10 Reasons Why You Need To Visit Pamukkale, Turkey
Looking for a stunning travel destination that combines both natural beauty and fascinating history? Look no further than Pamukkale, Turkey. Located in the southwestern region of Turkey, Pamukkale is known for its picturesque cascading pools of hot springs and terraces that are said to have healing properties. The salty white rock looks like something straight out of a dream.
I went here on my own after Yelena had to be back in Germany, and I stayed in a place in the small village nearby so that I could have a whole day of exploring. As most people go to the UNESCO World Heritage Site on day trips, I was able to get some time there without the crowds. Because of that, I’m gonna give you 10 reasons as to why you have to visit Pamukkale, Turkey! From exploring ancient ruins to bathing in natural hot springs, Pamukkale packs a big punch for its small package.
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Where is Pamukkale?
Situated in southwestern Turkey, Pamukkale makes an easy day trip from Antalya or Bodrum, or a good stopover if you’re going between the two like I was. It’s also not too far from the Temple of Ephesus, or Demre, home to the OG Santa Claus and some pretty epic cave ruins. If you’re exploring the sites in this region, Pamukkale has to be on your list.
Most people have seen pictures of Pamukkale without actually knowing what its name was or where it was. When I was younger and still living at home, I had a giant map on my wall and I printed photographs of all the places I wanted to visit and pinned them around the map. Pamukkale was one of them. It sat alongside the Acropolis of Athens, the Colosseum in Rome, the Pyramids of Giza, Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, Borobudur, Angkor Wat and a whole host of other destinations. Out of all the pictures I had around the map, there’s only a few that I’m yet to visit: Angel Falls in Venezuela, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and Pulpit Rock in Norway.
Pamukkale is not just a natural wonder; it has a rich history that dates back thousands of years. It was first settled by the Hittites, an ancient civilization that ruled over Turkey during the Bronze Age. Later, the ancient Greeks and Romans also inhabited this region and left their mark on the landscape.
As you stroll through the ruins of Hierapolis, an ancient Greco-Roman city that sits atop the white travertine terraces, you can’t help but imagine what life must have been like back then. From the well-preserved theatre to the ancient bathhouses, every corner of this city offers a glimpse into the past. There are some panoramic views down to the modern town too and the surrounding area too.
The real highlight of Pamukkale’s history that you can still explore today is the Necropolis, a vast and sprawling cemetery that holds over 1,200 tombs. Walking amongst the rows of sarcophagi, you’ll get a real sense of awe and wonder at the sheer scale of this ancient burial site. While the ruins at Pamukkale are not the most impressive in the world, especially if you’ve already explored Greece, Italy or other parts of Turkey, they feel a little special because the natural pools are so close by.
10 Reasons Why You Need to Visit Pamukkale, Turkey
1. The World-Famous White Travertine Formations
The white travertine terraces and hot springs in Pamukkale are undoubtedly the main attraction and the reason why many people flock to this destination. It’s not exactly hard to see why. These stunning natural pools are formed by the flow of mineral-rich water cascading down the side of the hillside, leaving behind a brilliant white residue that looks like cotton or snow. In fact, the name Pamukkale actually translates to Cotton Castle, but calling it that will just sound like some kind of reject Disney movie. Anyway, the point is that Pamukkale offers a breathtaking landscape that is unlike anything else on Earth.
The best way to experience the terraces is by taking off your shoes and wading through the warm, mineral-rich water – in fact, it’s kinda the only way. Some angry Turkish guard will shout at you if you try to walk up the terraces with shoes on. It’s barefoot or nothing. And while it might be cold at first, especially if you’re there in winter like I was, it gets better once you get to the warmer pools. The terraces are also perfect for photo opportunities as the white pools make for a stunning backdrop. It’s probably the picture of Pamukkale that you’ve already seen. Just beware that these areas get crowded full of people taking selfies so you should head there at opening time or late in the day to beat the crowds.
Overall, the white travertine terraces and hot springs are an absolute must-see when visiting Pamukkale, Turkey. Or even just southwestern Turkey in general. Whether you’re looking to relax and unwind or simply marvel at the natural beauty of this destination, these stunning hot pools are sure to leave a lasting impression on you.
2. Enjoy the Pamukkale Thermal Pools’ Healing Properties
Not only are the terraces visually stunning, but they also offer visitors the chance to bathe in the hot springs and enjoy the alleged healing properties that come with it. The thermal water is rich in minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate, which are said to have a variety of health benefits, from relieving stress and muscle pain to improving skin conditions and aiding digestion.
The therapeutic properties of the Pamukkale thermal springs are embedded deep within their history and people have gone there for generations to overcome one ailment or another. They’re said to be particularly effective for soothing joint pain. I reckon if you went regularly you’d be more likely to see an effect, but just wandering through them for a day, you’re probably not gonna heal all your problems.
One of the most popular hot springs in Pamukkale is the Cleopatra Pool, which is said to have been visited by the famous Egyptian queen herself. Legend has it that Cleopatra was so enamoured with the healing powers of the water that she had the pool filled with water from the Nile. Today, visitors can soak in this ancient pool and experience the same healing properties that Cleopatra did thousands of years ago.
Overall, the hot springs of Pamukkale are an absolute must-visit for anyone looking to relax and unwind in a beautiful natural setting. Whether you choose to soak in the famous Cleopatra Pool or one of the other hot springs in the area, you are sure to leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
3. Explore the Ancient City of Hierapolis
The ancient ruins of Hierapolis are one of the main attractions in Pamukkale, Turkey, and offer visitors the chance to step back in time and experience the rich history of the region. Founded in the 2nd century BC, Hierapolis was an important city in the Roman Empire and was renowned for its thermal baths and healing properties of its hot springs.
One of the most impressive sights at Hierapolis is the ancient theatre, which could hold up to 12,000 spectators and is still used for performances and concerts to this day. Visitors are free to wander through the ruins of this magnificent structure. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of a paraglider or two, or a hot air balloon (or both!). If you’re even luckier, you might be the one in the sky, looking down at the Hierapolis ruins from above.
Perhaps the most famous attraction at Hierapolis is the Plutonion, a sacred cave believed to be the entrance to the underworld by the ancient Greeks. It was said to be the home of Hades (or Pluto) and was a highly revered place for ancient people. The cave was said to be home to toxic fumes that could kill anyone who entered, and it was used as a site for religious rituals. It was also used for animal sacrifices: animals would be thrown into the cave, then pulled back out with ropes that had been attached to them. Still to this day the cave contains toxic fumes.
During the early years of the town, the castrated priests of Cybele, the Anatolian mother goddess, descended into the cave by holding their breath or finding pockets of oxygen near the bottom. When they came back out, the people believed they were divinely protected and that a miracle had happened.
The town also made profit from the cave, selling animals to travellers so that they could test out how deadly the cave was themselves. Strabo, the ancient historian, said of the cave, “Any animal that passes inside meets instant death. At any rate, bulls that are led into it fall and are dragged out dead; I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.”
The cave also featured an Oracle of Pluto, which, for a fee, visitors could ask questions to. This became a great source of income for the temple and the town.
Overall, the ancient ruins of Hierapolis offer visitors a fascinating look into the history and culture of the region. From the impressive theatre and the ancient cemetery to the mysterious Plutonion, there is so much to explore and discover here.
4. Wander Through the Necropolis of Hierapolis
The Necropolis of Hierapolis is a sprawling ancient cemetery located on the hillside above the ancient city. It’s one of the largest and most well-preserved ancient cemeteries in the world, with thousands of tombs and sarcophagi dating back to the 2nd century BC. The cemetery was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans and offers visitors a fascinating insight into their funerary practices. I wonder if one of the biggest cemeteries in the ancient world being located next to the supposed gate to the Underworld is a coincidence, or if they were buried there for a reason. Most likely the latter.
The tombs in the Necropolis are incredibly diverse, ranging from simple stone sarcophagi to elaborate mausoleums with intricate carvings and sculptures. Many of the tombs are adorned with reliefs depicting scenes from everyday life, as well as mythological figures and gods.
Visitors to the Necropolis can wander through the ancient tombs and marvel at the intricate carvings and artwork that have survived for millennia. The views from the hillside are also stunning, with sweeping vistas of the surrounding countryside and the travertine terraces of Pamukkale in the distance. The Necropolis is a must-visit for anyone interested in ancient history and the rich culture of the region.
5. Bathe in the Cleopatra’s Pool
While we’ve already covered the hot springs in general, Cleopatra’s is worth an entry all on its own. Some history buffs might be shocked to hear that Cleopatra bathed in water at all. She was notorious for bathing in sour donkey’s milk and legend has it that she required 700 lactating donkeys to be nearby at all times. And she didn’t stop at sour donkey milk either. Cleopatra used to rub powdered crocodile crap (literally) on her face in a hope to boost her complexion. No judging here. Whatever floats your boat.
Despite Cleopatra’s odd skin care routine, her pool is one of the most interesting places located within the Hierapolis archaeological site in Pamukkale, Turkey. According to legend, the pool was a gift from Mark Antony to his lover Cleopatra and was filled with the region’s natural thermal waters. According to me, it’s a place full of cats that will surround you, taunt you, and steal your food the second they get the chance.
While the Cleopatra pools have been a popular destination because of the water’s healing properties for centuries, I’m betting it’s just as popular for tourists wanting to high five their butt cheeks with Cleopatra, sitting their wet ass down on the same stone as the last queen of Egypt.
The Cleopatra pools are surrounded by ancient columns and statues, making you feel like you’re bathing in the past. Visitors can enjoy a relaxing swim in the warm waters here while taking in the panoramic views of the surrounding hillsides and the ancient city of Hierapolis. Most of the other pools are too small to actually swim in so this is a great refresher. Bring your own towel and swimsuit otherwise you’ll have to buy one on the spot. They won’t let you in without them. We recommend this kind of microfibre towel as it dries quickly and folds up small so you can easily fit it in your backpack
Cleopatra’s Pool is said to have a number of health benefits, including improving circulation and reducing stress and anxiety. The waters are also believed to have a rejuvenating effect on the skin, leaving it soft and supple, probably much like Cleopatra’s…
6. Feast Your Eyes on the Views
Even if the ancient city and the Cotton Castle hot pools weren’t there, Pamukkale would probably still be a popular destination just because of the views. The gorgeous landscapes are what drives a lot of tourists to the southwestern part of the country in the first place, so it’s only right that you get to experience it here. It’s not a place to be forgetting your camera, let’s put it that way. When I was there, I used a combination of my OnePlus and the Sony RX100 III.
The travertine terraces themselves are a sight to behold, with their white, chalky appearance contrasting beautifully against the surrounding hills and valleys. You can explore the terraces on foot or by taking a dip in one of the natural thermal pools that flow down from the top. From there, you’ll be able to see the views while relaxing in a hot spring of your choice.
The views from the top of the terraces are particularly stunning, offering panoramic vistas of the surrounding countryside and the ancient city of Hierapolis. The best time to take in these views is at sunset, when the warm hues of the sun cast a golden glow over the terraces, creating a truly magical atmosphere. Prepare for people. Lots of people. However, if you get away from the terraces a little bit, there are more secluded benches with amazing views too. I even somehow connected to my hotel’s WiFi from up there.
7. Tick a UNESCO Heritage Site Off Your List
Pamukkale’s historical and natural significance has earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The site was added to the list in 1988, recognizing its importance as a cultural and natural wonder of the world. If you’re a culture nerd like myself then this might be of interest to you.
The UNESCO designation reflects the site’s unique combination of stunning natural beauty and rich historical significance. The beautiful white terraces are a natural wonder and there’s not really much else like them anywhere else on the entire planet, not to mention that the ancient city of Hierapolis provides a fascinating glimpse into the past. Combined together, you get a UNESCO site that’s worth a stop by if you’re in the area at the very least.
The UNESCO World Heritage designation also helps to preserve and protect the site for future generations. By recognizing the importance of Pamukkale, the designation ensures that the site is managed in a responsible and sustainable manner, preserving its beauty and cultural significance for generations to come.
8. Explore the Local City of Denizli
Denizli is the largest city and the commercial centre of the Pamukkale region. The city is known for its rich history, culture, and natural beauty, making it a popular destination for visitors seeking an authentic Turkish experience. I never actually went to Denizli other than to pass through, but I’m told it offers a range of attractions, including historic sites, museums, markets, and restaurants. If you were in the region for a little longer, it might make a good base for exploring the surrounding area. It would probably be cheaper than staying next to the Pamukkale thermal pools too.
One of the main attractions in Denizli is the Ataturk and Ethnography Museum. The museum features exhibits showcasing traditional clothing, handicrafts, and historical artefacts. Visitors can also learn about the life and legacy of Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, through interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations. While I never went to this specific museum, I did learn a lot about Ataturk in Ankara. The dude is a national hero.
Denizli is also more of a local place so you’re more likely to catch the authentic side of Turkey there than in the touristy town at Pamukkale. If you want to sample the best of Turkish cuisine, you’re better off looking for the places where the locals eat. Definitely try pide if you see it around. It’s incredible. As is Iskender, pictured below. Having said that, you can still get a good ol’ Turkish simit to eat on your way up the hill at Pamukkale.
9. Head Underground at Kaklik Cave
Kaklik Cave, located just a short drive from Pamukkale, is yet another natural wonder in this region stuffed full of wonders. The cave is formed of limestone and boasts an intricate network of stalactites and stalagmites (I have no clue which is which so don’t ask), creating an otherworldly atmosphere that is truly mesmerising.
Visitors can explore the cave’s various chambers, admiring the crazy formations that have been created over millions of years. The cave is also home to a small underground lake, adding to the sense of mystery and intrigue.
Kaklik Cave is relatively unknown compared to some of the other attractions in the region, making it a great choice if you’re looking to get off the beaten track during your trip to Pamukkale, Turkey.
10. Take a Day Trip to Lake Salda
Fancy a longer excursion? Head to the “Turkish Maldives”, a.k.a Lake Salda. Located approximately 60 kilometres from Pamukkale, Lake Salda has crystal clear turquoise waters and white sandy beaches and feels totally out of place for an inland area. Not only jaw-droppingly gorgeous, Lake Salda is also the largest and deepest volcanic crater lake in Turkey. It’s also rated by TripAdvisor as the 2nd best thing to do in the region.
The waters of Lake Salda are so clear that it’s possible to see 10 metres below the surface, making it a popular destination for swimming, snorkelling, and diving. Bring your goggles if you’re heading there, especially if you’re also gonna check out Bodrum, Antalya, Demre and the other coastal towns in the region. The lake is also home to several small islands and islets, which can be explored by boat.
Similar to the pools at Pamukkale, Lake Salda isn’t just popular because of its natural beauty. The lake is famous for its healing properties, thanks to the water’s high mineral content. It’s said to have a number of health benefits, including improving circulation and easing joint pain. A visit to Lake Salda is a chance to experience the stunning beauty of one of Turkey’s most unique and beautiful natural wonders, and to enjoy the healing properties of its crystal clear waters. While it gets a little busier than Kaklik Cave, it’s certainly not as popular as Pamukkale.
Enjoy Your Trip to Pamukkale, Turkey
The most important thing is that you enjoy your time there. Even if you only go on a day trip and just have time to run around the main site and have a quick gander at the ancient Greek ruins, you’ll still have a wonderful time. Definitely include Pamukkale on your itinerary if you’re in south west Turkey. You won’t regret it.
Check out the rest of our things to do in Turkey, or explore other destinations and let your travel bug roam free.