10 Things to be aware of when backpacking and hitchhiking in the Caucasus – part 1
Backpacking and hitchhiking in the Caucasus
1) What is the Caucasus?
The Caucasus, surrounding the mountain range of the same name, lies on what is often considered to be the land border of Europe and Asia and is situated between the Black and Caspian seas.
The Caucasus mountain range, which contains Europe’s highest peak Mount Elbrus, cuts between the two seas and marks the political division between the northern parts, under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation, and the southern independent states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
The southern Caucasus contains three diverse countries simply crying out to be explored with each offering any traveller a variety of landscapes and people so diverse yet touchingly welcoming that you will be sure to want to come again.
click on the flag to go directly to country guide
2) Best places for you to explore
② Sanahin & Haghpat Monastery — the UNESCO listed monasteries incorporate beautifully preserved Medieval architecture with stunning mountainous surroundings and awe-inspiring views.
③ Baku — oil rich Baku is the the region’s largest city, an international oil hub, and ancient capital of Azerbaijan. Worth seeing for the amazing contrast between new build money and ramshackle poverty alone.
④ Mud volcanoes of Gobustan — Everyone knows volcanoes, but have you ever seen a volcano which instead of hot lava spits out cold gooey mud? These can be found near Gobustan (Qobustan), a settlement situated 64km southwest of Baku, Azerbaijan.
⑤ Tbilisi — is in many ways the heart and soul of Caucasus, Georgia’s vibrant capital boats amazing architecture, it is surrounded by luscious green mountains, and packed full with good food, wine and times. it is even has the region’s most unique tourist attraction: the Sulphur Baths Tbilisi.
⑥ Davit Gareja Monastery — the rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex contains hundreds of cells, churches, chapels, refectories and living quarters all painstakingly hollowed out of the rock face.
3) Visa requirements.
Armenia has a rather liberal visa policy. EU citizens, as well as former CIS nationals don’t require visas. Visas for citizens of most other countries can be requested upon arrival and for a 21 day visa you would only pay 3000 dram (€6). For specific visa information for your country check here or here.
Azerbaijan has a strict visa policy for citizens of European and North American countries. Visas must be purchased in advance from an Azerbaijani diplomatic missions. The price can be anywhere between 60-110 € depending on your nationality and where you do it. More information here.
Georgia has a liberal visa policy. Citizens of most countries do not require visas for a stay of up to 90 days and citizens of all other countries, who do require a visa, are given one on entry for 30 days. For specific visa information for your country check here or here.
4) Understand the currency
Hitch-hiking in the Caucasus can vary from the extremely annoying to the laughably easy, but on the whole it is a very good area for hitchhiking. In Armenia and Georgia, cars perform screeching stops in order to drive you to your destination, which is hundreds of kilometres past where your driver was heading. People buy you food, invite you back to their houses and generally are extremely kind and hospitable.
In Azerbaijan, it is a little more difficult. Some people simply don’t understand the concept while others want money in return. Make sure that it is extremely clear that you have no money or are not willing to pay at the beginning of the ride. Refuse the lift if necessary.
Also, bear in mind that in some parts of the Caucasus the road network is in very bad condition and some of the cars that pick you up might even be over 30 years old!
The majority of the Caucasus region is mountainous therefore don’t expect the drivers to drive very fast (although you might meet the occasional daredevil overtaking lines of cars on a single-lane mountainous road!).
written by: Jon