Georgia

Georgia essential Information

Visas

Georgia has a very liberal visa policy. Citizens of most countries do not require visas for a stay of up to 360 days and citizens of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Iran up to 90 days. Other nationals may purchase visa upon arrival.

For specific visa information for your country check here or here.

UPDATE from one of our readers who’s been in Georgia for the last 3 years

“A new law on aliens is in the parliamentary process actually the first reading is done. In terms of visa and visa free entry the most remarkable change is that people can only stay for ninety days and not 360 any more. Most probably the law will come into power in the first quarter 2014″. You can read more about it here.

Massive big ups to Gerhard for this update!

 

Advantages

Georgia is undoubtedly one of the easiest countries to hitch-hike. There are scarcely any motorways (just around Tbilisi), on which people stop anyway. The concept of hitch-hiking is well known and it’s also sometimes practiced by locals, especially those living in remote mountainous villages. Georgian people are EXTREMELY friendly and hospitable, and held us in awe every time they stopped for us by offering us not only the lift, but also meals, drinks and even ice cream. Besides that, in Georgia you stand the chance of communicating in English and if that fails, the majority of Georgians speak Russian like natives.

It’s a pleasure to visit and hitch-hike in this beautiful country, admiring its various landscapes, as in Georgia you can find many different forms of terrain, beginning with high mountains, highlands and plains, and finishing with beaches on its stunning Black Sea coast.

Picnic with our couchsurfing host and friends - Akhalkalaki, Georgia

Disadvantages

Listing disadvantages of hitch-hiking in a country so perfect for it does feel a little like nit-picking but as always there are a number of very minor inconveniences to keep live interesting. The political position of South Ossetia an Abkhazia (see Political situation) make travel to the regions fool-hearty at best. The situation with Russia is all the more sinister and hangs like a black cloud over this tiny nation.

Roads in Georgia are often in poor repair if they exist at all. During our trip in 2011 the road from Zugdidi to Mestia was under construction and it took us a good six hours to travel the 130 km distance. The road wound round a mountain-side and it was the only way to get to Mestia, so even though the road was under heavy construction, it remained open. Sometimes we had to wait for the massive bulldozers and lorries to do their job and sometimes it just took ages to drive through the dusty two metre-deep holes full of rock and tree rubble.

UPDATE from one of our readers who’s been in Georgia for the last 3 years

“The road to Mestia has been finished which shortens the time you will need from Zugdidi to Mestia down to 2 hours

if you don´t stop to take any photos on the road.”

Massive big ups to Gerhard for this update!

Old beat-up van and yellow tinged hills - On the road, Southern Georgia

Food & Drink

Georgians pride themselves as being the food connoisseur’s of the former Soviet Union, and with some justification. The ever present khachapuri (A cheese filled bread, resembling a kind of cheese pie) is a locals favourite but can get a little sickly over time. Khinkali (minced, spiced meat in a dumpling, served in enormous quantities) and Mtsvadi, grilled chunks of marinaded pork or veal served on sticks with onions, are staple dishes, and a very good cheap eat option. For a quick snack ghvezeli (pastry) comes stuffed with meat, potatoes, cheese, or other ingredients, and is sold in markets and by street side vendors.

To drink, beer is sol everywhere with local brews including Kazbegi,  Natakhtari, and Tushuri. Georgia has one of the oldest making traditions in the world and the locals like nothing better than downing a large shot of chilled red stuff. Famous local wines include the reds Akhasheni and Teliani which are dry-fruity numbers and the dry-white Tsinandali. Cha-cha, similar to Italian grapa, is the liqueur of choice.

Cobbled Baratashvili Street in Sighnaghi city centre - Sighnaghi, Georgia (2)

Supra

The importance of traditional food and drinks in Georgian culture is best observed during feasts. The Supra, which can be organised at the drop of a hat, can take many forms and is an important social custom which is typified by the consumption of large quantities of food and wine. The whole feast is lead by a Tamada (toastmaster) who punctuate the evening with a serious of deeply symbolic toasts. Read about our experience at a Georgian Supra here.

Accommodation

In Georgia, there is a relative lack of widespread couchsurfing. We only managed to find hosts only in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Akhalkalaki. In Tbilisi, there are a number of budget accommodation options, with both hostels and private accommodation options. Outside the capital, there are plenty of homestays in all parts of the country to choose from. They are a sort of unlicensed guesthouse run by local families, who offer paid accommodation under their roof. In most cases they also provide food (at least one meal a day), which is a huge advantage, since there aren’t many restaurants outside the cities. The best way to find a homestay (as they don’t advertise) is just to walk the streets looking lost. You will be quickly spotted by a friend of a friend of someone who runs a homestay, so just let yourself be found and they will do the rest. In the Caucasus this form of accommodation is the cheapest and provides the most authentic sort of experience. Speaking Russian helps (as English is rare in these parts), but it’s not essential.

Interesting buildings in Tbilisi Old Town - Tbilisi, Georgia (2)

It’s also a good idea to have a tent if you decide to travel of the beaten track in Georgia. There aren’t that many other options outside big cities, apart from homestays and the odd Soviet era hotel.

Weather

Broadly speaking there are two main climatic zones, separating the Eastern and Western parts of the country. Much of Western Georgia lies within the humid subtropical zone and thus rain tends to fall all year round . The climate in this region depends a lot on the elevation and whilst the majority of the lowland areas of western Georgia are generally warm throughout the year, the foothills and mountainous areas experience cool and wet summers and extremely cold and snowy winters.

Eastern Georgia has a transitional climate from humid subtropical to continental and sees a lot less rainfall. Eastern Georgia experiences hot summers (especially in low-lying areas) and relatively cold winters. As in the western parts of the nation, elevation plays a key role as those places above 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) are considerably colder.

The lonely rider taken at an elevation of 2500m - Svaneti, Georgia

Political Situation

At the time of writing the border with Russia was open for tourists but the situation is notoriously changeable and it is always best to check ahead before attempting to cross.

Travel to the breakaway regions of South Ossetia & Abkhazian is advised against by the majority of governments. South Ossetia is next to impossible to visit, and at the time of writing was only accessible through Russia. You might be able to cross the Abkhazian border at Inguri (if you call the Abkhaz Ministry of Foreign Affairs and prepare all the necessary paperwork in advance; be warned, speaking Russian is a must). Check here how it works, but you might have problems crossing back to Georgia, because according to Georgians it’s illegal to cross this border.

Beautiful sunset with solitary ship, the Black Sea - Batumi, Georgia

Polish – Georgian Love-in

Another thing you should be aware of is that if you are Polish or if you’re travelling with a Pole, you will be treated like a prince as Georgians really have a soft spot for Poles. Many a time, while getting in a car and starting a typical conversation with the driver, we witnessed the same reaction:

Driver: Откуда вы? (Where are you from?)

Jon:  Из Англии. (from England)

AniaИ я из Польши. (And I’m from Poland)

Driver:  Ааа …. из Польши! (Aaah… from Poland!) which was usually followed by naming everything they knew about Poland (forgetting about England completely); starting with Lech Kaczyński, Poland’s ex-president who died in a plane crash in Russia and insinuating by the driver that Russians must have had a hand in it (Русские убили Качинского!).

What’s more, the majority of backpackers and hitch-hikers that you will meet in Georgia are bound to be Polish (don’t ask me why). I’m not sure if this information is of any help, but good to know.

Hitchhiking with a friendly phone checking local - On the road, Georgia

Money Exchange

You should also be aware that Georgia currency cannot be exchanged in any surrounding state, so either spend all your laris within the country or pray that you meet other backpackers on the way who would be kind enough to cut you a deal.

Types of Road

The road network in Georgia consists of 1,474 km of highways that are considered to be in good condition and 18,821 km of secondary and local roads that are, generally, in poor condition. Only 7,854 km, of over 20,000 km of Georgian roads, are paved. Hitch-hiking is not a problem on all types of road.

Road Map

Georgia road map

source: ezilon.com

Speed limit on Georgian roads

Georgia Speed Limit Sign

Absolutely essential hitch-hikers phrasebook

Georgian

- hello - გამარჯობათ. (gah-mahr-joh-baht)
→ People love it when you address them in their mother tongue, even if you don’t speak the language.
- thank you – მადლობა (mahd-loh-bah)
goodbye - ნახვამდის. (nakh-vahm-dees)
yes - კი (k’ee)
no - არა (ah-rah)

Russian

– hello – Здравствуйте (ZDRAHST-vooy-tyeh)
– thank you – Спасибо. (spuh-SEE-bah)
– yes - Да. (dah)
– no – Нет. (nyeht)
– please/here you are – Пожалуйста. (pah-ZHAH-luh-stuh)
– you’re welcome – Не за что. (NYEH-zuh-shtoh)
– excuse me – Извините. (eez-vee-NEET-yeh)
– what’s your name? – Как Вас зовут? (kahk vahs zah-VOOT?)
→ always good to know the name of your driver
– my name is … – Меня зовут … (mee-NYAH zah-VOOT…)
– I don’t understand – Я не понимаю (ya nee puh-nee-MIGH-yoo)
– I don’t know – Я не знаю. (ya nee ZNAH-yoo)
– where is…? – Где …? (gdyeh …?)
– train station – вокзал (vah-GZAHL)
→ You should know this word and listen out for it to avoid situations when your driver, in their best intentions, takes you off the road and drives you to a station
– bus station – автовокзала (ahf-tuh-vah-GZAHL)
– I don’t have money – У меня нет денег (oo-mee-NYAH nyet DYEH-neg)
→ useful in any language
– we don’t have money – У нас нет денег (oo nah-s nyet DYEH-neg)
– money – деньги (dyehn-gee)
– now – сейчас (see-CHAHS)
– today - сегодня (see-VOHD-nyuh)
– yesterday – вчера (fcheeh-RAH)
– tomorrow – завтра (ZAHF-truh)
- friend –  друг (droogh)
→ Very useful when they ask you where you’re staying. The concept of Couchsurfing is often too difficult to explain, so just say you’re staying with a friend. You can also use this word to express the relationship between you and your fellow travellers.

Main border crossings

The old fortress gate on Tamar Mephe street - Sighnaghi, Georgia (18)

Georgia – Turkey

→ Sarp/Sarpi – is the main land border crossing between Turkey and Georgia, located about 12 km south of Batumi, Georgia and about 20 km northeast of Hopa, Turkey. It’s possible to cross on foot, however it’s rather difficult due to the total chaos and lack of information, signs, organization. For more information about this border crossing read our story. There is no public transport going from the border crossing to Hopa (Turkey), however it’s possible to get a cheap local bus going the other way to/from Batumi (Georgia).

Vale/Türkgözü - is located a further inland in south-western Georgia and closer to Tbilisi.

Georgia – Armenia

→ Sadakhlo/Bagratashen – is a pretty pleasant and hitchhiker-friendly border crossing. Crossing on foot is problem-free and the border is located on the European route E001.

→ Zhdanovakani/Bavra  – It’s the second border crossing with Armenia we used on our way back and it was also hassle-free. It’s located on the European route E691.

Georgia – Azerbaijan

→ Matsimi – This border crossing is located on the road M5 between Telavi (Georgia) and Şəki (Azerbaijan). It was pretty easy to cross on foot especially after meeting an Azeri customs officer who had done his training in Poland and therefore spoke a bit of Polish. Speaking the same language always breaks ice between people, even during such scary experiences as crossing borders.

→The Shikhly II / Rustavi crossing is located further along the border to the south-west, Böyük Kǝsik, located a short distance to the north-east is a rail border crossing, which you will use if you are travelling on a train between Tbilisi and Baku.

Caution! If you want to enter Azerbaijan, you have to organize your visa in advance.

Georgia – Russia

→ Lars-Kazbegi – This border crossing is located on the Georgian Military Road. It’s possible to cross on foot but you need a Russian visa in order to leave Georgia.
“It was difficult to hitchhike there though in the winter months for free. There is no public transport on this route and the traffic is not that big, there are taxis going regularly from Vladikavkaz to Tbilisi and back. We used it and paid about 500 roubles (17 dollars) per head for the route Vladikavkaz – Kazbegi.” (Shajara)

Most Beautiful Natural Spot

As I said before, there are no ugly places in Georgia, but the most beautiful of them all is probably Svaneti region. It’s surrounded by 3000-5000 metres peaks and it’s the highest inhabited area in the whole Caucasus. There are also more hikes than in Kazbegi region, so if you came to Georgian in order to stretch your legs, that’s the place to go.

Beautiful landscape of hills and trees with a fence in the foreground - Near Mestia, Svaneti region, Georgia

The landscape in this region is dominated by high mountains which are separated by dramatic gorges. The main town in this area is Mestia, which during our trip was extremely hard to get to, due to the heavy road construction.  The town is located at an elevation of 1500m and it’s abundant of tall stone towers (Svan towers). Traditionally all Svan families (which is a local tribe in this region) possessed a towed in order to protect themselves not only from avalanches but also from vendetta that could be waged by fellow Svans. This tradition had been present in this region up until 2004/2006 when Mikheil Saakashvili cracked down on this “barbaric” practice.

View over the town of Mestia and the numerous vendetta towers - Mestia, Georgia

Best City / Town

I never thought I would say so, considering that I’m not really a beach person, but the best Georgian city/town is, in my opinion, Batumi. This city where Stalin used to live 16 years prior the Russian Revolution, is located on the Black Sea coast and it hasn’t lost any of its grandeur. It’s still Georgia’s summer capital, probably partly due to its semitropical coast, and partly because of its charming fin-de-siècle architecture mixed with some modern glass-and-steel constructions.

In the summer it’s packed with Georgian, Russian and Ukrainian tourists and its buzzing nightlife is unique in the whole Caucasus. It’s also the most “western” city, so here you’re most likely to feel at home. It’s hard to couchsurf in Batumi, due to the fact that here everything revolves around tourism and the majority of locals are somehow connected to it, but don’t worry, there are plenty of hostels to choose from.

The street façade along Zurab Gorgiladze Street - Batumi, Georgia

Best areas for hitch-hiking

There are no bad areas for hitch-hiking in Georgia, as the whole country is immensely beautiful and in all its parts people are friendly and won’t refuse you a lift. However, we would definitely recommend travelling along the Georgian Military Road (Georgian: საქართველოს სამხედრო გზა sakartvelos samkhedro gza, Russian: Военно-Грузинская дорога Voyenno-Gruzinskaya daroga).

Georgian Military Road and cows blocking the path - Northern Georgia

It’s the main Caucasus road connecting the Caucasus (straight from Tbilisi) and Russia (Vladikavkaz).

The first spectacular spot en route is the turquoise Zhinvali Reservoir, with Ananuri fortress on its western bank.

Ananuri fortress and Aragvi River - Ananuri, Georgia

As the road continues, it becomes less populated, scarcely dotted with settlements. Here there’s no more asphalt and the artery turns into a grit road. You go through some dramatic green valleys to enter the proper rugged Caucasus where your nostrils become full of brisk mountainous air and your ears slowly become accustomed to the change of height. The road winds on mountain sides and you only pray that the Lada that picked you up will manage the task, rather than topple and fall down the precipice with a thud that breaks the silence.

The savage scenery here is mixed with colossal concrete abandoned edifices, remnants of the Soviet era that back in the day probably served in local wars. It’s hard to drive in this challenging mountainous terrain, so it takes a while, but eventually you get to your destination where moody Kazbegi mountain commands respect.

UPDATE from one of our readers who’s been in Georgia for the last 3 years

“The road from Tbilisi to the Russian border at Stepansminda (Kazbegi)  is now totally renovated and asphalted all the way; even more, the old tunnels at the Cross Pass are renovated as well so the fact that the road might be open all year long, I could not confirm as we had no major snowfall this winter.”

Massive big ups to Gerhard for this update!

Mount Kazbegi with Gergeti Trinity Church on the left - Kazbegi District, Georgia

Our Experience

We hitch-hiked in Georgia in 2011 during our Caucasus-Turkey-Greece trip. We crossed Georgian borders 6 times, as due to the political situation in the region it served us as a transition hub between countries which don’t hold friendly relations with each other. We stayed in the country around 3 weeks and we covered 1504 km by hitch-hiking.

This was our route:

Our guide was also published by Georgian National Tourism Agency on 8th May and by Georgia, საქართველო on 9th May 2012.

written by: Ania

17 comments

  • Beautiful. I especially love the Azerbaijan Border sign :)

  • Thank you for this post. I’m Georgian and I really proud of my country! :-)

  • did you have any problems getting into Azerbaijan, having been to Armenia before?

  • Jon and Ania, thanks for the great tips about Georgia! I used it a lot when I was in Georgia last year and I always enjoy reading your blog.
    Last year (Nov-Dec) I travelled through the Lars-Kazbegi border crossing in both directions. No problems at all and the border officers were extremely polite (especially the Russian ones, which was really amazing). Of course you need a Russian visa to cross the border.
    It was difficult to hitchhike there though in the winter months for free. There is no public transport on this route and the traffic is not that big, there are taxis going regularly from Vladikavkaz to Tbilisi and back. We used it and paid about 500 roubles (17 dollars) per head for the route Vladikavkaz – Kazbegi.

  • Thanks for your lovely comment, Shajara! It’s great to hear that our blog proved to be useful to you! And thanks for the useful info about the border crossing, we will include it in the “border crossing” section. Take care and safe travels!

  • Hi, I did an awesome backpacking trip to Georgia in April-May 2011 and I’ve seen a fair amount of the country (I still have Samtskhe Javakheti and most of Kakhetia to explore), and I confirm: being Polish is a major advantage. I’ll be coming back to Georgia this december and was wondering if you had any tips for places to stay in Akhaltsikhe and Akalkhalaki, as I intend to spend a couple of nights in the area before heading to Armenia. Otherwise I’ll just ask the Marshrutka drivers:) Cheers!

    • Hey Thomas! Thanks for your comment. In Akalkhalaki we found a CS host, so we didn’t really look for any other accommodation options. You should try CS, it’s really easy to find in Georgia, almost as easy as getting a lift!
      We are so jealous about your trip to Georgia, we’d like to go back there one day too! Such a wonderful country!
      Anyway, have a great time and if you like writing maybe you’d like to write a story from your trip for HHH? :)

  • I was looking for some facts about Georgia, I need for my presentation. I am Georgian exchange student in US, and really glad to read this! Happy to share with my American buddies!:)

  • Georgia really is a wonderful country with the MOST hospitable folk on Earth. I spent 3 months there teaching English and wanted for nothing – except internet and reliable electricity! Wine, wine, bread with cheese, and wine! That’s Georgia!

  • Thank you so much for this amazing and resourceful article! We are traveling to Armenia and Georgia this autumn, it’s great to know how things work in these countries. Special thanks for the phrasebook!!

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