How to plan a road trip in Georgia

JUAN MARTINEZ

February 19, 2017

How to plan a road trip in Georgia

Renting a car and planning a road trip in Georgia is the expedition you have been waiting for. Now let me give you some tips on how to make the most of it

There are only a few hidden gems left to travel in Europe and Georgia is one of them. A country with a rich culture, lovely quiet towns, impressive forgotten soviet monuments and landscapes not of this world, this ex-Soviet country should be on your bucket list by now. There is no better way to discover it than by doing a road trip in Georgia.

Read more: 14 Easy tips for a road trip in Georgia

Stopping in the town of Mtskheta to take some photographs
Stopping in the town of Mtskheta to take some photographs

One month before going abroad

  • WizzAir offers tickets from western Europe to cities like Kutaisi and Tbilisi starting only 15 EUR one way. I booked my tickets from Dortmund, Germany for less than 40 EUR return.
  • Planning a route in advance can be useful. A good option is to arrive in Kutaisi or Batumi, travel across the country and depart from Tbilisi (or vice versa)
  • The independent regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have their own border controls and the situation is very complicated if you want to travel around them. Due to a lack of consulate representation you should avoid entering these places without a valid Russian visa and a local guide or native Russian speaker.

Two weeks before traveling

  • Transportation is a complicated issue in Georgia. Renting a car is the best choice to save money and time. Search engines work perfectly for small vehicles. However, if you want a larger off road car, companies like Cars4Rent rents out vehicles of that kind.
  • Accommodation in Georgia can be as cheap as 4 USD per night. Get fancy for a day or two and pamper yourself in a 4-star hotel starting from only 70 USD per double room.
  • Georgia has amazing trekking routes. Caucasus Trekking is a website that shows you most of these routes, has tips on trekking and even helps you finding a hiking buddy.
  • Georgians are extremely friendly. Social platforms like Couchsurfing can connect you to locals around the area. This could be a great alternative if you want to stay at some local’s house. You can also use the app to meet and hangout with people living in the city.
Renting a car gave us the flexibility to stop almost everywhere
Renting a car in Georgia gave us the flexibility to stop almost everywhere

One week before the journey

Georgia is the perfect country for budget traveling. Here are some typical daily expenses:

Low Budget: 20 USD/day (hostel accommodation, meals in local restaurants and local transportation)
Medium Budget: 40 USD/day (private room in a hostel, 1 meal in a good restaurant with wine, car rental)
High Budget: 80 USD/day (4-Star hotel accommodation, meals in high class restaurants, a bottle of wine for two, car rental, 1 private tour per day)

  • English proficiency is limited in Georgia, getting a Russian phrasebook can make some situations easier.
  • A Georgia travel guide is not necessary. Instead, read the information guide of the country and check your places of interest on wikitravel. I use this guide every time I´m traveling and there is nothing more useful for a guide about places to stay or eat.
Renting a car in Georgia - Gelati Monastery Kutaisi
View of the Gelati Monastery in Kutaisi

Two days before the road trip

  • Download offline Google maps of the locations you are traveling to.
  • Write down important addresses of places of interest, tourist information offices and your accommodation in a separate notebook.
  • Deposit half of your total budget on your credit card (preferably a credit card without foreign fee for withdrawals).
  • Check in for your flight and read the important details on your contract if you are planning to rent a car.

On the road

  • Different mobile phone providers offer prepaid sim cards starting at 5 USD with unlimited internet for a certain amount of days or data volume starting 1 GB directly at the airport.
  • Get free maps and very useful information at the Tourism Information Office of each location you visit.
  • Driving in Georgia is not as easy as in western Europe or America. Avoid driving on the highways at night.
  • Taste local food every day. Its variety is amazing and with top restaurants and excellent prices, there is no excuse not to try something new every day.
  • Georgia is a wine country by nature. Even some monks ferment wine in their monasteries (yes, we saw it!) There is no better way to finish a long day of sightseeing than with a good glass of wine.
  • Tbilisi is a large capital city, but its vibrant nightlife, great restaurants and wonderful little streets make this city one of the most charming and interesting places in Georgia. Spend more than a couple of days here and catch a weekend to get crazy in its nightclubs and alternative bars.
  • Most tour companies offer private transportation to the country´s main attractions and since public transportation is horrific, the best way to move around Georgia is renting a car with some friends.
  • Georgia is still one of these countries off the beaten path. Spend some time in the nature and get hundreds of km for yourself.
Highway from Tbilisi to Russia via Caucasus mountains on a road trip to Georgia
Highway from Tbilisi to Russia via Caucasus mountains

What to see in Georgia

Gergeti Trinity Church

Located at an elevation of 2170 meters (7120 feet) on the impressive Mount Kazbek in the middle of the Caucasus, Gergeti Trinity Church in Stepandsminda is a destination you should not miss during your visit to Georgia.

Specially on winter and surrounded by snow and intimidating 4000 meter peaks, this church could be easily part of a scene at any The Lord of the Rings movie. Although in Summer you will find more and cheaper tours going up in the church, Winter can be way more captivating.

Take into consideration that you can only reach the Gergeti Trinity Church with a 4×4 vehicle and preferably with snow chains during winter.

Read more: Visiting the Gergeti Trinity Church on Winter

Road trip in Georgia Gergeti Trinity Church on Winter
Gergeti Trinity Church on Winter

Vardzia monastery

Forming part of the Vardzia Historical Architectural Museum Reserve, Vardzia is a cave monastery in Southern Georgia. The site was largely abandoned after the Ottoman takeover in the sixteenth century. However, now this region is part of a state heritage reserve and the local goverment has submitted the whole area of Vardzia-Khertvisi for future inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Located 250 km away from Tbilisi and 230 km away from Kutaissi, Vardzia is considered a getaway for only those who are traveling with a car around Georgia.

You can also find tours going there from the main cities, but expect them to be quite pricey, with short time in the actual location and with long drives and waiting times.

Once at the monastery, you will be able to walk around the area and feel part of a scene of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

This destination is quite isolated and for that reason, you won´t see more than a couple of locals or travelers coming from the nearby Turkey.

Road trip in Georgia . View of Vardzia from the side looking at the mountain side
View of Vardzia looking at the mountain side

Katskhi pillar

Named as the most isolated church in the world, the Katskhi Pillar got a lot of popularity after the rise of Instagram. This giant and natural limestone monolith is located at the village of Katskhi in western Georgian region of Imereti, near the town of Chiatura. It is approximately 40 metres high, and overlooks the small river valley of Katskhura.

The Katskhi pillar or column is only located 70 km from Kutaisi, making it very accessible for independent travelers. There are no trains in this part of the region, so the easiest and fastest way to get there is by your own car.

There is also a trek involved, but it is absolutely worth it. Accessing the monastery itself is completely restricted and only people with a religious purpose are allowed to climb to the top. Some say monks climb up there to get closer to god.

Driving to the Katskhi Pilar in Western Georgia
Katskhi Pilar in Western Georgia

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