Green hills surrounding the dome of an Armenian Monastery, Haghartsin Monastery in Dilijan the Armenian Switzerland
Armenia

The Best Tour Agencies in Armenia

The Best Tour Agencies in Armenia

Are you planning a trip to Armenia soon? When I first booked my trip to Armenia I had no idea how I was going to see all of the best monasteries and attractions in Armenia on my own. I only had 12 days and wanted to experience as much as possible! After researching my options, I realized traveling with a private tour agency in Armenia would help me — as a solo female traveler — travel safely and efficiently in Armenia. Working with a travel agency within Armenia is more affordable than you might think and absolutely worth it!

I had a wonderful experience!

I’ll also give a detailed review of my experience as a solo female traveler using private tour agencies in Armenia.

Arites Travel is the best all around tour agency in Armenia. They offers anything you can imagine with unique tour packages perfectly catered to your interests.

I also traveled with Arahet Travel, which I believe is the best tour company in Armenia for specifically religious tours and pilgrimages, and with a very amazing tour to Tatev. Arahet has been offering pilgrimages for almost 20 years and are experts at religious tourism.

There are so many Armenia tour packages to choose from, so I’m here to give an honest review of two Armenia travel agencies that I worked with when I visited in May. Spoilers: I really loved both of them! And I definitely think it is worth it to travel around Armenia with a professional, licensed Armenia tour agency.

Noravank Monastery Armenia against Red Mountains in the Background. Two domes.
Noravank Monastery Armenia

What is the best way to see Armenia?

Armenia is increasingly a destination for backpackers because a) Armenia is awesome, b) Armenia is affordable and c) there are plenty of public transportation options.

Can you plan an independent trip to Armenia using only public transportation to get around? Yes, you can! 

And that might be a great choice for you! Armenia is budget-friendly and there are bus-like marshrutkas leaving from the capital city, Yerevan, almost any time and going almost anywhere. This is one of the reasons I advise you to stay in Yerevan….the other is also that it’s simply a beautiful, modern city!

There are lots of pros to using public transportation to get around Armenia. The biggest is cost. Marshrutkas and even shared taxis can be very affordable options throughout Armenia. There are enough of them, too, that it can be surprisingly convenient to travel around this way!

When I was planning my trip to Armenia as a solo female traveler I was told that Armenian public transportation is perfectly safe, and many people (especially young people) speak English in Armenia. Still…I had a limited amount of time and there was so much I wanted to see! 

I also wanted to do more than simply see some of Armenia’s best monasteries and religious sites: I wanted to learn all about their history, hear their stories, and really get to know Armenian culture.

Two Armenian church domes on the ground with a memorial marker of the Gyumri Earthquake from the Gyumri Cathedral where they fell.
The domes of the Armenian Cathedral in Gyumri that fell during the earthquake that devastated the city. They were left where they fell as a Memorial.

Why use an Armenian Tour Agency?

1. Armenian Tour Companies have Knowledgeable Guides

To me, the number 1 reason to use an Armenian Tour Agency to travel in Armenia is that by doing so you have the opportunity to travel with a knowledgable, English-speaking guide.

The guides on my trip were incredible.

They knew so much about the religious history and culture of Armenia. I can honestly say I would have learned 1/10th of what I did had I traveled around the country via marshrutka. My guides welcomed every last question I had. Because I have a strong interest in religious history, monasteries, and religious art, the guides that I had were picked due to their knowledge in this area, and it was amazing to point to one particular part of an Armenian khachkar and ask about it — and get a knowledgeable answer!

The guides were very sensitive in knowing just how much information really enhanced visiting a site or museum, and what was just too much! I never felt overwhelmed, but truly informed. I was able to draw connections between each place and the wider history of Armenia.

I was also able to ask my guides about their personal connections to the sites and to Armenian history that we discussed, which was moving and very meaningful.

I can’t imagine having walked around with my eyes down on a book or on my phone looking things up! To be able to keep my eyes up, soaking in the beauty, listening and asking questions, was a gift I can’t put into adequate words.

Armenian Khachkar Stones, Crosses in relief in ancient stone.

2. Safe drivers

A reputable tour company in Armenia, such as Arites or Arahet, provides a safe driver and safe vehicle.

This can’t be underestimated. In general, Armenian roads are very safe, and some people even choose to self-drive. There are some rather harrowing roads mixed in, though!

The driving style in Armenia is also a bit different, with lots of fast passing.

I was so thankful for a safe driver. Having a separate tour guide and driver was great, as well, because I felt I could ask questions about what we were passing freely without distracting the driver.

3. Using an Armenian Tour Agency can Save you Time

While public transportation is plentiful in Armenia, if you are like me and are using your time off work to travel there, then you likely want to see a lot in a short amount of time.

Nothing can surpass hiring a tour agency to do this. Because a tour guide and agency can tailor-make an itinerary to your liking and can organize the trip so you can see many things in a similar area in one day, you are able to see so much more.

Arahet travel organized my trip to Gyumri, Armenia’s “second city”, and added a monastery to the itinerary that is impossible to get to via public transportation. I hadn’t heard of it in my research about Armenia, but was happy to go as they suggested it! That monastery, Marmashen, became one of my favorites of the whole trip! I would never have been able to get there in the time I had if I hadn’t worked with an Armenia tour agency.

4. Tour Companies Provide Unique Experiences

While I was in Armenia, I got to ride horses at a very cool Horse Riding Club with a social mission. I got to meet one of the best blacksmiths in Armenia and even watch him make me a spoon! I got to meet a Bishop in the Armenian Church and talk with him about church history and theology, and meet the Priest that oversees the most important museum in the Armenian church, at Etchmiadzin.

A staff member at Arites travel even invited me out dancing with her and her sister to experience an Armenian folk dance flash mob!

These experiences would have been impossible or nearly impossible to experience without a tour agency with contacts all over the country.

Cate standing at Areni cave overlooking the world's oldest wine barrels in a pit
Areni 1 Cave: where the World’s oldest shoe was found!

5. An Armenian Tour Company Helps you Get to hard-to-reach places

It is very difficult to visit some of the best sites in Armenia without working with a tour company. Some group tours, such as these tours, offer trips that make stops at some of the more remote places, such as Areni Cave – where the World’s Oldest Shoe was discovered. However, some of these places get crowded when traveling in a group. Some of them aren’t readily accessible via public transportation. And some would take so long that it wouldn’t be worth it unless you had a month in the country.

But with a car, driver, and guide — and an expert itinerary — places like the Armenian Stonehenge, Karahunj, are accessible and well worth a visit! 

6. Seamless, Stress-Free Travel

Every day I had a tour, the driver and guide picked me up at my hotel. There was plenty of bottled water in the car (though the water in Armenia is potable and safe to drink). We were able to take plenty of stops for snacks and restroom breaks. At the end of each day, I was dropped back off at my hotel – or wherever I wanted.

Traveling, even as a solo traveler, was so stress-free. While this trip was not relaxing on a beach with a drink in one hand and a book with another, I actually came back really refreshed and relaxed because everything was taken care of beautifully.

7. Great Photographs

When you are traveling with a large group, or completely on your own, it can be hard to either crop out all of the people, or get anything other than selfies! I really appreciate that the guides and drivers at Arites and Arahet travel were so willing to help me take photos. And because we were often alone at some of the most beautiful sites, I could get amazing pictures without dodging the crowds!

Cate in a floral shirt in front of an Armenian monastery with an angular dome and a bright blue sky.
One of the favorite monasteries we visited. So nice to have a few good pictures of myself!

What is the best Armenia Tour Agency?

While I was in Armenia, I traveled with two different tour agencies. Both are Armenia travel agencies based out of Yerevan, and both provide comprehensive tour planning: from drivers & guides, to plenty of bottled water, incredible meals & even some help taking pictures of yourself at the beautiful sites!

Below is my review of each company, and why I truly thought both were fabulous.

Arahet Travel

Arahet Travel specializes in religious tours and pilgrimages. If that’s your style of travel, then I 100% recommend them. They offer religious tours with a particularly deep knowledge of religious culture and history. Arahet is well equipped to organize tours for church groups or other groups interested in seeing Armenia’s greatest religious sites.

I went to Tatev with Arahet because it felt important to me for that trip to feel like a spiritual pilgrimage. My guide through Arahet is the daughter of an Armenian priest, and not only knew Armenian religious history in a “textbook” way, but knew so much about the Armenian Apostolic Church from living it and had a true passion for sharing about it. Ararat’s tour offerings include the ability to offer spiritual tours around Holy Week in Armenia, pilgrimages to various monasteries to attend services, and meetings and conversation with officials from the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Due to their specialized focused and many years of experience, Arahet Travel is the best tour agency in Armenia for religious tour and pilgrimages to Armenia. 

Light streaming through the window at Tatev Monastery in Armenia while the Priests are in front
All alone at a Sunrise service at Tatev Monastery in Armenia

Arites Travel

Arites is a newer tour company in Armenia. On their website they write, “AriTes travel is first of all its people. People who know all about hospitality and who are able to tell fascinating stories about what they love” I can attest that this is completely true. Every single person I interacted with from Arites was so professional, warm, and welcoming. Arites travel also offers religious and spiritual tours, and did a wonderful job tailoring my time with them to these interests. I did one of their 3-day religious tours, which was a great length, allowing me to see some of the best religious sites in Armenia.

While Arites travel offers wonderful religious tours, they also offer food-focused tours in Armenia, craft-and-culture focused tours, and anything that you can dream up!

Arites travel is, in my opinion, the best tour agency in Armenia if you are looking for an agency that can cater to any style of travel or interests. Arites has fabulous guides, safe drivers, and innovative itineraries. I also can’t say enough about their leadership and staff — so warm, friendly, and welcoming! And English-speaking, which made the whole process very smooth.

Green hills and a blue clouded sky with mountains at Dilijan National Park in Armenia
Views in Dilijan National Park in Armenia

What does it cost to travel with an Armenia tour agency?

Traveling with a private guide and tour company in Armenia is very reasonable, especially when compared to tours in the USA and Western Europe!

It is most affordable for families and groups traveling together. It is least affordable for solo travelers — typically you pay per day or per tour for the car, driver, guide, and entrance fees. It is the best investment when you fill up all the seats in the car!

A full-day tour typically runs around $150-200 a day, per vehicle + the cost for meals. The tour companies above can arrange wonderful meals for you, which I recommend. A 2-day trip to Tatev, which is a long-haul drive + many stops along the way will run around $450 in a private vehicle. If you can bring 4 people however — this works out to $150 -ish per person, which is less than I’ve paid for day tours here in the USA to see one of the world’s most incredible and remote monasteries.

A wonderful hotel, such as the Silk Road Hotel in Yerevan, will run around $45-50 USD a night. Food is also very affordable in Armenia and, of course, great wine! Most monasteries are free to visit, as well, which can help with costs. Some, such as Zvartnots and the Garni Temple, do require a ticket, which your tour guide will arrange for you.

Cate standing in front of a monastery with a large lake in the background and a blue sky.
Sevanavank Monastery in Armenia, which I visited with Arites Travel Agency in Armenia.

Are you ready to start planning your trip to Armenia? 

There is so much to see and so many things to do in Armenia! And if you are looking for the best tour agency in Armenia, look no further than Arites or Arahet. Traveling with a tour agency means you will have a seamless experience, and see so much more than you otherwise would have.

It’s no secret that Armenia was my favorite destination of 2019. I hope it will be your favorite of 2020! 

[I was a guest of Arites and Arahet travel during my stay in Armenia, with organizational help from the My Armenia program of the Smithsonian. As always, all opinions remain entirely my own.] 

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