Here at TCT HQ, we dream of a day when a perfectly groomed trail network spans the Caucasus, trodden by intrepid hikers from across the region and the globe, bringing to light the beauty of these wild and ancient places, and helping revitalise mountain communities and conservation efforts at the same time.
That day, of course, is still a very long way off! At this early stage in realising our vision, we’re in the process of setting examples, demonstrating what’s possible in the hope that the best ideas will multiply.
That’s why we launched the first trail-building programmes in both Georgia and Armenia. It’s why we supported the first industry-standard topographic hiking map of the trail.
And right now, it’s why we’re partnering with a brand new venture called Dilijan Hikers Hostel, which is set to open this summer in the heart of Dilijan National Park.
In this post, we want to tell you a little more about the project, what makes the idea innovative enough to warrant our backing, and why we’re asking the TCT community’s help to put the next piece of the puzzle in place. But first…
The Origin Story
Back in early 2017, when we were gearing up to bring the volunteer trail-building programme model to Armenia, we were lucky enough to be given the use of a huge empty ‘pansionat’ – a residential complex on the edge of Dilijan, originally built for employees of Soviet Armenia’s Ministry of Water and Sewage (yes, you read that right), later privatised and eventually donated to one of our partner organisations.
It was in terrible shape, so we rounded up an army of friends and transformed this derelict building into a headquarters for our volunteers and staff. It was a tough task, but it was worth it for the six months we spent living there while we worked on the ambitious goal of reinventing Dilijan National Park’s trail network.
In the meantime, word was spreading about what we were doing. Soon we were getting calls from friends, friends of friends, and random travellers, all asking if they could come and stay with us, help out, and find out more about the trails. We quickly repurposed part of the building as guest accommodation and made beds available on a ‘pay what you can’ basis. This simple decision brought several thousand extra dollars into the project, and ultimately allowed us to extend the programme by several weeks and get the job done.
Our use of the ‘pansionat’ was, sadly, a temporary arrangement. But one thought persisted:
Could channeling profits from hiker-specific accommodation along the Transcaucasian Trail be a way to maintain, improve, and ultimately sustain the trail itself?
This concept has been discussed at countless strategy sessions and board meetings in the years since that project, but it never quite felt like the right time – until recently, when two local entrepreneurs and outdoor lovers approached us with exactly the same idea.
Introducing The First Official TCT Hikers Hostel!
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Dilijan’s old town, Dilijan Hikers Hostel will be the very first hiker-specific hostel on the Transcaucasian Trail, taking us another step towards that long-held dream.
It’s designed specifically for those who come to Dilijan in order to explore the national park’s trail network, whether that be thru-hikers, section hikers, or day hikers (and, undoubtedly, the occasional mud-splattered bikepacker).
Rather than compete with existing accommodation offers, the hostel will occupy an entirely unexploited niche, giving trail users everything they need in one central location at a price that’s fair to local and international visitors alike.
We’ve struck a close partnership with the team behind the project, equating success as a business with meaningful support for the trail network.
How? Firstly, a portion of the profits from the hostel will be reinvested directly back into trail maintenance, strengthening the region’s ecotourism offer for the benefit of the whole local economy. Not just that, but the hostel itself will serve as a trail headquarters, hosting volunteers and trail crews, providing workshop space, and sharing feedback on trail conditions directly with our team – all with the goal of keeping Dilijan National Park’s trail network in top condition. And guests will have access to the full spread of information about the Transcaucasian Trail and other trails in the area, helping them get the most out of their time there.
Importantly, this is a partnership designed to be replicated, so support for the trail network can grow in proportion to the number of hikers using it.
Right now, with domestic tourism already bouncing back and international travel on the horizon, we can’t think of a better time to get a partnership like this off the ground.
How We’re Supporting The Project…
A team of volunteers are already hard at work on renovating the building. In addition, the TCT NGO in Armenia is helping kickstart the business side of things by loaning a few key items to get the doors open, including custom-built bunk beds, mattresses and bedding, and a vast array of kitchen equipment collected during several years of trail-building programmes.
Once open, we’ll be promoting the hostel as part of our trail resources for Dilijan National Park, helping train the hostel staff in all things hiking-related, and bringing volunteer groups to use the hostel as a base for trail maintenance programmes – because the more successful the partnership, the greater the benefits for Dilijan’s trail network.
Finally, we’re helping promote the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for a few key renovation projects before the doors open this summer.
Yep – this is where the ‘how you can help’ part comes in!
…And How You Can Help!
Many of you want to hike some or all of the Transcaucasian Trail in the future. When you do, there’s a good chance you’ll pass through Dilijan. It’s at the centre of one of the biggest trail networks in Armenia, and a key stopping point on a thru-hike across the region.
By backing the Dilijan Hikers Hostel crowdfunding campaign now, you can essentially ‘pre-book’ your stay, with flexible dates, options for individuals and groups, and lifetime validity.
Others of you may not be planning a trip but would like to support the initiative all the same. If that’s you, you can get a name of your choice inscribed on the ‘founders’ wall’ in return for your pledge, or sponsor a group of young Armenians to come to Dilijan and learn the trail stewardship skills that will help us keep the trail network alive, healthy, and open, among other rewards.
So we encourage you to be generous, and to help us take this step forward in building not just the Transcaucasian Trail but a support network of partner businesses along the route.
The deadline for the campaign is this Sunday (the 16th of May). Work is already well underway, with the first live-in volunteers already in residence and the first group bookings already in the calendar. Opening day is slated for July 1st!
Time is ticking, so we’re thankful for your help in getting the hostel’s doors open as soon as possible – and we hope you’ll come visit Dilijan and see it for yourself.