Elevation Gain/Loss: 5,543m/5,269m
Note: The route is described from north (Selim Caravanserai) to south (Ughedzor), but can be hiked in either direction.
Selim Caravanserai (aka: Orbelian Caravanserai)
The dramatic stage of the Transcaucasian Trail through Vayots Dzor begins at a place that has been hosting weary travellers for almost 700 years – the early 14th-century caravanserai traditionally known as Selim and still referred to as such by most locals and in a large canon of literature. (Its modern-day renaming to Orbelian caravanserai – apparently an attempt to erase traces of Islamic influence from the site – refers to the ruling Orbeli dynasty who commissioned it in 1328.)
When the caravanserai was established, this region was part of the southwestern khanate (ie: kingdom) of the Mongol Empire which encompassed much of present-day Iran, Turkey and the Caucasus. While these imperial boundaries were in a constant state of flux, the mercantile road network now known as the Silk Road never lost its significance. Caravanserais were built in strategic locations across the Lesser Caucasus Mountains; this one on an important mountain pass between the trading centers of Jugha (Jolfa) and Tiflis (Tbilisi).
Restored in the 1950s, the dark basalt structure’s well-preserved interior evokes images of pack animals stabled along the central nave, being fed and watered from stone troughs, with travellers storing their wares and bedding down in the many side alcoves. The single small entrance was a deliberate feature to make the defence of the building easier from within. Outside, the views south across Vayots Dzor province from just below the pass are nothing short of spectacular.
The caretaker of the site sells local produce from a stall in the parking area during the tourist season, and is usually happy to allow camping in the area surrounding the site (though it’s polite to ask if he is there when you arrive). There are no toilet facilities, though there is a picnic bench and a trash can. A freshwater spring can be found by crossing the road behind the building and walking a little way uphill and E. If this source is dry, another water source connected to an underground cistern can be found by following the suggested trail route about 500m SW along the dirt track from the paved road over the pass itself. Adventurous travellers have also reported bivvying inside the caravanserai itself.
Selim Caravanserai to Hors Conservation Area (km 0–16)
Be aware that the first 13km of the route is currently unmarked, and there are many different tracks criss-crossing the mountains in this area, creating the potential for confusion. Ensure that you have downloaded the GPS data onto a suitable device and that you have adequate backup power and/or a printed copy of the route.
From the entrance to the caravanserai parking area, walk up the paved road to the pass itself, then turn SW as the road heads N to follow a jeep track. The track passes several good water sources and at 3.5km climbs to cross the ridge, heading S.
From here, the track descends gradually, traversing the E facing slopes of Mknasar (2,946m), crossing several small streams and passing some wetland areas and small lakes. Open hillsides give way to shrubby landscapes as you descend. At 13km is the first of several stone guideposts indicating various destinations between this location and Aghavnadzor.
At 16km you will reach the junction for Hors Guesthouse a few hundred meters to the W, where you may spend the night if you have arranged to do so in advance. The guesthouse doubles as a visitor center for Hors Conservation Area, though it is not permanently staffed. Several flat areas in the vicinity are suitable for wild camping, and there is a drinking water source in the guesthouse grounds.
Hors Conservation Area to Areni (km 16–37)
From the junction for the guesthouse, the track continues 1km S through haymaking fields, then follows a rough cattle trail for 2km to Hors Lake, a polluted, man-made reservoir with little appeal. (An alternative longer and lower route follows jeep tracks down towards Hors village and then back up to the lake from a signposted junction.)
Proceed round the north side of the lake to the picnic shelter and spring, then bear SE up a short gradient to a pass at 19km over the ridge between Partam (2,631m) and Areguni (2,246m) peaks. The landscape changes dramatically here, the hillsides becoming steep and thickly wooded. Follow the winding, rolling track to another pass at 22km, marked with a khachkar (cross-stone), where the full expanse of the Arpa valley opens out below you.
Follow the clear jeep track S as it zigzags down the open hillside. At 26km you will encounter another manmade reservoir and dam, as well as a picnic shelter. From here you will begin to bear W towards the village of Aghavnadzor on a good gravel road; several stone guideposts mark the route, with the last post at the first major junction upon entering the village at 29km.
Continuing S on the main road through the village will bring you to the top of the expansive vineyards S of the village (30.5km)
Several farm tracks can be followed S through the vineyards down to the M2 main road (37km); our suggested route minimises the amount of time you will need to walk on the road itself if you are not planning to overnight in Areni.
Areni to Gnishik via Noravank (km 37–59)
Proceed E along the M2 main road (the south side has a wider shoulder) for 450m to the junction for Noravank gorge. A worthwhile stop here is the Areni-1 Cave, in which was discovered the earliest known evidence of systematic winemaking, radiocarbon-dated to over 6,100 years ago. The entrance is just behind the Edem hotel, which is on your right as you face the gorge entrance. If nobody is there to open the gate, ask at the hotel.
Head S through the narrow canyon, following the paved road. A verge is available to walk on for much of the duration of the road; by hiking early in the morning or late in the evening you will avoid most of the tour bus traffic going to and from Noravank, but caution is advised in any case. After a few km the gorge begins to open up and you may catch a glimpse of the monastery of Noravank on the hillside to the E.
The main route of the Transcaucasian Trail bears W and follows a historic footpath up the mountainside, but it is certainly worth making the detour to Noravank, one of Armenia’s most famous monasteries, currently under consideration for inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The site also features a museum dedicated to the architect and khachkar-carver known as Momik, as well as a restaurant and a hotel.
In any case, at 47km turn right and follow the signposted trail through a thicket of trees and up the mountainside. This historic footpath once allowed the villagers of Nor Amaghu (New Amaghu) access to the monastery. The village is now in ruins; you will reach it just after 48km. Continue through the ruins to the information board at 49km.
From here, follow the paved road E for 400m to a hairpin bend. Continue E onto the jeep track and past the vehicle barrier. At 50km the track will bear SSE and traverse the hillsides below Amaghu (1,700m) and Achalikar (2,118m) peaks. There are several springs along this track, and you may also notice terracing of the hillsides: this land was historically cultivated by the residents of Hin Amaghu (Old Amaghu) village, traces of which are long gone except for a handful of khachkars.
The trail continues E across the fields above the edge of the gorge. At 53km a signpost indicating a stunning lookout point known as Harp Rocks makes for a worthy detour.
At 53.5km the trail drops into a steep canyon of loose scree. The eroded remains of a jeep track can be followed S and steeply downhill for 120m to meet a large water pipe carrying water to the village of Khachik. After this point, the original trail has long since eroded away, and it is currently necessary to make your way down the steep slope off-trail. Following the pipe 90m downhill will bring you level with the continuation of the trail, which can be located by traversing SE along the hillside past an obvious ‘notch’ in a rock outcrop and then towards the vegetated gully, from where the trail reappears.
After leaving the vegetated gully, the trail traverses the steep hillside E along the south side of the gorge, with the Gnishik river cascading below. After 55km it can be difficult to find the trail at times, and at least one small river crossing is required. At 56km it is definitely necessary to cross to the N side of the river and continue along the gorge on this northern bank. There is no bridge crossing the river at this time, though you will find suitable fording places used by 4×4 drivers.
Across the river, you’ll find a clearing with a caravan and some beehives; this place is known as Jafar Grove after a man who used to live here in times long past.
Leaving Jafar Grove it is possible (and tempting) to follow the jeep track NE to the village of Gnishik, but it is more scenic to continue following the river’s northern edge. The trail is generally to be found above the riverbank, rather than at the water’s edge, and can be difficult to locate at times, but following the river in any case will take you along a rock-hewn footpath through the extremely scenic gorge.
At 58km the path will begin to climb rather sharply uphill and away from the river, and some 600m later you will arrive at the edge of the village of Gnishik.
Gnishik to Martiros via Horadis (km 59–81)
From Gnishik, a good dirt road leads SE through open fields, climbing gradually towards the pass (2,432m) at 63.3km, from where you’ll get an excellent view down into the next main watershed from one of the highest points on the route. Follow the track E and gradually down, traversing the south-facing slopes of the valley.
In summer, haymaking can cause the tracks to be difficult to see and follow at times. Follow the mapped route past the spring at 65.4km to pick up a narrow trail traversing the mountainside (the more visible nearby jeep track climbs to the ridge to the N, a longer and more strenuous route but with panoramic views).
You’ll rejoin the jeep track at 66.7km, dropping steeply along a badly eroded track for 2km to the ruinous former village of Horadis at 70.7km. With a spring, a picnic area and the partly rebuilt St Nikoghos church of 1668 to explore, this makes for a good lunch stop on what is otherwise a rather uneventful transit day. Just below the former village at 69.3km is a grove of aspen trees and a picnic area beside a stream, which would also make for a suitable wild camping site.
Continuing E from below Horadis, a good dirt road crosses an expanse of rolling hills, haymaking meadows and cultivated fields, passing below and S of the peak of Arevaber (2,190m) before dropping down to meet the paved road from Zaritap at 80km.
A further 1km of walking E on the paved road will bring you to the edge of the village of Martiros (aka: New Martiros), with a small convenience store and a homestay for those who wish to overnight here.
Martiros to Gomk (km 81–94)
From the center of Martiros, continue 1.5km E to Old Martiros, the original settlement of Martiros which was relocated in Soviet times due to unstable soils but with ten or so families still in residence. It is a much more picturesque village than the modern settlement, and has at its center the Holy Mother of God church of 1866, built on the site of a previous church and incorporating many fragments of the original structure.
The onward route is waymarked and signposted from the center of Old Martiros, following narrow alleys through the ruins of former houses and then dropping down towards the river E of the village. The route then bears S, following the river upstream and crossing it at a ford at 84.5km.
Some 200m E, a signposted side route S takes you on a worthwhile 1km detour to the Holy Mother of God rock-hewn church, the second largest of its kind in Armenia after Geghard Monastery. With a picnic shelter and a spring on site, it would also make for a good overnight camping spot.
From the junction at 84.7km, follow the jeep track NE as it passes S of Chumov Lake. Turn N onto the marked trail around the lake, passing a series of khackhars and climbing the switchbacks to the edge of a plateau at 82.1km. A combination of jeep tracks and newly built connecting trails traverse the mountainsides above the wetland areas on the plateau, affording some of the best views on this section of the Transcaucasian Trail, the Syunik mountains on the border with Nagorno-Karabakh to the N and even snowcapped Ararat to the W visible on a clear day.
Follow the blazes and signposts across shrubby hillsides and terraced slopes until the trail bears SE and joins a jeep track near a livestock pen at 92km. This track winds downhill N to bring you out at the edge of the village of Gomk at 93.5km, where several good overnight options exist, including the highly recommended Horseback Tours Farm.
Gomk to Artavan (km 94–112.5)
Continue E from Gomk along the road to Kapuyt, a semi-ruinous village at the foot of a dramatic canyon with a few remaining inhabitants. Pass through the village and follow the signposted trail E into the gorge itself.
At 97.2km, where the trail passes close to the base of the cliff, you’ll find a collection of khachkars carved directly into the rock face; a unique monument to this area.
Continue E along the marked trail up the gorge to the signpost at 98.8km. From here, the newly built trail ascends the north-facing slopes of the gorge, passing among rock outcrops and eventually reaching the base of the cliffs at 100.2km. Just W of here is an excellent viewpoint.
The trail continues to climb E along an abandoned cart track, growing steeper still, until at 101km it reaches the beginning of an ancient stone ‘staircase’ that winds its way up the impossible-looking wall of the canyon. As the trail exits the top of the canyon 400m above the start of the staircase, it crosses a small stream and bears N to meander through a boulder field before following the steep ridge E for a short distance.
At 101.7km, break off the ridge to the NE and follow the narrow path to a ledge below the cliff face. This ledge can be followed round and E for a couple of hundred metres before it bears again N, and you will find yourself at the head of the canyon (102.5km)
Drop down E on the new trail to join the jeep track in the shallow valley, then follow the jeep track NNW. A signpost at 104.7km indicates the direction to Artavan; follow the river past the livestock pen at 105.3km and then into the forest 300m later. A historical footpath descends NW through thick forest for 1km, sometimes steeply, to a clearing at 106.2km.
From here, a steep jeep track will take you directly to Artavan, but it is a gentler and more scenic route to continue following the historical trail through the ruins of a bandit camp (107.2km) and to a junction on the ridge at 108.6km, where an easier alternative route from Kapuyt (also marked) meets the main trail.
The trail then cuts back through the forest, heading E along a historic cart road discovered in 2018 and newly reopened as a hiking trail, emerging onto open fields at 111km. From here it is an easy 1.5km walk on jeep tracks down to the edge of Artavan, across a 17th-century bridge, and into the village center.
Artavan to Ughedzor (km 112.5–125)
Follow the main road S through the village above the N bank of the river. At the crossroads at 114.5km, climb the jeep track NW towards the plateau, following it as it veers E and then SE, gradually gaining elevation through open fields.
Continue NNE along the jeep track, passing among haymaking meadows and the barely visible ruins of several ancient villages. At 120.3km, rather than follow the steep jeep track E, continue N across the open fields to pick up an old cart track that climbs more gradually to the ridge, reaching the pass at 121.8km.
Some 80m W of the pass, on a small hilltop, are the ruinous walls of Andranik’s Fortress, about which relatively little is known.
Once you reach flatter ground and the haymaking fields, it is easy to rejoin one of the jeep tracks that will take you the remaining 2.5km to the village of Ughedzor – at 125km, the southern terminus of this section of the Transcaucasian Trail.
Find this and other trails in Vayots Dzor on the free HIKEArmenia app, which allows you to navigate the trail using your GPS-enabled smartphone, as well as recommending accommodation and local guides:
…and on the following platforms:
Partners & Sponsors
This section of the Transcaucasian Trail was developed between 2016–2018 with the generous support of: