At Turkey’s iconic blue hot springs, there’s a lot more to do than just take a dip.
The hills of Pamukkale glisten like a stunning mirage of turquoise and white, as water from deep underground rises up and cascades into dozens of natural pools, forming a natural wonder known as the ‘Cotton Castles’ in the Turkish language.
Over millions of years the mineral springs deposited limestone, creating the unique white travertine terraces which look like a frozen waterfall. With more than 2 million visitors a year, it is now one of the top tourist attractions in Turkey.
Although the pools are without a doubt the star of the show, there are many reasons to visit this area, with awesome eco-tourism and a fantastic ancient history which has made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you love hot springs, read these 20 reasons why you need to grab your bathing suit and camera, and make a trip ASAP to this unique spot.
20 Let the warm waters heal you
Pamukkale is one of the richest thermal water sources in the world, and it is a historical fact that people have soaked in these mineral springs for thousands of years.
These milky pools have been used to treat everything from heart disease to nervous disorders and skin problems. And even if you don’t have any ailments, you’re almost certain to come out of these mineral springs feeling, and possibly looking, better than ever.
19 You could even find love
The ancient legend goes that once upon a time there was a young girl who was not attractive and as a result was unmarried. As no one wanted to marry her, she decided to leave this life by throwing herself off of a travertine pool. She fell into the water and did not drown - instead the healing waters made her beautiful. At that moment the Lord of Denizli was passing by and saw the beautiful girl, falling instantly in love with her and asking for her hand in marriage.
Though it hasn’t been proven to improve beauty, it’s worth a shot. Just don’t jump off one of the pools!
18 Hot enough to boil an egg! (But don't worry, you'll be fine)
If you want to know how these incredible travertine pools formed, according to JustFunFacts, approximately 400,000 years ago this region of Asia Minor had a number of large earthquakes, strong enough to shift rivers and valleys. This pushed thermal waters to the surface at an incredible speed and send them flowing down the hills. Over time the limestone in the thermal springs formed into the travertine pools we see today - ‘travertine’ being a type of rock.
The waters in this area range in temperature from 36’C to a whopping 240’C, though of course the latter cannot be entered.
17 So, what makes it white?
It all has to do with the earthquakes. Somewhere deep in the earth below Pamukkale lies a huge amount of water being heated by volcanic lava, according to Turkey Travel Planner. The water dissolves pure white calcium and carries it to the surface. Once it cools in the open air the white calcium slowly solidifies to create the terraces.
It was reported that a few decades ago, local shopkeepers used to put bottles of wine into the channels of hot water, and within days the glass would be completely covered with hardened calcium. Now that would surely make a unique souvenir.
16 Gorgeous from top to bottom
The travertine pools are a whopping 200 metres high - so high that they can be seen from the city of Denizli. There are different entrances to the pools - if you use the south entrance, you have to climb up the full 200 metres if you want to see the view from the top. Many tour guides advise starting from the north entrance instead, and taking your time to walk down from pool to pool, enjoying the view (and without being short of breath from climbing up!).
Whichever entrance you use, you’re still bound to be blown away by this immense and awesome site.
15 Dip those toes in
You are allowed to swim in certain pools, but if you for some reason don’t want to swim, you can at least get your feet wet and walk around in the hot mineral water. Note that you are not allowed to wear shoes anywhere in the pools to prevent damaging the terraces, so take a bag with you to put your shoes in. After tiptoeing through the water, your feet should at least be a little softer and cleaner than when you went in! Swimwear is required to really take a plunge.
14 Awesome historical value
This area has been used as a ‘spa town’ for more than 2,000 years, and has an incredible history that has seen the rise and fall of empires. The ancient city of Hierapolis was constructed adjacent to the springs around the 2nd century BC, and became a centre for healing.
Under Roman rule the town grew, with temples, theatres, fountains of stone and marble, city gates, and a necropolis of tombs. The Temple of Apollo (above) is particularly impressive. If visiting Pamukkale for the thermal pools, Hierapolis is a must-see to take a step back in time. In 1988, Pamukkale-Hierapolis was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
13 A bath fit for a Cleopatra
Cleopatra herself is reported to have swum in the Antique Pool at Pamukkale, which is why it is nicknamed 'Cleopatra’s Pool'. This particular pool is not located on the travertine terrace, and requires a separate entrance fee.
What is unique about this pool - other than its claim to fame - is that it was once part of a Roman Temple, but after a violent earthquake the structure fell into the water, which means you can actually swim and even sit on 2,000 year old Roman columns and artifacts from the original structure.
There are few places in the world where you can boast to have swum in the same pool as one of the world’s most famous names, as well as ancient Roman ruins.
12 Be sure to take in the theatre
Even if you’re not so keen on history, the ruins of the ancient amphitheatre are an absolute must-see. Made mostly of marble, with elaborate columns and stone arches, the massive theatre at Hierapolis has some of the best-preserved decorative features of any theatre in Turkey.
It is an awe-inspiring feeling to sit at the ruins of a genuine theatre which once housed shows and even gladiator schools.
11 Walk in the footsteps of saints
All over Turkey there are amazing historical sites dating back to the earliest spread of Christianity, and incredibly, in Pammukale-Hierapolis, archaeologists reportedly have found the tomb of the Apostle St. Philip, who was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus.
The Apostle Philip was executed by Romans in Hierapolis some 2,000 years ago, according to Hierapolis Info, and archaeologists searched for decades for his grave before finding it in 2011. The tomb has not yet been opened and fieldwork continues in this site.
10 Not a bad place to retire
Back in the days of Ancient Rome, Pamukkale was used as a sort of retirement haven, with elderly aristocrats spending the rest of their days in the healing, mineral-rich baths, until they passed away. This is why this remote area has so many necropolises (cemeteries) and tombs around the hot springs.
One of the most pin-worthy secret sites at Pamukkale is the ancient tomb which is very slowly being engulfed by travertine as the deposits build up. Though there are many tombs and necropolises around this area, and this particular one paints an eerie backdrop, and serves as a reminder that time stands still for neither man nor nature.
9 Walking in a winter wonderland
Summer crowds are a fact of life when it comes to travel, and Pamukkale is no exception. Though this part of Turkey has a mild climate, summertime is extremely hot and humid - not the best time to jump into a hot spring.
So why not try a trip in the winter time when the crowds are gone and you’ll really appreciate the springs? There's certainly no better feeling than sitting in a hot spring while the cool air runs through your hair.
8 Talking about crowds...
You can expect a lot of them. Due to Pamukkale’s fame, it has, like so many other natural wonders, become a big attraction full of people in recent decades. However, there are ways to escape the maddening crowds.
Many people visit as a day trip, meaning they arrive later in the day, causing the afternoons to be peak time. If you have time, stay overnight in Pammukale at one of the hotels or guest houses, and wake up early to visit the pools when few people are around. Then leave before the tour buses get there, or visit Hierapolis.
7 Pamper yourself like the ancient Romans
The village of Pammukale has grown with the influx of tourism, and you have a lot of choice when it comes to accommodation. Many hotels have their own private hot springs and a spa, For a cheap and cheerful night in town, try the Tripolis Hotel, but if you really want to pamper yourself, splurge at the decadent Doğa Thermal Health & Spa which has saunas, hot springs, and Turkish baths called hammam. Proof that you don’t have to be sick or old to rejuvenate yourself in Pammukale!
6 Get a bird’s eye view
One unique way to enjoy the natural beauty of Pamukkale is to see it from the sky. Hot air balloon tours are becoming more and more popular, as you can take in the awesome sight of the travertines and the ancient ruins of Hierapolis.
If you’ve got your heart set on a romantic date, book a private flight at sunset time, and witness the beauty of the area as the colours of dusk paint the white landscape below.
5 Or indulge the thrill-seeker in you
Though hot air ballooning is a beautiful experience, paragliding has also recently become an attraction for adventurous travellers who prefer faster speeds and higher heights.
In Pamukkale village you can find a number of tour operators who will take you on a tandem paraglide trip over the travertine pools and the ruins of Hierapolis. If you’re an early riser, book the first tour of the day, and get to see the sunrise over the pools before everyone arrives.
4 Enjoy the Incredible local wine
Nothing will help you wind down after a long day soaking in the springs like a nice glass of local wine. Pamukkale Winery is the third largest in Turkey and one of the wineries you can visit for a wine tasting session. According to Wines of Turkey, grapes have been cultivated for wine in the Anatolia region for more than 7,000 years and spread to neighbouring countries including Greece and Italy.
Don’t miss the chance to taste wine from one of the oldest wine regions on the planet.
3 Find the underground Pamukkale
Described by travellers as a ‘hidden gem’ and ‘off the beaten path’, the Kaklik Cave is another way to experience travertine pools. Some have called it an ‘underground Pamukkale’ and the blue color is stunning.
It is about an hour’s drive from Pamukkale village, so is a nice side trip if you have extra time or are staying overnight in the area. Some have said the cave has a slight smell of sulphur, but don’t let that put you off from the wonders that lay inside.
A wooden walkway and lighting have been installed to make the cave accessible to the public.
2 They’re not called Cotton Castles for nothing
Pamukkale might be nicknamed ‘Cotton Castles’ because of its unique white textures, but the name also comes from the fact that in this region of Turkey, cotton is one of the top crops. As a result, fantastic, high-quality, handmade cotton goods are a great souvenir. They won't take up too much room in your luggage either, and mom and aunt Jenny will thank you for it.
Visit the local market to find this region’s special fabrics and take home something you’ll never forget.
1 But wait, there’s more!
Can’t get enough of hot springs? Do you want to sit in one all day like a Japanese Snow Monkey? Five minutes away from Pamukkale is an entirely different hot spring - the Red Spring. Not nearly as famous as its blindingly white cousin, the Red Spring keeps a constant 56’C and gets its unique color from metal oxides such as magnesium and sulphur in the water. Some parts of these natural springs have a strange red, gold and even green hue. In addition, there are thermal mud baths that are said to be great for the skin.
References: Denizli Culture and Tourism Board, Pamukkale.net, The Telegraph, Wikipedia