Armenia

armenia essential Information

Visas

Armenia has a rather liberal visa policy. EU citizens, as well as former CIS nationals don’t require visas. Visas for citizens of most other countries can be requested upon arrival and for a 21 day visa you would only pay 3000 dram (€6).

For specific visa information for your country check here or here.

Advantages

Hitch-hiking in Armenia is childishly easy. On a busy road you won’t need to wait more than 5 minutes and in many cases your driver will be very happy to offer you food and drink, or even to invite you into their homes for a meal. The whole Caucasus region is famous for the hospitality of its people and Armenia is an excellent example of this. Besides, there aren’t that many backpackers in Armenia, so you can count on novelty value. And if you speak a bit of Russian (as this is the second language, and the one you will most often be addressed in), then you’re sorted.

Hitch-hiking with friendly locals in the north of Armenia - Armenia

Disadvantages

Although Armenian people are hospitable and kind, there aren’t that many of them (only 3 million living in the country), and if you decide to visit some of the more remote parts of Armenia, where there are not that many cars, you might find yourself waiting for a while (but don’t get discouraged, the first car that sees you will stop).

Another disadvantage is the lack of widespread couchsurfing (or maybe the Internet in general). We only managed to find hosts only in the capital, but the people we found were excellent hosts and friends, and we had such a good time there that we were even considering moving to Yerevan.

It’s also a good idea to have a tent if you decide to travel of the beaten track in Armenia. There aren’t that many other options outside big cities, apart from homestays and Soviet hotels, which usually don’t have hot (nor sometimes even running) water.

Scrap metal market on Lazyan Street - Vanadzor, Armenia (4)

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

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)

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

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)

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.

Types of roads

With the exception of a few major links, major roads are frequently in poor repair with sporadic stretches of missing pavement and large potholes. Some roads shown as primary roads on maps are unpaved and can narrow to one lane in width, while some newer road connections have not yet been marked on recently produced maps. Secondary roads are normally in poor condition and are often unpaved and washed out in certain areas. Signposts are a luxury in the majority of the country. Truck traffic is at its heaviest on the main roads linking Yerevan to Iran and Georgia.

Road Map

Armenia road map

source: ezilon.com

Speed limit on Armenian roads

Armenia speed limits

Absolutely essential hitch-hikers phrasebook

Armenian

- hello – Բարև ձեզ (bah-REV dzes)
 People love it when you address them in their mother tongue, even if you don’t speak the language
- thank you – merci (like in French)
- goodbye – Ցտեսություն (tse-teh-soo-tyoon)

Russian

- hello – Здравствуйте (ZDRAHST-vooy-tyeh)
- thank you – Спасибо. (spuh-SEE-bah)
- yes - Да. (dah)
- no – Нет. (nyeht)
- please/here you are – Пожалуйста. (pah-ZHAH-luh-stuh)
- you’re welcome – Не за что. (NYEH-zuh-shtoh)
- excuse me – Извините. (eez-vee-NEET-yeh)
- what’s your name? – Как Вас зовут? (kahk vahs zah-VOOT?)
→ always good to know the name of your driver
- my name is … – Меня зовут … (mee-NYAH zah-VOOT…)
- I don’t understand – Я не понимаю (ya nee puh-nee-MIGH-yoo)
- I don’t know – Я не знаю. (ya nee ZNAH-yoo)
- where is…? – Где …? (gdyeh …?)
- train station – вокзал (vah-GZAHL)
→ You should know this word and listen out for it to avoid situations when your driver, in their best intentions, takes you off the road and drives you to a station
- bus station – автовокзала (ahf-tuh-vah-GZAHL)
- I don’t have money – У меня нет денег (oo-mee-NYAH nyet DYEH-neg)
→ useful in any language
- we don’t have money – У нас нет денег (oo nah-s nyet DYEH-neg)
- money – деньги (dyehn-gee)
- now – сейчас (see-CHAHS)
- today - сегодня (see-VOHD-nyuh)
- yesterday - вчера (fcheeh-RAH)
- tomorrow - завтра (ZAHF-truh)
- friend –  друг (droogh)
Very useful when they ask you where you’re staying. The concept of Couchsurfing is often too difficult to explain, so just say you’re staying with a friend. You can also use this word to express the relationship between you and your fellow travelers.

Main Border Crossings

City skyline with surrounding hills - Vanadzor, Armenia (9)

Armenia – Georgia

→ Sadakhlo/Bagratashen – it’s a pretty pleasant and hitchhiker-friendly border crossing where we obtained our Armenian visas. Crossing on foot is problem-free and the border is located on the European route E001 (which in fact is a one lane road in the middle of the stunning Debed Canyon), so you’re bound to get a quick lift.

→ Zhdanovakani/Bavra – It’s the second border crossing with Georgia we used on our way back and it was also hassle-free. It’s located on the European route E691.

Armenia – Iran

 Agarat / Norduz – personally we’ve never used this border crossing, but we met truck drivers who were heading that way, so it’s definitely open. According to Lonely Planet Thorntree forum posts you can also cross it on foot.

Armenia - Nagorno-Karabakh Republic

→ Lachin (Laçın) / Berddzor (Բերդձոր) – you can cross it but only if you are travelling from Armenia directly to Stepanakert (the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh) in a pretty pricey marshrutka, so forget about hitch-hiking to Nagorno-Karabakh!

We never went to Nagorno-Karabakh, firstly because it was expensive and not hitchhiking-friendly and secondly because we got contradictory information about obtaining visas. If you really want to go, plan your trip well and be prepared to spend quite a reasonable amount of money for transport, visas and accommodation,  due to the fact that it’s such an isolated place, everything would be more expensive and less available.

Caution! If you have a Karabakh visa in your passport, you won’t be let into Azerbaijan!

But what actually is Nagorno-Karabakh?

Nagorno-Karabakh is a de facto independent republic located in the South Caucasus with a predominantly Armenian population and culture but entirely embedded within Azeri territory. In 1923 Stalin detached Karabakh from Armenia and made it an autonomous region within Azerbaijan. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the region became the source of dispute again, which culminated in the Nagorno-Karabakh War, 1991-1994.

All the others border crossings with Azerbaijan and Turkey are closed.

Most Beautiful Natural Spot

Zorats Karer also called the “Armenian Stonehenge” is a vast stretch of land dotted with over two hundred 3m high stones. Some archeologists argue that the site is an old necropolis, others believe in its astrological role. Whatever the stones were used for back in the Bronze Age, the sight is unquestionably beautiful and worth visiting if you have the chance.

Zorats Karer the Armenian Stonehenge - Syunik province, Armenia

The site is located 3,5km from the city of Sisian, and then 400m from the turn-off. However, it’s not that easy to get to, since it’s in the middle of nowhere and tourism in this part of Armenia is not developed at all. We were really lucky to be picked up by a kind driver who decided to take us there and show us this amazing place.

Best City / Town

Without a doubt, the best city in Armenia, if not in the whole Caucasus region, is Yerevan. It’s café culture atmosphere, its street art and its amazingly kind and open people will make you want to stay there forever!

People enjoying Swan Lake Park at night - Yerevan, Armenia

It was the only city in Armenia where we managed to find CS hosts, but the hosts we found were truly good friends who made us feel at home. We went out every single evening of our stay, being invited to parties in private houses and mingling with the local scene.

While there we were seriously considering moving to Yerevan and we’re sure we will be back one day.

Best areas for hitch-hiking

There are two completely contrasting regions in Armenia which deserve to be called ‘best hitch-hiking area’ – the north and the south of the country.

In northern Armenia, you should definitely hitch-hike through the Debed Canyon, which is a long single lane road in the middle of a lush green valley with steep hills on both sides. Along the road you can visit two UNESCO World Heritage monasteriesSanahin (built in 928) and Haghpat (dating back to 976).

Unfortunately, the canyon is not pristine as its landscape has been altered by an ugly copper mine in Alaverdi, a Soviet era relic.

The main city in this region is Vanadzor, not pretty but charming.

Sanahin monastery - Lori Province, Armenia

The landscape in southern Armenia, towards Iran, is quite different, but equally stunning. Here the most prevailing colour is not green anymore but yellow. You won’t find many trees there, but rocky hills with brown sand and dried yellowish grass. And empty endless roads…

Fields and mountains of Armenia - Southern Armenia

Tourist Trap

The place which we were the most disappointed with was Dilijan, which wasn’t ugly but there was nothing worth visiting. Our Lonely Planet guidebook recommended this place as having a cobbled street Historic Centre, which we found was nothing more than a newly built collection of wooden houses, including a hotel, shops and a tourist information centre. Nothing historic about it, plainly just a tourist trap.

Rooftops and surrounding forest - Dilijan, Armenia

However, if you ever find yourself in Dilijan, we can recommend a good place to stay (the ‘Tourist information’ right next to the marshrutka station will try to grab your attention and direct you to their places of choice as soon as you arrive, but don’t trust them!). The place we stayed at was a homestay run by friendly Silva, who lives alone with her disabled mother. The place feels really homely, it’s very cheap, centrally located, and Silva will cook you a nice daily meal. We found her quite by chance, as she doesn’t advertise, but it was a good stroke of luck. Silva Antonyan B&B (tel.094709400; Maksim Gorky 36; AMD4000-6000 per person).

Good luck, you will love Armenia!

Our Experience

We hitch-hiked across Armenia in summer 2011, as a part of our Caucasus-Turkey-Greece trip. Armenia is probably the easiest country we have hitchhiked in so far, due to the friendliness and hospitality of its people. We fell in love with the landscape and Armenians in general, and we highly recommend this beautiful place!

A round tour of Armenia took us about 2 weeks and we covered 806 km. This was our route:

.
This country guide was also published by Fans Of Armenia  on 12th April; by Armenia Art & Architecture on 12th May; by Armenia – Հայաստան – Hayastan – Армения – Armenië – ارمنستان on 15th May; by I love you Armenia, I love you on 19th May; by ARMENIA DAILY on 20th May and by Visit Armenia on 21st May 2012.

written by: Ania

13 comments

  • Great summary! I too hitchhiked through Armenia in 2011, from the iranian border to Georgia, and agree on everything you wrote.
    One note on your russian phrasebook though: the correct way of saying “I don’t have money” is “У меня нет денег”, not “….деньги”. That would be something like “oo-mee-NYAH nyet DYEH-neg”. This is a very important part of russian grammar, so it is best to learn the correct form from the beginning.

    Cheers

  • Thanks for a thorough hitchhikers guidebook to Armenia. Visit Armenia (https://www.facebook.com/visitarmenia) has also proudly posted your piece.

    P.S. Yerevan itself is considerably illuminated up until 2am and does have a vibrant nightlife, at least in summers :)

  • I guess this will also be useful for you :)
    http://harebeat.com/2012/06/22/armenia-visa-regulation/

    P.S. Not 100% sure yet, but rumors go that from January 2013 Armenia will set a visa-free regime for EU citizens.

  • Hi, your guidebook is great, thanks. We plan to travel in Armenia for around 8 days, our rough schedule is: Yerevan-Sevan lake-Dilijan-Debed Canyon. Could you may be give us some tips mainly about: 1) the lake-where to camp; 2) Debed Canyon-where to hike, where to get some water+food? Many thanks!!

    • Hi Julie,
      I hope the guys won’t mind if I pop in and give you some tips :)
      1) The Lake. The best spots for camping are on the eastern shore of Sevan. If you’re hitchhiking from Yerevan, nor long after the Sevan peninsula, turn right and take the road to Shorja. Follow that road, pass through Shorja (it’s a small town) and continue your way until the village Artanish. Get off on the crossroad, take the road going down to the lake, walk along the beach a little and there you’ll find nice spots to camp. Another option is three kilometers away from Artanish. There will be sings indicating the kilometers on the right side of the road. When you reach the “46″, on your right you’ll see a rocky road running down to the shore. Follow this road and look for a spot there. That place is beautiful and not many people go there, and the water is clear. As for the food, there are two shops in Artanish, so you can hitchhike the 3 km to village and get food and water there.

      2) As for the Debed canyon, there’s a big number of monasteries and other historical places around, like Kobayr, Odzun, Haghpat, Sanahin, Akhtala. The surroundings are beautiful. I’d suggest to hike around the village of Dsegh. There are eco hiking trails around the village, and also some lakes not far from it. You can get drinking water in every house you pass by, just knock the door and ask for it. And there are many shops to get food, so it’s not a problem.

      Hope this was helpful.

      P.S. As I understood you gonna take the road from Dilijan to Vanadzor to enter the Debed canyon. If so, you can also try to check out the village of Fioletovo. It’s right between Dilijan and Vanadzor. It’s a Russian village, the local population belongs to a spiritual Russian orthodox Christian sect. They’re quite friendly :)

  • I went there few times, I went to Karabagh once. I haven’t had visa, so I was advised to get it at ministry of foreign affairs in Stepanakert. It costed 3000 drams and it wasn’t in passport, it was just piece of paper to be returned at border checkpoint. Marshrutka from Goris to Stepanakert 1500 drams…. It’s not wallet breaking experience. I have travelled around Karabagh in taxi, about 100 dollars a day, not bad between 4 of us. We have stayed in Sushi, in Saro’s Hostel. Karabagh is great, quiet, people are genuine and really kind, more than money oriented main Armenia IMHO.

    • Sounds like a great experience! Thanks for sharing all the useful info, Astratow! Such a shame we didn’t go to Karabakh when we were in Armenia, but we will definitely go next time! Armenia is such a beautiful country and we will definitely return one day!

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