Visiting the Pools of Pamukkale – Denizli, Turkey
After a long day exploring Göreme on the Green Tour, we checked out of our hotel to head to our next intended major site on our list of places to visit – Pamukkale. From Cappadocia, the only transportation available are overnight buses (no direct flights or trains), so we were in for a long 9+ hour overnight bus ride to the town of Aydin. The bus itself was pretty nice – it had monitors behind each headrest to watch TV, and an attendant who passed out water and snacks periodically. Despite being so tired from our long day of site-seeing, the three of us didn’t get much sleep on the bus, as it would get really cold and then really hot and stuffy throughout the ride. Along with this, there were frequent restroom breaks which the driver would announce over the speakers throughout the bus (which is a good thing, I guess, but not when you’re trying to get some shut-eye!), and people would walk up and down the aisles getting on and off the bus.
After about 9 hours, we arrived in Aydin, the main transfer hub. From there, we had to find a mini-bus (similar to the collectivos in Peru), that was headed to Selcuk, where our hotel was located. The mini-bus picked up and dropped off numerous people along our route and after about an hour, we finally reached our destination – Selcuk! Our original (naive) plan was to check in and make use of our free day by going straight to Pamukkale since we would have been well rested (haha!). Needless to say the three of us checked into our Air Bnb and passed out from exhaustion. This was another great travel reminder for all of us to remember to factor in transit and travel time between destinations and activities!
After finally getting some much needed rest, we booked a tour for Pamukkale the next day through our Air Bnb, and decided to take it easy that night. We had a delicious kebab dinner and bought a bunch of baklava to enjoy back at our apartment while catching up on some episodes of The Walking Dead.
Pamukkale is about 2 and a half hours away from Selcuk and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s possible to get there on your own, but we decided after our long travel day the previous day, that it would be much easier to just book a tour. We were picked up in the morning by our tour in a large van and were joined by various travelers from the US, Singapore, and China.
We made an obligatory “shopping” stop at an Onyx factory – which was very similar to the one that we were taken to on our Green Tour.
Only thing that really intrigued me were the green and blue Coca-Cola cans that I’ve never seen before, available in the gift shop area
Included in our tour was a buffet lunch. A couple from our tour loaded up their plates sky high, as if this was the first buffet they’ve ever been to. Impressively, they actually finished all of it!
We were finally on our way to Pamukkale!
Our first stop was to the Roman amphitheater of Hierapolis, where our guide explained that this was actually 80% original and that they still hold events there! It must be amazing to attend an event at such a historical site. It reminded us a lot of the historical arenas and ruins we saw in Croatia that are regularly used for musical events and festivals.
From there, we made our way over to the antique pools. The pathway there is surrounded by ruins that are awaiting to be restored.
The antique pools are said to have healing properties and is the place where people can swim and enjoy the hot calcium-laden mineral water pools. We went in November, so the weather was pretty cold and only a few people were in the pools. If you’re planning to visit Pamukkale and want to swim, I would suggest finding a way to get there outside of a tour, so that way you aren’t bound to a set schedule.
Our tour guide walked us over to a pump alongside the pool so we could all feel that the water was very warm. Our tour guide, being the jokester he is, encouraged everyone to drink the natural mineral water for its benefits, “You can drink it, you can drink it!” After someone from our tour group took a sip from his hands, our tour guide exclaimed, “What are you doing? I said you can’t drink it!” After a look of panic overcame his face, our tour guide cracked up and said he was just joking!
Minh and I skipped drinking it, but the water was definitely nice and warm to the touch.
Pamukkale, means “cotton castle” in Turkish, and is a pretty fitting name for the beautiful white hillside. Pamukkale’s terraces are made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by water from the hot springs. Wearing shoes in the water is prohibited to protect the deposits. According to our guide, the pools are getting smaller, as the year previous they were about 3.5 kilometers, and now it’s only 3 kilometers.
Once you make your way down, you can step into the pools – some are warmer than others – and take in the gorgeous views and surroundings.
A warning to those visiting, walking over these “cotton” castles are pretty tricky! The parts where there’s lots of white is actually pretty smooth and manageable, but the parts where it’s thinner and the rock is peeking through is very painful! As we made our way down the pools, Minh kept complaining that it felt like he was going to slice his feet open (we’re city people, we hardly go anywhere barefoot…lol)! Understandably, I imagine that having hundreds of people walk over the pools is what is causing it to disintegrate and is the reason why shoes aren’t allowed.
We saw a girl who was walking around with socks on, and we were all jealous that her feet were slightly protected! Not sure if wearing socks is actually allowed, but if it is, and you’re concerned about walking over the rough parts, I would highly recommend bringing a pair of socks that you don’t mind getting wet to wear (or possibly bringing some liquid band-aid for the bottom of your feet! lol).
Pamukkale seems to be a really big tourist destinations and busloads of people are dropped off throughout the day. Luckily for us we were leaving just as a huge group made their way down.
Another random thing we also noticed was that Pamukkale and Göreme seems to be a big travel destination for Korean tourists, as there was a significant amount of Korean tour groups here and in Cappadocia (along with several Korean restaurants to accommodate them!)
To further solidify that this was indeed an international tourist hot spot, on our way out, each vendor was hollering at us to come over – and even speaking to us in Chinese!
I really enjoyed our visit to Pamukkale. I imagine it’s even more enjoyable when the weather is a little warmer and you can spend a full day relaxing in the hot springs at the antique pools. It’s no question why it’s such a popular destination, (the oxymoron of avoiding the large tour groups is the tough part!). It’s another amazing UNESCO site worth visiting!