Armenia sits on a mountainous region between Europe and Asia, giving the countryside a picturesque and untouched natural beauty. It is considered to be the first country to adopt Christianity, so it has a rich cultural history that is visible in the mountainside monasteries and the country's many churches. It's also a wonderful destination to try unique cuisine that includes a twist on staples like bread, fish, and coffee.
A tour to Armenia can vary in scope and length, but some of the country's most iconic sites include its mountainous terrain and lovely ancient monasteries. The best part is that Armenia tours are generally affordable and tend to include everything from accommodations to meals.
Before choosing a tour and departing for this lesser-known gem, consider what specific sites and experiences are most interesting to you. Here are some valuable guidelines to keep in mind.
Armenia is known for its sprawling mountains and peaceful landscapes. Nature tours in Armenia allow you trek up Mount Ararat, a dormant volcano shared with Turkey. Another popular tour destination is Lake Sevan, the largest high-altitude lake in Armenia, which provides a host of activities like swimming and sunbathing on the beaches, camping along the lake, and sightseeing around the lakeside monuments like the Sevanavank Monastery. Many tours include boating around the lake or offer free time to simply sit back and relax at a lakeside restaurant.
Some of the most popular tour stops in Armenia include the picturesque ancient monasteries and churches that were built among mountains and canyons. Khor Virap is a monastery located on the Ararat plain underneath the snow-capped Mount Ararat. Dating back to Medieval times, the UNESCO World Heritage site, Geghard, is another important monastery in Armenia that is carved partially out of the mountain where it sits. Historical tours often include the fairy tale Tatev Monastery that sits on cliffs in southeast Armenia, as well.
Food & Culture Tours
A cultural tour of Armenia will allow you to get a glimpse of a truly exotic and under-explored country. These kinds of tours will take you through small villages where traditional culture is still alive, like dairy farms of Molokan villages. As part of your cultural discovery of Armenia, you'll be given the opportunity to stay in local guesthouses where you can dine and chat with friendly locals.
When it comes to cuisine, Armenia is one of the few countries in the world that you have to visit to really try their food. On a cultural and food tour, you'll get an opportunity to taste some of the country's traditional cuisine like smoky Armenian barbecue and Lavash, a flatbread that is a staple in Armenian cuisine and is baked to perfection in an underground oven. If tasting isn't enough, you can see how local delicacies are made on excursions to places like brandy factories and local houses where you can see a Lavash baking ceremony.
Tours around cities like Yerevan give you an opportunity to see what modern life is like in Armenia. Tours usually include sightseeing to the grandest examples of stereotypical Soviet architecture, including landmarks like Republic Square and Matenadaran (The Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts), where you can find ancient books and manuscripts. City tours might also include Gyumri, the country's second largest city. Here you'll be able to see architecture dating back to the 18th century and explore the local markets with your guide.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit Armenia
Since part of the country is at a fairly high altitude, the best time to visit Armenia is late spring and early summer when the weather has warmed up, but after the rains of April and May. At this time of year, the flowers bloom up in the mountains and the temperature is comfortable for walking around. By July and August, the temperatures can go up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Some travelers also enjoy Armenia in the winter, when skiing is popular in resort towns like Tsaghkadzor.
What to Look for in a Tour to Armenia
There is a lot to explore in Armenia, and a typical tour may have a specific focus like archaeological sites, rural towns, or culture. Many options also include some of the country's highlights, so you can see a little bit of everything. The most comfortable tours include airport transfers, hotels, and transport around the country. In the summer, you'll want to make sure your car and hotels are air-conditioned.
Typical Tour Cost
Visiting Armenia allows you to discover an exotic culture on a budget. Tours are very reasonably priced, even those including meals. Tours ranging in length from 8-12 days can be booked for under $1,000 and in some cases as little as $700. Some tours include Armenia as part of a multi-country trek that also includes Georgia or Azerbaijan.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Armenia is fairly conservative so, despite the heat, you should avoid extremely short shorts or dresses. It's best to dress in comfortable and light clothing like t-shirts and light pants or long dresses with comfortable walking shoes. Even if visiting in the summer, you'll want to take long-sleeved shirts or sweaters as the areas up in the mountains remain very cold throughout the year. Sunscreen is a must to keep yourself from getting burned to a crisp.
If you plan on hiking or doing any other outdoor activities as part of your tour, it's likely that the tour will include the equipment you'll need for any excursion.
Other Trips for Travel in Armenia
It will likely be difficult for you to find places that take credit cards throughout Armenia, especially if you're touring parts of the country outside the capital. Make sure you carry plenty of cash for expenses not included in your tour.
On a tour, it's likely that you'll have a local guide who speaks English, but finding other locals who speak English in restaurants and stores is much more difficult. Gestures and a big smile go a long way.
Health & Safety
A couple of precautions are important when visiting Armenia. Insects can spread disease, so you should be careful to wear clothing that covers up the skin and use repellent. Aside from being up-to-date on your shots, you should consider getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A, which can be transmitted through contaminated food. As a preventative measure against stomach viruses or bacteria, you should avoid drinking tap water and eat food that is well-cooked and served hot.
Armenia is relatively safe, although as a tourist you may be targeted by pickpockets or other thieves. Be aware of your surroundings, especially when taking money out of an ATM. You should also avoid the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where armed conflict can make the area dangerous. Sniper fire and unexploded mines could pose a risk to your safety.