Climbing the Cotton Castle Called Pamukkale

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

At first glance, I let out a heavy sigh.


This was it? After a long day of driving in Turkey to reach the park, all I could see ahead was what appeared to be a dirty toboggan hill on a warm April day – when the inviting whiteness of winter snow becomes smeared with soil that has finally been exposed by the hot spring sun.

Pair this with harassing vendors peppering us with offers from either side – 8 postcards for 2 lira! A guided tour of the ruins! Our first impression of the famed Pamukkale was not one of excitement and enthusiasm, but of skepticism and a little disappointment.

What a difference a few steps can make.

Just past the entrance and at the foot of the long, white path to the top, that which wasn’t visible from ground level finally came into view and induced the awe we had been waiting for.

Pamukkale (which means “cotton castle” in Turkish) is a series of terracesΒ (called “travertines“) created by highly concentrated limestone deposits from 17 hot water springs in the area. Since 200 B.C., people have flocked to the area believing the pools to have healing properties.

It is best described as numerous infinity pools that drop off to magnificent views of the town below.

It is best described as numerous infinity pools that drop off to magnificent views of the town below.

The walk to the top of the hill could easily be done inside of an hour. But with our constant stop for photos, and succumbing to our childlike instincts to just play on our way up, it took us much longer.

Shoes are not allowed when walking through the travertines to prevent damage. The surface was much smoother then expected and we took every opportunity to feel the soft sand squish through our toes and massage our soles. The water got warmer the closer we got to the top.

Footsteps in Pamukkale

There are some unfortunate remnants of abuse on the travertines – hotels were allowed on top and tourists ran vehicles up and down the side until just a couple decades ago. Some spots are stained from this unnatural activity, and the hope now is that over time the sun will bleach it back to it’s stark white glory.

Top of Pamukkale

We lingered at the top for several hours, waiting for the prime photography golden hour and then sunset.

Golden hour on Pamukkale

We took just as much time going down as we did going up, the changing levels of sunlight making the blues that much more dramatic.


Paradise…found? Quite possibly.


94 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • April 30 2012

    I love these photos! I’ve been to Turkey three times but never made it to Pamukkale – definitely a MUST next time we’re there… which is hopefully soon πŸ™‚
    Dani | Globetrottergirls recently posted..Happy Anniversary! Today we celebrate two years on the road

    • May 1 2012

      I hope your THIRD year of travel includes it! πŸ™‚

  • April 30 2012

    Wow! The photos look amazing. Definitely worth the time to travel. Another place I have to add to my MUST visit list.

  • April 30 2012

    Argh. So, we booked 2 nights at Pamukkale because it’s the one place I really really wanted to see in Turkey and then I just accepted a press trip that conflicts with those days. So Patrick is going to see Pamukkale and I’m going to miss it. I’m so so sad and this post makes me even sadder that I’m going to miss it. Gorgeous post!

    • May 1 2012

      Ohhh…I’m sad for you too! That had better be a good press trip in exchange. πŸ™‚

  • Chrystal McKay
    April 30 2012

    This photos are absolutely incredible! I’ve been dying to visit Pumukkale for awhile. This post will certainly satiate my appetite until I can make it here myself! Thanks!

    • May 1 2012

      Thanks Chrystal! It is a pretty incredible place. πŸ™‚

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    April 30 2012

    Oh, I’m so glad Pammukale did not disappoint! I first heard about this place about two years ago when a good friend of mine traveled to Turkey; I was stunned by her pictures just as I am stunned by yours now. This is honestly *the* place that makes Turkey one of the “must visit” destinations on my upcoming RTW trip.

    • May 1 2012

      Thanks Steph! Definitely put it in your itinerary – Turkey has quite a few amazing spots to visit.

  • April 30 2012

    These are stunning! I am so bummed I didn’t get to visit here!

  • April 30 2012

    Wow, very cool. Amazing Photos!

  • Never even heard of this place. So beautiful! And so great that they at least are trying to reverse the damage from allowing tourism to go unchecked.

    • May 1 2012

      Thankfully, UNESCO took over the site in the late 90s and tore down the hotels. πŸ™‚

  • It’s too beautiful for words, truly!

  • April 30 2012

    What a beautiful place! Quite fascinating.
    Dean recently posted..Photo of the week: Lake Moogerah Panorama, Australia

  • This is just one of “those” places! Your pictures are seriously breathtaking and make me want to go there now. I’m so glad you didn’t turn and run at your first site.

    • May 1 2012

      Exactly Debbie – it is just one of “those”! Hard to even put words to, just glad to have a camera!

  • April 30 2012

    Yeah, the first photo gives you the impresion this is a “generic” place. But what a marvelous place after you pass the boring entrance. It looks totally beautiful. Wish I was there.
    Ruth (Tanama Tales) recently posted..Brazil’s Dusty Azurre: Day 8 (Scene 2)

  • Jeremy Branham
    April 30 2012

    Wow, the is spectacular! Now what I would have expected when I first saw ‘cotton castle.’ I’ve seen some travertine stuff but nothing like this!

    • May 1 2012

      It is a pretty unique place. I think there might be something similar in Utah though?

  • Dayna
    April 30 2012

    I laughed at your “dirty toboggan hill” comment, and wondered how many of your readers wouldn’t know what that was! The few steps did make all the difference – that looks absolutely gorgeous!! Thanks for adding a new place to my “someday” wishlist! D xoxo

    • Ter
      May 1 2012

      Ha ha…Dade, your Canadian is showing. πŸ™‚

      • May 1 2012

        It’s a pretty hard thing to hide, might as well flaunt it! πŸ™‚ (I hope everyone got the reference!)

    • May 1 2012

      Haha! I really couldn’t think of another way to describe it!! (My Canadian-ness shining through)!

  • A Montrealer Abroad
    April 30 2012

    So beautiful! I love the sunset’s reflection in your photos.

  • April 30 2012

    So so so beautiful. I definitely want to go here now. Le sigh. I need more time in Turkey.

  • May 1 2012

    Holy cow, phenomenal photos!! I’ve heard of this place before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen photos of it like this! I so want to go here now!
    Amanda recently posted..Relaxing at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

    • May 1 2012

      Add it to your list this summer Amanda! πŸ™‚

  • Jeff Dobbins
    April 30 2012

    Wow. Wasn’t sure whether to include in my next visit to Turkey…but I am now. Thanks for the nudge.

    • May 1 2012

      YAY! Our job here is done! πŸ™‚

  • Mom
    April 30 2012

    Just when I thought some other place or photo was the best, then this post comes along. What a fantastic place & photo’s. It’s almost unbelievable .

  • May 1 2012

    Gorgeous photos! Pamukkale has been on my list for a while, and this just reinforces it!

  • May 1 2012

    Wow this is not what I would expect in Turkey at all, amazing photos.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Aloha Molokai

    • May 1 2012

      I think there are two other places in the world like this (although I’m not even sure how similar). It is a pretty unique place.

  • Joy
    April 30 2012

    Both of us want to stay longer next time and get to enjoy it the way you did. We were rushed. Perhaps we’ll take our teenager (or so she’ll be by then) with us! At least we got to enjoy it’s beauty. Great photos and another extremely well written blog.

    • May 1 2012

      Thanks Joy! I would have liked to have even another day there, hiking in the mountains behind the ruins up top. So gorgeous.

  • May 1 2012

    Man, amazing shots. Love the one at the end. This reminds me of what the pink and white terraces in New Zealand must have looked like, before a volcano erupted and buried both them and a neighbouring village at the turn of the century. Now I think these are one of the last places in the world to have terraces like these!
    Laurence recently posted..Win stuff with Roomorama! (And why you would want to!)

    • May 2 2012

      It just may be. I here there are similar ones in Utah but have no idea if they are to the same scale or not.

  • May 1 2012

    Wow never heard of this place before, but I’m eager to visit now. Amazing photos!

  • May 1 2012

    Wow – I had never heard of this place, paradise indeed! Turkey is such a fascinating country, combining breathtakingly unusual landscapes and a beautifully diverse culture.

    • May 2 2012

      The diversity in the landscape is something we never fully expected before we got here. And we haven’t even been to Cappadocia yet! πŸ™‚

  • Emily in Chile
    May 1 2012

    I’ve never seen anything like this – looks like it was well worth the trip!

  • Margyle
    May 1 2012

    Wow… I guess it just goes to show you shouldn’t judge a hill by how gross it looks lol. Great shots – Turkey keeps getting better and better in my eyes!

    • May 2 2012

      The ole “book by it’s cover” saying applies here as well! πŸ™‚

  • May 2 2012

    Never knew that Turkey was such a fabulous tourist destination. But your posts are just an eye opener.
    This seems to be a fabulous place to visit, lovely views from up there!
    Hope you are having a great week:)
    Arti recently posted..Flavors of Mathura: Lal Peda, Kachori, Samosa, etc (Where to Eat in Mathura)

    • May 2 2012

      Turkey is fast becoming a very popular travel destination and we are so happy to be here to discover why! Thanks Arti. πŸ™‚

  • May 2 2012

    I have been waiting for your pictures of Pamukkale and you have not disappointed. Fantastic. Glad you enjoyed it. Definitely going back this summer. I miss it!

    • May 2 2012

      Thanks Natalie! I really wish we had taken the extra day to see Aphrodisias, or even just to hike up more behind the ruins of Hierapolis.

  • May 2 2012

    I’m over the top impressed with your photos and of course it’s been added to the bucket list – for a photography trip if nothing else.
    Leigh recently posted..Cycling Spain: Ardales to Ronda

    • May 2 2012

      Thanks so much Leigh! We took a bazillion photos that day! πŸ™‚

  • May 2 2012

    Gorgeous photos! I love travel blogs for finding beautiful places that I had never before heard of to add to my ever-growing bucket list!

  • May 2 2012

    Magnificent. I can’t stop staring at the photos. I am in love with this place. Wow.
    Alexa Meisler recently posted..52 Tips for Responsible and Sustainable Tourism

    • May 4 2012

      That’s how we felt when we were there. It’s truly unique.

  • May 2 2012

    I’ve always wanted to go to Pamukkale if only because I grew up being told New Zealand had a similar natural feature that was destroyed by an 1886 volcanic eruption. Your photos have just confirmed that I really need to get to Turkey!

    • May 4 2012

      Then our work here is done! πŸ™‚

  • mustafa
    May 3 2012

    I would like to thank you so much for these fantastic photos and introducing Turkey and Pamukkale to the world even to me.I can’t do as much as you for this love this country more than me. I love you

    • May 4 2012

      I’m glad you enjoyed them Mustafa. πŸ™‚

  • May 3 2012

    Wow wow wow! This is something I would totally be into. It looks stunning!

    • Pete
      May 7 2012

      Thanks Erica, it’s an amazing place to spend an entire day just relaxing and enjoying all the surroundings.

  • Anita
    May 4 2012

    Absolutely amazing…more fabulous than some of the “wonders of the world”…hoping I will someday see this in person…

    • Pete
      May 7 2012

      I agree Anita. There are so many ‘wonders’ of the world which seem to rival those which are chosen as the top picks.

  • I don’t even know what to say. These photos are AMAZING.

    • Pete
      May 7 2012

      Thanks Christy, very kind.

  • Ali
    May 5 2012

    Gorgeous photos! Andy and I really enjoyed it there, although we didn’t stay for sunset. We started at the top and walked down, not sure I would’ve liked walking up it. It was a really cool place!

    • Pete
      May 7 2012

      We debated on not staying for the sunset, but were really happy that we did. The light shining on the travertines was spectacular. Glad you enjoyed it πŸ™‚

  • I went to Pamukkale almost 20 years ago and it was AWESOME. Glad to see that it still is. πŸ™‚
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..How to Kill a Buffalo (or a Herd of β€˜em)

    • Pete
      May 7 2012

      Were the hotels there 20 years ago? I am curious how different things are from then to now. Regardless, you are right that it is an incredible place.

  • May 6 2012

    I had never heard of this place before but your beautiful and awe inspiring photographs have now ensured it will one be experienced first hand! It looks absolutely magical and I look forward to one day being able to share my own photos (though they undoubtedly won’t be a patch on yours!). Thank you so much for sharing πŸ™‚
    Hannah recently posted..We’ve booked our RTW tickets!

    • Pete
      May 7 2012

      Thank you Hannah, I am happy that our photos have inspired you. And congratulations on booking your RTW tickets!! Going to check out right now where you are heading first…

  • Liv
    May 7 2012

    I love that Turkey’s fascinating landscape continues to impress. They really have everything there, including cotton castles..!
    Liv recently posted..Wave Rock

  • WOW what an amazing place… I had never heard of anything like it…. Turkey seems to be filled with amazing things… I think it is moving up the list of countries I want to visit!

  • May 11 2012

    Such incredible photos! Thanks! I was excited to visit already, this just made it 10x worse πŸ˜‰

    • May 11 2012

      Not 10X worse! 10X better, right?! πŸ™‚

      • May 16 2012

        haha, yes. The net result is I can’t wait to go:)

  • May 11 2012

    Awesome! I’ve never heard of this place before,looks soooooooo beautiful.I understand how pesky vendors can dampen a good day,we have them here in India,but,in the end you had a great time there and we get to see this amazing place through your pics.Love them all.Thanks for sharing.
    charmine recently posted..A short break in Ljubljana and Bled-Slovenia

    • May 11 2012

      Yes, the pesky vendors weren’t even as pesky as some other places we’ve been, but they sure can make a day go from good to bad sometimes. Didn’t matter so much once we got into Pamukkale, they were nowhere to be found! πŸ™‚

  • Breathtaking photos! More reason to go see Turkey.
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..GLOBAL CULTURE: The History & Influence of Jamaican Music

  • May 18 2012

    WTF is this?! I’ve never even heard of it! Bucket listed.
    Candice recently posted..Can you ever go back? Revisiting Halifax

    • May 19 2012

      Honoured to have made a contribution to your list! πŸ™‚

  • June 10 2012

    You guys have captured Pamukkale perfectly. Love all the shots–some of my favorites of yours to date.

    • June 11 2012

      Thanks so much Kristin! I had a lot of fun with the camera that day.

  • July 20 2012

    I am super jealous…I have been dying to go to Pamukkale for years and despite having gone back to Turkey 3 times, have not yet made it. One day.

    • July 22 2012

      I don’t tell people that they “must” do things very often – but this is one that you MUST do! πŸ™‚

  • August 13 2012

    Love your shots – beautiful. I’m heading there next month. Did you stay at a good hotel – if you’re happy to recommend would appreciate details.
    Many thanks

    • August 13 2012

      We stayed at a GREAT hotel – it was called the Melrose Hotel and it was right in Pamukkale, about a 5-10 minute walk from the site. Enjoy!

      • August 13 2012

        Thank you Dalene – I’ll take a look.
        Very excited about our trip, we’ll be
        stopping a Cappodocia, Istanbul and
        Bodrum too πŸ˜€

  • As always superb photos guys. With everything Ive been reading about Turkey it keeps getting higher and higher on the must do list!
    Nicole @ Suitcase Stories recently posted..Tulum Mexico: Mayan Ruins & Beaches – Photo Essay

  • ben
    July 4 2013

    Yes, I’ve been there and its an awesome place. It has rich biblical history which makes it more interesting to visit.

  • April 15 2014

    Great photos! Did you take a tour or did you go by yourself? I’m tempted to take a your but I’m afraid that my photography time will be highly restricted. Any thoughts?

  • August 22 2014

    Great photos. I’m on my way there tonight!

  • March 3 2016

    Just superb. Love the photos, as always and your wording. Careful, yet relating the beauty and fun that you have in most everything you experience.
    Definitely on my list to do!
    Jane recently posted..12 Apostles, Port Campbell National Park

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