Nestled in the heart of the Caucasus, on the Black Sea, between Russian, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia is one of the increasingly few relatively undiscovered tourist gems. A small country of 5m people, it has a rich history involving Christianity, the Persians, Ottomans and Russians.
Thinking of Georgia probably doesn’t bring any mental images to mind, which for me was exactly why I wanted to visit. There’s nothing better when travelling than exploring places completely fresh, with no preconceptions or expectations. I found a land filled with much beauty, from the epic Caucasus Mountains, to ancient churches and stone towers, to old towns and modern architecture.
While travelling I drafted about a dozen post covering different aspects of Georgia, here’s a taster of what is in store, along with some tips on food and travel logistics.
The main city in Georgia, home to nearly a third of the population, along with stunning historic and modern architecture, in an attractive natural setting surrounded by hills. It easily has the potential to be the next Prague or Budapest, a mixed blessing. Mestia
Hub of the Svaneti region, northern Georgia, in the Caucasus Mountains, full of thousand year old stone towers, glaciers and epic mountain vistas. Ushguli
Remote part of the Svaneti region, only accessible by walking or 4WD vehicle, home to more stone towers and a way of life that has remained unchanged for centuries. Kutaisi
Second city of Georgia, worth visiting for the impressive Gelati and Bagrati Cathedrals, and modern new parliament building. Mtskheta
Former capital of Georgia, and one of their holiest cities, with the impressive Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in the town, and ancient Jvari church overlooking from the hillside. Gori
Hometown of Georgia’s most famous export, Josef Stalin, commemorated (in an unsettling fashion) in the Soviet era Stalin Museum. Kazbegi
Close to the Russian border on the Georgian Miltary Highway lies one of the most iconic sites in Georgia, the Tsminda Sameba church, surrounded by the epic Caucasus Mountains. Food
Expect a diet high in protein and carbs, with cheese, eggs and bread hard to avoid, particularly when on the road. I found the best food in guest houses where various salads and vegetables helped add variety. Don’t leave without trying khinkali, Georgian dumplings, though some instruction may be required to eat them correctly (and without making a mess!). Tap water in the cities is generally fine, but bottled water is a safer bet in the villages and more remote areas. Here are some kubdari, a traditional dish filled with pork and beef that originates from the Svaneti region.Logistics
Tbilisi is a reasonably easy airport to get to, with routes from London via Istanbul, Moscow or Kiev, with Turkish Airlines, Aeroflot and Ukrainian Air respectively. The flight times tend to be pretty awful though, expect either a very late or very early arrival and / or departure.
Lari is the local currency, best got from cash machines in the bigger cities, or easily changed at the airport or in the cities from USD, GBP or EUR. Prices are cheap, with a typical meal with a drink costing less than 20 Lari, or about 8 USD.
Visitors from most Western counties don’t need to get a visa in advance to visit.
Georgia is generally a very safe place, the crime rate in Tbilisi is less than Auckland. Yes, the Russians attacked a number of areas in 2008 but things have calmed down significantly and there should be little risk as long as you avoid the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions (easily done).
The biggest risk is likely to be from the roads, the drivers, and the things in the road, primarily cows. The driving style will be familiar to anyone who has visited South America or South East Asia…I found very few people who spoke English, you would have more luck if you spoke Russian.
I travelled with Intrepid on their ten day Expedition – Svaneti, Georgia trip which first ran last year, and is being run three times in 2016. I suspect that it will only get more popular as news gets out about Georgia.