“Is it really not snow? Are you sure?!” I asked Mike, looking up towards the gleaming white hill. Even as we began making our way up, the white surface beneath us coarse and rough against our feet, warm spring water trickling downhill – I still couldn’t believe it.
We were visiting Pamukkale – a small town in the south-west of Turkey. Pamukkale in English means ‘cotton castle’ – the town is famous for its hot springs and travertines, stark white in colour that cover the hillside. When we first came across images of the town, with its fairy tale looking blue thermal pools encased in white, we knew we had to visit. It was only when looking further into it that we realised despite what it looked like, that it was not snow and ice that formed the travertines but a form of limestone.
A visit to Pamukkale will cross not one but two UNESCO World Heritage site’s off your list – not only is the terraced hillside a protected attraction, but atop the hills lies the ancient ruins of the city of Hierapolis – together the two sites form the Hierapolis-Pamukkale World Heritage site.
Removing our shoes and paying our entrance fee, we began our climb up the terraced hill side to the top. Despite the presence of warm thermal water flowing down the hill, the surface of the terraces is not slippery – quite the opposite in fact. With a chalky feel in areas, the majority of the surface is hard and coarse, with thousands of ridges that have been created by the flow of water.
After making our way to the top – at 160 metres high it’s not a long walk but takes awhile as you have to tread quite carefully – we set about exploring the ruins of Hierapolis, which are included as part of your entrance fee.
Hierapolis was one of several ancient ruin sites we visited in Turkey, and once again we couldn’t get enough of it. We loved exploring these incredible places, closing our eyes and imagining life thousands of years ago. Merchants selling their wares in the market places, saddled animals transporting goods to neighbouring cities, children running around and playing games, people of position going about their business – the ruins in Turkey are often so well-preserved that you really can imagine them as bustling empires of old.
Not much is known about ancient Hierapolis, but due to the presence of the thermal spas a city was established here; the waters used as a healing tool amongst physicians. It is believed that up to 50 000 people resided in Hierapolis at its peak. Churches, temples, theatres, shrines, tombs, water systems are all amongst the ruins you can explore in Hierapolis, with a museum on site displaying some of the smaller artefacts discovered in this ancient city.
After exploring the ruins of Hierapolis, we began our descent back through the travertines, this time spending more time in the pools. Whilst the larger, more photogenic pools are blocked off from the public, you are allowed to explore the smaller pools along the main path. We changed into swimmers – which is perfectly allowed around the thermal pools – and jumped in!
The thermal water contained in the pools is warm, a perfect temperature for relaxing. The bottom of the pools was chalky and mud-like – we loved scooping it up and giving ourselves a good old scrub – nature’s very own skin treatment! Even though the terraces were extremely busy with tourists, to our surprise not a lot were jumping in to the pools, preferring to use the artificial pools on site (located both at the bottom of the hill and amongst the Hierapolis ruins) – it worked for us!
We spent hours climbing around the terraces and hopping from one pool to the other – you can visit as long as you like once you’re on site. Watching the sun set from the terraces and reflecting in the blue pools was absolutely magical. Spending a day traversing travertines in Pamukkale was absolutely magical and a must-do on any Turkey itinerary!
- Getting to Pamukkale
Pamukkale is a very popular destination in Turkey, and nearly every major city will offer a bus service to the town. Buses in Turkey are incredibly affordable and very comfortable! Alternatively, the nearest airport is in the nearby city of Denizli.
- Where to stay?
While Pamukkale can technically be visited as a day trip from nearby cities, it is well worth at least a night to explore properly. We stayed at the nearby Sunrise Aya Hotel – it was a walk of just a few hundred metres to the entrance of the terraced hillside.
- How much does it cost?
The entrance fee (as of April 2014) for the travertines and the ruins of Hierapolis is 25 TL / $11.50 AUD
Have you been to Pamukkale? Would you add this to your trip to Turkey? Share your thoughts in the comments!