The dolmus from Denizli dropped me off on the main street of Pamukkale, mildly deranged from lack of sleep on the overnight bus from Istanbul and dusty from the 30 minute bus ride.
I knew I was in Pamukkale because every single building in town was either a guesthouse, a restaurant with BIG picture menus plastered in front, or a travel agency.
And oh, the blindingly white cliff right by the edge of town was a big giveaway as well.
This white cliff is the reason hundreds of visitors descend upon Pamukkale every day.
As mineral rich water from the natural hot springs in the area flow, it leaves behind white travertines, terraces made of carbonate minerals. The pools of water contained within these terraces look like they were sitting on top of white, fluffy cotton bowls (Pamukkale means ‘cotton castle’ in Turkish).
When the sun hits these pools at just the right angle, the colors of are mesmerizing.
Shoes are not allowed on the travertine and the guards in the area are very anal about it. Shrills of whistles were heard almost constantly. This is how they maintain the white color of the travertine despite the thousands of feet stepping on it on a daily basis.
Don’t expect solitude. The atmosphere was close to theme park-like with kids running around, guards blowing their whistles and yelling at people to take off their shoes, and the busloads of tourists that were dropped off at the top. For me it was a small price to pay to see this beauty of a landscape.
Pamukkale now is not like what the posters and the postcards promise. For once, you’re not allowed to bathe in the terraces anymore (it’s a good thing). Instead, artificial pools have been created by the main entrance for visitors to bathe in.
While waiting around for sunset I got to see how different cultures approach this public bathing opportunity. The Asians would be fully clothed but were more than happy to roll up their pants and dip their feet in water (they’re also the ones with umbrellas). The more daring ones might even go as far as calf-deep (gasp)! The Europeans would go all out, immersing themselves from head to toe in any available body of water.
Secondly, the water flow has been diverted numerous times. On the other side of the hill I could see dried out travertine pools that would’ve been magnificent in their heyday when those posters were created. When I went, the pools only existed in small sections of the hills.
So adjust your expectations and I think you’ll find Pamukkale worth the effort to get here.
Tips on visiting Pamukkale
– Wear Tevas-like sandals if you have them
– Bring the biggest zoom lens you have. You’ll need them.
– Stay for sunset. I came around 4pm, left around 7 pm with plenty of time in between for pictures and hanging out.
How to get to Pamukkale from Istanbul
There are many overnight buses you can take. Pamukkale (name of bus company) is one of them. Overnight buses in Turkey is ok – they serve free snacks/drinks on the bus. If you’ve been on ADO (Mexico) or Cruz del Sur (Peru), don’t expect anything like that. Cost: 60 Liras ($30)
The buses would take you to Denizli, 30 minutes away from Pamukkale itself. From Denizli, a dolmus (a minibus) will take you to Pamkkale for 3 Liras ($1.50). Easy transfer.
Where to stay in Pamukkale
No need to book acommodation in advance. Pamukkale (the town) is so compact and saturated with pensions/guesthouses/hotels of every budget. It takes about 15 minute walk to cover the whole town.