When traveling through the Caucasus, where should you go? Felix tallies up the score.
This summer I visited Armenia and Georgia, two countries that are not major travel destinations yet, but are getting increasingly higher traffic. And that’s deserved, because they both rule. Interesting historical sites and ruins, low prices, wonderful nature, friendly locals, an overall very safe environment, and easy access in and out, as both countries are served by decently-priced flights from Europe and (unlike their fellow post-Soviet Caucasian neighbor Azerbaijan) have gotten rid of the painful bureaucratic visa application procedures*. Both Georgia and Armenia are worth visiting and spending a lot of time in, and while they are obviously very similar in some ways, they are not twin brothers at all.
A lot of people asked me to compare them, and I figured that it would be a pretty good idea to do so. Below you’ll find a criteria by criteria comparison of each country combined with a point system — as if this was a contest. So let’s do it!
Georgia wins this one. Unlike a lot of travelers who find Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is bland, I did enjoy its vibe, central square, convenient size and superb national museum, but Tbilisi is on another level. Yerevan is an average capital and a good transportation hub; Tbilisi might be one of the most underrated cities in all of Europe.OK, OK, maybe it lies technically in Asia, but culturally and ethnically I consider Georgia to be way more Eastern European than anything remotely Asian. Its old town is full of rough edges and reminds you at every street corner that people actually live and breathe there, as opposed to some old towns that feel like Disneyland, and the more modern parts have a very interesting vibe to them as well. There are lots of cultural gems here to be harvested. Truly, Tbilisi is a place where one can walk for hours, get lost several times, and keep walking.
Again, the point goes to Georgia. And once again, it’s not because Armenia is lackluster — with its terrific hills, gorges, forests, lakes and what not — it’s just that Georgia is way too damn good. Fans of hiking might go into bursts of convulsions upon seeing the peaks of Kazbegi and Svaneti, those places are insane! Georgians think that their country is the most beautiful in the world, and frankly I can hardly think of places that rivals it.
Georgia is extremely affordable and will break your bank only if you splurge stupid. Armenia, meanwhile, is truly a CHEAP country to visit. On several occasions during the first few days travelers will wonder “What the hell?! Is it really THAT cheap?” upon being quoted a price, as they mentally calculate the conversion rate once more just to make sure. Getting around by marshrutka (15-seat vans), eating locally bought food, using the same water bottle and refilling it at public taps, and staying in local homestays can set one back less than $15 a day. Sure, some of the incredibly low costs are a result of the recovering economy and ethical travelers shouldn’t abuse of it, but it does feel good not to have to watch the finances too closely, even when on a budget.
This one is not even close. Georgian food is interesting, hearty, varied, and always served in copious portions. Sitting here typing this, my mouth is watering at the idea of having a huge khachapuri, the home-style cheese-filled flat bread that is their most famous and ubiquitous staple. They also have surprising variety in their stews, eggplant-based dishes, salads, dumplings, and combined with their incredibly fresh produce and world-famous wine, every meal becomes a culinary adventure.
Armenian food, on the other hand, is… meh. You can eat well in Armenia, of course, but the choice tends to be either some greasy kebabs or pizza slices from street stands, or some Russian restaurants that serve good grilled meat and that’s it. Home-cooked fare ain’t that spectacular either, mostly “functional” food without much flavor or originality to it. And Armenians are not people that eat out a lot, so there are very, very few restaurants, unlike in Georgia where a lot of little cafes serve awesome food. Georgia gets double points for this one (quality and availability).
Advantage: Georgia x 2
Both countries have an official language that is unrelated to any lingo you might know, difficult to pronounce, and written in a completely foreign-looking script. Also, the quasi-totality of locals speak perfect Russian, a heritage from Soviet times, and surprisingly don’t mind using the language at all even among themselves — despite the frictions they have with the Russian government (especially Georgia). A few phrases of Russian will get you very, very far.
However, just as in every country where Russian is spoken (in Central Asia, Ukraine, and of course Russia itself) English is not widespread at all. It’s as if English and Russian were mutually exclusive! Some guidebooks might say something along the lines of “the new generation speaks English as a second language rather than Russian” but that is complete bullsquash. You will encounter locals who know English in ecotourism areas, some homestays, and the odd University student or returning expatriate, but don’t ever ever expect any random person to speak it.
So, who gets the point for ease of communication? Tough call. Georgia has more tourists you can tag along with, and among them LOTS of Poles and Israelis who are very likely to speak at least broken Russian and help you get by, but Armenia has a large returning diaspora and therefore you are very likely to encounter locals who speak native-like English (or French, German, etc.) more often than in Georgia.
What!?! I am a heterosexual single male, and it’s not a sin to merely look.
There are chicks in Georgia, just like every place in the world that doesn’t start in “On” and end in “tario,” but the ladies of Yerevan are complete stunners. Period. Point Armenia.
Armenians will remind you every time: their country is the first ever Christian nation. I am far from being a huge fan of organized religion myself, but the branch of Christianity encountered in Armenia (and the one in Georgia, similar but not quite identical) is not the obscene, in-your-face, obtrusive Jesus-this, Jesus-that found in the USA. Non-spiritual travelers are left alone, but can still immerse themselves in the cultural aspects of the religion that are omnipresent in the area.
There are numerous monasteries, and in my humble opinion, the Armenian ones are cooler than their Georgian counterparts. A lot of them are way out and you need to go on a long hike to even reach them, but once you do you have the whole place to yourself. And they are all free to visit, unlike a few in Georgia where some clever money-grabber decided to impose an entrance fee. More on that below.
This one is a delicate one, and is very subjective. Bluntly, Georgia is more touristy than Armenia. As soon as you leave Yerevan you are way out of any “Western backpacker” beaten path.
That ain’t to say that Georgia is like Koh Phi Phi, Venice, Cuzco or any other similar shithole, but it’s undeniable that some parts of the country are heading (in my very humble opinion) in the wrong direction. Mestia, the hub for trekking in the otherwise fantastic Svaneti area, is, as of 2012, nothing more than an ugly pile of rubble and construction waste as they are building large hotels. The place might soon become a theme park, even though not more than six years ago it was a completely unspoilt (but granted, dangerous and bandit-ridden) area. Don’t get me wrong: Svaneti deserves tourism. It just needs to take it easy on the over-development, something that is of course hard to fathom when you go from a remote untouched area to a haven for backpackers who come by the dozen almost overnight. Time will tell… but for now, even at the time of my visit, the greedy attitude towards foreign tourists had already begun to point its ugly nose, with random farmers asking 50 lari ($30!!!) to open a church door, and jeep drivers asking the equivalent of a monthly Georgian salary for a two-hour ride. That is a small minority, as every single person without exception in non-touristy areas, and the vast majority in touristy areas, aren’t like that, but it does happen and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Even with all ethical considerations from me, being fortunate enough to hail from a rich country and travel for pleasure and blahblah, I can’t approve of that, and thus must give the point to Armenia, where it doesn’t cross the mind of the common folk to even try ripping off foreigners.
So, when all is said and done, the final score is:
Georgia 4 Armenia 4
I wouldn’t have seen it any other way, as I had an equally good time in both countries. So do yourself a favor, and go check ’em both out for yourself!
*About visa procedures, or lack thereof: Georgia is visa-free for most nationalities, and an Armenian visas cost 3000 drams ($7!!!) and are available on arrival at any point of entry — a two-minute thing.
About the Author: Felix Gervais
Felix likes extreme music, cooking spicy food, riding bicycles, drawing comics and going to weird places. He is currently on a never-ending quest to find the best 麻婆豆腐 in all of China. Felix Gervais has written 11 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
September 24, 2012, 2:26 pm
I’m surprised the food in Armenia wasn’t better. I live in Los Angeles, which has a huge Armenian population, and the food they make here is delicious.
September 25, 2012, 3:14 pm
well in england, Indian food is nothing like food in India, yet we have so many indians…. LOL… excuse me….. what do u expect????? a Armenian cafe owner in LA would not make a dime if he served traditionally made Armenian food.. no one would come and eat his fare….. ethinc food made/cooked in other lands is modified to make it eatable!!!! LOL
and so it is in England….. who’s gonna eat samosas cooked in 5 month old cooking oil…….so they change the oil weekly……. eating food cooked in oil that is good enough to put in a trucks engine, is the way to go in India…
- September 25, 2012, 3:14 pm
September 26, 2012, 2:08 pm
Thanks for this post. My mom’s family is Armenia, so I grew up hearing stories about the “old country” from all my older relatives. It’s interesting to see what it’s like now. I also didn’t realize it was that cheap. For $15 a day, I might have to make a pilgrimage of my own.
And I’m actually not surprised the food wasn’t that good. I’ve always thought traditional Armenian food was kind of bland.
October 1, 2012, 12:09 pm
I have spend over a month in Georgia, and I am heading to Armenia in one more, Armenia is one of the main milestones in my trip, and probably the most anticipated country, for which I have had a strong fascination for years. But so far, I only have experienced the Georgian parts of this article, and they are definitely true:
-I think Georgian food would be a strong contender for pretty much any countries’ cuisine, it is creative in that it uses incredibly common and affordable elements, and achieves things unlike anything you have ever tasted before.
-Tbilisi has been a surprise, it is a little too big, but the sights that interest the average traveler are easily within reach and easy to explore in a few days.
In all, I have very high expectations on Armenia, and I think both countries make for one awesome vacation if you explore both; I think it is quite an unique experience to visit them now, in the sweet spot between the dangerous and bellicose times they had in the last few years, but before hotels start popping up everywhere and the tourist traps and greed you mention in Georgia become more common..
February 1, 2013, 7:04 am
I lived in Georgia for a year, and I’ve also visited Armenia. The 2 countries are different from each other, but not by much. Personally, I prefer Armenian food to Georgian food, but that is not to say that Georgian cuisine is bland. It’s that I prefer kebab and lahmacun to khachapuri and khinkali. Georgia is known for its wine, Armenia for its cognac. In terms of things to do, Georgia beats Armenia, as there are all sorts of sights and places to visit there (as mentioned in the entry above).
August 26, 2017, 11:43 pm
don’t forget 6000yrs old areni winery in Armenia
- August 26, 2017, 11:43 pm
May 23, 2014, 12:50 am
armenia is better in any casy
February 8, 2018, 9:02 am
- February 8, 2018, 9:02 am
June 6, 2014, 5:26 pm
what??? georgia is better than armenia -_-
Georgia without a question. Better food, nicer people, cheaper (but only slightly so) You can vary your experience by seeing Tbilisi, churches at Mtskheta, Stalin museum in Gori and the mountains of Kazbegi. In Armenia you can see an old church, an old church and an old church.
April 11, 2015, 3:50 pm
So I am going to Georgia this summer, loved your blog! Which are the colest places you could suggest in gerogia?
August 13, 2015, 6:48 am
If u want to see the city life, then you have to visit Tbilisi, Batumi, Signaghi, Gori, Kutaisi, Telavi, Zugdidi. If you want to be in touch with wild nature, you have to go to Mestia and Ushguli in Svaneti, Shatili and Mutso in Khevsureti, Kazbeghi in Khevi, Omalo in Tusheti, Borjomi in Samtskhe, Tobovarchkhili and Martvili canion in Samegrelo, lakes in Kakheti. and other and other 🙂
- August 13, 2015, 6:48 am
December 19, 2015, 8:58 pm
Hey from Sweden! In my opinion Georgia is a more attractive country than Armenia. The food is delicious and the nature is amazing. I can’t find any words to describe their polyphonic singing.
January 8, 2016, 4:50 pm
“Sure, some of the incredibly low costs are a result of the recovering economy and ethical travelers shouldn’t abuse of it…”
To the contrary, tourists should “abuse of it” as much as possible! Spend like crazy, its absolutely vital to their economy. If you want to be frugal, that’s great, but you are certainly not doing some noble service to the locals by abstaining from buying their stuff.
July 11, 2017, 11:13 am
actually, one reason some of us are frugal is to extend our travels – by spending relatively little I can take five weeks in Georgia instead of two. I probably spend the same amount over my stay, I just take longer doing it – and because I’m getting off the beaten track, it’s more likely my money goes in a local pocket and not to a foreign hotel owner.
- July 11, 2017, 11:13 am
January 29, 2017, 5:54 am
Thank you for your article, but I have to say it is simply not true that there are very few options for eating out in Yerevan. Especially in recent years, creative cafes where you can dine well, as well as have a delicious cup of coffee, abound in Yerevan. You have to look slightly outside of the Opera, Cascade are to find the really good ones which cater also to locals. Use Foursquare app for recommendations.
And as you mentioned, in the summer there are a ton of diasporans who speak native English, and most local university students will as well. I am surprised you did not find it easier to navigate around.
August 4, 2017, 8:44 am
Hmm, I’m confused about tArmenian girls being prettier than Georgians pars.. Actually the appearance of Armenians is not considered attractive at all in Georgia… Sorry but are you blind? But everything else what you wrote is great! 😀
November 25, 2018, 7:45 am
Wow! Rude much? Why are Georgians so rude and arrogant!?
- November 25, 2018, 7:45 am
September 16, 2018, 8:51 am
i traveled to armenia and Georgia
i think they both are not a Modern country… they dont have any good food… I think IRAN is better to travel its cheap and Iranian people are very hospitable you can test The BEST FOOD IN IRAN.iran have lot of histrocial Places and Buildings….
iran is More modern than georgia and armenia Georgia and armenia’s subway are really Bullshit Old…
May 15, 2019, 5:29 am
Thank you for your write up it was nice to write I have gone to Georgia but not Armenia so I was looking how it is in Armenia.
Thank you for your write up.
July 17, 2019, 1:57 am
A citizen of a foreign country who seeks to enter Georgia generally must first obtain a Georgian visa. Certain international travelers may be eligible to travel to Georgia without a visa if they meet the requirements for visa-free travel.The visa policy of Georgia became comparatively liberal, allowing citizens of 98 countries to enter, reside, work and study in Georgia without the necessity to obtain either visa or residence permit. Georgian Government approved the list of 50 countries whose visa and/or residence permit holders may enter Georgia without a visa for an appropriate period and under appropriate conditions.
Whilst for Armenia – Armenia allows citizens of specific countries and territories to visit Armenia for tourism or business purposes without having to obtain a visa or allows them to obtain a visa on arrival or online. For some countries the visa requirement waiver is practiced on ad hoc basis, and is not formalized by a bilateral agreement. Citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent States and citizens of all Eurasian Union and European Union member states may enter Armenia without a visa.
Foreign visitors who are eligible for visa on arrival are also eligible to apply for an e-visa to enter Armenia. E-visa allows applicants to stay up to 120 days or 21 days with a US$31 or US$6 fee.
August 19, 2019, 3:38 am
I recently visited Georgia and Armenia. I was so underwhelmed by Georgia. Tbilisi had a few nice parts but overall, it would never make it on my travel list again. The food was terrible — I researched food a LOT since it’s one of my favorite ways to test a new place (hugeee foodie here, follow me on Yelp!).
Armenia is BREATHTAKING. I’m Armenian, but I had a lot of my American friends on the trip too who shared similar sentiments about Yerevan and Tbilisi. They also kind of enjoyed the food in Tbilisi since we were coming from Italy and it was a good change from the Italian cuisine. But nothing beats the Armenian meat. The khorovatz MELTS IN YOUR MOUTH! And while a lot of historical sites are churches, I recommend going with a tour because there is SO much history in those monasteries (ie Hannibal’s visits to old Armenia).
Yerevan also has a ton of new parks and infrastructure, including beautiful fountains. And there’s a ton of nature to go see outside the city (I also recommend taking a trip to Karabakh because the nature there beats both Georgia and Armenia).
Yerevan to me has more history and more beauty than Georgia. In terms of the people, they’re about the same. Still some soviet rudeness there…and if you’re a tourist it’s not hard to get cheated in either city, especially by taxis. Get the GG app for both cities.
In any case, if you’re visiting one, you might as well visit the other. It’s only $15 (30lari) to take a shared taxi from Tbilisi to Yerevan.
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