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Panda’s 9 day itinerary for a road trip in Georgia

May 23, 2021 3 Comments

Georgia is the perfect country for so many things: languid road trips, picturesque scenery & thrilling activities. The possibilities for the type of trip you can have in Georgia are quite literally endless; from skiing to laying on a beach, you can find something to suit all tastes and budgets. In the 1 week I spent on my road trip in Georgia, I saw snow on mountains, black sand beaches, towering waterfalls, jaw dropping canyons and so much more. If you haven’t considered Georgia as a destination or perhaps you’ve been before but would like to see more, this post is for you. My friends- Expat Lion & Expat Tiger and I- just returned from an epic girls’ trip away and I am so keen to share the details with you!

I’ve been to Georgia before in the depths of winter; if you’d like to read more about that trip, you can read my old post here.

How to use this post:This post contains many hyperlinks with specific and detailed information. It will provide a day by day itinerary & daily overview of my road trip in Georgia; but clicking on the hyperlinks will help you to be better planned for your trips & hikes. Many of our activities had to be cancelled due to unexpected inclement weather; I will provide details on what we had planned to do and what we did instead. On the days I provide accommodation information, its a place I recommend and enjoyed staying at. If there is no accommodation information, its because I stayed at a place I would not want others to waste time at.

Note: The flights, accommodation and activities mentioned in this post were NOT sponsored/discounted/gifted. Here is a summary of our expenses:

FIRST IT’S TIME FOR A BRIEF PPG (PANDA’S PROGRESSIVE GEOGRAPHY) LESSON!

Georgia is bordered by the Black Sea in the west, by Turkey and Armenia in the south, by Azerbaijan in the east, and Russia in the north. 

Georgia Map and Satellite Image

Georgia was an autonomous country for many centuries however, from the 16th century on, the country was the scene of a struggle between Persia and Turkey. In the 18th century, it became a territory of Russia in exchange for protection from the Turks and Persians.

Georgia joined Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1917 to establish the anti-Bolshevik Transcaucasian Federation, and upon its dissolution in 1918, Georgia proclaimed its independence. In 1922, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were annexed by the USSR and formed the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1936, Georgia became a separate Soviet republic. Under Soviet rule, the country was transformed from a farming centered country to a largely industrial, urban society.

Georgia proclaimed its independence from the USSR on April 6, 1991. since then it has been rebuilding itself, with occasional skirmishes with Russia. The currency in Georgia is the Georgian Lari however US dollars are accepted in Tblisi. [Information Source]

PREPARING FOR TRAVELLING TO Georgia

Tblisis is Georgia’s capital city and it has 1 international airport: Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi International Airport (TBS). You will land in Tblisi and transfer to a domestic flight if you’re heading elsewhere (Batumi, Kutaisi, Mestia etc.).

During this time, Georgia has many rules regulating which countries are allowed entry. Please consult this guide I wrote based on my experience travelling to Georgia in May 2021 about who is allowed, what the entry requirements are and what documents are needed.

South Africans do not require a visa when travelling to Georgia so I am unable to offer any advice or experience on this topic. Furthermore, if you have a valid residency permit from ANY of the GCC countries, Georgia is visa free for you despite your nationality, however you may need to present certain documents upon arrival.

How we got around Georgia

Our timeline and the amount we managed to do/see would not have been possible without our own vehicle. Public transportation options exist however you would need more time & flexibility than we could spare. Driving in Georgia is somewhat of an extreme sport however experienced drivers will be fine as long as they exercise confidence and caution in equal amounts. We rented our car from Cars 4 Rent which is a local Georgian car rental company. I highly recommend this company because their prices are for more reasonable than the bigger chains (Avis, National etc.) and their service was personalized. If you’re arriving out of office hours, be sure to send them an email or call them just to confirm the car drop off.

Day 1:

Stop 1- Dashbashi Canyon

Undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip, this lush oasis is breathtaking and MUST be included in your itinerary. It can be an easy day trip from Tblisi or- as we did- a stop as we moved deeper inland. It’s quite confusing to find so do consult my detailed Dashbashi Canyon Guide for more information.

Step 2- Khertvisi Fortres

First built in the 2nd century and later added to, Khertvisi Fortress is an impressive site on the main road between Akhaltsikhe and Vardzia Cave Monastery. Set dramatically above the Mtkvari River and surrounded by mountains (many of which are snowy in the winter), the castle looks impressive from the road but this is personally not worth the 10GEL it cost to enter and see some ruins. It only takes 15 minutes to walk around.

Accommodation- Vardzia Resort

Day 2:

Stop 1- Vardzia Cave Town

I loved visiting Vardzia Cave Town as its an entire city built in a mountain. Why wouldn’t want to explore that? I felt as though I was on a movie set! If you’d like to read more about the costs, routes and how to visit, click here for my Guide to visiting Vardzia Cave Town.

Stop 2- Kutaisi

We drove to Kutaisi as our next stop as we journeyed across the country. There are a few things to see in Kutaisi (particularly Bagrati Cathedral) but we were exhausted and used the time to rest.

Accommodation- Hotel Terrace Kutaisi

Day 3:

Initial plans: Martvili Canyon

Martvili Canyon was closed when we tried to visit in early May. Apparently it only opens in June. My heart was sore because this was somewhere I was really looking forward to visiting as part of our road trip in Georgia!

Alternate plans:

Stop 1- Kaghu Waterfall

From Martvilli, we made our way to Balda Monastery to find Kaghu Waterfall. It was a leisurely 20 minute walk from the Monastery even though it was pouring with rain when we went. For more details on how to locate this waterfall, read my Kaghu Waterfall Guide. Its free to visit!

Stop 2- Balda Canyon

From Balda Monastery, it’s easy to head to Balda Canyon. In fact, you will pass a sign for it when you are driving to Balda Monastery. The canyon is stunning and is worth a visit but its a drama to find out how to get there. Consult my Balda Canyon guide for more details. Its free to visit but since you have to go through someone’s private property, you do have make a small donation (have 5GEL in cash on hand).

Accommodation- Chateau Chikovani

Day 4:

Stop 1- Oktase Canyon

We walked the hour in pouring rain to the end of this canyon only to find the viewpoint firmly locked with a huge padlock. Of course then we had to trek back uphill on slippery slopes with no reward. Okatse is one of the must sees in the Martvili Canyon so try to add it in but I think it’s only open & fully operational after June.

Stop 2- Mestia

Eventually we didn’t mind too much because the drive between Okatse and Mestia was extremely scenic, maybe one of the prettiest routes I’ve been on since I was in Peru heading to Machu Picchu. If you are doing this drive, you should know two things:

-You will stop often to take photos at the waterfalls along the road

-The road in winding, narrow, often turns to gravel unexpectedly and has many potholes. Extra vigilance and a strong driver is recommended.

Accommodation- Sun Tower Hotel

Restaurant Recommendation: Cafe Laila

Day 5:

Initial Plan: Koruldi Lakes

I had my heart set on visiting these lakes but sadly the road to them was covered in 2m of snow! So we had to improvise and we settled on a day trip to Ushguli.

Stop 1- Ushguli

Although this was an unexpected addition to our road trip in Georgia, it became one of my highlights. The drive to Ushguli was exhilarating and stunning. In reality, Ushguli is a village divided into four hamlets and is renowned for its collapsing defence towers traditionally characteristic of Svan architecture. Here, going off the beaten road seemed like a journey further into the past.  If you’d like to plan your own trip to Ushguli- without trekking for 4 days- read my comprehensive Ushguli guide about how we organized our spontaneous day trip, what it cost and what the trip entailed.

Accommodation- Sun Tower Hotel

Day 6:

As part of our road trip in Georgia, we drove to our most western point- the coastal city of Batumi. We were desperately in need of some warmth after the icy temperatures of the mountains and Batumi didn’t disappoint! Batumi, nicknamed the Las Vegas of Eurasia, offers a mix of fading grandeur and modern amenities. 

Stop 1- Batumi Botanic Garden

Batumi’s climate is subtropical, upon visiting the Botanic Garden, I felt like I was walking into some strange undiscovered jungle, with flowers bursting into bloom around every corner. Opened in 1912, the gardens travel bring to life nine geographical areas with over 5,000 different species of plants over 274 acres. Top tip: the botanical garden has some of the best views of the Batumi Coastline. Follow Route A to stop at various lookout points and of course, to marvel at Liriodendron Bridge.

In 1913, some liriodendron (tulip) trees were planted in the garden. One unique double-trunked specimen, 72 years old at the time, collapsed during a storm in 1985, forming a ‘living bridge’ across a shallow stream.

Stop 2- Batumi Beach

Having access to the Black Sea, the country of Georgia has a few beaches that will steal anyone’s heart. Most of the shores have pebbles and rocks instead of soft sand, so don’t forget to bring your slippers or beach shoes. The Batumi beaches have distinctive black sand which makes for a unique experience. The water warms up quickly and isn’t icy like in the canyons.

Restaurant recommendation: Batumarani

Day 7:

Stop 1: Chronicle of Georgia

We headed back to Tblisi today and enroute we stopped at this monument on the outskirts of the city. Consisting of sixteen pillars, the Chronicle of Georgia, also called the History Memorial of Georgia or the Stonehenge of Georgia, commemorates 3,000 years of Georgian history as well as 2,000 years of Christianity in Georgia. Towering between 30-35 metres in height, each of the monumental columns features important scenes from Georgian history on their upper reaches, while the lower sections portray stories from the life of Christ. 

Its a good place to stop for photos or to admire views over the city and why not, when its free to visit!

Stop 2: Covid Test at Megalab

In preparation for our impeding dearpture, we needed to have a PCR test done. While we first wasted our time at another lab, Megalab is probably the best place in Tblisi for tourists to get a PCR test done. The staff speak English and the process doesn’t take too much time. Remember to take your passport when you go.

Stop 3: Mtatsimanda Park

Mtatsminda park is an old-school carnival-type theme park. It looks kinds of old and kitschy but it also offers wonderful views over the rolling hills of Tblisi. It’s touted as the best ‘hidden gem’ sunset spot.It offers children’s rides, a ghost house, water slides, a roller coaster, bumper cars, and carousels – making it a family friendly attraction in Tbilisi. The park is free; you only pay for the rides you wish to go on. Its one of those grammable places!

Restaurant recommendation: Linville

Day 8:

Initial plans- Cable Car

We wanted to take the cable car from Rike Park and meander down the hill but sadly, the cable car was not running. Here is what we did instead:

Stop 1: Sulfur Baths

If you’re a fan of interesting spa treatments, I strongly recommend trying out a Sulfur bath experience in Tblisi. Tblisi actually means ‘warm place’ due to the existence of the sulfur pools. The experience can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be (you choose the room that suits your budget) and you get to experience soaking in a sulfur pool as well as an optional massage and scrub (which I highly recommend). If you want more details on what to expect, read this post by Wander-Lush who lists various options and etiquettes. I personally recommend Orbeliani Baths as they were really efficient, spoke English and the interiors were as lovely as the exterior of the building.

Stop 2: Kaleidoscope House

This eye-catching vintage house is the only house decorated with colorful stained glass windows on Tbilisi’s Betlemi Street, which is built on the Sololaki rocky slope. There’s not much to see here as this is actually a private residence but its a nice place to snap photos if you happen to be in the area.

Stop 3: Collect covid test result

Even though Megalab emailed our test results to us 12 hours after testing, we still went to collect the printed out results in order forth to be stamped. Before leaving with your results, make sure that all your details are correct!

Restaurant Recommendation: Entree

Day 9:

We had an early morning flight out of Georgia.

Georgia is the land of amazing views, hiking adventures, crystal clear lakes, waterfalls and soothing beaches. One of the great things about Georgia is that there is something for everyone- for the high end luxury traveller looking for all inclusive to the budget backpackers on their way to their trek up the mountains; from the avid city explorers to the leisurely nature amblers. If you haven’t been, definitely plan a road trip in Georgia. Lastly, I have a wealth of information on my Instagram especially in the Georgia highlight. Do have a look! If you enjoyed this post, please pin it using the pin below:

QUICK QUESTIONS:

HOW LONG SHOULD I GO FOR?

I think you could do a long road trip in Georgia for months and never scratch the surface! A week is a great amount of time to start with. If you have longer, you could easily combine Georgia with a trip to Armenia.

SHOULD I PURCHASE A SIM CARD?

Our car rental came with a wifi hotspot which I was grateful for during those long drives. I strongly recommend getting something similar or a SIM card.

DID YOU APPLY FOR A VISA?

I did not require a visa as South Africans are exempt from needing a visa to travel to Georgia. Consult your nearest Georgian diplomatic mission to ask about your nationality. 

WERE PEOPLE FRIENDLY AND DID THEY SPEAK ENGLISH?

English speakers were uncommon however people were generally quite helpful and went out of their way to assist with our queries. I found Georgians to be kind and they expected nothing in return for their kindness.

DID YOU THINK THIS TRIP WOULD BE SUITABLE FOR KIDS?

I personally have no experience traveling with children so I can’t be sure what they would like. However my itinerary was very active involving hikes, that may not be suitable for young children. Chidden over 10 would probably be just fine though. I would advise doing research into family friendly activities if planning to travel with young children. 

Have you visited Georgia? Or are you thinking of road trip in Georgia? Let me know in the comments below!!

expatpanda

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3 Comments

  • Ashwin May 23, 2021 at 4:35 pm

    Loved your itinerary, especially your recommendations on Vardzia and Khertvis. This post brought back memories of my trip from several years ago, thank you!

    • expatpanda May 23, 2021 at 4:41 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words. Georgia is indeed a special country 💛

  • winteroseca May 23, 2021 at 9:04 pm

    What beautiful nature and buildings! I haven’t been to Georgia, but would love to tour those Baltic regions 🙂

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