On my latest trip in collaboration with Skyhour, I decided to venture out into the Caucasus region and visit Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. I chose those countries because I hadn’t seen much on them before. All I knew was that they were relatively affordable and easy to get to, but otherwise, I was going in blindly and trusted that I could rely on local knowledge for advice.
Traveling through each country was effortless since e-Visas are readily available and ATMs are scattered all over big cities (FYI - they accept most bank cards. Even though each country has their own currency, I had no problems with this). These countries are absolutely stunning. I was lucky enough to catch them at the end of winter with snowfall brightening up the landscapes, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Frozen trees in Quba, Azerbaijan
I’ve compiled a list of tips to help make the best out of your trip through these amazing countries so that you can have as beautiful an experience as I did.
Try the local delicacies
Each country has its own specialties and that’s why you must try all of them. The Caucasus lies on the edge of Europe between the Arabic countries and Asia, so the cuisine is a wonderfully eclectic mix of spices. The food is largely meat-based with different rustic loaves of bread, and lots of kebab spots spread about. I tried some delicious cheesy bread dishes such as achma and khachapuri. Yet my favorite dish was shawarma, which is roasted slices of kebab meat in a large wrap with delicious juices, sauces, pickles, and shredded vegetables.
Enjoy the unique architecture
Since these countries are situated in such a unique geographical location, it also means the architecture is a beautiful blend of Asian and Arabic influences with a heavy focus on European styles. Each city has a mix of newly developed areas and quaint old towns ideal for wandering aimlessly and getting lost in picturesque streets. These places hold a lot of history and keep it preserved in several museums, mosques, forts, castles, and monasteries.
Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan
In Georgia, people are very creative in retrofitting old buildings. I stayed in one hotel in the capital, Tbilisi, that used to be a factory and was turned into a hostel/café/bar called Fabrika Hostel. The whole city is full of interesting revitalized places like that.
Leaning Tower of Tbilisi in Georgia
Venture into nature
While big cities are wonderful to visit, transportation is very cheap across the entire region and so you’d be mad not to take the opportunity to also venture into nature. The Caucasus mountains spread across Georgia and Armenia while Azerbaijan lies on a basin towards the Caspian Sea.
Novarank Monastery in Armenia
Some of my favorite stops in the mountains were: Sevan Lake in Armenia – a high latitude lake which was frozen at -7°C (19°F) with a breathtaking backdrop of mountain views. And Khinalug in Azerbaijan, which is the oldest village in the country and requires an adventurous drive through mountainous wild landscapes to reach its nest. If you love beautiful views, but dislike unkept nature, all of these countries export a vast amount of wine, so be sure to visit a vineyard as I did in Armenia and enjoy tasting the local spirit.
Stone house and cow in Khinalug, Azerbaijan
Plan for all weather conditions
My time in the Caucasus countries coincided with the very end of winter. It was beautiful to see snow amid foreign landscapes, but it was a huge shock for my body, which is accustomed to tropical Indonesian conditions. So reaching the mountains in sub-zero temperatures was something I had to acclimatize to. Even in the summer, the mountains can get quite cold at night, so in regions that have beaches on the coast of Azerbaijan and mountains over 16400ft high, it’s important to pack correctly. I took some swimwear and a range of down-jackets, coats, hats, and gloves to make sure I was properly geared for my time here.
Priest walking through snowfall in Echmiadizin, Armenia
Plan ahead your travel routes
Before you leave on any trip you should always do your research on your travel routes, and any conflicts or potential problems that might arise during your time away. For this reason, I want to mention that Azerbaijan and Armenia are actually at war with one another. This didn’t actually affect me in any way really. The regions in conflict are far from any touristic area, and the people tend to just mention that they don’t like the rival country (which can lead to some oddly similar conversations in each place). This means that there is practically no travel between the two countries on land or by air. This isn’t an issue however as they are connected by Georgia, which has both land and air routes to each, so I used it as a channel to organize my travels.
View of Mtskheta city from Jvari Monastery in Georgia
Speak to locals
In each of these countries across the Caucasus, there is a rich and diverse culture, history and language. Azerbaijan is a largely Muslim culture with Azerbaijani as the language. Armenia is mainly Orthodox Christian with Armenian as the national language, and a strong Russian influence across the arts, language, and culture. This is similar to Georgia, which is also largely Orthodox Christian with Georgian as the national language and has a strong Russian influence. The people from these countries have entirely different cultures and while being very welcoming, and incredibly kind, they don’t really speak much English. It’s possible to communicate in very basic English, however, it takes no effort at all to ask or research online and learn a few local words for ‘Hello’, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’, which will get you a lot of appreciation from the locals and also encourages more cultural exchange with this region.
Yerevan, the capital city was actually my favorite location across the country. It had such a variety of striking architecture with Mount Ararat rising high in the distance. The cathedrals, museums, and squares are some of the most beautiful spots in this city and there’s a vibrant cultural hub that engulfs the city, which actually dates back to the 8th century. Statues, sculptures and parks densely populate the city with lots of fountains and lakes. This city was a really wonderful experience to visit.
Shaki was my favorite spot, as it was just on the edge of the mountains and surrounded by beautiful greenery in nature. It was also the very first time I got to experience snow, so it holds a special place in my memory. I was hiking up a nearby hill to the city as a light drizzle started turning into gentle snowflakes! It’s also such a beautiful spot for old museums and rustic houses with deep red roofs across the city. And it’s home to a special type of baklava – Shaki Halva.
Tbilisi, the capital city was also my favorite place in this country. It has an incredible landscape where the city is spread across rolling hills. There are giant cathedrals, statues towering on hills across the city and even a few fortresses stationed at the end of the valley. It’s one of the most breathtaking spots I saw during my trip revealed a rich and diverse history as one of the main trading spots on the old Silk Road.
These were just some of my experiences throughout this beautiful trip, but really the best thing to do is to stop reading and head there yourself to experience the delightful food, stunning landscapes and generous people that make up the Caucasus countries.