Georgia (country)

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For other places with the same name, see Georgia (disambiguation).
Mount Ushba
Location
Europe Georgia.svg
Flag
Flag of Georgia.svg
Quick Facts
Capital Tbilisi
Government Unitary semi-presidential republic
Currency Georgian lari (GEL)
Area 69,700km²
Population 4,677,401 (July 2006 estimate)
Language Georgian
Religion Georgian Orthodox 83.9%, Roman Catholic 1.2%, Muslim 9,9%, other 0.8%, none 0.7%.
Electricity 220V, 50Hz (European plug)
Country code +995
Internet TLD .ge
Time Zone UTC +4

Georgia (Georgian: საქართველო, Sakartvelo) is a country in Eastern Europe. Set on the coast of the Black Sea, it lies to the south of Russia, and to the north of Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Georgia forms part of Europe's easternmost flank, straddling the continent's border with Asia.

Georgia is approximately the size of Ireland and lies along the same latitudes as Bulgaria, Southern France, and New York. For a country of its modest proportions, it presents a remarkable mix of landscapes and climates, ranging from high mountain peaks to wine-growing valleys and lush Black Sea resorts. Georgia is a developing but rapidly improving country with very low levels of both crime and corruption. Starting in the mid-2000s, Georgia's tourist infrastructure has expanded substantially, and the number of tourists visiting the Black Sea republic has increased several fold.

Understand[edit]

A classical statue from Georgia, 2nd century BC

Georgia has a distinctive culture and a rich history that can be traced to classical antiquity and beyond. Archaeologists have found the oldest known traces of wine production, dated 8000 years BC, in Georgia. Due to this long history of viticulture, grapevine is one of Georgia's national symbols, adorning medieval decorations, carvings and paintings. The current Georgian alphabet, with its characteristic curvy shapes, was designed to look like the loops and twists of grapevines.

A people of distinct culture, Georgians are not related to the Russians, Turks or Greeks, nor do they have any ethnic or linguistic ties to other nations that surround them. There are academic theories which link Georgians to Basque and Corsican people in Southwestern Europe, but there is no definitive evidence of this. For centuries, Georgians have been embroiled in power struggles against the world’s biggest empires (Roman, Mongol, Byzantine, Persian, Ottoman and Russian), but they nevertheless managed to preserve their identity. In testament to this long history, Georgia's countryside is covered with ancient towered fortifications, monasteries and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which have survived through great adversities.

The majority of Georgians are Eastern Orthodox Christian, which encompasses Greek, Russian and other European orthodox denominations. Aside from Russia, Georgia is the only Eastern Orthodox Christian country in the region (contrary to popular belief, Armenia is Oriental Orthodox, which is a separate church). Georgia's culture is strongly influenced by Christianity, but Georgians are not as religious as they may outwardly appear. A large portion of nominally religious Georgians do not actively practice their faith and identify with religion for historical and cultural reasons. Most people attend church only on special occasions, and religious holidays are more about feasts and keeping up with traditions than religious dogma. Many religious taboos are shunned in public but widely practiced in private, a legacy of Georgia's complicated history.

The exact origin of name Georgia has never been established, but there are a number of theories as to its provenance. Some have explained the name's origin by the popularity of St. George among Georgians (St. George is Georgia's Patron Saint). Others link the name to the Greek word γεωργός ("agricultural") or some Persian variations thereof. Georgians usually tell you that the name is related to Saint George, since that is an explanation closest to their heart.

Historical overview[edit]

Classical and medieval periods[edit]

In Greek mythology, western coasts of Georgia were home to the famous Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts. Incorporation of the Golden Fleece into mythology was influenced by an ancient Georgian practice of using fleeces to sift gold dust from the mountain rivers. Aside from ties to ancient Greeks, various early Georgian kingdoms were client states and allies of the Roman Empire for centuries. In the 4th century, a Greek-speaking Roman woman named Saint Nino - who was a relative of Saint George - began preaching Christianity in Georgia, leading to the eventual conversion of this previously pagan kingdom. Georgia's conversion to Christianity meant that it would have a historical and cultural leaning to the West, instead of the Muslim empires on Europe's doorstep (Turkey and Persia).

Georgian monarch Vakhtang VI sought support from France and Vatican in order to fight Islamic invasions. Allying with Western powers to resist hostile neighbors is a recurring theme in Georgia's history

By the 10th century, various Georgian-speaking states converged to form the Kingdom of Georgia, which became a potent regional power in the 12th and 13th centuries, also known as the Georgian Golden Age. This period of revival was inaugurated by King David IV of Georgia, son of George II and Queen Helena, who succeeded in driving out the Turks. During this time, Georgia's influence spanned from the south of Ukraine in Eastern Europe to the northern gates of Persia. Like it's ally Greece, Georgia was in some sense Europe's gatekeeper throughout the Middle Ages - being a peripheral country, much of the Islamic invasions hit Georgia first.

By the end of the Middle Ages, Georgia began to gradually decline and fracture due to persistent incursions of Mongols and other nomadic peoples. The Mongols were expelled by George V the Brilliant, but various Muslim conquerors followed, not giving the realm enough time to fully recover. Georgia's geopolitical situation further worsened after the Fall of Constantinople, which meant that Georgia was now an isolated enclave, surrounded by hostile Turco-Iranic neighbors with whom it had nothing in common. Under pressure, Georgia soon disintegrated, allowing Ottoman Turkey and Persia to subjugate western and eastern regions of Georgia, respectively.

One of the most prominent Georgian women of the 19th century, Princess Catherine Dadiani is remembered for resisting Turkish incursions in Western Georgia

18th and 19th centuries[edit]

Since the mid-15th century, rulers in both western and eastern Georgian kingdoms repeatedly sought aid from major European powers but to no avail. King Vakhtang VI of Eastern Georgia sent his emissary, Saba Orbeliani, to France and the Papal States in order to secure assistance for Georgia, but nothing tangible could be secured. Lack of Western assistance left Georgia exposed - pushed by the invading Ottoman Army, both Vakhtang and Orbeliani were eventually forced to accept the offer of protection from Peter the Great and escaped to Russia. In modern-day Georgia, Orbeliani's diplomatic mission to France would become an allegory of how the West neglects Georgian appeals for assistance.

Left with no good options, in 1783 Eastern Georgia signed the controversial Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russian Empire. Recognizing the bond of Orthodox Christianity between the two nations, the treaty established Georgia as a protectorate of Russia, while guaranteeing Georgia's territorial integrity and the continuation of its reigning dynasty. Despite the promises, however, Russia did not hold it's end of the bargain: it failed to immediately render assistance against foreign incursions and instead began to absorb Georgia piece by piece against the spirit of the original agreement. Russia downgraded the Georgian Orthodox Church to the status of a local Russian archdiocese, while also downgrading the Georgian royalty to the level of Russian nobility, all of which offended many Georgians. The country quickly turned into a resort for the Russian Imperial Family, some members of which had respiratory problems and cherished Georgia's clean, alpine climate.

20th century[edit]

Having lived more than a century under the Russian Empire, in 1918 Georgia established its first-ever modern republic with German and British military support. Russia, however, soon cajoled Georgia into becoming a neutral state, which resulted in British troops leaving the country. Once Germany and Britain were out of the equation, just several months later Russia invaded and forcibly incorporated Georgia into the Soviet Union. This unfortunate turn of events would become one the reasons why in the 21st century, military neutrality is an unpopular concept in Georgia and can end political careers.

During the Soviet era, Georgia suffered terrible repressions at the hands of its own son Joseph Stalin, who had tens of thousands purged and executed. But this period also came with major changes. Georgia turned into one of the more prosperous Soviet republics renowned for its spas, resorts, cuisine and wine. Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia reclaimed its independence but at a heavy price. Pro-Russian separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia waged secessionist wars, descending the country into chaos for most of the 1990s.

21st century[edit]

Georgia's turbulent period started to come to an end following the peaceful Rose Revolution of 2003, when the country implemented a series of major democratic and economic reforms aimed at integration with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and various European institutions. Georgia became the most loyal American ally in the region, much to Russia's dismay. As of 2016, Georgia's ties to NATO and the European Union continue to gradually deepen in the face of strong Russian opposition. Due to continuing political disagreements, Russia and Georgia still have no formal diplomatic relations and are represented by the embassies of Switzerland.

Georgian troops in Baghdad, 2006

According to Transparency International, Georgia is the least corrupt country in the Black Sea region, including all of its immediate neighbors, as well as nearby European Union States states. Georgia is a member of the Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as Eurocontrol; since 2014, it is also part of the European Union's Free Trade Area. Although Georgia has never petitioned the EU for membership, in 2014 the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution (2014/2717(RSP)) which established that Georgia, along with Moldova and Ukraine, are eligible to become members of the Union, provided they meet requisite democratic standards.

Respect[edit]

Sensitive issues[edit]

  • Be careful while talking about Russia or the Georgian separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are supported by Russia. Georgia has lost large swaths of its territories as a result of Russian involvement and must now support a large number of displaced refugees as well. In 1992 and 2008, there was an ethnic cleansing of Georgians in the separatist regions reportedly aided by the Russians. These subjects can quickly become emotional and lead to hostility. Most Georgians are supportive of Ukraine's struggle against Russia, so this topic is sensitive as well. Do not try to convince Georgians that they misunderstand Russia or that Russia has good reasons for its actions - these people have lived next to Russia for centuries and have had plenty of time to form their opinions. If you can set politics aside, Georgians are usually friendly toward ordinary Russians.
  • Respect Georgia's development. Historically, many Westerners visited Georgia because they were attracted to the country's ruins and derelict classical buildings. But as Georgia recovers from years of instability, these signs of neglect are inevitably fixed-up, painted and repaired. This causes some ruin enthusiasts to sneer at revitalized historical districts as no longer "authentic". Such comments can be rather offensive because they imply that locals are not the "real" themselves unless they are dirty, poor and living in buildings with collapsing ceilings. Keep in mind, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of Georgia's presently derelict buildings used to be glitzy aristocratic abodes. Crumbling and wasting away is not their "natural" or "authentic" state.
  • While in Georgia, do not try to seek traces of foreign influence, real or imagined, behind every little detail you encounter there - this can come off as rather impertinent. Keep in mind that just because something in Georgia is reminiscent of Russia or Turkey does not mean that it came from those places - it could actually be the other way around, and it often is. Although Georgia is at the intersection of civilizations, you do not want to appear as if you are de-ligitimizing local cultures by portraying them as nothing more than an amalgamation of other cultures. Focus on Georgia on its own merit and in its own right.
  • Be conscious of the fact that for historical and religious reasons, drawing parallels between Georgia and neighboring Islamic cultures can be particularly sensitive. Many tourists are surprised to learn that much of the "exotic flair" in Tbilisi was imported from Europe and not Asia. Most of the "Oriental", "Moorish" and "Asian"-looking buildings (Tbilisi Opera House, Old Town sulfur baths, etc) were constructed by famous European architects in the 19th century during Europe's fascination with exotic styles. These landmarks are purposefully designed to look as they do. It is therefore inaccurate, not to mention cliché, when visitors describe these elements of Georgia as "authentic" or "local" - such descriptions can irk the real locals.

Religious topics[edit]

  • Georgians are not as religious as they outwardly appear. Displays of religiosity are often seen as a matter of societal expectation and as a sign of propriety. A large portion of nominally religious Georgians do not actively practice their faith and identify with religion for historical and cultural reasons. Most people do not attend the church weekly, and religious holidays are more about feasts and keeping up with traditions than religious dogma. Be that as it may, you never know who you are speaking to, so do not overtly downplay Georgia's religiosity, as some may take it as a slight.
  • Georgian Orthodox Church, one of the most senior Orthodox Churches, is just as conservative as its Russian sister, so rules in sacred places are the same. Males, with the exception of young boys, are not allowed to wear shorts inside the church building. Females are expected to wear a symbolic head-covering as a sign of modesty. Rules for the head-cover are rather lax: they can be see-through, colorful, breezy and cover only the top/back portion of your head. Some even wear them folded like a large headband tied in the back. Women are also expected to wear a dress in the church. Tourists are often amused to discover that females wearing pants are not allowed, whereas those dressed in somewhat skimpy miniskirts are acceptable, since these do count as dresses. In any case, it is a good idea not to wear a skirt shorter than knee-length. If you end up in a church unexpectedly and have no dress handy, sometimes you may get away with borrowing a large veil from someone and wrapping it around like a beach towel or a swimsuit sarong. This looks odd and should be your last resort.

Financial considerations[edit]

  • Georgians are hospitable to a fault. If a Georgian invites you somewhere, they will often pick up the tab and even raising the subject of who will pay the bill can be embarrassing for your host. That being said, Georgia is an emerging capitalist country and many people there are in economic difficulty, so their hospitality should not be taken advantage of by budget travelers with unreasonable expectations of receiving freebies.
  • When going to a restaurant with someone, you should always at least offer to pay for the meal and be prepared to do so in full if your host allows. Splitting the costs, "Going Dutch" and various combinations thereof are not acceptable, unless you are on very close terms with someone and have a mutual understanding on how to make this work. If invited to a private home for dinner, it is polite to arrive stocked with wine, sweets or refreshments.


Regions[edit]

Svaneti region of Georgia
North-Western Georgia
Lush Black Sea coasts of Georgia, with the nation's second-largest city of Batumi seen at the horizon

The following geographic divisions are not official and only serve an illustrative purpose. Official administrative divisions and names will vary.

Kartli
The Georgian heartland, center of East Georgian culture, and the national economic, cultural, and political hub; home to many major destinations like Tbilisi, Mtskheta, Gori and Kazbegi
Rioni Region
The center of Western Georgia and the ancient kingdom of Colchis, land of the Golden Fleece; today home to magnificent UNESCO sites and fantastical mountainous scenery in both Racha and Imereti
Kakheti
Georgia's fertile wine region, with relatively dry climate, full of valleys, beautiful churches, monasteries and wineries
Southwestern Georgia
The hub of Georgia's seaside resorts, including the nation's second largest city of Batumi
Northwestern Georgia
An area of diverse landscapes, transitioning from marshlands and lowlands of western Mingrelia to one of Europe's highest mountains in Upper Svaneti
Samtskhe-Javakheti
Home to the cave city of Vardzia and the enchanting Sapara Monastery. The area also contains much of Georgia's ethnic Armenian population
Disputed Territories (Abkhazia, South Ossetia)
Georgia's pro-Russian breakaway regions, not controlled by the central government; Abkhazia is a beautiful subtropical beach and volcano destination, while South Ossetia is high in the Greater Caucasus Mountains, with little to offer a traveller beyond constant danger and mountain vistas. Both areas are controlled by Russian border guards.

The exclusion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the regional hierarchy proper is not an endorsement of any side in the conflict, it is merely a practical distinction, since travel conditions in these two regions differ radically from those in the rest of Georgia.


Cities[edit]

Rustaveli Avenue is the main street on the right bank of Tbilisi
Agmashenebeli Avenue, the main street on the left bank of Tbilisi
  • Tbilisi — the most cosmopolitan and diverse of Georgia's cities, Tbilisi is not just the nation's capital but also a hub that contains nearly a third of all of Georgia's population. It is an interesting mix of old classical and ultra modern buildings.
  • Batumi — Georgia's second largest city, a mixture of classical buildings against the backdrop of rising skyscrapers and palm treas on the Black Sea coast.
  • Borjomi — a picturesque small city with famous mineral water, a national park, and a summer mansion of the Russian Romanov dynasty
  • Kutaisi — Georgia's third largest city and the historic capital of ancient Colchis, home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites
  • Mtskheta — the historic former capital of Eastern Georgia, the centre of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and another UNESCO World Heritage site is an easy day trip from Tbilisi
  • Akhaltsikhe — the small capital of Samtskhe-Javakheti is near two popular tourist destinations: Vardzia and the Sapara Monastery
  • Gori — Stalin's hometown
  • Sukhumi — the capital of Abkhazia is a beautiful beach resort up against the mountains, but has suffered from the war and economic embargo
  • Telavi — the capital of Kakheti is a good jumping off point for nearby wineries, castles, and monasteries

Other destinations[edit]

  • Bakuriani ski slopes — one time Winter Olympics bid and the major ski resort in the south of the country
  • The Georgian Military Highway — running through a high mountain scenery along dangerously steep curves, from Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz, Russia. Sometimes mockingly known as the Invasion Highway.
  • Kakheti wineries — especially the 19th century Château Mukhrani, Tsinandali Estate and others located in and around Signagi
  • Mount Kazbeg — one of the highest mountains in Europe is also home to Holy Trinity church, perched on top of a hill overlooking a ravine.
  • Davit Gareja — a 6th century cave monastery on a mountain overlooking the Azerbaijani desert, with beautiful frescoes
  • Pasanauri ski slopes — the main ski resort in the Georgian Greater Caucasus Mountains, along the Georgian Military Highway to Kazbegi
  • Shatili — a high mountainous village near the border with Russia. Located in the deep Arghuni gorge at approximate 1,400m, the village is a unique complex of medieval-to-early modern fortresses and fortified dwellings of stone and mortar.
  • Upper Svaneti — the highest inhabited region of Europe, centred around Mestia, is home to the mysterious Svans and is a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Mazeri - Svaneti mountain village, surrounded by a stunning alpine landscapes and huge waterfalls.
  • Vardzia — a 12th century cave monastery overlooking a large river gorge
  • Uplistsikhe — a 3,600 year old Silk Road cave city that was a major regional center of pagan religions.

Get in[edit]

Visas[edit]

Visa requirements of Georgia

Citizens of all European Union countries as well as of Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Barbados,Belarus, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Panama,Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and CIS nations do not need a visa to visit Georgia for up to a year. In addition, Turkish citizens and nationals of EU countries can use national ID cards instead of passports. Note: Georgian Airways are often hesitant about accepting ID cards for their flights which can lead to delays at the gate.

As of July 2013, Iranian citizens need to apply for a visa. Please note that people holding US/Schengen multiple entry visas of more than one year duration and have used them once are exempt from visa for 360 days.

If you’re not from one of the above countries, you can get an online visa at [1]. These are valid for multiple entries, with African and Asian (except East Timor) nationals being allowed to stay for 30 days in a 120-day period, and others for 90 days in a 180-day period.

Nationals of Nauru, Nicaragua, Syria and Venezuela need a visa from a Georgian embassy/consulate

The border with Russia at Zemo Larsi/Chertov Most, north of Kazbegi, was only open to Georgians and Russians for several years until 2006, when Russia closed it (‘temporarily’) to everybody. However, there is an open border crossing point with Russia at Verkhniy Lars (Верхний Ларс). It doesn't issue visa.

The crossings from Russia into South Ossetia (the Roki Tunnel) and Abkhazia (Psou River between Gantiadi and Adler) are considered illegal by Georgia. Some travellers who continued on into Georgia after entering South Ossetia or Abkhazia from Russia have been fined or jailed. Others have got away without problems.

By plane[edit]

Departure hall at the Tbilisi International Airport
Landing strip of the Batumi International Airport

There are flights to Tbilisi from a number of European, North American and Asian cities, including Paris with Georgian Airways, Vienna with Austrian Airlines, Warsaw (LOT Airlines), Kiev (Georgian Airways), Munich (Lufthansa), Athens (Georgian Airways), Riga (airBaltic), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), Prague (Czech Airlines). Just recently, KLM cancelled their flights to Tbilisi but you can fly with Georgian Airways from/to Amsterdam. Belavia (Belarusian National Airlines) is now offering daily direct flights from Minsk to Tbilisi at great rates, and there are plenty of connecting flights from European cities to Minsk, e.g. from Amsterdam (a transit visa is not required if you fly to Georgia).

Please note that Georgian Airways (AirZena) has many flights from many different cities. See also airBaltic for cheap flights to many European destinations.

Tbilisi is also served from the Middle East from Dubai with the low cost carrier flydubai, which offers flights three times a week.

Kutaisi Airport is served by Wizzair from Berlin, Budapest, Dortmund, Katowice, Larnaca, Memmingen (Munich), Milan, Sofia, Thessaloniki, Vilnius and Warsaw, and by Pegasus Airlines from Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen. Georgian Bus Company provides comfortable bus transfers from the airport to major cities of Georgia, including Tbilisi. The bus schedules are synchronized with flights.

2007 saw the reopening of the airport in Batumi. Turkish Airlines flys every day between Batumi and Istanbul. Other destinations serviced by the Batumi airport include Kharkov, Kiev and Minsk (twice per week with Belavia). The Batumi airport is located about 10km south of the city centre and is accessible by minibus and taxi.

Flights to Moscow and other Russian cities are still irregular, given the current state of affairs between the two countries.

Rapidly expanding tourist infrastructure (Black sea resorts along Georgian coastline, ski resorts in the mountains of subtropical Ajara region and in Svaneti) led to the opening more international airports (most recently in the ski resort of Mestia).

By bus[edit]

There are direct bus services from Istanbul, Turkey, which stop at various places on the route and terminate in Tbilisi. There are also several non-stop bus services between Tbilisi and Baku, Azerbaijan. Buses departured from Baku International Bus Terminal every day at 21:00 and 23:00

There is a bus that goes from Ardahan, Turkey to Tblisi every day during the summer around 10:30am. To get to Ardahan there is one marshrutka every day leaving from the old bus station (eski otogar) in Kars at 8am. There may be more buses latter in the day as well depending on the day of week and time of the year.

By minibus[edit]

There are many minibuses (sing. samarshruto taxi; pl. samarshruto taxebi) that operate international routes to and from cities and large towns in Georgia. Minibuses run between Georgia and Russia (and despite the current state of affairs between two countries, are more reliable and more accessible than the often irregular flights to Russia), Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran, and Iraq. In Tbilisi, these routes usually originate and terminate at bus stations and the Didube subway station. Outside Tbilisi, minibus routes may stop at either bus stations or central locations (town squares).

By car[edit]

Entering with a car is no major problem. It is recommended to carry a power of attorney with you if you are not the car owner. In the past, the International Insurance Card was not valid for Georgia, purchasing insurance at the entry point was necessary (even though the amount covered to be ridiculously low). Note that only the driver may enter the control area with the car, anyone else in the car has to use the pedestrians' lane.

Roads within Tbilisi and other major cities are typically smooth and safe, but country roads are often in disrepair. Though traffic laws are enforced, driving can still be very chaotic. Drivers honk frequently and often pass with little room between vehicles, whereas pedestrians will walk into traffic without so much as a glance in either direction. In rural areas, cattle and deer may occasionally slow traffic. An adventurous traveler may find an automobile a convenient way to tour the country, but with the abundance of taxis, buses, and marshrutkas, the average traveler would be better off in the passenger's seat.

By train[edit]

There are train services from Baku, Azerbaijan which stop at various places on the route and terminate in Tbilisi. Note that the "BP train" has been canceled. Construction of a railway linking the Turkish town of Kars to Baku, Azerbaijan-including both a new line and modernization of existing lines-is underway and will be finished sometime in 2017. This will establish a direct link from Tbilisi to Istanbul and farther to Europe. Also, there's service from Yerevan, Armenia. The train for Yerevan is old but first class offers Wi-Fi and air conditioning.

By boat[edit]

A cruise ship in Batumi

There are boat services to Batumi and Poti from Istanbul and Odessa. At the time of writing the Turkish Black Sea port of Trabzon was closed to passenger services. Be also aware that Georgian port of Sukhumi is closed for any cargo or passenger boats apart from those with humanitarian purposes. All vessels going to Sukhumi must undergo border check with Georgian coast guard in the nearby port of Poti.

Get around[edit]

Taxi[edit]

Taxis in Georgia are the most convenient method of travel, and they are very cheap. Trips within Tbilisi range from 5-15 lari (GEL5-15), depending on distance. Drivers are known to exaggerate prices for foreigners. You should establish your destination and price before getting in the cab. All official taxis are required to install meters, but the drivers may not use them unless prompted. The vast majority of taxis in Georgia are still unofficial "gypsy cabs" driven by anyone looking to make some money.

Minibus[edit]

Minibuses are locally called marshrutkas, and they operate on established routes. After finding out the number of your route, flag down a marshrutka on the street by holding out your hand, palm facing down.

There are also minibus lines from city to city. Their routes end usually at bus stations and city markets. Their destination is written in Georgian, on a sign in the front window. Ask marshrutka drivers if you cannot find the minibus you are looking for. Two major marshrutka stations in Tbilisi are around didube metro station and around the main train station.

For inter-regional minibus routes, as of 2015 prices can fall in the following range: Tbilisi to Mestia - 30 Lari Tbilisi to Kazbegi - 10 Lari Zugdidi to Mestia - 20 Lari (tourist price)

By train[edit]

Tbilisi-Batumi line is served by new Swiss trains, but most other lines are outdated

There is a relatively extensive network of trains in Georgia. The train company's website is http://www.railway.ge. It is possible to book tickets online from abroad, but travelers have reported difficulties booking. Nevertheless it is worth retrying to book online once you are in Georgia. The trains operating in Georgia are rather slow, but also very cheap. Long distance trains from Tbilisi to the Black Sea coast and back tend to be the newest.

By bike[edit]

As the country is relatively mountainous you should consider a mountain bike. Many roads remain unpaved. But by bike allows you to reach more remote regions. You can rent mountain bikes in bigger towns, for example at the Jomardi club] in Tbilisi.

City Bus[edit]

There are new Ukrainian Bohdan buses operating in Tbilisi. More or less comfortable (they have no air conditioning), they are the cheapest way to go around (for GEL0.50). However, the buses are old and slow in the Georgian countryside and outside Tbilisi.

Mountain Travel[edit]

Although increasing number of roads in Georgia's provinces are paved, car travel in difficult mountain areas (pictured) can be affected by weather

To get to the more remote regions of Georgia (e.g., Dusheti, Khevsureti, etc.) without a tour company, buses and taxis will only take you so far. At some point it will become necessary to hike, catch a ride on a goods-transporting truck, or hire a jeep. Catching a lorry requires that you are flexible in your travel plans. Hiring a jeep can actually be quite expensive because of the high cost of gas caused by scarcity in the remote regions. To find out about either option, ask around at the bus station or central market of the last town on the bus or marshrutka line.

Talk[edit]

       See also: Georgian phrasebook

For language fans, Georgian language and its dialects are an object of fascination. For everyone else, however, they could be a nightmare. Georgian is not in any way related to languages spoken outside of Georgia, and it's famous for its consonants. Not only are there quite a few, but many words start off with at least two. It is possible to string together as many as eight consonants, as in vprtskvni (ვფრცქვნი), meaning "I am peeling it". Keep in mind that some of the consonant clusters exist because certain sounds in Georgian can only be expressed in English via multiple letters. Original Georgian words are usually much shorter and less complicated than they appear.

Everyone who visits should attempt to learn at least a few Georgian or Russian words. People most likely to understand Russian include: older generations and ethnic minorities like Azeris, Armenians, Abkhazians, Ossetes, etc. (the reason is that Russian was compulsory during the Soviet period, whereas the local languages of each Soviet republic were not). Speaking Russian is useful and recommended in areas where ethnic minorities live, especially in the regions of Kvemo Kartli where 50% of the population is ethnic Azeri and Samtskhe-Javakheti where 50% of the population is ethnic Armenian.

Younger Georgians, as well as the educated elite, largely prefer to study English, which is in part motivated by their desire to move away from the Russian sphere of influence. Access to good quality English instruction in provinces is low, however recently many schools received native English speaking volunteers and English is rapidly becoming a second language nation-wide. When in need for help, look for younger people; they are more likely to know some English.

Finally, signs in Georgia are often not bilingual (apart from Tbilisi metro); however, most road signs are in both the Georgian and Latin alphabets. Basic knowledge of the Georgian alphabet is very useful to understand road signs, store/restaurant names, and bus destinations. For those traveling without knowledge of Georgian, it may be a good idea to carry a phrasebook or a travel guide.

See[edit][add listing]

Georgia is famous for its ancient Orthodox churches, many of them built right on mountains of the Caucasus. Georgian temple architecture is in many aspects similar with Armenian one, featuring notable cone-shaped cupolas.

  • Jvari (Holy Cross) monastery and Svetitskhoveli (Life-Giving Pillar) cathedral near Mtskheta, the World Heritage Sites.

Do[edit][add listing]

Buy[edit][add listing]

Georgian currency is lari and is denoted by GEL. 1 lari is divided into 100 tetri, i.e. cents.

  • €1 = GEL 2.66
  • USD1 = GEL 2.37
  • GBP1 = GEL 3.61

When exchanging money in banks be sure to present your ID. With the small exchange cabins available almost anywhere in the country this is not necessary. These cabins may also have slightly better exchange rates.

When traveling out of Tbilisi and in need of Georgian lari, be sure to exchange money before the trip as exchange rates are worse in rural areas. Georgian lari is a closed currency, so be sure to change the remainder of your money back before leaving the country.

Most importantly, be aware that some ATMs in Georgia may not accept foreign cards (though this is not usually a problem in Tbilisi). This can be a potentially serious problem if you are caught without cash during non-business hours or on weekends, so have some cash. Also, while prices are generally very reasonable in Georgia, a side effect is that many small establishments and taxis will not have change for large lari notes (especially 50 or higher), so travelers are advised to carry plenty of smaller notes and coins.

Costs[edit]

If you visit Georgia for one week, you would have a great time if you bring USD 700-800 with you. With this amount you will be able to go on most sightseeing tours, buy souvenirs, eat good food and have nice wine. This excludes lodging, which varies greatly, ranging from cheap hostels (50 lari or less) to luxury hotels running hundreds of dollars per night.

Shopping[edit]

  • Gold & Other Jewellery - Gold, silver, handmade & other misc. jewellery, precious stones are very cheap in Georgia and quality of the precious stones, gold and silver is superb. Many foreigners visit Georgia to buy jewellery because of its cost and quality.
  • Art & Paintings – Georgian artists, such as Pirosmani, Gigo Gabashvili, David Kakabadze, Lado Gudiashvili, Korneli Sanadze, Elene Akhvlediani, Sergo Kobuladze, Simon Virsaladze, Ekaterine Baghdavadze and others, are famous for their work. In Georgia you will find many various art shops, paintings and painters who sell their works on the streets. Their work is high quality and are often very good values.
  • Antiques & Other Misc. Gifts – in Georgia you will able to find many antiques not only from Georgia, but Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Russian and European as well.
  • Georgian wine. Georgia is the cradle of wine making, and with 521 original varieties of grape you will be sure to find excellent wines.
  • Brandy. Georgian brandy is unique as it's made from Georgian wine. Try Saradjishvili 'Tbilisi' cognac.
  • When heading outside the cities, you might find an original hand-made carpet for sale.
  • Georgians love to drink, so the country has an seemingly infinite amount of beers, wines, liquors and distilled drinks. To take home, buy a bottle of chacha, a potent grape vodka somewhat similar to Lebanese Arak.

In 2007, government and business circles together initiated a wide-scale fight with counterfeit wine and mineral water so the percentage of counterfeit products have almost been eliminated. However, when stocking bottled wine it is best to buy it at large supermarkets which have better control of their procurement compared to smaller stores. Such supermarkets are Goodwill, Big Ben or Populi. Same applies to mineral water.The quality of wine making improved immensely in recent years following re-orientation of wine exports to EU markets.

Eat[edit][add listing]

A traditional Georgian dish, khinkali, with cold beer

Eating khinkali like a local

Eating khinkali is not like what you're used to doing with dumplings. First of all, you use only your hands. (There's a real reason for this, because cutting the large dumpling would spill the juice and ruin the taste.) Locals will begin by seasoning the dumplings with pepper. Then grab the dumpling however you like, from the top "handle" if it pleases you, and take a small bite out of the side to slurp up the juice. Don't let any juice fall on your plate, or the Georgians watching you will start chuckling, and you'll get your chin messy. Then, still holding the khinkali, eat around the top, finishing the dumpling and then placing the twisted top on your plate—it's considered an extreme mark of poverty in finances and taste to eat the doughy top. (Plus it helps keep count of how many khinkali have been consumed). It's also nice to look with pride upon all your tops once, with practice, you get into the double digits with these dumplings. Wash them down with a Kazbegi beer, or a "limonati" of whichever flavor you prefer (most common flavors are lemon, pear, and estragon / tarragon--which is quite refreshing).


Georgian cuisine is rightfully famous throughout the region (visitors to Moscow will have noticed the amount of Georgian restaurants). Popular "national" dishes include "khachapuri" (A cheese filled bread, it more resembles cheese pie) and khinkali (minced, spiced meat in a dumpling, served in enormous quantities). While the khachapuri comes with every meal (and it's very possible to get tired of this), khinkali is usually reserved for its own separate meal, where Georgian men will down 15 huge dumplings as if it was nothing.

Mtsvadi, a tasty grilled chunks of marinaded pork or veal on stick with onions, is another staple. But this is by no means the end of the list of wonderful dishes, usually flavored with garlic, coriander, walnuts, and dill. A traditional Georgian feast (supra) is truly a sight to behold, with a spread that no group could finish, accompanied by at least 20 toasts set to wine or brandy.

For a quick snack you can try all variety of "ghvezeli" pastry stuffed with meat, potatoes, cheese, or other ingredients, usually sold in markets and on the side of the street. Be aware of western-style dishes (pizzas, hamburgers etc) though, which are usually a pale copy of their true selves. Pizza, for example, is often topped with mayonnaise instead of cheese. For adventurous people, it might be a fun change; for others, it may be much better to try local food.

The fruit and vegetables here will spoil your taste buds forever—you may no longer be able to stomach the produce you get at home. Whatever it is here—the lack of any processed foods, a special quality to the soil, the fabled tale of God tripping on the Greater Caucasus mountains and dropping his lunch here—the produce is bursting at the seams with flavor. And it's very cheap. Even if you only speak English and stand out as a foreigner like a slug in a spotlight, you can get fruit and vegetables in the market for a mere fraction of what you would pay in, say, Western Europe. Grabbing a quick meal of tomatoes, fresh cheese, puri (bread), and fruit is perhaps the most rewarding meal to be had in the country—and that's saying a lot.

If you can, try and get yourself invited to dinner at someone's home (this is not too difficult in Georgia, owing to their hospitality and general desire to stuff foreign visitors full of all the food they can afford). The food in restaurants is an odd set piece of the same dishes over and over. But Georgian cuisine is far richer, and has an untold number of dishes to try, prepared from scratch with fresh, locally grown products (although supermarkets are now spreading throughout Georgia). Try and get your hands on ajabsandali, a sort of vegetable ratatouille, made differently according to each family's recipe, and which is wonderful. Another streak of dishes made out of lamb (chanakhi, chakapuli) is simply delicious. Finally, there are a lot of tasty vegetarian dishes (mostly in western parts of Georgia) which accompany most local parties with heavy wine drinking.

Drink[edit][add listing]

ChaCha[edit]

Chacha (ჭაჭა) is a clear fruit homebrew, which is analogous to Italian grappa. Chacha is made of grape pomace (grape residual left after making wine). It can also be produced from non-ripe or non-cultured grapes and in some cases fig, tangerine, orange, or mulberry. It is usually bottled "manually". It can be purchased in Mom and Pop corner markets, Farmers Markets, back alleys and basements throughout Georgia. There is Chacha commercially made that can be found in some shops and supermarkets. The term "Chacha" is used in Georgia to refer to any type of moonshine made of fruits. Their fruits are very great, so I recommend trying them!

Wine[edit]

Mukuzani, a variety of Georgia's dry wines

Georgia has one of the oldest wine-making traditions in the world and has been called the birthplace of wine (also as "Cradle of Wine"), due to archaeological findings which indicate wine production back to 6000 BC. Due to this fact, Georgians have some of the best wines in the world. Thanks to the ancient tradition of wine production and amazing climate, Georgian wine holds its strong competition with French and Italian. Definitely try out Georgian wine. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to export home-bottled wine, which is often the best kind. Georgian wines are actually quite famous. It may be true that they are little known in the West, but this definitely does not include some 280 million people in the former Soviet Union where Georgian wines remain a welcomed drink at any dining table.

Red[edit]

The most well-known and popular autochtonous grape sort used for Georgian red wine is Saperavi ("Paint").

  • Saperavi (საფერავი sah-peh-rah-vee) — semi-sweet or dry ordinary table wine.
  • Mukuzani (მუკუზანი moo-k'oo-zah-nee) — protected geographical appelation, dry.
  • Kindzmarauli (კინძმარაული keendz-mah-rah-oo-lee) — protected geographical appelation, semi-sweet.
  • Khvanchkara (ხვანჭკარა khvahnch-k'ah-rah) — protected geographical appelation, semi-sweet, the appelation area is very small, and these wines are some of the most expensive ones.

White[edit]

  • Tsinandali (წინანდალი ts'ee-nahn-dah-lee)
  • rkatsiteli (რქაწითელი rka-tsi-te-ly)
  • Tbilisuri (თბილისური tbee-lee-soo-ree)

Imports of Georgian wine and mineral water have been banned by the Russian government from 2005 to 2013, because of the political tension between the two counties, but now the wine is available in Russia again.

Beer[edit]

Georgia produces a number of local beers. A beer tradition has existed in Georgia since ancient times in the mountainous regions of Khevsureti and Tusheti. After independence from the Soviet Union, Georgia revived its beer production and introduced its high quality beers to the market. The first and most popular of Georgian beer was Kazbegi. As of today, beer production in Georgia is still growing, offering high quality beers (thanks to the high quality mountain spring waters in Georgia and to German designed beer factories). There are also many foreign beers like Heineken, Bitburger, Lowenbrau, Guinness, etc.


Georgian beer[edit]

  • Kazbegi (ყაზბეგი q'ahz-beh-gee)
  • Aluda
  • Natakhtari
  • Lomisi
  • Bavariis Herzogi
  • Argo
  • Khevsuruli
  • Tushuri

Mineral waters[edit]

Georgian mineral waters have exceptional and interesting tastes - very different from French and Italian varieties. The most famous Georgian mineral waters are Borjomi (ბორჯომი bohr-joh-mee) and Nabeglavi (ნაბეღლავი nah-beh-ghlah-vee). But there is a plethora of less well-known springs located in small towns and alongside roads throughout the country that is worth sampling.

Lagidze waters (soft drinks)[edit]

Mitrofan Lagidze (ლაღიძე lah-ghee-dzeh) is a surname of a very famous Georgian businessman of the 19th century who produced very popular soft drinks in Georgia. Nowadays these waters are called “the Lagidze Waters.” Lagidze soft drinks are made only with natural fruit components, without any chemical, artificial sugars or other additives. The most popular flavors are estragon / tarragon and cream&chocolate. You can find them bottled in stores.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

The number of major Western hotels in Georgia is growing every year, and not only in Tbilisi, but also in Batumi and other Georgian cities. Throughout much of the countryside, however, private homes are the cheapest and most enjoyable option, though this option is very much a homestay; expect little privacy. In general, accommodation in Georgia, particularly outside of Tbilisi and Batumi, is overpriced, and as tourism remains a fledgling industry, service at hotels often leaves something to be desired (such as a lack of toilet paper).

Learn[edit]

There are a handful of universities in Georgia which offer degrees or exchange programs taught in English:

  • University of Georgia [2]
  • International Black Sea University (English exclusively) [3]
  • Caucasus University [4]
  • Georgian American University (English exclusively) [5]
  • European School of Management-Tbilisi [6]
  • International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University - ISET (MA in economics only - entirely in English) [7]
  • Intensive Georgian Language Workshop for Beginners, American Councils [8]

Work[edit]

In Georgia work usually starts at 8AM or 9AM, and ends at 4PM or 5PM. As elsewhere, the hours vary based on industry. Many Georgians take from two weeks to a month for vacation. Unlike Western Europe, in Georgia time vacationing is often unpaid. Georgians, however, increasingly receive health insurance through private employers, while government covers those who are ineligible.

Work for foreigners is generally very limited due to the local salaries being below a living wage by most standards, even for people from other parts of Eastern Europe and the more "well off" former USSR countries like Estonia and Lithuania. A local wage will typically be around 300-400 GEL a month, with only a small section of professional managers making in the 2000-2500 GEL a month range. Having said that, most Georgian families have one or more apartments and houses out in the countryside, and when one does not have to pay full private sector rent and can share utilities the local wages will be sufficient for food and drink.

Foreigners working in Georgia are either employed by the main NGOs like the UNHCR, Save the Children, Danish Refugee Council, etc. Some large Georgian companies may employ foreign managers and consultants. These workers are generally salaried according to Western norms. One great way for travelers to experience Georgia is to participate in the Teach & Learn with Georgia program. This program places English-speakers in Georgian schools all over the country to assist local teachers in public schools. The Georgian government has set ambitious goals to make English the second language of the country (replacing Russian) by 2020. Participants in the program will have their airfare paid for, will be housed with a local family and will receive 400-500 GEL stipend a month.

Stay safe[edit]

Police station in Tbilisi

Most of Georgia is very safe for travellers. Crime rates are one of the lowest in Europe. Corruption, once a big hassle, has become far less visible since the Rose Revolution. It is now safe and reasonable to trust the Georgian police, as the infamous and corrupt traffic police have been disbanded. Police cars are patrolling streets in Georgian cities and towns regularly, and can help in case of car trouble, or any other problem on the road.

Use of seatbelts is now obligatory and strictly enforced. Radars are installed at all main junctions and on key streets and highways throughout the country. However, motorists often disregard pedestrians. Do not expect that cars will stop at intersections even when you have the right of way (crosswalk or green walking man).

Tbilisi[edit]

Things in Tbilisi and the surrounding countryside have calmed down a lot in the last 2 years or so. Although Tbilisi sometimes has been singled out for its (not always deserved) reputation for street crime, mugging is rather a rare phenomenon.

Historical part of Tbilisi as seen at night from the Narikala Fortress

Other crime-related hazards in Tbilisi used to be the apartment break-ins and carjacking. The situation has changed drastically, and today Georgia boasts one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.

Kutaisi[edit]

The available evidence indicates that Kutaisi, the second largest city in Georgia, suffers from crime rates significantly higher than the national average. It is very important to exercise caution in Kutaisi after dark.

Adjara[edit]

The separatist conflict between Adjara and the central government has ended with little violence, and it is now perfectly safe to travel throughout the region. The once rampant corruption should now be a rarity for travelers. Passing through customs at the Sarpi-Hopa border crossing is now routine and uneventful for most tourists.

Separatist Regions[edit]

It is not safe to travel to Abkhazia or South Ossetia. These regions are not under the control of the national government and are marked by violence between the Georgian military and separatist militant groups, who since Summer 2008 are backed up by Russian troops who are considered to be occupiers by the Tbilisi government and under international law. The area's high rate of crime/lawlessness is facilitated by the absence of the central government's police and legal jurisdiction.

Stay healthy[edit]

In Georgia, especially in Tbilisi you will be able to find many gyms and fitness centers with swimming pools and brand new training equipment, where you will be able to work out. Facilities include:

  • Vake Fitness, Chavchavadzis Gamziri 49b. It is a large, modern place with a big swimming pool.
  • Tbilisi Marriott Hotel, Rustavelis Gamziri 13.

Giardia is a common threat to foreign visitors. Contraction is most likely via:

  • tap water
  • swallowed water from lakes, rivers, pools, or jacuzzis
  • raw fruits & vegetables
  • unpasteurized milk or other dairy products

Contact[edit]

Phone[edit]

Georgia uses GSM (900 MHz and 1800 MHz) for mobile phones and there are three providers, Geocell [9] (pre-paid LaiLai card), Magti [10] (two prepaid brands "Bali" and "Mono"). Coverage [11] and BeeLine. Service provided by the first two is exceptionally good and you should be able to use your phone in most non-mountainous areas provided is supports the afore-mentioned technologies. Check with your mobile provider to ensure that they have roaming agreements with at least one of the Georgian operators. Both, Geocell and Magti have UMTS/3G service including video call and high speed data. Roaming is possible if you own a UMTS capable mobile phone. Geocell has cheapest mobile internet solution over its network.

Internet[edit]

DSL is available in Georgia from Caucasus Online and Silknet

Fiber Optic line is available in Georgia from the same two firms.

In major hotels Wi-Fi service is available.

Internet cafés are common and cheap. Some places offer free Wi-Fi to their customers.

In Tblisi there is free WiFi through much of the central part of the the city via 'Tblisi loves you' network.

Get out[edit]


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