I’m itching to go back. The last time I was in Armenia was in 2007. It was the first time I had ever been to the caucuses and I was looking forward to the experiences that were ahead. Definitely off the beaten path, Armenia is not the easiest landlocked country to get to with only two border entries available, Georgia and Iran. Though for backpackers and history buffs alike looking for a new place to explore, not over-run with tourism, Armenia is making its way on the radar. Most people who visit Armenia, have familial ties back to Armenia or are of Armenian descent so it’s usually surprising to me when I meet someone who has been there who isn’t Armenian.
A popular route for backpackers making their way to Armenia is by way of Turkey through Georgia, and then into Armenia. The border between Armenia and Turkey is closed because due to politics, so the best option of driving is to come in from Georgia.
9 Reasons to Visit Armenia:
Armenia is Affordable
Visiting Armenia is extremely affordable for tourists, vacationers, visitors, etc. Good food is cheap, reliable transportation is low cost and accommodations can be found at reasonable rates, which offers a lot of appeal for anyone wanting to spend time thoroughly exploring Armenia for an extended period of time. In my opinion Armenia is currently ideal for anyone traveling on the backpacker’s budget.
Here’s a break down of cost essentials:
Three course meal for two: $20
1 bed room apartment outside city center for 1 month: $200
Local bus ticket: 25 cents
The Geography is Vibrant
The geography of Armenia is extremely diverse, making it an amazingly interesting country that is now only 11,484 sq miles. I say ‘now’ because the size of Armenia has dwindled since the last century and many parts which were part of Armenia is now within Turkey. Mt. Ararat is not part of Armenia any more, but there is a magnificent view of it from the valley. Armenia is a landlocked country with highlands of green meadows, rolling hills, alpines ridges, fertile valleys, virgin forests and fresh water lakes and snaking rivers. It was actually known as “land of the lakes and rivers” and rightfully so. Armenia’s most well-known fresh water lake, Lake Sevan is highest altitude lake in the world.
If you are wild life and nature lover, Armenia has several species of animals that are specific to the caucuses, sadly many which are endangered because of poaching. Some include the Armenian mouflon, Bezoar ibex, Mideastern brown bear, imperial eagle, European roe deer, wild boar, the golden jackal, gampr (type of dog specific to the highlands of Armenia) and the swamp cat. Many animals in Armenia are in danger becoming extinct because of illegal poaching, including the ibex and leopard, of which there are only 15 left. Armenia does require permits for hunting, but there is very little regulation.
Armenia has some of the most beautiful architecture that dates back to the Urartu Dynasty. Not much could be said about the abandoned buildings left behind from the USSR era, but buildings that had been designed and constructed with careful thought are astonishing and have lasted through the centuries and are beautiful works of art. Some of my favorite buildings are monasteries from the 7th-12th centuries built on the side of mountains, built inside mountains, forests for protection from invaders, steep cliff sides and isolated villages. There is so much detail and artwork carved into the stone buildings and paintings still visible on the ceilings. Walking into or around one of the ancient and medieval monasteries can have a spiritual effect on someone.
With the seemingly infinite relics and buildings strewn across the landscape, Armenia as a whole could almost be considered a history landmark. I’m not exaggerating. Anywhere you go, you will find something or someplace that has significantly impacted the history of Armenia. For example, the Erbuni Fortress that dates back to the Urartu Dynasty is in Yerevan, the nation’s capitol or Temple Garni a pagan temple from the 1st century are just a couple of sites that you can visit.
There are a lot of underrated and unappreciated artists in Armenia. From tapestries, sculptures, painters crocheters, potters, seamstresses, wood carvers, and carpenters. One of my favorite places to find handcrafted artwork is the Vernisage in Yerevan. The Vernisage is a street or flea market with a culmination of artists and vendors selling unique gift items, jewelery, art work, purses, antique items left before from the days of the USSR, rugs and instruments. There will be no shortage of art with Mt. Ararat depicted somewhere or of a pomegranate, both national symbols of Armenia.
If you’re looking for a Euro-style night life with clubs and parties, you won’t find it in Armenia. There are bars and dance clubs of course that are fun like the “Opera House,” but Armenia has an alternate night life style that is well worth the experience. You’ll find an intellectual type of evening entertainment with bustling cafes, jazz clubs, the ballet, the opera. Both the ballet and opera in Armenia are very prestigious institutions and if you think back to symphonies, Aram Khachaturian, the composer of the world famous Sabre Dance and Spartacus were written for ballets performed at the Armenian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Get tickets!
The alcohol in Armenia is cheap in price, but not in quality. You know the drinks are good when Winston Churchill proclaims that his favorite Brandy is Armenia’s Ararat Brandy. If Brandy isn’t your thing, then you must try the fruit wine that you can find for sale in different villages like mulberry wine or walnut liquor.
Armenia is a safe country. The people are kind and very hospitable so don’t be surprised if you’re invited to a strangers home for xhorovatz (Armenian barbeque) or khash meal (similar to menudo) or even a cup of Armenian coffee and have your fortune read. You may get a few (or several) curious looks if you stand out because people might be wondering as to why you’re visiting Armenia. As I said, most people who visit Armenia are typically of Armenian descent, but that is changing. Go to Armenia with an open mind and use common sense, but overall you can expect to feel safe and at home.
So that is the short version on reasons to visit Armenia. Stay tuned for a detailed travel guide with photos, tips and advice because Armenia does have so much to offer! If you’re planning to visit Armenia let me know! I would love to hear about your travel plans and answer any questions for you!