firetower-bakuCaucasus Tour: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia  

September 9 – 24, 2017

$5075 per person, double occupancy, land only

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Day 1: Arrival in Baku

Welcome to Azerbaijan! On arrival at Baku International Airport you will be met and transferred to your hotel with a professional guide. Overnight at your hotel (check in after 14:00).

Day 2: Baku – Gobustan – Baku

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Old city of Baku

After breakfast at the hotel, we proceed to the heart of the historic city, Ichari Shahar (the Inner City, or Old Town). While Baku had a reputation of a city blighted by oil extraction, it has recently been completely transformed into a gorgeous capitol city of seaside promenades and extraordinary architecture, including Zaha Hadid, Sir Norman Foster and others from the list of the most famous architects of our time. Gone are the crumbling Soviet buildings of the 1960’s, replaced by brand-new, limestone-clad almost Parisian architecture of the new Baku. In many ways, this is a city, indeed country, reborn with the oil wealth that for the first time is being spent at home. The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited parts in the region – and indeed in the Middle East. Archaeological digs have revealed Bronze Age burial chambers, dating Baku to over 1,500 years old. This is the most popular area of the city, a maze of alleys, dead ends and caravanserais sometimes called the ‘Acropolis of Baku.’ You’ll see carpet shops and cafes and you shouldn’t miss a stop into a tea café to sample hot lavash bread as it is pulled straight from the clay oven that greets you as you enter. Continue on to the Shirvanshah’s palace that was built between 1761 and 1762, and you will also see the Maiden Tower and can climb to the top for a wonderful panoramic view of the historic neighborhood. Lunch at a local restaurant then depart the city for Gobustan, an open-air historical preserve with Neolithic rock drawings. It has come 6000 inscriptions that go back 12000 years (along with 2000-year-old Latin graffiti to boot). Gobustan is included to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. You will also have a chance to visit quite a unique site where 300 of the planet’s estimated 700 mud volcanoes sit. Many geologists as well as locals and international mud tourists trek to such places as the Firuz Crater, Gobustan, Salyan and end up happily covered in mud which is thought to have medicinal qualities. In 2001 one mud volcano 15 kilometers from Baku made world headlines when it suddenly started spewing flames 15 meters high! After our visit there we will return to Baku for dinner at local restaurant, and overnight at the hotel. (B/L/D)

Day 3: Baku – Absheron – Baku

Our first visit of the day, after breakfast at your hotel, will be the local Bazar to see the local art of shopping. Like in many Middle Eastern cultures, the bazaar is the place where seasonal and local produce is offered – the juiciest melons, sweet-scented peaches, great tomatoes and etc. Afterwards we will visit the History Museum and Taghiyev’s Mansion, followed by a visit to the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center. The Heydar Aliyev Center is a 619,000-square-foot building complex in Baku, Azerbaijan designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid and noted for its distinctive flowing, curved style that eschews sharp angles. The center is named for Heydar Aliyev, the leader of Soviet-era Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1982, and president  of Azerbaijan from October 1993 to October 2003. The Center houses a conference hall (auditorium), a gallery hall and a museum. The project is intended to play an integral role in the intellectual life of the city. Afterwards we will have lunch at a local restaurant, then continue on to the Baku Fire Temple, known locally as the Atashgah. This is a castle-like Hindu temple and monastery complex in Surakhani near Baku. The complex is now a museum and is no longer used as a place of worship. We will then visit Yanar Dag, one of the oldest and most attractive sights on Absheron is at Yanar Dag in Mehemmedi settlement. Its name translates literally as ‘burning mountain’ and this is no exaggeration: it really is burning! Yanar Dag is a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which itself is known as the “land of fire.” Flames jet out into the air 3 meters from a thin, porous sandstone layer. Return back to Baku and enjoy free time before dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight at the hotel. (B/L/D)

 

Day 4: Baku – Shamakhi – Sheki

Shamakhah5-smWe depart Baku after breakfast and head to Sheki, via Shemakha, once a capital and trade center for western Azerbaijan, and now a small town. The city has a rich heritage and has provided the backdrop to major political events throughout much of its two millennia of existence. It is famous for its traditional dancers, the Shamakhi Dancers, and also for giving its name to the Soumak rugs. In its history eleven major earthquakes have rocked Shamakhi, but through multiple reconstructions it maintained its role as the economic and administrative capital of Shirvan and one of the key towns on the Silk Road. The only building to have survived eight of the eleven earthquakes is the landmark Juma Mosque of Shamakhi, built in the 10th century. Next we will visit Yeddi Gumbez Seven Tombs, built for a family of Mustafa khan – the last khan of Shamakhi. Only three of these desecrated octagonal royal tombs remain reasonably complete. Other mausoleums of the group are partly destroyed and are without cupola or walls. The monument belongs to Shirvan-Absheron architectural school and the oldest of them is dated to 1810, which is testified by an inscription carved on the mausoleum. After visiting the site we will have lunch at the local restaurant, and then continue our drive to Sheki – one of the most ancient settlements and cultural centers of Azerbaijan. Once we arrive in Sheki we will then drive into the countryside to the village of Kish with the oldest church in the Caucasus dating from the first century and enjoy walks in the surrounding Caucasus foothills. Dinner will be at the local restaurant and overnight at our hotel. (B/L/D)

Day 5: Sheki – Georgian Border – Telavi

Situated 2,300 feet above sea level, like an amphitheater surrounded by mountains and forests of oak trees, Sheki rises above fertile pastures and fields. It was founded more than 2,700 years ago on the southern slopes of the Major Caucasus Mountains chain. During its millennial history the town was devastated numerous times, so most of the historic and architectural monuments currently preserved date from the XVIII-XIX centuries. In the town you will see brick houses, shaded streets, weeping willow trees, and canals carrying spring water. Sheki is famous for the Royal Summer Palace of Sheki Khans with magnificent frescos (one of them is 80 feet long) and exquisite stained glass work. It was constructed in 1762 without a single nail and is one of the most marvelous monuments of its epoch. After breakfast and checking out, we will visit Yukhari Caravanserai, an architectural monument. The setting here is stunning – lying in forested hills with views of the Caucasus. After our visit we depart to the Georgian border (Lagodekhi) via Zakatali where we will stop for lunch. Zakatali is located at the confluence of several rivers that come down from the Caucasus Mountains to the north. Meet at the border with our Georgian partner and exchange bus / guide. Welcome to Georgia! Change onto Georgian transport and drive to Telavi for dinner at a local’s house, then overnight in 3* hotel in Telavi. (B/L/D)

Day 6: Telavi – Tsinandali – Sighnaghi – Tbilisi

TsinandaliHouse1After breakfast we check out and explore the city of Telavi, including the market, then visit Tsinandali, a noble family house and museum of the 19th century with a beautiful park. This is also the first opportunity to learn more about Georgian wines as there is a wine tasting room, and if time permits you can sample some of the local wine (optional). Afterwards we continue on to the mountaintop village of Signaghi, a 16-17th century town, renovated, and called the town of love, all surrounded by a wall. The guests have a nice chance to wander around and to explore the city and enjoy the panoramic views of the valley below. There are nice cute restaurants there as well and you can have an independent lunch there. After our visit, we continue to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Dinner will be at a local restaurant and overnight at the hotel in Tbilisi. (B/D)

Day 7: Tbilisi – Mtskheta – Tbilisi

After breakfast we will have a city tour of Tbilisi which will include the Art Museum of Georgia, which has a vast collection of icons and metalwork. We will visit the old quarter and walk along Sharden Street, filled with cafes, galleries, and boutiques. Afterwards we will drive to Mtskheta, the ancient spiritual capital of Georgia. Mtskheta was founded in the 5th century BC.[2] It was capital of the early Georgian Kingdom of Iberia (Kartli) from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD. It was a site of early Christian activity, and the location where Christianity was proclaimed the state religion of Kartli in 337. It remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Visits will include Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century) and Jvari Church (7th century). Return to Tbilisi for dinner and overnight. (B/D)

Day 8: Tbilisi-David Gareji-Tbilisi

DavidGareji1After breakfast we will depart for David Gareji, one of Georgia’s most important and remarkable ancient religious sites. The area contains several monasteries carved out of the limestone rock, and built in the 6th century by the Davit, one of the 13 Syrian fathers. The area had fallen into neglect and was even used by the Soviets for military exercises, but the 19 known monasteries in the area are now being restored. We will explore the area, and those who want to can hike up to the furthest monastery to enjoy their picnic lunch. The hike as about 2+ hours round trip and you should have sturdy shoes/boots for the trek. Afterwards we return to Tbilisi. The rest of the day is free for you to explore on your own until dinner time when we will have dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight in Tbilisi. (B/PL/D)

Day 9: Tbilisi – Armenian Border – Alaverdi – Dilijan

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Haghpat Monastery

After very early breakfast we will depart for Armenia by bus. Upon our arrival at the border crossing of Bagratashen, proceed through the usual immigration and customs formalities and meet our Armenian guide and change to our Armenian bus. Welcome to Armenia! Our first stop will be the Haghpat Monastery, perched on the edge of the Debed Canyon. The monastery has UNESCO World Heritage status and the view alone is worth the visit. Built by Queen Khosrvanuch in 976, it is a splendid architectural monument in a spectacular natural setting. Also visit another UNESCO site – the Sanahin Monastery. Continue on to Dilijan, and time permitting visit Haghartsin or Goshavank Monastery in Dilijan – both magnificent and beautiful ecclesiastic monuments which are the highlight of the medieval Armenian architecture. Dinner and overnight in Dilijan at the Hotel Best Western Paradize. (B/L/D)

Day 10: Dilijan – Sevan – Selima Pass – Goris

Check out from the hotel after early breakfast and continue your Armenia discovery to Lake Sevan. Visit the peninsula and spend some time exploring the wild nature and sunshine as well as visit 9th c AD Sevan Monastery. Afterwards, we head to the Selima Pass – one of the main junctions on the Great Silk Route. We will stop to visit the caravanserai recorded as the best preserved of its kind, the gathering place for travelers along the Silk Road where they could re-supply, exchange news and information, and rest from their long journey. We continue on to Goris, with a detour to visit the megalithic settlement and ancient observatory at Karahunge (singing stones) – the Stonehenge of Armenia. Dinner and overnight in Goris. (B/L/D)

Day 11: Goris – Tatev – Yerevan

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Armenian village in the mountains

Check out after breakfast and we head to visit the Monastery of Tatev – a UNESCO World Heritage Site en route to Noravank (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Khor Virap. Picnic lunch nearby monastery of Noravank, known for its architecture and dramatic setting. Continue on to Yerevan with an optional visit to a local winery en-route to the capital. Arrive in Yerevan; check in at the hotel. Free evening and overnight at the hotel. (B/L)

Day 12: Yerevan – Echmiadzin – Yerevan

Today we will have a full day of sightseeing around Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. Yerevan is a diverse city with a very intense cultural life. There are dozens of theaters, museums, concert halls, galleries, and live music clubs. People are relaxed and go at a relaxed pace. The city itself has a history dating back to 782 BC, and its past is as diverse as the present. Visit Matenadaran, the repository of ancient Armenian manuscripts (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Lunch will be at a local restaurant, then continue your tour to Echmiadzin, the Vatican of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church, and Surb Hripsimeh. Overnight in Yerevan. (B/L)

Day 13: Yerevan – Ashtarak – Yerevan

After breakfast depart for a full day tour to Ashtarak to visit the Saghmosavank (1215) and Ohannavank (1216-1221) Monasteries as well as the Byurakan/Amberd Fortress* (weather permitting). Both monasteries perch on the edge of the precipitous gorge of the Kasakh River. The book repository of Saghmosavank, built in 1255 under Prince Kurd Vachutyan is among Armenia’s buildings rare in their purpose and original in their composition. Amberd Fortress* is on the slopes of Mt. Aragats at 2300 meters above sea level. It was built during the 11th to 13th centuries. Return to Yerevan, free time to explore the city center. (B/L)

*Please note: The road to Amberd Fortress is not open in April so this site will only be available in September. 

Day14: Yerevan – Garni Temple – Gueghard – Yerevan

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Garni Temple

This morning we will visit Garni Temple, the only surviving witness of Hellenistic period in the history of the country. Dedicated to the goddess of Sun Mihr (Mythra) it dates back to the 1st c AD. We then continue our excursion and visit Gueghard Monastery (UNESCO Heritage Sight), named after the lance that pierced Christ’s side at the crucifixion. The spear was once housed there but now resides at Echmiadzin. Lunch will be hosted by a local family in Garni. Return to Yerevan and visit one of the most fascinating museums – the History Museum. Return to hotel for brief rest before farewell dinner. (B/L/D)

 

 

Day 15: Yerevan

Enjoy a free day exploring Yerevan on your own. Yerevan is easily navigated on your own, and there is plenty of shopping, wine tasting, museums, and more that you can take in on your final day in Armenia. (B)

Day 16: Departure

Check out and transfer to the airport for your final departure.

MAKE A RESERVATION

Details:

Single Supplement: $500

Azerbaijan Inclusions
3 nights BB accommodation in Baku at the 4* Central Park hotel
1 night BB accommodation in Sheki at the Issam Hotel
All entry fees to sights
Professional GUIDE service along the trip
Transportation service along the trip including 2 airport transfers in Baku
3 lunches and 3 dinners on Full Board bases
Guide’s and driver’s food and accommodation expenditures along the trip
Per person bottle of still water per day
E-Visa (including visa fee)
All local taxes

Georgia Inclusions
Transportation: by minibus Mercedes Sprinter type for 10-13 pax, with A/C, 18 seats
2 x transfers from/to border
Transportation as per program
Accommodation:
3 x nights in 4* hotel in Tbilisi, like Courtyard Marriott**** or Holiday Inn**** or Mercure Old Ton 4****
1 x night in 3* hotel in Telavi
Meals:
Breakfasts
1 x dinner in guesthouse in Telavi / without alcohol beverages
3 x dinners in Tbilisi traditional restaurants / without alcohol beverages
1 x picnic lunch in David Gareji
– 5 x days English speaking guide
– Porters
– Tea, coffee
– Non-gas mineral Water – 2 bottles x 0.5 lit per person per day
– Entrance fee to two museums in Tbilisi as per program
– Local taxes

Armenia Inclusions
5 x o/n in Yerevan at centrally located hotel (Aviatrans or similar)
1 x o/n at Best Western Paradise Hotel in Dilijan
1 x o/n in Goris (Hotel TBAL – subject to availability)
9 x main meals
1 x visit to Noy Ararat brandy (Armenian Cognac) factory
English speaking guide throughout the program
Transfers and transport as in the program
All entrance and parking fees
Guide and driver expenses
One way cable car drive to Tatev

Not Included
International Air tickets
Insurance
All extra/optional expenses
All tips (not compulsory) for guides, drivers, etc
All alcoholic drinks during meals