Turkey's largest and most unusual lake consists of 3,738 square km (1,443 square miles) of startlingly blue water surrounded by mighty volcanic cones, at an elevation of 5,659 feet. The lake was formed when a volcano blew its top and blocked the course of a river, leaving the water with no natural outlet; as a result the lake is highly alkaline and full of sulfides and mineral salts, six times saltier than the ocean. Lake Van's only marine life is a small member of the carp family, the İnci kefalı, which has somehow adapted to the saline environment. Intermittent daily ferries ply the route between Van and Tatvan, taking around four hours and costing just 10 TL, but without fixed departure times. Recreational water sports are limited, and beaches along the rocky shores are few and far between. Swimming in the soft water is pleasant, but try not to swallow any—it tastes terrible.
If you're in the mood for a dip, your best bet is to do so when visiting the nearby island of Akdamar, from the lake's south shore. Alternatively, if you head northeast from Van on the Doğubeyazit road, you can stop at the little holiday camp located on the lake's edge just past the farming village of Çolpan. Soft drinks, barbecued food, sunbeds, and basic rooms are all available.