Crossing Armenian Highlands

From Yerevan to Tatev

Nowadays, driving across Armenian Plateau with a car is easy. However, the mountainous territory has been crossed for millennia. Early Bronze age builders, Assyrian iron miners and silk road merchants had to make their way through the hostile highlands. To this day, on the way from Yerevan to the south, you can admire remains of ancient civilizations surrounded by majestic Caucasus peaks. In this post, you’ll find our recommended route for a road trip from Yerevan to Tatev.

Road trip in Armenia (Vardanyas pass)

Sevan Lake

The first stop, Lake Sevan, is actually located 60 km (37 miles) north-eastward from Yerevan. The turquoise-colored, largest freshwater high-altitude lake in Caucasus territory is worth a detour on the way to the south. Nowadays, it has a vital role in Armenian fishing industry. During the Soviet era, it was extremely exploited for hydroelectric power, and the water level sank dramatically. That has not stopped the recreational purpose. Soviet-style hotels are sprinkled along the shores.

Sevanavank

The main attraction, however, is Sevanavank peninsula with its medieval church dating back to the 9th century AD. In Armenia, medieval and Soviet architecture are often located only a few meters away from each other, creating a strange balance between beauty and ugliness.

Lake Sevan

Vardanyas pass

After a surprisingly smooth drive along the west coast of Lake Sevan, the terrain soon becomes hilly as you make your way up through the volcanic Vardenis Mountains. Driving up the Vardanyas pass, you’ll wonder how herdsmen deal with the altitude, how old Ladas hold together, and how much stamina enthusiastic cyclists must have. Around, you can admire the beautiful scenery of Alpine meadows surrounded by snowy peaks.

Vardanyas pass

The highest point of the pass lies more than 2 400 meters (7 900 feet) above sea level. On the southern edge of the highest elevation, there’s a place of great historical significance, Orbelian’s Caravanserai.

Orbelian's Caravanserai

The building dates back to the 14th century. It served as a roadside inn for Silk Road merchants and their animals crossing the mountains. The well-reconstructed basalt building with its ornamental carvings nowadays serves as a testimony of the historical importance of the territory.

Inside Orbelian's Caravanserai

Good to know: Before crossing the pass, always check road conditions. When the winter is strong, the pass can be impassable until early summer.

Stopover in Vayk

Driving in Armenia is a wonderful experience, but it can be very exhausting. After crossing the Vardanyas Pass, we decided to call it a night in Vayk at Amrots hotel. It isn’t fancy, but the hotel has a terrace with a great view over Vayk mountains and Arpa river valley. There’s also a decent restaurant on site for dinner after a long drive.

Golden hour in Vayk

Tip: In Armenia, cash is king. There are a couple of ATMs in Vayk accepting international cards.

Vorotan pass

After leaving Vayk, follow the lush green vegetation of Arpa river valley for a while before concurring another mountain pass, the Vorotan pass. The scenery once again is lovely, but plastic pollution is omnipresent by the side of the road. Even at the highest elevation point (more than 2 300 meters/7 600 feet above sea level), the view is great, but flying-around plastic bags ruin the moment.

Vorotan Pass

Watch out: Vorotan pass is steep and road conditions are unpredictable. The paved road is full of potholes, that are regularly fixed but almost simultaneously damaged by countless trucks.

Zorats Karer (Carahung)

Descending from the Vorotan pass, plateaus enclosed by high peaks define the region. Iranian tour buses and trucks passing by will remind you, that you reached the southern edge of Caucasus. In the middle of a vast Alpine-steppe with a view of disputed Karabakh mountains in the distance, there is a monument of great archeological significance dating back to 6 000 BC.

Zorats Karer

It has many names — Zorats Karer, Carahung or simply Armenian Stonehenge. The meaning of the site consisting of more than 200 large stone boulders remains a mystery. Some scientists believe, it was an ancient observatory, others think it served as a burial site. We may never know. Nonetheless, the monument set in the rugged mountainous landscape is stunning.

Road trip facts
Total distance from Yerevan to Tatev: 350 km (218 miles).
Driving time: 7-10 hours depending on road conditions.
Recommended total time: 2 days to enjoy the sights on the way.
Useful tips: Add time to ETA to compensate for road conditions and plan additional time for photo stops.
Route: https://bit.ly/2LV7THh (via Google Maps).

Only 50 kilometers (31 miles) southward, the landscape changes dramatically. Alpine grasslands turn into lush green forests nourished by wild rivers hiding one of Armenia’s greatest sights, the Tatev monastery on the edge of the deep Vorotan gorge.

Tatev

Traveling in Armenia
Check out more information about Armenia
– Yerevan: The Pink Capital
– Garni and Geghard: Medival beauties close to Yerevan
– Sevan Lake and Armenian Stonehenge: Traveling to the South 
– Tatev: Monastery on the edge of a deep gorge
– Noravank, Areni and Khor Virap: History and wine
– Practical tips for traveling

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