Stretching from the vicinity of the city of Vanadzor and all the way up to the Armenia-Georgia border, the Debed canyon is not only one of Armenia’s most impressive natural landscapes, but also a real treasure trove for travelers and adventure seekers. UNESCO World Heritage sites, fine examples of medieval Armenian architecture, stunning hiking trails, unique museums, even rafting… Debed canyon has it all for a must-visit travel destination. Here’s some of the awesome things you should definitely do when visiting the area.
1. Explore Armenia’s Spiritual Heritage
Debed canyon is home to some of the most impressive monasteries of Armenia, truly masterpieces of medieval Armenian architecture. When traveling in the area, make sure to visit the 5th-7th-century basilica of Odzun (one of the few early Christian basilicas that survived in Armenia), the 10th-century fortress and monastery complex of Akhtala with its mesmerizing frescos described as one of the best examples of Byzantine art outside the traditional borders of Byzantine empire, the 12th-century Kobayr monastery built on a cliff on the western side of the canyon. And of course, the absolute highlights – the monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin, inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Representing a fusion of Armenian and Byzantine architectural traditions, both monasteries were major education centers of medieval Armenia, where theology, mathematics, natural science, humanitarian sciences were taught. Read more about cultural and historical sites in Debed canyon on our website.
2. Hike Debed’s Stunning Trails
Debed canyon is a treasure trove of spectacular hiking trails, offering breathtaking views of the canyon and connecting medieval monasteries and cozy little villages of Armenia’s north. Each trail offers hikers a chance to discover different parts of the Debed canyon. You can hike between the two UNESCO world heritage sites – monasteries of Sanahin and Haghpat and visit the Kayan fortress on the way. Or take the “Blackberry Road” trail from Haghpat to Tsaghkashat village that takes you through a forest of blackberries, which you can pick and eat freely. A must-do for every hiking enthusiast visiting the region is the trail running from Kobayr to Odzun. Arguably the most beautiful hiking trail of the area, it stretches along the left slope of the Debed canyon, from the 12th-century Kobayr monastery to the village of Odzun via the mysterious Horomayr monastery. Read more about hiking in Debed canyon.
3. Visit the House-Museum of Armenia’s National Poet
Located on a picturesque highland plateau overlooking the Debed canyon, the village of Dsegh is one of the most popular travel destinations in this part of Armenia for it is the birthplace of one of the greatest Armenian writers, the national poet of Armenia, Hovhannes Tumanyan. Born in 1869, Tumanyan grew up surrounded with local folklore and the majestic beauty of Lori province. Everyday life of people, their inner strength, wisdom and feelings, and the nature of Lori were a major source of inspiration for Tumanyan. He wrote poems, quatrains, ballads, novels, fables, and critical and journalistic articles. Two operas were composed based on Tumanyan’s poems, a number of movies filmed. And his fairy tales are an all-time favorite of Armenian children.
Today, the house where the poet was born had spent his childhood and adolescence is part of the Hovhannes Tumanyan house-museum. Located in the center of the village, the museum houses about 300 exhibits that tell visitors about the life and activities of Tumanyan on his way of becoming one of Armenia’s greatest writers.
4. Celebrate Armenia’s culinary traditions
Local cuisine is an important part of travelers’ experience when traveling around the regions of Armenia. Armenian culinary traditions are widely celebrated at various festivals throughout the year, and Debed canyon happens to host two of them, the “Barbecue Festival” in Akhtala and the “Edible Plants in Armenian Cuisine” in the village of Dsegh.
Launched in 2009, the Akhtala Barbecue Festival is one of the most popular festivals in Armenia, and a great opportunity to taste Armenian barbecue varieties all in one place. Khorovats, the traditional Armenian barbecue, is people’s all-time favorite dish. A special rite is dedicated to it, the “Khorovats Dance”, performed at wedding parties. The festival in the town of Akhtala, with all the barbecue, drink, folk songs and dances is a must-visit event!
The second festival is a young member of the family of festivals taking place in Armenia. Founded in 2019, the “Edible Plants in Armenian Cuisine” festival explores the role of foraged herbs in the local cuisine of the Lori province of Armenia. Guests of the festival have an opportunity to taste various traditional dishes prepared with edible plants and herbs growing in the province, as well as participate in cooking workshops to learn a new recipe.
5. Get on a raft to overcome the challenges of Debed river
Rafting isn’t the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Armenia. And although it was introduced only recently, this extreme outdoor activity has already become very popular among locals. The majestic Debed canyon is the best rafting destination in Armenia at the moment, so if you’re traveling in the region, make sure to include rafting on the Debed river in your must-do list. Two companies, both based in Debed canyon, offer rafting tours in the Debed canyon. Rafting in Armenia starts its tour near the town of Tumanyan. Their route has a length of 10 km, and includes a couple of extra activities, such as jumping into the Debed river from an old bridge, or sliding on the back of the raft. The other team, Rafting.am, offers a different route, which includes the section of the Debed river between the towns of Alaverdi and Akhtala.
6. Enjoy a relaxing clay therapy session in Sanahin
Enrich your experience in the village of Sanahin by participating in a clay therapy session at the Sanahin Pottery House. Founded by a young entrepreneur Alla Avetisyan, this clay therapy center offers visitors various activities combining art and health procedures, as well as introduces travelers to the traditional lifestyle of an Armenian village. Items and tools used in everyday life by villagers are displayed at the workshop of the Pottery House.
Services offered at the Sanahin Pottery House include a relaxing massage, clay body wrap, hot stone therapy with volcanic basalt stones, a meditative clay therapy, different interesting workshops, as well as accommodation and overnight stay for 4-6 people.
7. Workation at Debed.Life
Debed canyon’s mesmerizing landscapes, the serenity of its remote villages make it a perfect destination for freelancers who are tired of the big city’s hustle and bustle and are looking for a quiet corner to concentrate on their work projects. One such place is the Debed Co-living and Workation House, a shared living concept for digital nomads and location independent professionals, located in the village of Debet. It was founded by designer and entrepreneur Tatevik Aghababyan who moved to Armenia after living 15 years in Germany. Initially, Tatevik’s plan was to create a little hideaway for herself, but the idea grew bigger, transforming into a shared living space where like-minded people could live and work together in a cozy environment.
8. Learn about COAF Smart Center’s activities
Founded in 2004, the Children of Armenia Charitable Fund is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that aims to empower rural Armenians through child-centered community development programs. Working mainly with children and youth, COAF implements education, health, social, and economic development programs. COAF SMART is one of their innovative initiatives that seeks to empower Armenia’s village youth through resources and opportunities to explore their intellectual curiosities. The first SMART Center was opened in May 2018 in the Lori province of Armenia, off the road to the village of Dsegh, on the Debet village junction. The SMART Center is a state-of-the-art campus for education and innovation and is accessible to over 250,000 people living in the province, providing modern technological resources, encouraging idea collaboration and maintaining the highest quality instruction standards for critical thinking-based education. Access to digital libraries and resources in robotics & IT, language trainings, arts & music, entrepreneurship, organic agriculture, economic sustainability form the foundation of each center.
9. Explore Armenian folklore at the House of Fairy Tale
Located in the village of Pambak, the House of Fairy Tale is a unique place in Debed canyon where visitors get acquainted with local legends, traditions, rites, old holidays, and folklore. Fairy tales are a big part of local life in Debed canyon and Lori province thanks to the popular fairy tales written by Hovhannes Tumanyan. Nazar the Brave, Unlucky Panos, The Death of Kikos, The Talking Fish… These, and many other fairy tales are introduced to the guests at the House of Fairy Tale through handmade dolls, puppet and shadow theater performances, folk rituals, etc. Visitors can also observe the process of bread baking and cheese making and try different herbal teas common in the local cuisine.
10. Travel back in time at the Mikoyan Brothers museum
The Mikoyan Brothers museum is a must-visit for everyone interested in the Soviet history and heritage, for it is dedicated to two famous Soviet Armenians, a communist revolutionary and a Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet Anastas Mikoyan, and his brother Artem Mikoyan, a renowned aircraft designer who designed the MiG aircraft together with Mikhail Gurevich. Located in the village of Sanahin, this museum houses one of the MiG-21 aircrafts designed by Artem Mikoyan and Anastas Mikoyan’s GAZ-12 ZIM limousine, as well as various objects related to the lives and careers of the Mikoyan Brothers, such as clothing, equipment, posters, and even food.