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Travel Info


Quick Facts
CapitalYerevan
Governmentrepublic
Currencydram (AMD)
Areatotal: 29,800 sq km
water: 1,400 sq km
land: 28,400 sq km
Population3,000,000
LanguageArmenian 98%, Yezidi Kurdish, Russian, other 2%
ReligionArmenian Apostolic 94%, other Christian 4%, Yezidi (Zoroastrian/animist) 2%

Armenia (Armenian: Hayeren) is a republic lying in the Caucasus region of south-western Asia, which was part of the former Soviet Union. It is a landlocked country surrounded by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Iran to the south, Azerbaijan to the east, and Azerbaijan's Naxcivan exclave to the southwest.

It contains Sevana Lich (Lake Sevan), the largest lake in the Lesser Caucasus mountain range.


Regions

Administrative divisions 
11 provinces (marzer, singular - marz); Yerevan

Although internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh is de facto independent from Azerbaijan, ethnically Armenian and only accessible via Armenia. Therefore a link is added from this page as well.

Cities

  • Yerevan - Capital
  • Gyumri (Shirak Marz) - Second City
  • Vanadzor (Lori Marz) - Third City

Other destinations

Bike Armenia Tour Route (http://www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=Bike_Armenia_Tour_Route) - Great route mapped out to see Armenia (and optionally Karabakh) by bike. Do the whole route or pick a leg!

Understand

In the early 1990s Armenians in Karabakh fought for independence from Azerbaijan with support from Armenia, and the Armenian Diaspora. The war was won militarily, but with no diplomatic solution reached. A ceasefire has held since 1993, with minor exceptions. This should not affect the average traveller who should avoid contact lines (obviously!). The only way to reach Karabakh is via Armenia, but if you plan to travel on to Azerbaijan after a visit to Karabakh, get the Karabakh visa on a separate piece of paper. The Armenian/Karabakh borders with Azerbaijan are shut, and Turkey has closed its land border with Armenia in support of its Turkic-Azeri neighbors.

Climate

Highland continental, hot summers, cold winters; experiences droughts. All four seasons in full effect (WET spring, HOT summer, SNOWY/COLD WINTERS.. Come in the fall if you can). Bring lots of layers and be prepared for almost any weather condition.

Terrain

Consists of Armenian Highland with mountains; little forest land; fast flowing rivers; good soil in Aras River valley; Natural hazards : occasionally severe earthquakes.

Elevation extremes 
lowest point: Debed River 400 m (Landlocked)
highest point: Aragats Lerrnagagat' 4,090 m
Geographic coordinates 
40 00 N, 45 00 E
Area 
total: 29,800 sq km
water: 1,400 sq km
land: 28,400 sq km, slightly smaller than Maryland

History


The Armenians are very proud of their culture, with a linguistically unique language (of the Indo-European branch we all speak), equally unique alphabet (invented by St. Mesrop Mashtots in 404 A.D), and equally unique heritage (deriving from centuries of independence and self-sufficiency). Armenia prides itself on being the first nation to formally adopt Christianity (301 A.D.). Despite periods of autonomy, over the centuries Armenia came under the sway of various empires including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman. A blossoming of Armenian architecture and culture took place in the 1200's which was eventually halted by the Mongol invasions. A literary and cultural revival in the late 1800s was repressed in Western Armenia by the Ottoman Turkish government. Eastern Armenia was incorporated into Russia in 1828 and the USSR in 1920. 1915-1921 witnessed the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turkish government, wiping out nearly half of the world's Armenians. Armenian leaders today remain preoccupied by the long conflict with Muslim Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Independence 
21 September 1991 (from Soviet Union)
National holiday 
Independence Day, 21 September (1991)

By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper. The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution.

Constitution 
adopted by nationwide referendum 5 July 1995

Electricity

Electricity is supplied at 220V 50Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 "Schukostecker" or "Schuko" or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travelers should pack an adapter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Armenia.

Additionally, some older buildings may be still equipped with Soviet-era outlets. The Soviet GOST-7396 standard was very similar to the current European CEE-7/16 "Europlug", but the pins were of a 4.0mm diameter, while the Europlug features 4.8mm pins. As such, the pins of a Europlug or Schuko may be too large to fit into a Soviet-era outlet. Although the Soviet-era outlets have largely been phased out, travelers who are particularly concerned with having the ability to plug in at all times may consider packing an adapter for the Soviet-era outlets too, just in case.

Get around

Public transportation is very good in Armenia. The system could be described as a hub and spoke system, with each city offering local transportation to its surrounding villages and each city offering connections to Yerevan. Most inter-city travel is by marshutney or bus. Yerevan has a few bus stations that serve the whole country so depending on where you want to go you must find out what bus station services the area you wish to go to.

For the average western tourist, you can hire a taxi to go most any where in the country on very short notice. If have decided to travel heavy by bringing big bags, then going by taxi will be the best option.

There are trains that move around Armenia, although they are slow and generally uncomfortable for travel. They do, however, provide a lovely view of the Armenian countryside.

Domestic flights are not an option as there are only two working airports in the country and Armenia is a very small place.

You can rent cars, but if you are use to driving in the west and have not driven outside of America or Western Europe, you should hire a driver when you rent your car. Driving in Armenia for the average tourist is a very dangerous undertaking. For example, drivers rarely obey the lines on the road, and in rural areas livestock and large potholes are serious hazards.

Talk

Armenian is the native language of nearly everyone in Armenia, which is one of the most monoethnic states in the world. However, Russian is almost universally spoken as well, and English is becoming much more common throughout the country.

For English speakers, this book (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbninquiry.asp?ISBN=078181006X) is a way to communicate in Eastern Armenian (not to be confused with Western Armenian spoken mostly in the Diaspora).

Buy

RUGS! Be prepared to bargain, bargain, bargain!
Vernissage - Every Saturday near Republic Square there is an open market with great shopping for tourists and locals alike. You can buy everything from a 300 year old carpet to a 1970s Soviet phone to Russian nesting dolls. The "covered market" on Mashtots Street has fresh fruits and vegetables along with great dried fruits.

It might be a good idea to convert your currency to Armenian drams (for novelty, if nothing). The official rates are:

  • 1USD = 449 dram
  • 1Euro = 564.50 dram

(These rates are from late May, for accurate rates, see http://www.xe.com/ )

Eat

Khorovats (BBQ) which can be pork, lamb, chicken or beef. Tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers are also part of the khorovots meal. Try Piti (stew), Aveluk (greens either fried or as a soup), kamadz matsun (strained yogurt and other dishes new to you. xash,tpov tolma{or with qyalam}tnakan smetan,zvacex...

Drink

Alcoholic: Vodka, tutti oghi (mulberry vodka), honi oghi (cornelian cherry vodka), local beer (Kilikia, Kotayk, Erebuni), pomegranate wine, brandy.

Other: Tan (Buttermilk), Jermuk (carbonated water), masuri hyut (rose hip juice), chichkhani hyut (sea buckthorne juice), bali hyut (sour cherry juice), Armenian coffee, herbal teas,

Sleep

Accommodations in Armenia are interesting in a �what am I getting for my money� kind of way.

Across Armenia, you can find bed and breakfasts that a pleasant and will give you a true taste of Armenian culture. The language barrier will be significant in the rural areas of Armenia if you do not speak Russian or Armenian but if you take a phrase dictionary with you in Armenian and English, you should have no trouble as people are patient. The best way to access the true Armenia, away from the westernized hotels and �Armenian branded� hotels is to find a reliable travel agent based in Armenia. Levon travel is a reputable organization as well as many others in Yerevan. Be sure to speak with a few before you settle on one or better yet, seek out the vast Diaspora in both France and America as they can connect you with family and friends that run businesses in Armenia.

Outside Yerevan, there are a few main recreational areas that offer very reasonable accommodations but you will be required to live without some western connivances. At the high end is the Tufenkian Heritage Hotels on Lake Sevan and in Northern Lori Marz (50 kilometers from the Georgian border). Here you will lake for nothing but you will pay western prices for the accommodations. Around Lake Sevan, there are numerous types of cottages and hotels. Prices are reasonable and start at about $10 per day for a cottage with electricity and walking distance from Lake Sevan. The city of Sevan due to its proximity to Yerevan is the most popular place on Lake Sevan but the history, culture and non-western feel of the accommodations change as you go south on Lake Sevan.

Tavush Marz is a wonderful place to summer. Dilijan and Ijevan are wonderful towns to be based in with day trips to the many ancient churches that pepper this remote region. Costs are very reasonable and Dilijan is known for its sanatoriums from the Soviet era. Do not expect hot water all hours of the day but you can have a lovely room that will accommodate a family including food for about $20 a day. Take another $20 to hire a car for the day to visit the surround historical sites.

Tzakazor is a well known winter retreat. It has many lovely hotels and is popular year round. Check with a travel agent to find the best deal depending on what activity you are looking to undertake. Jermuk, made famous by the bottled water of the same name, is a wonderful get away but will again require you to leave your western expectations behind.

Learn

Tufenkian Hospitality often has cultural events. Language is probably best learned with a local tutor. Stop by Brusov school to ask for help finding one.

The leading travel guide book is "THE STONE GARDEN GUIDE: ARMENIA AND KARABAGH" (ISBN 09672120-81) By Matthew Karanian and Robert Kurkjian. This book has 304 pages, 75 color photographs, and 25 color maps. Pub. price $24.95. It covers the entire country in great detail, and was the 2005 Award Finalist for Best Travel Guide by the Independent Publishers Association. You can find this book on Amazon.com.

Another good source for comprehensive information about the historic sites is "REDISCOVERING ARMENIA," By Brady Kiesling and Raffi Kojian. This book has 248 pages. Strictly speaking, it's not a travel guide. But it's a great source for serious tourists and is the most comprehensive guide available for historic sites of both Armenia and Karabagh. You can probably find this book at specialty Armenian bookstores.

Lonely Planet also has a book on the Caucasus, which combines Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. This book is poorly written and contains outdated and incorrect information, and is not recommended. It also contains only about 65 pages on Armenia and is wholly inadequate.

If you're into hiking, the best (and only) source is "ADVENTURE ARMENIA: HIKING AND ROCK CLIMBING," By Carine Bachmann and Jeffrey Tufenkian. This book has 116 pages, with color photos and color maps. It offers 22 hikes, plus related ecological information and is a handy guide.

Work

http://www.careercenter.am has job listings. For volunteer work see http://www.armenianvolunteer.org or http://www.birthrightarmenia.org/

Stay safe

Armenia in general is a very safe country. The biggest safety issue is regarding petty theft which is easily prevented. Be sure to keep your eye on your valuables especially in crowded marshutneys (route taxi) inside and outside of Yerevan.

The second major issue is regarding crossing traffic in Yerevan. Armenians will cross without fear where most Westerners will be paralyzed with the decision of when to cross. The answer is that you must be aggressive and cross when there is an opportunity. Be sure to look at all corners because traffic patterns do not always make sense nor do drivers always obey them.

Stay healthy

As with any traveling experience, it is recommended that you eat well but do not over eat. If you are dining with Armenians, they will feed you until you cannot eat any more. The food is generally safe even from the road side khovats stands. There is little worry about food safety in Armenia unless you are eating in the very rural areas of the country where food may not always be washed in clean water.

The traffic is dangerous and one should be both aggressive and defensive when crossing the street. Yerevan drivers expect you to charge into traffic like the locals and when you enter the street and stop, you can cause problems. When entering the street be aggressive and deliberate. Do not linger and do not trust the lights to tell when it is safe to cross the street especially the big streets near the city center. When available, use the under passes especially on Bangramian near the Hayastan Market. These underpasses are marked with a stair sign.

The water is generally safe but it is recommended that you purchase bottled water. You can get both mineral water with gas and normal spring water on most ever street corner. This water is available in both the rural areas and the capital.

Respect

Armenia is much like any other European country, though still a bit more old fashioned. Shorts are newly catching on for men, though skirts have been extremely short for years. However, locals tend to be very accepting that tourists, as guests, have different habits and it would be hard to offend a local by actions which an ordinary American might not find offensive as well. That having been said, refusing someone's hospitality is a tricky art!

Contact

Yerevan is full of Internet cafes and internet phone offices. These are beginning to pop up in a number of towns outside of Yerevan as well. Regular calls can always be made from the post office, and is cheap within Armenia, but quite expensive for international calls.