On a recent trip to Turkey, my wife and I were able to spend one day visiting Pamukkale. We’ve been to Turkey several times over the years visiting various holiday resorts, but we’ve never had the opportunity to see any of the sights of Turkey. This is because we have two young kids so excursions are tricky, especially with long coach journeys and lots of walking involved! But for this holiday we had my wife’s parents with us so they could look after the little terrors for one day back at the hotel 🙂 Here’s my review of Pamukkale. Is it worth visiting and does it live up to the hype?
What is Pamukkale?
This is a natural site in the Denizli province in Turkey. Pamukkale is famous for its brilliant white travertine terraces caused by the interaction of thermal water and limestone. You can also find the ancient city of Heriapolis there as well as the Cleopatra pools which contain warm thermal water, ideal for bathing.
How do you get to Pamukkale?
If you’re travelling on an excursion your guide should take you straight from your hotel to Pamukkale. We travelled from Pine Beach hotel, in the Belek region of Turkey, but it is a long trip. It took us about 5 hours and we set off very early in the morning (around 4am)
If you’re travelling by yourself you basically want to head to Denizli and then travel to Pamukkale from there. You can reach Denizli by plane, bus or train and then Pamukkale is about a half hour drive from there.
How far is it from Istanbul?
It’s about a 7 hour drive from Istanbul so it is probably too far if you want to go just for the day. However, it’s fairly easy to sort out overnight accommodation in the town of Pamukkale.
When is the best time to visit Pamukkale?
Having visited Turkey several times over the years, I would say April – June or September-October are the best times to visit Pamukkale. You obviously want to feel comfortable in your swimwear if you dip in the Cleopatra pools so the weather should be sunny and warm. However, July and August will probably be too hot and you need to be wary of sunstroke and dehydration as there is a lot of walking involved, especially if you visit Heriapolis.
However, I will say that the temperature is definitely cooler here up in the mountains than by the beach at a holiday resort. We went in October and you could definitely feel the difference. My wife and I were wearing jumpers when we arrived at Pamukkale in the morning (we took them off later though as the sun rose higher in the sky). If you can only go in July or August, make sure you arrive early in the morning and try and finish by lunchtime before it gets too hot.
What can you see there?
There are three main things you can see if you go to Pamukkale:
- Cleopatra pools
- Travertine terraces
Here’s a look at these in more detail.
When you think of Pamukkale, or look at any photos online, you usually focus on the white travertine terraces or the thermal pools. However, I found Heriapolis fascinating and it’s certainly worth spending time there. Hierapolis translates as ‘Holy City’ in Greek and it was founded in 2nd century BC as a thermal spa. Over the years, it became a centre for treating patients by using the thermal springs. The Romans took control of Hierapolis in 133 BC and then the city was rebuilt using Roman building methods and architecture.
Having visited Pompeii years ago, overall Heriapolis is not as well preserved, but there are some fascinating things which are still intact.
My jaw almost hit the floor when I saw this. The amphitheatre is an uphill walk from the main entrance of the site so you don’t see the interior until you’ve reached the top and entered the theatre itself. It’s huge with around 50 rows of seats. Definitely worth a look!
This was a fun experience and my wife and I spend around thirty minutes in the thermal pool. As you might expect, the water is nice and warm and certainly not too hot, even if you have fairly sensitive skin. As you are wading through the pool, you will notice the rocks have a lovely green colour which shine and sparkle when the sunlight hits them. Make sure you watch out for protruding rocks, columns and stones though as it can be a little awkward to move over them. There is a separate section which you can see in the photo below, where the water is deeper and supposedly the minerals in the water are a little stronger.
The only drawback about the whole experience was the changing room. Mine felt quite dirty and there was an unpleasant smell in the room. However, my wife said hers was ok so maybe I was just unlucky?
Can you swim in the thermal pools?
In the main section of the thermal pools the water is quite shallow so it is quite hard to swim there, but in the deeper section (to the right of the rope in the picture above) it is a little easier to paddle a bit. However, there is always some obstacle nearby, so watch your feet and legs carefully when you’re moving around.
Time for the main event! (at least for most visitors to Pamukkale). This is truly a stunning site and I’ve never come across anything like this before. Living in the UK, we have the White Cliffs Of Dover but it’s not even close to being as spectacular as the white travertine terraces here. The pictures don’t really do it justice and you see why the word ‘Pamukkale’ means ‘cotton castle’ in Turkish. It’s basically a huge semi circular arc of white limestone with thermal pools and a stream which runs all the way down to a main lake at the bottom.
You are fairly free to walk up and down the main slope, which is very wide with a couple of thermal pools and a stream running down, but you’re not allowed on the terraces themselves. Unfortunately the thermal pools on the terraces have dried up over the last twenty years, and they are in a poor condition, most likely due to exploitation of the thermal water from the locals. There used to be some swimming pools in the hotels built on top of the area, which obviously used too much of the water. Also, demand for water has increased over the years in the town itself as the population has grown.
Is Pamukkale a good option if you have a young family?
Although my wife and I decided to go without our two kids to visit Pamukkale, it is possible to go there with children. It just depends on the age of your kids. There is a quite a bit of walking involved especially if you visit Heriapolis. I can imagine my 6 year old daughter would be moaning quite a bit walking around there. My conclusion is that if you’re just going to visit the thermal pools and travertine terraces, you should be fine with young kids. However, Heriapolis is probably not suitable unless you have very strong walkers or older kids.
Can you use a stroller?
There are plenty of walkways around the lower part of the site which makes accessibility easier, but higher up in Heriapolis it is quite hilly and bumpy so you might get tired yourself with a pushchair! If you have a young baby, it’s probably best to use a baby carrier. This will also be very useful along the travertine terraces as there’s no way you can use a pushchair there. Just watch your step as it can be quite slippery!
What accommodation is available nearby?
If you can’t visit Pamukkale and do everything you want in a day, there is plenty of accommodation available in the town itself. Here are some hotels you can choose from and you will probably be able to find something on AirBnb.
How much time should you spend there?
I think you can spend several hours at Pamukkale if you visit Heriapolis, the terraces and the Cleopatra pools. We only had 2-3 hours there in total and it felt a bit rushed as we only saw part of Heriapolis, but we just managed to fit in the Cleopatra pools and the terraces. This is one of the drawbacks if you’re travelling in a group with a tour guide. They have a schedule which they need to stick to.
Ideally I think we could have spend about an hour on the travertine terraces (they do get crowded with all the tourists), an hour in the Cleopatra pools and about two hours visiting Heriapolis. Basically, half a day should be fine for most people.
Is it best to visit by yourself, or an excursion with a guide?
This is a good question. A lot depends on how comfortable you are travelling by yourself in a foreign country. You can visit by a public bus but you’ll probably have to change a couple of times. And if there’s a problem, will you feel comfortable being able to deal with it? This website shows some different ways you can get to Pamukkale using bus, train or a combination of the two. However, travelling by yourself will be cheaper and possibly more rewarding as you can get more of a feel for the Turkish culture on your journey.
An excursion will be more expensive, but it will be a little safer in case there’s any problem. You’re also travelling with a guide who may know some of the better places to go in Pamukkale, things you might not discover yourself. You’ll probably also learn some useful pieces of information from a tour guide that aren’t available in a book or online.
The biggest drawback of an excursion is whether they will take you to other places other than Pamukkale. This happened to us unfortunately and it was quite frustrating. We ended up at a textile factory in Denizli en route to Pamukkale with many shop assistants trying to sell us rugs, garments and other things. Everything was good quality but it was pricey, and most importantly, my wife and I just wanted to get to Pamukkale! We also left Pamukkale early to go to a vineyard and sample some local wine. While this was ok, I would have preferred to spend more time in Heriapolis. We just didn’t have a choice unfortunately. So if you opt for an excursion make sure you check all of this beforehand!
Conclusion – Is it worth visiting Pamukkale?
It’s a definite yes from me. Pamukkale has something for everyone, whether you want to see the history and ancient ruins of Heriapolis, the wonderful experience of the Cleopatra pools, or the visually stunning travertine terraces themselves. Just do your research and decide whether you want to go yourself or with an excursion. Also, think carefully if you want to go with young children as it might be tricky and ruin the whole experience if they get tired easily.
Graham is a father of two who founded Dadometer to share his parenting journey with other moms and dads.