The following information applies to the Caucasus XXL Tour
Passport & visa information
Your passport should be valid until minimum 6 months after departure date. Rules per country can be slightly different, but this covers all.
Visa Georgia: not required for citizens of European Union, Canada, USA, Australia.
Visa Armenia: not required for citizens of Schengen countries and USA.
For a list of Schengen countries visit https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/schengen-visa-countries-list/ Travellers with a passport from a non-European or non-Schengen country are required to purchase a visa, which can be obtained on arrival at airports or border. It has a validity of 21 days. (Visa for a longer stay is available at extra charge). Costs are low and must be paid in local currency. Bank at airports are open when flights arrive. It is best to change only a small amount of money, because the exchange rate is better in the city.
Visa Turkey: an electronic visa (e-Visa) is required to visit Turkey. On the site of the ministery of foreign affairs in Turkey there is a list with countries plus a link to apply for an e-Visa. http://www.mfa.gov.tr/visa-information-for-foreigners.en.mfa
When booking a vacation, you assume that your time away will be carefree and generally that is the case. However, to cover damage to your luggage or health care expenses, you need to have a travel insurance. Please make sure that your insurance is valid for this part of the world and check coverage. There may be circumstances that cause cancellation of your vacation or a later departure or earlier return. You can take out additional insurance to cover the cost of cancellation in case of a personal emergency (e.g., cancellation costs of air ticket/ accommodations, etc.). We leave this choice to you. Several companies offer these kinds of insurance. Traveler agreed by registration that the organizer cannot be held responsible for any damages or personal injuries during the tour.
The Georgian currency is Lari (GEL), the Armenian currency is the Armenian dram (AMD) and the Turkish currency isLira (TL). Several currencies can be exchanged, but euros and dollars are accepted everywhere. There are ATM machines in big cities, but foreign bank cards are not widely accepted and the machine has to show a Cirrus or Maestro logo. In Armenia and Turkey this is less of a problem, in Georgia it can be more complicated to find a suitable ATM. Therefore it is advised to bring cash. Swiss francs and British pounds can be changed at banks and at some money changers in Armenia and Georgia. There is no commission fee. The lowest exchange rates are found at airports and hotels. Euro or dollar banknotes must be relatively new and have no marks or tears. Dollar bills issued before 1996 will not be accepted. It is not necessary to change a large bill into smaller ones, for example, if you want to change 20 euros and you hand over a 50-Euro bill, you can receive 30 euros change. We recommend that you request for smaller denominations, preferably 5,000 or 1,000-dram bills in Armenia. It is hard to pay with igger bills in small shops, kiosks or taxis.
Only major hotels and car rental agencies will accept VISA and MASTERCARD credit cards. In Georgia they are more widely accepted. To withdraw cash with your creditcard is expensive and therefore not recommended to cash small amounts.
Commercial goods exceeding a value of $ 500 must be declared. Personal items do not have to be declared. There is a 20-pack import and export limit on cigarettes, a 2-litre limit on alcohol and a 1-kg limit on coffee. There are no restrictions on the import of food. Alcohol is very cheap in Armenia and Georgia. Check with your local customs on what you are allowed to take back into your country.
It is forbidden to import or export pornography, loose pearls and antiques.
Do not bring valuable items (such as jewellery) and bring a money belt if you plan to carry cash. Most hotels do not have a safety deposit box. To store things in a suitcase which can be locked has proved to function well in the past years. Violent street crime is almost unheard of in the regions where we travel. Nevertheless we recommend that you watch out for pickpockets in crowded areas or markets. Being on the street at night is not a problem, and that goes for both women and men. Locals are out late and many families love to stroll in the streets or go for dinner in a restaurant. In this part of the world people are very helpful, hospitable and very child friendly. Communication in a foreign language might be difficult. In Georgia more people speak English.
For elderly or handicapped people it can be hard to move around because the pavement can be in poor condition.
In all countries we will travel within safe areas.
There is a difference in time of 2-3 hours with The Netherlands, depending on our summer or winter schedule.
Telephone & internet
Country code Armenia +374, Georgia + 995, Turkey +9. Your own mobile phone will not always work, and there is no overall network. Purchasing a local simcard can be an option. It is cheap I(also to call abroad) and it can be charged with a prepaid card. Many restaurants and cafeteria have free wifi.
Armenians speak East Armenian and Georgians speak Georgian, bots languages with their own alphabet. Turkish people speak Turkish. Many people in the former Soviet republics also speak Russian, although the younger generation is now taught English or German as a second language. In big cities street street and traffic signs along major roads are depicted in our alphabet.
Vaccination of DTP, polio, hepatitis A and typhoid is not required, but some can be recommended. Check with your local health organizations on the internet. Medical care in all countries is of good quality.
Food & drink
Although water is of good quality, some people have a sensitive stomach. In that case we advise you to drink only bottled water. Food is of excellent quality and salads are safe to eat.
Expenses for food/drinks
Most dinners are included in the tour package but generally lunches are not. According to our criteria, lunch is relatively cheap and will vary between € 3 at a supermarket or small cafetaria to € 15 for an elaborate meal at a restaurant. Especially in Tbilisi and Yerevan there are several small restaurants and supermarkets close to the hotel. Drinks are not included in the package. Prices vary between € 1.50-€ 2,00 for a glass of beer to € 0.60 for a local brew of (Armenian/Turkish) coffee. A bottle of wine is around € 10.00. Sometimes dinner is not included our program for practical reasons. It is not pleasant to be held to a schedule for a group dinner on a free day. As compensation, a lunch will be offered at another occasion. Mark that the menu in restaurants doesn’t show the price including the service fee. This will be added later and most of the times the percentage is listed in the menu. It is commonly around 10%. Tipping is no obligation in all countries, but is always appreciated if you are content with the service.
Standard voltage is 220 volts. USA appliances designed for 110 volts require a voltage converter. Electric outlets use European/Dutch style plugs with two round pins. North American participants should bring a converter.
Both countries have a continental climate: summers are hot and dry, winters are very cold with heavy snowfalls. Although summer is warm, always be prepared for cooler temperatures in mountaneous regions.
Spring arrives by the end of April, and a bit later in mountainous areas. Do bring an umbrella for occasional rain showers, which can be short and heavy. After a hot summer, in autumn, often nicknamed the “velvet season”, the temperature typically reverts to that of springtime. After the mid-September break in the hot weather, Indian summer arrives and lasts throughout October. In this season too it is sensible to bring an umbrella for sporadic rain showers. A good website to check the weather is www.freemeteo.com it includes a seven-day forecast.
In Yerevan people are extremely fashion conscious, and a well-groomed appearance is appreciated. For all countries applies that in the countryside people dress more simply and conservatively. Shorts are only worn by young people. The somewhat longer Capri pants or 7/8 models are common; tank tops are worn in the cities. It is very important to bring comfortable hiking shoes and dance shoes that are comfortable on all types of floors (possibly even outdoors). Make sure to be prepared for cooler weather in the mountains. It is best to bring layers of clothes to tackle this situation.
Clothing to visit religious sites
Required to bring to Georgia: a scarf and a wrap skirt for women. They need to cover their head and wear a long skirt visiting monasteries and churches. Men need to wear long pants and take off hats in monasteries and churches. Frequently wrap skirts are offered near the entrance of a religious complex. When visiting a mosque inTurkey you need to take off your shoes and women need to cover their head with a scarf, preferably long pants are worn by men.
In Armenia there are no special requirements.
It is highly recommended to bring a strong sun block because of high altitudes – you can easily get sunburned. Also bring a hat for sun protection and make sure to carry water with you.
Bring all the prescription drugs you believe you will need. Bring enough for the entire stay and leave them in their original marked containers. Bring some basic medication such as ibuprofen, Tylenol or aspirin and anti-diarrhoea medication such as Imodium. Bring enough lens cleaning solution for your entire visit and maybe a spare set of eyeglasses. If you are prone to car sickness, please bring medication for it. It will not always be possible to claim seats in the front of the bus. In big cities pharmacies and bigger supermarkets carry these items, but that might not be the case in other parts of the country and there might be a language barrier.
During our tour, we will travel in an air-conditioned bus. We have tried to avoid long hours on the bus, but distances can take longer to travel than expected. There aren’t many highways and it takes time to wait out cattle crossings and wind your way up mountain roads. In general main roads are in good condition, but some parts can be under construction especially after winter damage. Driving standards can best be described as creative, unpredictable and in Georgia as reckless.
Minibuses are very populair and cheap means of transport run on standard routes. They leave from bus terminals spread over the city and leave when the bus is full. The destination is marked on the minibuses, but then you would have to be able to read the local alphabet! The easiest choice for tourists is to use taxis. They are very inexpensive. A good option is to rent a taxi for a half- or full-day tour. Taxis do have meters, although solo drivers might not have one.
Armenia is the first Cristian nation in the world and Armenians are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church. There are two minorities: Yezidi are ethnically related to Kurds, but practice a pre-Islamic Middle Eastern religion with ancient origins and Russian speaking communities of Molokans. They are Christians who separated from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th Century. Georgians are mostly Christian and in majority member of the Geoprgian Orthodox Church. In contrast to Armenia where 98% of the population is Armenian, Georgia knows a larger diversity of ethnic minorities such as Adjarians, Mingrelians, Svanet, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Abkheses, Russians and Ossetians. Around 84% of the population is Georgian.
Turkey has been home to Judaism, Christianity and Islam for centuries. Nowadays 99% of Turkey’s population are Muslim. Most Turks are Sunni Muslims, but there are Shiite (Shi’a) and Alaouite (Alevi) minorities as well.
Our hikes are aimed at people with a normal physical condition and can walk without restrictions. You will require comfortable hiking shoes, because some sightseeing spots can be reached after a short walk on foot. For the hike to the caves of David Gareja a good physical condition is required as well as sturdy hiking shoes with grip sole (there will be an alternative hike on a flat unpaved road). Considering busy traffic and small distances in both Yerevan and Tbilisi, we will often walk to the restaurants. Of course one is free to choose an alternative and to take a taxi.