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. A bus from Alaverdi to Tbilissi leaves every day at 11:30.
- 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 the town
- 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 Mikoyan Brothers Museum (in Sanahin village, a short walk from their original home and 200 m from the great Sanahin Monastery), email@example.com. M-Sa 11:00 to 16:00. Artyom Mikoyan the famous aeronautical engineer, designer of the MIG fighter series (MiG parked out front), while his brother become Premier of the USSR. The price includes a guided tour in English (translated folders in German, French and Spanish are also available at the museum). For adults 500 dram, for ages 6-18 250 dram, for ages 0-5 free of charge. which includes a guided tour in English by one of our team (Armenian and Russian language are also available).
- 4 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.
- 5 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.
- 6 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 colored khachkar famous for depicting Jesus - highly uncommon among khachkars, and has half-buried buildings.
- 7 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.
- 8 Khuchapi Monastery (12-15 km east northeast of Privolnoye Village). A monastery of beautiful colored stones in a magical forested region, with intricate carvings and tiny stairwells inside the walls to take you up to the soaring roof. [May also be inaccessible due to Georgian border troops blocking access
- 9 Khorakert Monastery (5 km east of Khuchapi). Likewise majestic alpine monastery with a very interesting copula, which was the inspiration for the National Cathedral's in Yerevan. [May also be inaccessible due to Georgian border troops blocking access].
- 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:
- 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.
- Horse riding and hiking with local guide Saro Ohanyan, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. For several years already Saro has been organizing hiking and horse-riding tours in the most beautiful corners of Lori. With a degree in Oriental studies, Saro expertly navigates through all the hidden gems of Toumanian’s world and shares his vast knowledge with visitors. Best known for his horse-riding tours, Saro will also show you the cultural and natural wonders of the region. Main destinations: Alaverdi, Akhtala, Haghpat, Sanahin, Ardvi, Odzun, Dsegh Languages: Armenian, English
- 1 Alaverdi guides (Alaverdi guides are based at Mikoyan brothers museum in Sanahin village), ☏ , email@example.com. Local hiking guides able to show you some of the hidden trails of the Alaverdi countryside.
- 2 Cooking classes at "Iris" Guesthouse, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Classes are available 7 days a week, from 08:00 to 20:00. Reservations must be made 24 hours in advance. Join Irina at her guest house to participate in different cooking classes. You will have a chance to learn how to make Tanov soup or Ghapama or bake a local bread in a traditional North Armenian pur
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 restaurants along the highway.
- 3 Atorik Tavern, ☏ . A cozy place on the bank of the river Debed with delicious food.
- 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), ☏ , , email@example.com. 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), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Parisis B&B is in the centre 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 (next to the parking lot of Haghpat Monastery), ☏ , email@example.com. 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), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 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, ☏ , email@example.com. 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.
- 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), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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.