A Daytrip to Armenia’s Medieval Monasteries

I was curious about Armenia so decided to do a day trip to visit some of the things they are most known for (apart from Cher the singer, Andre Agassi and the Kardashians!)-- their medieval monasteries. This is Haghpat monastery, a UNESCO Heritage site, built in the year 966 (notice the Armenian crosses behind us, too).

I recently spent 8 days in Georgia. While there, I wanted to visit Armenia but my time could only afford a day trip. As much as I would have wanted to visit the capital city of Yerevan, it would have required a short flight or a 6-hour car ride (one way) and at least a couple of nights there, but I had to be in Bilbao, Spain for a very special celebration at the Guggenheim Museum. So, I after loads of Googling, I was happy to discover that there was indeed a daytrip option offered by Envoy Hostel’s Envoy  Tours.

Here’s what it looks like in 45 seconds:

While the tour (if you’re a group) is normally only 145 GEL (PHP3,064 or USD60.50), I paid 200 GEL (PHP4,227 or USD83.50) (because we were just two– thank goodness Jim from Seattle, USA had booked the tour with me!) Plus I would rather go with a tour group for safety as a solo female traveler, so I though this was a pretty good deal to see a new country!– the price includes transportation (private van), a guided tour to 3 monasteries, and a BBQ lunch at an Armenian family’s home. Departure from Tbilisi, Georgia is at 9AM (from Envoy Hostel & Hours) and you’re back by 5-6PM! Just 8 hours total.. perfect! (You can get your visa at the border; the hostel will help you with that, just let them know what your nationality is.)

So apart from from Cher the singer, Andre Agassi and the Kardashians, Armenia is also known for their medieval monasteries, which are all located in the Debed Canyon. It was believed that Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity, and today, 95% of the population are Christian. Lonely Planet describes, “this canyon manages to pack in more history and culture than anywhere else in the country. Nearly every village along the Debed River has a church, a chapel, an old fort and a sprinkling of khachkars (Armenian cross-stone) somewhere nearby.” While driving, you will notice alternating views of lush greenery and shabby Soviet-era infrastructures.

Here’s what our day looked like:

Armenian souvenirs by Sanahin monastery-- our first stop. I suggest buy them all here-- they have a little of everything, and have the most selection. (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
Armenian souvenirs by Sanahin monastery– our first stop. I suggest buy them all here– they have a little of everything, and have the most selection. (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
Sanahin, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site, is the most popular stop for visitors to the Debed Canyon. Back in the day, it was known for its school of illuminators and calligraphers, and it was also a medical school. (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
Sanahin, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site, is the most popular stop for visitors to the Debed Canyon. Back in the day, it was known for its school of illuminators and calligraphers, and it was also a medical school. (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
Armenian icons of Mother Mary and Christ for sale. If you notice the pomegranates at the bottom, our guide told us that pomegranates are very significant of Armenian culture. (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
Armenian icons of Mother Mary and Christ for sale. If you notice the pomegranates at the bottom, our guide told us that pomegranates are very significant of Armenian culture. (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
Haghpat is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (It's where we were waiting for the rain to stop on the first photo!) The monastery's name means 'huge wall.' (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
Haghpat is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (It’s where we were waiting for the rain to stop on the first photo!) The monastery’s name means ‘huge wall.’ (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
The Armenian table is often packed with vegetables & fresh produce (often grown in villages and backyards across the country) and centers around BBQ (khoravats), usually pork. We had this home-cooked lunch at the home of an Armenian family as part of our day trip tour to the Lori region in the northern part of the country. (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
The Armenian table is often packed with vegetables and fresh produce (often grown in villages and backyards across the country) and centers around BBQ (khoravats), usually pork. We had this home-cooked lunch at the home of an Armenian family as part of our day trip tour to the Lori region in the northern part of the country. (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
If you can't climb Mt. Ararat, at least you can have some Armenian whiskey :) (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
If you can’t climb Mt. Ararat (it’s believed that Noah’s Ark landed here), at least you can have some Armenian whiskey :) (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
Akhtala, which has a 13th-century church, is the only one among the three that's not a UNESCO Heritage site but it was probably my favorite. You'll see inside. (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
Akhtala, which has a 13th-century church, is the only one among the three that’s not a UNESCO Heritage site but it was probably my favorite. You’ll see inside. (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
The stunning original frescoes at Akhtala Monastery- like the Virgin Mary, the LAst Supper, Last Judgement, Crucifixion and Resurrection, are what makes it special (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)
The stunning original frescoes at Akhtala Monastery- like the Virgin Mary, the LAst Supper, Last Judgement, Crucifixion and Resurrection, are what makes it special (Photo by Cheryl Tiu)

*If you want to go on the Armenia day-tour from Georgia, visit Envoy tours here.