Spending Five Days in historic Armenia
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
Back from another short getaway. This year has been busy.
On this blog post, we talk about the less frequently visited Armenia (unless you live in Dubai and hop on a flight to go here for sport). After all, a short 3 hour flight from Dubai will take you to this small country in the Caucasus region.
Armenia is the second country I have visited in this region that is nestled in the crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia.
It is also surprisingly historic and it is believed that they were one of the first countries in the world to adopt Christianity as their state religion. Be prepared for a whole lot of beautiful monasteries scattered around the region amongst dense national park forests and snow-capped alps.
So let me sum up the trip for you with a list of must-see places!
1. You will need a PCR test take 72 hours prior to landing. You will also be asked about your vaccination certificate to enter. Best to carry these on your person at all times.
2. You need a PCR test to exit the country (this was included in the cost for us, but it is around ARM 150,000)
What you will need for testing:
Flights, Visa and Immigration
From Dubai, I flew direct with Fly Dubai.
You can no longer get visa on arrival. You will need a visa. You can apply for this yourself. Heads up - sometimes, you could be rejected if you have an Indian passport. The agency I went with applied for me. You can directly apply for it here too.
NOTE: Due to the conflicts in the region, if by any chance you have been to Azerbaijan in the recent past, expect to be questioned about this at the immigration counter. Keep your responses short and be clear about the reasons for your trip there. if you went for tourist reasons, explain that clearly and be ready to produce a detailed set of documents for your trip to Armenia from itinerary, hotel reservations, and return ticket.
Safety and hygiene
Heads up - Armenia is not big on the vaccination. No one we met was vaccinated - not even our driver. So masks on ALWAYS. Carry your own sanitizer.
People were warm, it felt safe.
Best time to visit
April, May, June and October, November is best due to the slightly cooler weather.
Language and People
Everyone is helpful and fluent in English.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is highly recommended. USD accepted at all resorts. Carry local currency for small purchases.
Safety for Traveling Solo or as a woman
Expect your typical developing country culture. Most certainly expect a few leers from strange men on the street if you decide to walk outdoors in a fancy dress in the city. Go with your guide/driver and be mindful of your surroundings.
Choosing a guide, agency or driver for your trip
For this trip, I went with Best Travel. Anika, the owner, set us up wonderfully. No hassles and extremely hands-on. They have a location in Yerevan, Armenia as well as Dubai. Smooth transactions and she was happy to accommodate any requests at a marginal cost.
Food is ridiculously cheap, so is transportation and hotel. Including hotel, flights and transportation, the trip should cost no more than $650-800, depending on where you stay and time/length of travel.
The food was great in the city. There were a lot of wonderful upscale restaurants just around Ramada. Some so fancy that we needed a reservation on a weekday. Ha!
The food on the road was a miss, as always. Nothing special. On our last night though, we went to a beautiful restaurant called Zaitoon in downtown Yerevan. The ambiance and service was upbeat accompanied by some delicious vegan food. Definitely give it a try.
Top tip: we found this joint called Fresh House. They have some epic milkshakes, coffee and hot chocolate. It's just a small shack in the middle of the city.
Where I stayed
Ramada in Yerevan. Nothing fancy. Your usual four star hotel with the perks. Breakfast was good and had a wide veggie spread. Even better if you have eggs, but was a loss for me.
Up the mountains, we stay at Harsnadzor Eco Resort . Honestly, having stayed at a few other magnificent locations just in the last 12 months, this one wasn't close to being the best. The views were pretty epic, I will give you that. So if just cute pictures are your thing, by all means go for it. If not, I don't think there was anything to rave about... but hey, that's just me!
Day 1 - Airport arrival. Check in. Charents Arch Garni Temple. Symphony of stones. Dinner at India Palace
After a fairly quick immigration, we were picked up by our driver. Went straight to the airport to freshen up. Then drive to Charents Arch.
This place is named after a famous Armenian Poet. Of course, it is also known for its stunning views of the biblical Mount Ararat. There is not much to do around here but don't miss out on those postcard perfect shots.
Next stop, Garni temple. It is believed that this a pagan temple built in 1st century AD.
What I loved about it was the surprising Greek style architecture and the vast magnificent views of the surrounding mountains.
Quite the show stopper with intricate details on every column. Don't miss this one.
Next stop was to my favorite spot of the day - Symphony of Stones. Not a lot of guides include it but being just a stones throw away from Garni, it is a must-see in this side of the country.
This is sort of like a natural wonder in Armenia. Basically giant basalt rock formations in a hexagonal cylindrical shape. You can walk close to them and really admire nature - it really is quite magical, right?
This place is aptly named Symphony of stones because the Agat river flows just beside the monument.
Back to the city. Dinner was at India Palace (just around the corner from Ramada), since we were cranky from no sleep and had no energy left to explore the city!
Day 2 - Noravank Monastery. Shaki Waterfall. Wings of Tatev. Tatev Monastery.
Today we explored the Southern region of the country. Starting with Noravank Monastery. Just a short drive from Yerevan, it was so busy even at 11 a.m. in the morning. Expect crowds no matter when you go.
I read that apart from it's centuries old history, what sets Noravank apart is that unlike some other churches in the region, Noravank was spared destruction when the Mongols swept through ancient Armenia in the 13th century and, hence, the intricate stonework that decorates the exterior of the complex is still relatively intact.
The stairs are narrow, making it a little tricky to go up and even more so while going down. It is worth climbing up to the top for a closer look at the red-rocky gorge that surrounds this monastery.
Next stop post lunch was Shaki Waterfall. This is one of the most picturesque places in Armenia for me. The waterfall is easily accessible. It was formed when the Vorotan river flowed from 18m height.
Fun Travel Tip: There is a small steep hill that you can climb toward the right of the waterfall. Go up for even better views of the cascading falls from the top. Added perks - you will have it all to yourself. It was blissful to just be there without another soul, just listening to the sound of flowing water.
Our last stop was going up Wings of Tatev - the world's longest reversible cable way in the world, recorded in the Guinness Books of Records. This takes you right up to the Tatev Monastery, built in the 9th century. It also happens to be one of the most far-flung ones in the country.. which means most people don’t make it here.
I recommend you don’t miss it. The view is breathtaking, with the monastery set high upon a hill over looking a massive valley and old village. Would you look at that? It’s like walking back in time!
Stayed at the eco resort. It was pretty cold and the icy blankets did nothing to keep us warm. There was a heater but it wasn't enough for the big room.
Day 3 - Devil's Bridge. Jermukh Waterfall. Areni Cave. Wine Tasting.
Exploring a few hidden places like this in an otherwise touristy country was the highlight of my trip to Armenia. Here I am, sinking my hands into the warm mineral water at the Devil’s pool.
The picturesque natural bridge is situated in this deep canyon, surrounded with many mountainous springs, becoming a geyser in the winter.
You can also see stalactites made by the mineral water hanging from the edges of this stone arch, and there was a beautiful falls rushing down from the rock caves under the natural bridge!
There was absolutely no trail here, some daredevilery went into getting to this point, so it was a day I thoroughly enjoyed. Go as far in as your brave heart and great shoes take you.
I loved all the random pitstops along the way. What a beautiful mountainous setting on every corner.
We then went to the town of Jermuk and waterfall, this was huge miss for me. Skip it.
Post lunch, we went to Areni Cave. One of the world's oldest winery. Excavations unearthed large complexes which showed that these complexes were once used for worship and economic purposes.
Last stop for the day was a wine tasting at a local join. I don't drink alcohol but I hear the pomegranate wine is a must-try.
Back to Ramada in Yerevan for the last two nights of stay.
Day 4 - Tsaghkadzor. Dilijan Monastery. Lake Sevan. Yerevan city at night - Republic square.
This is a lot like ski resort in Georgia. You go up but there is not a lot to do. Just take nice pictures with the snow and enjoy more mountain views.
We then drove to Dilijan Monastery. The town of Dilijan itself is worth a visit, so is the national park but we didn't have time for that... because we wanted to head to our next stop for sunset.
Behold the largest high-altitude lakes in Eurasia. Lake Sevan is a massive body of water, which I found to my delight can look particularly beautiful in the late afternoon light. There are many reasons to visit Sevan but most of all it should be for it's breathtaking beauty. It is quite a sight - any time of day.
Of course, along with the lake you also find the Sevanavank Monastery. You can easily walk up to the church. This place offers some of the most unobstructed views of the lake. Just be prepared for the crazy cold and lots of wind!
With the slightly overcast clouds over the monument, it was quite the sight to behold.
As we made our way back to the city, we decided to step out for a stroll. Just a mile away from our hotel was the iconic Republic Square of Yerevan. This part of the city is actually established when Armenia was part of the Soviet Union. The theme was a sort of "new look" Armenia. You cannot miss the pink tuff stones that line these streets.
Day 5 - Yerevan City. Cascade Tower. Market. Zvarnots Temple.
Our last morning was relaxed and lazy. We started at 11 and made our way to the Yervan market to pick a few souvenirs. The market was pretty big and really gorgeous to walk in with the fall foliage on either side of the street. You will find things big and small - though it is not easy haggle to with the Armenians!
Next stop was the Cascade tower for panoramic views of the city. You will need to climb up 1300 steps to get there though.
After that workout, we headed straight for lunch at a local restaurant on the way to the airport.
Last stop was the Zvarnots temple. This temple was constructed in the 7th century, it is mostly ruins now but you can still see the footprints of this four shells church. One of its most iconic feature is that the columns are with Ionic capitals, commonly seen in the Roman empire.
There isn’t much to do around there. However, I highly recommend adding this one to your itinerary on the way to the airport. Since it was hazy, it was difficult to capture Mount Ararat but if you zoom in behind me, you can see faint traces of it.