Treasures of the Caucasus: Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia
May 17 to June 04, 2019
Journey through more than five millennia of history of the Armenian Plateau, the legendary landing place of Noah’s Ark. Learn about one of the earliest civilizations in the world, referred to by many as one of the cradles of civilization. Visit monasteries precariously perched on mountains; ruins of once imposing castles and fortresses; the largest collection of khachkars or stone crosses, and vishaps, ancient megaliths dating from 1500 BC unique to the Armenian Plateau. Traverse part of the ancient Silk Road and see the only surviving intact caravansary in Armenia. Explore archaeological excavation sites and watch as the past, undisturbed for thousands of years, emerges before your eyes.
Georgia will mesmerize you with its magnificent history and unparalleled natural beauty, from the shores of the Black Sea to the soaring peaks of the Caucasus Mountains, from the rich vineyards to the arid deserts. The Georgians have built a modern country on the foundation of their rich and ancient culture, a perfect blend. Georgia’s world-famous wine, unique and tantalizing cuisine and legendary hospitality make this a favorite destination for the curious and sophisticated traveler. You will be accompanied on your voyage of discovery by archaeologists and other scholars who were selected for their expertise and their eagerness to share their passion for learning.
Azerbaijan is a magnificent country with rich natural resources, ancient culture and history. The lifestyle of the people represents a harmonious blending of the traditions of many different cultures and civilizations, with a very strong Persian influence. A visit to this fascinating country with its unique culture, history and traditions will round out your journey to the land of the Trans-Caucasus.
It was a very interesting trip and well organized, I enjoyed the experience
– Barbara Friedell
Tour Escort: Local Expert Guides
Tour cost (Land Only) : $4,995.00 per person sharing in double occupancy
Single Supplement: $995.00
Price based on a minimum of 6 participants and maximum of 14 participants
Your tour Includes:
- All transfers and transportation by A/C minibus.
- Accommodation in superior centrally located 4* hotels.
- English speaking guides in each country.
- Meals as per program (B: Breakfast, L: Lunch and D: dinner).
- Mineral water during touring days on the vehicle.
- Entrance fees to the museums and historical sites.
- Wine tasting in Georgia and Armenia.
- Porterage of luggage at hotels
Your tour Does Not Include:
- Roundtrip international air.
- Azeri e-visa ($50 obtained electronically prior to trip) all costs are subject to change.
- Alcoholic beverages and any soft drinks.
- Trip surcharge to operate below required minimum participants.
- Transfers if not arriving/departing on scheduled dates.
- Dayroom or overnights necessitated by changes in airline schedules.
- Items of a personal nature (laundry, phone calls, emails, excess luggage charges, etc.).
- Travel insurance. Highly recommended.
- Gratuities to local guides, drivers and restaurant staff for included meals.
Trip remark: Anyone wishing to join this trip must be in a good physical shape to participate in the day-to-day activities. While not strenuous, the itineray does include some walking up hills to reach perched monasteries and caves. Border crossings can be tedious and consume time. The hotels are quite comfortable but some may lack the luxuries of the west. By signing up for this tour, participants are acknowledging their full understanding and acceptance of all terms and conditions and are admitting that they are in good physical and mental health and are equipped with an open mind, a sense of adventure and a tolerant and patient spirit to cope with the tour. A few stops will be made for souvenir shopping provided they do not interfere with the flow of the day or cause delays in reaching the next destination.
Note on visas: The process of obtaining all visas is simple. No visas are required for Armenia and Georgia but a valid US passport is required to enter the countries. An Azerbaijan e-visa must be obtained prior to departure and will be arranged by our agent. A scanned copy of your passport is required to complete this procedure.
Trip Grade: II Active – Some hikes, slightly more demanding walks at or to sites, few elevations, comfortable but busy schedule and some long drives.
Lodging Level: Superior – Lodges and hotels with additional amenities, refined service and comfort level acceptable to western standards. (3 or 4 stars)
View Tour Itinerary
Friday to Saturday, May 17 to 18
USA to Azerbaijan
Depart your hometown arriving the next day at Baku’s International Airport. After passing through customs and collecting your luggage you will be met by the guide and taken to the hotel for your overnight.
Sunday, May 19
Get an early start today to explore Azerbaijan's capital Baku. The residents stayed behind their 14th century walls until the 19th century, when the Russian empire began exploiting the great oil reserves under the waters of the Caspian Sea. Before entering the old city, visit Martyrs Lane, not only for the site but for the beautiful panoramic view of all Baku. Martyrs Lane in brief, is in memory of the lives lost in Azerbaijan's struggle for independence. The Old City includes the Shirvanshah's palace, the Maiden Tower, several caravansaries, the old city walls and gates, the nearby Fountain Square and much more. Return to the hotel for your overnight. (B,L)
Monday, May 20
On the second day venture a bit outside Baku, visiting the UNESCO petroglyphs on the Gobustan Peninsula and the nearby Mud Volcanos. After lunch beside the Caspian Sea, visit the amazing Heydar Aliyev Center/Museum, designed by the world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid. Continue to see the Zoroastrian Fire Temple on the northern outskirts of the city. In the evening, take a walk in Baku's twinkling lights that illuminate the night sky. Return to the hotel for your overnight. (B,L)
Tuesday, May 21
Today’s destination is Sheki, with several interesting stops enroute. First you will visit the rock-hewn cliffside tomb of Dir Baba, an important Sufi Mystic. Next stop is Shemakha, the former capital of the once powerful Shirvan Khanate from the 6th-15th centuries. See the Djuma Mosque, the largest mosque in the Caucasus, dating from the 9th century. High above, overlooking the town is the Geddi Gumbez Necropolis, which contains several unique domed mausoleums of important personages from the Shirvan dynasty. After the city was leveled by an earthquake the capital was moved to Baku. Have lunch before continuing on to Sheki where you will check into the hotel for your overnight. (B,L)
Wednesday, May 22
Sheki is one of the oldest towns in Azerbaijan, founded some 2700 years ago. It was an independent Kharnate until the 1820's when Russia finally annexed it. A tour of the town will include the Khan's palace, the caravansaray and the local market. You will also stop at the neaby cobblestoned village of Kish, to see the oldest church in the Caucasus, dating from the 4th century. Overnight at the hotel in Sheki. (B,L)
Thursday, May 23
After breakfast drive to the Georgian border where you will go through customs’ formalities before transfering to a Georgian coach. In geographic terms, Georgia belongs to neither Europe nor Asia. Culturally, Georgia has language, customs, and traditions uniquely its own. Before arriving in Tbilisi, stop in the royal town of Signagi. King Erekle constructed a defensive barrier around the town, in the 18th century, with much of its walls and gates still remaining. Just outside the town is the idyllic convent of Bodbe dedicated to Saint Nino. It is an important pilgrimage site, as the faithful come to drink the holy water from the spring that burst forward when Saint Nino prayed here in the 4th century. After lunch take a leisurely stroll through the picturesque town before departing for Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Overnight at a hotel in Tbilisi. (B,L)
Friday, May 24
Tbilisi, set on the Mtkvari River, has changed hands many times. It was ruled by the Arabs for 400 years, before King David the Builder, defeated them in 1211, and moved the capital here. Overlooking the city is the Narikala Fortress. Tour the old town, to see its monuments, picturesque churches, basilicas, synagogue, the old baths, the fortress, the main cathedral outside the town and much more. Take in the great view of the old city from the Metekhi Church of the Virgin. On Rustaveli Avenue visit the State History Museum, where one of the highlights is the "Gold Room" containing solid gold artifacts and jewelry from over 2000 years ago. Return to the hotel for your overnight. (B,L)
Saturday, May 25
Tblisi – Mtskheta- Ananuri-Kazbegi- Guduari
Set out after breakfast to explore the treasures along the Georgian Military Highway. First stop will be the Jvari Monastery, an imposing structure overlooking the Kura and Aragvi Rivers. Nearby is Mtskheta (UNESCO World Heritage), the capital of the Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD. Georgia's conversion to Christianity took place here in 337AD. The many historical monuments of Mtskheta make up this great UNESCO Site. Continue to the fortress complex of Ananuri before heading further north to Kazbegi, just a stone's throw from the Russian border. Here you will visit the famous Tsminda church high above the town. Access is via 4-wheel drive vehicles and the views of Kazbegi and the surrounding Caucasus Mountains are magnificent. End your day in Gudauri where you check into the hotel for your overnight. (B,D)
Sunday, May 26
Today’s first stop is Gori, once the stronghold of Georgian kings. The town’s present claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. Visit the Stalin homestead now a museum, housing his lifelong artifacts as he grew up to become the leader of the Soviet Union. You will also see and enter his private railway car. Depart on a scenic drive to Kutaisi, Georgia's second city. Upon arrival, visit the Bagrati Cathedral (early 11th century-built during the reign of King Bagrati III) and the Gelati Monastery with its magnificent frescoes (founded in 1106 by King David IV). Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and masterpieces of Georgian medieval architecture. Check into the hotel for your overnight. (B,L)
Monday, May 27
After breakfast depart for Borjomi, the picturesque spa town famous for its mineral waters. Upon arrival you will have time to stroll down Rustaveli, its picturesque main street, named after Shota Rustaveli, the famous medieval Georgian poet. After lunch, head to Akhaltsikhe, the location of Rabath Castle, built in the 12th century. Explore the extensive complex that is completely surrounded by medieval walls. The Dukes of Jakeli governed over this area for centuries. It then fell into the hands of the Ottoman Empire, who ruled here from 1688-1828, before finally being invaded by the Russians. Overnight at a hotel located within the castle walls. (B,L)
Tuesday, May 28
Pass through beautiful scenery and picturesque villages on the way to Vardzia. This unique cave monastery is one of the most dramatic sites of Georgia. The expansive cliff face houses a labyrinth of ancient caves, with interior passageways, dwellings and churches. The main building period was the late 12th century during the reign of Giorgi III and his daughter Queen Tamar. Drive back to Tbilisi via Paravani Lake and check into the hotel for your overnight. (B,L)
Wednesday, May 29
Depart on a full day’s tour to visit David Gareja an important complex of 12 different cave monasteries. Begun in the 6th century, it was named after one of the thirteen Syrian founding fathers that lived in these natural caves. By the 12th century, there were over 2000 monks living here. It was sacked and looted in the 13th century by the Mongols, and later overrun by Tamerlane's armies in the 14th century. Return to the hotel in Tbilisi for your overnight. (B,L)
Thursday, May 30
Tbilisi-Armenia border-Yerevan via Haghpat/Sanahin-Dilijan (Georgia-Armenia)
After breakfast depart for Armenia...your day’s end destination being the capital city, Yerevan. Armenia has had a long and difficult history, caught between the Greek, Roman, Persian, and Ottoman Empires. Yerevan was founded in 782 BC under the name Erebuni. In 301 AD Armenia converted to Christianity under King Tiridates III, and adopted it as the state religion, making Armenia the first Christian country. Stop at the Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin two important UNESCO World Heritage Sites that were built between the 10-13th centuries. Continue to Dilijan and check into the hotel. Enjoy a "welcome dinner" of local specialties in the restaurant. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Friday, May 31
Dilijan - Lake Sevan-Noravank – Khor Virap – Yerevan
Depart overland to the south of the country, following the path on the Great Silk Road. Visit Lake Sevan before continuing along one of the main junctions on the Silk Route, Selim or Vardenyats Pass to Noravank (World Heritage Site). Lunch will be a BBQ in the grotto near the site. Tour one of the wineries en route to Yerevan. If time permits, stop to visit Khor Virap Monastery, a place of pilgrimage for Armenians worldwide. Enjoy stunning views of the biblical Mount Ararat from the monastery, barely a stone's throw away. Continue to the capital Yerevan, check into a centrally located hotel for your overnight. Free evening to explore the city center. (B,L)
Saturday, June 01
Yerevan is one of the oldest cities in the world, 29 years older than Rome. Archeologists have discovered inscribed stones (cuneiform inscriptions) that serve as the “birth certificate” of Yerevan dating the town to approximately 2800 years old. Yet, Yerevan is more of a contemporary city with its colorful unique architecture, beautiful squares and parks. On a clear day one can even see Mount Ararat, a mere 35 miles away just across the border in Turkey. A tour of the city will include the Republic Square, Panorama Ground, the Genocide Memorial, the Opera House, the Cascade and other city landmarks. Lastly, explore the Matenadaran (Repository of Ancient Manuscripts), yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, housing more than 18,000 illuminated manuscripts. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L)
Saturday, June 02
Just 30 minutes outside the city is the See of the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Cathedral of Etchmiatsin. This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates from 301-303 AD. Return to Yerevan to visit either the History Museum or the National Art Gallery. Afterwards, you may with to spend your leisure time at picturesque "Vernisage" Art Park. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L)
Saturday, June 03
Your last day of touring will take you to the village of Garni to visit the ancient fortress (1st century BC) and the Hellenistic pagan Temple dedicated to the Goddess of the Sun, also 1st century. Continue to the Gueghard Cave Monastery, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Gueghard derives from the spear that one of the Roman guards had used to pierce the side of the crucified Christ. Gueghard Monastery is uniquely carved into the side of a mountain and is one of the fascinating monuments of Armenia. The structure contains monastic cells, churches, tombs, and "Khachkar" crosses all hewn into solid rock. These crosses first appeared in the 4th-7th centuries. Enjoy a family hosted lunch in Garni. Return to Yerevan and enjoy some free time to explore the city on your own. (An optional visit to the cognac factory in Ararat at 15 USD pp can be arranged). This evening gather for a farewell dinner. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)
Saturday, June 04
Armenia to the USA
Transfer to the airport for your flight back home. (B)
“We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed”