When in Armenia: Easy Backpacking Travel Guide

Armenia is one country in Asia where I felt more like I was in Europe. As it sits between east Europe and west Asia, it makes sense to feel such European vibe. While some travelers tend to overlook Armenia for the wrong impression that it's just another European country, Armenia deserves to be known more.

Armenia 101

Armenia is a small nation with a population of 3 million only, majority of which are Orthodox Christians. As mentioned, it's located in Asia, and borders Europe. Its neighboring countries include Georgia, Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan.

The Armenians have their own language and alphabet, but most people also know Russian, being a former member of the Soviet Union. Very few can speak English, but most likely you won't have much problems when you're in the capital, Yerevan.
The local currency in Armenia is called dram (AMD), where AMD 1 is around USD 0.0021. Expenses in Armenia are generally cheaper than in other European countries, including food where a full meal starts at AMD 3,000 (USD 6). Armenian cuisine varies, but as noticed, they heavily eat bread-based and soup-based dishes.

Why visit Armenia?

It may not be known by everyone, but Armenia is one of the earliest Christian nations in the world. This can be seen in their architecture and culture. I find most Armenians religious: a characteristic that made me feel secured as a solo female traveler in Armenia. Generally speaking, Armenia is a safe country to visit. The people may not be as bubbly and jolly as the usual Asians like me, but they're good people.

Armenia doesn't often land in the list of must-see countries, but that doesn't mean there isn't much in there. During my short stay in Armenia, I saw a lot even if I only centered in the capital Yerevan and went to a few side trips outside the city. Here are the places that shouldn't be missed:

Republic Square

The Republic Square is the town’s central square in Yerevan. It used to be the venue for military parades during the Soviet Union period. Now, it serves as the center of arts and culture. It’s also the melting pot of tourists as local taxi vans called marshrutka are very much in the area and double-deck buses carrying tourists (mostly Russians) are frequently there.

There are 6 buildings surrounding the Republic Square including the National Museum, National Gallery, Government House, Mariott Hotel Armenia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Transport and Communications. Their architectural design is neoclassical, a style that adds depth to the European feel in Armenia.

Tip: Look for an accommodation near the Republic Square. In that way, you can save money in transportation as common places of interest are nearby. Also, there's a metro station at the corner of Aram and Nalbandyan streets. Metro is considered the cheapest transportation in Yerevan.

Vernissage


The Vernissage is a culturally rich outdoor market in Yerevan. The stretch consists of 4-5 rows of local items good as souvenirs from magnets, keychains, wallets, shirts, up to bigger items such as paintings, stainless steel kitchen items, and carpets.
The price of items at the Vernissage are reasonable. At times, haggling is possible. The vendors at the Vernissage are very courteous and aren't pushy at all. In fact, I was able to look around without being forced to buy right away.

Also read: How to: Apply for Tourist Visa to Armenia for Philippine Passport Holders

Blue Mosque

While majority of the people in Armenia are Christians, Islam is also practiced by the minority, including the Iranian migrants and visitors.
The Blue Mosque is a small Islamic mosque located in Yerevan. During Soviet era, this mosque was closed down and got turned into a museum. But after Armenia’s independence in 1991, the Iranian government funded its renovation and re-opening.

The Cascade

A unique attraction in Yerevan is the Cascade, a huge artistic staircase that consists of several levels with a panoramic view of the city and Mount Ararat. There's a museum with escalators underneath the outdoor staircases, making the indoor space very functional as well.
The Cascade’s base complex is surrounded by posh cafes and restaurants, some of which play live jazz music and are dramatically well-lit at night.
The peak of the Cascade connects it to the hilltop district where Victoria Park can also be visited. In this park stands Mother Armenia, a female statue with sword that signifies the peace with strength in Armenia.

Also read: Why You Should Travel to the Country of Georgia

Aside from Yerevan, interesting side trips await in Kotayk, a province in Armenia one hour or less away from the capital. As expected, Kotayk is less of a city thus very relaxing and close to nature.

Arch of Charants

Mount Ararat is visibly everywhere on the way to Kotayk. For them, Ararat has a strong biblical significance, believed to be the place where Noah’s Ark first landed after the great storm.
The Arch of Charants is one of the best spots to see the vast plateau of Ararat. Though basically it’s just an arch in honor of a great Armenian poet Eghishe Charents, the view after passing through the arch is awesome and a must-see.

Temple of Garni

This is the Temple of Garni located in Garni village, Kotayk, a structure very similar to Rome's Pantheon. It’s an ancient pagan temple built during 1st century AD, way before Christianity was brought to Armenia in the 4th century. With this, it's the oldest and last remaining Greco-Roman structure in Armenia.

Entrance fees:
AMD 1,500 (USD 3) for foreigners
AMD 500 (USD 1) for locals

Geghard Monastery

Armenia is the first country to adopt Christianity and it all began here at the Geghard Monastery. This medieval monastery was built by Gregory the Illuminator in the 4th century. Named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO,  it's said the spear that pierced Christ’s ribs at the crucifixion was brought to this monastery by apostle Thaddeus.
Similar to Roman Catholicism, a cross is also part of Orthodox Christian symbolism. In Armenia, including in Geghard Monastery, the cross is well-represented by khachkar, a local term for the carved cross. The cross is usually accompanied by other biblical figures including patterns of leaves, grapes, and solar discs.

Geghard Monastery's complex is very peaceful. It reminded me so much of the great Montserrat in Barcelona, Spain. Aside from being surrounded by huge cliff rocks, the Azat River also flows through one side of the complex.

Entrance to the monastery is free.

Tip: A lot of private Kotayk tours are offered at Republic Square, which vary depending on how many places and how many people join the tour. It usually starts at AMD 45,000 (USD 93) for 2 persons, covering at least 6 places. On the other hand, for a more flexible DIY trip, a Yerevan-Kotayk taxi ride costs AMD 10,000 (USD 21).

How to get to Armenia?

Typical neighborhood in Yerevan

By air

There’s no direct flight from the Philippines to Armenia. The common route is Manila-Dubai-Yerevan (or any other city in the Middle East replacing Dubai), so Middle Eastern airlines such as Qatar Airways, Fly Dubai, and Emirates serve this route.

In my case, however, I looked for another route since the 19-hour layover at Dubai International Airport (DXB) on my intended travel date was too long.
Alternate route: If you want to avoid a long layover in Dubai, fly Manila-Hong Kong (I flew via Cebu Pacific), then fly Hong Kong-Moscow and Moscow-Yerevan (I flew to both via Aeroflot). Though there were 3 flights in total, at least I didn't wait for 19 hours in transit.

By land

You may enter Armenia by land from either Iran or Georgia. Actually, after traveling Armenia, I crossed country to Georgia by taking a 5-hour marshrutka (local public taxi / van) ride that costs AMD 7,000 (USD 15). I hailed the marshrutka at Kilikia Station in Yerevan.

Tourist visa

For Philippine passport holders, tourist visa is required to enter Armenia. You can either get visa on arrival (VOA) or electronic visa (e-visa) that costs USD 6. For Filipinos who live or work in GCC member countries, visa requirement is exempted. To learn more about visa application and its step-by-step guide, check out my blog on Armenia tourist visa application.

You can also watch my vlog that highlights the places I visited and things I did in Armenia!





When in Armenia: Easy Backpacking Travel Guide When in Armenia: Easy Backpacking Travel Guide Reviewed by Shelly Viajera Travel on 13.4.19 Rating: 5

14 comments:

  1. THANK YOU for venturing to a place that is never covered by travel bloggers, and a place of deep significance and importance to my family. I'm hoping to go in the next few years and this post made me all the more excited for that. As I understand, Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity, but it's great to see that the nation is tolerant towards other religions (the blue Mosque) Thank you again for such a great post!

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    1. Thank you for reading! I wish all the best to your family! The Armenians are so nice and half of my enjoyment during the trip was because of them!

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