Alaverdi is the largest city in the Debed Canyon of Lori, an area rich with historical monuments and natural beauty, and your best bet for refueling, getting supplies or finding other things you'd expect in a town. The town itself has little to offer of historic value, save for the beautiful old foot bridge, since it was built as a mining town, a fact which you won't be able to miss as you go past the massive mining works. The mine once wreaked massive environmental damage, which stopped for a while with the collapse of the USSR, but now it has restarted, albeit on a much smaller scale. You can drive to the Sarahart suburb, which is on top of the canyon cliffs, or you can walk up the ancient foot path which is past the bridge. The funniest, and perhaps most dangerous option though is the cable car, which takes the miners to and from work. Sarahart is adjacent to Sanahin Village, with the famous monastery, and the museum to the Migoyan brothers, with their extraordinary accomplishments of worldwide significance.
Although accommodation options are somewhat limited, making the decision to stay a few nights in the area will allow you to much better appreciate and explore what Armenia has to offer, without sitting in a car all day back and forth from Yerevan.
Alaverdi is surrounded by the following important suburbs and villages, which will also be considered in this article: 1 Sarahart, 2 Sanahin, 3 Haghpat, 4 Odzun, and 5 Dsegh. Alaverdi itself is actually just a transport hub, and you are better off staying on top of the canyon.
- 1 Bus station.
- Marshrutkas between Alaverdi and Vanadzor (1 hr, 500 dram), Stepanavan (2 hr, 700 dram), and Gyumri depart daily. To Vanadzor: 09:00, 10:30, 11:00, and 13:00.
- Furthermore, almost all transport to and from Tbilisi passes through this town.
- Yerevan (3 hr, 1,700 dram).
- 2 Train Station.
There are numerous taxis waiting for your negotiations.
It is easy to get around and into the Alaverdi canyon.
The Alaverdi town is built along the Debed River and easily walkable. To reach Sanahin and Sarahart take a taxi (600-700 dram), marshrutka (100 dram), or just hitchhike. Everything along the canyon can be managed by hitchhiking, but taxis are abundant.
As of December 2019, the M-6 road around Alaverdi is under construction and in pretty bad shape. Some stretches are passable at max. 10 km/h.
- 3 Bus Station for Odzun. To get to Odzun catch a bus going to Vanadzor (every round hour), 200-300 dram. There is at least one bus at 14:00.
Useful marshrutka routes (the last go at 19:00):
- Marshrutka #3 – from the train station through the entire city along the Debed River.
- Marshrutka #5 – from the bus and train stations to Sanahin suburb, every 15-30 min, 100 dram.
- Marshrutka #063 – between Alaverdi and Haghpat, 200 dram
- Alaverdi to Haghpat: weekdays 08:15, 09:00, 10:30, 11:30, 13:30, 15:00, 16:30, 17:30, and weekend 09:00, 13:00, 17:00
- Haghpat to Alaverdi: weekdays 07:30, 08:35, 09:30, 11:00, 13:00, 14:05, 15:30, 17:00, and weekend 08:30, 12:00, 16:00
- Marshrutka to Akhtala Monastery: 12:00, 300 dram.
By cable car
There is a funicular (even though actually a cable car) between Alaverdi and Sarahart. The cable car operates at the following times: 07:00-10:00, 11:00-13:30, 15:00-19:30, and 23:00-00:30
As of 2019, the cable car is broken and locals are not confident on a timely repair.
A taxi to Odzun is officially 1,500 dram, even though it is just 10 km. But it is uphill and often taxi drivers demand 2,000 dram from tourist. Do not fall for 2,000.
Otherwise, the going rate, as always, is 100 dram per kilometre, at least when not climbing up.
Also it's possible to charter a taxi to Haghpat Monastery and Akhtala Monastery together for 5,000 dram. Or to Odzun church and Kobair Monastery together for 5,000 dram. But with the beautiful canyon landscape, you are better off hiking parts of the way. There is always enough taxis around to take one where you finish.
In Alaverdi itself:
- 1 12th-century bridge of Sanahin. From this bridge you can walk up to the top of the canyon and further to Sanahin monastery.
- 2 Church of Saint Gregory of Narek (Narekatsi church) (By the post office near the bottom of the cable car.). New town church completed in 2001.
- 3 Akhtala Monastery (20 km east of Alaverdi). With the possible exception of Kobayr Monastery, Akhtala has the most exquisite frescoes in Armenia. This fortified monastery, with massive gates and beautiful details, carvings, and ruins, is above a mining town of the same name. Built by the intertwined Armenian-Georgian royalties of the times, this monastery captures the best of both. There are sunken rooms, arches that outlasted their buildings, and nice views. The key to getting the most out of this monastery is making sure that you can find the... key. To get in and see the frescoes. The keeper of the key is Vartan Mamikonian (no joke) so ask for him, or just ask villagers if it is locked.
- 4 Kayan Berd (between Haghpat and Sanahin, follow the road to Akner N of Sanahin and then take small trail to the fortress). Ruins of a small black fortress built in 1233.
- 5 Haghpat Monastery, Haghpat Village (6 km north of Alaverdi). Part of the same UNESCO site as Sanahin, you'll have a hard time choosing a favourite. The labyrinth of passages, chambers, khachkars and views will leave you wondering how this masterpiece was built. A combined UNESCO world heritage site, these two monasteries sit on top of opposite sides of the Debed Canyon and have vied for first place with one another ever since the beginning. Both are gems, with extensive grounds, buildings and each with a bell tower. Haghpat has a famous colored khachkar depicting Jesus, and has half-buried buildings.
- 6 Sanahin Monastery, Sanahin Village (Above Alaverdi in Sanahin Village, take marshrutni #3 from Alaverdi). UNESCO World Heritage site, and for good reason. This wonderland of incredibly well preserved Armenian architecture has stood for almost a thousand years, with little change. You can sense how the place must have buzzed with activity. Sayat Nova, the famous bard, used to sing here. The name literally means "older than that one", referring to Haghpat. This is due to the competition between those two monasteries. However, both originate from pretty much from the same time. Sanahin has a round library building that the groundskeeper can show you, with exquisite carvings. You can take a cable car from the main highway up to Sanahin village, and walk to the monastery (20 min) if you prefer. You will pass the Migoyan Museum on the way up.
- 7 Museum to the Migoyan brothers, Mikoyan St (10 min walking downhill from Sanahin monastery). Opens 09:30. Artyom Migoyan the famous aeronautical engineer, designer of the MIG fighter series (MiG parked out front), while his brother become Premier of the USSR. The museum reopened in 2017 after renovation. The price includes a guided tour in English (translated folders in German, French and Spanish are also available at the museum). Adults 500 dram, children 250 dram.
- 8 Odzun Basilica Church, Odzun Village (8 km southwest of Alaverdi). A huge basilica, which has withstood the tests of time for 1,300 years, the church in Odzun is a beauty. There are also some interesting steles, placed there as a memorial, with carvings telling a story, and a large village surrounds the church.
- 9 Horomayri Monastery, near Odzun (this is an incredibly well-camouflaged monastery on the slope of the cliffs, just 1 km south of Odzun. To get there, climbing up from the highway along the Debed River is probably quickest, but hiking south across the cliffs from the last switchback to Odzun is easy as well. The tough and quick way is descending the cliffs from 1 km south of Odzun). The monastery is built in part at the top of the cliff, in part halfway down. At the top, there is a three-chambered chapel. Below, the walls of the canyon form one of the four walls of the structures. There are caves within the monastic complex, khachkars and carvings. St Mark's Church was built by the Princes Zakare and Ivane Zakarian in 1187. The other buildings were built by Abbot Samuel in 1206.
A cute little town seated in the Debed Gorge with a nice (if very quiet) town square. Right across the gorge from Kobayr Monastery. Not to be confused with nearby Dsegh, the birthplace of Tumanyan.
- 10 Kobayr Monastery, Kober Village (12 km south of Alaverdi). The partially collapsed church once had magnificently exposed frescoes - which are now being covered again as the complex is restored. The setting is really nice, as are the views. Well worth the 15-min walk up the slippery wet lush, green slopes of the canyon above the tiny hamlet of Kober.
- 11 St. Grigori Monastery (Bardzrakash), south of Tumanyan town, 2 km north of Dsegh village (Surp Grigori can be accessed from the highway below it (this trail starts at confluence of Debed and Marts rivers), or from the fields above the cliffs. The hike is a little longer from below, but the road is much better, shorter and easier to find.). This one has much more of the lost to time feeling, and due to the hike, and the very few that venture out here, you'll likely have it to yourself. The feeling you just discovered beautiful ruins in the jungle can be hard to shake. The ruins make for a great picture, especially when the local cows are feeding inside of the ruins. A nice hike up to this monastery from Tumanyan village. Make sure to take the right turn—if you are not ascending, then something is wrong. Hike further for a nice viewpoint.
One of the oldest and famous villages in Armenia with the basilica church and its ethnographic museum. In the village cemetery there are lots of other cross stones, memorials and ruins of a small 7th-century basilica church.
- 12 Tumanyan’s house-museum. Dsegh is birthplace of Armenian writer Hovhannes Tumanyan’s (1869-1923) and this museum is devoted to him.
- 13 Karasun Mankants church (On a trail west of the village.). 12th century
- 14 Sirun Khach Khachkar (Sirun Khach cross stone) (Northwest of the center.).
- 15 Ardvi Monastery (St Hovhannes Monastery), Ardvi Village (5-6 km from Odzun village, 9 km from Alaverdi). Monastery built in 8-17th centuries consists of two small churches and a belfry surrounded by low-height walls. There is also a tetrahedral monument, khachkars (cross stones) and ruins of dwellings.
- Hike, bike, climb, camp, 4x4, photography...
There are many trails in the area that link monasteries with each other and with villages. Some have signs and some are marked on OpenStreetMap, others aren’t! The paths are very scenic.
The following are some of the recommended trails, starting with the most scenic ones:
- Sanahin to Haghpat. Follow any of the paths from one monastery to the other. The shortest trail with least distance on paved roads is 9 km and takes about 2-3 hr. It takes you through the steep gorges, a small mountain river and the village Akner. If you follow the official path, be careful going down to the mountain river; one of the water pipes has a leak and the steep incline is very slippery. Also, just close to Haghpat when climbing into the valley, there are two options. One leads you down far to the bottom where the road and trail intersect. Another one is slightly longer but remains on similar altitude avoiding the steep climb going around'ish the gorge south of it.
- Odzun to Kobayr and Tumanyan. A spectacular hike along the canyon cliffs with great views, especially during afternoon hours. It goes by Horomayri Monastery, built against the cliffs, and then Kobayr, with beautiful frescoes and a spring inside one of the churches. Start your descend down the trail directly from Odzun. 6-7 km, 2 hr.
- Tumanyan to Dsegh. Pass the beautiful lost-feeling ruins of Surb Grigori Bardzrakash monastery on your way up the cliffs to the plain upon which Dsegh lies.
- Tumanyan to Tsater. Hike under and along the cliffs, starting at Tumanyan, and making your way up to Tsater, with stunning views of multiple river valleys along the way. A huge ancient trough fed by a spring coming out of a tunnel, and a cute chapel abutting the cliffs are found just under the village cliffs of Tsater, which also has a small old church with an interesting little bell tower of its own.
The biggest market (shuka) between Vanadzor and Georgia is here, consisting mostly of local produce and cheap imported wares.
Down in Alaverdi there are banks and ATMs, though there are only one or two above in Sanahin.
There are a couple of places to eat in Alaverdi, plus almost all hotels and B&Bs have their own restaurants.
- 1 Restaurant (reached by crossing the highway bridge towards Sanahin, but turning left after the bridge rather than right, and driving to the end of the short road.). Meal sets which includes soup, kebab, salad, etc., for 2,600-3,100 dram.
- 2 Tavern (A few kilometres before Alaverdi on main the road, before turning to Haghpat). Fully-functioning restaurant.
- A few cafes near 12th-century bridge of Sanahin serving some simple snacks. Nice views over the river. Cheap: coffee is 200 dram.
- Barbecue resturants along the highway.
- Sanahin Bridge Hotel has a lounge bar.
There are not so many hotels inside the city (just one, Lalvar Hotel) all the rest lie in nearby villages and suburbs. However, getting there is quite easy as there are lots of public marshrutkas plying the area.
- 1 Lalvar Hotel, Engelsa st., 5. 20,000 dram double room, 16,000 dram deluxe.
- 2 B&B Iris (Irena Israyelyan), Baghramyan st. 65 (3 km east of town, marshrutka #3 will get you there), ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Friendly, family-run B&B. Comfortable, clean but smallish rooms with shared bathrooms. It is also possible to camp. The owner also organise dinners parties gathering all guests together. Nice setting and fantastic views over the river. Excellent meals. Can be a bit noisy. Double room 15,000-20,000 dram; lunch 3,000 dram, dinner 4,000 dram.
- 3 Parisis B&B, Jravazan st. 2 (city centre of town, next to Alaverdi hospital), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Parisis B&B is in the ccentre of Alaverdi, in residential building (apartments). Historical sights, such as Haghpat, Sanahin, Akhtala, Odzun, Ardvi and Kobayr are easily accessible by public transport. Free Wi-Fi is provided in all areas. The bed and breakfast has a sun terrace and views of the mountains. You will find a shared kitchen and 24-hr reception at the property. Alaverdi Central station is located within a 2-min walk from the property. Next to Parisis B&B are located Alaverdi Hospital, VTB and Ardshin banks and also ATM. From street side, take the last entrance. Single room 7,000, Double room 12,000 dram, lunch 2,500 dram, dinner 3,000 dram.
- 4 Anna Maria Hotel, ☏ . Simple hotel run by friendly owner. It occupies the first floor of a 5-storey building. A bit rundown from the outside and very cheap. Inside simple rooms, a common dining room. Beware there are no radiators inside, so in winter the rooms get cold and only electric portable heaters heat the air in the rooms. Free Wi-Fi included. 5,000 dram, dinner and breakfast in vast amounts for 3,500 dram.
- 5 Mini House Hostel. A gem in this region. The lounge is nicely decorated and invites for a comfy chill. Only 5 rooms, so reserve ahead. Room 9,000-10,000 dram.
- 6 Sanahin Bridge. A hotel with lounge bar opened in 2014. Modern design. Only 4 rooms. Charming lobby. Extremely nice personnel. Wi-Fi. 20,000 dram double room.
There are several B&Bs scattered around the village, including:
- Odzun B&B, ☏ . 8,000 dram per person.
- Vahagn Davtyan B&B, ☏ . 8,000 dram per person.
- Alvard Nersisyan B&B, ☏ . double room 12,000-15,000 dram.
- Amalya Nalbandyan B&B, ☏ . 6,000-7,000 dram per person.
- 7 Odzun Hotel, Odzun Village (Above the village 2 km away from it, past the cemetery), ☏ . A Soviet rest house built in 1971 that has been renovated. Offers large modern rooms and cottages. Open-air swimming pool, billiards, tennis, volleyball and football fields, children playground. For some it's proven to be a very cheap and convenient spot to rest, with breakfast included. Surrounding forest and splendid views over the mountains worth a visit on its own. Transfer from the city is free of charge. Single 8,000 dram, double 12,000-16,000 dram, also serve food for 2,000 dram set meal for 2 person.
- Aleksan Qocharyan B&B, ☏ . Shared facilities: kitchen, washing machine, tea/coffee maker. 8,000 dram per person.
- 8 Flora Simonyan B&B (Right next to the parking lot of Haghpat Monastery), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Family run place with simple but quite decent rooms. Can prepare some meals. 10,000 dram per person without meals.
- 9 Gayane Hotel (5-10 min walk from Haghpat monastery), ☏ . Quite good rooms. Nice owners. Fantastic view of Debed river canyon. There is also a restaurant with delicious national food very moderately priced. Single 8,000 dram, double 16,000 dram.
- Hotel Qefilyan (5-10 min walk to Haghpat monastery; 100 m down the road from Gayane Hotel), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-out: Single 15,000 dram, double 22,000 dram, triple 27,000 dram. Clean hotel surrounded by nature, with beautiful views. Restaurant. Breakfast included.
- 10 Kanchaqar Campzone, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A tent city for nature and extreme lovers. Amazing view from your tent, fantastic hospitality and service.
- Karo Yerznkyan B&B. Double 10,000 dram, meal 3,000-4,000 dram per person.
- 11 Eteri Guesthouse, ☏ . A few new rooms. If you need to find an owner, she works in Akhtala monastery. 3,000 dram per person.
- 12 Guest House Artemi, 2nd Street, House 5, Tumanyan Town (14 km from Alaverdi), ☏ . Nice modern rooms in a private house 20,000 dram.
- Anoush Hotel, Vanadzor-Alaverdi Highway, 21st km, ☏ , , . A beautiful little complex, started as a barbecue restaurant, it quickly became a dependable fixture of the area. Right by the highway and overlooking the Debed River and the forests beyond, the building is built in the traditional local style and is a fun place to watch life go by in this region.
- Lori Rest House (From Vanadzor 16th km to Alaverdi turns right), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Cold water, toilet, bathroom and hot water in some rooms. Satellite TV set, telephone in the lobby. FB meal is included in the price. Playground, parking lot, café, shop. Café, tennis, billiard, football, volleyball 6,000-10,000 dram per person. Discounts for children. Cash only.
- 13 Tufenkian Dzoraget, Dzoraget Village, Vanadzor-Alaverdi Highway (Big new basalt hotel, across river from highway, 19 km from Alaverdi). Luxury western hotel, with excellent comfortable rooms, design, views. Luxury prices as well. There is also a restaurant with a full (and expensive) menu. 54,000 dram.
Hiking trails are frequently packed dirt on a steep incline next to a steep drop-off. There are no guard rails, they are often slippery when wet, and it is possible to walk for hours without seeing anyone outside the villages. Additionally many of the plants here have needles or thorns. So plan ahead!
Internet can be found in most of the hotels and B&Bs. Otherwise, use mobile 3G which signal is quite good here.
There are 2 mobile operator stores in town, VivaCell MTS and Ucom, both located near the bus station. Beeline sim cards can be bought from the grocery store nearby.
- Khorakert Monastery and Khuchapi Monasteryat the border with Georgia, see Northern Armenia
- Noyemberyan – NE 52 km.
- Stepanavan – A town famous mainly because of the ruins of the walled city of Lori nearby, 50 km west.
- Vanadzor – Armenia's 3rd largest city, 50 km south.
- Tbilisi, Georgia – The Georgian capital and pleasant gateway into Georgia, 120 km north. You will find many marshrutkas going to the border and beyond. Private taxi to Georgia-Armenia border at Bagratashen is 4,500 dram. Then walk across the border to Georgia. Once in, hitch hike or walk 4 km to the village center of Sadakhlo to find a marshrutka or taxi to take you the rest of the way.