Georgia will surely take you off your feet! A few useful tips can make your trip easier, so you can relax and enjoy your visit. Georgia is a popular destination for Russian tourists, and lately more and more Europeans decide to discover it! So worth it!
Entry conditions must always be checked in advance, from an authentic source! In the case of Georgia as well the consular services of your country can help. Unfortunately, during these times, special attention must also be paid to the restrictions imposed due to the virus. In the case of Georgia, anyone who is completely vaccinated is free to enter. Check the requirements for those who are not fully vaccinated.
Cash is king
Most of the service providers (accommodation, car rental) expect cash payments in every part of Georgia, even in the capital. Revolut, or other cards with low fees is suitable for withdrawing cash locally. If you take currency with you, dollars are preferred!
Internet, SIM card
At the airport, upon leaving the transit zone to the right, there will be a couple of stalls where you can get a free SIM card. Just need to top it with a balance, at that desk. There are multiple options, the one containing only internet will be perfectly enough, everyone uses WhatsApp to communicate! The cheapest package with internet access ranges from 20-30 GEL, depending on the amount of data usage available. Mobile internet works incredibly well in any part of Georgia. Exception is the dirt road from Ushguli across the Zagari Pass to Kutaisi.
Will be your best friend helping you in communication if you do not speak Russian. The younger generation can already speak English, but the older generation when they see a tourist, they immediately try Russian. For taxi drivers and receptionists, you can easily translate the words into Georgian, showing them the screen of your phone. But they are so helpful and kind that you will easily get along with them! In our case, they often called their younger relatives, who translated between us over the phone!
Georgia is a bit like the Balkans and Romania when it comes to road traffic. The good thing about this is that everyone drives in the same style, and they are consistent. This means that if you learn it, you can drive with confidence. Larger cities are within easy reach, so does the Kazbegi region, all the way up to Gergeti Monastery.
The rural parts are a bit different, Mestia and Ushguli can be reached safely only when the weather is good! In stormy, bad weather huge pieces of rocks fall down from the cliffs! The local road maintainer, Award, does a spectacular job, and cleans the road with incredible forces of fallen trees and fallen pieces of rock, even on weekends and at night, but it doesn’t protect you from the stones falling on the car.
Ushguli can only be approached safely if you can drive on narrow, mountainous roads. The last 10 km leading up to the settlement is debris road, and narrow, with only one car lane, on the side of the mountain, above a mountain river. The side of the road is often crumbling down, and it is sometimes crossed by mountain streams. The 4×4 will handle all of these if you know how to grab it if the car is slipping. In dry weather, the journey is easier.
An experienced driver can drive easily around Tbilisi, aided by GPS, this is the reason why internet access is essential! In the rural parts, the following should be kept in mind when driving a car in the mountains of Georgia:
- Drive on the side of the road, let them overtake if they drive faster!
- The two-lane road has actually 3-lanes! The middle part will be used to overtake the slow drivers, by those who are not intimidated by the oncoming car. Pull down to the edge and let them go!
- The roundabout is not used as intended, but as if it were an intersection!
- They will use their flashlight and honk, signalling that they are starting to overtake!
- The driving distance is not really maintained.
- Always keep the speed limit! Many parts of the roads are monitored by cameras.
- Use only the main roads, the ones marked on the map with a thicker line! Chances are that the others are dirt roads, where the damage is not covered by the normal insurance!
- Always pay attention to the animals! There will be plenty of cows, pigs, and dogs on the roads, they rarely move when a car arrives.
- Don’t be intimidated by the beautifully curved letters of Georgia! The names of the settlements are also written on the boards with Latin characters.
- Waze and Google map cheats about 500 meters in Georgia, get ready for some extra kilometres.
The Google map and a Waze can sometimes cheat about 500 metres! Sometimes this will be obvious, when it tells you at a wall to turn right, other times will take you into the street in front of the actual detour. Keep this in mind when looking for accommodation, you can ask the landlords to share their location on WhatsApp, it can help.
Taxis are available within cities; the Bolt app works very well. I recommend that every time you take a taxi ride in a foreign country check the price of the ride. Just a precaution, Georgia is famous for the fact that the locals are incredibly kind and helpful!
Intercity buses – transport between cities
The two major bus companies, Georgian Bus and Omnibus Express, have adjusted their schedule to Kutaisi Airport. You can buy tickets online for both, by entering the flight details. Search the English interface! You can use these buses to get around big cities, for example on the route Kutaisi Airport – Tbilisi!
The price of tickets for one trip on this route is 20 GEL, a return ticket will cost 36 GEL. It takes about 4 hours, and will have the final stop at Freedom Square in the centre of Tbilisi. As the Wizzair flight arrives in the evening, it is worth booking accommodation in the centre and share the arrival time with the host, it is not a problem if you arrive later!
From the airports you can take a taxi to the city centre, e.g. From Kutaisi airport to the city (35 minutes). Drivers will line up at the exit to take you to the city! Innovative travellers can even choose a Tesla to get to their accommodation in the city. The owner of the Tesla is an awfully funny man! When we got stuck at the airport, waiting for our rented car, every time he walked past us, he asked, jokingly, if we need a taxi.
I have already used a few shared taxis in several parts of the world. But whatever their name is, marshrutka (Eastern Europe), maxi-taxi (Romania, Moldova), colectivo (Chile, Peru ) songthaew (Thailand), matatu (Kenya), Grand Taxi (Morocco), they are very similar: they go like crazy on the roads!
For some reason, every shared taxi is in a hurry as if there is no tomorrow. In the case of Georgia, it is extra that they overtake a lot! I have already written in the general briefing that overtaking is an integral part of the local roadtransport culture. However, there is no doubt that they are experienced drivers, will take the Tblis-Kutaisi route around 4 times a day, which is almost 1000 km! If you can choose the big buses or the train instead of the marshrutka!
If you are looking for an adventurous trip, I share the details. Although we tried it for you (once) so that you did not have to. Just a joke, we actually tried it because the train would have taken most of our day, since it only left at 12 noon. And is such an integral part of the real Georgian life that it’s a shame to miss out on this!
In Tbilisi, marshrutkas depart from Okriba station, which can only be easily reached by taxi. In Kutaisi you have to look for the Central Bus station, but any taxi will take you there if you say out loud the magic words: marshrutka+Tblisi.
Upon arrival to the station you don’t have to look for the signs. When you get out of the taxi someone will immediately ask where you would want to go and accompany you to the minibus! There are buses to Kutaisi and Batumi roughly every hour, and ticket vendors will shout the name of the destination. The very first buses leave at 5 a.m. in the morning, the last in the evening at 10 p.m. The quality of the minibuses varies, feel free to wait an hour for the next one if you think that the minibus is not in a good condition. There will be a longer stop for rests, getting food, using to the bathroom.
You can probably get used to the speed. The stimulus threshold jumps quickly after the first double overtake if you see how you overtake an overtaking truck on a two-lane road. Just try to sleep. For me that was not a problem, reinforcing the myth that I can really sleep anywhere. I woke up to a blue-red light, a policeman stopped us. We don’t really know the reason for the fine, because the speed was the same after the police action! We were already at the accommodation at the scheduled time of arrival.
The fact that only a few trains run daily, is mainly the result of the current situation. It is worth buying a first class ticket, and you will have a comfortable journey on the longer sections! The great advantage of the train is the comfort, safety, and punctuality! And you will know for sure where will be the final stop! The official website is Georgian Rail.
Usually, cars can be rented with full insurance. Sometimes the contract stipulates a deposit for negligent damage, which would have been a maximum of $ 200 for the second car that we used. When you are taking over the car, feel free to take photos, so you can prove the existing damages. In our case both owners took photos themselves when they handed them over. It is important to know that off-road damage is not always covered by normal insurance!
When refuelling, keep in mind that most gas stations will not be shown on the map, but you can easily find smaller ones along the way. With the exception of the section between Mestia and Ushguli, get there with enough fuel! Upon receipt, the car will have a half tank of fuel, it must be returned in the same way.
The offers usually include cars with automatic control, which makes driving significantly easier! Since renting is always a bigger risk, I recommend the two providers we use!
Car rental Tbilisi
A small car is enough around Tbilisi, the wine region, and the surroundings of the Kazbegi peaks, there is no need for a 4×4. We used the https://myrentacar.com/en/georgia/ page, where smaller service providers list their available cars. No deposit, full insurance, damages covered. We rented a 2010-es Honda Insight from Davi, he brought a contract in Russian, we wrote down where the minor scratches were when we took over the car. He brought the car to the address of our accommodation, he also took it from there. He also kindly took us to the marshrutka station, from where we could take the next one to Kutaisi.
Car rental Kutaisi
All the way to Mestia a small car is enough, the roads are fine through the mountains. The section between Mestia and Ushguli cannot be completed without a 4×4, choose a car that suits your terrain! You can also use a taxi service to get up to Ushguli.
Here, however, we had a surprise: our rented car never arrived. We should have picked it up from the airport. Received the confirmation, and even a WhatsApp message at 4 a.m. whether we want to pick it up from the airport or from the city. We replied to the WhatsApp message in the morning, first thing after we woke up around 7-8 a.m. We took a taxi to the airport, and waited in good faith for the car.
Airport taxi drivers kindly called the 3 available numbers to see if they can be reached. Finally, after 2 hours, we received a WhatsApp message from the office in Tbilisi that the booking had been cancelled. When we forwarded the proof of confirmation and the messages, they, apologized and after waiting another hour they offered a discount on our next car rental. Of course, we would no longer use any services from the Royals.
At the airport info desk, the girls were super helpful and helped us rent a new car from GMG. The car was there in 50 minutes, of which 35 minutes was just the transfer to the airport. GMG owners handled over an English contract and informed us about the main elements.
In case of negligent damage, there is a maximum fine of $200, depending on the extent of the damage. No deposit and hidden costs! The car can be picked up in Kutaisi and at the airport free of charge, but for a surcharge you can pick it up anywhere and can be dropped off anywhere! The two owners are young entrepreneurs, their business also suffers from the lack of tourists, they had to sell 5 of their 10 fleet cars. They spoke English perfectly and were very helpful! Instead of a 9-hour drop off in the evening, they offered that if we clean the car, we can drop off at the airport as well at 3 a.m., so we didn’t have to go to the airport in the middle of the night by taxi to catch our flight.
They are available 0-24 hours through WhatsApp and pick you up if incidents occur! Plus, they respond to messages very quickly.
Organized tours – Recommendation by VisitGeorgia
If you are not an experienced and confident driver, this will be the best way to discover the beauties of Georgia. I contacted the VisitGeorgia team before traveling to Georgia, who were at our disposal. Tour descriptions are available in English on their website, and you can request offers for one-day or two-day tours, beside the longer tours listed. They are very strong in communication, and share information incredibly quickly and transparently. And they are one of the most trusted travel companies in Georgia, founded in 1997.
The best tour that will take us back to Georgia is one of their their cross-border tours! If we would have had more days, we would have tried this one: the highlights of Georgia completed with the wonders of Armenia! But good thing that you can always return!
The price is friendly, such a complex trip, with car rental, accommodation, meals, guided tours and tickets cannot really be organised with a smaller budget. But the biggest benefit is undoubtedly the security that these tours gives you. My Travel Buddy is the best driver in the world, socialised in the Balkan driving culture, not surprised by a herd of cows on the road, but even he got tired on the 167 km long road from Ushguli-Kutaisi, through the Zagari Pass.
Finally, we followed their recommendations for the wine region to discover the surroundings of Telavi and Sighnaghi on the wine route! However, it is worth sharing a whole article about that experience! The tour option they offer is packed with local programs, such as meals at local families, with real homemade food that helps to connect with them!
The Georgians are amazingly kind, I think they are the kindest people I have met during my travels! And don’t get me wrong, there are amazing and kind people everywhere! But in Georgia everyone was kind, even in the last hidden village, they nod their heads, greet you and smile. They try their best to understand you, and selflessly help you when you are in trouble! Despite the language barriers, they will tell their stories sharing how they worked as an engineer in Constanta in 1967, or what are the foundations of the Georgian-Hungarian friendship!
When booking, you need to pay attention to two things: is the private bathroom is included? If it is not mentioned, it means that there is a shared bathroom! The other one is the reviews, from which you can find out if there is hot water in the accommodation or how clean it is.
Respect towards the locals has to be the foundation principle of every travel experience. In Georgia, the only limitation, custom that must be kept is linked with religious buildings. Entry is only allowed in long clothing and pants for both sexes. For women, a midi skirt/dress is sufficient, and they have to cover their head. A small scarf is suitable for this purpose. At major churches scarfs will be placed to the left of the entrance. You can use those to cover your head, or to wrap around yourself as skirt, even for men.
Learn a few words: gamarjoba (hi), madloba (thank you), gemrieli (delicious), they will be grateful for it! On the street you can safely greet anyone who is sympathetic, especially in smaller settlements. My Travel Buddy already greeted everyone during the ominous 6-hour drive, and they all said hey back to us.
On the way back, the boarding pass must be printed. At the airport go to the check in counter, even if you have already checked in online. You will be given a boarding pass instead of your printed ticket. They will also check if you meet the entry requirements of the destination country.
Are you planning to discover the beauties of Georgia? If you have any questions or you want to share your experiences you can join us:
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