Hiking in Armenia. Yerevan

Inside the caves at Devil's Bridge

Hiking in Armenia

Published: February 27, 2024

I spent 3-months backpacking as a solo female across the Caucasus, visiting each of the three republics there. In this article, I’ll cover how I spent my final three weeks in the Republic of Armenia. If you are interested in the other parts of my trip, you can check out my intro page or my articles on Azerbaijan and Georgia.

One of the primary purposes of my trip was to hike the incredible Caucasus mountain range – so you’ll notice in all of these articles I spend a lot of time moving around on foot. For any hikes in Armenia, I highly recommend the HIKEArmenia site. It is a thorough and comprehensive guide for hikes throughout the country. It also has a complimentary phone application which allows you to navigate trails offline.

I suggest that you take a look at my intro page, where I share some details on how I planned this trip and on the importance of doing your own research so that you can stay safe and learn the most from the country you are about to go to!

On the Armenia leg of my trip, I was joined by Kate, a close friend from university. I’ll be referencing her throughout this article!

Yerevan

Yerevan is one of those cities I did not think I would end up liking as much as I did. When I arrived, my first impression was that it felt older than Tbilisi and a bit monochromatic in terms of brown. However, every time I came back, I found more and more to love.

The Dalan Art Museum and Abovyan 12 restaurant/open air cafe are a hidden gem. You will only see the unassuming Dalan gift shop from the street, but once you enter, it opens up into a cozy outdoor restaurant at the back with an ivy canopy. The art museum is located upstairs. I highly recommend visiting this spot to try their buckwheat berry juice and enjoy the ambience.

Kate and I probably spent 1-2 weeks in Yerevan if I add all the days up. The most unexpected thing I learned was how good Armenian rap is. Some artists I uncovered were Kar, Vnas, Misho, Sirius, and Gor 23. Kate and I had the opportunity to attend a concert in Yerevan with Armenian-Russian hip-hop artists Jakone & A.V.G. We also went to a large music event featuring Dutch EDM artist Tiesto which was last minute but a lot of fun. We befriended a couple young, friendly locals at these concerts, some of whom walked around Yerevan with us afterwards and treated us to ice cream.

Great spots to explore in Yerevan include Republic Square, the Cascade Complex, the Vernissage flea market, the Genocide museum, Victory Park, Malibu Park, and Kond, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. I recommend exploring the center of Yerevan on the free main walking tour linked here where you’ll see the main landmarks around Republic Square, some lesser known cafes, and the main flea markets.

I wish I had another extra week to spend in Yerevan, and I constantly tell people how much I look forward to returning. Yerevan has a special appeal that I haven’t found anywhere else, one that made me appreciate the joys of simple city life where there aren’t towering modern buildings everywhere and instead the city embraces its history.

Syunik

If you search Syunik on the internet, you will stumble upon two things: beauty and danger. I’ll start with the latter. The U.S. embassy does not currently (2023) allow its personnel into the region because of limited escape options. Syunik is on the border with Azerbaijan and contains the entrance to the Lachin corridor to Nagorno-Karabakh, a region over which Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought numerous times, the most recent being in September 2023. Because of this, the region has unjustly earned a bad reputation. Let me simply state that Syunik is gorgeous: it has endless mountains, monasteries, abandoned villages, and hundreds of caves. Syunik’s mountains are lower in elevation compared to those in Georgia and Azerbaijan, and it is drier, so you won’t be seeing glaciers, but the scenery is breathtaking and vast. What distinguishes the Lesser Caucasus mountains in Syunik from the Greater Caucasus in Georgia and Azerbaijan is the many abandoned villages and cliff faces with dozens of caves. Of course, I’d suggest you take precautions when in this area as the breakout of conflict is still likely (many refugees poured into this area due to Azerbaijan’s 2023 operation in Nagorno-Karabakh), but this does not mean you cannot travel here if you plan accordingly.

The hostel to stay at if you’re looking for affordable and cozy accommodation in Goris, the second most populated city in Syunik, is called Lovely Goris. It’s just outside the city center, so it takes less than 10 minutes to walk to the bakery, main square, and supermarket. We stayed here our first few days in Goris before beginning our trek, and Kate can testify to the local bakery’s delicious cake and donuts; she said they were the best she had in Armenia (and she taste-tested in each city we went to!). I am also convinced the babushka running this hostel is an angel from heaven – she’s one of the nicest hostel owners I’ve met. When Kate and I returned exhausted for the second time at the end of our hike, she was so happy to see us. She  made me tea with her special but fetid herbs (I’m not exactly sure what they were) to help my headache, and I felt better the next day.

Kate and I spent the rest of our time in Syunik completing the first half of the Legends Trail. The Legends Trail goes from Goris to Kapan, but we ended in a tiny village by the name of Bardzravan with a population of about 20 people at about the half-way mark. On the way, we passed through Khndzoresk, Khot, Shinuhayr, Halidzor, and Tatev.

Khot, Shinuhayr, and Halidzor each have an “old” namesake which is their nearby abandoned village from previous years. Kate and I spent a lot of time exploring the Old Khot, Old Shinhayr, and Old Halidzor stone ruins. In Old Halidzor, we ran into an old man who helped us pick fresh figs off the trees.

We reached Khot at the end of our first day. We sat down on a large pipe outside a house as both of us were fairly exhausted from the day and still had to hitchhike to Shinuhayr where we could find a guesthouse. The babushkas in Khot saw us sitting outside and set up an entire table with tea, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lavash for us. In Tatev, another city we visited, Kate and I got to visit Syunik’s more popular attractions including Tatev Monastery, which was built in the 9th century, and the Tatev Hermitage, where we met a friendly hermit taking care of his garden. We reached Tatev from Halidzor by taking the Wings of Tatev cable car, which holds the world record for longest non-stop double track aerial tramway. Devil’s Bridge was another site we took in while in Tatev. It is not a “bridge” but rather a cave located in the Vorotan Gorge with natural springs. It is believed that the warm mineral waters of those springs possess healing powers. The cave is a beautiful spot, with ivy hanging overhead, karst formations, and black, white, gray, blue, and pink rocks.

Our final destination was Bardzravan, a small, isolated village. We met two off-duty soldiers who let us stay in the guest room of their house (which was much appreciated since Bardzravan has zero accommodation options). Over the following two days they drove us around the fields in their truck, we had a shashlik cookout, and they took us to a gorgeous cliff overlooking the Vorotan gorge to watch the sunset.

 

Tavush

The forested Tavush province in northeastern Armenia borders both Georgia and Azerbaijan. Of its towns, Dilijan is perhaps the best known, but Ijevan was the one that Kate and I enjoyed more. Dilijan was a bit underwhelming. Perhaps that was because I had just spent three months in large mountain ranges, but Dilijan was quite small and had little to do during the day. The trail heads are very dispersed and most are not close to any particular accommodation.

My hostel recommendation for Dilijan is Ojakh Hostel. Ojakh has an outdoor common area perfect for summer evenings, apple and plum trees, and a cozy atmosphere. The babushka running it was also super sweet – she even gave me a big Paw Patrol balloon and pair of socks on my birthday. It is a pleasant 30-40 minute walk from the center, a 20 minute walk from the food court and grocery store, and reasonably close to the trailheads for Lake Parz and the Whispering Waterfall. I completed both these day hikes, and they were pleasant and fairly easy.

Kate and I did a day trip from Dilijan to Ijevan, and we absolutely recommend doing this. Ijevan is larger, and there are more people and places to walk to in the city. You can catch a Bolt taxi for $5-6 each way. There is a lovely outdoor market in Ijevan as well as a scenic canal with a promenade running through the city. Kate also visited Ijevan’s local wine factory and learned about their wine-making process.

 

What I Ate

My diet in Armenia was pretty consistent in the sense that I ate pretty much the same thing every day. Breakfast was matsun (type of yogurt) with oats, fruit, and dark chocolate; lunch was hot dogs with peaches; and dinner was a repeat of one of those or a mini pizza from the bakery. I can confidently say as a yogurt fiend that matsun is the best variety I have found to date across all my travels. Street food in Armenia is the cheapest in the Caucasus: a hotdog (sausage wrapped in dough) costs $0.40. Street bakeries offer other sweet and savory pastries that can easily serve as a lunch for a couple dollars, and Yerevan has dozens of smoothie stands on the streets with refreshments at a fairly low price. In Dilijan, there is a decent food court where I had a $3 borscht for dinner every night while there.

For hiking, my diet was mostly hotdogs, mini pizzas, bread with peanut butter, fresh fruits, and dates. I couldn’t carry perishable items such as salami or cheese because of the heat. As I travel more, I’ve been trying to incorporate more vegetables that don’t require cooking since I definitely learned the importance of nutrition while traveling this summer (you can see my intro article where I mention how I went to the hospital due to malnutrition in Georgia).

 

Spending

Here is the breakdown of my costs across three weeks in Armenia. As a disclaimer, I am a frugal traveler, meaning that I stay in cheap hostels, eat the same street and grocery store food for days on end, and occasionally hitchhike.

  • Accommodation: $250
  • Food: $200
  • Transport: $45
  • Miscellaneous: $175
  • Total: $670

 

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About the author

Alexandra Koteva

Alexandra Koteva, at the time she wrote for this site, was double majoring in Political Science and Music and minoring in Russian Culture at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her material here was produced as part of an SRAS Online Research Internship done while she was studying abroad with SRAS in Batumi, Georgia.

Program attended: Research Internships

View all posts by: Alexandra Koteva