Maybe it was the wine. Or perhaps it was the latticed balconies? The unfettered hospitality played a part and let’s not forget the food. And the idyllic scenery was persuasive. For the life of me, I can’t pin down precisely what made Georgia so charming.
Technically Georgia is located in Eurasia, but its own people describe it in a very lovely way, it’s the balcony of Europe. Balconies are usually my favorite part of an apartment. I arrived with very little expectation but Georgia took me on a journey, taught me how to appreciate nature and showed me what influence people can have on your soul.
This past September, a weekend getaway turned into a 5 day trip to Georgia while It captured my heart and made me stronger to be able to ride fast crazy Georgian cab drivers.
- Population: 1.5 million
- Georgia is considered the “birthplace of wine” with some of the best in the world to this day.
- Currency: Georgian Lari (GEL) (current exchange rate)
- Electricity: 220V, 50Hz (European plug)
- Primary Airports: Tbilisi (TBS), Batumi (BUS)
- Water: Yes and no. While most claim it’s generally safe in the city centers, it can vary widely throughout the country. Interestingly, Georgian Mineral water is highly rated, tasty, and a big export item. It’s affordable to buy bottled while there.
- Internet Situation: WiFi is rampant; available at most guesthouses and cafes. Also, central Tbilisi has a free WiFi network, TbilisiLovesYou. Some places may even boast fiber-optic networks.
- Local SIM: This is a cinch and highly recommended for language translation and such. I had speedy, cheap 4G throughout Tbilisi. When you arrive in Tbilisi, there are a handful of Magti shops (Google it or ask your guesthouse). Bring your passport and for less than US $10, you can get a SIM and high-speed data. This will work in most non-mountainous regions of the country.
- Visas: Americans, Canadians, and those with EU passports do not need a visa to visit, and they may stay in Georgia for up to a year. For other countries, check your visa requirements here.
- Language: Georgians speak Georgian, which is its own unique language and has its own alphabet. Most locals also speak Russian. English is only prevalent in touristy areas of Tbilisi and some of the mountain ski regions. Have patience, though, as Georgians have a deep culture of hospitality and will work with you to communicate.
- Safety: In the wake of Georgia’s 2008 Rose Revolution, the country is safe and growing. The police department cleaned up corruption and many Georgians assured me their country was safe for solo travelers — after having wandered solo for weeks, I agree. Use caution if you’re visiting areas near the Russian-occupied areas of Georgia.
- Budget: This is a pretty decent budget destination. It’s not rock-bottom, but the Georgian Lari lost value over the past few years, making it a more affordable travel spot. Everything is moderately priced and wine and food are reasonable, so you can eat well here. Plan on a moderate, average budget of US $30-45 per day for a single person, slightly less per person in a couple. Couples can share private transport for an affordable way to make the travel more comfortable. Your budget will likely lessen outside the capital. This is a good single day solo budget (does not include averaging in the price of day-trips).
- Festivals of Note: Tbilisoba takes place in mid-October every year. Information in English can be scarce, but you can often find the dates and schedule on the Georgian Tourism website. I also just Facebook messaged the tourism board and asked for the schedule in English and they sent me one. It’s a huge cultural event that takes over Tbilisi for a number of days and it’s a great way to taste a range of foods and see a broad representation of Georgian song and dance. There is a Black Sea Jazz Festival in Batumi in July. Tushetoba in Tusheti in early August is cultural and looks fascinating and fun.
- Food Considerations: Georgians are quite proud of their national cuisine, and it’s also popular in Russia and other countries. It’s tasty! They many several signature dishes that you can try at every price level. Nice restaurants will have fancy versions, but there are also many fast street-eats versions too. The food is very bread and cheese based, with fresh salads and meat also quite prevalent. Food and wine are affordable and a big part of traveling Georgia — they enjoy the ceremony of meals! Vegetarians can get by, but celiacs and vegans will have a harder time since bread and cheese are the bases of most dishes. This is the best food guide I’ve seen, and it includes the dish names in Georgian, too.
- Accommodation: Finding a place to stay is easy. The country has rebounded strongly from the issues of the mid-2000s and with the Georgian focus on hospitality, you can expect comfortable accommodation at every price level. I used AirBnB for my stay in Tbilisi and it was fantastic. I was Old Town adjacent and everything was cozy and well-appointed. You could also find budget options on Agoda — you want to stay near the City Center, Old Town, or the River.
- Transportation: Georgian driving is not the safest. Wear a seatbelt, the country has some of the highest traffic accident rates in the region. There are trains between a few of the cities, otherwise, there are minibusses (marshrutka) connecting all major cities in Georgia, as well as connecting Georgian cities to its neighbors. Also, it’s surprisingly affordable to hire private transport if you’re in a group to split the costs. For more transport information, Seat 61 has a detailed regional guide.
- Possible Issues: Georgia is one of the safest countries in Europe (except the two occupied areas). Corruption is now low and it’s safe to walk around. Altitude sickness is a possible issue: Be warned and be cautious if you are visiting the mountains.
- Socially Responsible Travel: If you’re trekking, consider these tips for responsible travel. Even with extensive research and asking locals, I could not find any social impact organizations in the country. It seems like sustainable and community-based tourism organizations have a goal of implementing projects by 2020, so ask around!
Day 1 & 2: Batumi
I started off from Batumi. It is the second largest city of Georgia, located on the coast of the Black Sea in the country’s southwest. Having to arrive at 3.30pm in the afternoon from my flight – I headed for a quick check in at our hotel (http://www.hotel-sputnik.com/) followed by a night run in the city and some sightseeing. Day 2 included a visit to Botanical Garden & city tour + beach.
Things to see in Batumi
Batumi Botanical Garden:
This botanical garden is almost 10 km from Batumi center. Forget about walking there, but take a mashrutka (minibus) no. 31 from the Cable Car. The mashrutka ticket costs about 1 lari (~0,3 euro) per person, very cheap. 8 lari is the entrance fee for adults.
It takes about 2 hours to walk around the garden. During the walk, discover the different flowers and the trees (As old has 100 years) are based here. The garden has two entrances, but from the end of the garden, you have to walk about 1 km to the marshutha stop to Batumi.
Walk around the Boulevard to see the city of original statues the steel statue of love – Ali, and Nino changes position every 10 minutes until merge into one, then it separates again and begins the return process. (Tip: Best to see it in the night). The boulevard is 5 miles long. It’s ideal for a stroll along Batumi Bay. Stop by and have a delicious Khachapuri and wash it down with a glass of Georgian wine at one of the numerous restaurants and cafes, which line the cobbled avenue. Admire a stunning sunset while you sit on one of the many benches distributed along the boulevard.
At 130-meter, this high structure in Batumi symbolizes the uniqueness of Georgian alphabet and people. The structure combines the design of DNA, in its familiar double helix pattern. Two helix bands rise up the tower holding 33 letters of the Georgian alphabet, each 4 meters tall and made of aluminum. In the middle of the building is an exposed elevator shaft leading to very the top of the building, in the crown of the structure, where a colossal silver ball is located. Tickets priced at 2 Euros.
Argo Cable Car:
Located 250 meters high from the sea level, The complex offers spectacular views of Batumi, the Black Sea, and the surrounding mountains. The center comprises restaurants, cafes, retail shops, open-air halls, podium and roof terraces as well.
We took a ride on the cable car at night (5 pm). The view was fantastic! The lovely brightly lit buildings stood out in the surrounding darkness amidst strings of vehicle headlamps! The flashing neon lights from the numerous casinos, the Alphabet Tower, Batumi Tower lit up the skyline.
Price: 5 lari
Day 3: Tskaltubo & Kutaisi
The drive from Batumi to Tskaltubo/Kutaisi is approximately 3 hours (Covering over 147km). Once there we headed to the City center & Gelati monastery complex followed by breathtaking Prometheus Cave and finally to Tbilisi in the night.
The whole cave takes about 40 mins to complete. There are handrails to guide you going down the steps, which are wet from the water dripping from above.
Before the trip, we had been told that we would be taking boats underneath the cave which is 7 lari (about $4 US)
One of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites the Gelati Monastery is one of the most visited places in this region as best attributed to both its history and beauty. When inside, look up in the dome of the monastery, you will find the Christ Pantokrator. And as you walk around this place, you will be able to appreciate the great mosaics and murals decorating the walls of the structure. Among other things which you will find in this place would be the mosaic of Archangel Michael, the murals of the Ascension and of David IV of Georgia. The northern wall is full of ancient art and other relics which will surely keep you standing in awe.
Day 4: Tbilisi
Wander Old Town:
This is the heart of the tourist activities and most of the churches and historic sites are all located in a walkable area. You will likely stay in or adjacent to Old Town, so take an afternoon to simply get lost in the back streets.
Try Sulphur Baths:
This is located just near the main intersection in the old part of town, it’s called the Abanotubani area, and is on the south side of the Metekhi bridge. You’ll want to bring a friend and get the full washing/scrubbing experience. Locals also love doing this in the cold weather as a fun activity to get warm and enjoy each others company.
Visit a Tbilisi Fresh Market:
There are many but the main one is a great spot for a wander and is across the river, near Didube.
Saturday flea market:
Also known as the “Dry Bridge Market.” This is easy to spot near the river and about 15 minutes beyond (west of) the main Metekhi intersection. It’s fun to wander the antiques spread on the sidewalk, and there’s also a lot of artwork too. Even kids might enjoy poking around the weird and quirky things on offer. I picked up some interesting knick-knacks as gifts for friends that you won’t find anywhere else.
Visit Narikala Fortress:
This site is gorgeous and looms over Old Town. The aerial tram in the easiest way to get to the fortress, it drops you just at the base and then you can wind up into the ruins. There are very little safety measures, though, and you can climb up some crumbly areas, so be warned. It’s very pretty views at the very top but you will have to climb with all four limbs just a short way. This is near Mother Georgia, but best to be visited with enough time to just see it. The views are also stunning at night, and the tram is cheap, so consider visiting both times.