Solo female backpacker in Georgia

Brief description of the country, food, culture and my travel costs

Do you want to visit an off-the-beaten track country surrounded by beautiful mountains offering ample hiking options, tranquil landscapes, uncountable churches and cathedrals, good and cheap food and most importantly, lot of culture and the most hospitable people? Then look no further and put Georgia on your travel list!

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Georgia lies between Russia, Armienia, Turkey, Azerbaijan

Georgians believe they have the most beautiful country and culture in the world and I can vouch for it now. Georgia nests in the Caucasus mountains and lies in the crossroads of Europe and Asia. The capital of the country is Tbilisi and Christianity (orthodox) is the predominant religion here which dates back to as early as the 1st century. Georgia is the third country in the world to adopt Christianity. It got its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Being a solo female backpacker, I never felt unsafe there. The country is very safe and cheap making it a backpacking paradise for  nature and mountain lovers. If you have more time, I would advice you to visit the neighboring countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan too. I will definitely go back one day :).

Best time to visit Georgia

I would say from  June till the mid of July. Mid of July till mid of August is really very hot in the country, specially in the mountains. Moreover, its the vacation period for European travelers meaning a lot of crowd and expensive hotels! End of August till September can also be a nice time to visit to check out the beautiful fall colors in the country.

I was there around end of May and I still loved it. It was raining in few parts of the country, but the landscape was great with lush green grass in the mountains and absolutely no crowds around.

Visa requirements

Georgia offers an e-visa to most of the countries (including India), and if you hold an EU/USA/Canada/Australia permit, then you don’t need a visa to visit Georgia with an Indian passport! I didn’t need any visa as I had my Dutch Resident card with me. This is the link to check whether your passport needs a visa or not.

My travel itinerary

Even though a small country, Georgia has a lot in offer. It is primarily distributed over 12 districts. I was in the country for 9D/8N and I visited the districts in the following order:

TbilisiSvaneti (Mestia and Ushguli) Imereti (Kutaisi) Javakheti (Borjomi) Mtskheta (Mtshketa, Jvara monastery, Ananuri and Kazbegi).

Mestia, Ushuguli and taking the Georgian Military highway to visit Kazbegi are definitely “must-see” places when you are in the country! One more region you could add to this if you love nature is Khevshureti (Shatili). It is still remote and very stunning, but roads are open only from June – October.

Costs:

I had spent an avergae of 25-30 Euros/day including fooding, lodging and transportation. In total, I spent 220 Euros for my 8 nights stay in Georgia (excluding my airfare from Amsterdam) which made it the cheapest country I have ever traveled to! Also good to mention that I never stayed in the dorms, but always had single rooms and still so cheap!

Money exchange

Official currency is Georgian Lari (GEL) with an exchange rate of 1 EUR = 2.5 GEL approximately (check your country currency here). It is good to get your Euros and Dollars exchanged in the big cities (Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi) to get the best exchange rates. I found the best exchange rates in Tbilisi in the shops of Freedom square and Didube station. However, everywhere else, you can find money exchange shops with decent exchange rates (though not great as in Tbilisi). Surprisingly, even in the Tbilisi International airport, I found very good rates unlike other airports where they literally rip you off.

Georgian Cuisine (yes, vegetarian food do exist in Georgia)

Georgian food is really tasty (and very cheap) and even if you are a vegetarian, you will have many options. Georgians will usually tell you that their kitchen has mostly meat options (which is true), but I survived very good there and I have complied a list of all tasty vegetarian options for all of you that I tried there! I never spent more than 15 GEL for a meal :).

  1. The most famous is Khachapuri (typical one looks like a pizza bread with cheese) and you will have many different Khachapuris ranging from meat to no-meat options.
  2.  Next, you cannot miss Khinkalis (typical Georgian dumplings). The fillings typically are mushrooms and meat. I tried Potato, mushrooms and cheese khinkalis and mushrooms (with onions) are definitely my favorite! You HAVE TO try them :D. Ask them for the tomato salsa sauce or a tkemali sauce if you want to have your dumplings with a sauce (like me :P).
  3. Badrijani and Ajapsandali: If you like aubergines, you will never go hungry in Georgia!! These two are the most amazing dishes that I had in Georgia. Badrijani has a paste like texture and is made with aubergine and grounded walnuts! Ajapsandali is an aubergine dish mixed with many other vegetables and is best had with bread. I am having my mouth watering while typing this :D.

    4. Baked mushrooms with sulguni cheese: Again, another mushroom delicacy of the country! It consists of mushrooms in a hot pan which are grilled and baked with special Georgian cheese on top. Perfect dinner dish :).

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    Mushrooms with sulguni cheese

    5. Lobio: In Georgian language, Lobio means beans and this is a dish made with kidney beans. I had it only once and loved it :). You can try it and won’t be disappointed!

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    Lobio

    6. Churchkhela – This is Georgia’s sausage shaped candy made from fruits (like grapes, pineapples, kiwi, etc), nuts and flour! Very delicious and always vegetarian :D. I have heard its also very famous in its neighboring countries of  Armenia and Azerbaijan.

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    Churchkhela in Tbilisi

    Apart from the dishes I mentioned above, there are always vegetarian soups available in the restaurants and Georgian breakfast is usually vegetarian. For instance, in all the home-stays I stayed, they had several options for vegetarian people. Georgian hospitality is very famous and remember that they will not let you sleep hungry. So even if you are vegetarian, you will do absolutely fine (just remember the dishes I mentioned because in small shops, they will speak only Russian/Georgian and hence its difficult to make them understand what are you actually looking for!).

Georgian wine and “chacha”

Georgian wine is an absolute treat to your wine appetite. With grape vines growing in every local’s front yard, wine is an integral part of Georgian culture and life. It makes a delightful part of any trip to this picturesque country. Georgian wine is made in a special way which is different from the French way of making wine and I was in love with both their red and white wines! If you are really into good wines with interests in wine-making, then you can visit the Kakheti region which is the wine district of the country. I also visited a wine tasting festival in Tbilisi where the wine makers (mostly locals) would give me different kinds of wines for free! 😉

Georgian “chacha” is the local Georgian brandy and is usually a very strong alcoholic drink! It is usually made from grapes (sometimes kiwi) and I was always offered chacha for free in the mountains of Svaneti and Kazbegi. It’s a must try drink when you are in the country! 😀

I paid around 4-6 GEL for a glass of good Georgian wine in a restaurant and because I always had chacha offered for free by the locals, I can’t tell you how much Chacha actually costs ;).

Transportation costs

Round trip flight tickets from Amsterdam-Tbilisi on Turkish Airlines were around 330 Euros (I booked 1 week ahead) and if you book early, you can get away with 250 Euros. In Georgia, I always used the public transport (buses, trains, marshrutkas, shared taxis and metro). Public transportation is very cheap in this country! For example, a metro or a bus ride in Tbilisi will cost 0.5 GEL, shared taxi (4 people) from Tbilisi to Kazbegi will cost 15 GEL each (distance is 155 kms), night train in a 1st class compartment will cost 28 GEL (8-9 hours journey). The marshrutka rides are also very cheap like a ride from Mestia to Kutaisi was 30 GEL, Kutaisi to Borjomi was 10 GEL and Borjomi to Tbilisi was 10 GEL. Marshrutkas can get very crowded and sometimes are very uncomfortable (depending on the type and condition of the vehicle).

Accommodation costs

I try to couch-surf when I am backpacking and even though I wanted to use couchsurfing in Georgia, I ended up using paid accommodation. I met a few local couch-surfing hosts in Tbilisi to show me around the city which was a great idea. I found out that couch-surfing is popular only in the big Georgian cities and not in the mountains of Svaneti or Kazbegi. I stayed only in hostels and home stays and they were all very well-maintained and had very decent prices. My city accommodations (Kutaisi and Tbilisi hostels) were around 25-30 GEL every night for a single room (breakfast included) and everywhere else, I used home stays which had all meals included (typically ranges from 40-50 GEL every night for single rooms).

Tbilisi Sky hostel in Tbilisi. Tbilisi has many cheap options in booking.com, but if you prefer to stay out of the tourist trap and see how locals live, then you can book an AirBnB. I didn’t want to stay in the touristy old Tbilisi city and my hostel was actually a real house (not hostel) and I was surrounded by only local Georgians. It’s run by a Georgian woman who is very nice and is very close to the Marjanishvili metro station. I paid 30 GEL for a big room every night (single occupancy). The old city is very noisy with some bars playing loud music till very late night and I was glad that I didn’t stay there!

MestiaNino’s guesthouse in Mestia. You can book this via booking.com, but I preferred to first look around a bit before heading here. There are many other family run guesthouses in Mestia to choose from, but this has the highest ratings because Nino speaks good English (unlike Russian and/or Georgian in other ones) and she has a lot of contacts. This is why I could go to Ushguli because she grouped up people and we could share the marshrutka with 7 people which is very very rare in an off season when there are almost no tourists! It was 50 GEL with 3 meals included

KazbegiMari’s guesthouse in Kazbegi. I booked this through booking.com and I was so so happy when I arrived here. Mari upgraded me to a honeymoon suite and I could enjoy the views of mount Kazbeg and Gergeti Trinity Church right from the private balcony and lying on my bed :). It was 50 GEL with 3 meals included :). The best home stay that I stayed in Georgia with amazing vegetarian food options!

Georgian people

Georgians can seem very cold in the beginning, but once you approach them and show interests in their country and culture, they will open up very fast. Give them some alcohol and the ice breaking takes only few seconds ;). They are very warm hearted, funny and immensely hospitable people. You cannot leave Georgia without experiencing the locals. So what are you waiting for? Go and experience this breathtaking country and get out of your way to make that local connection! 😉

Details of the entire trip itinerary will be done in the next post! Happy reading 🙂

Jordan Chronicles 7: Wadi Rum (hiking in the desert), Day 4

March 28, 2016: After sleeping under the milky way and blazing falling stars, I was sure to get the most peaceful sleep of my life and yes, I did! I slept like a baby for 9 hours at a stretch. The other girls were already up by that time and Metab had returned back from his village to cook us fresh Bedouin breakfast and tea. I walked to them and the air felt so fresh with sun shining bright in the blue sky. Metab was very kind and on my request, played his Bedouin lute again while I kept eating my breakfast. Heaven, isn’t it? 😉

After breakfast, we helped Metab pack the bedding back in the jeep again and finally we were ready for another adventurous ride in this amazing desert! We decided to spend the afternoon in Wadi Rum after which I had decided to make my way to Petra. There were no buses anymore from Wadi Rum to Petra after 6:30 am in the morning and I was very sure that I had to hitch-hike my way; but I was very very lucky when the Swedish girls assured me a ride in their car because they also planned to see Petra after this! Wow!!! I was on cloud 9 and all my worries of not reaching Petra on time was vanished! 😛

It was particularly a very windy day in Wadi Rum and we asked Metab to take us to canyons and gorges where we could hike more and so did he! We arrived at a huge canyon where Metab dropped us and said he would wait us on the other side of it. We were the only tourists in this whole Wadi Rum as I couldn’t find anyone as long as my eyes could see. The canyon hike was very very nice as we also teamed up more as a group helping each other climb and hike it.

I made a wrap around my head to save my hair from the dust and the heat and I strongly advise you to do the same :). I love how the head scarf looks in the pictures. After hiking in the canyon, Metab took us to a huge gorge where again we hiked for another 1.5 hours.

While hiking, we were invited by two Bedouins to join them for a Bedouin tea (Bedouin hospitality is well-known) and we had a short tea break.

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Panoramic view of the desert

After hiking for around4-5 hours, it was time for lunch after which we would head back to the Bedouin village in Wadi Rum from where we start driving towards Petra. Metab took us to his family tent (very authentic Bedouin tent of his parents) and asked us to rest while he got busy cooking us fresh Bedouin food! We were so tired already and rested on the mattresses he placed on the sand for us. The pictures below should help me explain how the tent looked like! It was made up of camel and goat skin (very very tough) and Metab told us that his other made it by herself and it was already 22 years old! Wow 🙂

After having delicious lunch, we headed back to the Bedouin village finally to pick up our bags and I had to say goodbye to Atallah too for arranging such an amazing trip! We hea

Finally around 4 pm, we set off for Petra in the rental car the girls had rented at Amman.

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Packing ourselves for Petra 🙂

TIPS for Wadi Rum:

  1. Sunscreen, scarf and jacket: No matter which time of the year you are in Wadi Rum, days get extremely hot, so please carry a sunscreen because there are no shops in Wadi Rum. Wrapping a scarf around your head os useful because its very dusty there. Finally, nights get extremely cold in the desert and you should have warm clothes to keep you warm.
  2. Keep cash with you: There are no ATMs in Wadi Rum (even not in the Bedouin village outside the desert), so don’t forget your cash!
  3. Water, water and water: Yes, very very important! Please make sure you carry lot of water. You get dehydrated very early for obvious reasons when in a desert!

Read my next post about our scenic drive to Petra and how I hitchhiked to get to my couchsurfer’s place here: Jordan Chronicles 8: Drive to Petra from Wadi Rum, Day 4

Missed my last post on how I slept under the stars in Wadi Rum? Its here: Jordan Chronicles 6: Wadi Rum (sleeping under the stars), Day 3

 

Jordan Chronicles 4: Aqaba (snorkeling in Red Sea), Day 2

March 26, 2016: After a good 7 hours of sound sleep, I woke up fresh and excited thinking about how diving would be in reality. I had always wanted to try diving, but never got my hands on it. Last time was back in Puerto Rico, where I had signed in for a dive, but because of hurricanes, it didn’t happen! But this time, I was so sure that I will finally do it (even though it can get very expensive to make it a hobby, but I really wanted to try it first).

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All set for my first dive!

Omar picked up his customers (around 10 Americans) who would be in his sailing boat with me and we started driving towards the South of Aqaba where he had parked his private boat. This was a private beach of a big resort (Tala Bay Beach club) and was far off from the city. Its important to mention that in Jordan, good beaches are always private which means they are owned by big hotels and resorts and are accessible only to their guests or if you are ready to shell out a lot of money to pay as a “day-charge” to use the facilities. I strongly recommend using private beaches as they are so much more safe, very less crowded  (only tourists) and you can pull off in a bikini without getting any stares in almost all of them. In public beaches, it is impossible to swim as a girl, not because you are not allowed to, but because its very very crowded and women in water are always wearing their hijabs. Yes, really!!!

Just when we arrived in the private beach and started heading towards our boat, it started raining heavily :(. It never ever rains in Aqaba and Omar said they had such a weather after two years! Can you believe my bad luck? So obviously I knew luck was again not in my favor and diving was instantly cancelled because of strong winds meaning poor visibility. We started sailing soon and even though the weather was not promising, we were assured that we could still snorkel! I was so so relived and equally happy! I love snorkeling and took it up a couple of years back in Florida where I first snorkeled. I have been doing it since then and I love it! That’s one of the reasons I always look for island and tropical vacations (if not the Pina Coladas 😛 !).

After an introductory guide, we soon started our first snorkeling adventure. The coral reef we ventured first was called the Japanese garden and if only I could describe in words how beautiful the coral reef in the Red Sea is! I have snorkeled few times in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean sea before, but they were nowhere close to what I saw in the Red Sea! It was mesmerizing and breath-taking! I found myself in the middle of thousands (literally thousands) of colorful fishes and purple jelly fishes with beautiful corals beneath me. It was so so amazing and I felt like a free bird…I swam quite some far away from the others in the group (I am not the best swimmer, but I can handle swimming in rough waters pretty well) and found myself shouting with joy and happiness beneath the waters where nobody could hear me and I could actually tell myself BRAVO!

It was already lunch time after the first snorkeling (the boat would take us to three different locations in total). The food was authentic Jordanian (humus, pita bread, baba ganoush, salad) and grilled chicken was made right on the boat! Oh my god, I feel like going back in time and having it again 😛

After good food and a little bit of rest, we started moving again towards our next destinations. Those reefs were equally good and I wish I had my under-water camera (which I left in US last time I was there) and could take some snaps of how pretty everything was. Anyways, after 5-6 hours of sailing and snorkeling, we headed back to Aqaba. I was super tired, but I still had the energy to head to the downtown to grab some good food and a beer. I met more people in the restaurants and pubs and overall Aqaba was a great experience!

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All set for my first dive!

Read my next post on how I made my way to Wadi Rum in a local bus here: Jordan Chronicles 5: Wadi Rum (arriving) Day 1

Missed my previous post on how I explored Aqaba and enjoyed its night life? It’s here: Jordan Chronicles 3: Aqaba Day 1

Jordan Chronicles 3: Aqaba (exploring the city), Day 1

March 25, 2016: After being dropped safely in the city centre of Aqaba, I met my first couch-surfing (CS) host Omar who happened to be the best dive-master in Aqaba. Because he already had informed me earlier about his time shortage, I dropped my bags at his dive-center and then met up my second couch-surfing host Eiyad who promised to show me around. At first, Eiyad took me on a trip to the Red Sea on his cousin’s glass bottom boat. It was a very nice experience!

After the boat ride, we had Jordanian tea in the beach and because we both were very hungry, we headed to his house where he introduced me to his lovely family. His family was very conservative (South of Jordan is the most conservative part of Jordan), but very welcoming to me and wanted to know a lot about India and the Bollywood films !;) They also offered me to show how to wrap an Arab scarf and complimented me a lot. Meanwhile, Eiyad prepared BBQ chicken in Jordanian style and I ate together with his big family.

By this time, it was already evening and Eiyad took me to the local market to check out how Jordanians live normally. After an hour of exploring the local specialities, he dropped me back at the Aqaba beach where Omar  (my CS host with whom I would stay in Aqaba) promised to pick me up after finishing work.

The Aqaba public beach was very very crowded and all Arab women were wearing hijabs. I found myself to be stared at by everyone around me. Thankfully, Omar arrived soon and took me to his place to drop the bags. He had a very cute dog (Sascha) at his place, a big apartment where I had a lot of privacy. After having dinner, we headed out to the city to enjoy the Aqaba nightlife!

To my surprise, Aqaba was fled with American tourists (most of them arrive on cruises and stay in big resorts for which Aqaba tops in Jordan), Buffalo Wings and McDonalds ! :P. Drinking amongst tourists was not uncommon (although not promoted) and you can easily get a couple of beers in the city centre till 2 in the night. Omar introduced me to his nice diving friends and it was a fun night meeting local Jordanians and listening to their stories. He promised to take me diving and snorkeling the next morning. 🙂

Read my next post on how was snorkeling in Red Sea here: Jordan Chronicles 4: Aqaba Day 2

Missed my previous post on how I managed to get to Jordan from Amsterdam? It’s here: Jordan Chronicles 2: Amsterdam to Aqaba

Jordan Chronicles 2: The journey from Amsterdam to Aqaba

Amsterdam: On March 24th, with a camera, a book, a backpack paired with comfortable sneakers and without sleep for past 28 hours, I arrived at the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. I had booked myself a round trip to Amman with Turkish Airlines (345 € round trip) with 3 hours layover each way in Istanbul (the total flight time each way was around 11 hours). My flight from Amsterdam was a bit delayed and so I used that time to take a few selfies, start reading my book and like any other travel nomad I was exploiting the free WiFi  in the airport to update my Spotify playlist and kept checking what is not to be missed in the places I have decided to go in Jordan!

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All set to start my trip

Istanbul: I arrived in Istanbul very late (midnight), but still didn’t  want to miss my favorite Turkish Kebabs and hence ordered myself a plate! I have been flying with Turkish Airlines few times now,and I definitely recommend this dish in the picture below.

Amman to Aqaba transit: Finally I arrived in Amman early morning at 4am and got my Visa on Arrival (read more about it here). After immigrations, I moved to the domestic terminal to check in my Royal Jordanian flight from Amman to Aqaba from where I would start my journey! My flight to Aqaba was a very short one (55 minutes) and came with a heavy price tag (55 €). Thankfully it was on time and not to my surprise, I was the only female traveller without a hijab! I had already read that South of Jordan is very conservative (may be due to its proximity to Saudi Arabia) and hence I had dressed myself accordingly with full sleeves and trousers.

After arriving at Aqaba, I collected my backpack and headed towards the airport exit. There was no public transportation available and I decided to try my luck at hitch-hiking. I was very lucky to be picked up by a group of photographers (open-minded young people speaking very good english) and they safely dropped me in the city centre where my couch-surfing host had asked me to wait.

Read  my next post on what I did in Aqaba the first day here: Jordan Chronicles 3: Aqaba Day 1

Missed my previous post on knowing Jordan in general? It’s here: Jordan Chronicles 1: Nutshell