Kaukasus - tips
|In short||Due to lots of bad rumours and a Russian invasion, the Kaukasus has had a kind of dodgy reputation for years, however, this is just miles away from the truth. For the independent traveller, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan all display an amazing amount of things to see and very small distances in between. Kaukasus is an undiscovered gem.|
|Highlights||In Georgia, don't
miss Gori, the birth-place of Stalin. A very friendly place where the
friendly but completely brain-washed population still revere the dictator as
a true hero of the war. Very Soviet and very fascinating. In the north, the
mountainous region of Kazbegi is quite amazing, and even the capital Tblisi
In Armenia, the capital Yerevan is rather boring, while the run-down holiday centres of Lake Sevan are quite funny. In the north-east, the ancient UNESCO churches of Haghpat, Sanahin and Akhtala are worth a visit, and so is the amazing market of Vanadzor, one of many superficially boring towns, but a closer look reveals an amazing and photogenic friendlyness.
In Azerbaijan, the very Turkish, friendly and busy capital Baku still shows lots of remains from the oil boom more than a century ago. For a much different experience, try the oil fields to the south - most likely the ugliest place I have ever been. So ugly that it's actually fascinating. To the south, Lenkoran proved friendly and very nice, and the hills around Quba in the north are even more beautiful.
In all three countries, the main asset is actually the friendly people. Kaukasus is a place you should go to if you love talking to local people and if you're not afraid of saying "yes" to lots of invitations.
Find some Kaukasian photo samples HERE and a link to my slide show on the Christian part of Kaukasus HERE. Azerbaijan is included as a part of the Silk Road trip through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Try it out HERE.
For a genuine (and in Danish) experience on the Baku oil fields and how to survive high-flying vodka bottles in a Lenkoran wedding, try Azerbaijan Camping and Wedding, while From Azerbaijan to Tajikistan is a general account of my personal experiences from West to East.
For photo samples, try the Kaukasus Photos.
|Places to avoid||Not really, even if
the Georgian border region towards Russia may remain off-limits for years to
come. The additional risk of being a traveller here doesn't seem frightening.
Azerbaijan and Armenia remain a bit unfriendly towards each other due to the unsolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the south. Border regions are therefore a bit sensitive.
|Seasons||In the mountainous centre, the Kaukasus has a semi-inland climate with hot summers and very cold winters. Spring and fall are probably the best times of the year. Personally, May-June was very nice, while July was a bit too hot in Baku.|
|Do's and don'ts||Absolutely no
problems. Georgia and Armenia are the worlds oldest Christian countries, and
compared to their neighbours all around, they are very easy to deal with. In
Armenia, hot-pants seem to be the nationally approved Sunday church dress!
The Islamic Azerbaijan is only slightly more strict, however, 70 years of Soviet rule has made vodka one of the main articles on any market, and hardly anyone will ever frown upon a "normal travellers dress code". The smart girls of Baku don't exactly remind you of a Saudi dress code.
|Visa||For Europeans, Georgia remains largely visa free, whereas Armenia and Azerbaijan maintains their visa requirements. Special permit is required to visit the disputed (and for the time being Armenian) Nagorno-Karabakh region. If so, entry into Azerbaijan may prove difficult.|
|Value for money||Great, and it's not that hard to get by for less than 20 USD a day.|
|Others||Very easy region for travelling, and fortunately the trains are so slow that even a 200 km ride easily takes a night - and saves one night on a boring Soviet hotel.|