Essential Pamukkale Travel Guide
Updated on January 5th, 2020
You’re going to visit Pamukkale for one main reason – to see the travertines. Located in a small town, Pamukkale is walkable, has friendly locals, ancient ruins and boasts a stunning backdrop.
In more recent years Pamukkale has been world heritage to protect from overexposure due to tourism. This natural wonder is created by limestone deposits which build up to form pools called travertines. At the top of the hill, they are even naturally heated.
I visited Pamukkale as the third stop on my Turkish Riviera Road Trip and although had been warned that over-tourism had ruined Pamukkale it was still an amazing place to visit.
Initially, arriving in Pamukkale was a bit of a shock. From the moment we arrived, I couldn’t help think how much the scenery looked like I was in a regional area of South East Asia. We drove through narrow unpaved roads, past chooks and stray dogs into what looked like a back alley to find the hotel. It was not the ‘touristy’ town I was expecting. However, I later found out I came in through the back roads.
After settling into the hotel I went for a wander into town to grab some dinner. While there are a few restaurants the entire town was much smaller than expected and very easy to get around on foot. Glancing up from town, you see the dramatic cotton castles (the travertines) overlooking Pamukkale which stand almost 200m high.
When you visit Pamukkale you’ll notice the Hierapolis grounds are massive. As well as the travertines, you also have ruins of an ancient city and a heated swimming pool surrounded by food stalls.
Start your day wandering the travertines. Take a few snaps in the pools and if you’re brave go for a dip. The further down the hill you head, the colder the water gets. Afterwards, warm up by spending an hour roaming the ruins. Head to the top of the amphitheatre and imagine being one of 12,000 spectators.
Next, head towards the northern gate to walk down the main street of town complete with the latrines on the side. Exit the ancient city’s boundary under the impressive city gates and follow-on to the large tomb sites. There are over 1200 graves here in Pamukkale and most are in remarkable condition.
Have the travertines been ruined by tourism?
You must be warned that seeing the travertines is not like a lot of the images online. The beautiful white travertines full of cascading water is a thing of the past. However, that being said I still found the place amazing because I was expecting the worst. The photos you see here are what’s left of the good looking areas. The rest is brown and dried up.
The good news is that since being protected as a world heritage site things are starting to be turned around. Previously there was a hotel located at the top of the park and tourists were allowed wherever they pleased. As I said, I still think Pamukkale is worth visiting, whereas my partner was so disappointed with it.
Don’t forget the dondurma
Finally, when you have had enough exploring make sure you stop and get Dondurma on your way out (The main entrance is the northeastern car park and full of the usual touristy suspects). Dondurma is a sticky Turkish ice cream made with mastic and salep flour. The vendors selling Dondurma put on a show for you.
They had me giggling like a little girl. Imagine a magician on the street doing the trick where you need to find the walnut under different cups. They do something similar with empty cones and you trying to grab your ice cream. At one point instead of grabbing my cone, my hand grabbed the ice cream end. Whoops.
You can visit Pamukkale travertines by three different entries. There are two parking areas up the top of the hill which cost 5TL (1 USD) to park at, or if you are staying in town you can walk in from the base. Entry to the full grounds cost 50TL (10 USD). The main vehicle entry is the northeastern car park full of shops and stalls. The northern car park is strictly a parking space.
Definitely arrive as early as you can here. When I arrived just after 9 am there were already 10 tour buses here. It gets quite crowded as tourists have access to only a few of the larger filled pools while the rest of the travertines are off-limits.
I cannot begin to imagine how crazy it must be in the summer! Your ticket allows you to re-enter the park on the same day. Visit in the morning before the crowds and then return for the sunset. Sit on top of the travertines and watch as the sun sets over the valley and behind the town of Pamukkale.
Since the travertines have become heritage listed their health has been improving. 10 years ago there were hotels on top of them. The overuse and pollution had caused them to turn brown and dry up. Now the white has returned and more and more pools are filling with water.
Pamukkale travertines opening hours
April 15 till October 2 – 08:00 to 21:00 every day
October 3 till April 14 – 08:30 to 17:00 every day
Where to stay in Pamukkale
I stayed at the Koray Hotel. For a 2 night stay in a double room, it cost 242TL total (44 USD) which included free breakfast and wifi. The hotel is basic but budget-friendly. Rooms were clean and there was hot water. The interior courtyard of the hotel is the most impressive. The building has three stories covered in grapevines which surround a swimming pool. Although too cold for swimming in November this would be great in the summertime.
Where to eat in Pamukkale
Based on Tripadvisor you cannot go wrong for a restaurant choice here. However, I had a few meals which were quite disappointing. The best place I found with the best prices is Kaya’s Wine House. It had a great atmosphere, a living roof and friendly staff. The food was tasty and came out quickly.
Although not as budget-friendly, Asian Kitchen and Coffee does great food for dinner. It’s a small restaurant with freshly prepared food. I was told the meal will take at least 30 minutes to prepare though it came out in half that time.
How to get there
The closest city to Pamukkale is Denizli which is only 17km away. Although accessed by a small airport it can be easier to fly to Izmir or Dalaman and either drive, catch the train or a bus. The following describes how to get to Pamukkale from Izmir, Selcuk and Dalaman.
From Izmir – Head to the Basmane station and catch the train to Goncali, Denizli. The journey should cost under 10 USD and will take 4 hours and 40 mins. Trains depart every 4 hours. From Denizli take a taxi or minibus (see below) to Pamukkale.
From Selçuk/Ephesus – Catch the same train as above (From Izmir) at the Selçuk station. The total time is just under 3.5 hours. Trains depart every 4 hours and costs 9 USD.
From Dalaman – Catch the bus from Ortaca via Mugla to Denizli. This bus runs twice daily. From Denizli take a taxi or minibus (see below) to Pamukkale. The total journey takes 4 hrs 26 mins and costs between 23 and 33 USD.
Minibus and Taxi’s from Denizli
Minibuses run from the Denizli Otogar (bus station) Platform 76 on the lower level every 15 to 20 minutes. The price will be 5 TL (1 USD).
A taxi can be more convenient after a long journey and doesn’t require you changing from train station to bus station. The total trip costs between 40 and 50 TL (7- 10 USD).
The Pamukkale travertines were very hot and in direct sunlight. Make sure you pack plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat. While you can buy water in the park the prices reflect the touristy nature of the place.
If Pamukkale sounds a little too far out of the way for you to reach on your own, you can join one of the numerous day tours. Tours run from most of the western coastal towns and from Izmir.
Do you want to visit Pamukkale? Let me know below if you would like me to answer anything else.