How to plan a trip to Georgia? With a guide or by yourself?
What to see and how long should you spend in each stop? Useful tips for a journey of culture, nature, food, wine and spirituality in a still authentic and incredibly generous land!
How to plan a trip to Georgia?
Before leaving, I read tales of enthusiastic backpackers who lived Georgia day after day, planning little or nothing, moving by public transport or hitchhiking. I preferred to rely on an expert that allowed me to structure a trip to Georgia that has satisfied widely my expectations. The travel agency provided me a guide that accompanied me during the trip, able to explain the history and traditions of the country and for managing program changes and minimizing disruption (for example, unexpected shutdowns due to bad weather could occur and would create important time losses). And above all, a mother tongue guide who simplified communication. I don’t speak Russian – – the language fluently spoken by over 35 in the country – and my English is not decisive because it isn’t widespread in the most remote villages that I absolutely wanted to visit. Our guide was a treasure. She perfectly understood my tastes and gave us experiences that we will never forget.
Travel to Georgia: the itinerary
Our trip lasted 15 days / 14 nights and we wanted to discover as much as possible of this wonderful land! Caucasus, Black Sea, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, canyons, cities, remote villages, monasteries, museums for a total of 2175 km!
Days 1-3 Tbilisi. The beautiful capital has its charm thanks to a balanced mix of ancient and modern. The Mtkvari river divides it in two, but the bridges and the cable car connect the shores making the Old Tbilisi and the newer districts communicate. Beautiful by day and intriguing at night, with a liveliness that put European cities on the shape. Two nights in Tbilisi.
Days 4-5 Kaheti. The easternmost region of Georgia is rich in history and spirituality although it is far more famous for producing fine wines. During the two days we visited Sighnaghi (the city of love, with the cobblestone streets and red roofs of the houses, and a wall you can visit for a short panoramic stretch on the Alazani Valley), the monastery of Bodbe (where there are the ruins of Santa Nino, the most revered saint in the country), the Cathedral of Alaverdi, the house museum of the poet Alexander Chavchavadze in the city of Tsinandali and Telavi.
Between one visit and another, we made two wine tastings: the first in a stilt house in an organic vineyard and the second in a vineyard where the owner has also created a beautiful accommodation facility. Night in Telavi.
Day 6 Caucasus. Journey along the super-scenic Georgian military road (which connects Tbilisi to the high Caucasus to the Russian border), visit the Ananuri fortress and the splendid Trinity Church of Gergeti in an isolated position at 2170 meters below Mount Kazbek (5047m high, but we couldn’t see fog cause!). Night in Tbilisi.
Days 7-8 Mtskheta-Gori-Uplistsikhe-Akhaltsikhe. Visit of the Monastery of Jvari (included in the Unesco heritage) that rises from the top of a hill overlooking the confluence of the Mt’k’vari and Aragvi rivers and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, the spiritual heart of the country (included in the Unesco heritage) famous for being the place where the tunic of Christ is buried.
Visit the Stalin Museum in Gori and the nearby rock town of Uplistsikhe, one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia and an important religious center for pagan cults. Wine tasting in Ateni microzone and of local cheeses in a delightful country house.
Visit to the Rabati Fortress of Akhaltsikhe and the rock city of Vardzia, the rupestrian monastery built by Queen Tamara in 1185 excavated in the side of Mount Erusheli. Two nights in Akhaltsikhe.
Days 9-11 Goderzi Pass-Batumi. Visit the small monastery of Zarzma and after 100 kilometers off roads admire the “adjaran summer settlements”, the remote villages populated only during summer in this uncontaminated stretch of mountain. Stop at the Green Lake and take the cable car from the Goderdzi Ski Resort to enjoy a breathtaking view at 2300 meters.
Arrival in Batumi where relaxation should be the key word but the Las Vegas on the Black Sea is too lively and full of things to do and see to laze in a hotel or on a beach bed. Among the must see: the Miracle Park, the boulevard edged with palm trees full of sculptures, clubs, benches, bike paths and sports equipment; the skyline of impressive skyscrapers; the Alphabet Tower with the restaurant rising from 130 meters, the cableway connecting in 15 minutes the port with the Anuri hill overlooking the city; the small fish market and Piazza, the busy square full of bars where you can listen to live music in the evening. Two nights in Batumi.
Days 12-13 Kutaisi. Visit the city center and the Cathedral of Bagrati. Visit the nearby monasteries of Gelati and Motsameta. Visit the house-museum of the writer Otia Ioseliani and tasting of wines produced by his nephew Otia. Massage in the spa of Tsakaltubo, a famous spa town. Tour to the Prometheus caves and boat ride in the canyon of Martvili.
Lunch with a family in the Naidjakhavo village and cooking class to prepare an impoverished chacapuri. View of the Nikortsminda church and Khavanchkara wine tasting at Ambrolauri. Pic nic with Georgians. Two nights in Kutaisi.
Day 14 Tbilisi. Return to the capital and walk by night in the former Meidan Bazar. Night in Tbilisi.
Day 15 Return flight.
Travel to Georgia: how to get there?
We took a flight from Rome with Turkish Airlines, which made transit to Istanbul before landing in Tbilisi. To save a little, you can take the Pegasus, the Turkish lowcost line. When you arrive at the airport, you can take a taxi to get to the center because the costs are very low.
How to move on a trip to Georgia? Car, train, marshrutky or hitchhiking?
By car, no doubt! There are trains, of course, but not fast and frequent (and similar to european standards) connecting main cities like Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Borjomi, Tskaltubo (on this page you can view the routes and times). If you want to visit remote villages or simply more decentralized, you need to travel by car. The idea of combining buses or minibuses for these routes with the train would require more flexible times and great adaptability since the economic marshrutky start only when they are full. Hitchhiking is not such a risky idea as you might think because we were told that several guys are moving like that (and it seems to be safe).
Since we had two weeks of vacation and little flexibility, as much as we prefer the idea of the trip than holiday, we didn’t want to go back more tired than when we left, so we opted for the car and more precisely a 4 × 4. The main roads are obviously paved and signposted but we traveled secondary roads and therefore often uneven and without indications. Indeed, to see the villages of the Goderzi Pass, we traveled 100 kilometers off road and spent over 7 hours! Also for this reason (and because the Georgians drive as if they were doing a Formula One race) in addition to driving we asked for a driver. So we didn’t rent a car (costs for a 4x 70/80 $ a day approximately + insurance and advance guarantee), get gasoline, park at every stop and of course study google maps!
How much costs a trip to Georgia?
I bring you some practical examples. Guesthouse: € 10-15 per person. 3 star hotel: 25-30 € per person. Lunch: € 5-10 per person. Dinners: € 15 per person. Water 1L: 0.40. Gasoline: € 0.80 per liter. Tickets for museums or attractions: € 1-5 per person.
For 15 days / 14 nights guided tour + driver + car + gasoline + all entrance tickets to museums / attractions + snacks + most meals + transfer to and from airport: € 130 per day (in two).
What to pack on a trip to Georgia?
We went in August. If you do the same itinerary, you will have to consider trekking clothing (boots, technical pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt and kway because the peaks are around 2500 meters on average), city clothes (with walking shoes and cotton clothing) and beachwear. We managed to put everything in the hand luggage wearing the most bulky things during the flights. P.S. bring a shawl to put on your head to enter all the Orthodox churches (I solved with a hooded sweatshirt). In addition to the veil, women wearing trousers have to put a further apron around their waist. The same is true for men in shorts. If you forget it, you will find at all the entrances some sheets to be used for free.