Get There: The nearest big town to Pammukale is Denizli, but it’s easily accessible from other popular tourist spots including Kusadasi, Selcuk, Izmir, Cappadocia, Marmaris and Fethiye. A detailed breakdown appears below.
Cost: TL20 (approx 10AUD) for entry
“What the hell is that??!”
I had just been yanked from a deep slumber as the bus pitched and keeled through a pothole- smacking my head against the window- and was now gaping at what appeared to be a lone snowy mountain in the middle of a desert.
“What the hell is Pamukkale? Is that snow?!”
Turns out, it’s not snow but travertine. What the hell is travertine, you ask? I wanted to ask the same thing, but I was already getting weird looks for apparently having no idea that I had hopped on a Pamukkale tour bus (which was true, I didn’t. My Turkish boss had put me on the bus as a means of getting me down to Fethiye. I was completely unaware it involved sightseeing).
Days later, I found out that travertine is a type of limestone: white sediment left behind by the 17 hot springs that flow in this small area of the Denizli Province in south-western Turkey. Over the years, as water from the springs trickled down the sides of the 600m high rock formation, travertine accumulated to form bleached and chalky terraces that earned it the name ‘Cotton Castle’ – the English translation of Pamukkale.
The top of Pamukkale is flat, like Uluru, and the ground is rocky and pockmarked with clear thermal pools. In the early BC years, the ancient Romans built a little empire up their called Hierapolis. It was first established as a healing thermal spa retreat and slowly expanded into a mini city with a Roman theatre and all, the remains of which are still half-standing today.
However, it’s the façade which faces the township of Pamukkale that’s the real clincher for this otherwise standard ancient rubble tourist attraction. The cliff face is a pristine white colour and carved in tiers of thermal pools, like petal-shaped steps leading down to the settlement below. It has a path you can follow, providing access to the warm baths, winding all the way down to the bottom. Slightly more awesome than just going to the local swimming pool!
Site entry is TL20 (approx. $10AUD). If you’ve booked through a tour company, the price will generally cover transport and entrance to the site – possibly a guided tour as well. A package tour (bus and site entry) from Kusadasi, Selcuk or Denizli will be around €45-80 (65-115AUD) and one from Istanbul will start at around €100 (145AUD). They also have those audio headphone guides on site which are relatively cheap and probably better than doing it without any guidance at all as it’s kind of a baffling place. While I wouldn’t stay more than a day, Pamukkale is one of those trippy natural phenomenons that messes with your preconceptions about how the world should look. It’s definitely something worth seeing.
How do I get there?
1. Fly – The quickest way to get down from Istanbul is flying to Denizli, which is about 70km from Pamukkale. There are currently three airlines you can take to do this trip: Turkish Airlines, Pegasus and Borajet, and it can be as cheap as €17 one-way. From Denizli, you can catch a minibus (dolmus) to Pamukkale from the lower level of the Denizli Otogar (bus station) usually departing every 20 minutes for approximately €1.
2. Bus – Buses are a huge business in Turkey (they’re pretty top shelf too), and there is no shortage heading to Pamukkale from most of the major cities. You can either go straight to an otogar to buy a bus ticket or go to a tour company and they’ll put you on a tour or book a regular bus ticket for you. If it’s summer, you may need to book one or two days in advance, otherwise you can just rock up on the day. Often the tour companies will have package itineraries which will also stop at Kusadasi or Selcuk (Ephesus ruins) two hours west of Pamukkale. If you’re coming from Istanbul or Cappadocia, there is the option of an overnight bus, usually departing at 10pm and arriving at 6.30/8.00am for 45-60 TL (approx. 23-30AUD) which saves you a night’s accommodation! Very few buses go directly to the Pamukkale site, especially not the big coaches, so you might need to grab a dolmus from Denizli or the town of Pamukkale.
3. Train – If you’re coming from Izmir, there is a train that runs down through Selcuk and across to Denizli which takes about four hours. A one way ticket is 18.75 TL ($9.50AU). It runs six times a day, so you don’t need to be overly organised.