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!
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.
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:
Tbilisi – Svaneti (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.
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!
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 :).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 :).
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!
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.
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 ;).
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).
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!
Mestia – Nino’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
Kazbegi – Mari’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!
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 🙂