The Republic of Artsakh or previously known as Nagorno-Karabakh (Karabakh) is a country you probably have never heard of. For one, this country does not technically exist on the world map. Secondly, this country lies within the border of Azerbaijan, and it is internationally recognized as so. It is also illegal to enter there to Azerbaijan. But I did it anyway, and here I'll illustrate how I did it and how you could go there too.
Artsakh is a de facto independent but unrecognized state established on the basis of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan SSR. The majority of Artsakh population is Christian Armenian hence the separation between its Muslim counterpart, Azerbaijan. The war in 1994 torn apart this country away from Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan has never exercised any authority over the region since. Karabakh these days belongs to the Armenian population, and one could only enter (illegally) through the Armenian border. That is where my adventure begins.
Armenia Travel Video
Quick Facts about Traveling to Artsakh
- Artsakh can only be entered from Armenia.
- You do NOT need to prepare anything before you enter Artsakh. You can get the tourist visa at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when you are in Stepanakert (the capital city) within 24 hours of entering the border, no problem.
- The main currency used is the Armenian Dram so no need to worry about exchanging money.
- Having a Artsakh stamp in your passport will render you a criminal in Azerbaijan and you will not be allowed to go into Azerbaijan. Thankfully, you can ask them to stamp it on a piece of paper instead so if you are planning to go to Azerbaijan, tell the people at the ministry to get it separately.
- The internet situation is pretty bad. Only a few up-scaled places have WiFi.
- The accomodation situation is also pretty bad. You can find good hotels on the Internet but budget hotel, you will have to rely on the Lonely Planet or WikiTravel.
- Find a hotel via the internet beforehand otherwise, you will get stuck with a crappy hotel owner like I did. He was hovering around the bus station and it seems like a great idea at the time since it was almost dark when I arrive.
How to Get to Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh)
The best way to get here is to fly into Yerevan, Armenia and cross the border from the Armenian side. I would recommend you browse through Skyscanner or Momondo to find all the cheap flights from where you live to Armenia and compare them so that you can find the one best fit for your itinerary.
Entering the country can be tricky if you rely on the outdated information you find on the internet. I was there in 2015, and this is what I had to do to enter the country.
- Take an early morning marshrutka (minivan) from Yerevan to Stepanakert from the international bus station. Normally, the marshrutka starts at 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00 but there is no exact schedule available so ask your hotel before you leave. I was there at 8:30 and the bus left at 10. The ride was approximately 6 hours.
- At the border, there will be a checkpoint. The security will ask for your passport and they will give you a piece of paper with a contact info of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is where you will have to go to get your tourist visa the next day.
- Rest well, and the next day, ask your hotel for a transfer to the ministry. You will have to fill in a form and then they will give you a stamp. They will also ask you which port you will be leaving the country from so they can mention it on your tourist visa.
- Once you get the stamp, you can roam the country as you like but avoid roaming the east border of the country since apparently, there are still landmines scattered in the area.
How to Get Around Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh)
Trasnporation is easy in Stepanakert but tricky everywhere else. In Stepanakert, navigating the city is pretty straightforward with buses running everywhere but when it comes to traveling from one town to another, you will have to rely mostly on marshrutka, a taxi or hitchhiking.
Marshutka runs a few times per day to and from Stepanakert but that is it. If you rely solely on marshrutka then you will have to go back and forth between your destination and Stepanakert which means you might have to stay overnight in Stepanakert to connect to another marshrutka bound for small villages like Vank or Shushi.
Taxi is easy to find in Stepanakert but no where else out of the capital city. You will have a hard time finding a transportation out of small towns.
Hithchiking is the only viable transportation I found that took me to places I wanted to go without wasting money and time. As long as you start your day early (because it can take a while and you might need to make connections from one town to another) and you communicate your destination with your driver correctly, then you will be just fine. People are very nice and welcoming especially toward foreigners which makes hitchhiking common in Artsakh even among the locals. You will have no trouble finding someone to pick you up.
Where to Stay in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh)
I strongly recommend you to find a hotel in Stepanakert online from here or contact the hotel listed on Wikitravel before you arrive in order to avoid stayinh with a drunk hotel owner who can not stop saying "NO PROBLEM" while screaming in yor face with vodka breath all the time like I did.
Avoid the people who try to give you a lift for free from the bus station in exchange for a night stay at their hotel. They usually overcharge you and will push you to stay one more night by giving false information about the bus schedule.
This place is very cheap compare to all the other countries and you can expect to pay around 20 - 30 USD per day per person and including accommodation and food.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need a travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
Awesome Things to Do in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh)
Check out the "We Are Our Mountains" national memorial
An impressive monument, iconic to Artsakh, which is only a bus away from Stepanakert. The sculpture is regarded as a symbol of the Armenian heritage of Artsakh.
Walk Around the Stepanakert Square
This is where the cool kids hang out, with plenty of restaurants, clubs, open-air park and a miniature version of the Cascade for you to check out.
Learn the history in the many museums in Artsakh
The Artsakh State Museum is a good place to learn the history of this area from the ancient times till today. Through the years of wars between Artsakh and Azerbaijan, the museum has managed to gather and save all the spiritual and material values of Artsakh people and stored them here.
The Museum to the Memory of Perished Azatamartiks is a unique museum built to store the memory of perished freedom fighters during the war. You will see all the faces who died fighting for independence and the items used during the war.
Do a day trip to Shushi
Shushi is a ghost town devastated by war between Artsakh and Azerbaijan. The town was once the second biggest city in the region second only to Tbilisi before the massacre in 1920 that burned the whole place down to the ground. You can still see the remnants of those good years in a form of ruins and decaying structures where the locals still strive. It was both impressive and sad at the same time to walk around the town, seeing what the locals have to deal with on a daily basis.
Pray at the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral
While in Shushi, visit the cathedral that stood proudly in the middle of the town. This all-white limestone cathedral serves as the main cathedral and headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church's Diocese of Artsakh.
Stay with a local in Vank (Vəngli)
Vank is a small town north of Stepanakert, best known for an Amrenian church located on top of a mountain, and a place where a russian millionaire built a Titanic hotel at the foot of the village.
There is only one hotel here in Vank and it is expensive. If you are a budget-conscious traveler like I do, you can go into people's home and ask if they can host you for a night.
Here's what we did:
We walked past the Titanic hotel up the hill toward the church and stumbled upon a small bakery along the road where we asked if they have a bed for us. They did and charged us 5000 drams per night while we slept on the floor. It was awesome!
The approximate location of a house we stayed that night.
Hike to the Gandzasar Monastery
From Vank, you can hike up the mountain to the Gandzasar Monastery, another cool Armenian church with a panoramic view of the mountain range that surrounded Vank. The scenery, especially during the sunset made the 1 hour hike worthwhile.
Getting Out of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh)
You can either get out the normal way, the same way you came in through Stepanakert, or you can do what we did, through the unguarded border in the north through the mountaineous Sotk Pass.
From Vank, we did not have the luxury to go back to Stepanakert so we hitchhiked our way from Vank to Heyvali for a lunch break and tried to hitchhike to Dadivank. We made it there but after we saw the deserted town we decided to go further and made our way back to Armenia. There were no security check this time as we went through the mountaineous region of the northern Artsakh. We crossed the border to Armenia and ended our adventure in Artsakh.
Digital Nomad friendly cafe
Nope. I found none in this country. You will be glad if you can find a fast working wifi in restaurants and hotels in Artsakh.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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