Tatvan is a town in Eastern Anatolia, on the western shore of Lake Van.
The town of Tatvan stands on the western shore of Lake Van (Van Gölü), a soda-salt lake also known locally as Van Denizi (“the sea of Van”). This lake, the largest in Turkey, lies 1640 metres above sea level and is ringed by high mountains, so the area has a harsh continental climate. The ridge behind the town was a lava flow from nearby Mount Nemrut 250,000 years ago, blocking the valley outflow and creating the lake. The area remains seismically active; the last major earthquake was in 2011.
The region is historically important as the centre of the Urartu and Armenian kingdoms. It later came under the rule of Byzantines, Seljuks and then the Ottomans - see main Wikipedia entry for history.
Tatvan's main importance to travelers is as a transport hub. It's the eastern terminus of the railway from Ankara, with onward connections by road.
A direct train, the Vangölü Ekspresi, runs twice a week from Ankara to Tatvan. The journey is scheduled to take 24 hours but is often long delayed. There are couchettes and a sleeping car and a buffet with breakfast and snacks. The main stops along the way are Kayseri, Sivas, Malatya and Elazığ, see Turkish Railways TCDD[dead link] for online timetables and ticketing. The train connects (in theory) with the ferry across the lake to Van, for the train to Tabriz and Teheran, though this service has often been suspended. There is no railway between Tatvan and Van, nor plans to build one, so this is a strategic gap in the Eurasian rail network.
Vangölü Ekspresi is scheduled to arrive early afternoon, but it's sometimes early evening. However you may still be able to reach Van the same evening – get off at the main station, walk across the small road and the park to the main road and ask. Trains first call at the main station before continuing to the ferry station at the ferry port. The train back to Ankara departs at 10:30.
Additionally, a regional train connects Tatvan with Elazığ, via numerous smaller villages.
- 1 Tatvan railway station (Tatvan Garı). Main railway station, has a ticket hall but no other facilities.
- 2 Tatvan Pier railway station (Tatvan İskele istasyonu).
A ferry crosses the lake between Tatvan and Van, three per day at irregular times. The crossing takes about four hours.
Highway D300 is of a good standard, mostly dual-carriageway, and connects westward to Bitlis (20 km) and eastwards to Van (100 km).
Buses run several times a day to Ankara (17 hours), Istanbul (23 hours) and all major cities in Turkey, some involving a change to a connecting bus: see Kamil Koc website for times and prices. Buses run from the 3 Otogar, 2 km north of town centre. They also stop in the centre, and ticket offices are found here.
Frequent dolmuşes run from town centre to Van (100 km, 2 hrs) via the south lake shore, Highway D300. There are no direct services around the north shore. For transport to Doğubeyazıt and into Iran, go via Van.
The town is small enough to walk.
The road to the crater lake is cobbled but good and wide enough even for big motor caravans, or you can bargain for a taxi, which will take less than an hour to get there. However as of 2023 the short teleferique part of the way up is not working.
- 1 Ahlat tombs, In the Seljuk cemetery just west of the small town of Ahlat, on the northwest lake shore. (Frequent dolmuses from Tatvan, 45 minutes, but ask to be set down at the museum as the town is 3 km further on.). The Tombstones of Ahlat the Urartian and Ottoman citadel from the 12th century.
- 2 Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dağı) (You can drive up the cobbled road into the caldera, or look to join a tour from Tatvan—enquire at bus offices. But regularly cars go up to the ridge to take a picture, and hitching a ride is easy.). This 3,050 m mountain broods over the town and lake. It's a dormant volcano with impressive mountain terrain and its own lake, glowing in picturesque colours whenever the sun shines through. It erupted 250,000 years ago to block the valley outflow and create Lake Van; the last eruption was in 1692. Within its caldera are several small lakes, one of which is always warm enough to swim in, thanks to geothermal hot springs. Some springs are good to warm your feet, others even to bath—ask the café owner.
But no giant heads here!—don't confuse it with the better known mountain of the same name near Adiyaman, 300 km to the west.
Camping in the crater is possible and there is a small café catering for the few tourists. The owner of the café will also offer to take you for a bear safari at night. Otherwise, from the parking and café a few short hiking trails exist westwards to the crater lake, where you can spot a lot of tortoises.
- Akdamar Island – The island with an old Armenian church. 90 minutes by road or dolmus from Tatvan towards Van. Get off at the highway port or the marina just before Gevas.
- Enjoy the lake side and take notice of the fact that this is a salt-soda lake
- Lake Van tours. You can join boat tours on Lake Van departing daily from the waterfront.
- Drink Tea with the locals. Take a stroll down the main street on an evening and it's more than likely you will be asked to join some friendly locals for çay (Turkish Tea). A great way to meet local Kurdish people.
- go hiking on Mount Nemrut and visit the Lake in the Nemrut crater. Enjoy the beautifull panorama on the Van lake!
Remember to stock up on food the night before if you're taking the train towards Ankara, as it departs early and has no catering. Lots of bakeries and groceries along main street, plus a big shopping mall in town centre with a Carrefour supermarket inside.
Eat & drink
You're probably destined to eat Turkish again; this region doesn't have the cosmopolitan offerings found in Europe. Innumerable small cafes and eateries along main street but for a clean enjoyable meal with lake views, try the fast food court on the second floor of the shopping mall.
A handful of hotels are located in the town centre along, or just off, the main street near the post office. Most hotels are clearly signed; the following directions assume you are walking south on the main street (lake to your left) having arrived by bus or train. By car from the west you'll enter town the same way, along highway D300. Google Street View is of limited help here as there's a Jandarma base in the town centre so the view has been redacted.
Camping by the lakes on Mt Nemrut is free, but consider the altitude, the logistics and the weather outlook, and the amount of litter can be off-putting.
- Öğretmenevi. Out of season you may be able to get a room facing the lake - if so this is a great budget option.
- Gayda Otel (On the main street, 150 m past the Carrefour, just after the mosque and footbridge, on your right.), ☏ . This is another budget option. Shared bathrooms, semi-dirty toilets, no breakfast, small clean rooms, comfortable clean beds, very nice staff, no English, wifi, safe atmosphere. There is another Gayda Otel that is more modern. If you ask to see it, one of the staff will take you.
- Ustun Otel, Belhic Celik Sokak (When you see the Crater Hotel, look down the side street, and the sign is visible 50 m away.). Small and comfortable hotel, rooms at the rear of the building have a lake view. Comfortable warm lobby to relax in and drink tea. Clean, friendly staff, free WiFi, rooms have attached bathroom with plenty of hot water, good heating in the room, basic breakfast included in the price. Good value all round. They do have some rooms with shared bathroom which may be cheaper. 150 TL single. Doubles available.
- 1 The Crater Hotel, 181 Cumhuriyet Cd, ☏ . Good clean budget-to-midrange option, spacious rooms, good rooftop breakfast buffet with lake views
- the white life hotel, beautifull located near the lakesite. Certainly one of the best in town. Fully renovated in 2023, with Nice and spacious rooms and high Quality beds.
There are internet cafes along the main street. There is one just upstairs from the office of Van Gölü Seyahat bus company in the town centre, open till late at night and very convenient if you need to fill time until your departure.
As of Dec 2020 there is 4G in Tatvan from Turkcell and Vodafone, with variable coverage of the surrounding highways, but Türk Telekom has a poor signal. 5G has not yet reached this area.
There are bear (ayı in Turkish) warning signs in the crater. If you do see one it is probably not a good idea to try and feed it as they can become habituated to humans. Even if you feel safe it is not fair to future visitors.
- Erzurum to the north
- Malatya to the west
- Diyarbakir, Hasankeyf, and Southeastern Anatolia to the southwest
- Van – An easy day trip from Tatvan. See that page for transport to Doğubeyazıt and into Iran.
|Routes through Tatvan
|Malatya ← Muş ←
|→ Van → Kapıköy/Razi
|Dilucu/Sədərək ← Doğubayazıt ←
|→ Diyarbakır → Şanlıurfa