8 Magnificent Travertine Terraces Around the World

Travertine pools against mountains at Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone National Park's Mammoth Hot Springs consist of travertine terraces formed by an abundance of geothermal vents. Addy Ho / EyeEm / Getty Images

Travertine terraces are some of the most bizarre-looking geological formations on Earth. The rock that makes up these unique formations has been used as a building material since the time of the ancient Romans, and it was even used in the construction of St. Peter's Basilica and Square in Vatican City; however, the most stunning structures this rock produces are perhaps the stepped terraces, one of the most iconic examples of which is located in Pamukkale, Turkey. Apart from this famous Turkish landmark, travertine terraces can be found from Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. to Tuscany, Italy, and almost everywhere in between.

What Is a Travertine Terrace?

Travertine is a type of limestone commonly deposited by mineral springs through a process of rapid precipitation of carbonate minerals. It often settles in a stepped, terraced formation when the water of a mineral spring cascades down a hill or cliff.

Here are eight magnificent and scenic examples of travertine terraces from around the world.

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Pamukkale (Turkey)

White Pamukkale terraces topped with blue water overlooking city
Istvan Kadar Photography / Getty Images

Widely thought to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, Pamukkale is named "cotton castle" in Turkish because it's home to a mountain of fluffy-looking white calcium that people travel from all to see. On one section, the travertine displays as a series of platforms, each topped with milky blue water, cascading about 650 feet. Added with the nearby ancient Greek spa city of Hierapolis to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1988, Pamukkale contains 17 hot springs that have slowly been causing this photogenic phenomenon with their calcium carbonate deposits for centuries.

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Huanglong (China)

Snow-covered temple and travertine pools of Huanglong in winter
by Chakarin Wattanamongkol / Getty Images

Terraced travertines stretch more than two miles through Huanglong Valley in the northwest of China's Sichaun Province. The multicolored pools—glowing golden and blue-green—cut between the permanently snow-capped Minshan mountains and a dense forest where endangered giant pandas and Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkeys live. The Huanglong travertine terraces are described by UNESCO as "unique in all of Asia," rating "among the three most outstanding examples in the world." An ancient Buddhist temple located right next to the pools adds to their charm.

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Semuc Champey (Guatemala)

Turquoise travertine terraces of Semuc Champey flanked by forest
Kelly Cheng Travel Photography / Getty Images

Tucked away in the lush and mountainous jungle of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, is a series of six turquoise travertine terraces that stretch over the 122-mile Cahabón River on a 1,000-foot limestone bridge. The words "Semuc Champey" mean "where the river hides under the earth." Somewhat of a giant natural waterpark—and a popular one—Semuc Champey is surrounded by caves and a waterfall visitors can explore by swimming. The idyllic hangout is, however, only accessible by four-wheel drive. Visitors can get a panoramic view of the pools at the El Mirador viewpoint, too, which is at the end of a 45-minute hike.

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Mammoth Hot Springs (Wyoming)

Blue geyser surrounded by orange and white stalactite formations
Vormann / Getty Images

The most spectacular and famous example of travertine terraces in the U.S. has to be Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. A dense complex of travertine "terracettes" blanket a hill over a massive magma chamber. They vary in color from bright white to copper and are covered in stalactites and siliceous sinter formations, giving them the look of an inverted cave. With Yellowstone itself being a 3,500-square-mile hotbed of geothermal activity, it's no surprise the recreation area contains these peculiar limestone formations. They can be explored via a 1.75-mile boardwalk.

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Badab-e Surt (Iran)

Travertine terraces of Badab-e Surt with Alborz Mountains in background
Jean-Philippe Tournut / Getty Images

Formed during the Pleistocene and Pliocene epochs as a result of two hot pools bubbling over a cliffside 6,000 feet above sea level, the geological wonder that is Iran's Badab-e Surt is believed to be the second largest example of stepped travertine terraces in the world, behind Pamukkale. Stacked against a background of rugged mountains, these formations glow fiery red-orange and the water they hold at times looks crystal-clear and sky-reflecting, unlike the cloudy blue and turquoise colors displayed by others.

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Bagni San Filippo (Italy)

Waterfall falling on travertine terraces at Bagni San Filippo
Chiara Salvadori / Getty Images

Amid the famous olive groves and vineyards of Tuscany, there's Bagni San Filippo, a region known for its white calciferous concretions. These travertine terraces are located on the eastern slope of the extinct Monte Amiata volcano, in the hills of the Val d'Orcia, surrounded by the Monte Amiata woods. Its stunning placement is an idyllic setting for a (free) soak in the grotto. The pools are most blue where the hot spring water meets the cold water of the river.

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Egerszalok (Hungary)

Travertine pools on a grassy slope in Eger, Hungary
benedek / Getty Images

Part open-air spa, part village, Egerszalok is conveniently situated in the historic wine region of Eger, Hungary. It's not only beautiful—imagine orange- and blue-toned white limestone steps spilling gracefully over a grassy hillside—it's also an integral part of Hungarian heritage and culture, as the locals often soak in its pools, treasured for their rumored healing properties. The water at the top of the "salt hill" has bubbled up from more than 1,000 feet underground and is believed to be 27,000 years old.

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Plitvice National Park (Croatia)

Travertines at the top of many waterfalls in forest reserve
Michael Cook - Altai World Photography / Getty Images

In Croatia's Plitvice National Park, 16 cerulean lakes cascade over travertine platforms, creating a breathtaking chain of falling water in the lush and biologically diverse Dinaric Alps. The limestone formed by a buildup of moss, algae, and bacterias has also created ever-growing natural dams that decelerate the water and keep it flowing at a peaceful pace over the steep, vegetation-covered cliffs.