Pamukkale’s Thermal Pools are one of the most frequently visited areas in Turkey. And now that it’s popularity has increased to a true Instagram status you will have to plan your visit carefully if you want to enjoy yourself!
Pamukkale’s Thermal Pools, also known as the “cotton castle”, is a magical site located near Denizli in the south westhern region of Turkey. It is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with Hierapolis, the ancient spa city that the Romans built and that can be found behind the thermal pools.
I am not sure if any of you ever watched the movie FernGully. But I watched it over and over again when I was little. And there is this one scene in the caves and they are running and jumping through travertines filled with water. Well this place looks exactly like that, but better!
The Complete Guide to Visiting Pamukkale’s Thermal Pools
How to get to Pamukkale?
If you’re traveling from Istanbul the fastest way to get to Pamukkale is by plane. Direct flights to Pamukkale leave pretty much every day from Istanbul’s main airport. The flight takes about 1 hour and will land in Denizli which is an 18km ride away from the Pamukkale thermal pools
The airport in Denizli is super tiny and pretty straight forward. After picking up your luggage simply head outside and look for a bus that will transfer you directly to Pamukkale.
When I first did research for this trip I got very confused about the information that I found on several tourist sites. All of them claimed that the only way to get to Pamukkale was to first take a bus to the center of Denizli. And from there you had to take another transfer to Pamukkale.
This is definitely not the case! There is a bus waiting outside of the airport when you arrive. If it’s not there simply ask someone from the staff and they will tell you when it will arrive. They usually time this pretty well with the arrival of new flights.
The bus ride to Pamukkale took around 40 minutes and it will drop you off on the main road.
If you don’t want to walk to your hotel and you want to be dropped off at the entrance you will have to take a taxi. In my honest opinion, it’s not worth the extra money cause the town of Pamukkale is very small.
The shuttle bus that takes you from Denizli to Pamukkale costs around 50TL. While a private transfer is quickly around 450TL.
Where to stay?
We stayed at the Özbay Hotel. Don’t expect anything too fancy but the rooms are clean and spacious. Ours even came with a little terrace. And the best part is that it was located right at the entrance of the site! Pamukkale isn’t a place where you’ll stay for an entire week.
Most likely you’ll stay no longer than 1 or 2 nights.
How much time do you need to visit the Pamukkale thermal pools?
Seeing the travertines only takes a couple of hours and you don’t need more than one day to explore the entire town of Pamukkale. But if you want the option to take photos during both sunrise and sunset you might have to stay 2 nights, depending on what time your flights arrives :).
A lot of the more luxury hotels in the area also come with their own thermal pools and spa’s. So why not enjoy these as well and avoid the crowds at the Pamukkale travertines?
Things to do in Pamukkale
Visit the Pamukkale travertines
The travertines are at it’s most beautiful during sunrise and sunset and are the main reason for most people’s visit. As I have mentioned before the meaning of Pamukkale is cotton castle. And once you see it for yourself you understand why it’s one of Turkey’s most beautiful natural wonders.
These thermal pools were formed by underground volcanic activity and the presence of hot thermal springs. This hot water is transferred 300 meters upwards by underground pressure. From here the water cascades down, all the while depositing calcium and minerals. And that’s how these travertines came to exist.
The entrance fee for the thermal pools is 50TL. Once you enter inside the area you are obligated to take of your shoes. Please respect this cause the ground you are walking on is actually pretty fragile. And honestly, walking on that hill barefoot was such an awesome feeling! Parts of it feel a little cold to your feet but once you reach the parts where water is streaming down you’ll notice how warm this water actually is. Oh and it’s nothing like walking barefoot near the Dead Sea. I had a pretty painful experience there but going barefoot in Pamukkale is totally fine!
Once you’re inside you’ll notice that part of the travertines are actually closed off. This is to preserve them and actually give them the chance to restore again. Tons and tons of people frequently visit this place on a daily basis so you can imagine the damage this does to the area. And people aren’t always as mindful as they should be.
For instance I saw many people walking around the travertines with their shoes on, THIS IS NOT ALLOWED! Please be a nice human and walk barefoot :). Also I saw a lot of people going over the ropes that separate the travertines from the part where you can’t go in. All for the sake of Instagram… It’s perfectly possible to take beautiful photos in the pools where you’re allowed in. So again, please be a respectful human being and don’t do this.
Visiting the Pamukkale thermal pools is pretty straight forward. There is one main path leading up (or down depending which entrance you’re coming from) and you can go into the pools surrounding this pathway.
Visit Hierapolis Archeological Site
The visit to the ancient city of Hierapolis is included in your ticket for the thermal pools. Hierapolis was founded in 190BC and it’s ruins are embraced by the unique natural site of Pamukkale.
The most prominent and popular spot has to be the amphitheater. When you’re standing at the top of the travertines you can actually already see it on the other side of the hill.
At the end of the archeological site you’ll find the Hierapolis Archeological Museum. Entrance is 5TL.
We chose to only admire the archeological site from a distance. I have visited so many amazing ones in the past (Ephesus, Pompei, etc.) that I didn’t find this one as interesting.
But if you have the time and you love archeology then you should definitely pay a visit to this site.
Go for a Hot Air Balloon Ride
If you thought these only happened in Cappadocia you are wrong! Although they don’t fly as frequently as they do in Cappadocia!
For €150 you’ll be on one of the standard and shared balloon flights which will fly over the site of Pamukkale and lasts for 1 hour.
If you really want to go a little crazy you can also book a private balloon flight. Do know that you’ll have to cough up €3000.
Bathe in the Antique Pool
The Antique Pool is close to the Archeological Museum but is not included in the standard ticket price. To enter the pool you’ll have to pay 32TL extra and make sure to bring your own towels.
Inside the pool are marble columns, that fell in from the Temple of Apollo during an earthquake. It is therefore believed that the Antique Pool is a sacred pool.
How to plan your visit to the Pamukkale thermal pools?
Which entrance is the best one?
There are several entrances from where you can enter the Pamukkale travertines. The North entrance, the South entrance and the Pamukkale town entrance. All of these entrances will grant you access to the thermal pools and to the Hierapolis.
The admission fee for all entrances is the exact same – 50TL
If you wish to also bathe in the Antique Pool you will have to pay an extra fee of 32TL.
North and South entrance
If you’re staying in Pamukkale itself you can reach these by car/taxi. Simply drive for 2 km in the direction of Karahayıt to reach the car park.
These entrances are ideal if you wish to visit the entire complex. Plus they open up earilier than the Pamukkale city entrance so you’ll have to use these ones if you want to take photos during sunrise.
Opening hours – 6.30am to 9pm
If you come here by car you will have to pay a parking fee of 5TL.
Pamukkale City Entrance
This entrance is located right outside of the city center and is the easiest to use if you don’t have a car and you’re staying inside the city of Pamukkale itself.
However opening times are a little different from the other entrances.
Opening hours – 8am to 9pm
Instagram vs. Reality
To be fair the Pamukkale thermal pools are pretty amazing and it’s a beautiful and unique piece of nature. But the crowds… the crowds…. the crowds are INSANE. Okay, maybe it didn’t help that we went there in August but I still feel that it’s my responsibility to tell you the truth!
If you want to take photos with no one else in them. Make sure to be at the North or South entrance at 6.30am and be prepared to make a run for it!
Tour busses start to arrive as soon as 7am so you don’t have that much alone time.
Also a lot of Instagrammers apparently take photos in the travertines that are clearly closed off to the public. I will repeat myself again: please don’t do that!