ARMENIA TRAVEL TIPS
INTERNET& MOBILE PHONE PROVIDERS
Internet access is widely available, except in remote areas where there is no cell phone network coverage. There are three 2G, 3G and one 4G service providers operating in Armenia. You’re strongly advised to acquire the temporary prepaid SIM cards as they are cheap and convenient, allow both local and international calls, do not charge for incoming calls, and charge no monthly fee. Mobile internet and UTMS are also offered from all companies, as well as the normal full range of wireless services.
VivaCell and Orange (UCOM) have booths offering free SIM cards to incoming visitors at the airport. They are also easiest to top-up (at pretty much any store or kiosk in the country) and have better English services, rates and coverage.
Beeline (Armenian and Russian) (formerly ArmenTel but have switched to the Russian brand) also have a prepaid card.
All three networks cover 90% of the population with 2G and 70-80% with 3G so having network signal is not often a worry. Orange and Viva Cell MTS are recommended to foreigners or tourists as they have a helpful variety of languages for tourists such as Armenian, English, French and Russian.
The majority of foreign visitors find their unlocked mobile phones compatible with Armenian SIM cards (GSM 900/1800).
A vast majority of cafés in Yerevan have free public Wi-Fi access spots (just ask a waiter for the password to log onto the network, and you’re good to go).
TO CALL FROM ABROAD TO ARMENIA :
To call a fixed phone in Armenia dial: 00 (international) + 374 (code for Armenia) + area code + 6 digit number.
To call a fixed phone in Yerevan dial: 00 + 374 + 10 (code for Yerevan) + 6 digit number.
To call a mobile phone in Armenia dial: 00 + 374 + the mobile operator prefix number + 6 digit number.
TO CALL WITHIN ARMENIA :
To call within Armenia to a fixed phone from a mobile phone dial: 0 + city code + 6 digit number.
To call within Armenia to a mobile phone from another mobile phone dial: 0 + the mobile operator prefix number + 6 digit number.
To call within Yerevan from a fixed phone to another fixed phone just dial your 6 digit number.
RADIO & TV
There are a bunch of FM stations in Armenia that play Armenian, English and Russian music. There are also Iranian, Arabic and Turkish stations on the AM shortwave bands. On television there is a number of Armenian and Russian language programming, including western shows or movies dubbed usually into Russian.
Local post offices provide a variety of services: money exchange, phone calls within Armenia and abroad, postcards for purchase, utility payments, as well as sending and receiving letters and parcels. The main branch is located on Republic Square, with other branches located throughout Yerevan.
There are several express mail services operating in Yerevan, including UPS, DHL, Federal Express, and TNT Express Worldwide.
Local time in Armenia is 4 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT + 4)
*Daylight saving time is not applied in Armenia.
WEIGHTS & MEASURES
Armenia uses the metric system.
VOLTAGE : 220 V
AC FREQUENCY : 50 Hz
The standard voltage in Armenia is 220V (as opposed to 110V standard in the US), while the wall outlets take continental type plugs, with two round prongs. Universal voltage converters and outlet plug adapters, as well as the various batteries are available at many electronic shops in Yerevan.
The official currency of Armenia is the Armenian Dram (AMD). There are in circulation coins of 10, 50, 100, 200, 500 dram nominations and bills of 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 dram nominations.
The best cash currencies are US dollars, Euro and Russian rubles. Georgian lari can also be exchanged in Yerevan and border towns. Other currencies are harder to exchange except at a handful of major banks in Yerevan. There are currency exchange points in all major supermarkets and virtually any shop, food stores and small vendors can exchange money legally. Scams appear to be rare, and transactions are straightforward.
Traveler’s checks are rare in Armenia and are not recommended. Bring cash or an ATM or Visa card. Some local ATM’s are linked to the Plus system and others to the Maestro system. There are cash machines in prominent locations around Yerevan, including half a dozen HSBC branches. All other main cities and even some small towns have ATM’s, though you may have to poke around to find one that matches your card. You cannot withdraw a foreign currency from an ATM machine in Armenia.
There is a Money Gram and other money transfer services operate in the country, so you always have that to back up should you run out of cash.
PLACES TO EAT, TO BUY FOOD
Khorovats (BBQ) can be pork, lamb, chicken or beef and is flavored with onions and other Armenian spices. Tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers are also part of the khorovats meal.
Borsch is a Russian vegetable soup traditionally made with beetroot as a main ingredient, which gives it a strong red color. It is usually served warm with fresh sour cream.
Khash is a traditional dish that originated in the Shirak Province. Formerly a nutritious winter food for the rural poor, it is now considered a delicacy and is enjoyed as a festive winter meal.
Dolma (stuffed grape leaves; and the variety with stuffed cabbage leaves, bell peppers and eggplants).
One should definitely try Armenian fruits, such as the apricots, peaches, grapes, pomegranate, etc.
Armenian bread is very tasty as well. There is a wide range of different types of bread, such as lavash and matnakash.
Matsun (yogurt) is a traditional Armenian dairy product that has centuries of history. It contains a number of natural microelements, which have high biochemical activity. It’s really refreshing, especially when you try it cold during hot summers. Okroshka, cold soup with kefir and cucumber and dill, is a healthy and refreshing dairy dish. Spas is really a tasty hot kefir soup with grains in it.
The local alcoholic drinks are quite popular, such as fruit vodkas, the Tuti aragh (mulberry vodka), Honi aragh (cornelian cherry vodka), Tsirani aragh (apricot vodka), the beers Kilikia, Erebuni, Kotayk, Ararat, Gumri, Aleksandrapol, the Areni red wine (can also be made of pomegranate), and of course, the world renowned Ararat brandy.
Other popular beregages are the Tan (yogurt combined with water and salt), Jermuk and Bjni (mineral waters), Masuri hyut (rose hip juice), Chichkhani hyut (sea buckthorne juice), Bali hyut (sour cherry juice), Armenian coffee, and number of the herbal teas.
Café culture rules in Armenia, and the best places to have a cup of coffee and people-watch are sidewalk cafés. Any place near the Opera House is certain to be jumping late into the summer nights. A popular chain is “Jazzve”, several locations throughout the city, including near the Opera House and off the Mesrop Mashtots Avenue, which offers many varieties of tea and coffee as well as great desserts.
As with any travel experience, eat well, but do not overeat. If you are dining with Armenians, they will feed you until you cannot eat anymore. The food is generally safe, even food from the roadside khorovats stands. There is little to worry about where food safety in Armenia is concerned.
Typical meals can run to $15-20 or more per person for the dinner in Yerevan. Restaurants outside Yerevan are a little cheaper, an average of $10-15 per person for full course meals with wine. Restaurants often have live bands that play a variety of light music to Armenian traditional music, and customers often erupt into traditional dance as the evening goes on.
BISTROS, CAFES & SNACK BARS
Bistros are small restaurants that serve limited menus often displayed at a front counter. Some have menus and wait staff, and often the difference between a bistro and a restaurant is negligible except bistros are much more reasonably priced ($3-7 for set meal). A bistro will tend to have specialty dishes and more homemade food, as well as grilled food and the ever present khorovats (barbecued pork). Snack bars are strictly stand up or eat and run affairs, with fixed sandwich or specialty menus. Snack bars and bistros are the best option for travelers on the go. Numerous cafés and food stands are scattered throughout the city, usually near the parks and shoukas (food markets).
Shoukas are fresh food markets, and you owe it to yourself to visit a shouka while here, if for nothing else than sampling the myriad smells of fresh produce and spices. Shoukas are stocked with freshly butchered meat, fish, vegetables and fruits piled in beautiful designs, spices, a variety of greens (fresh herbs), mushrooms, cheese and dairy products, breads and a few canned food shops mixed in the throng. Often farmers will stand outside the main entrances peddling the same quality foods for a little less. Sellers offer anyone they think might buy a free sample and you should feel free to taste before buying. There are no fixed prices at a shouka, so bargaining is required and often considered an essential part of the shopping experience.
There is also a chain of 24/7 “SAS” supermarkets and convenience stores that open round a clock.
WHAT TO BUY
Armenian carpets, Armenian brandy, pomegranate and plum wine, dried fruits, souvenirs, jewelry, handicrafts made of wood, semi-precious stones, silver and other material, the Soviet memorabilia and antiques – these are some of the most popular things people take home from Armenia. Most of these are plentiful at Vernissage Market, a seemingly never-ending weekend flea market next to Republic Square (the more touristy stuff can be found in the back half, farther from Republic Square). Another gift is a duduk, or traditional flute, which is part of the UNESCO Immaterial Heritage.
Bargaining is uncommon in Armenian stores, though when purchasing expensive items or in bulk, merchants may be amenable to it. In markets, however, bargaining is a must!
Most shops and restaurants are open every day. Offices and schools are open Monday to Saturday. Mornings are usually slow, and places don’t tend to open early, or even on time.
Tipping has become fairly well established in Yerevan, especially in restaurants and coffee shops, where tips are now usually expected. Anything from 10-15% is OK. On smaller bills, just leaving the change may suffice. Taxis may or may not expect a tip. Drivers will sometimes say they don’t have change, or enough change, in hopes of getting to keep the difference. It’s always best to keep 1,000 drams in change to avoid these situations.
Outside of Yerevan is a different world. Those who have experience with Westerners will probably expect a tip, while those who don’t probably won’t. However, you should never tip unless you want to.
Some restaurants add an 8 to 10% “service” charge to the bill. This is not for a tip. This is a separate charge that the restaurant keeps, for no apparent reason. Ask about this type of charge, or look carefully at the menu, if you want to avoid places which cause this. If you want to tip, you must leave money separate from this charge.
COMING TO ARMENIA
Zvartnots International Airport (IATA: EVN), 10 km west of Yerevan is the country’s main airport.
There are very frequent flights from across the CIS. Russian airlines include: Aeroflot, S7, Ural, Polet, Kuban Airlines, Saravia, Tatarstan, UTAir and Yamal. Others include Belevia (Belarus), Dniproavia (Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine) and SCAT (Kazakhstan).
Several European airlines also serve Yerevan: Czech Airlines, Air France, Austrian, LOT, along with some West Asian airlines (Syrian, Iranian, etc.).
Shirak Airport (IATA: LWN) in Gyumri has a few flights from Russia.
There is an overnight train once every other day from/to Tbilisi, or Batumi (seasonal) Georgia. The train links with Turkey and Azerbaijan are severed.
BY CAR OR A BUS
You van drive to Armenia via Iran or Georgia. The borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed. Phoenix Tour agents can arrange transport to/from the Georgia & Iran borders, and all the way through to Tbilisi and Tehran. Although more expensive than a train or bus, a private car may be more comfortable and can be used for some sightseeing along the way.
GETTING AROUND IN ARMENIA
Yerevan is a traveler’s dream city in terms of getting around. Virtually all visitors stay in the center, and almost everything you’ll want to visit in Yerevan is within 20 minutes walking distance from you. Drivers and pedestrians alike ignore many traffic rules, so look three times before crossing streets, and ask for help finding places if you can’t figure out where you are – people are very helpful.
On the chance that you need to go outside the center, or just don’t feel like walking – taxis cost 600 drams, which will take you anywhere in the center (around 5 km), and an additional 100 drams for each additional kilometer.
Taxi fare from the Airport to the center is usually 5,000 drams, and from the center to the Airport is 2,500-3,000 drams. Calling a cab company, or grabbing any cab with a logo and phone number on the doors is usually ensured you won’t have the driver try to rip you off, since those cabs have a taximeter. Most taxis do not have meters, though, so you should negotiate a price before you leave. A taxi is a good option for longer trips, especially if you don’t like waiting for hours for a minibus.
Yerevan does have a Subway network. It is a nice, clean system and very cheap. A single trip on the subway costs 100 drams payable on entry – buy a plastic token and use it to pass through the turnstiles.
There is also an extensive network of trolleybuses, buses, minibuses and minivans (marshrutkas). You pay 100 drams for all of them when you leave, giving cash to the driver – change is available. There are no transfers or season tickets – you just pay two or more times, and there are virtually no student discounts in Armenia. There are also no passenger information or route maps available apart from a listing of each route in Armenian.
For travel to the regions, as well as to neighboring countries, minivans are again a popular and convenient mode of transportation. Other forms of transportation to the regions include the train, buses and rental cars. The latter can be rented with or without drivers. There are also many private taxi services that will ferry you to anywhere in Armenia.
If you are used to driving in the West and have not driven outside of America or Western or Central Europe, you should hire a driver when you rent your car, as driving in Armenia is often a difficult undertaking for the average tourist. A growing number of car rental companies may be used, including SIXT (office at Zvartnots Airport), Europacar, Hertz, and others.
Most main roads around Yerevan are in decent to fair shape, with some being in unusually good condition. When you travel north (Dilijan) or south (Jermuk), roads are less well-maintained and rather bumpy, and you can feel this especially when using public transport! (minibuses are often in bad condition, too.) Potholes are very much a part of the experience and can test your driving skills. Be careful and consider getting an all-wheel drive or sport utility vehicle when renting.
Not as common as in the days of the post Soviet collapse, hitchhiking is still perfectly safe and acceptable. Drivers often don’t expect anything in the way of compensation, but offer anyway and sometimes they’ll take the marshrutka fare. Flag cars down by holding your arm in front of you and patting the air; this is how taxis, buses and marshrutkas are flagged. Don’t be too surprised if you befriend a driver during your ride and eventually end up staying at his house for a few days with his family!
Due to the mountainous terrain, bicycling is not as common a mode of transport in Armenia as it is in the rest of Europe. It can be a great way to see and experience much of the countryside, though, if you can handle the inclines.
Trains in Armenia are Soviet style and a little slow as a means of moving around the country. Trains can be taken up to Gyumri and from there on to Alaverdi and Georgia, or they can be taken up to Lake Sevan all the way to the far side.
Domestic flights are not an option as there are only two working airports and no internal flights in this small country.
Phoenix Tour Armenia is one of the best options for getting to the major tourist sites – some of which have infrequent public transport – call us, and just choose from a variety of half to full day trips which include a good number of the country’s major attractions. Some of the more remote destinations might require special planning.
You will be reminded frequently when visiting Armenia that it was the world’s first officially Christian country, since countless monasteries are among Armenia’s premier tourist attractions. Fortunately for those who might otherwise suffer monastery fatigue, many of these monasteries are built in places of incredible natural beauty, making the sites of monasteries like Tatev, Noravank, Haghartsin, Haghpat and Geghard well worth a visit even without the impressive, millennium old monasteries found there.
Although there are more and more road signs in Latin script, especially in Yerevan, English is not widely spoken in Armenia. Many taxi drivers and sales ladies in grocery stores and malls do not speak or understand English. Because of political and historical reasons, Russian has remained the most common foreign language spoken by the majority of Armenians. English is the third and the fastest growing foreign language in Armenia.
Yerevan, by any comparative measure, is a very safe city for its size (nearly 1 million people). Random crimes against people such as muggings, robbery, etc. are very rare.
Women travelers will probably be safer in Armenia than at home. Armenian men will usually do no more than try to talk to you, or stare. If it bothers you a loud goodbye should be enough, but having a companion will eliminate all issues. In the outskirts of the city, a single woman walking alone at night may attract unwanted attention.
It is always prudent not to make yourself a target. Keep to well-lit and main streets at night, take taxis anytime after 10pm, and travel with escorts whenever possible. Avoid displaying large sums of money and be aware of your surroundings and any suspicious individuals.
Large markets such as the Vernissage are attractive to pickpockets because of the hustle and bustle and the crowds. Do not carry purses or backpacks which can be easily opened.
Economic hardship has brought with it an influx of beggars, but most are harmless.
Sidewalks are often uneven and other hazards are rarely marked so be careful where you walk.
Few places in Yerevan are built with the physically handicapped in mind, though this is changing. Many multilevel buildings have no elevators, and even on the first floor there have been often a step or two, with no ramp.
If you plan to drive, bring your driver’s license, which will do for a few weeks. For longer stays an international driver’s license is recommended.
No risk to health. No need for vaccination and there are no obligatory immunizations required for travelers visiting Armenia. Armenia’s climate is generally pleasant and does not pose unusual health risks.
Medical facilities vary in quality and breadth, with many qualified doctors and dentists practicing in all specialties.
There are registered pharmacies on virtually every corner in the center of Yerevan, carrying all of the basic toiletries and many over the counter drugs.
If you have special health needs, talk to your physician before traveling. If you travel in summer, it is a good idea to pack a sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses, as the Armenian sun is strong.
Smoking is illegal in many public places. But bear that in mind that Armenia has the highest rate of cigarette smoking in Europe. Cafés will generally have a smoking area, if you see an ashtray on the table, you can smoke there.
In case of emergency, cash deposits and payments in local currency (AMD) will be required for health care at local healthcare facilities. Virtually no hospitals or clinics accept credit card payments at this time.
Spring water is located everywhere in the country, and along the roadside you will find hundreds of pulpulaks (drinking fountains) as an outlet for natural drinking water. Tap water in Armenia’s hotels, lodgings and homes is clean and safe to drink. Bottled spring and mineral water are available at every corner.
MARRIAGE, FAMILY & KINSHIP
Armenians are monogamous. In some cases, marriages are arranged. The accepted practice is to avoid marriage with close kin (of up to seven kin-distances). Because of housing shortages in Soviet Armenia, the new couple resided with the groom’s family (patrilocality). The preference, however, has been and continues to be for neolocality, that is, the new couple forming a new household.
Christianity has been the state religion in Armenia since 301. During Soviet rule, religious expression was not encouraged. The emphasis was on atheism. Armenians had continued to attend church, however, in particular for life-crisis events and rites of passage. The majority of Armenians adhere to the Armenian Apostolic Church. There are also adherents to Catholic, Evangelical and Protestant denominations.
DEATH AND THE AFTERLIFE
Most Armenians believe in the Christian vision of death and afterlife. The Apostolic Church, unlike some Christian institutions, does not put emphasis on sin and redemption. Likewise the notion of purgatory is absent. Armenians pay special attention to remembering the dead. After every mass, or patarak, there is a memorial service for the dead. The seventh day after death, the fortieth day, and annual remembrance are the accepted way of respecting the dead. Cemeteries are well kept. The communion between the living and the dead is seen in the frequent visits to the graves of loved ones. Food and vodka are served to the dead. The birthdays of dead loved ones are also celebrated.
RESPECT & ETIQUETTE
It is very common to give up your seat for an elderly passenger on public transport. Usually, men will give up their seat to women, too. The “ladies first” rule is considered important, and it is considered polite to let women be the first to board the bus or train or enter a room.
When visiting churches, both men and women are expected to dress modestly (preferably no shorts, miniskirts, sleeveless shirts or tops, etc.). Lighting a candle is always a nice gesture, but is optional. You should always talk quietly when you are visiting a church.
Armenians put great emphasis on hospitality and generosity. Armenians are very accepting of western behavior and dress by tourists. As a foreigner, almost anything you normally do is perfectly acceptable in Armenia, and as a tourist you can wear whatever you are accustomed wearing at home.
There aren’t any street Laundromats. You can use hotel laundry services or the laundry services at the Dry Cleaners.
Public toilets cost 100 drams.