With Dr Felicity Nicholson
All travellers to Armenia should ensure that they are up to date with immunisation against tetanus, polio and diphtheria (now given in the UK as an all-in-one vaccine, Revaxis, which lasts for ten years), and hepatitis A. Hepatitis A vaccine (eg: Havrix Monodose or Avaxim) comprises two injections given about a year apart. The course costs about £120 (but may be available on the NHS), it protects for 25 years and can be given even close to the time of departure. Travellers to more remote areas or those visiting friends and relatives may be advised to be vaccinated against typhoid fever. In addition, some visitors, depending on what they are likely to be doing, may be advised to have protection against hepatitis B and rabies. Visitors should ensure that they take any essential medications with them as drugs can be difficult to access. Medications may have totally different names even when transliterated.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
Most visits to Armenia are trouble free. Crime levels are low, but visitors should of course take sensible precautions. Generally, the risk of being a victim of crime is statistically much less likely than in most western European and American cities, and this notion is supported by countless anecdotal accounts of safe and trouble-free visits. Far greater risks are either tripping up on pavements in need of repair after dark or else falling into holes dug during the pavement’s reconstruction. Watch out, too, for missing manhole covers. These risks have reduced, at least in the centre of Yerevan, but can still be a problem elsewhere.
The military situation does mean that all areas along the 1994 ceasefire line with Azerbaijan should be avoided because of the presence of snipers on both sides, exchanges of fire between which still happen on a regular basis, affecting civilians living in the vicinity. The road from Ijevan to Noyemberyan, for example, is specifically warned against by British government-issued travel advice, but it is not the only afflicted area. There remains a serious problem in areas of Nagorno Karabagh from mines and unexploded ordinance, as well as in adjoining areas of Armenia that experienced fighting. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, all places mentioned in this guide are safe to visit and sights where the unresolved conflict means that safety is problematic have been excluded or specifically highlighted as such. However, visitors to Nagorno Karabagh who do encounter difficulties should note that consular services are unavailable there. Those wishing to procure more detailed information on the threat of landmines should refer to the websites of the HALO Trust for Nagorno Karabagh or the Armenian Centre for Humanitarian Demining and Expertise for Armenia itself, including the borders between Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh.
Visitors must not attempt to cross the borders with Georgia or Iran apart from at the recognised border crossings. Visitors are unlikely to be in great physical danger (unless attempting to swim the River Arax) but are at risk of being detained and questioned by the authorities, sometimes simply for taking photos within the vicinity.
There are no general safety problems for women as the strongly traditional family values ensure that they will not receive unwelcome attention; certainly, in cities and at the popular tourist sights. However, solo female travellers in remote, rural areas where foreigners are rarely encountered should take precautionary steps to avoid normal friendly behaviour being misinterpreted, as cultural misunderstandings have been known to happen.
Travelling with children
This is not a problem from the social aspect. They are welcome anywhere. Family life is important to Armenians – they would find the concept of a child not being allowed into a restaurant, for example, very strange. Nappies and baby food are available in Yerevan and other major towns, often from pharmacies. Most restaurants and hotels will respond to parents’ requests about food preparation. In Yerevan, the Grand Candy café is specifically geared towards children and some other cafés have play areas. There are funfairs near the cathedral and in Victory Park, and amusements for smaller children in Children’s Park on Beirut Street. Some swimming pools have facilities for children, for example Waterworld, and good weather brings out street amusements in a number of towns.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in 2003 but is still an unacceptable lifestyle in Armenian society. The website of the NGO Pink Armenia provides a contemporary perspective on the ongoing social challenges facing the LGBT community. The British government advises homosexual travellers to exercise discretion in Armenia. It is common in Armenian culture to see two female friends holding hands in the street and not uncommon to see two men hug and kiss each other in greeting; these signs of affection are not an indication of sexual orientation.