Dear friends, it’s been a while! After dozens of hours in the airports, buses and exhibition halls and endless talking to thousands people, I have a chance to quietly stick to my keyboard and help some of your plan your trip to Georgia. April is giving me two business trips to Baku and Almaty again, in order to represent Georgian tourism there, so I suppose that the next article will appear not very soon.
But the time to plan holidays in Georgia is now! It is always a now, as the country is losing its seasonality. Though, spring and autumn are my favorite seasons here: they are warm, sunny, fruitful and very colourful. I hope you will enjoy them too!
During the travel fairs I attended, many people were asking me very basic questions. It made me understand that I should explain things obvious for me time and again:
- does one need visa for Georgia (no, if you hold the passport or residence permit of the EU, US, CIS, UAE),
- do people still massively shoot each other in Georgia (for God’s sake!),
- is there still war in Georgia (Jesus, no),
- is it safe to travel in Georgia (if you get used to drivers who are very fast, then yes; street robbery level is close to zero).
There were also questions like:
- how far is Georgia (2-3 hours with WizzAir from Berlin, Munich, Dortmund, Milan, Budapest, Warsaw; two hours from Istanbul, the main transfer hub; another three hours from Dubai or Sharjah, Riga, Kyiv, Vienna and Munich),
- do you still love Stalin in Georgia (the most hilarious question from Austrian students),
- is Georgia a part of Russia (if Germany was still a part of Holy Roman Empire, then, ehm, yes),
- are there trains to the Caucasus mountains and why there are none (because Caucasus mountains are 2000-5000 m high and it was quite problematic to organize rails up there);
I also understood that there are people looking for budget friendly options, who are getting confused by the prices of travel agencies and taxi drivers… It’s quite pity that the volumes of information about Georgia in foreign languages are insufficient to help avoiding the ripping off, getting sick or staying hungry. I’m trying to help you out.
What is the best time to travel to Georgia, you may ask before going to Expedia, WizzAir, Pegasus, Turkish Airlines or FlyDubai website. It all depends on what you prefer: sea, skiing or hiking, because food, wine and cultural heritage are accessible year-round.
Those who are thinking that Georgia is a gloomy cold almost-Russia as you see it in James Bond movies… mwa-ha-ha, that’s very wrong. Those who travel here in December or February and want to experience “sunny Georgia”, as it was called in the Soviet times, can be wrong too. In general, this country is rather sunny and warm than freaking cold, but guys, check out where the equator line is 🙂
Going to the mountains to hike is the best in the period between May and October. Though, in some national parks the weather conditions can be quite tricky: let’s say, spring in Lagodekhi can cause river floods and midsummer in Vashlovani is hot and dry as hell. Mtirala National Park is always extremely humid, and Tusheti is not always accessible because of rainfalls (call or write the administration of parks to get more actual information).
Highlands of Svaneti and Racha are becoming closer due to domestic flights from Kutaisi and Natakhtari (Tbilisi), but the flights are also very weather-dependent. Better to book them in advance, as the number of places is little, and see what will happen.
Nevertheless, basic places as Tbilisi, Telavi, Kvareli, Sighnaghi, Kutaisi, Batumi and Borjomi are accessible anytime, so don’t worry: if you came to Georgia for a weekend, you can spend it very actively.
Georgia is not hilariously cheap anymore. The amount of travelers spoiled the owners of ANY property, so even an old Soviet flat might cost quite a lot on AirBnB or Booking.com. Still, the above mentioned websites are still the most convenient way to find a place to stay.
As I know, many travelers who go to Tbilisi having bought the packages, are staying not in the city center, but at the outskirts, and then travel to the city by taxi. This is a convenient option, if you want to save money, but as the drivers also try to charge you by maximum, you might not save anything at all.
The answer is – negotiate (5-7 lari is totally alright, if you travel from Iveria Inn, Dolabauri, Grand Palace etc), ask the hotel staff to call you a taxi, use Taxify or Taxi Maxim.
In the other towns and villages the hostels and guesthouses are easier to book, as the choice is not that big.
DOS AND DON’TS
If you are in Tbilisi for the short period of time, try to taste real Georgian food, wine and beer in non-touristic places (some of them I used to list here). Now there are quite a lot of restaurants in the old town that simply hustle people inside. Going there is an obvious NO.
Kutaisi, Batumi, Telavi, Borjomi and the other towns won’t give you a huge choice of international food, so the Georgian traditional cuisine is guaranteed!
Famous sulfur baths of Tbilisi can be a must, if you want to get all the dirt of the past get rubbed off and the smell of sulfur doesn’t make you sick. If you ask me, I like going there.If you are traveling in a little group of people, share a car while going somewhere. For example, there are direct marshrutkas from Tbilisi to Kazbegi (10 lari), but if you need to make a stop near Ananuri fortress or go see a huge Soviet mosaic on the monument to Georgian-Russian friendship on the way to Kazbegi, better take a cab for 70-90 lari at the same Didube metro station.
There are marshrutkas from Tbilisi to Mtskheta for 1 lari, but going up to Jvari Monastery and cave town Uplistsikhe by public transport is problematic. So I’d advise to negotiate a car again. Maybe even from Mtskheta.
Same story with Kutaisi and the surrounding monasteries, Borjomi and Akhaltsikhe (Rabati). At least there are shuttles from Tbilisi to David Gareji Monastery (Gareji Line) and Tbilisi – Telavi – Gremi – Kvareli (Donkey Express)!Another tip: book paragliding services in Kazbegi and Gudauri and planes of Vanilla Sky to Mestia and Racha in advance! It’s not the thing to be done spontaneously yet.
By the way, the amount of shops and cafes in Racha and Svaneti (especially Ushguli) is growing very slowly: those regions are as raw as picturesque, so think about your favorite chocolate, chips or sunscreen in advance.Should you have any other questions, I would be happy to help. You can subscribe to my Facebook page to be updated about Georgian whereabouts.
Stay tuned and pack your bags to Georgia!