We have just spent a week on a road trip in Transylvania, Romania.
We ended up in Bucharest. It is time for us to move on to an Armenian Health Spa Resort …
The currency in Armenia is the Dram (or the ‘AMD’). I will refer to them as A$s. At the time of writing:
Over time, these exchange rates will change. Please check the current rates.
There are direct flights from Romania to Armenia.
I booked a one-way ticket from Bucharest to Yerevan on Romania’s Tarom Airlines. The cheap flight leaves Bucharest at 1:20am. The flight is scheduled to take 2.5 hours and you put your clock forward 1 hour on landing in Armenia. The price was EU€117.32. The flight left 30 minutes late and we landed in Yerevan at about 5:30am.
Even though we landed at 5:30am, there was still a long queue at immigration. It took over 30 minutes to get through. To get to Yerevan City from the airport you can catch an over-priced taxi or catch a public minibus. I did the latter. A #201 white minibus leaves from outside the front of Arrivals every 30 minutes and goes to Republic Square. Mine left at 7am. The price is A$300. I got off at the Blue Mosque.
I pre-booked a ‘Smile‘ 2 Bedroom Apartment (single occupancy) near the Blue Mosque for 3 nights. The price was US$20 per night. They said that they had a 24 hour Service Desk. I had trouble finding the address but eventually found it at about 8am. It was a door with a door bell. It had the name of a different Hostel on it. The word ‘smile” was nowhere to be seen. It took over 30 minutes of ringing the doorbell and calling on the phone before someone answered.
I was taken to a homestay and shown a room with a single bed in a 3 room apartment with a shared kitchen and a shared bathroom. They tried to tell me that the apartment that I had booked (and that had been confirmed) was A$25,920 / US$57 per night … and they wanted me to pay the same US$20 / night for these new facilities. I declined and left.
I started walking towards Yerevan City Centre looking for a cafe where I could get on my laptop and search for new accommodation. I walked to Missak Manouchian Park without success. By then, I had seen enough of Yerevan to know that I wasn’t going to like it. I decided to abandon Yerevan and head straight for my next scheduled stop: Jermuk …
MINIBUS / TAXI:
I found this website that tells you all about inter-city bus / minivan public transport in Armenia: Dream Armenia. Alas, it tells you the bus numbers but not the times. There are several Bus Terminals in Yerevan.
For Jermuk, I had to get to the Central Bus Station southwest of City Centre. I walked. The public transport price to Jermuk is A$2,000.
For someone who doesn’t speak a word of Armenian, these places can seem chaotic. Nobody speaks English. Get Google Translate out. I couldn’t find any minibus going to Jermuk (perhaps I was too late) but I did find 4 other Armenian people trying to get to Jermuk. I joined them and we agreed to share a taxi.
One of our group negotiated a taxi to Jermuk for A$2,800 per person. We loaded our luggage and jumped in. The taxi driver, then, tried to up the price. For me, he wanted my price to go up from A$2,800 to A$5,000 because of my 23kg suitcase. I declined, got out, and collected my luggage. The others did the same.
I sat down in the Bus Station cafe, had a coffee, and looked at my alternatives. Alas, for other southern destinations I had to get to the Sasuntsi David Bus Station co-located with the Yerevan Train Station south of city centre. The taxis wanted A$1,500 to take me there. I declined. It was too far to walk. I needed to sort out Jermuk …
We finally found out that the next public minibus to Jermuk left at 2pm. We did not want to wait another 3 hours. Eventually, our group negotiated a taxi to Jermuk for A$20,000 (A$4,000 each). We left just before noon, travelled the 170 kms, and arrived in Jermuk about 3 hours later.
Know your exact destination and make sure that you get to the correct Bus Station. If you have several destination options, go to the Bus Station that offers the widest choice. Negotiate your price before you jump in. Know the public transport price. Pay no more than double the public transport price (each) to share a taxi.
The town is dominated by the Vardenis mountain range to the north and the Vayk range to the south. The height of the surrounding mountains ranges are between 2,500 and 3,500 metres – all covered with forests and alpine meadows.
Jermuk is known for its hot springs and its mineral water brands that are bottled in the town. It is attractive for its fresh air, waterfall, artificial lakes, walking trails, surrounding forests, and mineral water pools. It was considered one of the most popular destinations for medical tourism in the Soviet Union. The town is being redeveloped to become a modern centre of tourism and health services. As per the 2016 official estimate, Jermuk had a population of 3,400.
Jermuk was settled long before the 13th century and you can find the remains of an ancient cyclopean fortress and the ruins of an 8th-century basilica. The area of Jermuk was ruled by the Siunia dynasty between the 10th and 13th centuries. The princess of Syunik believed the mineral springs of Jermuk to have healing powers and built several mineral pools.
A treaty signed between Russia and Persia in 1828, resulted in many territories of Eastern Armenia becoming part of the Russian Empire. The first wave of Armenian settlers arrived in the region in 1828-29. Under Russian rule, the town of Jermuk witnessed significant growth and development.
In the 1860s, all of the historic pools of Jermuk were renovated. Today, those baths (known as “Pristav Pools”) are preserved as historical monuments.
After 1918, Jermuk and the surrounding territories became one of the regions that resisted Soviet rule. However, after falling to the Bolsheviks in July 1921, Jermuk became part of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Armenia won its independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The ‘tourist’ area is found around the Sarnaghbyur Lake. Our walk starts at the top of Myasnikyan Street at Dolphin Lake. We walk south to the Jermuk Hotel & Spa. We walk back north up Shahumyan Street and, then, east on the main road (keeping the lake on our left). We continue east along the H42 then cut south down Melik Adamyan Street finishing at the Jermuk Moscow Health Resort.
The soviet era influence can be seen everywhere. To the southwest of the lakes you find the typical communist era apartment buildings that were built for the ‘working class’. In front of the lakes and in the northeastern backstreets you find up market spa resorts.
This is what GRANDPAckers can expect to find in the Resort Area at short notice in late September:
PLEASE NOTE: HOTELS usually display prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. But many search sites (like HOTELS) don’t provide a ‘private bathroom’ filter, so be careful with some of the cheap hotels and make sure that you read the room details. HOTELS does not do well in the Armenian marketplace.
AIRBnB / HOLIDAY RENTALS:
PLEASE NOTE: Other sites (such as Homeaway, FlipKey and VRBO are also worth a look).
GRANDPAckers are unlikely to find accommodation within our price range at short notice. Start looking months in advance to get the best prices. You will be lucky to find something for under US$30 / night. AirBnB may be your best bet for stays of 7 days or more.
Before leaving Romania, I pre-booked 3 nights in an ‘All Inclusive’ Health Spa. After abandoning my 3 night booking in Yerevan (see, above) I had 3 nights to spare … so, I decided to see both sides of Jermuk …
I sat on a park bench in Jermuk, got out my laptop, and searched for available accommodation.
I used BOOKING.COM to book a One Bedroom Apartment (single occupancy) in the non-touristic ‘Armenian’ zone south of Dolphin Lake: Dom v Dzhermuke. The price was A$12,950 / US$28 per night for 3 nights.
The apartment was in a run-down block of flats on a run-down street opposite the Jermuk Hotel & Spa. The apartment was on the 1st floor. It had a separate, well equipped kitchen. It had a separate lounge with a TV (the TV only had 10 Armenian and Russian speaking channels). It had a separate bedroom with a Single bed and wardrobe. There was another collapsible bed in the lounge. It had a bathroom with shower-over-bath with lots of hot water.
The WiFi was excellent and good enough to stream video.
The hotel is located on the main road opposite Lake Sarnaghbyur. My room was on the 5th floor. The hotel has 2 small, busy lifts (it would seem that, even in an Health Spa, people prefer to catch a lift rather than walk down the stairs). There are about 30 rooms on each floor. My room was one of their smallest. It came with a TV (with 10 Armenian and Russian speaking channels), a small fridge, a wardrobe, a writing desk, and a Double bed. The private bathroom was small but adequate and came with an hot water shower cubicle. The hotel provided daily housekeeping. The rooms are not meant to have wifi but I could get a signal which was, sometimes, good enough to stream video in very low resolution. Better wifi was found in the lobby. Buffet meals were served in the ground floor restaurant. The meals were simple with few meat options.
The price also included free treatments each day. At check-in, I was immediately assigned a visit with the house doctor. He did not speak any English so he called the receptionist to come and translate. It was their ‘up-sell’ opportunity but I just wanted to try the included treatments.
I have never been to a Health Spa Resort before, so I didn’t know what to expect:
- Mineral Bath: I was shown into a small changing room. I stripped off and jumped into my own, private hot bathtub. It lasted 15 minutes. No towel was provided. I wiped myself down, put on my shorts, and walked back to my room to get dry;
- Gum Irrigation: I was taken to a sink. They put in a mouth piece and connected up to hot water. It lasted 15 minutes;
- Inhilation: I was sat down in front of a machine. They loaded a capsule and connected up an air blower which blew herbal tea up my nose for 15 minutes;
- Healing Tea: Was a cup of herbal tea;
- Paraffin Therapy: I was taken into a cubicle to lay flat on a bed. They rolled up my trousers and put hot, wet pads on my knees. It lasted 15 minutes;
- Oxygen Cocktail: I was given a cup of bubbles to drink.
You can get additional treatments at additional cost.
The Apartment was over-priced (for Armenia but, perhaps, not for Jermuk) and, once you include meals, it was more expensive than the All Inclusive Health Spa option.
I chose Hotel Ararat because it was one of the few that was ‘All Meals Included’ in my price range (most were Breakfast Only) and it was the ONLY one in my price range that included free treatments. However, I was unimpressed by the included treatments and left feeling that it wasn’t much more than an All Inclusive Hotel.
Hotel Ararat was still good value for money (for Jermuk) … where else can you get an All Meals Included Health Spa with Treatments for US$45 / day?
PLEASE NOTE: I have seen their All Inclusive Deluxe Double rooms discounted down to US$63 / night in Shoulder Season … so, if you are interested in a ‘Jermuk Health Spa experience’, start your search early and pounce on any discounts or specials.
WHERE TO STAY:
For a more ‘authentic’ experience get into the ‘Armenian Area’ … the locals love to see you there and make you very welcome.
Have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK:
There are several small minimarts on Shahumyan Street south of Dolphin Lake. This makes a self-catering option viable.
Otherwise, there are very few places to eat outside of your hotel. My Armenian landlady recommended the restaurant in the Verona Resort and the Forte Jermuk Restaurant.
Again, there are very few options. There is a pizza place opposite the taxi rank at Dolphin Lake and a Hamburger stall on Dolphin Lake.
A local 500ml beer in a corner shop will cost about A$450. A 1L about A$700. Expect to pay A$700 for a 400ml draft in a cheap ‘typical’ cafe.
Brandy is the most popular drink in Armenia. A local 3 year 500ml bottle starts at A$4,500; add another A$750 for each year … so, expect to pay A$7,500 for a 7 year cheap local Brandy.
A 2L bottle of Coke / Pepsi costs A$650.
To get out of Jermuk you need to catch a minibus to Vayk. There are only 2 per day: 8am and 4pm. The minibuses leave from the Taxi Rank at Dolphin Lake. A public minibus to Vayk costs A$500. Vayk is where you connect with pubic transport to other locations (both north and south).
Otherwise, you will need to catch a taxi. Taxis are relatively expensive compared to public transport. A taxi from Jermuk to Goris is A$14,000.
A taxi back to Yerevan??? … a captured market trying to get out of Jermuk is a totally different animal from someone in Yerevan trying to get to Jermuk. Don’t be surprised if prices start at A$30,000.
There are 2 ATMs at the Taxi Rank opposite Dolphin Lake. There are no banks.
INTERNET / WIFI:
Don’t trust your hotel to provide good wifi in our GRANDPAcking price range.
There are 3 main prepaid providers in Armenia.
I walked into the Arrivals Lounge in Yerevan Airport at 6am. All of the main Prepaid providers had shops and they were all open. I went to Beeline.
They had a promotional combo package available. For A$100 I got a SIMcard and for another A$3,500 I got a 1 month plan with 7 GB data, 250 SMSs, and 150 minutes local talktime.
You need your passport to register your new SIMcard. The girl at the counter spoke English. She configured it up for me whilst I waited. I immediately downloaded the Beeline smartphone app. Fortunately, the app has an English option.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
You will notice a large number of smokers here … more than in Western Europe. No surprise when a pack of 20 costs only A$350.
There is no reason to feel unsafe. As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
WHEN TO GO
The best weather is found July through September.
Whist I was there for 6 days in early September, the days were mostly sunny and we had a shower on 2 afternoons. It was cool in the mornings and evenings. We had a thunderstorm most nights.
WHAT TO DO:
Old caves dating to the Bronze Age are found in the Arpa River gorge north of Jermuk.
There are some small chapels dating back to the Middle Ages.
The Jermuk branch of the National Gallery of Armenia was opened in 1972. The town is also home to a public library.
Jermuk is home to the annual Snowman Festival which is held each February.
LAKE WALK (1 HOUR):
A group of sculptures known as the ‘Alley of fedayis’ depicts many figures of the Armenian fedayis who fought against the Ottoman Empire.
We enter the lake area at the Grand Hotel. We pass the Mineral Water Gallery keeping the lakes on our right. We exit opposite Hotel Ani.
WATERFALL WALK (2 HOURS):
You can start the walk at the steps next to Hotel Ani. However, we start at the Jermuk Moscow Health Resort. We walk down Charents Street to the Arpa River and follow the river road under the H42 bridge to the waterfall. We continue to the end of the path and baulk at climbing the steps back up the cliff. We finish by doubling back under the H42 and up the path to Hotel Ani.
RESERVOIR WALK (18kms / 4 HOURS):
We start at my Armenian Apartment opposite the Jermuk Hotel & Spa. We follow the Arpa river south. We pass a small cave. We get to the southern end of the reservoir and cross the dam to the H43. We continue north joining the H42. We take the detour past the church into Dzakhapnyak. We continue north keeping the Jermuk airstrip on our right. We rejoin the H2 and pass the Israel Ori Statue / Roundabout. We finish by taking the bridge over the Arpa river. As we do so, we look left to the riverside path that takes us to the Waterfall (see, above).
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there;
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun.
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
I EXISTED to GRANDPAcking standard. I had a Self Catering apartment for 3 nights, I bought groceries, and I ate my meals at home. I balanced this out by living in an All Inclusive Resort for 3 nights.
My accommodation averaged A$16,975 / US$36 per night.
I purchased a Beeline SIMcard for A$100 and a 1 month promotional package that included 7GB, 250 texts, and 150 local call time for A$3,500.
I spent a total of A$7,700 / US$16 on groceries.
My COE worked out to be about A$16,164 (US$35) per day.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
I LIVED to GRANDPAcking standard. But, I spent quiet evenings in my apartment / hotel.
Living Costs: I averaged about A$1,442 / US$3 per night on drinks.
Entertainment: I spent nothing on entertainment.
Shopping: I spent nothing on shopping.
In / Out Costs: I spent A$4,300 / US$9 on transport from Yerevan airport.
My total COL was about A$18,014 (US$39) / day. This was 77% of my budget.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
I have not provided a cost breakdown.
Jermuk is not a GRANDPAcking Holiday Destination. Jermuk is a ‘Living Idea’: somewhere to go to do something special. Needless to say, if you come here, you will be OVER BUDGET.
Jermuk is a relatively expensive (for Armenia) Health Spa Tourist town. You wouldn’t want to live here … but, a week in an Health Spa is a nice experience.
Other than an Health Spa experience, there really isn’t much else to do.
Could you afford to retire here on a GRANDPAcking budget? NO.