I’d seen the photos and thought this place looked amazing. It was a ‘must see’ in Turkey as far as I was concerned, and it more or less on the path of my travels as I moved towards southern Turkey.
Pamukkale, here I come!
So what’s the attraction? Pamukkale means “Cotton Castle” in Turkish – and it’s the home of the glaringly white calcite terraces and travertines that run down the side of the mountain in the centre of the town. Warm thermal water flows down, and carbonate mineral deposits have built up the terraces over the centuries. If you’re keen, you can wade in a thermal dip.
It was a relatively short 2 hour train ride from Selcuk to Denizli, a city and transport hub. From Denizli, it was a 20 minute ride on a dolmus (shared taxi van). As we approached Pamukkale, I got my first glimpse of what to expect. It looked like a dump of snow.
Having checked in to the hotel, I wanted to suss things out in prep for my trip up the terraces the next day. Pamukkale is a very small, 3-street town full of restaurants, souvenir shops and hotels – and that’s about it. It took me 2 minutes to walk to the main road from where I got my first glimpse of the mountain – and about a dozen large tour buses. Argh!
At the base of the hill was a small man-made lake which at first glance I thought might be for people to swim in. But no – it’s pretty much for the swans – of the live variety as well as the paddle-boat variety. I was able to walk around some of the calcite down at the base of the hill. The rules are to take your shoes off, to protect the calcite. To ignore that rule is to suffer the wrath of the terrace police who blow loudly on their whistle as they come after you. (No – I didn’t earn a whistle blow, but I watched others who did.). The calcite was mostly rock hard which ridges. The ridges weren’t sharp having been smoothed over by the continual running water. But there were some soft gooey patches where it oozed between your toes, kind of like a slightly gritty mud.
What I really enjoyed about being in Pamukkale at this stage was the temperature. I had been cold and shivering in Selcuk, wearing my Kathmandu feather and down vest and other layers to keep warm. I get to Pamukkale, and it was hot. Like 28 degrees hot! I was able to wear shorts again – yay!
Up the terraces we go!
Apparently all the tour buses that come from out of town, don’t reach the hill until midday or so. That means us tourists staying locally get the terraces to ourselves in the morning – only a few hundred of us! I was at the ticket gate bright and early, and started my ascent up the old road. The terraces have been around for centuries, and in fact, the ancient Roman and Byzantine city of Heirapolis was built on the terraces. Unfortunately, in the mid 1900’s, locals saw an opportunity to make a profit, and built hotels over the ruins and a road leading up to the top, all of which caused significant damage. But… in 1988, the terraces were recognised as a World Heritage Site and the hotels were demolished. The access road was removed, and artificial pools added. So it was up this access road that I walked.
Shoes were taken off at the entrance, and it was bare feet all the way to the top. So much for the thermal water – the water trickling over my feet was a cold, so I’m glad at least the air temperature was warm. It was so blindly bright too – just like being on the snow.
See – here I am in one of the pools!
There is a cluster of pools at the top which is where most people congregate – I guess because they are the most photogenic. However, you are no longer to swim in those ones. I suspect that these were also some of the artificial ones but can’t confirm it. They looked too perfect and contrived.. but I may be wrong.
And yes, the water really was that colour.
I continued walking past the pools at the top, only to discover on the other side of the hill there were a bunch of other pools. These were much shallower, had more colour from the mineral deposits and looked more natural. And the had stunning views over the green countryside.
And just when I thought I had seen enough of ruins, I found more – from the old city of Heirapolis.
There was an ampitheatre here but I’ll confess do giving it a miss. Having seen at least 3 theatres in the last week not to mention all the rest, I’m definitely over ruins for awhile.
So back to the terraces. They really were quite pretty. Even is some were man-made.
It was a nice day out in the wonderfully warm weather – and I made my way down around 1pm as all the tour buses started rocking up. Perfect timing.
Once again, I struck a really nice hotel, run by a very nice family. I had a couple of dinners at their restaurant, and they invited me to join in on their family dinner one night, offering me a glass of wine when I was just hanging on the restaurant terrace. Several members of the extended family stopped for a chat, and one invited me back to his village to meet his wife. I wish I had taken him up on that but it just didn’t work out. The family also let me know about a special Children’s Day that was being celebrated at the local school. Starting with the youngest, different classes put on dance performances for the school and community. Always one to enjoy any form of dancing, I couldn’t resist watching for a few hours.
I finally met a Kiwi travelling in Turkey! She was also travelling on her own, although only for a month. We enjoyed a fun dinner swapping travel war stories and as we were travelling in the opposite direction of each other, we could both offer tips on what was coming up ahead of us. She was heading to the Anzac Day ceremony at Gallipoli, planning to camp out the night before. Good on her!
And that wraps up my time in Pamukkale. In some ways, it felt a bit Disney-esque here with all the souvenir shops, lines of tour buses rolling in, and ice cream vendors walking around in fancy outfits. But the spending a day on the terraces was a nice way to spend the day.