If you’ve researched places to visit in Turkey, you’ve likely seen the travertines of Pamukkale with their blue water, thanks in great part to Instagram influencers.
Spoiler alert: Those pictures were either taken years ago or underwent heavy photoshopping.
I’ll cover the truth about present-day Pamukkale, helping to set your expectations for your visit.
Note: All photos in this post were taken with my (now retired) iPhone 6. They haven’t undergone any color enhancements or other editing to skew their appearance.
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Why Is Pamukkale White?
Knowing how the Pamukkale travertines formed will help you understand the “why” behind today’s less-than-ideal Pamukkale scenery that many influencers fail to show.
So, how was Pamukkale created?
Pamukkale was created by hot water underground dissolving calcium. When this calcium-rich water emerged to the surface and ran down the side of the hill, it cooled. The cooling caused the calcium to precipitate out of the water.
And voila! It created the “Cotton Castle” travertines that are iconic of Pamukkale.
To be fair to science, it’s more complicated than that. But you’ve got the gist, right?
Why Has Pamukkale Dried Up?
You already know that Pamukkale doesn’t look like most photos you’ve seen online, and here’s why: Water no longer naturally flows through the travertines.
Without water, the Pamukkale travertines have stopped growing. Furthermore, the approximately 100° weather in the summer has made quick work of drying up the water in the pools.
So, what’s causing the Pamukkale travertines to lack water?
It all comes down to an increase in population. The population around Pamukkale has skyrocketed in recent years, largely due to tourism. As a result, the local government has had to reroute the water to fill the needs of the town’s population.
As a result, Pamukkale has dried up.
Don’t believe me?
Take a look at Pamukkale Tour’s photos as an example of how the travertines used to look, helped by what was surely a hefty dose of photoshopping.
Now, compare their photos to this one I took:
Are There Still Pools of Water at Pamukkale?
Yes, there are.
The staff at Pamukkale keep a series of pools open to the public via manual water management.
These pools lead uphill from the Pamukkale town entrance to the main rest area within the park. You’ll be able to wander freely around them and swim in them as you please.
You’ll also come across a few pockets of pools with water in them, which are also manually controlled.
You can view these pools from the boardwalk, but they’re not open for the public to walk on.
We’ll get into the rules at Pamukkale shortly.
But for now, know it’s vital that you abide by the policies because they’re in place to help the travertines’ restoration process.
The Influencer’s Role at Pamukkale
Let’s circle back to Pamukkale influencers.
The consensus of anyone I spoke with at Pamukkale was, “It doesn’t look like the pictures.”
And I wholeheartedly agree.
To be fair, influencers (those with a large following on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, etc.) aren’t the only people at fault for creating misleading expectations of Pamukkale.
If you go online to search for a Pamukkale tour, you’re nearly guaranteed to see photos of pristine white terraces filled with blue water. You might even be seeing such photos in ads here. Those aren’t my doing, I promise; they’re automatically populated.
But here’s the thing: Modern-day Pamukkale is pretty in its own right. However, it’s not the kind of pretty you’ve seen flooding your Instagram feed.
Therefore, when you see “picture perfect” white and blue photos of Pamukkale, you can be sure that at least one of the following things happened:
- The pictures are from years ago.
- Someone photoshopped the photos.
- The person illegally climbed into a protected part of the travertines to snap a photo.
The third point is a common issue at Pamukkale, and watching it happen frustrated me to the core.
I believe that influencers who’ve illegally climbed into the travertines are largely responsible for the general public doing the same, trying to take a photo of their exact location and pose.
Maybe those influencers had special permission to do so.
But that’s still crossing the moral line in my book.
Rules at Pamukkale
You now know that Pamukkale is a fragile ecosystem. So, let’s talk about the rules in place to protect it.
This topic hits home for me. So, if you get only one thing out of this post, let it be this:
Follow the rules.
It seems ridiculous to have to say it. But after watching what must have been a least 50 people in my two-day stay climbing travertines where they shouldn’t have been, it needs to be here.
The good news?
The rules are simple, and they can be boiled down to two points.
Rule #1: Don’t Wear Shoes on the Travertines That Are Open to the Public
“Shoes” cover everything from sneakers to flip-flops and soft-soled footwear.
Don’t be like the woman who argued with the guard when he told her to take off her shoes. Her reasoning for putting her shoes back on halfway through the travertines?
Her feet hurt.
Shoes are damaging to the travertines.
In my opinion, the park is more than generous with the amount of space they allow visitors to explore. The least you can do is respect the freedom they give you and keep shoes off your feet to minimize erosion.
In the woman’s (albeit unjustified) defense, it does get painful walking on the travertines.
Have you ever stepped on dead coral when walking on the beach?
That’s what it feels like.
Long story short, if you’re concerned about your feet hurting, only wander as far as you can comfortably backtrack.
You can also wear socks if you want to help shield your feet. NOTE: As of 2022, visitors can no longer wear socks at Pamukkale.
Rule #2: Don’t Walk on the Travertines in Any Other Part of the Park
There’s only one portion of Pamukkale where you can walk on the travertines. It’s the part that leads up the hill from the Pamukkale town entrance to the main park rest area.
All other travertines are off-limits for foot traffic.
No exceptions. Except…
…it can feel like exceptions abound when you watch other people go about their visit.
The wonderful—but damaging—part about Pamukkale is that there’s a beautiful wooden boardwalk that winds around the mountain. From there, you can enjoy views of the travertines from various angles, including the beautiful water-filled travertines in restoration.
Unfortunately, it’s a short jump down to the travertines from the boardwalk, where people take the liberty to explore as they please, including taking those “Instagram-worthy” Pamukkale photos inspired by influencers.
Some people took off their shoes to do their illegal exploration. However, many others didn’t.
It was frustrating to see people behave so disrespectfully towards such a fragile piece of mother nature.
I beg you not to be one of them.
Where Pamukkale Rules Fail
I wrote this article to highlight the cold hard, present-day truth about Pamukkale.
So, here’s another truth for you: The park needs to put more resources into implementing its rules.
In my opinion, the park gets a “C” for effort and an “A+” for trusting people. The issue is that not all visitors can be trusted.
Below are the items that stood out to me, oftentimes ironically, for their need for improvement. So, Pamukkale management, if the environmental gods ever get this article in front of you, my recommendations are as follows:
- Redo the park map and ban the old one. If a tourist is at their hotel or goes to any travel agency and asks for a map of Pamukkale, the one they’ll give them is shocking. Whereas there’s only one area permitted to walk on the travertines, the map shows illustrations of people walking in FOUR different places.
- Display the rules at the entrance gate. Instead, the only information shown is a list of prices and information about Turkey’s Museum Pass.
- Make the “Do Not Enter” signs larger and more frequent along the travertine boardwalk.
- Hire more staff so they can monitor a smaller portion of the travertines. I watched a guard run back and forth between the two sides of his massive area to monitor. As soon as he left one side, the same people went back onto the travertines, and vice versa, as he ran back and forth trying to stop them.
- Ensure your staff is a role model of the rules. At the rest area, with hundreds of people watching, three staff members were walking around with shoes on in the off-limit travertines, scraping a metal rake over the travertines to clear off the leaves. I understand that the park wants to keep the area debris-free. But there has got to be a better way.
Finally, wouldn’t it be amazing if the park could implement a hefty fine for visitors not following the rules?
Or, make non-abiding visitors exit the park and ban re-entry?
Without serious consequences, I fear people will continue to disrespect the park rules.
In the meantime, let’s do our small part from home by not hitting the “like” button the next time we see an Instagram influencer posing in a part of the Pamukkale travertines that looks too good to be the legal deal.
Planning Your Visit to Pamukkale
Despite everything I’ve said, Pamukkale is an interesting place to visit as long as your expectations are set right.
To me, the Hieropolis, located behind the Pamukkale travertines and included with your entrance ticket, was just as beautiful as the travertines themselves.
I’ll now switch gears and talk about how to prepare for your visit to Pamukkale.
Entrance Gates at Pamukkale
There are three entrance gates at Pamukkale.
If you’re staying in Pamukkale town, it’s best to visit from the Pamukkale town entrance. Keep in mind that these entrance gates start at the public travertine pools, so you’ll need to enter barefoot.
The north and south entrance gates have parking spaces. These are the areas you’ll enter if you’re driving or visiting with a group or private tour.
What’s the advantage of these gates, you wonder?
The south gate will get you closer to the museum, Cleopatra’s Pool, and the public travertines.
In contrast, the north gate is the furthest away but will take you through the Hierapolis ruins.
Travel Tip: The entrance gates have different opening times, which vary depending on the time of year. However, the Pammukale town gate opens at the latest (8:00 am during the summer).
How to Get Around Pamukkale
It’s best to explore Pamukkale on foot.
There’s a wooden boardwalk that follows the uppermost part of the travertines. In my opinion, it’s a must-see. Surprisingly, many people skip it, though I’m inclined to believe it’s because they don’t realize it’s an option.
You’ll traverse a combination of cobblestone and dirt paths to get around the rest of the park.
If you’d prefer to avoid the uphill climb from the center of the park to the theater in the Hierapolis, a free shuttle runs about every 15 minutes during peak hours.
Places to Swim at Pamukkale
There are two areas where you can swim at Pamukkale—the public travertine pools and Cleopatra’s Pool.
The public travertine pools are automatically included with your entrance ticket. Keep in mind that the pools at the very top and bottom of the hill have the hottest water.
In contrast, the water in the pools along the hill is cool to cold. But it’ll feel refreshing if you’re traveling during the summer.
There’s an additional fee of around $9 USD to enter Cleopatra’s Pool, which is a hot spring. The story goes that this used to be Cleopatra’s go-to spot, although many historians suggest that there isn’t evidence to back this up.
Nonetheless, Cleopatra’s Pool is a must-see since there are Roman ruins scattered at the bottom of the hot spring.
If, like me, the thought of swimming in a tight space with sweating strangers gives you the heebie-jeebies, rest easy. They collect the fee at the stairs leading into the pool, so it’s free to walk around the perimeter without shelling out extra lira.
Best Time of Day to Visit Pamukkale
People flock to Pamukkale for sunset. A smaller number visit for sunrise since the sun rises in the Hierapolis direction.
In either case, the best time of day to truly appreciate the white and blue colors of the travertines is in broad daylight. The downside is this corresponds to when all the day-trippers are there.
It’s important to note that your entrance ticket to Pamukkale will be valid for only one entry, although you can stay until the park closes with that single entry.
Nonetheless, it would make for a very long day at Pamukkale to arrive for sunrise and stay until sunset, especially if you’re traveling during the summer when the days are longer.
I took a 2-day / 1-night trip to Pamukkale. In a spontaneous moment, I decided to enter Pamukkale for sunset on the evening I arrived.
It was very pretty.
Nonetheless, I was much more “wowed” the following morning when I entered at 8:00 am.
Broad daylight allows you to see just how white portions of the travertines are (even around the dirty spots). On top of that, direct sunlight brings out a brighter blue color in the protected pools.
There were also fewer visitors in the morning compared to the number of people that were there for sunset.
Long story short, the “best” time to visit Pamukkale depends on the traveler.
If I were to do it again, I’d only enter Pamukkale one time, either right at the opening time to catch fewer crowds or in the evening to watch the sunset, making sure that I allow plenty of daylight time in either case to see the true colors of the travertines.
How Much Time to Spend at Pamukkale
If you’re strictly visiting the travertines and Cleopatra’s Pool, you’ll likely feel that you’ve explored them well after two to four hours.
This is a large range, I know. However, it depends on how far down the travertine boardwalk you go and if you spend your full two-hour allotment swimming in Cleopatra’s Pool.
If you plan on meandering around the Hierapolis, tack on another couple of hours.
Exploring the Hierapolis was a highlight for me. The ruins were less crowded, and there were many paths for exploring—a perfect combo for those with an adventurous spirit.
My favorite path was the one leading up to St. Philip Tomb and Church. I didn’t come across a soul…except for, perhaps, many deceased ones hanging around the ancient city!
What to Pack
day job as a travel consultant (now, gratefully, a full-time travel blogger), I have a “wing it” approach to my personal travels.
However, doing a little preparation on the front end of your trip to Pamukkale will make your day more enjoyable.
This is what I recommend you pack for your visit:
- A small backpack to store your shoes, unless you enjoy having your flip flop fly in front of your camera as you go to snap that perfect shot on the public travertines (I might be speaking from experience here).
Socks. These will protect you (a bit) from the sharp travertines and from other “icky things” that we’ll talk about in the next section. (Side note: Although a bit painful and despite the icky things, I loved wandering barefoot on the travertines).
- Sunscreen. There’s lots of white around the patches of dirt on the travertines to reflect the sun’s rays, making sunscreen extra important.
- Water and snacks. You can purchase these items inside Pamukkale, but they’ll be more expensive.
Since this post is about influencers and what they don’t tell you about Pamukkale, here’s a tidbit that didn’t have a place elsewhere:
Hair and dead skin cells are abundant on the public travertines.
Granted, human hair was the only visible one of the two, and visible it was!
I wasn’t expecting it. But it makes sense, given how densely populated Pammukale is and how all that travertine pool swimming is bound to loosen up some hair follicles. Ewww!
As for skin cells, this is my own inference, but let’s face it—walking on the travertines is like walking on a really rough foot exfoliator.
I can attest to how I left Pamukkale with the smoothest feet of my adult life. But all that dead skin had to go somewhere…
Is Pamukkale Worth Visiting?
As with anything that involves an opinion, whether or not Pamukkale is worth visiting depends greatly on the person.
However, if you have the time, and/or if you’ve got your heart set on visiting Pamukkale, by all means, do so. It’s a beautiful place, regardless of the fact that many Pamukkale influencers and tour agencies have misled us with their photos.
In the spirit of setting your expectations for Pamukkale, and because there are so many other photos I want to share, below are some more pictures of Pamukkale.
Remember, I haven’t edited any of these photos. So, they’ll give you a better idea of what to expect.
The Bottom Line
I hope this post has helped to give you realistic expectations for your trip to Pamukkale.
While many influencers have misrepresented Pamukkale, and in some cases illegally so, it’s still an incredible destination in Turkey. Please do your part to be a responsible visitor, and I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time.
Do you have questions about Pamukkale? Leave a question and I’ll be happy to help.
I’d also love to hear from you when you return from your trip. How was your experience? Has anything changed since my visit?