Pamukkale is a world UNESCO site in Western Turkey and is located 220km from the popular city of Izmir and 240km from beautiful Antalya. It is very much a day journey from wherever you are traveling from and is often a popular stop on the way to another city. Pamukkale means 'cotton castle' and is a series of thermal pools created from calcium carbonate giving it it's unique white appearance.
As Pamukkale sits quite a distance from any major cities, there are many private or group tours that pass through Pamukkale en route to other destinations. We actually witnessed a few tour groups when we were here which I will go into more detail later. What I would say however is to avoid spending the money to get a guide to take you to Pamukkale, unless you can not avoid it or it is actually part of a trip you are taking. I am not suggesting you to skip Pamukkale (definitely do not do that) but instead take the adventure on your own. It will likely save you a bucket load of money and is much more fun.
When we were staying in Antalya, we decided to take the day trip to Pamukkale. We purchased bus tickets the day before from the Turkish bus company, KamilKoc, for 45TL per person with the assistance from our Airbnb host. Without purchasing in store, the tickets can be also easily purchased online (there is an English option). We initially were going to book online before arriving to Antalya but were skeptical of the website. I can confirm the website is legit, but it is unlikely the buses will be sold out so you can easily book when you arrive if you prefer (maybe with some Turkish language challenges, hence our Airbnb host happily assisting us).
As we purchased our tickets in store, KamilKoc arranged for a shuttle bus to pick us up from their office the following morning and take us to Antalya's main bus station (Otogar) to board onto the next bus journey. Without this option the other, and actually more time saving option, is taking the train to Antalya Otogar instead. We hadn't realised this was an option until we returned back to Antalya that evening.
Just to note; The main bus station has an average selection of food and drinks. I would not particularly plan to get there very early as there is not a lot of entertainment or experience to shop. I would also only rely on the station for snacks rather than a full meal.
Our day to visit Pamukkale begun at 6am being picked up by the shuttle bus and with a 4.5 hours journey ahead we were keen to get a jump start on the day.
Our bus left the Otogar at 7:30am to Denzili. Denzili is the closest town to Pamukkale and is a popular overnight stop for tourists visiting the UNESCO site. It is worth considering staying the night in Denzili if you are passing through as the next big city is 4+ hours away. A benefit is that you can visit Pamukkale early before it gets too warm or too many people arrive however if you do plan your trip this way I would not recommend spending too much time in Denzili. Besides Pamukkale, there is not a lot else to do.
The buses in Turkey lived up to what we had been advised; comfy with a reliable and safe service. The only down side was that in our experience we found the drivers would stop every 90 minutes or so for a 'smoko' break. I am unsure if this is the same across all services but the plus side is that it did give customers the opportunity to grab a snack or use the bathroom if required. Smoking in Turkey is very common among the males, even in young populations. It was so noticeable that I actually started to research lung cancer rates in Turkey (in case you were interested, Turkey has the third highest lung cancer diagnosis in men in the world).
Following a few stops, we arrived at Denzili Otogar at 10:30. That bus trip was the only part of the day that we had pre-planned. The rest we figured would be easy. And it was.
From Denzili bus station you need to catch another smaller bus to Pamukkale. To find this bus, follow these instructions:
1. In the main bus station, go down the escalators and then walk to your right.
2. Around bus station 75-76 are smaller buses that take you to Pamukkale, for 4.5TL (0.80 euro).
Make sure you have change. The bus takes around 20 minutes from Denzili to Pamukkale. It will drop you down the bottom of a small hill, a 5 minute walk up gets you to Pamukkale entrance. This hill is lined with a few shops and restaurants.
On arrival, tickets are 60TL per person. This also gets you into the Hierapolis ruins at the top of the hill which includes a theater, city ruins and archway gates.
At Pamukkale you will need to remove your shoes when you walk on the limestone surface. With water running on the stones, it can look more slippery than it is (but don't get me wrong, I did slip once) so be careful. I was actually surprised how many pools there were and how many you could go into. The scenery from the bottom of the hill is absolutely spectacular. We spent the best part of two hours making our way up the hill and wading in each of the thermal pools. I was quite amazed at how white and well kept they were.
Word of advice: Noticeably closer to the top the pools were either drained or no longer had water flowing into them. They were bare and from arriving at the top of the hill of the UNESCO site, it can look a little disappointing. Don't be fooled...if you arrive from the top entrance, make your way down the hill to the thermal pools with water.
So why not a bus tour?
My main feedback was there really is not a lot of direction at Pamukkale with information. Where the tour bus drops you is at the top of the site at the empty pools. Arriving independently, you enter at the bottom of the hill where the pools have water in them. I heard a lot of tourists on the bus trip say 'I paid 60TL to see this'? Simply questioning the dry pools. Sadly the majority of tourists at the top of the hill did not actually walk down to even halfway where the pools contained water. As a result the pools were less busy which meant we could enjoy relaxing in them for much longer.
Some may have asked why they paid 60TL to see this UNESCO site. Where as, I said 'I can not believe we only paid 60TL for this'. It was purely stunning and I would recommend to anyone to take to opportunity to 'sacrifice' a day of traveling to make it to Pamukkale.
If Pamukkale is not on your list of things to do, and you are someone who likes photography, unique experiences, water and seeing outdoor beauty at it's finest, then please do yourself a favor and go.