In the Denizli province of southwestern Türkiye, formerly Turkey, there exists one of the world’s most extraordinary landscapes: Pamukkale. Translated as “cotton castle” in Turkish due to the bright white color of limestone landscape, Pamukkale features a series of thermal pools that fill the basins of cascading travertine terraces that were formed by centuries of calcite-rich water flowing down the hillside.

Otherworldly Pamukkale is one of the most popular attractions in Turkey outside of Istanbul’s worldly wonders and cosmopolitan neighborhoods. With that popularity comes significant crowds — one thing many of the viral videos and photos of the thermal pools fail to show. So if you plan on visiting the striking site anytime soon, be sure to get there early to avoid an Instagram-versus-reality-style letdown.

@matadornetwork When visiting #Pamukkale in #Türkiye go as early as possible to avoid the crowds 😉 #turkey #turkeytravel #instagramvsreality #vacation ♬ original sound – Rich Kids of London

Tips for visiting to the Pamukkale thermal pools

The nearest city to Pamukkale is Denizli — roughly 11 miles away — which has frequent minibusses running from the local bus station to the pools. If you’re staying elsewhere, you can either take a bus to Denizli or rent a car and drive all the way to Pamukkale. By car, the beach resorts of Kusadasi and Antalya are about 2.5 and 3.5 hours away, respectively, and the port city of Bodrum is roughly four hours away.

There are three entrances to the Pamukkale thermal pools: the Pamukkale town entrance, the North entrance, and the South entrance. The town entrance is the most scenic. If you rented a car, you can park in a lot by the entrance for a small fee of roughly $1 and then walk up the terraces in your bare feet — no shoes allowed — for 20 to 30 minutes.

Because of the crowds, the best way to experience the thermal pools is to spend the night in Pamukkale town and wake up early — the majority of the tours and day-trippers don’t arrive until later in the day. Pamukkale opens at 6:30 AM during the summer season (April 1 to October 1) and at 8 AM during the winter season (October 1 to April 1).

Before you leave the area, be sure to visit Cleopatra’s Pool, as well. While Cleopatra’s Pool, also known as the Antique Pool, is not part of the travertine terraces, it’s located within the Hierapolis-Pamukkale UNESCO World Heritage site, which includes ruins of the ancient Greco-Roman spa town of Hierapolis where this pool is located — legend has it that Marc Anthony created it for Cleopatra as a gift, hence the name.