What is Pamukkale?
The surreal, brilliant white travertine terraces and warm, limpid pools of Pamukkale hang, like the petrified cascade of a mighty waterfall, from the rim of a steep valley side in Turkey’s picturesque southwest. Truly spectacular in its own right, the geological phenomenon that is Pamukkale, literally "Cotton Castle" in Turkish, is also the site of the remarkably well-preserved ruins of the Greek-Roman city of Hierapolis. With such a unique combination of natural and man-made wonders it’s little wonder that Pamukkale-Hierapolis has been made a Unesco World Heritage site. With over two million visitors annually, it is also Turkey’s single most visited attraction.
There are dramatic travertine terraces dotted all around the globe, from China to Iran, the USA to Afghanistan. But nowhere else in the world can visitors enjoy exploring both picturesque travertine formations, built up over the millennia from limestone deposited by the abundant hot springs, and the colonnaded streets, temples, bath houses, necropolis and theatre of the remains of an idyllically located Greek-Roman spa city, Hierapolis. You can even bathe, as the Romans once did, in a picturesque pool filled with warm (around 36C), mineral rich waters and swim amongst submerged columns of great antiquity.
How to get to Pamukkale
Pamukkale-Hierapolis is situated on the western rim of the vast Anatolian plateau, around 120 miles east of the popular Aegean resort cum cruise ship port of Kusadasi, near Ephesus. Most visitors come on gruelling day trips from Aegean or Mediterranean resorts. The easiest way to visit under your own steam is to hire a car - the drive takes around three hours from Kusadasi, four from Antalya and Marmaris, five from Bodrum. Alternatively comfortable inter-city coaches run to Denizli, the nearest city to Pamukkale, from all the aforementioned places and take around the same time as driving. Frequent buses and minibuses make the 40 minute run between Denizli’s bus station and Pamukkale. Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) and Pegasus (flypgs.com) both fly to Denizli’s Cardak airport from Istanbul. Rail buffs might be interested in the four times daily service between Izmir and Denizli, via Selcuk.
• The best drives along the Turquoise coast
At Hierapolis you can bathe in hot mineral waters Photo: Turkish tourist board
How to avoid the crowds
The best way to enjoy an uncrowded visit is to spend the night in Pamukkale village, which has plenty of accommodation (see below), then explore the formations and ancient site the following morning. The vast majority of day-trippers don’t arrive until the afternoon after the long drive-in from the coast. Late-afternoon/dusk are especially busy. Pamukkale is also relatively uncrowded in winter (November through to March), especially on weekdays. It can, though, be cold and even snowy.
The best way to enjoy an uncrowded visit is to spend the night in Pamukkale village, then explore the formations the following morning. Photo: Turkish tourist board
Tips for visiting Pamukkale
The best way to approach the ancient site is to walk up through the formations on the travertine path, starting at the south gate to the site. You are not permitted to wear shoes or even sandals to do this (to prevent eroding or staining the delicate calcite deposits) so bring your footwear (and everything else you’ll need for exploring the ancient ruins) along in a bag. Wearing swimwear allows you to splash in the warm, aquamarine pools en-route, and later swim in the antique pool at the top of the terracing. Allow the whole day to make the most of the travertines, pools and remains - bring a picnic lunch (and plenty of water/suncream etc in mid-summer).
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