Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh, is an unrecognised republic in the Caucasus. Although internationally considered to be a part of Azerbaijan, it is closely linked to Armenia, being accessed through Armenia.
The only country you can currently arrive in Karabakh from is Armenia (this is considered illegal entry into Azerbaijani territory by Azerbaijani authorities). The vast majority arrive by automobile via the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor, though driving through the Karvajar (Kelbajar) pass or helicopter are alternatives.
For all other nationals, single 21-day tourist visas, and single and multiple visas valid for up to one, two or three months are available in Yerevan. Visas can be obtained at the PERMANENT REPRESENTATION OF THE REPUBLIC OF ARTSAKH in Yerevan (17 Nairi Zaryan Street). You can take the metro to Barekamutyun Station (the northside terminus), then take a minibus along Zaryan Street to reach there. The office opens from 10:00. You may need a photo and pay 3,000 dram visa fee. The visa can be issued before 16:00 on the same day. A register card will be issued at the same time. Always keep this paper with you, request a stamp on the backside from your hotel (it's better but not necessary), and it will be collected at the border when you leave.
The sole civilian airport in Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh was recently renovated, after it was left damaged & nonfunctional since the Nagorno Karabakh War in 1991. The renovation was mostly complete by 2011 and plans for flights between Armenia's capital Yerevan & Stepanakert on a newly-created state carrier Artsakh Air were announced. However, a war of words between Armenia & Azerbaijan ensued. Since the airport is officially in Azerbaijani territory, under international law the flights would need Azerbaijan's approval (which, of course, they won't allow). Both sides indicated that the dispute should be resolved before flights begin and, as of December 2019, the airport has yet to see a commercial flight land or take off there.
Currently there is no working train line between Yerevan and Stepanakert.
If you're lucky, you may be able to convince a taxi driver to drive you to Stepanakert. Otherwise, many taxi drivers in Stepanakert might be willing to drive you back to Yerevan. If you're with a few friends, you can organise travel for around USD80-100. The embassy in Yerevan offers drivers to take you there to some of the biggest attractions and back. This costs around USD100-150 per person. The northern highway through the Sotk pass has now a newpaved road (october 2016) which makes this a good alternative from the southern route. It is good if you want to stop by The Sevan Lake, and there is a very scenic road with high mountains and deep valleys.
One way to see much of Karabakh is simply to walk from one end to the other on the Janapar. There is a marked trail which is broken up into day hikes which extend for 2 weeks of hiking. There are side trails and alternative routes as well. Trails take you to ancient monasteries and fortresses, through forests and valleys, to hot springs and villages. Each night you can either stay with a village family or camp out.
All cities are small and fairly safe, so it is best to walk around the few cities in NKR. Not only will you save a little money, but you will get a good sense of the region and its people.
If you plan to travel to Karabakh from Yerevan, there are several car rental agencies that provide cars that also can be driven into NKR - given that you are comfortable with the rather crazy Armenian traffic.
Taxis are available in most cities, with a new North-South road across the NKR making for a smooth and quicker (than you'd expect) ride across the region. These cost about 120 drams/km within a town, or AMD150/km if you take the cab out of town.
Marshrutkas are available, but they may not run as often as in Armenia. There is no train or rail service. A recently restored airport for Stepanakert-Yerevan flights is yet to enter service.
If your Armenian or Russian is good, you may be able to hitch a ride for less than a taxi (although don't pay too much less, as these are certainly not affluent people), and you could very easily be invited for dinner with them (in which you should have some gift, especially wine, coffee, or chocolates, and do NOT offer money) as the people of NKR are doing this out of hospitality.
Armenian is the official language, and Russian is also widely used. Karabakh Armenians speak a dialect of Eastern Armenian that differs slightly from Armenian mainly because of the inclusion of many Russian words. A good number of the Population speaks Azeri but it is never heard and becoming forgotten.
Very few people speak English, so it is wise to travel to Karabakh with a guide or interpreter from Armenia.
There are several Tourist/Souvenir Stores within Stepanakert. A great idea is to buy a Rug made in Karabakh, they are known for their Ancient rugs, it is said that many people in the region and bordering countries learnt rug making from the Ancient Armenian of Karakagh.
Nagorno-Karabakh ATM map The official currency of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is the "dram" (AMD). The dram is accepted everywhere,and it is the only legal currency for commerce. Dollars, euros and rubles can be exchanged almost anywhere in the country, with other major currencies also easy to exchange. Exchange booths do not charge a commission and rates are almost always quite competitive. ATMs (Bankomats) are widely available in larger towns: Stepanakert, Shusha, Asgeran, Hadrut, Martakert, etc.
Armenian dram rates Exchange rates (approximate): €1 = AMD551, USD1 = AMD485, GBP1 = AMD620, RUB1 = AMD7.34
Many Mulberry trees are to be found, but ensure you are eating only ripe fruit (dark red) and not unripe fruit (whitish), as unripe fruit as well as the green portions of the tree contain a white sap which is intoxicating and mildly hallucinogenic.
Tutti Oghi — Mulberry Vodka, which Karabakh is famous for, often reaching 80% alcohol, and with a distinct taste.
Stepanakert has some up-market hotels charging 20.000-30.000 dram a room (€35-55). Some small guesthouses can be found on Airbnb. Booking.com does not recognise Artsakh and will not display accomodations.
In the rest of the country, there are not that many hotels. In Drmbon, right next to the intersection of the Martakert- and Stepanakert highway, the local shop/café has one room with 2 beds available for 3000 dram per person.
Limitless volunteer work for the willing. Incredibly low cost of living. The government will gladly give most people land as long as they are willing to farm and tend to it.
Stay safeOtherwise, it is very safe to travel around and interact with people. When you first arrive in Karabakh, you must go to what is called the "MID", the Stepanakert foreign affairs office, to get your travel papers. This will prevent any confusion if one gets pulled over or stopped by local authorities.
If you are planning to hike, be in rural areas, or stay on the outskirts of cities note that the area is inhabited by bears and wolves. While they will not attack if unprovoked, practice bear safety and walk away slowly if unexpectedly approached. If you are planning to hike, the Janapar trail has been broken into day-long hikes and it is best to take advantage of the homestays offered rather than to camp alongside the trails. If you do camp, make sure to keep your food high in a tree and a few dozen meters (a hundred feet or so) from your tent and do not simply sleep on the ground or in a sleeping bag...sleep inside a tent.
While the region is fairly safe in terms of crime, you must not lose your passport. There are no foreign embassies in the NKR, and you may have a hard time entering Armenia without a passport or visa. The US embassy in Baku says that "because of the existing state of hostilities, consular services are not available to Americans in Nagorno-Karabakh." It would be safe to assume that this applies to all other nationalities and their embassies in Baku.
While entering NKR through the Northern route (through the Sotk pass), one traveller was intimidated by unmarked men, pretending to be para-military, who explicitly told him that sleeping there in a tent was not welcome. They were making phonecalls somewhere, explaining over it who the traveller was, and failing to explain who they were themselves. This happened near the tank monument close to Knaravan village. He was told NOT to stray off the main road.
Drink bottled water if you are not accustomed to the local water. However if you are hiking, drinking water in mountain streams and ponds in reasonably safe, as long as you are sure it is not downstream from a large town (in which case it is likely contaminated with chemicals, street runoff, and/or waste.
Remember that this is a rural region, and in the event of a medical emergency the hospitals in NKR are no more than a modest clinic. The nearest major hospital is in Yerevan, a long distance in the event of a heart attack or complications with any medical problems you may have. It is best to have with you a small first aid kit with bandaids, bandages, anti-biotic cream, ibuprofen, and any other medicine you may need.
The people of NKR are very friendly and inviting, and if your Armenian or Russian is good enough, you will easily meet people who will invite you to their house for dinner (and some will even harass you until you accept). Unlike many parts of the world, you should not worry about your safety, no matter how much they harass you, and accept their invitation. Even though these people do not have much and, like many persons in developing countries, view westerners as rich, they will vehemently refuse any type of money given to them (although you may find luck saying it is "for the children"). However, do not show up empty-handed! You will be expected to bring some sort of gift, with food (wine, chocolates, coffee, etc) being best. You should also bring something to show/give them from your home country (postcard, book, photos, etc) to have a conversation or at least get their interest. You never know, they may likely have family in another place and what you thought was just dinner could turn into inviting you to other family's businesses (discounts), homes (to stay the night), or another meal.
The wiki on the Janapar trail recommends no trace camping and if you bathe, make sure no locals are around (it may be offensive). Just as stated above, you will receive offers of food and rest. Have gifts for such people, but do not offer money.
Avoid discussing Azerbaijan, because due to the frozen but still ongoing very bitter conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, it is an extremely sensitive subject.