Armenia Caucasus

Yerevan to Tatev and Noravank: How to Visit Two Iconic Armenian Monasteries in a Day

Tatev

A group tour with Hyur Service is the most convenient and affordable way to travel from Yerevan to Tatev Monastery. Here’s my review of the tour, plus everything you need to know about getting to Tatev from Yerevan on a group tour, private tour, or using public transport.

Tatev is one of the most historically significant monasteries in Armenia. Established in the 9th century, it once housed one of the region’s most important universities and is still an active Armenian Apostolic house of worship to this day. Its location atop an isolated basalt plateau in southern Armenia‘s Syunik Province makes it one of the most visually spectacular tourist attractions in the Caucasus.

Before 2010, Tatev was very difficult to reach because of its remote location. When an aerial cableway was erected to connect the monastery with the nearby village of Halidzor, it became more accessible for worshippers and tourists alike. The Wings of Tatev was included in the Guinness World Records book as the world’s longest non-stop double track cable car.

Arriving at Tatev via the ropeway is nothing short of a magical experience. However, because Tatev is so far from Yerevan (roughly 5 hours by road), a lot of tourists skip it in favour of monasteries that are closer to the city, for example Garni and Geghard.

You need three full days to visit Tatev from Yerevan using public transport. When we visited Armenia for the first time, we wanted to see Tatev but simply didn’t have room in our itinerary. Instead, we opted for a different route – a group tour – which I highly recommend to other travellers.

In this post, I’ll show you how to visit Tatev Monastery, see more of Central Armenia in the process – and be back in Yerevan in time for a late dinner. Best of all, it costs less than $40 per person.

Snow-capped mountains on the road from Yerevan to Tatev.

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How to travel from Yerevan to Tatev Monastery

Before we delve into my travelogue, here’s a quick run-down of the four different transport options available to travellers who want to visit Tatev from Yerevan.

Yerevan to Tatev distance & travel time

The distance from Yerevan to Tatev is 253 kilometres (157 miles).

It takes between 4.5 and 5.5 hours to reach Tatev Monastery from Yerevan by car or minivan.


Yerevan to Tatev Monastery on a group tour

The most efficient and cost-effective way to travel to Tatev from Yerevan is by joining a group tour. A couple of different companies organise this itinerary – I personally recommend Hyur Service. I’ve travelled with Hyur Service twice now on both my trips to Armenia. They are extremely professional, well organised, and affordable.

A day trip to Tatev from Yerevan with Hyur lasts for 14 to 15 hours. They currently offer two Tatev itineraries: One that stops at Khor Virap and Noravank Monastery on the way, and another trip for the same price that includes Shaki waterfall, Karahunj observatory and a wine tasting at the Hin Areni wine factory.

Tours to Tatev only run on certain days of the week (Tuesdays and Saturdays in 2020), but departure on those days is guaranteed. There’s no minimum number of passengers, and no single supplement – great for solo travellers. Check the current schedule here.

The price of 17,000 AMD (36 USD) per person includes transport in a mini bus, bottled water, snacks, a ticket for the cablecar (which costs 7,000 AMD), plus a knowledgeable and attentive guide for the duration of the trip. The only extra is lunch, which costs 3,000–5,000 AMD depending on your choice of meat (vegetarian options also available).

In the next section, you’ll find a full write up of the tour experience so you know what to expect when booking with Hyur.

Yerevan to Tatev Monastery on a private tour

If you want to visit on a different day of the week or you just prefer to travel by car, a private tour from Yerevan to Tatev Monastery is a great choice. Private tours are obviously more expensive, but they come with the added benefit of greater flexibility.

This full-day tour to Tatev starts with hotel pick up in Yerevan and incorporates a visit to Jermuk Waterfall in addition to riding the cablecar and taking a guided walk around Tatev Monastery.

Check availability and book sercurely online through Get Your Guide.

Yerevan to Tatev Monastery using public transport

It’s not possible to visit Tatev in a day from Yerevan using public transport, so you’ll need to organise accommodation near the monastery for one or two nights. The town of Goris 35km north-east of Tatev has a number of guesthouses – including the highly regarded Khachik’s B&B.

To get to Goris from Yerevan, take a marshrutka from the Southern Bus Terminal. There are 2 scheduled services at 9am and 4pm. The trip takes 6 hours and costs 2,500 AMD.

Another option is to take a marshrutka bound for Stepanakert (Artsakh) and get dropped off early in Goris. Vans leave regularly from Kilikia Bus Station in Yerevan, starting from 7am. Tickets cost 5,000 AMD and the journey time is the same.

A spot in a shared taxi from Yerevan to Tatev should cost around 4,500 AMD per person. This is a faster way to travel, taking just 4.5–5 hours. Taxis depart from Yerevan’s Southern Bus Terminal when full.

From Goris, you can take a taxi to Halidzor for 2,500 AMD (one-way) to board the cablecar over to Tatev.

Travelling back to Yerevan from Goris, you can either take a marshrutka at 9am, or a shared taxi. It’s a good idea to inquire with tourism information in Goris (or your guesthouse) the day before you plan to travel, as spots are limited.

Self driving from Yerevan to Tatev

I’ve never rented a car in Armenia, but I know plenty of people who have. A road trip in Armenia can be a real adventure and I can imagine driving all the way south to Tatev from Yerevan would be an incredible experience.

If you’re interested in hiring a car in Yerevan, I recommend using Discover Cars to compare prices on rentals. Remember to purchase insurance!


On the road in Armenia: Our day trip to Tatev Monastery with Hyur Service

From the moment we walked into the Hyur office to enquire about booking a tour to Tatev, I knew we had made the right decision. Hyur staff were supremely organised and thorough, which as an anxious traveller, I really appreciate.

On the day of our tour, we left Yerevan at 9am sharp in the company of six other tourists, two Armenian girls who were back home from working in Belgium, and our guide, who spoke in both English and Armenian.

This wasn’t a case of just sitting back and driving from A to B. Our guide spoke almost the entire way – about the history and geography of her country, about the sites we were visiting, about her own life. She was fantastic.

When she wasn’t chatting or answering our questions, the minibus driver would pump up the volume on his radio and sing along to pop songs with the Armenian girls. Sometimes he’d fishtail the bus in rhythm with the music. It was hilarious.

The good spiritedness of our guide and driver and fellow passengers definitely made the long drive easier and the whole day more enjoyable.

Mount Ararat

As soon as we reached Yerevan’s city limits, immaculate views of Mount Ararat appeared out the bus window. Passengers started nagging the driver to stop for a photo. He promised us he knew a good spot, so we patiently waited. Eventually we pulled up on the side of a quiet road and piled out of the bus for a close-up look at mighty Ararat.

By mid-morning, the mountain is usually covered with thick cloud, so we were very lucky to be out early enough to catch a clear view. Skirted by fields green and winding dirt roads, Ararat looks close enough to reach out and touch…

Snow-capped mountains on the road from Yerevan to Tatev.

Noravank Monastery

After a few more hours on the road we entered Vayots Dzor province. Our first official stop, Noravank Monastery, is a charming little monastery complex that dates back to the 13th century.

One of the main buildings was rebuilt by a generous benefactor after the original was destroyed in an earthquake.

A stone monastery in Armenia.

At one point, the whole Noravank complex came under threat. Our guide told us that when Mongols conquered Armenia and destroyed many of the places of worship in the area, they spared Noravank because of the stone engravings on the facade which depict God with almond-shaped eyes.

Apparently this familiar Asiatic facial feature was enough to save the monastery.

Intricately carved stones.
Khachkar stones at Noravank Monastery in Armenia.

The Khachkar cross-stones at Noravank are some of the loveliest I’ve seen. In the old days the engravings were done by hand, so the more intricate the patterns, the newer the stones are. Noravank has a very peaceful, reverent feel and we had a good hour to wander around the grounds here.


Riding the Wings of Tatev

By the time we rolled into Syunik province in southernmost Armenia, the increased frequency of cargo trucks with Iranian number plates and road signs pointing the way to Tehran were a reminder of just how close we had come to the border.

I’m sure everyone on the bus thought about travelling just a little bit further into the Islamic Republic. Maybe another time.

After sitting down to a home-cooked lunch, it was time to ride the Wings of Tatev, the world’s longest double-gauge ropeway. The 5km aerial car was set up by a benefactor to make Tatev Monastery – which sits on the opposite side of an expansive gorge – easier to reach from the main road.

A journey that took more than an hour along winding mountain tracks has been cut down to 12 minutes. Locals ride for a discounted rate and use the cable car as public transport to travel across the valley to Sunday mass, which is still held at the monastery.

We rode with other tourists and a guide who obligingly gestured at points of interest on the way over.

A ropeway over a green valley in Armenia.

Soaring over the gully, the red-roofed villages and the tiny waterfalls was really stunning. We got a bird’s eye view of some old ruins on the valley floor and later learned that an underground passageway connects the building all the way up to the monastery. It was used as an escape path during invasions.

A person wearing a large backpack.

Even backpackers will fork out 7,000 AMD for a ticket on the aerial car. Lucky for us day trippers, we could leave our luggage at home.


Tatev Monastery

As we drew closer and closer to the monastery, my excitement started to build. I vied with the other aerial car passengers for a spot at the window and drew my camera close to the cloudy glass in anticipation.

A stone monastery on a plateau with daisies in the foreground.

I really enjoyed our time exploring the monastery and learning about its history. I especially love the story of the rogue state that has its origins inside the monastery.

The Republic of Mountainous Armenia was a self-declared, unrecognised state established in 1920. This all happened inside the monastery, during a congress led by Garegin Nzhdeh, a military commander and local politician.

The state didn’t last long: In July 1921, Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic was declared and Mountainous Armenia was no more.

Carved stones at Tatev Monastery in Armenia.

We found a lot of interesting details around the monastery complex. Our guide led us into a few rooms including the refectory, and we saw the hatch door that leads to the tunnel I mentioned earlier.

My only criticism of the tour is that we were a bit rushed at Tatev Monastery. It would have been nice to have more free time to climb the hills around the monastery.

A beautifully carved wooden door at Tatev Monastery in Armenia.

On the way out, we bought some snacks from the friendly vendors at Tatev and picked up a jar of honey for our Airbnb hosts back in Tbilisi (which we then proceeded to carry around with us for the next five weeks).

We travelled back to bus on the Wings.


Zorats Karer

Our final destination for the day was Zorats Karer (or Karahunj), otherwise known as ‘Armenia’s Stonehenge’. Located in Syunik province, about 50km north of Tatev, this impressive archeological site is made up of no less than 223 weathered and mossy boulders set in an open field against a backdrop of rugged mountains.

There is some controversy surrounding the true age and origins of the formation – Bronze Age tomb stones or part of an ancient observatory? (look out for the peep holes cut in some of the stones).

When we arrived, it was blowing a gale and absolutely freezing. We braced ourselves for a quick walk around the site and a few photos of the breathtaking landscape. After Zorats Karer, we made one final rest stop at a tea house on the road back to Yerevan.

A rock formation in Armenia on the road from Yerevan to Tatev.

We returned to the city around 10pm. Since it was late when we returned, the driver was happy to drop passengers off closer to their hotels. I strongly suggest you bring a jacket with you because it’s likely to get cold in the evening.


Yerevan to Tatev with Hyur Service: Final thoughts

All in all, we were very happy with our group tour with Hyur Service. Although it wasn’t cheap, when you account for everything included in the price, I think it’s fantastic value – and a lot more affordable than similar tours might cost elsewhere in the world.

Hyur Service offers other day and overnight trips around Armenia and into Georgia – including a three-day excursion to Nagorno-Karabakh. They can also help with things like car hire and long-term apartment rental. Tickets for day trips should be purchased at least a few days in advance from the office in Yerevan, or through tour agencies around the city (look out for Hyur’s blue, red and yellow banners).

We loved our day trip from Yerevan to Tatev and will continue to travel with Hyur on our future visits to Armenia.


Armenia essentials

Here are some helpful resources and tools for planning your trip to Armenia and the Caucasus.

– Find affordable flights to Armenia on Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).

– Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Armenia and apply for an expedited visa online.

– Pre-book a private transfer from Zvartnots Airport to your hotel in Yerevan.

– Buy your tickets for the Tbilisi to Yerevan sleeper train online in advance through my partners at Geotrend (get a discount when you use the code in this post).

– Find the best Armenia hotel deals on Booking.com, book an Armenian hostel, or find a unique Airbnb (use this link to sign up and get $38 USD off your first Airbnb booking).

– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Armenia.

– Pre-order the new Lonely Planet Caucasus guidebook (coming out in June 2020).

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