Lake Sevan, Armenia / Photo: Amanda Villa-Lobos
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Located in Eurasia’s South Caucasus region, and nestled between Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran (along with a couple others) lays Armenia. Home to some of the world’s oldest monuments, breathtaking vistas, a hospitable culture with a rich history and a delightful food and drink scene, Armenia offers a gamut of travel experiences that will not disappoint. It’s also not overcrowded with tourists yet, a fantastic ingredient in the recipe for a unique and awesome modern day travel experience.
But in case you were looking for more motivation, here are reasons to travel to Armenia… RIGHT NOW:
IT’S GREAT FOR HISTORY BUFFS
The history of Armenia dates back to early civilization. Visit the Areni cave, home to the the 4000 BC-year old wine-producing facility and the site where the world’s earliest known leather shoe was discovered 5,500 years ago. Stargaze the old-fashioned way at Carahunge, also known as the Armenian Stonehenge, estimated to be 7,500 years old (about 4,500 years older than Stonehenge). It’s believed to be the oldest observatory on the planet.
Carahunge archaeological site, Armenia / Photo: Amanda Villa-Lobos
IT'S GOT SOME SERIOUS RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE
Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as a nation in 301 AD, though the religion was practiced before that. It is also believed that Noah’s ark landed on top of the biblical Mount Ararat after the Great Flood. There are over 3,000 churches and monasteries in the country, giving it the highest concentration of Christian monuments per capita in the world. Etchmiadzin Cathedral (Armenian Apostolic Church) is considered to be the oldest cathedral in the world.
Tatev monastery, Armenia / Photo: Amanda Villa-Lobos
THE SILK ROAD WENT THROUGH HERE
The historic Silk Road was about 7,000 km long, and a large portion of it passed through Armenia. As you drive through the countryside, you can see ruins of old bridges and caravanserais (rustic hotels) that were used by traders between 114 BCE and 1450 CE.
THE BEAUTIFUL AND DIVERSE LANDSCAPES
Though Armenia is a small country about the size of Maryland, it has a great variety of landscapes including semi-deserts, alpine meadows, snow-capped mountain, lush green forests of Dilijan, red rocks of Norvank Canyon, and expansive turquoise Lake Sevan, the second highest lake in the world after Titikaka.
Lake Sevan / Photo: Amanda Villa-Lobos
THE OLDEST CULTURAL CAPITAL
The capital of Armenia, Yerevan, founded in 782 BC, is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. During the day, you can visit Yerevan manuscript and art museums, Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial and Museum, and at night, mingle with the locals at the Independence Square, the Cascade art center, or the Opera House. There are also tons of bars, restaurants, cafes and casinos in Yerevan that are open all night long.
THE FOOD IS HEALTHY AND DELICIOUS
The geography and climate of the country allows for the bountiful growth of fruits, nuts, and vegetables that are perhaps more flavorful than anywhere else in the world.
Every meal is a festive occasion in Armenia, where families and friends come together to dine on piles of fresh tomato and cucumber salads, homemade cheeses with herbs, baked lavash and Georgian bread, sweet eggplant with pomegranate, hearty bean stews, juicy tender lamb roasts, and sliced peaches, apricots and pears.
THEY HAVE GOOD COGNAC AND WINE
It seems everyone in Armenia makes their own wine and harvests their own honey. The wine-making tradition has been going on for 6,000 years, so it’s pretty much ingrained in Armenian culture to make and drink wine, no matter how much wealth you have.
Armenian wines are slowly emerging on the global wine scene. Wine country tours are now offered where travelers can taste unique rosés, crisp whites, full-bodied areni, robust pinots, as well as sweet ice wines and pomegranate wines, across the many valleys.
Armenian cognac is the only drink in the world that has been given the privilege of being labeled as such, even though it is not produced in the Cognac province of France. It was the favorite drink of Churchill and Stalin and is still highly valued all around the world. Take a tour of the Ararat cognac factory in Yerevan where you can learn the distillery process, sample a few varieties, and buy bottles to bring home.
THE RUSSIAN-BUILT THERMAL SPAS
Sanatorium are spa resorts that also offer medical services that are typically not covered by medical insurance. Visitors from Europe come here to vacation, get health check-ups (like a complete physical), enjoy therapeutic massages, and use amenities like the gym, pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, and more offerings.
Armenia has a lot of thermal springs spread across the towns of Jermuk, Bjni, Dilijan, Sevan, Arzni and Hrazdan.
IT IS THE PLACE FOR OUTDOOR ENTHUSIASTS
Adventure travelers will love the many options to explore the rugged land and picturesque surroundings of Caucasus mountains. In the summer and fall, visitors can drive old Soviet jeeps and go off-roading through the mountains, visiting castles, monasteries, cemeteries, and petroglyphs on their way. They can also hike, or rock climb the gorges of Dzoraget and Debed, mountain bike across ancient villages, bathe in the cool waterfalls, and enjoy traditional campfire cookouts by night.
The road to Tatev monastery / Photo: Amanda Villa-Lobos
During winter, skiing and snowboarding are in season on 32.5 km of slopes located across the country’s three ski resorts. The ski resort town of Tsaghkadzor is the most popular with an elevation ranging from 1,966 to 2,819 meters, and one-day tickets only cost $20.
IT'S SAFE AND AFFORDABLE
Armenia as a travel destination is affordable and not overcrowded with tourists as of yet. Hostels in Yerevan are as little as $10 per night, and even the most expensive hotels are a little over $100. High-end restaurants cost $10-30 per meal, while delicious local fast foods serving shawarma and lahmajoun will only set you back $2 – 4 per meal. Buses and subways can be easily accessed for $0.20 a ride, while taxis are ridiculously cheap. The locals even prefer to hitchhike, as it is perfectly safe to do so.
Armenia is bordered on the north and east by Georgia and Azerbaijan, and on the south and west by Iran and Turkey. Though its political relations with its neighbors have not been so good in the past, it is now a peaceful and safe place to travel.