Pamukkale’s thermal pools, often called the Cotton Castle, were on my bucket list since high school without me even realizing it. As I watched The Odyssey in high school, the scenes set in the travertines caught my attention for the area’s natural beauty. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that place really existed. When we planned our road trip through Turkey, I put Pamukkale near the top of the list for our stops.
This guide will help you know what to take with you, when to go, the actual opening hours (they are hard to find online and many sites have the wrong information), what to see, and what to expect when you arrive. While I loved our visit and would go again, not everything is as it seems on social media (shocker, I know!).
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PLANNING YOUR VISIT TO PAMUKKALE
Pamukkale is a popular tourist destination within Turkey, but there is not as much information out there about planning a trip to Pamukkale as I had hoped. When we went, I checked various websites and blogs but still struggled to find some information. Here is everything I wish I knew before we visited Pamukkale.
PAMUKKALE OPENING HOURS, ENTRANCES, & FEES
For some reason, there is a lot of confusion about the opening hours for the Pamukkale travertines online. Some sites said they opened at 8 a.m. and closed around sunset, and others stated they were open 24 hours a day. Hoping the ones that said 24 hours a day were correct, we woke up early to watch the sunrise over the pools and beat the crowds. It turns out, they are not open 24 hours a day and have different opening times depending on the entrance you use.
PAMUKKALE TOWN ENTRANCE
Our first stop was the entrance at the bottom of the pools, the Pamukkale Town Entrance. People who choose to stay in Pamukkale at one of the nearby hotels often use this entrance. The entrance is easily accessible by foot. You will start at the bottom of the pools and climb your way up to the top.
After speaking to the guard when we arrived around 5:30 a.m., we figured out (with the help of Google Translate) that the Pamukkale Town Entrance does not open until 8 a.m. He did tell us to try the South Entrance since it opens earlier.
PAMUKKALE SOUTH ENTRANCE
From there we got back in our rental car and drove to the top. The South Entrance is the entrance to use if you have your own car or want to enter the pools early. Taxis can drop off in/near this lot, and many large tour buses also use this lot.
By the time we reached the top, it was already 6 a.m. We spoke to the guard there, and he told us that the South Entrance opens at 6:30. We stayed in the car as the morning air was a little chillier than expected. At 6:25, we walked over to the gate and were the first ones in.
It is about a 10 minute walk from here to the top of the pools. If you want to beat the crowds, walk straight over there and then take your time on the way back. We spent a little too much time looking for the pools and checking out the ruins. Then we only had about 5 minutes before the first tour group showed up.
The third entrance is the North Entrance. If you take a bus from the Denizli bus terminal or from Pamukkale Town, this is the entrance you will use. The Denizli bus takes about 30 minutes and typically costs 5 TL (about $1). This entrance is considered the main entrance as it is closer to the Hierapolis ruins and the pools.
Because we did not use this entrance, I am not sure of the opening time. The guard at the bottom told us only the South Entrance opened at 6:30. However, a tour group showed up around 7 a.m., and they seemed to come from the North Entrance. It may have been the language barrier and the fact that the South Entrance was closer that caused a misunderstanding. If you plan to use this entrance, you may want to check with your hotel to see what time it opens. It opens by 8 for sure, but it appears to also open at 6:30.
If you plan to stay until closing time, the posted closing time is 9 p.m. in the summer (April through September) and 7 p.m. in the winter (October through March). The closing time is the same regardless of the entrance. Depending on when you go, you may be able to watch the sunset which I think would be magical.
Since we did not stay until closing time, I am not sure how strict they are on closing time. In Ephesus, we found they were generous with closing times, but in Istanbul they often closed things a few minutes early to make sure everyone was out. I would make sure to be there in plenty of time to see what you want to see in case they start moving you towards the exits early.
ENTRANCE FEES AT PAMUKKALE
The entrance fee is 50 TL for everyone (adults and children) which is about $9. If you bring a car, that will cost you another 5 TL to park (about $1). There are additional fees if you choose to swim in Cleopatra’s Antique Pools. According to recent updates, this area is only open in the summer and is 50 TL ($9) for adults. Children under 6 are free, and children from 6 – 12 cost 13 TL ($2.25).
*Prices and opening hours may change at any time. Use this information as a guide, but understand that we do not control when hours or prices change.
BEST & WORST TIMES TO VISIT THE PAMUKKALE TRAVERTINES
We visited Pamukkale in early June. The summer crowds were starting to arrive with us, but the weather was perfect for enjoying the outdoors and the water.
If you are going to visit Pamukkale and want to avoid the crowds, arrive early or stay late. By 7 a.m., some of the tour buses started to arrive. By 9 a.m., tours and tourists crowded the pools. The pools often empty out closer to sunset, so staying until closing time may also be an option depending on your schedule.
If you visit during the late morning and early afternoon, expect crowds. On the plus side, you can enjoy plenty of people watching between people slipping down the travertines and full on Instagram photo shoots taking place in a variety of outfits. The crowds tend to stay at the top since tours do not stay long, so climb down and enjoy the middle and lower pools with less people around.
WHAT TO TAKE WITH YOU TO THE PAMUKKALE THERMAL POOLS
When you visit Pamukkale, there are bathrooms and a couple of places to buy food and drink. At the travertines, there are not really places to spread out and relax for the day. The pools are sloping and uneven, and the crowds make it hard to find space. Plan to carry anything you take with you.
We took a backpack and a towel to share. However, we did not end up getting in the water so much (more later in the Expectation vs Reality section). Make sure you wear sandals or shoes that are easy to remove as shoes are not allowed on the travertines. We were able to hook our sandals onto the backpack so that we did not have to carry them the entire time. We saw many people carrying their shoes, and some people chose to just leave their shoes at the top of the entrance to the pool area.
EXPECTATIONS VS. REALITY
Looking at pictures of the Pammukale thermal pools on Instagram, you see the famous white limestone terraces filled with sparkling blue water that give the place the nickname “Cotton Castle” (you can find my Instagram tips here!). You see a few people here and there relaxing in the pools and enjoying the pools.
What you don’t see? How hard and slippery the surface is and how crowded it really gets there. You also don’t see the damage mankind has done to this area. This damage means many of the pools are roped off and empty to try to undo the damage.
DAMAGED AREAS IN PAMUKKALE
There is one main path from Pamukkale Town to the top of the travertines. These are the pools you can access. They are man-made pools from where resorts tried to build a road to the top. These are the pools you can “swim” in, although they really aren’t that deep.
The other areas are closed right now. The limestone in the closed pools is discolored and many of the pools are empty. Some do have water in them from the thermal springs or recent rain. The hope is that diverting the water and keeping these pools empty will allow the sun to bleach the limestone to its pristine white color again.
Some of the closed pools are ones I have seen in Instagram photos. While I cannot say for sure if they were open or not when others visited, blog posts indicate they have been closed for some time. We saw multiple people make their way over the ropes to try to get to these empty and more secluded pools. Luckily security in the area had whistles and called them back. However, it is sad that this was needed. Please be respectful of the ropes and ongoing restoration process.
BE CAREFUL – IT’S SLIPPERY!
The limestone surface is hard but not uncomfortable. Some areas are very slick though. That slickness means you have to walk slowly and plant your feet before taking a step. My first few steps were like something out of a cartoon with feet slipping and arms circling trying to regain my balance. I managed to do so without hitting the ground and turned to warn my husband. The areas that are most slippery are near the top where most people stay.
As you make your way further down the path and away from where the crowds gather, your footing will become more secure. You will start to notice which areas are easier to walk and which areas you need to take your time. Stay alert the whole way down, but know that the top is the worst. Once you get past the first few pools, you should be good to go.
BE READY FOR THE CROWDS
The first tour bus arrived around 7 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., a few more tours had arrived. By 8 a.m., the town entrance opened, and people started the climb up the travertines as well. Between 8:30 – 9:00, the crowds were in full swing. It was hard to avoid them in the main areas. We ended up leaving by 10 a.m. as it was not so enjoyable or relaxing with so many people.
To avoid the crowds in Pamukkale, your best bet is to arrive at 6:30 a.m. or plan to stay until closing time (9 in summer and 7 in winter). You can also avoid the crowds by walking down to the middle and lower half of the pathway with the pools. Many of the tours do not stay long, so they stick to the first two or three pools. There are not as many people walking up from the town, and they are usually in small groups and not large tours.
You can wander on the boardwalk at the top to see the natural pools. While you cannot swim in them, you can still enjoy the views. Since the crowd mostly sticks to the thermal pools where you can get in the water, the boardwalk area stays less crowded.
IT’S NOT AS CLEAN AS IT LOOKS
The pictures I saw before our trip made the water look clean. From a distance, it does look clean. However, as you wade into the pools, you see that there is no chlorine or any other method of cleaning these pools. There was a piece of hair floating in the water and trash stuck in the silt at the bottom of the pools. The pools lower down are cleaner if you plan to “swim”. They seem to only be about waist deep, so I use swimming loosely.
After seeing that they weren’t so clean, we opted not to swim after all. We waded in a few of the cleaner pools and then decided to head out. People were swimming in many of the upper pools when we left though.
BEST HOTELS NEAR PAMUKKALE
Pamukkale Town has limited options for hotels. The hotels in the immediate town area do not have great reviews online. Because of this and renting a car, we opted to stay a little further out at a nicer hotel. Many of the surrounding areas have nicer hotels with thermal pools and spas.
We opted to stay in Richmond Pamukkale Thermal Hotel and highly recommend them. For about $75, we had a suite with a huge balcony (they upgraded us to a suite without knowing anything about us or the blog but just because they had one available), a large buffet breakfast included, and dinner included as well.
The service we received was top notch. We arrived after dinner ended, but they still put together two plates and sent them up to our room (once again with no knowledge of this blog – this is just who they are). In addition, the hotel has multiple pools, including a thermal area and spa. The best part? It was only a 10 minute drive to the Pamukkale thermal pools but much nicer than any hotels closer to the pools.
HOW LONG TO STAY IN PAMUKKALE
We only spent a few hours at the thermal pools in Pamukkale, but in general, it would take a day to see the area if you want to explore the ruins as well or swim in the Antique Pool.
If you like a relaxing vacation though, you could easily spend more time in this area. Many of the hotels have their own thermal pools and thermal spas for you to enjoy. You can avoid the crowds of the Pamukkale travertines and still relax in the thermal pools available at your hotel.
GETTING TO PAMUKKALE
We rented a car for a road trip around Turkey, so we drove to Pamukkale. We started in Istanbul, then headed to Ephesus, made a quick stop in Pamukkale, and then finished out the trip in Cappadocia (see our guide here) before returning to Istanbul. The drive from Ephesus to Pamukkale only took about 2.5 hours (123 miles). To drive between Cappadocia and Pamukkale took much longer – about 6.5 to 7 hours (385 miles). To drive straight from Istanbul to Pamukkale would take about 6 hours (356 miles).
There are many buses taking the journey between these popular destinations during the day and overnight. These buses are cheap and a popular way to see Turkey. There are also many tours organized from places like Istanbul to get out to Pamukkale. These tours arrange for a bus, accommodations, and some meals typically.
Internal flights within Turkey can also be a cheap option depending on when and where you fly. The closest airport is in Denizli, located about an hour from the travertines. There are buses you can take from Denizli, or you can rent a car or hire a taxi/driver for the day.
THINGS TO DO IN PAMUKKALE
While the famous travertine pools in Pamukkale are the highlight of the trip, there are other options for things to do while you are there. Depending on your time frame, budget, and interest, you can also check out the antique pool and ruins located at the top.
SEEING THE COTTON CASTLE – PAMUKKALE’S THERMAL POOLS
You can’t skip the famous “Cotton Castle” area that made Pamukkale famous. While some of the area has been ruined from people building a road and trying to build resorts at the top, you can enjoy the man-made pools built on the road that was cleared out to the top.
There is a boardwalk that runs along the top of the area. You can walk along it to see the original natural pools. Some of them are empty, some have water, some are the natural white color, and some are damaged and stained. Despite the damage, I enjoyed seeing the natural pools. I hope one day to return and see that more of the damage has been reversed.
Please be respectful of the ropes along here. The ropes are not just for your protection, they are to protect the damaged pools. They are trying to let the sun bleach them back out and to keep tourists from interfering with their conservation and restoration process. Just because you can get a good shot by climbing the ropes does not mean you should. There are security around watching to happily call you out in front of everyone (the whistle is loud enough that everyone turns to watch and see who is in trouble).
OTHER POOL OPTIONS
If you are wanting to swim in another pool, you can check out Cleopatra’s Antique Pool. We did not as we are spoiled with pools and water bodies living in Florida and wanted to keep moving for our long drive to Cappadocia. However, this is another option but does cost extra (recent sites indicate 50 TL or $9 for adults and 13 TL or $2.25 for children 6 – 12 years old).
Many of the hotels in the area also have thermal pools you can swim in without the massive crowds. The pool and thermal pool at our hotel was mostly empty whenever we walked by. If we had stayed longer, I definitely would have enjoyed both of them!
VISIT THE HIERAPOLIS RUINS
Another popular stop in Pamukkale is the ruins of Hierapolis, founded in 190 BC. The entry fee for this is included with your Pamukkale entrance fee. We wandered through some of the ruins close to the thermal pools, but we opted not to spend much time exploring them. We spent the previous day exploring the ruins at Ephesus which were more impressive to us.
The most popular of the Hierapolis ruins is the theater. It is about a 10 – 15 minute walk from the pools. You can see the theater from the top of the pools. We opted again not to walk over as we had seen two theaters in Ephesus the day before. However, if you are not visiting Ephesus or if you especially enjoy history or ruins, it looks worth the time to visit it.
Near the ruins, there is the Hierapolis Archaeological Museum you can visit for an extra fee (5 TL or $1 according to a few sites). We opted not to do this, but it is available if you are interested.
HOT AIR BALLOON RIDES IN PAMUKKALE
I did not know about this until we entered the park that morning. As we walked to the pools, a hot air balloon drifted over us close to the pools. We only saw one that morning, and I am not sure of the cost. However, if you are looking to splurge and get an aerial view off the pools, it is an option.
While the damage to the thermal pools at Pamukkale disappointed me, I am still glad we visited. We both loved seeing the pools and climbing around them on the path down to the town and back up again. We enjoyed relaxing and taking in the view even if we did not swim in the pools. I’d recommend a stop in Pamukkale on any trip to Turkey if you have a chance to go!
If you’re looking for more inspiration for a trip to Turkey, check out this post with our full road trip itinerary as well as these specific posts on visiting the ancient ruins of Ephesus and enjoying the hot air balloon sunrises and fairy chimneys in Cappadocia.
Pictures in this post were edited in Lightroom with the World Tour Collection presets (with tweaks made to fit the image) that can be purchased here.
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