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Zvartnots Airport: Gateway to Armenia
Zvartnots International Airport (EVN)
Member Name: Hishyeness
Zvartnots International Airport (EVN)
Advantages: Relaxed. Not very busy. Quick in and out.
Disadvantages: Needs modernisation. Not much to do once in departure lounge.
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
Summary: Armenia's only international airport