Since early this year, my sister has been wanting to go on a trip for her 30th birthday in July. She has been bugging me about it for quite some time so I decided to tag along with her to be her camera-girl. Unfortunately, most travel agencies charge exorbitant tour packages that cost more than 1500 USD for a 3 day/2N tour good for 2 persons. I, being a frugal girl, rolled my eyes and decided to take matters into my hands since my sister has been begging me to make the plans since I am better in it than she is.
For months, I scoured a lot of websites and other destinations near UAE (MY sister and I are based in UAE) to find a cheap deal. At first, I was torn between choosing Turkey and Georgia because they are a bit cheaper. I would have like to go to Greece but in summer time, it is quite expensive. In between browsing, Armenia suddenly caught my eye. I showed my sister pictures of Armenia and she was sold. Unknown to many, Armenia is a hidden gem that is waiting to be explored. It is one of the lesser known tourist destinations lying in between Europe and Asia. It is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Iran to the south and Azerbaijan to the east. It is also the first country who adopted Christianity as religion.
www.booking.com became my friend in scoring cheap accommodation in Yerevan. Since, we only need a place to sleep in Yerevan; we decided to book at One Way Hostel Sakharov for a 4D/3N stay. The place is cheap and good for backpackers, there is free breakfast, the location is at the heart of Yerevan City and most especially, the staff was very helpful and friendly.
While there are a lot of flight deals online, my sister and I decided to book our flights in a travel agency near our place since the price I found online are the same and we were a bit worried if we need to get visa first. Fortunately, Visa is upon arrival for most people. You can check this site for more information about visa rules in Armenia: http://mfa.am/en/visa/
We arrive in Armenia at around 2pm but the line for the visa was long and sooooo slow that it took us more than 2 hours. If you don’t want to line up and wait like us, you can opt for an E-Visa.
After check-in, We decided to join a regular tour of “ One way tour” http://onewaytour.com/en/ which is a partner company of One Way Hostel (their office is on the same place as our hostel) and also another regular tour from Hyur Service www.hyurservice.com/ which I saw online and communicated with via e-mail.
We visited the Republican square in the evening but we failed to catch the Dancing fountain because it started raining so we decided to go to Northern Avenue, a posh district of Yerevan. It is nice and line up with a lot of stores and restaurants. There is even an underground shopping center called Tashir Square.
Tour with OneWayTour. We almost got left behind in this trip because we can’t find the meeting place at first. We tried to ask some locals we saw along the way but language barrier became a problem. (English language is limited, the major language there are Russian and Armenian). In the end, we decided to call the tour company for the location using our roaming number… Yaayyy!!
The tour includes Noravank, Tatev, Tatev ropeway and Karahunj plus other side trips along the way such as the Areni, Devil’s Bridge and Harsnadzor. We were supposed to visit another salt spring But our tour guide cancelled it becuase there is no time already and it started to rain.
Areni is more like a rest stop; they sell a lot of cheap wines usu. In big glass jars and 2 liters of Coca Cola, yep you heard me right, its Coca Cola bottles! They also give free wine testing which is really good. Just a warning though, the food here is not okay. I think the egg sandwich is so-so but for the rest, no. My sister got sausage sandwich and I got the meat one, both are cold and clammy straight from the fridge. The sandwich looks like a Shawarma.
Our last stop is the Tatev Monastery. To reach the place, you need to ride the tatev rope way which is the longest rope way in the world. This is really fun and a bit scary because it’s almost evening, the fog is creeping in and it’s drizzling.
WARNING! The journey is long, destinations are scattered around Yerevan and nearby areas so I recommend you to bring your own snacks. The trip started at 7am and we came back at past 10 in the evening.
For our trip with Hyur Service, we visited St. Hripsime, St. Gayane, Cathedral of Echmiadzin, The Museum “Treasures of Echmiadzin,” Zvartnots. This trip lasted only for about 5 hours and the tour guide was really good but always in hurry to stick on her schedule.
Most of the places we visited here are temples filled with their own fascinating stories but the most amazing one here is the Zvartnots. It looks like a sophisticated version of Stonehenge or a Gladiator Stadium.
All in all, One way tour is, cheaper, friendlier, and casual, while Hyur Service a bit more expensive because snacks are included. They have other packages aside from the ones that we took so you can visit their websites to check them. I enjoyed dealing with these two agencies. I find them really good; they are accommodating and very professional.
Our flight back to UAE is 2pm and we spend the entire day at leisure wandering around the place and buying souvenirs. We visited the Opera House, The Cascade and the Republican Square. We were supposed to go to visit Ararat Brand Factory but we decided to cancel on a last minute because me and my sister do not drink. Entrance and free tasting costs around 4500 AMD or 9/10 USD. Vernissage is a popular souvenir destination but we didn’t go there because people say that the best time to visit it is during the weekends because most shops in weekdays are closed. We decided to visit Dalan Art Gallery instead and the Swan lake.
To sum it all up, my sister and I spend approximately 1008 USD for our entire trip including food and souvenirs. By the way, their currency is Armenian Dram and there is an exchange center inside the airport already so no need to worry about this one. There are also a lot of money changers in the town center which have better rates. Anyway, to give you an overview, here’s a breakdown of our expenses, I tried my best to convert everything in USD to give you an idea on how much our entire trip cost:
|Category||Cost per head||Total|
|Roundtrip Flight (Dubai to Yerevan)||1030 Dhs. (currency in UAE, it is approx. 280 USD)||2,060 Dhs (560 USD)|
|Visa Fee||3000 Armenian Dram (approx. 6.50 USD )||6000 AMD (12.50 USD)|
|Airport Transfer to and from Hotel||6000 AMD per way (12.50 USD)||12000 AMD (approx. 25 USD)|
|Norabank, Tatev, Tatev ropeway and Karahunj||12000 AMD (approx. 25 USD)||24000 AMD (50 USD)|
|Tatev Ropeway||3,500 (7USD)||14 USD|
|St. St. Hripsime, St. Gayane, Cathedral of Echmiadzin, The Museum “Treasures of Echmiadzin,” Zvartnots.||8000 AMD (Approx. 16 USD)||16000 (32 USD)|
|Hotel||14500 AMD per night (30.50 USD)||29000 AMD for 3 nights (approx. 61 USD)|
|TOTAL (in USD)||377.25 USD||754.50 USD|
|Food||20000 (42 USD)|
|Souvenirs||20500 (43 USD)|
|Grandtotal||462 USD||1008 USD for 2 persons|
* My sister bought more souvenirs and she spent approx. 546 USD dollars.
We were supposed to pay 33000 AMD in our hotel accommodation but we got a discount and paid 29000 AMD instead. 🙂
My sister and I definitely enjoyed our trip to Yerevan and we are looking forward to come back there again some other time. I literally fell in love with this country. People are very friendly and helpful despite the language barrier; Free water fountains are everywhere in the central district, food is cheap and delicious, wine lovers will also love this place because wine and brandy are cheap and are comparable to the wines coming from popular wine manufacturing countries such as France and Spain, lastly, Armenia has a very colorful culture, it is laid-back and has the quaint rustic charm.