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3 Day Nagorno-Karabakh Road Trip

Updated January 2021, 3 Day Nagorno-Karabakh Road Trip was originally written in December 2017

On my most recent trip I visited Armenia, but after meeting another traveler on the shared taxi down from Tbilisi to Yerevan I set out to travel Nagorno-Karabakh with him and two Armenian sisters. The best part is, none of this was my idea!

*Most countries do advise against travel to Nagorno-Karabakh (Republic of Artsakh) as there are no embassies or consulates to help you if something happens to you. There are occasional skirmishes with Azeri forces as the region is still recognized as a part of Azerbaijan.

Visiting Nagorno-Karabakh can get you banned from visiting Azerbaijan as it will be viewed as you having entered Azerbaijan illegally. In one case there is a travel blogger who has been arrested for visiting Nagorno-Karabakh repeatedly. To stay on the safe side, it is wise to visit Azerbaijan first and visit Armenia with a trip into Nagorno-Karabakh afterward.

UPDATE 2020: Starting in October fighting has erupted between Artsakh and Azeri forces. The Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) region should be avoided at this time.

Nagorno-Karabakh, A Country That Doesn’t Really Exist

When the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s the ensuing fight escalated in the mountainous area of Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenian and Azeri forces. A cease-fire was reached in 1994 after many lives lost, the displacement of many people: almost all Azerbaijanis that had been in the area were expelled to Azerbaijan and almost as many ethnically Armenian fled the fighting into Armenia.

When both Armenia and Azerbaijan gained independence from the USSR the fighting that began in 1988 broke out into full-scale war. In the end, Nagorno-Karabakh remained a region of Azerbaijan in the eyes of the world, however with a government all its own, a majority Armenian population, and the only access point being that of with Armenia.

In early 2017 Nagorno-Karabakh underwent a referendum, part of that referendum included a name change to the Republic of Artsakh, although the former name is most commonly used.


Want to explore Armenia in depth? Read: The Armenia Travel Guide


Nagorno-Karabakh Quick Facts

  • Currency: Armenian Dram (AMD). $1 USD = 523 AMD (As of January 2021)
  • Language: Armenian (However it is an East Armenian dialect very different from Armenian spoken in Yerevan, similar to Southern Syunik and Eastern Tavush dialects)
  • Drives on: Right
  • Capital: Stepanakert
  • Population: 146,000~
  • Religion: Armenian Apostolic (majority)
  • Visas: Travelers are now issued a visa-free of charge at the border with Armenia. You used to have to first head to Stepanakert and pick it up there. Visas are usually given to you on a paper and not affixed in your passport.

Start planning your road trip: Grab a copy of the Bradt Armenia guidebook, which includes Nagorno-Karabakh


3 Day Nagorno-Karabakh Road Trip

Day 1: Yerevan To Goris

Armenia & Nagorno-Karabakh Road Trip Day 1 Map
Click map above to view on Google Maps

Yerevan

Go pick up your ride, grab a little food before heading out of Yerevan, and get going early. Make your way to Tatev, first, of course, making scenic stops along the way. I

f you’ll be spending the night in Yerevan (you probably will) before setting off on your 3 day Nagorno- Karabakh adventure, I recommend Hostel Vagary for backpackers or shop other Yerevan accommodations here.


Shop rental cars here


Tatev

Unfortunately, when we arrived in Tatev it was socked in thick cloud cover. There is a cable car called Wings of Tatev that runs from Halidzor to Tatev Monastery. Costs are 4,000 AMD rt/3000 AMD one-way, an additional 2,000 AMD for an audio guide.

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Watching the sunrise from inside the cave above the Goris Cemetery

Goris

You’ll likely arrive in Goris in the late afternoon or early evening. We messed around so much that we didn’t arrive until about 8 pm.

We had a tent and climbed up to the caves above the Goris Cemetery and camped up there, in a tent, inside a cave, on Friday the 13th, in October… I can’t make this stuff up guys.

If camping isn’t your thang, check out Goris accommodations here. You could opt to stay in nearby Tatev, or Halidzor.

Day 2: Goris To Sarsang Reservoir

Armenia & Nagorno-Karabakh Road Trip Day 2 Map
Click map above to view on Google Map

Goris

Get up and going at sunrise, especially if you opted to camp above the Old Goris Cemetery, you’ll have amazing morning views of the sun rising over the jagged rocks all around.

Khndzoresk

Make the short drive to Khndzoresk, a beautiful rural Armenian village. The biggest attraction? The Khndzoresk Swinging Bridge.

The bridge connects the two sides of the village on either side of the gorge. Once across to the other side, there are plenty of trails to explore and even a monastery.

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The Khndzoresk Swinging Bridge
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An overlook at Khndzoresk

Crossing The “Border” Into The Republic of Artsakh

Once back on the main highway connecting Goris to Stepanakert you will eventually cross the border at Berdzor. There is a building at the border, you’ll hand over passports and get registered here. Theoretically, you can get a visa issued at Berdzor, but the Armenian girls we were with said they’d never crossed with foreigners that have gotten it at the border, and we were told by the border guards to continue to Stepanakert for it.

You can also get a visa in Yerevan, but you will still need to register in Stepanakert at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (thus making it pointless to get one in advance, because you have to go there to get a visa anyways).

Hunot Canyon & Zontik Falls

After crossing into Nagorno-Karabakh head toward Shusha and turn right off the road and follow it (best using Maps.me) to a trailhead. This trail will take you into Hunot Canyon to the beautiful Zontik Waterfall.

I wasn’t too enthused about visiting a waterfall, but Zontik has got to be the most beautiful fairytale of a waterfall I’ve ever seen. This is a short trek, only about 20 minutes each way. There are a few long hikes that can be done in this area.

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Hunot Canyon
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Zontik Falls

Stepanakert

Stepanakert is a nice small city with a few restaurants and is easily walkable, albeit not offering a lot in the way to do. There are a scattering of restaurants in the downtown area and a large grocery shop.

In the past, you used to have to go to Stepanakert to pick up your visa from the ministry of foreign affairs. This no longer the case as you will be issued a visa, free of charge on the border between Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. I have left the MFA address and phone number below in the event that the rules change back to the old way (not unheard of in this part of the world), or if for some reason you may need it.

Republic of Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located at 28 Azatamartikneri Street, Stepanakert (near the Stepanakert bus station). The phone number is +374 47941418. Open 7 days a week 12 pm to 3 pm, however, I arrived at 4 pm on a Saturday and was told to return at 6 pm.

The charge for the visa was 3,000 AMD for a 21 day visa.

Looking to spend a day or a few in Stepanakert? Check out Stepanakert accommodations here.

Tatik-Papik

As we waited for the MFA to re-open we decided to make a visit to Tatik-Papik, the one attraction I knew of inside of Nagorno-Karabakh prior to visiting. Tatik-Papik means Grandma & Grandpa in Armenian. This monument is also known as ‘We Are The Mountains’. It’s a must-visit for anyone heading to Stepanakert on a Nagorno-Karabakh road trip.

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Tatik-Papik in Stepanakert

Sarasang Reservoir

Our end goal was to camp under the stars at Sarsang Reservoir this night. However, we got a later start than we had anticipated having to wait to acquire visas, so we didn’t get there until long after dark. There are several scenic stops to make along the way to Sarsang Reservoir.

Sarsang Reservoir is a great place to camp. Just pick a dirt road off the main highway and explore until you find a good spot (we camped here, via Maps.me).

Note that where we camped there are wild marijuana plants all around. Yes, we used them as a fire starter… Again, I can’t make this shit up.

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Stargazing at Sarsang Reservoir

Oh yeah… and the stargazing is unreal out here.

Not looking to camp at Sarsang Reservoir? The city of Martakert is less than 30 kilometers away, Shop Martakert accommodations here.

Day 3: Sarsang Reservoir To Yerevan

Armenia & Nagorno-Karabakh Road Trip Day 3 Map
Click map above to view on Google Maps

Sarsang Reservoir

Watch the sunrise over the reservoir hopefully with a nice morning mist rising off the lake. Get on the road early and head toward Karvachar.

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Sarsang Reservoir in the daylight

Karvachar

Karvachar is a village with a nearby geyser (about 8 kilometers away). On our way to the geyser, we were flagged down by a group of men at a little picnic shelter next to a hot spring pool.

We were invited for a big Armenian feast of a lunch, that was heavy on the Araki (liquor). With grilled vegetables, shashlik, smoked fish, lavash and more being passed around. After the Araki-fueled lunch, it was time for a quick swim in the hot spring pool, and off we went!

Some random road stop lunch attendees

Norabak-Karvachar Route

Get ready for a real Nagorno-Karabakh road trip adventure through the mountains! This route is going to take you up and over high mountain passes and back into Armenia.

We had a small two-wheel-drive SUV and made it, but a good ol’ Russian Lada or 4WD would make it a little easier. You’ll constantly be stopping along the way for all the photo opportunities.

Note: There is no actual border crossing in the mountains here that we came across.

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Passing a mountain village
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Crawling up the steep mountain tracks on our Nagorno Karabakh road trip
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The views

Lake Sevan

Now back into Armenia and out of the mountains make sure to visit Lake Sevan. We did manage to pay a visit to Hayravank and Sevanavank Monasteries. Lake Sevan is one of the largest freshwater alpine lakes in all of Eurasia. There are several beaches around the lake, good for a swim in the summer.

Hayravank Monastery

A beautiful church on the shores of Lake Sevan surrounded by Khachkars, which are Armenian Cross-stones.

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Hayravank Monastery

Sevanavank Monastery

A beautiful monastery located on a narrow peninsula on the northwest shore of Lake Sevan. This peninsula used to be an island, but during the Stalin-era the lake was artificially drained, leading the water level to drop by 20 meters, turning the small island into a peninsula.

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Sevanavank Monastery

Yerevan

Now go out and celebrate now that you’re back in Yerevan, your Nagorno-Karabakh road trip is complete. I stayed at Hostel Vagary and can’t recommend it enough! The hostel is super clean and the staff is great. Shop all Yerevan accommodations here.

Start Planning Your Nagorno-Karabakh Road Trip

Shop rental cars here!

Got Questions About This 3 Day Nagorno-Karabakh Road Trip?

Ask in the comments below.

Need Travel Insurance for Nagorno Karabakh?

Start shopping plans over at battleface, my go-to travel insurance choice, or over at World Nomads.

12 thoughts on “3 Day Nagorno-Karabakh Road Trip”

  1. Do you recall the name of the car rental company that you used? Did you have any trouble crossing the borders with a rental car? Thanks for any info.

    1. We rented from Caravan rent a car in Yerevan. No problems crossing between Armenia and NK, they had a look at our passports and waved us on to get visas in Stepanakert, and didn’t even look at anything regarding the car. I’d have your documents in order when crossing, just in case they ask to see the registration or anything with the car.

  2. Wow, what an interesting place for a road trip. I’ve finnaly delved into traveling Eastern Europe last fall, but I’ve not yet made it out to the Caucasus region. And making a bonfire of weed?! Haha, you must be blast to travel with!!

  3. Hey Nicki,
    wow, these pictures look amazing! We’re about to start our trip through the Caucasus and Nagorno Karabakh is also on our list of places to visit. I was wondering, is it necessary to prebook any accommodation or rental cars in Armenia? We try to stay as flexible as possible on our trips and therefore don’t book too much in advance but some people recently told us it was quite difficult to find accommodation on short notice.. what’s your experience?
    Thanks and keep on traveling 🙂
    Anja

    1. Hey Anja,
      I hope you have an amazing time!! Please please please go to Zontik Falls while in NK! One of my most favorite spots in the world. Anyways I didn’t book any accommodation in Yerevan ahead of time and there was plenty of good and dirt cheap options. I camped all through NK, so I can’t say from personal experience but it didn’t appear to be an issue when I was looking on Booking.com. The car was rented about 3 days in advance. Although it was October, so not the most popular month there at least.

  4. Hi Nicki,
    Thank you for this post! I am planning a trip to the Caucasus this summer and have just started looking at all the separatist regions in this area and find them fascinating. Reading your blog has definitely put Nagorno-Karabakh on the radar for me. That water fall is stunning, I have to see it for myself! Did you visit Naxcivian, South Ossetia, or Abkkhazia? I am interested in visiting those areas as well.

    1. Hey Danny,
      That’s great you plan on visiting the area, the Caucasus is beautiful. Unfortunately I didn’t visit Naxcivan, South Ossetia, or Abkhazia. I actually ended up in the region as I was supposed to be on a press trip to Abkhazia that was canceled last minute about a day before I arrived in Georgia (trust me, I was furious about it). I believe to access South Ossetia you have to do so from Russia, as there is no “crossings” from the Georgian side. I actually don’t know much about Naxivan, but am fascinated with it. I think the only ways to get in are via flights or from the Turkish border. I don’t know if it’s possible to cross the Iranian border in, but I do know it is impossible to enter from Armenia. All these separatist regions do have their own visas, so if you plan to visit looking into info on how to secure those! Best of luck out there, hope you have a great time… which has me thinking I need to plan my next trip over this way to see the region more extensively!

  5. Honestly, I’d heard of Armenia, but had no idea about Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh. It looks absolutely stunning! You have me thinking about doing my own trip to see it for myself!

    1. I hope you do travel to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh Gina! What a beautiful corner of the world. Not a bad idea to include Azerbaijan and Georgia on your trip if you plan to head over there- although I have to say, go to Azerbaijan first to make things easier on yourself given the political situation!

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