As supposedly the first country to embrace Christianity, Armenia has the architecture to prove it. It is a country boasting 40,000 churches and monuments scattered throughout a picturesque landscape of snowy mountains, caves, and blankets of wildflowers. Whether you’re looking to experience castles, ruins, skiing, hot springs, or a taste of the ancient silk route, Armenia has it all.
Facilities for travellers are fairly limited and Armenia will pose a challenge to the ‘modern traveller’, but it’s worth persisting. For example, in the capital city of Yerevan you can sit in Republic Square and take in the colourful markets, Arab influenced carvings and the pink volcanic rock buildings.
Armenia has a long history of being controlled by many empires: Ottoman, Persian, Byzantine and Roman, to name but just a few. It most recently gained its independence from the U.S.S.R. at the same time as Azerbaijan in 1988. The two countries started fighting over a piece of land called Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas (largely dominated by an Armenian population). Genocide and war ensued. Peace still evades the countries and along with pollution, an economic blockade from Turkey and a fuel blockade from Azerbaijan, their economies are flailing. However, as the interface between Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Armenia is an eye opener of a country you won’t have been taught about in your geography lessons.
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The currency in Georgia is the Lari, but US dollars and Russian rubles are also useful to have on you. They can be exchanged in shops in the larger cities. Traveler’s checks and credit cards are useless.
1GBP = approx. 3.5 GEL
1USD = approx. 2 GEL
1 Euro = approx. 2.5 GEL
The Currency in Armenia is the Dram. Exchange traveler’s checks and US dollars either at the Arm-econobank in the capital city, Yerevan, or through market traders. There are no ATMs and very few exchange booths in Armenia.
1 GBP = approx. 1000 AMD
1 USD = approx. 500 AMD
1 Euro = approx. 600 AMD
The currency in Azerbaijan is the Azerbaijani Manat. US dollars are also widely accepted. In Baku, traveler’s checks and credit cards may be useful. Some restaurants will give cash advances on cards. Accommodation is still state run and as a result is very basic.
1 GBD = approx.10,000 AZM
1 USD = approx.5,000 AZM
1 Euro = approx.6,000 AZM
For per diem living expenses in all three countries, expect to budget for $20 to $50 a day, although in most places $25 a day will be realistic.
The Republic of Armenia is 93% Armenian, while there are also communities of Azeris, Russians, and Kurds living in the country. Although geographically tiny, the Republic of Azerbaijan has the biggest population at nearly 8.5 million. 90% of the people are Azeri, whilst 10% are Russian and Dagestani nationals.
Georgia and Armenia are mostly Orthodox countries, although an Armenian Apostolic community can be found in Georgia, while Azerbaijan is a Muslim country. Remember to be respectful and cover up in religious buildings.
In Armenia, traveling by bus is your best bet or hire a car. All transport is very expensive, however, due to the fuel blockade by Azerbaijan.
This part of Central Asia does not pose any particular health risks for the traveler, unless venturing into the border areas where there is currently conflict; be warned that bombings, kidnappings, car jacking and petty crime (such as muggings and pick pocketing) is not uncommon. Georgia is considered one of the most lawless countries in the world and a Brit was recently assassinated there. Research the current situation carefully.
As former Soviet states, Russian is spoken in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In Georgia, all three of the region’s tongues are also spoken. In Armenia, Azeri and Kurdish are spoken in addition to Armenian and Russian. Russian and Azeri are the only languages spoken in Azerbaijan.
Climate and When to Go
May to October is the best time to travel through this part of Central Asia. There will be less snow on the ground in Georgia, Armenia will be carpeted with beautiful wild flowers (although if you’re a skier January or February is a better time to go), and Azerbaijan will be hot – possibly as hot as 38C in peak summer. Avoid Azerbaijan during Ramadan at the end of the year if you’re not Muslim, finding food and coping with the sundown rush home will be difficult. Hordes of tourists are not something you’ll encounter at any time of year in these countries. Visit Georgia in September to October when the Harvest Festival is a big countrywide event and you will see many traditional marriage celebrations taking place.
If you are lucky enough to be invited into someone’s home in Armenia you will not be disappointed with the food. The table will be piled high with dishes – all served at the same time. It is considered a bad reflection on the cook’s culinary skills to refuse to taste anything. Unfortunately, eating at restaurants is usually a very different experience and the many faceted recipes developed over thousands of years have been reduced to grilled meats. A better bet is to cook your own meals by visiting a shuka – a fresh food market where you can buy the freshest fruit, vegetables, and nuts. You will be overwhelmed by how many varieties of everything are available, and to see that peaches and apricots come from Armenia.
Visas for Armenia and Azerbaijan can be obtained on arrival. Visas for Georgia should be arranged before you depart from your home country from the Georgian Embassy, although Commonwealth Independent States (former U.S.S.R.) only require a valid passport.
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