I just returned from a week in Armenia and it was one of my favorite trips I have taken. Have you ever been somewhere that you had no idea what to expect? Like the plane door opens and you walk out and it’s all a surprise? That is how I went into this trip. It’s a hard place to explain because I have never been anywhere like it. If Russia and India had a baby, it would look like Armenia. And it’s a really cute baby. Here is a list of why Armenia should be added to your bucket list:
Armenians are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you will meet. Most people spoke English, but those who didn’t had Google Translate ready on their phone- eager to understand and never annoyed. The woman who cooked our meals was like a grandmother to me. She didn’t speak English, but would make sure our bellies were always full and we had everything we needed. We felt like family by the time we left.
The landscape is incredible
We flew into Yerevan and drove an hour north into the mountains. When I ever saw Mt. Ararat for the first time, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. It had to be clouds or I was just really sleep deprived. But it’s real. No picture will do it justice. It was like staring at a painting.
Wildlife and Ecotourism
Armenia is becoming a leader in Ecotourism. We stayed at the Eco Lodge in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge. It also happens to be a bear sanctuary, which was the real reason for our visit. We took a 4 by 4 out into the mountains where we then hiked to a waterfall. This protected land is home to rare wildlife species such as Armenian Mouflon, Syrian Brown bears, Bezoar goats, Caucasian Leopards, and Caucasian Lynx.
Although we didn’t see any, we came across fresh wolf tracks and scat. It is a bird watching hot spot and there were endangered bearded vultures circling over head. Although we didn’t partake, the eco-center also does horseback riding and road bike tours. You can feel good about spending your money here as it all goes back to protecting the nature reserve.
This country has been through so much and as hard as it is to swallow, I would recommend visiting the Armenian Genocide Museum. It was harrowing but important to learn about and pay our respects at the eternal flame. On a lighter note, we had dinner at the Lusik Aguletsi’s house-museum. It is the perfect place to have a traditional Armenian meal and learn about the culture. It doubles as a museum and they are happy to bring you on a tour to show you all of the things Lusik Aguletsi collected to preserve their heritage when it was all but erased from the history books. After our tour, we ate in the courtyard and when it became chilly, they even brought out blankets for us.
I am not an adventurous eater and really didn’t know what the food would be like. What blew me away was how much variety there was. The Armenian tradition is to share a family meal. Each time we sat down to eat there were several dishes and I would laugh because my kids are lucky if they have one option (and it’s usually pasta). There were always two varieties of bread, different cheeses, herbs and vegetables. The food was colorful, fresh and healthy.
It’s true, the flights are pricey because there is no direct route. I flew through Paris and Moscow to get there. But once you arrive, the food and lodging is really inexpensive. One US dollar is equal to 480 Armenian Drams. We took a taxi across town and it cost us $1. You can find nice lodging for $30 a night.
It is Safe
Armenia is a really safe place. I never felt nervous to be walking around alone or that I was ever in any danger. We didn’t even lock our room while we were gone for the day. They were respectful of us as well as our belongings.
I loved our time in Armenia and can’t wait to go back. It was one of the most unsoiled, beautiful places I have ever been to. Go now before this hidden gem is discovered!
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