“ Zvartnots, Armenia / Airport Code: IATA: EVN, ICAO: UDYZ „
ACCESS TO ARMENIA
Almost all international visitors to Armenia will arrive at Yerevan's Zvartnots International Airport, which is about a 20 minute (and 12km) drive from the city centre and its main hotels. The airport, originally built in 1961, has undergone extensive renovation and remodelling, but still retains the original concrete-dominated, monolithic features that seem so beloved of Soviet-era architects. Visitors from the UK and most of the European Union will require an entry visa, which can be obtained electronically in advance from the embassy, or can be paid for immediately before passport control on arrival. It costs the equivalent of around £8 to £15 Pounds (depending on exchange rates) but payment is only accepted in the local Armenian currency (Dram). For reference, its actually cheaper to buy the visa at the airport rather than at the embassy.
CASH IS KING
You will need immediate access to cash to pay for your visa, the luggage trolleys and also your cab fare. Helpfully, there are exchange facilities run by Conversebank (a major Armenian bank) available - at typically unfavourable rates - both before and after passport control, and given the difficulty of obtaining the Dram abroad, you will have little choice but to change some at the airport. That said, rates in town are much better, so don't be tempted to change too much. Cash is king in Armenia and although credit card usage is more and more prevalent, almost nowhere outside the main city centre will accept cards, so make sure you bring enough cash (or have access to cash) for the entirety of your stay. The best cards to bring are Visa or MasterCard, especially as American Express is almost unheard of in Armenia.
COLLECTING YOUR GEAR
Once you clear passport control you are (strangely) directed through a new shop, aimed squarely at tourists, which sells the usual stuff (cigarettes, alcohol, perfumes etc.) that you would expect to find in the duty free - on departure. The luggage carousels are just after the exit from this shop. Waiting times for your luggage are generally minimal given the infrequency of flights to Yerevan. If you have more than one pull-along and need a trolley, there is a small charge for using them, as well as a paid-for porter service. Most uniformed airport staff speak a smattering of languages, so communication (at this point) should not be an issue.
GETTING INTO TOWN
Taxi ranks are clearly signposted from the terminal in English and Armenian (Armenians have their own unique alphabet and the script is indecipherable to most Westerners) but drivers speak very little English. Fortunately, most of the city centre hotels are well known, so this is not usually a problem. There is no train service to the centre of town, and given the chaotic and unpredictable bus system, as well as the language barrier, there is no other practical way to get into Yerevan. Fortunately, taxi's are dirt cheap, and the drive into town should not cost you more than £7 to £10. There is no need to tip - it is not expected and taxi drivers, remarkably, never seem to have the right amount of change. It is best to negotiate a fixed fare before you leave, to avoid "misunderstandings" later. Car hire desks are situated in the arrivals hall - but it is much better to get a car and driver than go it alone. Armenians treat their highway code with indifference and disdain, so accidents are common.
On the way back, make sure you ask your taxi driver for the airport, as Zvartnots is also the name of a medieval church near Etchmiadzin. Check-in is relatively straightforward, but there are few on-site distractions so don't expect to be able to wile away the hours with shopping. An arrival time two hours before your flight will give you ample time to clear the formalities and get air-side. A few café facilities are available both before and after security and passport control, with a well appointed duty free shop the main attraction at the newly modernised departure gates. The shop stocks the usual alcohol, perfumes, cigarettes and designer clothes, but also has a wide selection of local Armenian goods and souvenirs of very good quality. Prices, as expected, are not nearly as good as in Yerevan, but they are more than acceptable for last minute purchases. If buying alcohol and/or perfume remember that Armenia is a non-EU country, so you will not be allowed to bring duty free liquids, liquor or wine into the cabin on connecting flights within Europe or to the United States (it has to be given up or checked in with your hold luggage).
Unusually, free Wi-Fi services are provided throughout the main areas of the airport - a welcome bonus given the lack of things to do, as well as the common practice of most international airports to charge an arm and a leg for access. Despite this casual nod toward the 21st century, given the increasing amount of tourism to the former Soviet republic, the airport could do with some significant additional investment. Much of the external infrastructure is dilapidated and needs modernisation.
Fortunately, a full refurbishment is under way, slated for completion in late 2011, with the aim of achieving first class status. The airport caters well for business travellers, with dedicated lounge facilities, but there is little for the casual tourist other than the Duty Free. Car parking is available at Terminal 1 for 250 cars and is charged at 400 Dram (£2) per hour, with the first ten minutes free. A new underground facility, with room for 800 cars is now being built.
Basic information about the airport, arrivals, departures and facilities can be found at its web-site (in English, Armenian and Russian) at: www.aia-zvartnots.aero/src/index.php
© Hishyeness 2011
Whilst I imagine that most peoples visits to Zvarnots International Airport in Yerevan are uneventful are straight forward, this wasn't the case for me! Having arrived from Sharjah, UAE after very little sleep for about 40 hours - I was initially surprised to see that the terminals looked rather new (the airport underwent renovation recently), not only that but the Armenians were all fairly orderly and didn't seem to pushing and shoving to get in to the queue, the norm in ex-USSR countries in my experience.
I headed to the visa section which was quite quiet and began filling in my immigration card, the Armenian visa is usually 30 dollars but at the airport it is 50 dollars and this stumped me, I had only about 40 dollars on me, so the woman behind the counter organised a policeman to escort me through customs to the bank machine on the other side, much to the confusion of the other police officers there. Things didn't get much better as the bank card didn't work and I was left searching for plans and tried to ask for the transit visa which would last for 3 days and do me fine - to get a transit visa though, it is necessary to have your onward flight ticket. I did have that but it was in my main luggage which of course was on the other side of customs, so back to the police office - asked a few questions, sent through another metal detector, few jokes with the police offers and back to the luggage carousel which of course is empty now due to everyone being long gone.
We then hunt for my luggage which had been moved out by my new found friend that I had made at Sharjah and who was waiting to give me a lift to the center - eventually after finding him, he storms back to the visa place and just hands them 50 dollars for the visa and away we go!
I have to say that everyone, police included were really pretty nice albeit very confused and my mish mash of Russian and hand gestures with a little help from the woman at the tourist information desk wasn't really helping!
Leaving wasn't much better as I was skint by this time and the bank card still wasn't working, I'd tried my bank card for the last 2 days before my flight to no success. The airport was about 20km from the part of Yerevan, I was staying in and my flight was at 5.30Am, so i figured with no money on me if I left at midnight, I'd get there in time - someone had told me of a 10,000 dram (30 dollars) departure tax to be paid at the airport before you can get your boarding card- exactly 10,000 dram I didn't have, so I figured that I would just try to talk my way through customs. No other options really!
So off I start walking, across the bridge and along a pavement next to a rather quiet unlit two-lane highway, after being ferociously attacked by a really pissed off savage dog which changed his mind when I swung my backpack at him. After about 10km and at 1.30am, a guy in a lada gave me a lift to the airport.
The airport is the craziest shape, a circular alien looking building with heaters blowing furiously but not particularly warm air just above every seat. Despite pleaing with the woman at the office, she didn't seem to believe me and said it was against the rules and I wouldn't be able to fly - so away I went to try the bank card one more time and amazingly it worked and I managed to get out exactly 10,000 dram! Off to border control, have both index fingers pressed into a little electronic machine (same on the way in) and into an unbelievably modern terminal - an empty one with some plasma screen tvs, duty free - I was even able to use wireless free there, very impressive indeed.
It's really quite a nice airport but you have to be aware of the inflated visa price for arriving by air and also the departure tax.