Most travelers who make their way down into Armenia usually have Tatev pretty high on their list. Few churches in Armenia( Khor Virap ) can come close to competing with the scenery that surrounds Tatev Monastery. The added bonus of stunning day hikes in and around the village, which rival those found around Byurakan, will make the pilgrimage to this ancient monastery a must do while in the country.
Getting to Tatev
Located far in Armenia’s southern reaches, only those traveling to or from Iran continue traveling farther down the road. If you came all the way down here on your own, your first stop before reaching Tatev will most likely be the town of Goris. While there are some sights around town, if you’ve been traveling for a while, they are all passable.
Tatev is located high up in a mountain gorge, making it not the most easily accessible place in the world. With only two marshrutky a week between Goris and Tatev each week (Mondays and Fridays 9am to Tatev and 3pm back to Goris), it is most likely you will have to hire a taxi or try to hitch your way up. If you’re hitchhiking, be sure to do so on one of the small roads that leads to Tatev outside of town otherwise you are going to have a pretty hard time getting up there. We opted for a taxi in town, which put us back 3000 AMD ($6.29US) which turned out to be a pretty crazy ride. Not wanting to fly through the front windshield, I tried to put my seat belt on when the driver proceeded to put his arm across me and say ‘no problem! no problem!’. After my third attempt, I was able to get my seat belt on to the ire of the driver. Luckily the seat belt didn’t need to come into use and we made it safely to the Wings of Tatev Cable car station.
The Wings of Tatev is most certainly the most atmospheric way to make your way up to Tatev. Stretching 5.7 km and taking you high into the sky above the gorge, the cable car is the longest in the world. While nothing about the record is all that exciting, the views you get along the way are. We recommend trying to get into the front left side of the car for the best views. From here you will have unobstructed views of the surrounding mountain views, a long abandoned monastery, and Tatev monastery itself. It is cheapest buying a round trip ticket but you need to know which date you are coming back. Be sure not to lose your ticket either! Once in Tatev, everything is within walking distance of the cable car station which sits just up the road from the monastery.
The monastery complex at Tatev has been added onto over hundreds of years, but the 9th century builders of the original church couldn’t have picked a more impressive location. With jaw dropping views down into the gorge below and the impressive rock faces that sit across from the monastery are truly a sight to behold. Next to the original structure lies an 11th century church while all of the fortifications and rooms that surround the churches were built in the 17th century.
For me the grounds of this church complex is what was the most atmospheric for me. Be sure to take some time just to walk around and take in the atmosphere of the place while you’re here. My favorite place was a lookout located in the far corner of the monastery that dropped out at the cliff side, providing incredible views of the surrounding area.
If you are looking for that iconic image of the entire Tatev complex, you will have to put on your walking boots and continue down the road that winds around the canyon bend and back on the other side. You can’ get lost on the road and it takes roughly 15-20 minutes to get there. If you have the time (which you have plenty of if you stay in town) it is worth the effort.
Day Hikes Around Tatev
While there are plenty of day hikes in and around Tatev, trails are poorly marked or do not exist at all, and information and maps is limited. Even when stopping at the Tatev Tourism information center and cafe, information was very limited and the resources available were not very useful. Despite this, if you have the time, patience, and will power, you can easily spend a few days here hiking around.
While Petroskhatch mountain is one of the more popular hikes from town, I decided to go after a high unnamed mountain in the same direction. While there seems to be some cow trails, a dedicated hiking trail did not exist. It was pretty easy to figure out where to go as the mountain is visible to you during the entire hike. Heading out, hoping for a wonderful views of the surrounding area, I was greeted with heavy fog that did not let up for the entire day. With no view to be had, I decided instead to sit in the clouds and enjoy the peace a quiet you have when it’s just you and a mountain. It is a rather short hike and should take you no more than 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get up the mountain and about 45 minutes back. You will have to go through tall grass and there were plenty of ticks that you will be endlessly plucking off of your clothes.
If it is a clear day when you arrive in Tatev, one of the first things you will notice is the stunning distant mountains. While you can have great views of the mountains from town, those intrepid enough can hike around Menatsar mountain (look up on maps.me) that partially blocks their view for a up close panorama of the mountain range. The hike isn’t easy as it requires a lot of climbing, figuring out your own trails, and some higher altitudes for those not used to high elevation climbing. You’ll climb more than 400 meters in elevation for this hike, and if you get all the way up Menastar mountain, you’ll be sitting at 2077 meters. For great views, you don’t have to go all the way up the mountain, just to the west facing side.
To get here you can begin by following the trails on maps.me toward the mountain but soon after leaving town you will have to cross a marsh land that has taken over the trail. Prepare to get muddy as you find the small bridge that crosses the river. One you cross the river there is a very apparent trail that begins to climb up the mountain. At times it is a bit overgrown but you can’t get lost here. Once you reach a small open and level area the trail disappears. From here on out, the trail seems to come and go. All you have to do is keep walking along the fields towards the epic mountain scenery up ahead that run parallel to a village down below. From here you can go as far as you like before turning back, but the farther you go, the better the view becomes. You should plan on this hike taking all day.
The easiest day hike essentially requires no uphill hiking at all! Way down at the bottom of the gorge is a very overgrown 17th century monastery complex. You may have seen Mets Anapad monastery from up above while riding the cable car to Tatev. While the hike is all downhill, it is far away so expect it to take around 2 1/2 hours to get there. The trail follows the road but due to heavy rains was too slippery and muddy to use. After being bored of the road, we hitched a ride the rest of the way down to the bottom. From here, you can find the trail that will lead you down to the monastery. The complex feels ancient as all of the buildings run wild with plant growth and are left for nature to take over. Despite being Tatev’s second most visited destination, it is very likely you will have the monastery all to yourself. After heading back to the road, you should be able to hitch a ride back up the gorge to Tatev. There is a spring across the road where you can rinse off your boots if you need to.
Walking Around Town
Tatev is still very much a farming village as the only tourism industries that exist in town are within the immediate vacinity of the church. That quickly dissipates into rural Armenian life as the town is filled with small farms, spring water fountains, and warm, kind hearted people. Taking a morning or afternoon to stroll deep into the town is a good way to get a feel for life outside of the major cities in Armenia.
Where to Stay and Eat
Most people come to Tatev as a day trip but there are plenty of lovely guesthouses to stay at that will make sure you don’t go hungry while here. We highly recommend Bed and Breakfast John and Lena. Lena and her mother are incredible hosts and really make your stay wonderful while in Tatev. Breakfast is enough to feed four people and dinner is always amazing! A room for two people costs $25US per night (breakfast and dinner included). They are also lovely to talk to as you have your meal.
You will not find a better meal outside of your guesthouse but if you are looking for something else you can go down to the two restaurants inbetween the church and the town near the camping zone.
If visiting in the summer (like we did) prepare for rainy days and even more foggy days. There were some days during our stay where hiking wasn’t even an option due to the fog. With barely any visibility, these days turned into blogging days as there was not much else to do. When you have clear skies and sunshine, take advantage of it and take a warm shower. Hot water is solar powered here, so if you wait till a foggy day, expect a cold one!
Tatev: Church on High
Whether you come to Tatev as a day trip or overnight, you will not be dissapointed with what you find here. An incredibly posistioned church along with beautiful mountain scenery seems to sum up Armenia as a whole pretty well. While you may not spend much time here, it will be much longer until you forget about Tatev.