Armenia may not be on your bucket list, but it should be. The capital, Yerevan, sits in the shadow of Mt. Ararat and the country is home to treasures from the paleolithic period to modern times. Here, we’ve asked tour guide Hayk Avagyan to tell us more about this emerging travel destination.
Hayk, thanks for joining us on the Stirring Up Adventure blog. First, tell us about your approach to travel.
Hayk: I am a professional tour guide with over 10 years of experience in the hospitality industry of Armenia, and am a member of the Armenian Association of Professional Tour Guides. I have been traveling myself quite extensively and that is how I came to know what a traveler anticipates from a tour guide. I could write pages and pages about my education and experience, but I would just highlight five reasons why people should travel with me when they are in Armenia:
- It feels like your guide is an old friend of yours who has been living in Armenia so long that he knows everything about it.
- You stop worrying about road conditions, traffic, rain, snow, tsunami, earthquake, flood or Armageddon, because your guide/driver is so good in handling all those things.
- When it comes to itinerary, it’s just a formality. In reality, after covering everything in the itinerary, we do whatever we can and we want on our way. Travelers say: “Hey, hey, hey, look at that cave. I wonder what’s in there?” Hayk says: “We have got some time; let’s go and check.”
- You are never late, never early and you never wait for something as everything is ready by the time we reach there.
- It’s really fun to travel with someone who truly loves what he is doing.
I was thrilled to see Armenia named as one of Condé Nast’s 20 Best Places to Go in 2020. Why should more people consider Armenia as a travel destination?
Hayk: Armenia is quite an underrated destination for now, but after just being here a few hours, people realize that they should have had an extra day or two to enjoy all of this. Armenia is a safe and hospitable country and in this tiny land, there is so much contrast in nature. The toughest question I ask my travelers is if they know where Armenia is located, and they take a while to answer. We are at a junction in the world for Europe and Asia, and all the great empires passed through our region, leaving some of their histories along with the rich millennial-old history of Armenia. The tremendous amount of art, architecture, history, legends and traditions stand next to early and medieval Christian heritage has been carefully preserved through all these centuries until today. One should truly be here to feel that.
In your experience, what’s the one site—or experience—that most surprises first-time travelers to Armenia? Why?
Hayk: People, people and once again people. Friendly, hospitable and welcoming. The world is missing this and it’s still there in our country.
Armenia is home to approximately 4,000 monasteries, with some dating back to the fourth century. What should the first-time visitor put on their must-see list?
Hayk: Echmiadzin Cathedral, which is the first state-built church in the whole world dating back to 301 AD; the Zvartnots complex, which was completed in 652 AD; Garni, the only surviving Greco-Roman type temple from the first century; and Geghard cave monastery carved out of one piece of rock. Tatev and Noravank Monasteries and of course, many more all over the country.
Armenia’s food is literally a cultural treasure. UNESCO added Armenian lavash to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2014. More recently, CNN called it one of the 50 best breads in the world. What makes Armenian lavash so unique?
Hayk: First of all, let me highlight that Armenians eat everything with bread, even bread with bread, and lavash is a result of thousands of years of bread baking evolution. It’s completely organic and is prepared in the traditional Armenian underground oven called Tondir.
When you sit down for a meal with your family at the end of a long day, what’s on the table?
Hayk: Whenever you find an Armenian family sitting around a table, you would notice some ingredients which repeat during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Those are fresh herbs (basil, dill, parsley, coriander, spring onions, watercress), Armenian salty cheese, fresh tomatoes. The right way to eat these is rolling them up in a fresh lavash and that’s the best starter you would ever find in Armenia. We call it Brduch.
It’s my understanding that the Armenian Association of Professional Tour Guides is helping to shape the future of Armenia tourism. What are you focusing on right now?
Hayk: The Armenian professional tour guide association is indeed the future of Armenian tourism. We train new guides and put them on the right trails. We always highlight the issues Armenian tourism faces to the local authorities because we are the ones who are right there next to our travelers and notice everything which needs more attention. Currently, we are trying to help the government on better organizing the easy access of travelers to sights, such as public transport, parking next to sights, information centers, etc.
Any closing thoughts that you’d like to share with readers about Armenia?
Hayk: Armenia is becoming a very trendy destination and there is a dynamic rise of travelers to our country each year. The addition of famous low-cost European airlines adding flights into Armenia proves that in the coming years, Armenia will get too touristy. So do yourself a favor, start looking for a flight to Yerevan and I will handle the rest.
Stirring Up Adventure: Hayk, thank you.