Pamukkale: What Influencers Don’t Tell You

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. In this post, I’ll cover the truth about present-day Pamukkale based on my July 2019 trip and give you tips for your visit.

Note: All photos in this post were taken with my iPhone. They haven’t undergone any editing, color enhancements, etc.

Accessible Travel Note: If you’ll be visiting Pamukkale by wheelchair, make sure to visit our post on A Wheelchair User’s Guide to Pamukkale.

Why is Pamukkale white?

White tavertines at Pamukkale.

I won’t get too technical here, but understanding 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?

Hot water underground dissolves calcium. When this calcium-rich water emerges to the surface and runs down the side of the hill, it cools. The cooling causes the calcium to precipitate out of the water, and voila, creates the “Cotton Castle” travertines that are iconic of Pamukkale.

To be fair to science, it’s more complicated than this, but it should give you the gist.

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.

Why does water no longer flow through the Pamukkale travertines? It’s because the population in Pamukkale has increased throughout the years, due in great part to tourism. Therefore, water is re-routed to fill the needs of the town’s population.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at Pamukkale Tour’s photos as an example of how the travertines used to look.

Now, compare that to this photo from my July 2019 trip:

Tavertines without water at Pamukkale.

Are there still pools of water at Pamukkale?

Yes, there are.

There are a series of pools open to the public that are fed manually by the park. These pools lead uphill from the Pamukkale town entrance to the main rest area. You’ll be able to wander freely around the pools and swim in them as you please.

People swimming at the tavertines at Pamukkale.

You’ll also come across a few pockets of pools with water in them, which is also manually controlled. These pools can be viewed from the boardwalk but are NOT open for the public to walk on.

Grey tavertines at Pamukkale are what influencers don't tell you about.

We’ll get into the rules at Pamukkale shortly, but for now, know that the policies are in place to help the travertines’ restoration process.

Influencers’ Roles at Pamukkale

Let’s circle back to Pamukkale influencers.

The consensus of anyone I spoke to at Pamukkale, or who had been to Pamukkale, was it doesn’t look like the pictures.

To be fair, influencers (those who have a large following on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, etc.), are not the only ones 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.

Modern-day Pamukkale is pretty in its own right. However, it’s not the kind of pretty that 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 three things happened:

  1. The pictures were from years ago.
  2. The pictures were photoshopped.
  3. The person illegally climbed into a protected part of the travertines.

The third point is a serious issue faced at Pamukkale nowadays. It’s in great part because of people trying to copy influencers’ poses.

People illegally climbing on protected Pamukkale travertines at sunset.
People illegally climbing on protected travertines at sunset. This is a common occurrence in Pamukkale.

Rules at Pamukkale

Speaking of poses at Pamukkale, now is the perfect time to talk about the rules. 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. However, 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.

Here they are:

Rule #1: Don’t wear shoes on the travertines that are open to the public.

“Shoes” cover everything from sneakers to flip flops to soft-soled water attire.

Don’t be like the girl who argued with the guard when he told her to take her shoes off.

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 already more than generous with the amount of space they allow people 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 girl’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 shield your feet a bit.

Rule #2: Don’t walk on the travertines in any other part of the park.

There is only one portion of Pamukkale where you’re allowed to walk on the travertines. These are the travertines that lead up the hill from the Pamukkale town entrance to the main rest area.

Every other part of the Pamukkale travertines is off-limit. No exceptions…although, when you see other visitors, it will appear that there are exceptions.

The wonderful- but self-damaging- part about Pamukkale is that there’s a beautiful wooden boardwalk that winds around the mountain. From here, you can enjoy views of the travertines from a variety of angles, including the beautiful water-filled ones in restoration.

A secluded boardwalk along the tavertines.

Unfortunately, from the boardwalk, it’s a short jump down to the travertines 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 did not.

It was frustrating to see people behave so disrespectfully towards the travertines. Please, please, please, do not be one of those people.

Where Pamukkale rules fail

This post is all about bringing you the cold hard, present-day truth about Pamukkale. So, here’s another truth for you- the park needs to put far more resources into implementing their rules.

They get a “C” for effort and an “A+” for trusting people. However, since we’ve already established that not all visitors can be trusted, the following are points that stood out, oftentimes ironically, for their areas of improvement:

  1. Redo the park map and ban the old one. If you’re at your hotel, or go to any travel agency and ask for a map of Pamukkale, the one they’ll give you is shocking. Whereas there is only one area permitted to walk on the travertines, the map shows people walking in FOUR different areas.
  2. Show the rules at the entrance gate. Instead, the only information displayed is a list of prices and information about Turkey’s Museum Pass.
  3. Make the “Do Not Enter” signs larger and more frequent along the travertine boardwalk.
  4. Hire more staff so they can monitor a smaller portion of the travertines. For example, I watched one guard run back and forth between two sides of his area. 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.
  5. Ensure staff are role models of the rules. At the rest area, with hundreds of people watching, there were three staff members walking around with shoes on in the off-limit travertines, scraping a metal rake over the travertines to clear off the leaves. I get that the park wants to keep the area debris free, but there has got to be a better way.
A "Do not walk" sign.
A tiny “Do Not Enter” sign in an area that’s off-limits for visitors to walk on.

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 that disrespecting park rules will continue.

In the meantime, let’s do our small part from home to not hit the “like” button the next time you see Instagram influencers in Pamukkale travertines that look too good to be the legal deal.

Planning your visit to Pamukkale

Despite everything said above, with your expectations set right, Pamukkale is an interesting place to visit. In fact, to me, the Hieropolis, located behind the Pamukkale travertines and included with your entrance ticket, was just as beautiful as the travertines themselves.

Ruins at the Hieropolis in the countryside.
The ancient Hieropolis city behind the Pamukkale travertines.

Entrance Gates at Pamukkale

There are three entrance gates at Pamukkale.

If you’ll be staying in Pamukkale town, you’ll visit from the Pamukkale town entrance. This entrance starts at the public travertine pools, so you’ll need to enter barefoot.

The north and south entrance gates have parking spaces, so these are the areas you’ll enter if you’re driving or visiting with a tour.

The South Gate will get you closer to the museum, Cleopatra’s Pool, and the public travertines.

The North Gate is the furthest away but will take you through the Hierapolis ruins.

Travel Tip: Entrance gates have different opening times, which vary depending on the time of year. However, the Pammukale town gate opens the latest (8:00am during the summer).

How to get around Pamukkale

People walking barefoot at Pamukkale.

Pamukkale is best explored by foot.

There’s a wooden boardwalk that follows the uppermost part of the travertines. To get around the rest of the area, cobblestone or dirt paths are in abundance.

If you’d prefer to avoid the uphill climb from the center of the park to the theater in the Hierapolis, there’s a shuttle that 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 these hot springs offer the hottest water at the very top and bottom pools. In between, the water is cool to cold, but refreshing if you’ll be traveling during the summer.

People walking in the tavertine pools.
People swimming at public travertine pools.

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 about 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.

The swimming area at Cleopatra's Pool.
People swimming among Roman column ruins at Cleopatra’s Pool.

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.

Sunset at Pamukkale.
Sunset at Pamukkale.

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 personally 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 8:00am. Seeing how bright white portions of the travertines are (even around the dirty spots) and just how blue the protected pools are was stunning. There were also fewer visitors early in the morning compared to the number of people that were there for sunset.

Pretty blue water and white tavertines at Pamukkale.
A view of a travertine pool in broad daylight.

Long story short, timing will depend greatly, based on the person. 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 2 – 4 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 exploring the Hierapolis, tack on another couple of hours. As mentioned earlier, exploring the ruins was a highlight for me. The ruins are far less crowded, plus there are lots of paths for exploring- a perfect combo for the adventurous type.

My favorite path was the one leading up to St. Philip Tomb and Church. I didn’t come across a soul…except for perhaps a lot of deceased ones from the ancient city!

The path to St. Philip Tomb and Church.
The path leading to St. Philip Tomb and Church, which involves climbing over ruins along the way.

What to pack

Despite my day job as a travel consultant, I have a “wing it” approach for 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 to Pamukkale:

  1. A small backpack to store your shoes, unless you enjoy having your flip flop fly in front of your camera lens as you go to snap that perfect shot on the public travertines.
  2. 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).
  3. Sunscreen. There’s plenty of white around the patches of dirt on the travertines to reflect the sun’s rays, making sunscreen extra important.
  4. Water and snacks. You can purchase these items inside Pamukkale, but they’ll be more expensive.
Rough surface on the tavertines.
The coral-like surface of the Pamukkale travertines.

A miscellaneous thing to note

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 brand new foot exfoliator. I, for one, 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?

A single tree sitting in the white Pamukkale tavertines.

As with anything that involves an opinion, whether or not Pamukkale is worth visiting depends greatly on the person.

If your time in Turkey is short, I personally think spending extra time in places like Istanbul, Cappadocia and Turkey’s Mediterranean coast is a better use of your resources.

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.

Photo Essay

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 photos of Pamukkale. Remember, none of these photos have been edited, so they’ll give you a good idea of what to expect.

The path leading to Pamukkale from Pamukkale town.
This photo was taken on the path leading up to Pamukkale from the Pamukkale Town entrance.
A view of Pamukkale town from the top of the tavertines.
A view of the travertines and Pamukkale Town from the main Pamukkale viewing area.
A tree-lined boardwalk beside the Pamukkale tavertines.
A quiet part of the boardwalk at sunset.
Me sinking my feet into the muddy bottom of the tavertines.
When the travertines are wet, they take on a muddy texture.
A tavertine pool crowded with visitors.
A typical crowded travertine pool during summer (this one is legal to swim in).
People illegally standing on the Pamukkale tavertines.
More travertines as sunset…with people illegally standing on them.
Some ruins at the Hierapolis.
Ruins at the Hierapolis.
View of Pamukkale from the top of the St. Philip Tomb and Church.
A view of the Pamukkale travertines from the top of St. Philip Church.
The theater in the Hierapolis.
The ancient theater in the Hierapolis.
A pretty building at the Hierapolis.
A tomb in the Hierapolis.
Grey and blue tavertines.
Pools in restoration, with a dirty travertine foreground- a fairly common site at Pamukkale.
Blue and grey tavertines overlooking the countryside.
See how easy it would be to zoom in (or walk) on the blue part and not even mention the dirty travertines?
Pristine blue water in a tavertine.
And, because it’s pretty, here’s a zoomed-in photo, taken legally from the boardwalk.

Conclusion

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. Do your part to be a responsible visitor, and you’ll surely have a wonderful time.

What’s your take on Pamukkale influencers, or the influencer impact on travel as a whole? Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation.

P.S.- If you’ll be visiting Cappadocia, head over to my post on How to Take the Bus from Pamukkale to Cappadocia and Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon: What to Expect.