Once you realize that a magical mountain known as the “Cotton Castle” exists somewhere in the world, it becomes hard not to add it to your travel wish list. It wasn’t until my travels in Turkey that I realized such a sight exists. It is called Pamukkale, and is one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen.
Pamukkale is a blindingly white mountain that looks like it’s made of ice, cotton, powdered sugar, or clouds. What it is actually made of, however, are terraces of carbonate minerals formed by the flowing water from hot springs. Yes — that icy-looking formation is actually warm to the touch!
These hot springs swirl into shallow azure blue pools that you can splash around in if you bring a bathing suit. Regardless, you will need to wade through these mini-lagoons if you’re following the crowds that drive up to the top of the mountain then walk the spectacular half hour down to the bottom.
Pamukkale is located about seven and a half hours south of beautiful Istanbul by driving, though we opted to fly to Izmir and drive the three hours from there, taking in the sights along the way like the shopping mecca of Sirince and the ancient ruins at Ephesus.
Maybe you’re content to just take in the splendid sights by gazing at these photos, but if you opt to see Pamukkale in person, my number one tip is to watch out for slipping! The mineral deposits that coat the “path” one must take to the bottom of the mountain are slippery as eels, and you’re required to go down barefoot to protect the mineral deposits.
Over and over, we saw fellow tourists fly into the air and crash into the pools, their expensive camera equipment smashing onto the white mountain. Yipes! Luckily, I inched down the hill at a snail’s pace, making it down without a single spill.
As if the cotton castle nature of the mountain weren’t cool enough, there is another fabulous element to Pamukkale: ancient Greek ruins of the city of Hierapolis that date back to the second century B.C.E. — over 2,300 years ago — sit at the top of the hill! When we visited them, an epically scenic wedding was taking place right there. The bride’s fluffy white dress echoed the cottony curves of the mountain.
Another tip I would give any potential visitors to Pamukkale is to bring sunglasses. The shiny white surfaces of the mountain you must walk down act like mirrors, and my eyes ached for the rest of the day after half an hour of staring ahead at the bright path. The pain of beauty!
Curious about the food situation at this famed tourist attraction? Never fear: Not only is there a large food court at the base of the mountain, but there is also a delightful cafeteria at the very top where you can eat kebabs and sandwiches on shaded benches overlooking Pamukkale. Between the two options, the upper one has the upper hand for ambiance.
Here are a few more details about Pamukkale. The minerals that make up the lovely white terraces are composed of travertine: a form of limestone sedimentary rock. The hot spring pools have been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years. If you swim there, you’re sharing a spot with the ancient Greeks!
In fact, only the upper section of Pamukkale is naturally formed. The lower terraces are artificially sculpted, and allowed to be coated with the natural white sediment to blend with the upper travertines. This provides a fun and pretty way for tourists to interact with the attraction while protecting the heart of it.
When we visited, the water in the upper terraces had been shut down, as happens periodically to preserve the natural section of the pools. Luckily, the azure pools of the rest of the mountain (the artificial ones) remain in business continually for the enjoyment of the thousands of tourists who arrive every day.
Just how popular is Pamukkale? In 2014, it was one of the top tourist attractions in Turkey (right up there with Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque), bringing in over 2.2 million visitors from around the world and earning over 38 million Turkish Liras. How sheepish do I feel that I’d never even heard of the place before?!
In fact, Pamukkale is almost one-of-a-kind, as hardly any similar travertine pools exist in the world. There is apparently one set in Huanglong China, but according to an article in Slate, the other formation that was in New Zealand was destroyed by a volcano.
Emphasizing its preciousness, in 1988, Pamukkale was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And rightly so! It’s far too awesome not to be protected. Let’s pause the writing for a little to focus on the photos. Walk with me now… but be careful not to slip!
So what do you think? Is Pamukkale a destination you would like to add to your travel wish list? What does or doesn’t appeal to you? If you’ve already visited, what did you think? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!