Quick guide to visiting Pamukkale and Hierapolis
Pamukkale, which means ‘cotton castle’ in Turkish, is one of Turkey’s most extraordinary natural wonders and one of the most famous attractions. This fairyland was formed by the underground volcanic activity where hot thermal water springs pouring down the hillside deposit calcium carbonate minerals, solidifying the travertine structures’ fantastic concretions.
The area is covered with 17 hot water springs with a temperature of 35° C to 100° C. These hot waters are carried 300 meters up to the head of the travertine terraces by the underground pressures. Once the water reaches the surface, it starts to flow through the terraces leaving the calcium carbonate minerals in several sections. The effect is spectacular: these mineral-rich waters have dripped down over a series of terraced levels designing bizarre solidified cascades, dazzling in their radiance and changing their colour when the sunlight strikes them with its warm rays.
Part of the travertines are restricted to preserve them, but there is an area where you can walk on the terraces through the mineral water and down all the way to the bottom of the hill. Without a doubt, walking down the path while 35º C springwater flowing around your feet and looking at the sunset while bathing in the pools is a thing not to be missed.
This unique natural site embraces the ancient Roman city called Hierapolis, which has the largest known graveyard of antiquity that gives this site another unique character. Hierapolis, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988 with Pamukkale since 1988, means “sacred city”, and it was founded on this site in the 2nd century b.C. by the Pergamon kingdom and reached the height of its development as a Roman thermal bath centre between the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
It differs from all other ancient cities because it is not located not on earth or rock but on solid limestone layers formed by limestone water that flowed for centuries over this raised level plateau. Strolling along the walking path, it’s still possible to see well-preserved ruins like the city walls, the main street, which is 1500 meters long, the octagonal Martyrium of St. Philip, the 2nd-century theatre with a capacity of 15.000 people, the Temple of Apollo, a 4th-century basilica, a necropolis with over 1200 graves, and the ancient thermal baths which were restored and converted into an archaeological museum.
Need to know
Getting there: the best way is to rent a car. Driving around Turkey is very easy, and all the roads are in good condition. If you come from Cappadocia, you should have an overnight in Konya (about 400 km) unless you want to go straight (650 km). Pamukkale is about a 4-hour drive from Bodrum and a 3-hour drive from Izmir. Another option is to take the bus to Denizli, a big city just 16 km from Pamukkale. There are buses to Denizli from Cappadocia (9 hrs ride) and Bodrum (5 hours). Once in Denizli, take a local bus to Pamukkale. You’ll also find buses to/from Izmir (4 hrs ride), Istanbul (14 hrs ride) and Ankara (7 hrs ride).
Where to sleep: around the sites, there is a wide range of accommodations. Most of the hotels have a thermal pool. The best place is Pamukkale town, located at the base of the travertine hill and next to the Pamukkale site gate. The Sahin Hotel, Mustafa Hotel, Alida Hotel and Ozen Turku Pension are just a few minutes walk from the entrance and offer a good price. I slept in Karahayit town, 3 km from Hierapolis- Pamukkale north gate entrance, at Pamukkale Herakles Hotel. Here, along Ataturk street, you’ll also find a night market and restaurants.
Entrance fee: there are three different entrances to the site. The first is the Pamukkale town entrance, then the North and the South entrance. These entrances grant you access to the Pamukkale travertine thermal pools and Hierapolis ancient city. The opening time is between 08:00 to 21:00 in the summer (8.30 – 17.00 winter); the entrance fee is 35 Turkish Lira. Paying a separate ticket fee of 32 TL, you can also bathe inside the Antique Pool ( close to the Museum), a modern spa complex with a thermal pool open to the public (bring your own towel). The pool is surrounded by lush greenery and features marble columns, capitals and plinths that are believed to have fallen from the nearby Temple of Apollo during an earthquake. The best entrance to visit the whole site is the north gate as you can walk on a flat path first and visit the travertines along the descent. When you leave the site from the Pamukkale town entrance if you need to go back to the north gate car park, take a taxi.