By, Christine Aghakhanian

With summer upon us, millions of Armenians in the Diaspora are planning and organizing their summer vacation trips.

While scouring the cobble stone streets of Europe or sunbathing in tropical countries may seem enticing, consider your next travel destination to be one of the most underrated and beautiful countries in the world, our ancient, ancestral and unique Homeland of Armenia.

It is disheartening that many Diasporan Armenians have never visited the country or those who have left Armenia, choose other destinations for vacations. Traveling to Armenia not only benefits the country economically, but it evokes a sense of feeling connected to the land of our ancestors – something that is unique to us as ethnic minorities living outside the Homeland.

Traveling to Armenia is very easy and convenient. There is no need for a special Visa for U.S. citizens, hotels and lodging options are abundant, dining options are plentiful and unlike Europe, there is no need to worry about pickpockets.

As a U.S. born Armenian, going to Armenia for the first time in 2013 was an eye-opening experience. My entire life I had felt like I didn’t belong and was constantly trying to educate people about Armenians, where we come from and who we are. In Armenia, it is the exact opposite. Upon arriving at the Zvartnots airport, you are surrounded by people who speak your language, share your customs and look like you.

To those who have always wanted to visit Armenia, but are hesitant, there are many resources that will help navigate your trip to go as smoothly as possible. Personally, I used Hyur Services for day trips the first time I travelled to Armenia. The travel blog “Absolute Armenia” features invaluable travel tips as well, in addition to many others. There are, of course, tour companies which plan your entire itinerary from flights to hotels to meals and tours. However, this option can get pricy if you are on a budget. Traveling in and around Armenia is fairly easy and inexpensive using rideshare apps like GG (Apple/Andriod)  or Yandex.

Once you arrive in Yerevan, there are plenty of options for activities. You can enjoy a live performance at the Opera and Ballet Theater – a magnificent Soviet era theater with beautiful chandeliers and plush velvet seating, or take a stroll around the English Park at night with colorful water displays. The center of all the action at Republic Square (Hraparak) features a large water fountain show with music to delight onlookers under the starlit evening sky.

For daytime activities, Armenia is a vast open air museum with dozens of ancient monasteries and natural wonders like Karahunj, predating Stone Henge in England. There are also many museums which celebrate the life and achievements of notable figures like Komitas, Hovhannes Toumanian, Paruyr Sevak, Yeghishe Charents, Aram Khachaturian, Martiros Saryan and many others. Flyers promoting concerts, festivals and events are posted all throughout the city and all street signs in the city center (Kentron) are in both Armenian and English.

Taking a train ride from Yerevan to the artistic city of Gyumri will allow you to travel through the scenic countryside of Armenia. Traveling outside Yerevan is very convenient with many options for rental cars, as well as hiring drivers. Enjoying the natural beauty of Lake Sevan while eating Ishkhan fish is an experience like none other. The cool breeze from the majestic lake and the vantage point of the mountain ranges from Sevanavank invigorates a sense of being on top of the world while feeling connected to the land.

The spa resort town of Jermuk is another hidden gem. Tucked away to the south of Sevan, Jermuk offers a good selection of lodging options, a natural spring which you can access with an experienced driver and a beautifully constructed hall featuring drinking spring water at different temperatures. The Jermuk seltzer that is sold at local markets in the U.S. is bottled in the town of Jermuk. If you want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Yerevan, Jermuk is a perfect getaway. Tsakhkadzor, a ski/spa resort town, similar to Big Bear in Southern California, is a popular destination offering many luxurious dining and lodging options as well.

One of the most scenic and lush geographic areas of Armenia is the town of Dilijan, which has been nicknamed the “Switzerland of Armenia.” With a small town feel and several shops and restaurants, Dilijan transports you to a wonderland of greenery full of tall trees lining the road to the Dilijan National Park. At Lake Parz, tourists can ride boats in the serene waters shared by beautiful swans.

Although Armenia is a small nation, it is one of the most geographically diverse regions in the world. From the cool hilltops of Lori to the north, to the warm and dry climate of Meghri to the south, Armenia offers something for everyone. Whether you are a city person interested in culinary experiences, a history aficionado curious about prehistoric artifacts and structures, a hiker in seek of natural wonders, or if you just want to relax in a scenic resort town, Armenia has it all and is waiting for you.

This summer, instead of traveling to an overcrowded, overpriced, overrated destination, travel to Armenia. Immerse yourself in the rich culture, explore the award winning wineries, eat the best lavash and gata in the world and connect with the people who live there and are fortunate enough to call Armenia home.

For more information visit Armenia.Travel.

Businesses and websites listed in this article are solely for reference purposes.

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