Whether to go to Pamukkale or not was a bit of a toss-up. It is a World Heritage Site and is constantly listed as one of the top sites to visit in Turkey. Problem was that we were in Selcuk (Ephesus) for only 2 nights and a day trip by bus takes about 5-6 hrs of travel and only allows 3 hrs to appreciate the site. The second thing that made me apprehensive about visiting the site is the mixed reviews on online forums lately.
The image of the “cotton castles” or calcium travertines inspired us to take the trip. Plus seeing the ruins of Hierapolis was a definite bonus!
We booked our trip to Pamukalle at the bus station when we arrived in Selcuk. The return trip to Pamukalle (directly) costed 70TL (R350) per person with Pamukalle bus company. There are other options to travel there which are cheaper such as taking the bus or train to Denizli and taking a bus from there to Pamukalle (For more info on how to do a budget trip, read here). Due to our time limitations, we decided to take the direct trip. It was long and tiring though. Be warned! The bus wasn’t particularly comfortable either.
We arrived at Pamukalle around lunch time. The sun was starting to beat down. Entrance costed 20TL (R100). It was a whopping 32TL (R160) extra to enter the Antique pools and 5TL (R25) extra to enter the museum. I considered the antique pools as the images on the internet looked amazing. I imagined an idyllic dip into the past but alas, I had my budget to consider.
We walked up the slope and had to remove our shoes. The floor was rough and it was quite sore to walk up.
The ground was quite dry. Not quite what I was expecting. I later learned the the water flow is tightly controlled to preserve the calcium travertines. The pools didn’t look like the images. They are actually man-made. On further reading I found out that the main walk-way was actually a road before it became a World Heritage Site. Hotels and the road were then demolished and these pools were constructed in its place.
I ran straight past the pools as I was eager to see Hierapolis. Hierapolis didn’t disappoint. It dates back to 2nd century BC. Massive restoration efforts are taking place and I’m sure if I visit in another decade, it would look completely different. Take plenty of water and wear a cap as the walkway is quite steep and the area is expansive and to be honest, quite exhausting to do by foot in a limited time period. Luckily the ruins seemed less popular than the calcium pools which allows for great photo-ops.
After exploring the ruins, we went into the museum which had several Sarcophogi and statues. It was only 5TL (R25) entrance and was nice and quiet. We then decided to take a dip in the pools. I was expecting hot springs (Caledon style) but the water was tepid and full of school kids and Europeans suntanning. The floor was “muddy” with the white calcium salts and its difficult to walk in. Overall, I didn’t really enjoy the pools and worst of all, I didn’t come out looking 10 years younger as promised!
The Antique Pool was the most disappointing. There was such an unauthentic, resort atmosphere with music pumping, over-priced ice-cream and food and crammed to the brim with people. I found it so frustrating and was really glad I didn’t pay the extra money to enter the pools. On the plus side, the bathrooms and changing rooms were in a good condition.
Overall, I’m not disappointed we made the trip. Both Hierapolis and Pamukalle were impressive sites to behold. I would however do a few things differently if I had the time. I would have heeded the advice of the Tripadvisors and spent a night in Denizli thereby reducing travel time and increasing time at the site as it was all a bit rushed and exhausting. The ruins alone could keep you busy for a day. I would also avoid going during school holidays as there were masses of kids there. Do take with plenty of water, flip-flops, sunblock, snacks, a light towel and swimwear. I would however add that if you have a time constraint and feel the site is too far out the way, skip it and visit Ephesus. I don’t mind “touristy” but unfortunately Pamukalle lacks authenticity and the modern buzz doesn’t do justice to the wealth of history of the area.