Active Tour to Armenia: Syunik and Karabakh
Syunik and Karabakh — two regions of Armenia that managed to preserve their identity and unique quality through the ages. Thanks to their natural terrain of rough mountain ranges and deep tortuous gorges, these regions were able to insulate themselves from all outsiders. After many years of traveling through Armenia, Syunik and Karabakh have proven to be our favorite places to explore, and we are truly thrilled to be able to share them with you! We have planned the itinerary such that every day is different from the previous one: daily mountain hikes will alternate with comfortable road trips through different mountain landscapes, meetings with scientists will follow conversations with herdsmen, and haute cuisine will be interspersed with simple village feasts.
This journey will last almost two weeks. We’ll dedicate the first and last days of the trip to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, and spend the rest of the time traveling around the country. We will also hike some of the most beautiful trails in the area—but rest assured, all hiking will be luggage-free, and where the road gets really rough we will use SUVs, so you won’t be doing any heavy lifting, and can simply enjoy breathtaking views with the utmost comfort.
Day 1. Arrival to Yerevan
We’ll meet all tour participants at the airport, then head to a boutique hotel, located in the city center, to check in and rest a bit. Soon afterward, we’ll go on a walk to show you the lively and cozy city of Yerevan, full of picturesque streets, delicious restaurants and hospitable residents. Dinner is a great opportunity to get to know all of your tour teammates!
Day 2. Journey from Yerevan to Vayots Dzor
We leave Yerevan and travel southward. Our first stop is Khor Virap monastery with its breathtaking views of Mount Ararat, located across the river on the Turkish side of the border. After the monastery, we’ll travel to the village of Areni which is located next to a cave where archeologists discovered the world’s oldest traces of winemaking activity dating back to the Copper Age. Today, almost every village resident in in the region makes his own wine. Towards the evening, we’ll descend by foot to a red rock canyon, where we’ll visit the medieval Noravank Monastery. One of Armenia’s finest landmarks, Noravank’s khachkar stone crosses and base reliefs produced by the renowned master, Momik, astound visitors with their intricate designs. We’ll spend the night at a guesthouse in the town of Yeghegnadzor.
Day 3. Petroglyphs and Megaliths
In the morning we’ll travel to the “roof of Syunik” — a volcanic plateau, which is accessible to visitors only in the summer when the deep snow clears for a short while. Here we will see extinct volcanoes that haven’t been active for thousands of years, as well as petroglyphs, images carved into the rocks by the ancient inhabitants of these places. At the bottom of the Ughtasar volcano, we’ll find an actual Neolithic gallery full of petroglyphs depicting people, animals and hunting scenes. We’ll drive up in SUVs and walk around the peaks. Afterwards, we’ll continue our trip southward, stopping at the “Armenian Stonehenge,” a megalithic complex, called Zorats Karer, whose stone structures have been a part of this empty plateau for over 4,000 years. At dusk, we’ll visit the cave town of Khndzoresk, where people used to live in houses carved into the rocks until the mid-20th century. In the evening we’ll drive to the town of Goris, settle for the night at Mirhav hotel, and taste local cuisine for dinner.
Day 4. Walk along Vorotan River Canyon and visit to Tatev Monastery
Today’s adventure is a hike along the canyon of the Vorotan River. We will go upstream using forest trails, and stop at rocky ledges with great views of the surrounding landscape. We’ll also pass several old villages where time seems to have stopped a couple of centuries ago. Afterward, we’ll take the ultra-modern cableway to get to Tatev Monastery. This convent, established on the edge of a precipice in the 10th century, used to be the religious and learning center of Syunik and medieval Armenia. There was a university at Tatev, as well as a workshop for outstanding miniaturists. Today, the monastery is in the process of an active restoration, attracting more and more tourists—but don’t worry, we’ll have enough time to wander around the complex in complete solitude, listening to the singing of the monks, prattle of the birds, and the rush of the river at the bottom of the canyon. After our wanderings, we’ll spend another night in Goris.
Day 5. Ascent to Mount Khustup
In the morning we’ll drive further south, to the capital of modern Syunik, the town of Kapan. From here, we’ll begin our ascent to Mount Khustup, a rocky mountain located in the geographical center of the region. Near the top of the mountain stands the burial place of Garegin Nzhdeh, a military commander who fought both the Ottoman Empire and the Red Army, and who helped preserve Syunik for Armenia. From the top of the mountain we’ll enjoy some extraordinary views of the surrounding valleys. In the evening, we’ll descend to the village of Shikahogh, to have dinner and spend the night at the village hotel.
Day 6. Drive to Karabakh Through Sycamore Natural Reserve
After breakfast we’ll go to the village of Hand, located near a unique sycamore grove. This grove of ancient trees, most of which are 500-1000 years old, stretches for almost 20 km on both banks of the Tsav River. During the Soviet era, it was divided between the Armenian and Azerbaijani Soviet Republics. We will cross the former border by foot, walking through the forest and stopping for a picnic. After that, we’ll take some back roads to get to the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert. We’ll check into a local hotel then visit a local winemaker for dinner.
Day 7. Shushi Fortress and Surroundings
In the morning, we’ll ascend to the ancient capital of Karabakh, the fortress town of Shushi, where we’ll spend the day. We’ll visit the Museum of Karabakh Carpets, see the ancient mosques and mansions, climb the fortress walls, and attend a musical performance. After lunch, prepared for us by local residents, we’ll descend to the gorge of the Karkar River, which flows under the fortress walls. This narrow canyon, sandwiched between vertical cliffs, hides the ruins of an old village of millers, and an awesome forest with waterfalls and rocks. We’ll walk along the full length of the gorge, and return to Stepanakert by sundown.
Day 8. Ascent to Mount Kirs
The SUVs will take us to the foothills, and from there we’ll ascend to the top of Mount Kirs, one of the principal summits of the Karabakh mountain range that stretches from north to south across the whole republic. We’ll stroll along trails lined with oaks, walk across alpine meadows, and have a picnic lunch at the summit. Reaching a height of 2,742 meters, the summit offers wonderful panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. After the picnic, we’ll begin our slow and gradual descent, enjoying the views and the heady mountain air. By sunset, we’ll arrive at a mountain farm, and from there the SUVs will take us back to Stepanakert.
Day 9. Fortresses of Karabakh
In the morning we’ll stroll through the streets of Stepanakert and visit the local market to buy some souvenirs and try zhingyalov hats, flatbread stuffed with seasonal herbs. Afterwards we’ll drive to Tigranakert, an ancient Armenian town that was established in the 1st century BC by the Armenian king, Tigranes the Great. The town was excavated only a few years, so we will be accompanied by a local archeologist as we explore its fortified walls and traces of early Christianity. We will also visit the local museum to see the results of the recent excavations. In the afternoon we’ll drive to the town of Askeran, to the medieval fortress which protected the entrance to the valley of the Karkar River. There, we will also visit a winery that produces mulberry oghi and other potent fruit distillates. For those who love flying, there will be a chance to take a short aerial tour on a small airplane from Stepanakert’s airport. The night will be spent in Stepanakert.
Day 10. Southern Karabakh
We’ll travel to the Hadrut province, which was once the historical region of Dizaq. The principal adventure of the day is the ascent to Dizapayt Mountain (2,480 m), a source of many legends and fables. At the mountain top stands the medieval basilica of Katarovank Monastery. When the skies are clear, this summit offers breathtaking views of Karabakh and neighbouring Iran. After descending to the bottom, we’ll lunch around a bonfire. In the afternoon, we’ll visit the village of Togh, the historical center of Dizaq and home to the winery of the Avetisyan family. Here, we’ll taste Kataro, one of Armenia’s finest wines made from the indigenous khindogny variety of grapes. On the way back to Stepanakert, we’ll stop to visit one of the planet’s oldest trees, a 2000-year-old sycamore.
Day 11. Northern Karabakh
We’ll leave Stepanakert in the morning, and make our first stop at the village of Vank to visit Gandzasar, Karabakh’s largest and best decorated monastery. After that, the SUVs will take us further up to shepherd farms, and from there we’ll cross the Karabakh ridge by foot and descend to the valleys of Karvachar, the republic’s highest-altitude province. We’ll go right on down to the hot springs, where we’ll rest and lunch around a bonfire. After lunch, we’ll continue our journey along the picturesque Tartar River gorge. We’ll stop by Dadivank village to see the astonishing medieval frescoes of the local monastery. In the evening expect dinner from a tandoor oven, and some interesting conversation around the table. We’ll spend the night at a local guesthouse.
Day 12. From Karvachar to Lake Sevan
We’ll start the day by driving our SUVs upstream of the Tartar River to get to the abandoned spa resort of İstisu. There, we’ll explore the ruins of a Stalin-Empire style spa resort Istisu and bathe in a thermal spring. Afterwards we’ll ascend to Karabakh’s highest-altitude village, Zar, where we’ll meet settlers who left behind their city lives, and have lunch overlooking the canyon. From Karabakh, we’ll travel to Lake Sevan, which the Armenians call a sea for its grandeur and beauty. We’ll make a few stopovers, visiting the ancient walls of Hayravank Monastery, and the farm of a local cheesemonger, Arman, to taste some rare cheeses. By late night, we’ll be back in Yerevan.
Day 13. Walking around Yerevan
On this day we’ll leisurely stroll through the capital, visit the local flea market, and walk around Yerevan’s oldest district of Kond, visit museums, and check out the city’s most exciting restaurants. If anyone is interested, we can also organize a trip to the Geghard Monastery located just outside of the city.
Day 14. Flying home
After much adventuring, our journey is over! We’ll say our goodbyes and make sure you get to the airport on time for your flight.