Travelling is definitely one of the best things in this world. Still, with a limited budget, you have to plan every detail and, of course, often refuse luxury. My friend and I have a lot of experience with planning and organizing budget tours. This time, we'd like to tell you about our unforgettable trip to the South Caucasus.
Last May, we decided to spend 2 weeks in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan and today we're going to share our experiences in detail.
For a budget tourist, Armenia is just perfect. Compared to other European countries, the prices there are lower, the food is excellent and the service is satisfactory. Essentially, we got what we were looking for. Here is some practical information that you can use to plan a budget tour to Armenia.
In Yerevan and throughout Armenia there are many options when it comes to accommodation. While looking for a place to stay, we found an impressive amount of luxurious five-star hotels. Nevertheless, let’s filter our search. There are a lot of hostels, guest houses and affordable B&B hotels in the capital; the average price for a good hostel is $25 in the city center. Of course, you can find cheaper accommodation with more modest conditions. All hostels had breakfast included.
Couch surfing is a true lifesaver for us in European countries. It’s so convenient - you can save money, and you can find new friends. We tried to find a house in Yerevan too, but unfortunately there were no offers for the days we planned to stay there.
Another way to find an affordable room is using list.am, where you can find apartments for rent starting from $20. We didn’t pick this option either, because we wanted to be among other travelers. An apartment would be ideal for large groups.
We loved the local food. It was cheap and really tasty. In local pubs we spent about $20 a meal including drinks , which was a great price with so many positive vibes and impressions. Among the national dishes, the most popular dish turned to be white soup spas, prepared from fermented yogurt, meat dish tolma, (a local kind of barbeque ) and sweet cake gata. One of the tastiest and cheapest places to taste national dishes is Karas, a national food chain, the branches of which can be found in almost every corner of Yerevan.
Armenia is a small country and almost all of the popular attractions are close to each other. Your choice will mostly depend on the time of the year. Our journey was in May.
To fully see the beauty of Yerevan, you should explore it on foot. All major attractions, cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and shops are located in the city center. The people are very friendly and if you get lost or just need to ask for directions, don’t shy away from asking the locals. The younger generation speak mostly Russian and English. (See main photo above)
For sightseeing, we took the most interesting route and viewed landmarks including Areni Cave, the Noravank monastery, the Karahunj stone monument, the Khndzoresk cave village, the Tatev Monastery and the Tatever ropeway. The tour cost us about $15 (and we paid another $5 for ropeway tickets). We saw the main sights of the country, learned about the history, walked all day, then returned to the city. If you go by taxi and stay overnight, you will definitely pay triple the price.
There were different ways available to get from Yerevan to Tbilisi. We chose a minivan – a cheaper and faster option. The ticket cost about $15 per person.
In Tbilisi, we decided to be in the center of the hype and stayed at the Fabrika hostel. Those who have heard of it and been there will definitely approve of our choice. The hostel is located in an old factory building, which explains its name. Fabrika is like a small state with its own infrastructure. At every visit, you will find new graffiti on the outer walls as well as paintings and interesting details on the interior walls. In short, it is a great place for young people. Of course you can find a cheaper hostel, but Fabrika is more than just a place to stay.
We explored Tbilisi mostly on foot. To get to Mount Mtatsminda, we took a cable car ($1 per person from the bottom station). To get to the hostel at night, we ordered an online taxi and it cost about $4.
Georgia was a real paradise of flavours. Calorie dishes and meat dishes predominate, but you can find options for any taste. We recommend trying various kinds of khachapuri which is a national cheese cake, then of course khinkali (national dumplings with meat) and vegetable pkhali. Also try national cheese with freshly baked puri bread, and don't forget about the local fruit lemonade which is considered to be the tastiest in the Caucasus.
I personally adore Georgian cuisine. Just like in Armenia, we spent a minimum amount of our budget on food. Even with my big appetite for Georgian food, we spent no more than $10 per day.
May wasn’t suitable for either a beach holiday or skiing in the mountains. From Tbilisi we reached Sighnaghi (the city of love) in two hours. The ticket cost $3. We arrived in the morning and had the whole day to explore the city and region.
Sighnaghi was a small cozy city. We explored it for a couple of hours. The best part was the view of the town and the Alazani Valley from the observation towers of the Sighnaghi Fortress. We took a walk along the narrow streets and made a mini trekking tour to the Bodbe Monastery. There are a lot of temples and monasteries in the region, but we only had enough time to visit one. From Sighnaghi, we were lucky to get to Telavi by hitchhiking and stayed there overnight. The price for accommodation in a touristic center was acceptable ($25 per night).
From Telavi, we returned to Tbilisi and went to Baku the same day. We could have gotten there either by train or by minibus. The train was more expensive, slower and a bit more comfortable; the bus was cheaper and faster. For family holidays, the train would be more suitable. For us, the main objective was to get to the destination as soon as possible. The bus cost about $15.
According to reviews, Baku was an expensive city yet we decided to check it ourselves. We were lucky to find a good, cheap hostel in the very center of the city. The price was unreal; we paid $7 per night.
We explored only the city center and the main sights of the city. We had to buy tickets to visit popular attractions. Thus, we spent $4 to visit the Maiden Tower and $2 for the Palace of Shirvanshahs. In the evening, we walked around the Old Baku for free, watched a light show on the Flame Towers and went around on the Baku viewing wheel. The Baku Eye rises to 60 meters and you can enjoy the most impressive view of the city for only $2.
Local food is very colorful. I wanted to try all the unfamiliar dishes. Almost all the national dishes are delicious and you can try no more than two or three at a time. The average bill at the cafe was $15 with dessert. I can’t say much about the national cuisine, but you should definitely try the traditional sweets.
We had only a day to spend in the South Caucasus. As the perfect ending, we chose the most popular tourist destination in Azerbaijan, Gobustan Reserve, not far from Baku. We spent $2 on transport and the ticket to the national park. For 2 dollars we got unforgettable impressions and memories. There were huge mud volcanoes and we felt like we were walking on Mars and saw traces of ancient civilizations left on the rocks.
A trip to the South Caucasus is something different and I would highly recommend it.
This is a guest post by Ann Davis