I'm going to spend my summer in Turkey, and I'm considering travelling around Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, lower area of Russia then across to Ukraine and back into Europe that way (eventually back to the UK).
The New Zealand govt website essentially suggests not going there unless you have to, and specific places as definite no-go areas. Now I'm not really wanting to go into a warzone, but the area is really interesting to me! I would prefer to side-step Iran at this point (one day!!!), but is the rest of the region really that dangerous? I would be a single female travelling on my own (exceptional circumstances excluded), which increases the risk.
Also, I'm wondering about practicality- I've seen that the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is closed, is this likely to be an issue anywhere else there?
Any advice at all would be great, I'm in two minds about it really, I could come back the safer route through South-East Europe, but West Asia is pretty interesting...
I quote from Wikitravel:
Border crossing is generally difficult throughout the Caucasus. Both the Russian-Georgian border near Kazbegi and the Russia-Azerbaijan border are only open for citizens of CIS countries. For non-CIS citizens, there is no way of entering/exiting Russia through the Caucasus. Aside from flying, there are ferries between Sochi, Russia & Trabzon, Turkey (near Georgia) and Baku, Azerbaijan & Aktau, Kazakhstan (near Russia).
The Armenian-Azerbaijani border is closed because these countries remain at war. To travel overland between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it is necessary to go through either Georgia or Iran.
Georgia's borders with Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are all open, making the country somewhat of a regional transit hub for the Caucasus. Since 2003's Rose Revolution in Georgia, bribes are absolutely not necessary for foreign travelers crossing these borders.
Entering Azerbaijan with a used Armenian visa or vice versa could likely cause problems (suspicion) with border guards, but shouldn't prohibit entry. However, you will not be allowed entry to Azerbaijan with a Nagorno-Karabakh visa (you can ask to get the NKR visa on a separate piece of paper, though).
Naxchivan (Azerbaijan) can be entered from Turkey.
Overnight trains travel between Tbilisi-Yerevan and Tbilisi-Baku. When traveling by rail, you have the option of rooms containing 4 beds (coupe, pronounced koo-peh') or 2 beds (SV, pronounced es veh). SV is a bit more expensive, but more comfortable and generally considered more safe from pickpockets.
There are direct bus services between Tbilisi-Yerevan and Tbilisi-Baku. If taking the air-conditioned bus between Tbilisi-Baku, bring a jacket! Buses also operate across the Russian-Georgian border, but are not an option for non-CIS country nationals.
If you would prefer a more social mode of transport, minivans (marshrutkas) operate across all open borders and throughout the entire Caucasus region.
There are direct flights between Tbilisi to Baku, Tbilisi to Yerevan. Expect no trouble at the airports--they are small and efficient.
Car rental is more expensive in the Caucasus than in the West, but car hire with a driver is quite affordable. For international travel, however, it will be necessary to pay for your driver's lodging unless he was already planning to make the trip.
Personally, I think your real problem will be getting into Russia, and the Chechnya area scares the hell out of me!
I plan to be in Istanbul and Tbilisi myself in a few months, but am not interested in the other countries of the Caucasus. Good luck, and please report back on your travels - use one of the great TP blog templates.
[ Edit: Edited on 12-Jun-2011, at 20:54 by Daawgon ]
Unfortunately, the Caucasus has been the scene of a lot of wars recently: Armenia vs. Azerbaijan, Russia vs. Georgia (over South Ossetia) and in the breakaway regions of Chechnya and Abkhazia. The Russian border area is especially dangerous. But it would be an adventure! Good luck!
Thanks both for your comments. You're so right madpoet, it would be an adventure! But, is it a good idea is the question... Hmmm.
I am fortunate enough to have dual citizenship, so the luxury of being able to swap passports to avoid certain "You've been there so you can't come here" type situations, but that still won't open boarders. I hadn't realised that whole edge of Russian border was closed, that does kinda change things. Maybe a circular trip around Georgia/Armenia/Azerbaijan/Georgia back to Turkey then. Hmmm. I don't like doubling back on my route though. On the other hand, it does avoid Chechnya a bit, which Daawgon has rightly pointed out is somewhere I really don't want to go.
I definitely have some thinking to do, any further contributions would be welcomed!
No worries at all!
Although there have been problems in the Russian part and in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, all other areas are totally hasslefree and not dangerous at all.
Apart from the Russian border not open, there is one other thing (haven't read the entire quote above from wiki by the way, so might be in there): don't go into Nagorno Karabakh and afterwards into Azerbaidzjan. Instead do it the other way around, or have no proof of a visit to NK in your passport. Azerbaidzjan still claims this part, but you can only enter through Armenia and therefore Azer finds this a illegal way of crossing into their territory.
I found Georgian and Armenian people very friendly, transport easy and lots of choice regarding accom and restaurants. Relatively cheap and safe and for the rest: do as would do anywhere else (that is, don't walk around deserted streets at night by yourself, valuables not in sight etc etc etc).