6 things to be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Armenia

The valley marking no mans land between Turkey & Armenia - Ani, Turkey

6 things to be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Armenia

Food & Drink

Food in Armenia is based around the ever present lamb, either as grilled shashlik which is then served with flat bread, or in soup (there are many variety but bozbash is very popular) or as a stew, often combined with fruit and nuts.There is also typical a spread of peppers and vine leaves stuffed with rice and meat, pickled and fresh vegetables and various kinds of cured meats (basturma) as a starter.

Beer is sold everywhere with local brewers including Kotayk, Erebuni, Kilikia and Gyumri. Armenian brandy, said to be the favourite tipple of Churchill and popular all over Russia, and Oghi, a type of Armenian vodka are the harder stuff of choice. Also be sure to try the Pomegranate and Apricot wines, they are delicious.

It is also important to bear in mind that in Armenia, outside of Yerevan, there isn’t a big restaurant culture. People still tend to cook at home and eat with there families so if you are travelling around the country, try find accommodation that offers food as well.

Sprawling green hills and empty Armenian dirt roads - Armenia, 6 things to be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Armenia

Accommodation

Accommodation within Yerevan is plentiful, with a number of hostels, hotels and private accommodation options. Outside of the capital, your best bet are homestays. These are a sort of unlicensed guesthouses run by local families, who offer paid accommodation under their roof. In most cases they also provide food (at least one meal a day), which is a huge advantage, since there aren’t any restaurants outside the cities. The best way to find a homestay (as they don’t advertise) is just to walk the streets looking lost. You will be quickly spotted by a friend of a friend of someone who runs a homestay, so just let yourself be found and they will do the rest. In the Caucasus this form of accommodation is the cheapest and provides the most authentic sort of experience. Speaking Russian helps (as English is rare in these parts), but it’s not a must.

Apartment block on Kayarani (former Moskovyan) Street - Vanadzor, Armenia (5), 6 things to be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Armenia

Weather

The climate in Armenia is highland continental, dry with four seasons. Summers are dry and sunny, lasting from June to mid-September with temperatures between 22° and 36°C, though in the Ararat valley temperatures can climb to 40°C. Springs are short, while autumn is much longer.

Winters can be quite cold with temperatures falling to -5°C in Yerevan, and -30°C in the Ararat Valley and -46°C the Lake Arpi area. Annual precipitation for the country as a whole average is 550 mm.

Political Situation

The valley marking no mans land between Turkey & Armenia - Ani, Turkey, 6 things to be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Armenia

The most important thing to remember while travelling in Armenia is the fact that although Armenian people are amiable and hospitable, the country’s political situation is a touch tense. First of all due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan and secondly because of the Turkish government’s denial of the Armenian genocide between 1915-1923. For this reason all border crossings with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed, so you can enter the country only from Iran and Georgia. In essence, you need to plan your itinerary well if you want to visit the other Caucasus countries. It might be wise to use Georgia as a transit hub, as this nation is on friendly terms with almost all surrounding states (excluding Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and in most cases you wouldn’t need to pay for the visa (but that depends on where you’re coming from).

Another reason why you should be aware of the country’s difficult international relations is because you wouldn’t necessarily want to mention to your Armenian drivers that you’ve been or you’re going to Turkey or Azerbaijan. It’s always best to avoid political disputes especially in a language that is not your first.

Energy & Water Shortages

You should also know that even now Armenia suffers from energy shortages, which lead to occasional black-outs, especially outside the capital. After entering the country we were astounded by the lack of lampposts in major cities. At 9 p.m. almost everything is dark, which doesn’t foster the growth of a vibrant nightlife. You should bear that in mind, especially if you’re debating travelling after dusk. Finding a place after dark, without knowing the city well, can be quite tricky.

Train tracks under the M8 bridge - Vanadzor, Armenia (10), 6 things to be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Armenia

Armenia cannot be considered a country with a water surplus either.  In some parts of Armenia water is a valued commodity and many households use their bath tubs to store it. Bear this in mind when you crash on someone’s hospitality.

Money Exchange

You should also be aware that Armenian currency cannot be exchanged in any surrounding state, so either spend all your drams within the country or pray that you meet other backpackers on the way who would be kind enough to cut you a deal.

written by: Ania

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3 comments

  • “Another reason why you should be aware of the country’s difficult international relations is because you wouldn’t necessarily want to mention to your Armenian drivers that you’ve been or you’re going to Turkey or Azerbaijan.”

    I don’t know how it is with Azerbaijan, but you’re surely being too cautious about mentioning Turkey. I’ve always talked that I’ve went to Armenia through this country and that I’m going back to Poland via it as well. People can have different political opinions, but they know the map of their region and know, how you can get to their country. Nobody gave me even a frown look.

    “You should also be aware that Armenian currency cannot be exchanged in any surrounding state, so either spend all your drams within the country or pray that you meet other backpackers on the way who would be kind enough to cut you a deal.”

    I haven’t tried to do it, but I saw armenian flag and letters AMD on some exchange offices in Georgia.

    • Perhaps you’re right about Turkey but in Azerbaijan we met some people who were openly hostile towards Armenians.. Don’t forget that many people fought in the Nagorno-Karabakh War and old prejudices die hard.

      With changing money, we also saw many AMD flags but upon further enquire we found that none of them were actually willing to change the money in Georgia. We would love to hear others’ experiences though.

  • Very descriptive article, I liked that bit. Will there
    be a paet 2?
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