Pamukkale Overview & Guide
Pamukkale, directly translated as,“cotton castle,” alongside Hierapolis its ancient city, were rightfully christened together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. From the captivating natural phenomena, to the ancient cities surrounding this district, you will surely find yourself mesmerized during your stay in the Pamukkale region. Whether you are imagining life as a 2nd century citizen in Laodicea, floating above white thermal pools illuminated pink by the sunrise, or enjoying a swim in Cleopatra’s mineral-filled hot springs, Pamukkale is sure to lure you in with its many attractions.
Pamukkales cascading calcium-laden waters rightfully draw many to visit this city, however there is much to explore in this city in addition to its famous thermal pools.
Three of Pamukkale’s most famous attractions are actually connected to one another, making them accessible with a single entrance fee. These sites include the ancient city of Hierapolis, the famous white travertines or thermal pools, and Cleopatra’s Pool, also known as the Antique Pool. There are three separate entrances to access these sites. The entrances open at 6:30 AM and come to a soft close at 8:00 PM.
The most convenient of the three entrances is “güney kapısı” or south gate. Located just up the road from Pamukkale’s town, tour buses and public transport from Denizli enter from the south gate. This gate is also accessible by car or taxi. It is the most heavily trafficked of the entrances, and is closest to all of the major attractions. There is also a gift shop and cafe at this entrance, which you can access without paying the entrance fee. Taxiing to this entrance from the town of Pamukkale is affordable and easy.
Alternatively, the Pamukkale town entrance is accessible by foot, and easily walking distance from any hotel in the town of Pamukkale. This entrance is a bit of a walk from the main attractions, but the walk is scenic and well worth it.
If you are staying in Karahayıt, the nearest entrance is the north entrance. It is accessible by car or taxi. From this entrance, you will have to walk about 1 km through the ancient city of Hierapolis in order to reach the most popular attractions, including Cleopatra’s pools and the travertines.
Thermal Pools (Travertines)
One of the most famous attractions in Pamukkale is the travertines or thermal pools. These famous cascading mineral filled pools are truly a sight to see. Some of the pools are under restoration, so they are roped off. However the biggest pools are open for visitors to wade through and explore. These pools are an excellent place to take photos or to simply look at the vast landscape surrounding the area.
Cleopatra’s Antique Pool
Cleopatra’s Pool, also known as the Antique Pool, is a unique and alluring experience. Located just beside Pamukkale’s thermal pools, it is here that tourists swim through the remains of an ancient temple to Apollo. The mineral waters are constantly refreshed by an inflow of hot calcium-laden mineral water. There is an additional entrance fee to swim in this pool, but it is well worth it.
Hot Air Balloons
If you are looking to take an excursion during your time in Pamukkale, look no further than a hot air balloon ride. Floating in a balloon over Pamukkale’s white mineral waters feels like a fairytale. Balloons embark on their journey each morning during the sunrise, which allows for a birds eye view of the white cliffs and ancient city, illuminated a blush color by the sunrise. Excursion Mania is an excellent company to book your tour with. Having been in the business for 10+ years, safety is second nature to excursion mania’s staff. You will be welcomed with incredible hospitality, and will celebrate with champagne after the unforgettable experience!
Located about 8 kilometers up the road from the Pamukkale village, Karahayıt is a hidden gem worth exploring for those who want to know more about Turkish life and culture. Those who are interested in a break from highly trafficked sites or are budget-conscious will not regret finding their way to the inviting and winding streets of Karahayıt. Upon entering the town, you may be tempted to stay in the outskirts. Be sure to continue walking inland. You will discover many shops with local products, and local businesses. Şahin Izgara Çorba ve Sulu Yemek is an excellent restaurant nestled in these streets. Their most famous dish, Saç Kavurma, is delicious and affordable. If you are looking for a more economical stay, there are many small hotels nestled in this town as well. The outskirts of Karahayıt hold many highly-ranked thermal hotels.
Hierapolis Ancient City
The main tourist park of Pamukkale is set within the larger ancient city of Hierapolis. The extensive ruins can be quite the adventure to explore and feature a unique Gate to the Underworld Temple (Plutonium)! The old city was likely founded in the 3rd century BC by the Seleucid Empire but also features prominent Roman and Byzantine era structures as well. It is also known as the site where the Apostle Philip was supposedly martyred and buried. Notable archaeological structures include one of the largest surviving necropoleis in Turkey, two Roman baths, colonnaded streets, Byzantine gatehouses, a massive theater, the Martyrium of Philip, as well as an Archeological Museum. Hierapolis is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site! I would recommend exploring the ruins and then changing into your swimsuit for a dip in the Antique Pool to cool off! You may also want to buy a combined ticket and explore the ancient city of Laodicea as well.
Laodicea (Laodikeia) Ancient City
Only a fifteen minute drive away from Pamukkale is the stunning ruins of the ancient city of Laodicea. Excavated by an amazing team of Turkish Archaeologists, the massive site includes the largest stadium in Anatolia, two theaters, four baths, five agoras, five fountains (nymphaeums), impressive temples, and a myriad of churches and basilicas. This is barely scratching the surface of the incredible amount of features visible at this site. You can walk along beautiful paved Roman colonnaded streets, explore beautifully restored architecture and get a feel for what it would have been like to live hundreds of years ago. The site also holds Biblical significance as one of the Seven Churches of Revelation and features a stunning basilica with mosaics.
Colossae Biblical Site
In addition to the two major ancient cities near the Denizli region, the site of Colossae is also rich in historical and biblical history. As it stands today, the site is only an unexcavated mound. You can hike around the area which would have served as the acropolis, and you can also distinguish the remains of the cavea of a small theater. There is also a necropolis scattered to the north of the tell. Colossae is particularly known for being addressed in two of Apostle Paul’s epistles. Overall, while there is not much to observe at the site, it still marks an important place for the early church and holds mysteries which are just waiting to be uncovered.
In order to visit Pamukkale, you must first go through Denizli. Denizli is a large city located only 18 km south of Pamukkale. From Denizli, there are mini buses to each of Pamukkale’s attractions every half hour.
There are a variety of stays to choose from during your time in Pamukkale.
If you are interested in a high-class experience, the region is full of many thermal hotels, each equipped with their own natural hot spring pools. Most of these are located in Karahayıt, which is about a 10 minute drive from the most famous attractions in Pamukkale. Halici hotel offers their own private thermal pools, a Turkish bath, a massage salon, an all you can eat breakfast buffet, and excellent hospitality.
Wanting a more economical stay? There are also many boutique hotels in both the Pamukkale town and Karahayıt. Pamukkale’s town is closer to the famous attractions, so if you want to be situated walking distance from the thermal pools and hierapolis, be sure to get a hotel in Pamukkale proper. If you don’t mind driving or taking a taxi, Karahayıt offers equally satisfying, slightly cheaper stays. The city of Denizli also has a variety of hotels, but is around 20 minutes away by car.
Another option during your time in Pamukkale is to camp. Baydil Camping is a plot of land on which you can pitch your tent or park your camper. Nestled in the town of Pamukkale, this is an affordable and fun option during your stay. There are showers and bathrooms included in the camping fee.
--By Abigail Goosen, contributions from Caleb Bowman