away on a trip. You’ll need it to check emails, do research, and post on social media. It helps you convert currencies and overcome language barriers. If you get lost, then it becomes your compass. I personally feel very uncomfortable traveling anywhere now without securing wifi access first.
For our two-week trip to Turkey, we rented a pocket wifi device from Alldaywifi. We used it all throughout Turkey — from Istanbul to Selçuk to Pamukkale to Cappadocia — without experiencing any interruptions in service. Follow the link to rent a pocket wifi device from Alldaywifi. They can run out so it’s a good idea to reserve it at least one 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
I buy travel vouchers from several different websites but for Pamukkale, the sites that seemed to have the most deals are Get Your Guide and Viator. There aren’t as many as other cities but if you’re looking for deals on tours and activities in Pamukkale, then Get Your Guide and Viator are probably your best bets.
7. Get Travel Insurance
Getting travel insurance is something we deliberate on before every trip. Basically, if we’re just going to a city like Singapore to eat and shop for a few days, then we probably won’t get it. But if we plan on doing anything physical like horseback riding in Cappadocia or paragliding in Pammukale, then we’ll definitely pick up a policy.
When we do feel we need it, we buy insurance from World Nomads or SafetyWing. They’re both reliable travel medical insurance providers used by many digital nomads. Check out my article on why we buy travel insurance for a description of the two. You can follow the links to get a free quote from World Nomads or SafetyWing.
8. Know When and How Much to Tip
Giving modest tips is commonplace in Turkey. At a cheap restaurant, around 5% is enough but 10-15% is expected at classier establishments. For porters and bellhops, try to give TL 2-3 per bag. If you go on a tour and are happy with it, then a group tip of around 20TL for the guide and 15TL for the driver will be appreciated. If you ride a taxi, then rounding up to a convenient amount is enough – ie TL 15.40 to TL 16.
9. Bring the Right Power Adapter
10. Consult Turkey Travel Planner
This is a bible for all things Turkey. Tom Brosnahan is an American travel writer who’s been visiting Turkey for over 40 years. He knows Turkey very well so if you’re ever in need of more in-depth information, then you might want to check out turkeytravelplanner.com. His website was invaluable to planning our trip.
I’m by no means an expert on Pamukkale or Turkey but I do hope that you find this guide helpful. I’m only sharing some of the things I learned from our trip. If you have any questions, then please feel free to ask us in the comment 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. Check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post for a complete list of our travel gear. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)
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