Backpacking the South Caucasus region will see you discover a unique mixture of the old world and modern civilisation. Neither Asia nor Europe, the area manages to blend together two cultures and create their own one. This page includes suggested travel itineraries for Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, three destinations that may sound like they are among the most difficult countries to travel in, but are in fact quite easy to explore and in recent years, greater numbers of travellers are planning South Caucasus backpacking trips.
These South Caucasus backpacking routes will hopefully inspire you to step off the beaten track and discover the hidden gems this small but beautiful region sandwiched between Russia, Turkey and Iran has to offer. We hope that this post about Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan may become your virtual guide to the new world and will help you to plan your trip.
Original article by Julia Cernat (updated in April 2022)
Backpacking South Caucasus – Routes Info
TIME NEEDED – 3 weeks
On average, you will need about 3 weeks in total to explore the main destinations of these three countries with roughly 7 days in each country a decent starting point. Many of the stops featured on this page do not require overnight stays and some of them are very close to one another, so in some cases you will be able to visit 2 or 3 places on the same day. Depending on the border restrictions* at the time of your visit, it may be possible to combine the routes together or just choose the ones that appeal most if you only have limited time.
*At the time of writing (April 2022), many governments advise against all to travel to the closed eastern border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There have been frequent military clashes between the two countries in recent years over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. There are also still border closures between Armenia and Georgia due to Covid-19 so you may want to consider concentrating on one country rather than trying to visit the whole region at the present.
POSSIBLE BUDGET – £525 | €650 | US$700
This is essentially based on spending around $30-35/day (April 2022 Exchange Rates) for three weeks of travel which is considered a sufficient budget for shoestring travellers in the South Caucasus. It is certainly a very affordable region to travel in compared to most of Europe and certainly the more expensive parts of Asia.
However this doesn’t include the cost of flights or any pre-trip essentials such as visas which can be costly depending on your nationality. It also doesn’t factor in the current border closures which may require indirect flights to navigate in some cases as you can’t fly directly between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
There are some useful links below to articles where budget travellers have shared their typical costs in each of the three countries in the region:
VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR THE SOUTH CAUCACUS
The visa policy of Armenia features a visa-free programme for people from CIS countries (except Azerbaijan) and all EU states plus a few other countries including the UK, USA and Australia. For most other nationalities, visas can be obtained on arrival or electronically in advance.
It is similar in Georgia although more nationalities are eligible for a visa-free visit including people from all EU countries, the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Visitors may stay in the country without a visa for a whole year. Other nationalities can apply for an e-visa online.
Azerbaijan is a bit more complicated. Only 12 nationalities can enter without a visa and people from the EU, UK, North & South America or Oceania will need to apply for an e-visa online. These are single-entry and allow up to 30 days in the country.
There may be additional entry restrictions at the time of your visit due to Covid-19 so double check this before travelling.
The cost of travel insurance isn’t included in the budget figures above. You can get a quote in less than a minute from Heymondo who provide well reviewed international travel insurance for backpackers from all over the world.
Armenia Backpacking Routes
Armenia is truly a unique country with a special atmosphere and thousand year traditions. The country is small yet in its territory there are many historical and natural attractions. Let’s check the most popular backpacking routes in Armenia.
Yerevan to Sevan
Our first Armenia backpacking route starts in the capital. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, celebrating its 2800th anniversary in 2018. This wonderful city breathes love and positive emotions. Read more about it in our article on five European cities that are older than Rome.
From Yerevan, you can head to Garni, the only surviving temple from pagan Armenia. The temple is built by Romans in a classic Greek style with columns, high steps and an altar. The temple, fortress and ancient bathhouse are built on a gorge with the most magnificent view to the mountain ranges.
Geghard monastery complex is an original piece of architecture and part of it is carved in the rock and is absolutely unreachable.
One of the natural treasures you should definitely visit is Lake Sevan, the largest freshwater lake in region. With its mountain ranges, an island and medieval monasteries, Sevan is a popular destination for backpackers in Armenia.
Khor Virap to Karahunj
Armenia was the first country that adopted Christianity as a state religion. That is why almost all historical monuments are either monasteries or churches. Khor Virap is the key place where everything began but it also has a dark history and once it was a prison with deep pits full of snakes and scorpions. Today they are open for visitors.
Areni cave is the place where the oldest winery in the world was found. The findings prove that the territory was inhabited more than 6000 years ago.
Further living proof of the ancient settlements is the cave city of Khndzoresk. From afar it looks like a huge piece of cheese with a thousand holes.
The Karahunj stone monuments are even older than Stonehenge in England and an another example of the region’s mysterious, ancient past.
Armenia Backpacking – How long to spend in each place?
|Khor Virap||Half Day|
When planning your Armenia itinerary, you certainly want to allow the largest period of time for the capital Yerevan. It’s by far the largest city in the country and has most to see and do. The other most important destinations can mostly be visited in a day or less.
Georgia Backpacking Route
As soon as you step on the land of Georgia, you will feel the warm character of Georgians and their endless hospitality. All you need to do is relax and enjoy your time.
Kakheti to Batumi
Georgia is a country of wine and winemaking. Visit Kakheti to taste the best Georgian wine and stroll around the cellars of the oldest wine factories. Kakheti is also one of the most beautiful regions of the country with a gorgeous view of the Alazani valley and its vineyards.
Tbilisi, the most beautiful and colourful city of Georgia, immediately attracts your attention. It is a mixture of the old and new as along with medieval fortresses and monasteries, there rise skyscrapers and pieces of modern architecture.
As a Christian country with centuries’ history, Georgia has many valuable monasteries that are worth a visit. One of them is Mtskheta, the religious centre of Georgia. It used to be the Georgian capital and played an important role in the development of the country.
Kazbegi is the highest mountain in Georgia and definitely the most beautiful one. The village Stepantsminda is a popular spot for those who lust for silence and breathtaking views of the snowcapped mountain peaks.
Vardzia is a cave monastery carved off a cliff face, similar to the one in Armenia and equally spectacular.
Georgia is covered with deep forests, lakes, rivers and waterfalls. To see all the beauty of Georgia’s nature you may visit Borjomi national park, the biggest one in Europe. It is the site of popular mineral springs with the very best Borjomi mineral water.
Apart from picturesque mountains and deep forests, Georgia boasts a Black Sea coastline that is perfect for summer holidays. Batumi is a modern city on the banks of the Black Sea and it is home to some quirky 21st Century skyscrapers.
Georgia Backpacking – How long to spend in each place?
Georgia may take up the largest portion of a regional South Caucasus backpacking itinerary with slightly more in the way of obvious destinations. The Georgia itinerary outlined above could be done in a week to 10 days and can be easily tailored according to what interests you most.
Azerbaijan Backpacking Route
Our South Caucasus itinerary slowly takes us to the final country, Azerbaijan, a rapidly developing young country. There are a few popular destinations we have picked to finish this trip around the South Caucasus if you are planning to visit all three countries.
Baku to Khachmaz
Baku is the main attraction of the country. It is a modern metropolis that has preserved old buildings as a part of the history of the city. Along with older buildings, there rise three flame-shaped skyscrapers that are visible from any part of the city and have become real landmarks for Baku.
Sheki has turned into an important centre in Azerbaijan’s bold bid to promote itself to the rest of the world. Lose yourself in a small city packed with old buildings, palaces, local bazaars and mosques.
Khachmaz is a beautiful city located 10 km from the Caspian Sea. Besides its coastal location, Khachmaz is known for its historical monuments and original architecture.
Read More: Ghost towns around the world featuring the Azerbaijani town of Agdam.
Azerbaijan Backpacking – How long to spend in each place?
Baku is the jewel in the nation’s crown and is the first and longest port of call for most people planning an Azerbaijan itinerary. It’s also the easternmost point on the South Caucasus backpacking map and would be a logical end or start point should you be travelling at a time when overland border travel is possible between the three countries. You may want to allow just under a week for Azerbaijan overall.
Check out all our Europe routes!
This South Caucasus backpacking route was last updated in April 2022.