Some 6 weeks ago I travelled around Georgia for 10 days, alone and by public transport. The country has become quite popular and fashionable lately: with international flights to Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi and no visa requirements for most nationalities, it has fully opened to foreign tourists.
Find below my top tips for travelling to this country, where I have tried to weave in some answers to earlier forum questions
1. Plan for anything between 5 days and 4 weeks
Church at Gergeti monastery, at the end of the Military Highway
The capital Tbilisi
is a great hotspot from where you can make several worthwhile day trips such as Georgian Military Highway (including Ananuri
, Gori plus Uplistsikhe
and the David Gareji monasteries
. Even if you only have 5 days to spare, it is worth it. But you can also entertain yourself considerably longer in Georgia: adding Svaneti
will take at least 3 more days. Kutaisi (for Gelati
) needs another night. But I have also seen itineraries of people that stayed for 4 weeks and found enough to do even for that amount of time.
2. Choose your transport to Upper Svaneti wisely
Although there are flights now from Tbilisi to Mestia, they are notoriously unreliable. They are not recommended when you are on a tight itinerary: if the flight gets cancelled last minute, you’d be too late to make it to Mestia / Ushguli the same day. I used the modern day train between Tbilisi and Zugdidi to cover most of the distance. I booked it beforehand online
– it only costs 5 EUR for the 5 hour trip. You can also take the night train, that will save the cost of a hotel but it’s a much slower ride. When I arrived in Zugdidi at about 1.30 pm, a handful of shared taxi’s to Mestia were waiting to fill up at the train station. One of them even went all the way to Ushguli.
3. Be stable on your feet!
Freshly kneaded Khinkali
One of the recurring features in Georgia is that paths and minor roads rarely are flat, paved, even or well-maintained. Add a bit of rain and even going to a restaurant at night becomes a slippery adventure. If you have trouble walking, save Georgia for another time.
4. Avoid Georgian Airways
Despite being the flag carrier of Georgia, Georgian Airways is a privately owned air company with low cost tricks similar to Ryanair. Worse though is that they do have no service attitude at all. My outbound flight was rescheduled to two days earlier – without any communication. I only found out when I tried the online check in 24 hours before my original departure date. Requests by phone and e-mail for a refund were ignored. See other complaints
(which conform that my experience is no incident), and decide for yourself. I changed to Ukraine International Airlines which as before treated me well.
5. Enjoy the cuisine
Wall painting in Gelati monastery
The Georgian cuisine is very distinctive and one of the prides of this country. On my tour along the Georgian Military Highway we were fed a supra
, a feast of all kinds of Georgian dishes. I especially liked the aubergine-walnut salad & aubergine appetizers. And we got to try folding our own khinkali
. But already a few days into the trip I got bored by the lack of variety that you can get in local restaurants. I even ran into the McDonalds straight from the minibus between Mestia and Kutaisi for 2 cheese burgers! And my answer to “How many khachapuri
can one eat?”: I once ate a whole one, but most of the time I was fully stuffed after three quarters. It’s like a very heavy pizza with only cheese one it….
I stayed in Ushguli only for about 2.5 hours - just for sightseeing that's enough (if you're into hiking you could stay overnight). The ride there (and back) from Mestia was 2 hours each way.
Great tips, thanks. How long did you stay in Ushguli?
Thanks for answering my khachapuri question.
Always handy to know!
thanks again for these run downs, they become a really useful guide when starting to investigate visits.