There are two activities which I think are absolutley required on a trip to Turkey. I discussed the expeirence of taking at hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia in a previous article. The second activity is to hike up the travertine steps in Cappadocia. It takes a little bit of effort to get to Pamukkale and the ancient roman city of Heiropolis, but it is well worth it.
Turkish Airlines makes is very easy to see the cliffs and Ancient Roman City in a day trip from Istanbul. They offer 3 flights a day – if you take the early morning flight you can be at the city of Pamukkale by 11 AM, and taking the evening flight means you wont have to leave the city until after 5:00 PM. If you book these flights more than 3 months out – the flight is generally around $30 round trip. The flights from Istanbul to Denzili (the closest airport) takes a little more than an hour and it is very easy to arrange a shuttle bus to take you to the city. TIP: The shuttle bus will drop you off at a sponsored tour company with very rude sales people who will try to force you to purchase there tour. If you do your research you can find much better companies – and the city is so small it is very easy to find the headquarters of the other operators. We went with Tours4Turkey.
All of the tours follow almost the same route – they will show you a few nearby cities, a walking tour of Heiropolis, several hours to spend hiking the cliffs at Pamukkale or bathing in some of the paid pools a buffet lunch and ending with tours of nearby gem or carpet weaving factories. Every tour operator takes you to the same restaurant for a buffet lunch – which we did not enjoy (see below for our food recommendation). Pay attention to the reviews when picking a tour guide, they vary in price and quality. We had an excellent English speaking guide who gave us a walking tour of the Ancient Roman city, while other groups followed the walking path, our guide took us on a small hike to show us the Roman Theater ruins above the city. I would consider not using a guide – though the tour was great for us, the city and the ruins are very close together and easy to navigate – you could use a guidebook and skip all of the bad parts of the guided tour (bad buffet lunch and touristy gem / carpet weaving demonstration).
City of Pamukkale
The city of Pamukkale is very desolate – with the ruins and the cliffs being the only attractions. With very dusty roads and no real sign of life there isn’t much to do outside of the tours. The one highlight of the city was the White House Restaurant. This family owned cafe’s dining room is the patio of the families house and the restaurant kitchen is the same as their house’s. Everything is homemade and VERY tasty. We had some of the best service here – they really went out of there way to make sure we had a great experience while eating there. This was a great place to sit and use WiFi while enjoying a great meal to wait for the shuttle back to the airport. The restaurant serves traditional Turkish meals with a great family touch. Over the course of the meal several members of the family talked to us and made sure we were enjoying our meal – I cannot recommend this restaurant enough.
Today the ancient city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but previously this collection of columns and ruins were parts of a Roman City (and Byzantine City before that) built around the warm springs of Pamukkale. The hot springs were believed to have healing properties with the minerals in the water which led to a city rising up around the springs. Besides the pools you can see several columns, a very well preserved theater and fragments of other buildings still standing today.
Hiking the Cliffs
Pamukkale means cotton castle and when you see the white cliffs and pools you will understand why. Starting at the top of the hill you walk barefoot down the terraces all the way to the village. In order to keep the white terraces pristine they require you to walk barefoot – but the warm waters will keep your feet protected from the cold in the winter. The terraces are built by the flowing water which deposit calcium carbonate – the government changes the path of the water to create different terraces. As you walk down anything that is white should have texture which prevents you from slipping. Anything green or grey is algae so be sure to watch your step because those areas will be slippery. Any standing water will be cooled, so in the winter take care to step in any moving water if you want to stay warm. The water rushes down the path on the right side of the cliff (near the edge) with quite a bit of force so be sure to be holding on to something if you put your foot in it. The cliffs will take your breath away there are great sitting areas where you can sit and watch the water flow down the cliffs – and you can imagine how slowly these terraces were built!