advertisement

75km (47 miles) northeast of Denizli airport; 18km (11 miles) northeast of Denizli; 652km (405 miles) south of Istanbul; 231km (144 miles) southeast of Izmir; 300km (186 miles) northeast of Bodrum

Until a few years ago, the cliffside travertines that had become the poster child of Pamukkale were more like a slushy roadside pile of yesterday's snow. The terraces are the result of thousands of years of deposits left by calcium-rich natural springs coursing down the mountain. (In nearby Karahayit, springs rich in iron and sulfur leave reddish metallic deposits at the point of exit.) But years of irresponsible tourism had turned this wonder of nature into a dismal theme park attraction, until the Turkish authorities finally in desperation called in UNESCO for backup. In an ever-evolving geological environment, it's normal that these natural springs would find new outlets, and part of UNESCO's efforts have been to divert the springs to different sections on a rotating basis to restore much-needed calcium to the upper layers of the travertines. In the 10 years since their efforts began, much of the site has been restored to its original and spectacular blinding whiteness. The travertine terraces, in concert with the plateau housing the ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis, now make up a national park as well as a World Heritage Site, and a visit to one would not be complete without a look at the other.

Problem is, both Pamukkale and especially Karahayit have become swarmed by package tourists in the market for a cheap stay. Notwithstanding the whopping 20TL entrance fee to the archaeological site (add 3TL if you plan on checking out the museum), they've found it. So there's the dilemma: The only way to enjoy the site is to stay overnight, and an overnight stay necessarily will require you to tolerate mediocre accommodations and brave an unbearable multitude of tourists.

If you must go, do so in the spring or fall and avoid the high-season crush. Once there, save your stroll up the travertines for just before sunset, when you can savor the glow of the setting sun reflected off the faux-icy landscape. Take a dip in the Sacred Pool (assuming you can get near it) and dedicate a couple of hours to bobbing leisurely in your hotel thermal pool.