Several years ago I saw a photo of Pamukkale’s turquoise travertine pools and instantly put it on my bucket list. It’s only a few hours away from where my friend April and I will be staying in Güllük on Turkey’s Aegean coast, and I can’t wait to go. That is, until the night in Cappadocia we heard a couple describe their experience. They said it was four hours from the coast, packed to the gills with tourists, and putting their feet in eight inches of hot water on a 38C degree day was anything but fun. After that, neither April nor I thought it was worth the drive.
The night before we left for Güllük, April realized it was only a 20-minute detour from our planned route to the coast. We agreed to check it out. And so, after nine hours of driving and a run-in with the Turkish police, we pull into Pamukkale.
Pamukkale, meaning “Cotton Castle” in Turkish, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a series of calcified cascading thermal pools caused by ancient volcanic activity. Geologic and chemical processes turn the water into turquoise travertine, which is surrounded by white calcified waterfalls. It’s stunning, but sure enough, it’s packed with tourists, all walking uphill in the heat of the day. No thank you, we agree. It’s disappointing, but we’re both tired from the long drive, we still have several hours of road ahead of us, and it’s already 4:00 in the afternoon. I continue along the road looking for a place to turn around, but it narrows and snakes up a mountain before I can find a safe place. I’m just about to make the U-turn when April realizes that Hierapolis is just ahead.
Hierapolis, a city built by the Greeks around 200 B.C. and ceded over to the Romans at some point, flourished through about 200 A.D. The ruins are still standing, so April and I brave the heat and take a stroll through them. It’s rumored that Cleopatra and Marc Antony used to visit regularly and frolic in their own pool. Today you can swim in the Antique Pool, also known as Cleopatra’s Pool. Because of our time constraints we don’t make it as far as the pool, but the ruins are beautiful, and there’s a small cascading pool on the hillside that gives us a taste of the pools at Pamukkale. Best of all, it’s virtually empty of tourists. Although this stop adds an hour to our trip, it’s well worth the time.