Pamukkale was one place that I really wanted to see while visiting Turkey (aside from Istanbul and Cappadocia, of course). I actually hadn’t known about this town until I saw an online video of Turkey, in which I was introduced to its stunning, chalky-white travertine pools. My friend and I were eager to check them out, and I was glad that our multi-day tour throughout the country would make a stop there.
Translated as “cotton castle” in Turkish, Pamukkale appears to float along the cliffs, all the while being bathed in milky-blue water. It is also a tricky word to pronounce: I got conflicting ways of saying it, whether it was “Pah-mu-KAH-leh” or “Pah-MU-kuh-luh.” I was told that the Turks pronounce it as the latter, but strangely, our tour guide was saying it the former way– perhaps he was doing so in Western fashion for us Western travelers, but in any case, I’m still confused as to how one calls it– guess I’ll never know! Despite not knowing how to say it, I was still looking forward to seeing the gorgeous, white-and-blue landscape.
My friend and I headed to Pamukkale after two days in Cappadocia, taking our second night bus over. Similar to our first overnight bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia, the bus ride wasn’t very comfortable as we stopped at least four times in the night for bathroom, food, and smoke breaks. I found the stops a little too excessive, as we were losing time getting to our destination that way.
Not only was the bus ride long, but also we actually missed our stop to transfer to a smaller bus that would take us directly to Pamukkale– we had to get off at a turnaround along the highway, where the connecting bus was located. It wasn’t until we passed the stop (a random gas station) that we realized our mistake, and instead were taken straight to Denizli, where the terminal stop was.
I called our tour coordinator to let her know our mistake, and she was very accommodating: we were to get off at Denizli, and a complementary taxi would pick us up to take us to Pamukkale. I felt bad that we had made the mistake and possibly inconvenienced her, but I was very grateful she helped us out, at no extra cost!
With that said, we arrived into Denizli’s bus station and waited about 20 minutes until our taxi came to get us. It was about a 15-minute drive to a hotel, where we only spent a couple of hours just to freshen up and get breakfast after a long, overnight trip. It was then back on the road once more as we headed to the heart of Pamukkale, where we met up with our tour guide around 9:30 to begin another long day of sightseeing in and around the region.
Our tour was a reasonably-small group of 15 people, and we followed our tour guide first to the Red Springs located in the small village of Karahayit. The springs were small and shallow, high enough to submerge our ankles in. They’re called “Red Springs” because of its reddish hue, due to the high concentration of iron in the water. We spent about 20 minutes there, with some visitors choosing to dip their toes into the 60°C waters– I only went in for five seconds before drying off my feet and putting my shoes back on.
There was a bit of confusion with our tour group, as there were perhaps two or three other groups heading to the same places at the same time. Before and after our visit to the Red Springs, we had a few travelers shuffled around, with some going to one tour guide and others to another. I don’t know what the tours were doing exactly, but I assumed that it was a matter of balancing the loads of visitors between the mini-vans, which could only seat up to 10 people max. That said, some people who were in our tour before the Red Springs got sent with another guide, while others got added into ours.
In any case, we headed to Hierapolis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It actually used to be an ancient Greek city, back when parts of Turkey were under Greece’s rule– therefore, the architecture is in Greek style. Much of it is in ruins today, but we still wandered the large, abandoned site and saw a few of the wonders that remain after thousands of years. This included the Gymnasium (consisting of literally two columns left) and the Temple of Apollo, a large amphitheater which I would say is a smaller version of the Colosseum in Rome. As I’m not a huge fan of ruins, I didn’t find Hierapolis to be particularly interesting, especially when so much of the site was gone.
Just before hitting the travertine pools of Pamukkale, we made a stop at Cleopatra’s Pool. Located right between Hierapolis and Pamukkale, this man-made pool is said to have been created by Marc Anthony, as a gift to the eponymous Egyptian princess. An earthquake in the 7th century caused the surrounding buildings to topple, sending debris crashing into the pool– today, one can see, even touch, the destroyed columns as they swim or bathe there.
There was a fee of 50 TL (7-8€) to visit Cleopatra’s Pool that wasn’t included in our tour. My friend and I decided to go for it, and we changed into our bathing suits for a 15-minute soak. Overall, I found the price rather steep for such a small pool, but I admit it was kind of cool to be able to touch the thousand-year-old columns underwater in the process– it was like touching a piece of history!
The final (and highlight) of the tour, Pamukkale’s travertine pools, followed afterwards. By then, it was nearly 14:00, and the place was packed with tourists. We weren’t given much time to enjoy them, though (25 minutes), as we were running a bit behind schedule. All the same, my friend and I rushed to capture as much of the site as possible, all the while careful not to slip on the super-slippery floor of the thermal pools. We took as many photos as we could, at the same time respecting the 25-minute time limit for our group.
Our tour guide wasn’t very happy when a quarter of our tour were late in reconvening after our 25 minutes were up– what surprised me, however, was that he actually left them at the pools, as the rest of us were driven over to the restaurant for a late lunch! Those who were left behind eventually met up with us at the restaurant about 20 minutes later, after getting a ride from another tour van– but they were beyond pissed. While I believe they should’ve respected the time our guide gave us, I also found our guide’s behavior a bit unreasonable, as he could’ve waited an extra five minutes to wait for them…
The tour ended after lunch, and we were taken to Pamukkale’s tourism office to gather our luggage and catch our rides to our next leg of the visit in Turkey. By then, it started to pour rain, especially after fortunately-sunny weather earlier that day. There was once again confusion with shuttling the dozens of tourists into the correct tour vans to take them to various destinations in the country– we also had trouble communicating with some of the staff, as we initially couldn’t find our luggage! In the end, it all worked out, and we got our luggage before getting into the right van to head out.
To be honest, Pamukkale had been a let-down. I liken it to the fact that 1) we arrived at peak hour, so it was impossible to enjoy the travertine pools among the crowd, and 2) the tour was extremely disorganized, probably one of the most I’ve experienced anywhere. I didn’t really like the tour, and it was the least-likable among the others we took in Turkey. In any case, I got to see the travertine pools of Pamukkale, and it was a matter of continuing with our sightseeing in the country afterwards.
Stay tuned for the final installment of my trip to Turkey!