Over the years, I had fallen in love with the otherworldly pictures I’d seen of Pamukkale so when I found myself going to Turkey, it was important to me to fit in a visit to this site interest. Getting there from Cappadocia required the overnight bus, one that is used by both tourists and locals. After a long but rather comfortable trip, I, and about 15 other young backpacking tourists, was dumped at the side of a highway about 6am – despite being told by the bus company that this was a direct trip to Pamukkale Town. We all blearily clambered onto a sketchy minibus that really holds only 10 people safely. I had seen the minibus from my window on the big bus and had a feeling that they would squish us on there – so I made sure to be one of the first ones to grab my bag from the big bus, toss it onto the small bus, and be practically first in line to get inside.
Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish, is a World Heritage site near Denizli in southwestern Turkey. In the pre-1990s, it was highly popular primarily with backpackers*. By the 1990s, the Turkish government realized they had a money-maker on their hands and so a development campaign was implemented to increase tourism to the site. It eventually backfired because giant car parks and giant hotels don’t exactly look aesthetically pleasing in a place that was all about natural beauty.
Today, things have improved. While I’m sure those who have been to Pamukkale pre-1990s will say it was better back then, the area is still worth a day or two. The travertines are gleaming white once again and the hotels and car park are not obnoxiously practically on top of the site anymore. There are several restaurants and hotel-restaurants at the base of the travertines so fuel up before heading up: while there is a café up there, it’s the usual “captive audience” pricing.
Visiting the travertines took some strategic planning on my part. I left my pension about 2pm and found a restaurant at the base of the travertines for lunch. My entertainment during the meal was ogling the tour buses coming and going – generally going as most tour companies bring their fares for the morning. It was about 3pm when I finally bought my ticket and started the climb up to the top. Note that you’re not allowed to wear your shoes when walking on the travertines…and walking is the only way to get to the top! You’ll need to carry your shoes with you and you’ll also need sun glasses as the sun bouncing off bright white calcium deposits can positively blind a person. A hat and a big bottle of water would be smart as well if it is a hot day. The walk up is pretty awesome but if you have sensitive feet, watch out for the sharp edges and pebbles. However, you can then soothe your feet in the warm mineralized flowing water and in the semi-circular pools!
At the top of the travertines, it is here where Hierapolis, a Greco-Roman city, lies. Do spend a couple hours wandering the site, not only for its own merits but also to watch the sunset against the white travertines. The soft golden colour of what was earlier bright white is really stunning. All in all, while definitely a touristy thing to visit, Pamukkale is worth a look, especially to wander around it on your own.
*Those pre-1990s backpackers, would they be considered the hipsters of the travel world because they visited the site before it was 'cool'?