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  • Day48

    Lada Gaga really proved her worth today. We started simply enough, with a plan to head to Akhaltsikhe in Georgia via Haghpat and Sanahin Monastries, a big day, but on paper, doable. Two things stood in our way, one Hannah decided that today would be a good day to get food poisoning, and two we trusted over the sage advice of our guest house owner who warned us explicitly that their were two ways to go and the first was closed, which I interpreted as difficult. Both he and I were correct, it was very difficult as we got our first real taste of Armenian roads in all their, no maintenance since the glory days of the Soviet Union state, but after battling through for hour upon hour, we discovered that the road was indeed blocked, almost within sight of our destination. We had one and a half options, either go back over two hours to the main road and go around, or head up the only other potential track, nothing but a goat track heading up the sheer cliff face to the west, which appeared on the map to reconnect to the road we should have been on from the start.

    We took option 1.5, which took us on our first, but not last, real adventure of the day. We climbed through switch back after switch back on tiny little overgrown tracks until we eventually emerged on the top of the cliff where we descended into a verdant valley with no human life other than the occasional person with a scyth making hay and the occasional cow separated from its main herd. All the while the Lada kept crawling on seemingly in its element and making more and more sense by the passing km. By the time we crossed that valley and climbed the other side on similarly precarious roads we emerged in a small village where Hannah demanded sweet relief from the constant jolting and we stopped for a well earned break out the front of the only store in town, while I enjoyed an ice cream and Hannah tried to hold some water down. Eventually we headed on and found the main road which we joined and found ourselves at Sanahin and Haghpat a few too many hours behind schedule, but safe.

    Sanahin and Haghpat were good, but Hannah, being sick, didn't feel up to walk around the and I, being tired and pressed for time, felt rushed and underwhelmed after the morning we had had and a serious case of JABM (Just another bloody monastery). So after a quick walk through both I rejoined Hannah for a meal by the river (well meal for me and collapse with her head in her hands for Hannah), before heading off once again to try and get back on track. This also did not go to plan..

    Not having internet connection, meant we were relying on for navigation. Now is a revelation and is truely remarkable. However, there is an issue which we have now discovered. Whereas, google maps plots the most sensible course, plots the most direct course. This wouldn't be such an issue in regions of the world with reasonable of even basic road networks. However, we are not in those regions. A minor road in this part of the world, isn't even a road, it's a rarely used seasonal track leading between two points on the map, without regard to what is in between. So once again we found ourselves on a 4wding adventure through the alpine regions of northern Armenia. Over the course of the afternoon, we traversed mud, gravel that was once asphalt, gravel that was once volcanoes, grassy meadows and knee deep water through the most isolated alpine summer pastures being grazed by cow and sheep flocks and Shepards on horseback, isolated and, truely medieval, villages, abandoned soviet military stations and the most spectacular scenery. I was constantly conflicted between concern for where we were and what we were doing and wonder and awe at where we were and what we were doing.

    Eventually at sunset we found ourselves at a remote border crossing to Georgia where we became the major attraction and celebrities as the border guards tried to determine what to do with two Australian's in a Lada. Based on the focus and amusement I can only assume we were the first Australian's to have been seen for some time and certainly the first in a Lada, evidenced by the fact that, once they eventually found a guard that spoke English, all she could do was exclaim that the Lada was worth less than what we had paid to rent it for two weeks, but after much mirth and reassurance that, yes we did indeed, have Kangaroos we were allowed on our way to find that the road from the border was little better than what we had left. So after slogging it on for another 30-40 km, I eventually called it quits after driving almost non stop for 10 hours on the most challenging road I have ever experienced at a town that I can no longer remember the name of, but where we found a hotel, a meal and, most welcome, cold beer.
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  • Day12

    After having our dear Lada Gaga delivered to the hostel, we headed off to Dilijan via monasteries at Garni and Gerghard.
    Garni is from the 1st C BC and is the only of its kind in the region. Armenia had declared itself Christian in 300BC and was the first country to do so. What is left is in relatively good condition, it seems this is thanks to some USAID spent here and at Gerghard.

    From there we headed up to Gerghard which is the current favourite when it comes to monasteries... and will be hard to beat! It is set in a cliffside with a whole network of caves. It was extremely busy and I realised I've forgotten what it's like to be surrounded by bus tours!

    We stopped at Lake Sevan for lunch where there was another monastery on top of a hill on a spit on the lake. The lake is huge, accounting for 5% of Armenia's land surface.
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  • Day13

    Yesterday we headed up to Dilijan, to discover that the b&b we booked is more like a homestay than the one in Alamut Valley! It's a lovely family who runs the place, Tom was immediately smitten when they took him up to their 'basins' to get some trout for the dinner BBQ! We've been plied with so much homegrown/made food, including a Linden leaf tea which I wish I could have all the time.
    And today we've wandered around an abandoned amusement park, visited a lake and now we're just relaxing at the house.Read more

  • Day46

    Soon after arriving at our guesthouse in Dilijan, I got roped into driving the mother and son up into the forested hills to collect our dinner from the family farm. Gave me a chance to stretch Lada Gaga's legs, see some of the beautiful countryside and see their amazing plot of land where they have ponds of trout and sturgeon, honey bees and very friendly resident 'guard' dogs.

  • Day11

    The last couple of days have seen us settling into Armenian life. Yerevan was a blessed relief after Tehran... cleaner, more charming and easier to walk around. Yerevan is a mix of early Soviet elegance and later Soviet brutalism. All crumbling and fraying at the edges.
    We spent a couple of days in Yerevan, going on a walking tour, visiting the Armenian Genocide museum and going out to see nearby monasteries, I think we've started to get a sense of it. A few things stood out pretty quickly -
    1 Being the oldest Christian country, monasteries and religion is BIG here
    2 Armenia has been disputed ground for centuries and almost always seems to be under the rule of another power
    3 Armenia has a serious Mercedes fetish - I've never seen so many in my life
    4 And Yerevan takes parks very seriously
    Yerevan gave Tom the opportunity for a beer again - though the first one was a significant disappointment. And for me, it was just a wonderful city to walk around and admire. The street life ramps up after dark, every street seems to be lined with outdoor cafes.

    We also picked up a car - due to confusion our first day wasn't in a Lada *sob* but this was rectified. The car gave us an opportunity to head out to Khor Virap, a nearby monastery. It set against the backdrop of Mt Ararat which is spectacular though with midday sun and a hazy day, it was hard to capture. You'll have to excuse the exposure on these images as well because my little Fuji was struggling in the flat bright light.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Armenia, Armenien, Armenia, Arminië, Aamenia, አርሜኒያ, ارمينيا, ܐܪܡܢܝܐ, Ermənistan, Арменія, Армения, Arimeni, আর্মেনিয়া, ཨར་མེ་ནི་ཡ།, Ermenija, Armènia, Arménie, Армєнїꙗ, Эрмени, Armenia nutome, Αρμενία, Armenujo, Armeenia, ارمنستان, Armenii, Armènie, Armeenje, An Airméin, આર્મેનિયા, Armeniya, Jermenija, ארמניה, आर्मीनिया, Armenija, Armenska, Örményország, Hayastani Hanrapetut’yun, Armenía, アルメニア共和国, სასომხეთი, អារមេនី, ಅರ್ಮೇನಿಯಾ, 아르메니아, ئەرمەنستان, Armeni, Arameniya, Armenië, Amɛni, ອາມິເນຍ, Armėnija, Ameni, Armēnija, Ерменија, അർമേനിയ, आर्मेनिया, Armenja, အာမေနီးယား, Arminiya, Armienii, ଆର୍ମେନିଆ, Armênia, Arminya, Arumeniya, Armenïi, ආර්මේනියාව, Arménsko, Armeeniya, Арменија, ஆர்மேனியா, ఆర్మేనియా, Арманистон, อาร์เมเนีย, Armenya, ʻĀminia, Ermenistan, Вірменія, آر مینیا, Armaniston, Ác-mê-ni-a (Armenia), Larmeniyän, ארמעניע, Orílẹ́ède Améníà, 亚美尼亚, i-Armenia

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