Overland Travel from Iran to Armenia: Our Three Day Expedition

We left Tehran on our way to Yerevan at 5:45pm on Saturday the 26th; we didn’t arrive at our destination until 4pm on Tuesday the 29th. This is a brief overview of our trip TO Armenia.

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If you’re looking to do this journey yourself, feel free to skip forward to the bottom of the page to read a guide on how we crossed, and some important information to know.

Our trip across the world doesn’t exactly follow a clear schedule: we have a list of places we want to travel to, but otherwise we are kind of winging it. Two places we have wanted to visit, however, are Iran and Israel. As these are both within the Middle East, we thought it would make the most sense for us to hit them both in succession and then make our way into Europe. Unfortunately for us, these two countries are mortal enemies, and consequently don’t fly to each other. This means we need a buffer country.

The medieval city of Tbilisi in Georgia seemed like the perfect buffer, partially due to the praise given to it by our friends who had recently travelled there, but mostly due to the fact it was the cheapest flight. Sadly, as we all know, flights don’t stay cheap forever and after booking our flights to Iran but BEFORE booking our flights to Georgia, the cost of the flight nearly tripled. We now had to find a new way out of Iran.

Fortunately for us, Armenia is an easily accessible country that is visa free for Australians and can be affordably reached overland from Iran, and can then reach Tbilisi via train! Unfortunately for us, it is not as simple as it seems.

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After a little research, we’d learnt that there is a bus that can take you from Tehran, the capital city of Iran, to the Armenian capital city Yerevan… in 22 HOURS. That’s right, you are in a bus for 22 hours. This sadly was not a viable option with Jemma’s motion sickness so we instead opted to forge our own path.

The Tehran to Yerevan bus makes a brief stopover in Tabriz, one of Iran’s other great cities, and only 2 hours from the border. To break up the journey, we decided to take a bus from Tehran to Tabriz, staying a night or two, and then take a night bus from Tabriz to Yerevan. This would break the journey up into a 9 hour bus ride and then a 12 hour journey. Simple, right?

We actually began our journey in Kashan, and after failing to find a bus directly to Tabriz, hopped on a bus back to Tehran for 230,000 rial each. The bus dropped us off in the Tehran South Bus Terminal (they have four major terminals), and after failing to communicate properly with the bus conductors, we were quickly on a second bus which we assumed went to Tehran, but actually went BACK TO KASHAN!

Thankfully, we realised our mistake, hopped off and found the only bus company that went to Tabriz from that terminal. The bus only ran at 8pm, however, so we made our way to the West Terminal, a larger hub that we were assured made hourly journeys to Tehran. We caught a taxi out the front and we paid 500,000 rial, which I imagine may have been too high, but a 45 minute taxi ride for the equivalent of $7 is still a fair price by Australian standards.

From the West Terminal, we were able to buy a standard bus ticket (sadly not a 24 person VIP bus like we’d caught for the rest of our time in Iran) for 460,000 rial each. We bought our first meal of the day from a fast food eatery inside the terminal and in 45 minutes were on our way to Tabriz!

The journey is uneventful, and longer than you anticipate it to be. It makes one long stop along the way, allowing you to use the bathroom and grab some food. Despite only stopping once, the journey takes 9 hours instead of Google Maps estimation of 6 and a half. We made it to Tabriz so much later than scheduled that our hostel host told us reception had closed and gave us a second hostel to stay at, 8km away.

At 3:30am, we were ushered into a ‘taxi’ by a man and a girl standing next to the bus. There was a taxi and a regular car present and I assumed we’d be ushered into the taxi but where instead pushed into the unmarked car. We should’ve gotten into the taxi. The 14 minute drive to our ‘hostel’ took 30 minutes, as the driver decided to drop two other passengers off first (and then didn’t charge them.) When we finally arrived, the driver demanded more and more money from us, until eventually settling on 500,000 ($7, again, not terrible, but cheeky considering it was supposed to be a 14 minute drive.) So make sure you always agree on a price beforehand!

As you may know, our stay at the hostel ended up being one of our worst times on our trip, let alone Iran, and we made sure we got out as soon as possible. At 5am in the morning, we were dubious about our chances of finding a hotel, but we punched ‘hotel’ into Google Maps and walked the 4.5km to the nearest listing, The Tabriz International Hotel.

Thankfully, the TIH offered us a room for 6 million rial, along with a 15% discount, AND the let us check in at 6am, allowing us to get a little bit of shuteye. With only ‘see the colourful mountains’ on our Tabriz itinerary, we instead chose to stay in and catch up on some editing and blogging instead of seeing the local sites. Our guide for the colourful mountains was sadly unavailable at such short notice (we changed our minds on seeing them a few times), and it was also a public holiday so EVERYTHING was closed. We were also paranoid about running into our hostel host (who we didn’t pay), so we decided to try and check out early and head to the bus.

Due to the aforementioned public holiday, none of the buses were running to Yerevan, and after making a call, determined there were no available buses at all until 3 days later. With accomodation in Yerevan already booked, and money on the near depleted side, we knew we had to leave ASAP.

We awoke the next day with the intention to catch the bus from Tabriz to Jolfa, a nearby border town, catch a taxi to the border and then make the crossing. This however meant catching a taxi to the bus stop, a bus to Jolfa, a taxi to the border, crossing and then getting a taxi to Meghri (the border town on the Armenian side) and THEN hopefully catching a bus to Yerevan.

We instead opted to take a taxi directly from the hotel at a quoted 3,500,000 rial (even though the price wound up being 3,800,000.) Unfortunately, the hotel did not have enough cash for us to convert our remaining euro in rial, and after waiting 1 and a half hours for the local exchange beaurea to open, had to catch a taxi to the Bazaar where we met a random man who changed €100 into 12,300,000 rial.

Two and a half hours after our intended departure time, we were now making our way to the border in a yellow taxi cab. The drive is fairly spectacular, some of which follows alongside the border of WHERE. At points, we even crossed over into the land!

We even passed by the rainbow mountains, allowing us to finally snap a couple of pictures of what brought us to Tabriz in the first place!

When we finally reached Norduz, we had to make a 1km trek through ‘no mans land’ to reach Armenia. The spectacular crossing is sandwiched between great mountains and is quite a lovely walk. There was also an electronic car picking up tourists and driving them to the other side (reports vary on whether this service is free.)

The Iranian exit is very relaxed. They check our passport, we exit the building, we check our passports again, we walk over the bridge and then we check our passport a third time.

In Armenia, despite less checkpoints, the process is incredibly slow. We were stuck behind a large group of people, all of which seemed to be smuggling in the contents of an entire house. There were maybe 25 people all apart of the same group and each one carrying 3 or 4 completely full garbage bags.

Even when we reached the front, the immigration officer was very slow and deliberate, checking every stamp under a microscope and scanning multiple pages.

But after that, we had made it! Armenia awaits!

We realise at this point that we would not make it to Yerevan tonight, so we decided to stop over in Meghri, the local border town, and then catch a MINIBUS to Yerevan in the morning. As we haggled with taxi drivers, we eventually lowered our 5000AMD taxi ($15) to 3000 ($9). We definitely got ripped off on that one and should’ve waited for a bus, but we eventually decided to cough up the dough and take an overpriced taxi (be firm, however, as he initially tried to still take 5000 after I handed him 10000 note.)

In town, we picked up a SIM card and walked blindly towards the Haer BNB, which Booking.com assured us had a room available. The BNB, locates 20 minutes away, was a fairly Soviet looking, yet charming place to stay. For $28, we got a four bed room (I’m assuming they’d ran out of our requested twin room), with a shared bathroom. Our room, however, was located in a guesthouse seperate from the main living quarters so our shared bathroom was fairly private (albeit outside and not connected to our building.)

I’d recommend them if you decide to stay in Meghri, however there isn’t a ton of options. They plowed us with tea and fruits when we arrived, and booked us the bus, and took us into town at 7am the next day for $3. And that’s where our journey finally ends. We caught the bus the next day for 5000. It was cramped and VERY bumpy ride. The bus took us through some truly beautiful scenery, cutting through the Armenian highlands, and winding round the snow capped mountains. After the stark desert landscapes we’d driven across through Iran, it was a lovely change of scenery.

Our journey from Iran to Armenia was an incredible trek. We saw some amazing sites, some of the most beautiful I’ve seen thus far. I would never do it again.

The facts:

-From Kashan, buses run directly to Tabriz at 8pm and arrive at 6am. I wasn’t able to confirm a price. They run to Tehran once every half an hour and cost 230,000 rial (about $3AUD.)

-From Tehran, buses run to Tabriz once an hour from the West Terminal, or at 9pm from the South Terminal (Bay 9). The ticket is 460,000 ($6AUD) rial in a standard bus, however these buses are rare and slightly uncomfortable. There are multiple bus companies running out of the West Terminal, so feel free to ask around until you find a bus you feel comfortable on. The journey, despite what Google says, takes nearly 9 hours.

-Buses from Tehran to Yerevan take up to 22 hours. They make multiple stops along the way, including a stop at Tabriz. Tickets supposedly cost 1,800,000 rial and can be purchased from any tour operated in town. Try your luck purchasing it at the West Terminal for the best rate. Seats sell out, sometimes days in advance, so make sure you get yours a few days before your departure just to be sure. Here is the phone number of a company based in Yerevan, for ease of ticket purchasing.

-The overnight bus from Tabriz leaves at 8pm from the Central Bus Terminal. Again, book in advanced as the seats were sold out 3 days beforehand in our situation. The company listed above stops in Tabriz, so you may be able to book your ticket through their number. The ticket should cost 1,000,000 rial.

-If you wish to make the journey yourself, you can book a bus from the Central Terminal at 10am to Jolfa, then book a taxi to take you to Nordoz, the border.

-You can, however, choose to book a taxi directly to the border to save yourself from any hassle. We organised ours through our hotel and paid 3,800,000 (which was probably too much), but taxi drivers in town seemed reluctant to take us, or straight up didn’t know where we were talking about. If you visit the Central Terminal, there are taxis willing to take you to the border, and I’m sure with a little haggling you can get the trip much cheaper. We had heard horror stories, however, of taxis dropping tourists in the middle of the desert, so we felt it was safer to take the hotel taxi.

-Once at the border, you need to walk 1km through ‘no mans land’ until you reach the other side where there will be taxis waiting to take you to wherever you wish to go. The driver insinuated he would take us all the way to Yerevan, but we instead paid 3000 AMD to go to Meghri.

-Once in Meghri, you can catch a morning 7:30am bus to Yerevan for 5000AMD. It will get you in to WHERE at 4pm. The metro is located opposite the drop of point and can get you to some parts of the city for 100AMD. Sadly, the metro is only 9 stops so the list of areas it can take you is quite slim. Taxis are also available and are a great option for reaching the areas the metro won’t covers

THINGS TO KNOW

-The border itself is very beautiful. You might want to keep your camera handy in case you plan on snapping a few pictures.

-Check your visa status. Make sure you have your visa for Armenia in advance (Australians can stay in Armenia visa free for HOW LONG)

-Get your Iranian rial changes before reaching Armenia. There are very few cash exchanges outside of Iran, and despite reading that the border has an exchange Center, that is only on the Iranian side.

-There are ATM’s on he Armenian side, so you can finally retrieve some money! ATMS in Iran don’t accept Visa or MasterCard, so it was nice to have some fresh cash.

-TripAdvisor (for restaurants) won’t work in Meghri.

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