Americans may be flying abroad in record numbers this year now that international borders have reopened and restrictions have been dropped, but a majority of them still have their hearts set on Mexico, or the cobblestone, fairytale towns of Europe.
While Mexico is truly a bucket list destination, especially in the sun and sand category, and Europe undoubtedly boasts an impressive list of world-renowned historical cities and iconic sights, there is an entire world of lesser-known options yet to be explored.
If you're looking to escape the crowds and be among a select group of Americans who have dared go further, perhaps this beautiful Eastern country should be next on your travel wishlist:
One Of The Most Ancient Civilizations In The World
Despite its relative obscurity, Armenia is one of the most awe-inspiring and promising destinations out there. It is located not on one but two continents, and its recorded history spans at least three millennia, with a defining culture and nationhood as ancient as the early Greeks.
Sitting along the Caucasus mountain range, a grey area acting as a natural divide between Europe and Asia, Armenia is both too Eastern to be considered traditionally European, yet too Western, and irrevocably Christian, to fit into the Western Asian stereotype.
Armenia is almost entirely surrounded by Islam, bordering Turkiye, Iran, and Azerbaijan to the South and West, but it takes pride in being the very first nation to fully convert from paganism into Christianity in the first century A.D., and for centuries, religion has been central to Armenian identity.
It has impacted not only the architecture through the construction of numerous monasteries and Orthodox churches but also the culture and the locals' way of life.
Some of the oldest Christian shrines in the world can be found here, with Etchmiadzin Cathedral's groundbreaking taking place as early as the year 301 A.D. In other words: it is old, preceding America's settlement by 1,306 years.
Certain monuments which pre-date Christian Armenia can also be found across the country, most notably the Temple of Garni, a Greco-Roman temple built in the first century whose Ionic colonnades are virtually intact.
A Historic Nation Rich In Culture And Nature
Other than ancient heritage, Armenia's recent History has been defined by revolutionary movements, in particular those that led to the formation of the now-defunct Soviet Union, of which it was a constituent republic. Needless to say, communist-era landmarks can be found all over the country.
The cosmopolitan capital of Yerevan houses the most iconic monuments, including the Cascade Complex, a limestone staircase with elements of brutalism that has been an integral part of the city's skyline since 1971, and Republic Square.
Armenia itself is particularly renowned for its painting-like natural landscapes.
More than 90% of the territory is at the height of 1000 meters above sea level, in the Lesser Caucasus, which means it is full of dramatic peaks, scenic lakes, and unique geological formations.
Other than the monumental Caucasus mountains themselves, the top tourist attractions in Armenia are:
- Yerevan, the capital and largest city, known for its Soviet-era architecture and palatial buildings
- Sevan, where a historic monastery is set against the backdrop of a serene lake
- Dilijan, a mountainous region highly sought-after for its spa resorts and wellness retreats
- The Shikahogh State Reserve, an unspoiled forested reserve offering scenic views
- Mount Aragats, a dormant, snow-capped volcano that is Armenia's highest peak
- Noravank, a remote redbrick-built monastery founded in the 13th century
- Tsaghkadzor, an up-and-coming hotspot for winter sports home to some of Europe's most affordable ski resorts
- The Upper Azat Valley, a UNESCO-protected site dotted with ancient monasteries
- Gyumri, Armenia's second-largest city and Yerevan's closest rival in terms of cultural offer: more than a thousand buildings in the historic center are between 300 and 200 years old.
A True Hidden Gem Unspoiled By Mass Tourism
Armenia has been listed by Forbes as one of the top travel destinations for 2023, not only due to its wide array of cultural attractions but also the hospitality of the locals, the intriguing cuisine, and the low cost of living in major urban centers like Yerevan, only 1.1 times more expensive than the global average.
Tourism is also increasing, with 159,475 foreigners having landed in Armenia in January of this year, up 69 percent from the 94,339 who were registered in January 2022, as reported by the Armenian Tourism Committee. Throughout 2022, 1.4 million tourists vacationed in Armenia.
Between January and October 2022, Americans were the nationality posting the fourth biggest increase in visitor numbers, though at a modest 4% rate. More Americans are becoming acquainted with Armenia's many wonders, but definitely not that many.
It is a true hidden gem waiting to be discovered, where crowds are not a common sight, prices are fairly reasonable, and nature is yet to be tarnished by development.
Granted, it is not the easiest country to reach, mostly due to the absence of nonstop flights and affordable fares leaving from the States, but low-cost options are plentiful departing from Europe, Turkiye, or other Middle Eastern hubs.
Lastly, Armenia has no COVID entry restrictions in 2023, welcoming tourists irrespective of vaccination status and without any health-related requirements.
Americans are allowed to enter the country simply by presenting a valid passport, and they are normally issued a 180-day entry permit upon arrival.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com
Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.