5 Places to Visit in Armenia

Armenia, the cradle of Christianity in the heart of the Caucasus, is untouched by mass tourism and still a paradise for independent travelers and adventure seekers. So why not stay for a while after the Caucasian Challenge crosses the finish line in Yerevan, and explore the towering mountains, the wide valleys and the ancient history of this small, landlocked country for a few days? With our 5 top places to visit in Armenia, you definitely can’t go wrong!

Amberd Fortress

Amberd, with 2300m above sea level called the “Fortress of Clouds”, greets its visitors on the slopes of Mount Aragats with the snow covered giant as striking backdrop. Inhabited since the stone age, the ancient settlement developed over time into a fortress, till the current castle was built in the 7th century. While still some parts of the fortress are original, many other parts have been expanded and overbuild over the centuries. The site also includes an 11th century church and a bath house with heated floors and warm water, which provided the residing noble families with some extra comfort.

The fortress was finally destroyed by the Mongols in 1236 and only in the 20th century some reconstruction work has started.

This fortress and its epic setting should definitely be high on the to-do list for your adventure in Armenia. Take in the ancient history, the breathtaking views and let a new humility fill you facing the perishability of all things man-made in front of imperishable Mount Aragats tauntingly rising up to the sky.

Mount Aragats

After all that history, why not conquer the giant itself? Aragats, an older volcano, is with 4095m above sea level the highest mountain in Armenia and inviting for every passionate mountaineer. The best climbing time is between the middle of July till the middle of September, when there is less snow.

There are 4 peaks waiting for you, the northern peak the highest one, and the souther peak abuot 200m lover. It is recommended to rise early, to avoid the cloud formation, that sets in in the late morning and blocks the great view. Start at Amberd Fortress and head to the southern peak. It is a rather short hike, which should take you only about 2 hours. You can hike all four peaks, but the other ones are a little more difficult and a full round trip will take you up to 13 hours. So dress warmly and before you start for a full tour, ask yourself some honest questions about your level of fitness.


Places to Visit in Armenia

Photo by Rita Willaert.

After climbing Armenia’s highest mountain, your body has deserved a little rest, but not so your mind! Head to Armenia’s capital Yerevan, which is only 40 km away, and visit the Matenadaran Research Institute and Museum. This repository of ancient manuscripts, which is in possession of more than 40 000 ancient scripts and documents, some dating back as far as the 5th century, in various languages covering all kinds of topics like history, philosophy, medicine, literature and many others, written by saints, scholars, scientists and early writers, is an incredible and irreplaceable collection of humanity’s cultural heritage. Since 1997 it is part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Program.

Not only the scripts are ancient, but also the idea of collecting them in a place of knowledge. The collection was started already in the 5th century in the Etchmiadzin Cathedral. After being pillaged more than once from medieval times till the 19th century, and after a detour to Moscow during World War I, the foundation of today’s collection was finally stored in the current building, which was built specifically for this purpose.

Noratus Cemetery

Places to Visit in Armenia

Photo by Arantz.

Noratus Cemetery  is an almost seven hectare big field which is covered by almost a thousand khachkars. There is probably nothing else, which is so characteristic for Christian medieval Armenian art like khachkars, their symbolism and the craftsmanship itself are even part of the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

These memorial steles came into fashion around the 9th century and the craft is still alive. Unique ornamentation is carved into the khachkars, usually a cross with other motives like interlaces or botanical inspired patterns. They had various functions from saving a person’s soul to commemorating a victory.

Noratus Cemetery can be found in the Gegharkunik Province, about 95km from Yerevan. We recommend to explore the area with a guide, as otherwise it is almost impossible to get an overview and an understanding of the several hundreds of khachkars from the 9th to 17th century.

Khor Virap

Places to Visit in Armenia

Photo by Roderick Eime.

The probably most significant pilgrimage site Armenia’s lies just 8km east of the Turkish border, on a small hill in the Ararat Valley. At the end of the 3rd century, a famous prisoner was held here for 13 years: St Gregory the Illuminator – or Grigor Lusavorich. But after St Gregory had healed him from sickness, the Armenian king converted to Christianity in 301, granting Gregory the right to convert the  whole country and as legend tells, within one year Armenia became the first fully Christian nation in history.

Used as a prison in ancient time, a chapel was build in 642, which over time was expanded to a monastery and finally in 1662 a bigger church was built over the old chapel. The pit deep down in the earth, in which St Gregory was allegedly imprisoned for 13 years of his life, can still be visited inside the chapel


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Tips for Traveling the Caucasus

The Southern Caucasus is an area of cultural diversity, natural beauty, rich history, but also of political conflict and language barriers. Our basic tips for traveling the Caucasus can help you to prepare both practically and mentally for your visit to this almost forgotten region at the border between Europe and Asia.


Which visas to get and which borders to cross?

Tips for traveling the Caucasus

Country hopping in the Caucasus is not as simple as in Europe and needs some research and planning in advance. So it is important to know, that the Armenian borders with Azerbaijan (the two are officially still at war) and Turkey (ongoing tensions) are closed. Georgia’s borders with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan on the other side are all open, which makes it a transit hub for traveling in the region. However, if you try to enter Azerbaijan with a used Armenian visa, this will most probably not prohibit entry, but most likely cause some suspicion. So to avoid any problems it is recommended to visit Azerbaijan first.

Concerning visas, Georgia and Armenia are amazingly simple, since most EU citizens and US citizens don’t need one to enter as tourist. Visa regulations for Azerbaijan are more complicated and vary for each country.

We’ve collected more information about border crossings and visas in the Caucasus, but since the regulations in this part of the world can change in a heartbeat, we recommend that you do some closer research yourself with your travel date approaching.


How to stay safe?

Tips for traveling the Caucasus

The Caucasus is not free of conflicts and has a long story of age-old rivalries. While it is not necessarily recommended (but still possible) to visit the de facto regions of Nagorno Karabakh (in Azerbaijan, but under Armenian control) and Abkhazia (Georgia), South Ossetia (Georgia) should definitely be avoided.

Outside of these territories safety is not a thing to be seriously worried about. Georgia even has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.

Although people in general are very hospitable and helpful, especially in Georgia it should be avoided to talk about Russia or the disputed territories, as this is quite a sensitive topic.


What to drink?

Tips for traveling the Caucasus

Prepare your liver, you’re probably going to drink a lot! Most people are quite familiar with Russian vodka, which is widely popular in the region, but Georgian wines and Armenian brandy are also not to be missed.

Thanks to its moderate climate with hot summers, mild winters and moist air, Georgia is ideal for vini- and viticulture. Small wonder, that it is one of the oldest – if not the oldest – wine regions of the world. Millennia of experience and practice, starting in the Neolithic age over 8.000 years ago, can only forge true mastership in the craft.

Semi-sweet wines are the most popular, but don’t hesitate to try any of the dozens of variation of red and white, be it dry, sweet or fortified.

Armenia is famous for its Brandy, and the tale goes, that it played an important part in the Yalta Conference, where it helped US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin making decisions about the post-war reorganization of Europe. First distilled in 1887, Armenian Brandy is today the second largest export of the country.


What to eat?

Tips for traveling the Caucasus

Fear not, you will never go hungry in the Caucasus. Each country has its very own specialties to delight your taste buds.

Don’t miss Georgian khachapuri, which some might also call “heart attack on a plate”, consisting of local bread, filled with aromatic, creamy cheese and optionally topped with an egg and slices of butter. Or try khinkali, small boiled dumplings with various fillings. Cheap, tasty and satisfying, nothing else you could wish for!

In Armenia you can keep your diet a little healthier, as it is famous for its tasty, fresh fruits. Get some apricots and pomegranates from the local markets, or, if so many vitamins scare you, get the liquid form and drink some oghi, an Armenian spirit, distilled from fruits and berries.

A delicious Azerbaijani specialty are dolmasi, filled wine or cabbage leaves, mostly filled with meat. You might know the Mediterranean or the Balkan type, but Azerbaijan has its own version with a unique taste.


How to communicate?

Tips for traveling the Caucasus

All over the Caucasus you can find more than 60 languages from 5 distinct language families. What makes the area a haven for linguists, creates quite a challenge for travelers. But as a legacy of the Soviet Union, Russian still serves as lingua franca in the area, so it might be helpful to learn some basic phrases. In some parts of Azerbaijan also Turkish can come in handy. But don’t despair. The English proficiency is steadily increasing in the area. Though it is not that widely spread yet, you might be lucky to meet some younger people, who know English well enough for basic communication.

While Azerbaijan has its own Latin alphabet, Georgia and Armenia have their very own scripts, so to make sure you arrive in the right places, it is of advantage write down the names of cities, villages and hotels in the alphabets of the country, and maybe even in Cyrillic, to at least minimize the chance of getting completely lost.

Liked this article? Getting itchy feet to travel and find adventures? Then join us on the next Caucasian Challenge. Then get a team together and lets see you at the starting line! If you want to join us in spirit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to keep up with our latest antics.

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10 Ways to Have an Adventure in the Caucasus

Are you an adrenaline junkie looking for the next fix? Then we’ve got the doctor’s prescription for you right here! If you’re sick of all the tourists clogging up the streets of Thailand and Cambodia trying to find enlightenment in the next bar, then you’ll want to head over to the South Caucasus. This region on the fringes of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, with a northern border of Russia thrown in for good measure, is the ultimate place to reclaim adventure. Forget the health and safety measures, get out of your comfort zone with our tips how to have an adventure in the Caucasus.

adventure in the caucasus


A Comprehensive Guide to Border Crossing in the Caucasus

Travelling the region around the South Caucasus can get complicated, particularly where border crossings are involved. Here at the Caucasian Challenge we want to help out by making your life a little easier with this comprehensive guide to border crossing in the Caucasus. We’ll show you which borders are open, which are closed and which borders lie in a grey area.

guide to border crossing in the Caucasus

The Caucasus Region


Why You Should Sign Up for the Caucasian Challenge

Adventure lovers – pay attention! If you’re looking for the next big thing to get the adrenaline pumping while throwing in a heavy dash of travel on the way, then pay attention this post is for you! Also, if you’ve been on the fence about joining the Caucasian Challenge, we’re just about to make your life a little easier with this post. Here are the reasons why you should sign up for the Caucasian Challenge!

1. Reclaim Adventure


Have you ever thought that the world is getting far too safe and far too boring? Do you feel suffocated by all the health and safety regulations out there? Then we’ve got the perfect antidote. Get a car – any car, it could be a tank for all we care – get it to Istanbul and drive off into the unknown lands of the Caucasus for some good old-fashioned adventure!


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