peaceful walks

Armenia: Day Hikes From Dilijan National Park

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After hearing tales of an 'Armenian Switzerland', we were compelled to visit the Dilijan National Park, a fast becoming go-to hiking destination. It would soon join up with the epic trans-Caucasus trekking routes (TCT), linking up with trails in both Georgia and Azerbaijan. The plan, to create a network of hiking trails that boot-clad walkers can use to traverse the beautiful Armenian landscapes of the Caucasus.

 

Clearly, it's an awesome idea and one day it'll be great but the Armenian section of the TCT, as of summer 2018, isn't really finished. There's plenty of literature written on the developed Georgian and Azerbaijani sections but at the time of writing, the Armenian part of the trail has some way to go before it will become a tourist friendly, easily accessible and properly signed trail of the TCT. That said, it's a beautiful place and with a sense of adventure there's fun times to be had in Armenia's best known National Park. 

Hiking down the hill from the Dilijan loop

Hiking down the hill from the Dilijan loop

The TCT

A week before we boarded a marshutka (minivan) to Dilijan, we found a USAID sponsored booklet with 11 Dilijan walking trails in, the book was hidden in our Yerevan hostel! Upon closer inspection it became clear that the guide was a pretty basic resource with unreadable maps and long prose of text to describe the trails. We assumed the resources were one of many medias that hikers’ could use to navigate the national park. Unfortunately not, the booklet is the only resource available to hikers who want to explore the National Park, the one we found under a bed in a hostel.

Before trying to follow any of the trails, we checked in with tourist information in Dilijan and they certified that the booklet that we had accidentally found, was the only guide available to tourists. They didn’t even seem to have any copies of the booklet at the information centre, so it was pure luck we discovered it. What I’m trying to say is that there is very little administration or organisation of the nature reserve right now. We sense that an adventurer's spirit would be necessary to enjoy the hikes, we weren't wrong either.

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2 Decent Walks

So, we attempted two of the walks from the booklet, which we’ll talk you through below, and found one to be a short warm-up hike from Dilijan centre and the second a long loop from the old town of Dilijan up to the highest mountain peak in the area and back into town. There are many other routes in the booklet but they all include taxi drop-offs and pickups, I personally hate having to drive somewhere to start a hike, it goes against my whole ethos of walking in nature, so we avoided any routes that included driving.

The remaining 9 hikes routes have been photographed and displayed at the bottom of the post.

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General tips

  • The main tip given by our Airbnb host was not to walk in the woods at night because packs of wolves have been known to roam, apparently they can be heard in the evenings too! Fun but a little concerning if you're out there wild camping.

  • We read there were many bears in the reserve but local people believe that they live much further in the forest.

  • Take enough water because once you hit the nature reserve you won’t find any shops.

  • As always, pack for wind, rain and shine.

  • Pack lunch for walk 2 because you’ll be out all day.

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Walk 1 - Dilijan Roundabout To A (Very Small) Waterfall 

Difficulty: Medium - Due to slippery rocks that must be ascended to reach the waterfall

Time: 3 hours at slow pace

Equipment: Waterproof walking boots recommended

Here's Ali wondering down Dilijan's disused train line

Here's Ali wondering down Dilijan's disused train line

Description: What makes this an interesting walk is that it leads you along a disused train line, defunct power station and generally tired ex-Soviet warehouses that are ripe for some exploring. The path goes upstream aside a river becoming a standard up and down hike where the path can be hard to follow. It’s worth noting that there are two sections where you’ll need to clamber up wet rocks. This is a bit slippery and there is a risk of putting a foot into the stream (see picture below). We would only recommend this section for physically fit hikers. If you don’t fancy a potentially wet climb then you wouldn’t miss much by heading back to Dilijan at the first slippery rocks. 

Climbing down the slippery rocks

Climbing down the slippery rocks

Route:  

  • The hike will start from the roundabout where you’ll need to head north on the road leading to Ijevan but don’t worry you’ll soon be on a green, albeit industrial, train line with the sound of the road just a faint hum.

  • Follow the road from the roundabout for about 0.8 km until you see the sign for the Dilijan tourist information centre where you can pop in for a chat. When you’re finished head the opposite way up a small track (walking away from town) where you’ll see the train line running alongside the base of the nature reserve on your left.

  • Follow the track for 1.5 km, remember to enjoy the disused soviet train buildings and power station, until you spot a petrol station on the road below. Look left, you will see a path and some nondescript signage running along a stream, follow that stream.

  • When we walked the route in April 2018 it wasn’t clearly signed, just some labels on the trees. As more people walk the route I’m sure it will be better trodden. You may need to create your own path at times by walking through medium length grasses, always following the river upwards.

  • Early on the river will split, take the left-hand stream.

  • Remember to carefully ascend the two sets of slippery rocks that the river runs down, you’ll need to carefully climb up the rocks, this is where your waterproof boots are necessary! You might be able to climb over the sides but these look steep and just as treacherous.

  • After 1.5 km you’ll approach a sign that symbols the end of the walk and you’ll set eyes on the smallest waterfall ever! Enjoy the serene overflowing flora and head back to town for some fresh matnakash (bread) and butter with a glass of the local red.

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Walk 2 - Dilijan Loop

Difficulty: Hard -  Due to long climbs to the peak

Time: 6-8 hours at a medium pace

Equipment: Walking boots recommended, download ‘Maps.Me’ for reliable offline routes

Supplies: Bring food and water for whole day trek, this can be bought from Old Dilijan as you pass through in the morning.

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Description: The official guide supplies the most awful description on how to get there, I can only assume it was intended for driving because it was the longest possible way to get to the start of the walk. Use our simplified route below or Maps.Me to navigate the many upward roads out of Old Dilijan (or Upper Dilijan) to start off the hike. This walk is great, passing through farmland, streams, forest, open plains and mountains. It’s a long, and at times tiring, hike that leads you through some beautiful landscapes right to the highest mountain in the area. We didn’t see a single soul the entire walk, which was pretty cool considering that walks in most countries are very busy. The majority of paths are very clear and some even have TCT labelling, making the trail easy to follow.

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Route:

  • If you intend to walk the whole route then you should start your hike from the roundabout where you’ll need to head south east on the road that leads up to Old Dilijan, sometimes called Upper Dilijan. This route will zig zag up the hill eventually going north east, passing shops, schools, restaurants and the interesting hubbub of everyday Armenian life. Pick up affordable bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables, plus any sugary treats :-)

  • Look out for Kamarin Street on the right and then take the first left up Ordzhonikidze street. This road will take you close to the start of the trek. Be aware that it’s uphill and will take around 20 - 30 minutes.

  • When the road ends, turn right and you’ll spot yellow gas pipes snaking around the road like a frame. Keep walking upwards until the road becomes a dirt track, you’ll spot a tired looking sign that marks the start of the walk, with the hike starting on the left.

  • Begin by walking up a rough stone path for 100 metres until it forks, take the right path. Soon after, the path splits again into three, take the centre route (the right path is where you’ll return via at the end of the trek)

  • Walk for a few km passing picnic benches and farmland, the trail is actually a road used by agricultural vehicles and jeeps so it’s easy to follow.

  • That said, you must leave the road when you see a very small pond on the left, next to one of the farmers dwellings. We were lucky the lady in the farm pointed us the way, it was easy to miss so keep your eyes peeled. The trail heads right as you arrive at the farm with the pond and it passes upwards following a dry ravine. Keep walking up until you see a well trodden trail develop on the left, it may also be found on Maps.Me (but I don’t remember checking).

  • Once you’ve found the trail you will follow a well established path, follow it for about an hour or so; you’ll see TCT signs stapled to the trees the whole way, it’s very clear. When you reach a rocky stream you should follow it along o the left and take the established path up on the right. You’ll see that some people have clambered up the steep ledge, which we didn’t fancy!

  • The trail will pass through sparse forests and zig zag upwards, opening up at a large open plain with an awesome view of the mountain ahead that you’re about to climb.

  • Continue along the jeep tracks ahead of you, until you get to the base of the mountain.

  • The next bit is pretty obvious, climb the beast ahead of you. There’s no one way to climb up, we walked up the centre path and then up to the left and followed the ridge to the top. There’s a trail of sorts but you can easily freestyle.

  • It was chilly at the top so we had a quick lunch break and then carefully walked down the long grasses to find the well trodden path leading back to Dilijan, it was a clearly marked trail that the farmers still use.

  • You’ll walk for around an hour or so downwards, remember to check Maps.Me to make sure you’re walking towards the Old Dilijan start point, you can see the entire loop on the app.

  • With Dilijan in view the whole way it’s easy to navigate a route back to the town and you’ll get a nice vista too.

  • Success! You’ve arrived back in town, why not celebrate with some food in the lovely cafe no.2 near the roundabout?

Cafe number 2, Dilijan

Cafe number 2, Dilijan

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9 other walking routes in the Dilijan National Park

Did you find our hiking advice useful? Or perhaps you discovered your own trekking route in Dilijan? Have some top tips that you think we missed?

Let us know in the comments box at the bottom of the post...

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Myanmar: Day Walks From Kalaw Without A Guide

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Walkers Behold.....

If you’ve made a trip, or are planning one, to Myanmar we are sure that Kalaw will be on your list. Famed for expansive walking routes across lush dynamic terrain, Kalaw is the perfect spot for some walks in nature. But while most guide books or guesthouses will tell you to book a local guide to set off on day walks, we will explain how you can enjoy Kalaw's amazing nature for free. Read on to explore our 3 day, guide free, walking itineraries....

Agricultural fields outside Kalaw

Agricultural fields outside Kalaw

3 x 1 Day walks From Kalaw With No Guide Needed

Thank you Marc from Thitaw Lay House for providing this amazing information as it really let us explore the area on a low budget without having to pay for a guide, not that there’s anything wrong with booking guides! You could include both the cave walk and mountain walk in one if it’s just a short visit to Kalaw but expect to walk for 6-8 hours.

Walk 1: Walk To The MyinMathi Caves Without A Guide - 4-5 hours

Tips: You may want to bring a torch or a fully charged phone as there can be power cuts in the caves! Remember the route as you walk, it will make the return voyage much easier. For extra fun you could leave markings on the route to aid you return journey :-) Bring water because there aren’t any shops until you reach the caves. Expect the walk to take 4-5 hours including 45 minutes in the cave visitor area.

The internet is very slow in Kalaw so you may want to download these notes in Bagan or Mandalay before you arrive.

Directions

• Starting from outside Thitaw Lay House follow the road up the path for 200 metres, at the turning, leave the road and continue straight into the forest towards the green building.

• Follow the gravel paved forest road for around 5 turns as the road tapers into a path, watch out for a big fig tree, follow the natural path for around 400 metres (ish) until you arrive at a Y. Take the left path.

• The path lightly descends and gradually become an ox-cart road, for those compass welding walkers you should be walking south to south-east.

• Expect to pass a little brook before leaving the forest area and arrive at a lush green agricultural valley. 

• Follow the ox-cart road until you reach the MyinMathi Village where you will meet friendly villagers and high-fiving groups of children.

• Continue walking into the village for around 500 metres and take a right where the road splits. Keep walking and you’ll pass an old bridge and then the path starts to climb a small hill towards a huge monastery. Turn a slight left at the monastery to the top of the hill and then down until you reach the National Road.

• The Pagoda is visible from the road, follow the road into the cave visitor entrance where there will be many locals who have come to enjoy this religious site. We were the only westerners in cave during our visit. Give a small donation.

• Return using the same directions or grab a motorbike taxi.

kalaw - walking routes

Walk 2: Additional Walk To The Mountains Near MyinMathi Caves Without A Guide - 5-6 Hours

Tips: Remember the route as you walk, it will make the return voyage much easier. Bring water because there aren’t any shops until you reach the caves. This a whole day trek so expect the walk to take 5-6 hours. If you have already walked to the caves the first 1.5 hours is the same walk.

Directions

• Starting from outside Thitaw Lay House follow the road up the path for 200 metres, at the turning, leave the road and continue straight into the forest towards the green building.

• Follow the gravel paved forest road for around 5 turns as the road tapers into a path, watch out for a big fig tree, follow the natural path for around 400 metres (ish) until you arrive at a Y. Take the left path.

• The path lightly descends and gradually become an ox-cart road, for those compass welding walkers you should be walking south to south-east.

• Expect to pass little brook before leaving the forest area and arrive at a lush green agricultural valley. 

• Follow the ox-cart road until you reach the MyinMathi Village where you will meet friendly villagers and high-fiving groups of children.

• Continue walking into the village for around 500 metres and take a right where the road splits. Keep walking and you’ll pass an old bridge and start to climb a small hill. Halfway up the slope take the second (horizontal) road to the right and climb and descend for 20/30 mins until you reach a hill tribe village.

• You’ll soon spot 2 lion statues guarding the stairs to the hilltop. Climb for an hour or so and enjoy the stunning view at the top.

• Return the way you came back to Kalaw or you could continue onwards to MyinMathi Caves by following the guide above.

Ox and cart on the way to MyinMathi

Ox and cart on the way to MyinMathi

Walk 3: Peaceful Walk To A Hill Top View Without A Guide - 2 Hours

This is a short easy walk just outside of Kalaw, we haven't drawn it on the map as its easy to find by following the instructions. 

Directions

• Starting from outside Thitaw Lay House follow the road up the path for 200 metres, at the turning, leave the road and continue straight into the forest towards the green building.

• Follow the gravel paved forest road for around 5 turns as the road tapers into a path, watch out for a big fig tree, follow the natural path for around 400 metres (ish) until you arrive at a Y. Take the right path (the left path will take you to MyinMathi caves).

• Follow path up to the Telecom compound where you should walk a few step up the concrete path but don’t not enter the compound. Instead, turn right passing a few alters and spectacular trees until the path circles the hill top.

• Enjoy the great views as you reach the meditation cabin, why not relax and take in the stunning environment. Afterwards, continue to the pagoda and the hill top. 

* Walk back the way you came or take the 585 steps down from the pagoda to the road below.

Sun passing through the trees near Kalaw

Sun passing through the trees near Kalaw

We hope you have found Thitaw Lay House’s instructions, presented by Studio Mali, helpful. With this information you should feel confident in tackling local day walks on your own without having to pay for it. We found the routes incredibly beautiful and surprisingly diverse and we would go as far as saying they are as idyllic as some of the landscapes on the highly rated 2/ 3 day treks from Kalaw to Inle Lake.

As you can see from the map above, the Kalaw day walks bring you within very close distance to the starting point of the 2-day trek to Inle Lake. If you’re interested, and adventurous, you could tackle the 2-day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake on your own without a paid tour, we have written up our advice on the 2-day trek here:  Myanmar: 2-Day Trek From Kalaw To Inle Lake Without A Guide Or Tour

How To Get To Kalaw 

Bus

Kalaw is easy to access, most travellers will journey from either Bagan or Mandalay then trek on to Inle Lake. There is the option to travel in reverse from Inle Lake to Kalaw but be prepared to walk against the continual tide of trekkers coming towards you! The preferred route is the 2 or 3 day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. From Bagan you can book a VIP air conditioned coach for around 12,000 kyat (£6.50) pp. This is a 3 seat across coach that fully reclines if you need to sleep on it. They leave in the morning at 7.30am and the journey takes around 8 hours. There is also a night coach, ask in Bagan for timings and costs, all guesthouses can book a seat for you but always get a second price for comparison.

Train from Thazi to Kalaw

Train from Thazi to Kalaw

Train

We traveled to Kalaw from Mandalay by train which was a cheap, slow and scenic way to get there. It also includes a stopover in Thazi so it would suit a traveller on a low cost 2 week trip like us. We have written about the Mandalay, Thazi and Kalaw train ride in our 2 week itinerary here: Myanmar: The Ultimate 2 Week Travel Itinerary For Backpackers

Our beautiful room at Thitaw Lay House

Our beautiful room at Thitaw Lay House

Where To Stay

We stayed in one of our favourite guesthouses of our entire round the world trip in Kalaw! Thitaw Lay House and it’s smaller Thitaw II site are incredibly relaxing and well priced guesthouses. Another benefit (that became a benefit by chance) is that it’s not in the centre of Kalaw, which means you get to relax in quiet green gardens just 15 minutes walk from the train station/ city centre.

There were a few reasons we loved staying at Thitaw Lay House. Firstly, the owner Marc and the team are really friendly, runs a tight ship and provides all the information you’ll need to enjoy anything from a 3 day to a 5 day stay in Kalaw. The breakfast was also very good, imagine freshly baked banana bread along with homemade bread, jams, egg and rice all served in traditional Burmese lunch pots. We booked a standard room but by a strike of luck were upgraded to a family room at 4 times the price.  Even with a standard room the Thitaw Lay House is cheaper than most double bedrooms in Kalaw centre, our room was 26,940 Kyat (£14.61) per night.  

Although the best part is that Marc provides detailed information on the local walks that can be done without a guide.  We are using his information to help others enjoy some the amazing local walks out of Kalaw.

700 Kyat / 37p Shan noodles at Parami

700 Kyat / 37p Shan noodles at Parami

Where To Eat

If you’ve been on your feet all day you'll be wanting some good grub to refuel in the evenings. We stayed in Kalaw for 4 days, which gave us time to try out a few options and we found some really tasty cheap food we’d like to tell you about. Of the more touristic restaurants we enjoyed was Paradise Spa which sells yummy Mexican food at medium prices, around 2,500 Kyat (£1.30) per dish.

But our favourite spot was Parami restaurant in the centre of Kalaw (see map below). Parami sold tasty, cheap, Burmese and Indian food like the chapati and daal for 500 Kyat (23p) and Myanmar's ubiquitous Shan noodle soup for 700 Kyat (37p). If you’re on a budget you can’t do better than Parami, you can see the menu here. Other cheap fun can be found by grabbing bottled beers and watching the sun go down in the town park, you might be lucky enough to be joined by a local cow as we were. 

 

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