During our honeymoon, two of the places my husband and I visited in Turkey were the famous travertines at Pamukkale and Cleopatra’s Pool in the Hierapolis Complex. Our tour was allotted about two hours for sightseeing, which was far too short. Nevertheless, whether you’re staying for an hour or all day, it’s definitely worth seeing.
We arrived at Pamukkale in the afternoon, which was perfect to avoid the worst heat of the day and likely heavier crowds. Our tour guide paid our entry fee (normally 35 Turkish Lira [TL], or free for children under 18). We bypassed all the vendors selling souvenirs and refreshments to catch a glimpse of the natural wonder we had come to see.
Although it’s a long stroll from the parking lot to the travertines and even longer to get to Cleopatra’s Pool, it’s a pleasant walk because you can see nearby and distant ruins of the ancient Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis (“Sacred City”). Walking the path you can hear the almost musical clink of the sturdy and loose natural stones forming the path below you.
Hierapolis was founded by the Attalid kings of Pergamum towards the end of the 2nd century BC. It was ceded to Rome in 133 B.C. Through the years, Hierapolis was valuable for its healing baths, as visitors hoped to heal everything from rheumatism to skin disease.
Much to the regret of my history and ruins-loving husband, we didn’t have time to explore the remains of the city or to go to the Archaeological Museum at Pamukkale–so if exploring Hierapolis interests you, make sure to allot enough time for your visit or find a tour that includes enough time.
I’m sure you’re here for hearing about the gorgeous natural wonder, the travertines at Pamukkale, so I’ll start with that first. After we had swam in Cleopatra’s pool, we walked around to look at the Travertines. Pamukkale means “Cotton Palace.” The landscape was created by hot spring waters containing calcite, which created gorgeous white terraces of mineral stalactites and petrified waterfalls. Travertine refers to the sedimentary rock deposited by the hot spring water. All in all, it has created a landscape of what might look like white, water-filled basins.
To me, it seemed like the travertines had three distinct areas. The first area, located after the south entrance gate and pathway leading there, is the area where the travertines are open to the public for entering the water and spending time trying to get the perfect picture. Past that, there are more pools, but all of them were dry. Past there, north of the pools was a boardwalk and pristine pools. By this time it was late afternoon, so the water shimmered with the setting sun’s rays. Surprisingly, it wasn’t crowded there, and the pools were begging for someone to wade in them. However, there were several signs posted that expressly forbid going into the water, so we had to look only.
I had been afraid of not finding any water at all at Pamukkale based on mixed reviews and blogs I had read before our trip, but was relieved to find some water filling the travertines. Granted, it wasn’t quite as impressive as pictures I’ve seen before, but our tour guide explained that the hotels in Pamukkale divert a lot of the water from the travertines, which is why the pools aren’t all filled out in their glory. (Granted, I’ve seen other explanations online why some of them are empty as well, everything from “nobody knows why” to “it’s to keep the pools white,” but I’m going to stick to our tour guide’s explanation).
By the public pools, you can see the resort town in the distance, which makes for an amazing backdrop with the turquoise lake down below.
Past the travertines and a museum, there’s a complex with Cleopatra’s Pool. After seeing things during our honeymoon like Greece’s Ancient Agora and Turkey’s Ephesus, the refreshingly unique thing about Cleopatra’s pool was actually being able to swim in ancient ruins. It was fun to float in the pool and try to scramble over the sometimes treacherously slippery pillars and stones submerged in the pool’s warm bubbly water. The pool is rumored to have been a gift from Marc Antony to Cleopatra, and the ruins of columns in the pool were once part of a collapsed temple of Apollo.
There is a gift shop by the pool as well as vendors selling high-priced food. There are bathrooms, changing rooms, and rental lockers for storing items while you swim. The downfall of the pool is there’s a charge to swim in it (50TL), you need to think ahead to bring a towel, and you can’t use your phone/camera in the water since they have photographers there eager to take your photos for a fee.
On TripAdvisor, the biggest gripes from visitors are the crowds at the pool and not being able to use a camera. Although there were plenty of people the day we visited, it wasn’t as crazy as some of the TripAdvisor reviewers make it sound, so either we lucked out and went at the right time of day, or the crowds get worse depending on the month. Although it is somewhat of a “tourist trap” as others complain online, we did enjoy the experience.
My Biggest Regret
And now for the moralistic lesson of my tale. During the trip, I was determined to get nice pictures for Instagram. This at times led me to make a couple of poor choices as well as to get depressed over not getting silly shots to look the way I wanted them to. It’s important to live in the moment sometimes, and the best example of that is what happened to me at Pamukkale.
After we had looked around, I wanted to get in the water to get some of the dreamy Instagram shots like I’d been enviously admiring before our trip. I didn’t want to take my phone into the water because I was afraid I’d damage my camera, and I also didn’t know how I could take the pictures myself, since I couldn’t convince my husband to get into the water with me.
Lo and behold, I gave into temptation to use a photography vendor to get my pictures. Although I was worried by the many pictures of girls with parrots displayed, they also had many beguiling photos of women sitting on the travertines without parrots. I tried to check on the pricing to make sure it was reasonable (you could buy what photos you wanted), and then the photographer grabbed a parrot and led me by the hand into the pools.
It turned out he only took pictures of me with the parrot. Then he took me back and I picked out some pictures I liked, but then I got the price tag: 1800TL (300USD). I tried not to panic, and thankfully a nice lady from our tour who spoke Turkish helped with translating between us. I communicated that I had wanted pictures without a parrot and that I liked the pictures but that I couldn’t pay that much (it was cash only). The photographer then rushed me back to take glamor shots, since they were also anxious to close their stand for the day but also wanted to make their sale . Afterwards, I picked out what shots I liked from the new shoot and then they added that with the parrot pictures and wanted 3000TL ($600USD).
I couldn’t afford that much, plus knew the price was too high for 20 unedited photos. I again tried to communicate with the lady from our tour translating, but ultimately they were in a rush, so finally agreed to give me the photos for 600TL (about $105 USD).
By the time the photography fiasco was over, I had held up our group tour. What’s worse is my obsession with getting nice pictures also caused me to lose valuable time I could have spent wading in the water. Because of taking pictures, I wasn’t able to actually enjoy the travertines like other people happily playing and relaxing in the water.
For the night, our tour stayed at the Colossae Thermal Hotel. The rooms were a little dated, but overall it was a cool hotel since it had an impressive selection of food. The huge dining room and the selection of food made it feel like we had been dropped onto what I imagine a cruise ship’s dining hall would be like. Afterwards, we went and watched the hotel’s free belly dancing show and enjoyed a few drinks. Depending on what day you go, the hotel is about $118 a night, which seemed reasonable for the value of this four-star hotel. There was a pool and mud bath, but we didn’t have time to check them out.
The next day before leaving Pamukkale, we visited the lake area that we could see from up above the previous day. It was cool since it offered a different view of the travertines up above us on the cliff. People were by the lake feeding the many ducks chilling out there.
This website has a good description of the other entrances we didn’t take to get into Pamukkale, as well as public transportation and a map of the area that you can enlarge.
The Travertines are open from April 15th to October 2nd from 08:00-21:00. From October 3rd until April 14th, they are open from 08:30 to 17:00. Be advised that the travertines as well as Cleopatra’s Pool can be slippery, so they pose a falling hazard and threaten to damage your camera if you aren’t careful. Also, if you have control over your schedule, it’s supposed to be really beautiful to watch the sunset at Pamukkale, and what little of the sunset we caught was definitely impressive.
Overall, although there are things I would change about my visit to Pamukkale, I’m very happy that we finally got to see this famous place, and I definitely hope to return one day to fully enjoy the water, to see a full sunrise or sunset, and to explore more of Hierapolis.