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Your Travel Wish List Needs This Magic Cotton Castle

One of the coolest tourist attractions in the world is Pamukkale, Turkey!

One of the coolest tourist attractions in the world is Pamukkale, Turkey!

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.

Wait, that white stuff isn't snow?!

Wait, that white stuff isn’t snow?!

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!

It's not cold to touch, honest!

It’s not cold to touch, honest!

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.

People from all over the world come to climb down Pamukkale.

People from all over the world come to climb down Pamukkale.

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.

A close-up of the azure blue pools.

A close-up of the azure blue pools.

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.

The pools at the top are crowded.

The pools at the top are crowded.

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.

The sky was a perfect blue when we visited.

The sky was a perfect blue for me to take these photos.

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.

At the top of the mountain are ancient ruins that were the site of a wedding the day we visited!

At the top of the mountain are ancient ruins that were the site of a wedding the day we visited!

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!

I promise that's not ice.

Can you tell why sunglasses are a good idea to bring to Pamukkale?

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.

Plants silhouetted against the white.

Your wonderful view from the eating area at the top of Pamukkale.

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!

Me at the top of Pamukkale's mountain.

Me at the top of Pamukkale’s mountain.

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.

Did you know there was a place that looked like this?

Did you know there was a place that looked like this?

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.

Palm trees at the top of the mountain.

Palm trees at the top of the mountain.

Just how popular is Pamukkale? In 2014, it was one of the top tourist attractions in Turkey, 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?!

A bench where you can gaze at the glory of the white mountain.

A bench where you can gaze at the glory of the white mountain.

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.

You need to walk down the mountain barefoot.

You need to walk down the mountain barefoot.

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!

A couple looking at the scenery.

A couple looking at the scenery.

Did you know Turkey looked like this?

Did you know there was a place in Turkey that looks like this?

Amazing sight, eh?

Pamukkale looks like it’s made of sugar. Yum.

Taking it slow down the mountain.

Taking it slow down the mountain.

Such blinding whiteness.

Such blinding whiteness.

Hunks of white travertines: terraces of carbonate minerals.

Hunks of white travertines: terraces of carbonate minerals.

Me in one of the pools, squinting in the sun!

Me in one of the pools, squinting in the sun!

Interested in visiting?

Does Pamukkale seem like a place you’d like to visit?

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!

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