50 Things you need to know before traveling to Georgia
First of all, this post is about Georgia, the country! Not the Georgia, the US State 🙂
Georgia is situated in the Caucasus region, between Europe and Asia. Historically it has been a fundamental region for trade and war. This made Georgia extremely interesting and full of activities to do and places to see. However, if you are planning to visit Georgia you should be aware of a few things.
Georgia and the Locals
#1 Georgia will soon become a tourist and backpackers Mecca! So, if you like quiet countries with a lot to offer, you should visit Georgia now! Within a few years, it will be bustling with tourists!
#2 It’s debatable if Georgia is in Europe or Asia because the country is in the frontier between the continents. Though, the border between Asia and Europe is a historical and cultural construct, defined only by convention.
#3 However, historically, socially and culturally Georgia is clearly closer to Europe than to Asia. Even in terms of appearance, generally, Georgians look like Eastern Europeans.
#4 Georgia is a very mountainous country. It’s clearly marked by the Caucasus mountains and it has several peaks above 5000 meters. The most famous of them is Kazbegi (also know as Kazbek), although it isn’t the highest.
#5 In August 2008 there was a war between Russia and Georgia because of the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Depending on who you ask these regions are considered independent, part of Russia or part of Georgia.
#6 In the last few years Georgia has been inching closer to the West, becoming an “aspiring country” to NATO and expressing a desire to become a member state of the EU.
#7 You will find very few people who speak English, at least more than just a few words and phrases. Even in tourism related services like guest houses and restaurants.
#8 There’s kind of an online legend that Georgian people are incredibly nice to a foreigner. It’s even said that they believe that a guest is a gift from God… Sorry, but we call it bullshit! Georgian are as nice as any other people. There are extremely nice people and others not so much…
#9 Georgia is a conservative and religious country. Georgians are mostly Christian Orthodox, Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church to be more precise. It was also one of the first countries in the world to assume Christianity, back to the 4th century.
Travel in Georgia and Tourists
#10 Western tourists and backpackers are still a minority, in Georgia. Most of the tourists are Russian, but there’s also a surprising number of middle eastern too.
#11 Traveling in Georgia is extremely safe! Even though we weren’t expecting it to be any danger, it still surprised us how safe and relaxed the country is. It’s “children playing in the streets at night” safe… So, if nothing really weird happens you have nothing to worry about on this.
#12 Prepare yourself to see a lot of monasteries and fortresses 🙂 And usually, they are up on a hill away from everything, so lots of hiking too…
#13 Vardzia is an amazing place that needs to be included in your trip. It’s a monastery and a citadel built inside a mountain. For a very small fee, you can explore it almost free. It’s kind of awesome walking through the tunnels that connect houses, monasteries and other places in the citadel. Together with Khertvisi fortress, it is on the tentative list of UNESCO Heritage sites.
#14 Usually Borjomi isn’t the first place people think when traveling to Georgia, but it definitely deserves your attention. Borjomi is a spa town and home of the famous sparkling water of the same name. It’s a very green place with wonderful views and great outdoor hot baths, the Sulfur Tsar Baths. We enjoyed resting, relaxing in a hot pool in the middle of the mountains and people watching.
#15 Kutaisi and the surrounding area is full of interesting places to visit. From the Bagrati Cathedral to the incredible Gelati Monastery, passing through the wonderful Martvili canyon and the Prometheus Caves. You will have plenty of things to do in Kutaisi.
#16 Tbilisi doesn’t really feel like a capital city with 1,1M inhabitants. When you are in downtown Tbilisi it has the feel of “small” medieval town. Despite this, Tbilisi has a vibrant nightlife and plenty of things to see and do. We strongly advise you to take the cable car to Narikala fortress and enjoy the view to the city.
#17 The Georgian Military Road is one of the most beautiful roads that you will ever drive! The high mountains are incredible, though we really need to highlight the view to the majestic Mount Kazbegi in Stepandsminda.
#18 If you are tired of visiting monasteries and old castles you may want to shuffle things and visit the weird Stalin Museum… Stalin was born in Gori, Georgia and in the museum, you can visit its birth house, his train carriage and see a lot of documents and photos. However, if you don’t manage a guide you won’t understand anything. Everything is in Georgian and Russian.
#19 Unfortunately there’s some trash in streets and some people just throw things to the floor. It isn’t alarming nor anything near Cambodia or Laos, but Georgians really need to take care of the problem before it becomes much worse.
Food and Drinks
#20 Georgian food is tasty but we found it to be a bit too salty. The bread, the cheese, and pastries were always on the salty side! At one point even mineral water seemed to be salty…
#21 Bread and Pastries are the base of Georgian food. Moreover, they are extremely cheap and yummy! Though, be aware that your scale may not like Georgia as much as you and your wallet 🙂
#22 There are two things you can’t leave Georgia without trying (and probably repeating)! Khinkali and Khachapuri.
#23 Khinkali is a dumpling with a filling consisting of only minced meat with herbs (originally). Though, you can find many alternative fillings to meat, like cheese, potato, or mushroom. It’s freaking good! Juicy, tasty, yummy all the way!
#24 Khachapuri is the staple food of Georgia and it’s simply a dish of cheese-filled bread. The filling contains cheese (fresh or aged, most commonly sulguni), eggs and other ingredients. There are several variations of it but the most famous one are the Adjaran Khachapuri and the Imerulian Khachapuri. Cheese, bread, butter… how could it be anything but amazing? Be aware that it’s very filling too 🙂
#25 Weirdly in a country that likes pastries so much there aren’t many Georgian sweets and deserts… We have looked around and basically, the only thing we found and tried is the Churchkhela, which is a candle shaped candy made of grape must, nuts and flour. It’s kind of beautiful, isn’t it? It was good but we were expecting to be sweeter 🙂
#26 There many, many roadside sellers in Georgia, usually selling fruit, vegetables, honey, wine, and handicrafts. We advise you to buy from these sellers whenever its possible. The things are cheap and you’ll be helping the local community directly! Fruits particularly are very good!!
#27 Food is surprisingly cheap, both restaurants and fast food. We usually had one fast food meal and one restaurant every day. Including snacks, water and breakfast we ended up averaging less than 10 Euros per day per person! Incredible…
#28 Did you know that Georgians claim to be the creators of the wine around 6000 BC? We are both abstemious and didn’t really try it but apparently, Georgian wines are very good and very important for their culture. Furthermore, it can be a great gift to bring back from the vacations!
#29 In Georgia (and Armenia) a Lemonade doesn’t really need to be made of Lemons! You can have a pear Lemonade or our “favorite” a Tarragon Lemonade… YEAP, you read it right… Tarragon… Lemonade…
#30 Georgia is quite famous for its quality mineral water, particularly the Borjomi (carbonated) and Bakuriani (plain). In Borjomi you can fill your bottle with it for free, however, it isn’t really the same you buy in the supermarkets.
Money and Costs of traveling in Georgia
#31 Georgia is an all-around inexpensive country. Probably the worst and heaviest price you will pay is the flight to Georgia, which may be expensive due to the lack of alternatives and location.
#32 Altogether we paid 775 Euros, meaning 35 per day per person in Georgia, excluding flights! This is an extraordinary deal and one of the reasons why Georgia will become a major backpacker destination quickly.
#33 Accommodation can be really cheap! Most of the times prices are on par with South East Asia, however with a big difference: quality is much better! You can find much better value for money deals. In Thailand you get what you pay, in Georgia you can get much more than you are paying.
#34 Fuel is also very inexpensive… We are talking about roughly half the price of most Western Europe countries… We paid 0.6 to 0.7 euros per liter! Pretty cool, ah?
#35 Outside the bigger cities it can be difficult to find an ATM. Be prepared for that!
#36 You don’t pay a fixed ATM fee, which makes your life managing your GEL much easier. You can withdraw small amounts without any issue. Note: We are talking about the ATM fee (like the ones you see in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, etc), not your banking or exchange fee!
#37 Most small places won’t accept cards, particularly guest houses, restaurants and very small supermarkets. So having cash is still very handy! The good thing is that they never charge an extra for using a foreign card, like in South East Asia…
#38 Be aware of the service fee in restaurants. Most restaurants charge 10 to 15% service fee, added to the customer’s bill over the menu rates. These are usually (if not always) displayed in the menus.
#39 Flights in and out of Georgia have the tendency to be at very weird hours, which can be very tiring and ruin 1 or 2 days of the trip! Be aware of the hours of your flights. The airport is full at 3, 4, 5 in the morning…
#40 On the upside there’s a practically free (0,5 Lari – less than 0,2 Euros) airport-Tbilisi-airport bus that runs 24 h a day! We couldn’t find its schedule but apparently, it passes every 30 minutes (roughly)
#41 Public means of transport and Marshrutka are very cheap to travel, however, in our opinion, they are only a good option for urban trips. Longer trips will be very uncomfortable and even dangerous…
#42 If you want to travel around Georgia it’s much better to rent a car and enjoy all the freedom and flexibility it gives you. You will be able to visit more places and places that you probably wouldn’t if you had to take taxis or Marshrutka.
#43 However, note that Georgians are horrible drivers. The only occasions we didn’t feel perfectly safe while traveling in Georgia! If you aren’t experienced in driving in these conditions you may have a bad time. Though, also take in consideration that if they are crazy drivers, they are crazy drivers with you inside the Buses/vans.
#44 Be prepared to find lots of people and animals standing in the middle of the road! We are talking about cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, dogs, etc. Tip: In rural areas, you will see something pretty cool: In the end of the day, cows return home by themselves and stand in front of the gate waiting for the owner to open it! We found it so funny! 🙂
#45 Another weird thing about Georgian roads is that there are cars with driving wheels on the right and on the left…! We asked about it and apparently, it’s because it was cheaper to import cars with the driving wheel on the right! Despite the fact they also drive on the right side of the road!
#46 Roads in Georgia were much better than we anticipated! We had read quite bad things about it but in general, they are OK, considering that you are mostly driving mountain roads. Moreover, if you are coming from Armenia, Georgian roads will feel like a gift from heaven!
Other useful info about travel in Georgia
#47 There is WI-FI everywhere. Almost every coffee shop, restaurant, and guesthouse offers it! Even some tourist attractions offer it for free! And it’s usually quite good!
#48 Although if you have the need to be always online, you can buy a sim card in the Airport. For less than 10 USD you can buy 3Gb of internet.
#49 Apparently one can freely smoke everywhere, even in closed spaces like restaurants. It is uncomfortable to non-smokers…
#50 Finally, be prepared to find some begging in the streets, particularly of Tbilisi. In most of the biggest streets, you will find old people asking (politely not pushing) for money. It was very difficult to see and really broke our hearts, particularly when it was elderly people.
All in all, we loved traveling in Georgia! It has everything we like when traveling: stunning scenery, tasty food, lots of fun activities, interesting history and cheap prices! Again, you should visit Georgia ASAP because soon it will be full of tourists!
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