Pamukkale is one of the most unique destinations in Turkey. Its evocative name, which translates from Turkish as “Cotton Castle”, says it all! The rock formation of travertine forms natural pools that look like clouds. The area also benefits of thermal springs that are known since antiquity. But there are so many more incredible things to do in Pamukkale, without further ado let’s see them!
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Table of Content
- 1. Walk on the Cotton Castle
- 2. Explore Hierapolis
- 3. Bathe in Cleopatra’s Pool
- 4. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride
- 5. Enjoy the Thermal Waters of Karahayit
- 6. Explore the Kaklik Cave
- 7. Visit Laodicea
- 8. Pamper Yourself in Thermal Spas
- 9. Sample Local Cuisine
- Practical info to plan your trip to Pamukkale
- One last word about the best things to do in Pamukkale
1. Walk on the Cotton Castle
Take off your shoes and walk barefoot on the surreal terraces of Pamukkale. The mineral-rich thermal waters flowing down the terraces create a unique landscape.
The travertine terraces of Pamukkale were formed by the accumulation of calcium carbonate deposits left behind by the flowing thermal waters. The water, heated by geothermal activity deep underground, emerges from the ground and cascades down the terraces, leaving behind a series of shimmering white pools.
Unfortunately following the development of the area the water that once ran through the travertine terraces was diverged. The place is still incredible, but now you will notice that water runs only in the large pools next to the walking path. While once you are on the top, the travertine terraces are empty except after heavy rains.
During the hot Turkish summer if there hasn’t been any rain the pools on top of the hill dry. Although along the path to the top there is always water in the pools. See the picture below.
Tips for visiting
Make sure to plan ahead and bring a backpack to carry essential items like a small towel, shoes, and socks. Inside the site you can’t wear shoes and you will want to enjoy the thermal waters along the way.
Remember also that the bright white surface reflects sunlight intensely, if you have fair skin consider covering up and applying sunscreen for protection. Certain areas can also be slippery or irregular.
2. Explore Hierapolis
Pamukkale is world-known because of the travertine pools, but the ancient city of Hierapolis is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Turkey. Anciently a Phrygian community, it was under the Greek dominance that it became a bustling spa city.
Nowadays Hierapolis preserves many of the ancient buildings and roads, including the Theatre. Exploring the alleys and ruins is a great experience, if you have the chance to book a guided tour I highly recommend it to learn more about the site’s history.
Explore the Archaeological Museum located inside one of the largest buildings in Hierapolis, the Roman baths. The collection isn’t very large but it’s very interesting, featuring a rich collection of artifacts from the ancient city. And also from the neighboring archaeological sites of Colossae, Laodiceia, Tripolis, Attuda, Beycesultan, and Çatalhöyük.
The entry is not included in the access to Hierapolis, but for the small fee it’s absolutely worth it!
3. Bathe in Cleopatra’s Pool
Before leaving Hierapolis you can enjoy a rejuvenating swim in Cleopatra’s Pool. Situated in the middle of the ruins, this pool is filled with warm thermal waters and submerged by ancient columns, offering a remarkable swimming experience. Although be careful not to bless yourself among the ruins or on the uneven pool ground.
The access to the pool is possible by paying an entrance fee. You can still admire the submerged ruins from free from the outside. The entry fee will give you access to restrooms and lockers where you can leave your belongings while bathing.
Note: if you want to take your electronic devices inside the pool for a photo souvenir, forget about it! The staff won’t let you, the structure has a photographer that sells photos instead.
Tips for visiting
If you are visiting Hierapolis and the travertine pools in the same day make sure to dress comfortably. Hierapolis is a very large archaeological site and you will be walking, a lot! For this reason consider bringing a swimsuit and a towel (to enjoy the thermal waters), some water, and sunscreen.
4. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride
And yet experiencing the breathtaking beauty of Pamukkale and the surroundings mountains from a hot air balloon is worthwhile. Float above the terraces and witness the sunrise for a truly magical experience.
And if you don’t know which experience you should book, check out our comparative table:
|Payless Turizm||60 min.||140€|
|Unique Ephesus Tour||35 min.||166€|
Note: Some companies says they have breakfast included, but following 2020, they removed it to respect hygiene standards. If this is important to you, ask if they still offer it when reserving.
Wanna try something different? Have you heard of paragliding?
5. Enjoy the Thermal Waters of Karahayit
Venture beyond Pamukkale to Karahayit, a village known for its vibrant red thermal waters. Just like Pamukkale there are many springs around this small village and also many hotels have their own private red springs.
Marvel at the striking color and enjoy a relaxing dip in the mineral-rich hot springs. The red color is due to the high mineral content present in the springs, particularly iron oxide and other minerals.
Aside from the thermal pools, many resorts in Karahayit provide additional amenities to enhance your visit. You can indulge in soothing spa treatments such as mud baths, facials, and massages, all utilizing the natural minerals found in the thermal waters.
Karahayit is also one of the best places to stay in when visiting Pamukkale and Hierapolis. There are many excellent resorts and thermal hotels.
Our hotel pick? Pam Thermal Hotel and Clinic.
Their thermal pools are huge, they also have a normal one. And their buffet is extraordinary! I still have water in my mouth thinking of their excellent dessert buffet.
6. Explore the Kaklik Cave
Discover the fascinating Kaklik Cave, also known as the “Underground Pamukkale.” This natural wonder features unique formations of travertine and stalactites, making it an off-the-beaten-path gem.
Kaklik Cave is a labyrinth of stunning travertine terraces, cascading pools, and flowing streams. The sunlight filtering through the openings in the cave ceiling adds a magical touch, illuminating the formations and creating a captivating play of light and shadow.
As you enter Kaklik Cave, you’ll find a labyrinth of stunning travertine terraces, cascading pools, and flowing streams. The travertine formations resemble frozen waterfalls, with their intricate patterns and textures.
7. Visit Laodicea
Laodicea was an important city in ancient times and is known for its well-preserved ruins. As you explore the site, you’ll come across ancient structures such as the theater, the odeon, and several temples. These ruins provide a glimpse into the architectural achievements and urban planning of the ancient city.
The theater of Laodicea is one of the main highlights of the site. With a seating capacity of around 15,000 spectators, it was a significant venue for theatrical performances and public gatherings.
Laodicea covers a significant area, and exploring the site involves walking through the ruins. Be prepared for uneven surfaces and wear comfortable footwear suitable for walking on archaeological terrain.
As you explore Laodicea, you will enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes, particularly Pamukkale. The elevated position of the ancient city allows for picturesque vistas of the Turkish countryside and mountains.
8. Pamper Yourself in Thermal Spas
Similarly to the Dead Sea, many tourists come to Pamukkale to indulge in the spa treatments at one of the thermal spas in Pamukkale. Or one of the many hotels that have thermal spas.
Known since ancient times for their beneficial effect, you have the choice between the thermal waters of Pamukkale (notably Cleopatra’s pool) and the red waters of Karahayit.
If you decide to stay in Pamukkale: Pamukkale Melrose Viewpoint Suites is the ideal accommodation for you, being only 5 minutes by walk from the travertine terraces you can take your time to enjoy the benefits of the thermal waters in the large pools or in Hierapolis.
For more thorough treatments check out Karahayit instead. I have already mentioned the amazing Pam Thermal Hotel and Clinic, but how not to mention the beautiful Herakles Thermal Hotel? Both accommodations have thermal pools with mud and you can also book complete spa treatments.
So take some time off, relax in the warm mineral-rich waters, enjoy a soothing massage, and rejuvenate your mind and body!
9. Sample Local Cuisine
Taste the delicious local cuisine of Pamukkale. Try traditional Turkish dishes like kebabs, pide (Turkish pizza), and gözleme (stuffed flatbread). My personal favorite were dishes with lamb. I’m usually not a fan of lamb but the way they season it makes its flavor really stand out.
As costume in Istanbul when shopping or wandering in the streets, you will be often offered Turkish tea. This delicious blend of black tea is a must try! You can even take the delicious Turkish delights to go with it.
Last but not least, you have to taste the flying ice cream! Dondurma, as it’s called in English, reminds mastic because of its consistence. One of the funniest things to witness is when vendors prepare it: they take the ice cream with a long stick and start to rotate it above their heads. The taste is very good also, less sweet than Italian ice cream but still excellent!
Practical info to plan your trip to Pamukkale
When is the best time to visit Pamukkale?
From April-May to September-October. The temperatures are mild and you will be able to dip inside the regular pools without freezing.
Getting to Pamukkale
Pamukkale is situated far away from the coast in the South West of Turkey. The site is 1 hour flight from Istanbul and about 6 hours by car. Based on our experience the best way to explore this rural region is on a road trip from Cappadocia.
Coming from the fairy lands of Cappadocia to Pamukkale is an exciting journey. The landscapes are incredible, and there are so many places to visit along, like the most ancient village in the world, Çatalhöyük.
If you are coming from the air, check out flights to Denizli Çardak Airport. Once there you can rent a car to move around the area.
Day trips to Pamukkale
Don’t want to think about the logistic? This private tour from Istanbul, including the flight will take care of everything. Altough if you have more time I highly recommend spending at least two days in Pamukkale.
Planning to match Pamukkale with some time on the beautiful Aegean coast? From Kusadasi or Selcuk you have this one day guided tour. Be aware though, the road is long (about 3 hours).
One last word about the best things to do in Pamukkale
Remember to check the availability and opening hours of the attractions you are going to visit in advance, as some may vary depending on the season or ongoing renovations.
Whether you choose to soak in the warm thermal waters, take a hot air balloon ride for panoramic views, or indulge in the local cuisine, you are sure to spend an incredible time in Pamukkale. So, pack your bags, put on your walking shoes, and embark on a journey to the Cotton Castle!
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