Hitchhiking in Armenia
I became addicted to hitchhiking in 2007, back when I was living and studying in Moscow. Winter was a boring time for students, so when my friend Alexander messaged me and offered to join him on a hitchhiking trip to Saint Petersburg, I agreed happily. On the next day, we went to buy me all the gear that I needed: a 45 liter Campus backpack (which I still use today), a Tatonka thermos (I still use that one, too), a sleeping bag and a camping mat. On February 24, we hit the road. It was a bright, sunny winter day, with an average temperature of -18 to -20 degrees Celsius along the way. Everything was new to me, I was following all the tips given by my friend who took on the role of my hitchhiking instructor. On that day, I discovered the world of hitchhiking.
Since then, I have hitchhiked in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, China, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Georgia, Iran and, of course, Armenia. Hitchhiking wasn’t that popular among locals when I resettled in Armenia back in 2011 after traveling around Southeast Asia for over a year, yet it was (and still is) never difficult for me to travel around the country with the help of the thumb.
Hitchhiking in Armenia:
Armenia is one of the easiest countries for hitchhiking, and I mean it. The average waiting time on active roads is 5-10 minutes. Given that many sites in Armenia are hard (often impossible) to reach on public transportation, hitchhiking is a great option to explore the country. In some cases, it’s even faster and more comfortable. Drivers pick up hitchhikers eagerly, they’re happy to meet travelers, especially when they’re driving alone.
Hitchhiking in Armenia is absolutely legal. There are no special designated hitchhiking spots in the country, but you may stand anywhere on any road as long as there is a roadside wide enough for cars to pull over. Waiting time on the highways and main roads that get a lot of traffic is rarely longer than 5 minutes. It doesn’t matter whether you’re alone, or in a pair with someone (man or woman). Traveling in bigger groups (3 or 4) may be a little slower, but not impossible. I hitchhiked in Armenia in a group of 3 and even 4 people, and we easily reached our destination without the need to split into groups.
While waiting time on main roads is very short, it may take you up to 30-40 minutes (or an hour) to hitch a ride on rural and less active roads. Not because people in remote areas of the country don’t want to pick up hitchhikers, but because there may be very few cars passing by. The roads in remote areas are more active in the morning hours and in the afternoon, so if you end up on one in the evening hours, say after 6 pm, be prepared to wait longer. The good thing is you can camp with no problems if you get stuck somewhere at a late hour.
The two main problems that hitchhikers encounter in Armenia are the quality of the roads and the language barrier, and while the latter is still actual, the former is being solved. In 2019, the government started major renovations of the entire road network in Armenia, which will definitely increase the overall travel speed. As for the language barrier, keep in mind that most people outside of Yerevan don’t speak English, so if you know a bit of Russian it’ll help you a lot. Otherwise, try to learn some basic words and phrases in Armenian to make it easier. I’ll write down some of the most common phrases you might need while hitchhiking in Armenia at the end of this post.
Last but not least, let’s talk about safety. So far the only real danger I faced while hitchhiking in Armenia was (and is) the speedsters. Yes, some drivers drive too fast, ignoring the speed limits on the road. Not only this, but they also perform dangerous overtakes. Believe me, it’s not funny when you’re on a mountain road and on one of its sides is a deep gorge. So be prepared to shit bricks every now and then. As for women who hitchhike alone, Armenia is generally a much safer country compared to others, but to be on the safe side, stick to cars that have women or children on board, and avoid cars with tinted windows.
How to get into Armenia by land:
Borders are the biggest problem for hitchhiking in Armenia. Getting into the country by land is a little tricky. Armenia borders five countries: Azerbaijan and the de-facto independent Republic of Artsakh to the east, Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Iran and Nakhijevan, an exclave of Azerbaijan, to the south. Now the borders with two of the neighbors, Azerbaijan and Turkey, are closed permanently. This leaves travelers with only two options to get into Armenia by land, Iran, and Georgia. This is one of the main reasons why hitchhikers and backpackers visiting the area choose Georgia’s capital Tbilisi as their base and travel to Azerbaijan and Armenia from there.
How to get out of Armenia by land:
The borders with Georgia and Iran are also the only available options to travel out of Armenia by land. If you’re traveling from Yerevan to Tbilisi, you have nothing to worry about because you can easily cover the distance in about 6-7 hours. My personal record was 5 hours, I was on the road at 10:00 AM, at 3:00 PM I was already drinking beer with friends in downtown Tbilisi. But it’s a different story if you’re going to hitchhike from Yerevan to Iran. Although the distance is only about 400 km, it may take over 10 hours to get to the border as there are several mountain passes on the way. It is likely that you will reach the town of Meghri in the evening, so I’d recommend you to find a guest house for overnight and cross the border the next day in the morning. This way you will have plenty of time to get to Tabriz.
How to hitchhike to Armenia from Iran:
The Nordooz-Agarak border crossing point is the only one operating between Armenia and Iran. The distance from Tabriz to the border is about 250 km if you follow the main route (via Jolfa). The first more or less large Armenian town after you cross the border is Meghri. You may have to wait for some time to get a ride right after the border. You can get a taxi from the border to the town in order not to waste time waiting for a car (the taxi costs about 3-4 USD). If you cross the border in the morning, you can easily get to Yerevan on the evening of the same day. But as I mentioned above, the road between Meghri and Yerevan crosses several mountain passes and the journey may take about 10 hours, so if you cross the border in the afternoon, you can try to hitchhike to the town of Goris, about 170 km up north, and spend the night there (which is not a bad idea at all as you can take this opportunity to visit the nearby cave town of Khndzoresk and the 9th-century Tatev monastery).
Which route to take:
The main route from the Iran-Armenia border to Yerevan is Agarak – Meghri – Kajaran – Kapan – Goris – Vayk – Yeghegnadzor – Yeraskh – Ararat – Artashat – Yerevan. If you’re using Google Maps, you may notice the notification that the route is crossing Azerbaijan near the village of Tigranashen, which is not true. This area was an Azerbaijani enclave during the Soviet times, but today it’s part of Armenia, so there are no international borders on the road.
Alternatively, you may take another route: Agarak – Meghri – Kajaran – Kapan – Goris – Vayk – Yeghegnadzor – Zangakatun – Lanjar – Vedi – Pokr Vedi – Vosketap – Yerevan, although this route is a little longer, and crossing the town of Vedi may be time-consuming.
Another alternative route will take you to the shores of Lake Sevan: Agarak – Meghri – Kajaran – Kapan – Goris – Vayk – Yeghegnadzor – Shatin – Martuni – Sevan – Yerevan. This route crosses the Vardenyats mountain pass (you can make a stop at the Orbelian caravanserai on the way). To me, it’s one of the most beautiful roads in Armenia, but I wouldn’t recommend this option if you’re traveling in winter as the road often gets blocked because of heavy snowfalls. In the summer, take this route only if you have enough hours of daylight ahead as it is not a very active road.
If your travel plans include a visit to the Republic of Artsakh, you may want to go there first, taking the Karashen – Tegh – Berdzor – Stepanakert route after Goris. Note that foreigners need to get a visa to Artsakh (it’s free of charge for up to 21 days).
What to see on way from Iran to Yerevan:
The main sightseeing places on the road from Iran to Yerevan (if you follow the main route) include Meghri Old Town, Mount Khustup (if you like hiking), Khndzoresk cave town, Tatev monastery, Zorats Karer archaeological site (also known as Carahunge; this site is often called the Stonehenge of Armenia), Noravank monastery, Areni-1 cave, Khor Virap monastery. Alternative routes include Orbelian Caravanserai, Lake Sevan, Noratus khachkar field, Sevanavank monastery, Hayravank monastery. Note that some of these places are located off the main road.
How to hitchhike to Armenia from Georgia:
Unlike with Iran, there are three border crossing points between Georgia and Armenia, of which the two most active ones are the Sadakhlo-Bagratashen and Ninotsminda-Bavra, the latter being the best option for those who are planning to hitchhike to Armenia from Batumi. The Sadakhlo-Bagratashen border is closer to Tbilisi, the distance is about 80 km and takes you about 2 hours to get to the border.
Which route to take:
If you’re coming from Batumi, the recommended route from the border to Yerevan is Bavra – Ashotsk – Pokrashen – Keti – Gyumri – Talin – Ashtarak – Yerevan. The distance is about 170 km. It takes about 3 hours to get to Yerevan from Gyumri, so, unless it’s not your day, you should be able to get to Yerevan within 5 hours.
If you’re hitchhiking to Yerevan from Tbilisi, then there are several routes that you can take. The two main routes are Bagratashen – Alaverdi – Vanadzor – Spitak – Aparan – Ashtarak – Yerevan, and Bagratashen – Noyemberyan – Ijevan – Dilijan – Sevan – Yerevan. Nowadays, most of the vehicles stick to the latter, because the former includes a section (between Akhtala and Kobayr) which is under reconstruction now. This road should be finished by mid Spring 2020.
Those who prefer slow travel and adventures may take the first option, which itself offers you two alternative routes. The Bagratashen – Alaverdi – Odzun – Stepanavan – Vanadzor – Spitak – Aparan – Ashtarak – Yerevan route takes you to the 7th-century Odzun church and the 11th-century Lori fortress. When in Stepanavan, make a stop at the Carahunge cafe for a delicious meal. Another option is the Bagratashen – Alaverdi – Vanadzor – Dilijan – Sevan – Yerevan route that passes by Russian Molokan villages and takes you to the Dilijan National Park and Lake Sevan.
What to see on way from Georgia to Yerevan:
If you’re traveling via Gyumri, you may visit the Marmashen monastery, Gyumri Old Town, the 5th-century Church of Saint John in the village of Mastara, the Cathedral of Talin, Dashtadem fortress, the Aruch caravanserai, the Agarak archaeological site, the center of Ashtarak (there are several old churches in the town).
The routes from Tbilisi include the Akhtala fortress, two UNESCO world heritage sites Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries, the Odzun church, the ruins of Kobayr monastery, the 4-5th-century Kasagh Basilica in Aparan, the medieval monasteries of Goshavank and Haghartsin, the spa town of Dilijan and Dilijan National Park, Lake Sevan, Sevanavank monastery and others. Note that some of the sites are located off the main roads.
How to get to the main roads from Yerevan:
As a hitchhiker, the main problem I always struggle with is finding relevant and up-to-date information on how to get out of the cities to the main roads. While Yerevan is not as big a problem as, say, Moscow or Beijing, and you can walk your way out of the city within 2-3 hours, the public transportation in the city is nothing but a headache, first of all, because all the signs are in Armenian only. It can be quite confusing when you try to figure out which bus to take. So, below I’ll give you some information on how you can get out of Yerevan to the main roads when hitchhiking in Armenia.
If you’re hitchhiking in the direction of Gyumri, Vanadzor, Stepanavan, Tbilisi via Aparan:
Option #1: Take a bus from the Kilikia Central Bus Station
This is the best option for those who are willing to save time and get to the road as soon as possible. First, you need to get to the Kilikia bus station, located not far from the Yerevan Ararat Brandy Factory. It’s a 30-minute minute walk the Republic Square. You can also take bus #5 or #259 from Mashtots avenue (costs 100 drams, about 25 cents), for example, from this bus stop. When facing the building of the bus station, go to the right from the main entrance (do not enter the building). Walk to the end of the building to get to the buses and minibusses going to the town of Ashtarak (you can take any, the fare is 250 Armenian drams or a little over 50 cents). Once on the bus, tell the driver to drop you off at Bagavan. Bagavan is one of the neighborhoods of Ashtarak, located right on the highway, about 30 km from Yerevan. When you get off the bus, you’ll find yourself on a nearly perfect spot for hitchhiking: there’s a small shop in case you need to buy something, several gas stations where you can approach drivers directly (the gas stations have toilets), wide roadsides. Note that about 2.5 km further, the highway splits into two directions: keep going straight if you’re hitchhiking in the direction of Gyumri or Batumi, take the road to the right if you’re going in the direction of Aparan, Vanadzor, Stepanavan, Alaverdi or Tbilisi. There are large signs on this spot, so you won’t get confused.
Option #2: Take a bus from downtown Yerevan to the outskirts of the city
Alternatively, you can get to the outskirts of Yerevan by taking the minibus #46 or bus #57 from this bus stop near the Opera house. Both lines are taking you very close to the main highway that runs in the direction of Gyumri, Vanadzor, Tbilisi. Get out of the minibus #46 or the bus #57 when you’re near this place, or near this shop if you took the minibus #46 (sometimes, when there are not many passengers, the minibus simply makes a short cut and skips the first stop). Now the first stop is very close to the highway, but you’ll have to walk a bit to find a suitable spot for hitchhiking. If you ended up at the 2nd stop, walk back from the bus stop and cross the main, wide road to the other side. Now you can either walk 2-3 minutes up the road and start hitchhiking from there or walk further to the city limits. It’s up to you. This option is cheaper (it only costs you 100 Armenian drams), but more complicated. I personally prefer the 1st option, because you have a good chance to hitch a ride from Bagavan all the way to Gyumri or Vanadzor.
If you’re hitchhiking in the direction of Sevan, Dilijan, Ijevan or Tbilisi via Noyemberyan:
Bus #259 from Yerevan to Abovyan is the best option to get to the road for those who are hitchhiking to Lake Sevan, Dilijan, Ijevan or Tbilisi via Noyemberyan. You can get on the bus either at the Kilikia central bus station or at this bus stop near the Opera house. Note that this bus is going to the city of Abovyan and you need to get off at the Northern Bus Station (in Armenia, “Hyuseesahyeen avtokayan”). The bus fare is 200 Armenian drams, or 42 cents (here’s to all the interstellar hitchhikers out there). Once off the bus, you’ll find yourself on the main highway. The traffic in this area is always a little chaotic, so I recommend you walk 3-5 minutes along the road until you leave the bus station behind. My favorite hitchhiking spot on this road is this one. Our average wait time on this spot is about 5 minutes.
If you’re hitchhiking in the direction of Goris, Republic of Artsakh, Meghri or Iran:
If you’re hitchhiking to the south of Armenia, to the Republic of Artsakh or Iran, the easiest way to get to the highway and leave the unnecessary traffic to the nearby villages behind is to get on the bus to the town of Vedi. First, take a subway ride to the Sasuntsi Davit station (there’s a subway station next to the Republic Square; it costs 100 Armenian drams). The Vedi buses depart from the bus station that’s located behind the Yerevan Train Station. To get there, once on Sasuntsi Davit subway station, exit through the glass doors of the subway and turn left to walk out of the underground pedestrian pass. Once you reach the bus station, ask for the earliest departing bus to Vedi (costs 400 drams, or about 85 cents). It is likely that you will meet other travelers here as well because travelers take this bus to get to the Khor Virap monastery. Inform the driver that you’re going to Khor Virap (even if you’re not), he’ll drop you off at the village of Pokr Vedi right on the highway. There are fruit stands here if you need to get some for the road. Walk past the fruit stands and start hitchhiking right away. The roadside is wide enough here, so it won’t be too hard to get a ride. Our average time on this spot is about 10 minutes.
Hitchhiking in Armenia: Common Phrases to Use
Below are some of the most common words and phrases in Armenian that you may need when hitchhiking in Armenia.
Hello – Barev (informal) or Barev Dzez (formal)
Good morning – Baree louys
Good day – Baree or
Good evening – Baree yereko
Good night – Baree geesher
How are you? – Eenchpeses or Vontses (informal)
How are you? – Eenchpeseq (formal)
I’m good, thank you – Yes lavem, merci
Yes – Ayo
No – Voch
What’s your name? – Anooned eencheh (informal)
What’s your name? – Eencheh dzer anooneh (formal)
My name is [your name] – Eem anooneh [your name]eh
I’m from [country of your origin] – Yes [country of your origin]eets em
I live in [city or country] – Yes aproomem [city or country]
Thank you – Mersi (the easy one) or shnorakalootyoon (the hard one)
Where is… – Ooreh or Vortegheh…
Shop – Khanoot
Pharmacy – Deghatoon
Police – Vosteekanootyoon
Policeman – Vosteekan
Stop here – Aystegh [ice+tegh (“gh” like you’d say “r” in a Édith Piaf manner)] kangnek
Where are you going? – Oorek genoom (“g” as in garlic)
I’m going to… – Yes genoomem…
I don’t know – Chgeetem (“g” as in garlic)
I don’t understand – Yes chem haskanoom
I don’t want – Yes chem oozoom
Where am I? – Vorteghem yes [in case you’re hitchhiking through space and you’re not quite sure where you are at that particular moment]
What year is it now? – Heema vor tvakanneh? [in case you’re a time traveler]
I like/love – Yes siroomem
I don’t like/love – Yes chem siroom
I don’t drink – Yes chem khemoom
I don’t eat… – Yes chem ootoom.
Without money – Arants pogh
Free of charge – Anvaichar
Can I come with you to [name of the town]? – Karoghem dzer het gal minchev [name of the town]… –
Road – Chanapar or Janapar
I don’t need taxi – Taxi petk chee
Guest house – Hyooratoon
Hotel – Hyooranots