Georgia is the ultimate European travel destination.
This Caucasian country is home to, definitely, the most striking mountains in Europe, composed of massive glaciers, fairy meadows, and 5,000-meter snowed capped peaks; and great, vibrant capital, very Eastern European on the one hand but, on the other, with its unique Caucasian and Georgian identity and filled with the most unimaginable chaos.
Barely discovered by the average traveler, Georgia is a country with a very strong national character, visible in many aspects, from having their own Christian branch to a unique architectural style, a very elaborate cuisine considered the best in the former Soviet Union and a deeply rooted wine culture.
I lived and traveled in Georgia for more than 7 months, and it is truly one of those countries which, every time I write about its beautiful things, I can’t avoid falling into nostalgia.
Georgia is a great country and this guide contains everything you need to know for traveling to Georgia, from how to get a visa to cultural facts, trekking advice, and plenty of travel tips, making it the most detailed Georgia travel blog.
Table of Contents
eSIM card for browsing when traveling in Georgia
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As of June 15th 2022, Citizens of any foreign countries, traveling to Georgia via any route, are no longer obliged to present either Covid-vaccination certificate or PCR-examination negative result
For more information, visit the Georgia official governmental site.
IATI Insurance is one of the few providers that offers full Coronavirus coverage, not only when it comes to treatment, but also cancellations costs in case you tested positive before departure.
Readers of Against the Compass can get an exclusive 5% discount.
Georgia has one of the greatest visa regimes in the world, as you can get a 1-year FREE visa upon arrival in the country.
The best part is that this 1 year gets automatically renewed once you leave and re-enter the country, even if you cross the Armenian border and come back after one minute. This means that you can stay in Georgia forever.
Here you can see the list of the countries (94) which are eligible for the 1-year travel visa, which includes all Western Nationalities, Latin America, and all high GDP Asian nationalities.
By the way, apparently, EU citizens can enter the country without a passport, with just their national ID but, just in case, I recommend you bring both.
Remember to read my Tbilisi travel guide
First of all, you should know that Tbilisi can be visited all year long as, in winter, it never gets too cold plus you won’t find tourists. Summer is particularly hot in Tbilisi but it is the best season to enjoy the rest of the country.
I personally think that September would be the ideal month to travel to Georgia because the trekking season is not over yet, it is harvest season, the weather in Tbilisi is great and the big crowds have already gone.
Georgia is a trekking destination, so get travel insurance that covers adventure destinations and activities.
For this, I strongly recommend IATI Insurance:
These are just my favorite 2 books. For more options, check the best 15 books on Georgia
In this insightful book, Thomas Goltz tells all the struggles Georgia went through after the independence from the Soviet Union, ranging from separatists conflicts (Abkhazia), the war of neighboring Chechenya, corruption, crime, and endless politicals problems.
Bread And Ashes: A Walk Through the Mountains of Georgia – Tony Anderson
If you ever traveled to Georgia and had to read one single book on the country, I would definitely recommend this one.
The author Tony Anderson traveled across the Georgian High Caucasus in 1998, on foot, through Tusheti, Khevsureti, Racha and Svaneti. In his journey, he discovered something that I have always been saying in all my articles, which is that despite belonging to the Soviet Union and basically, being the crossroads of the world, this part of Georgia managed to keep their culture and ancient traditions intact.
This book is great not only to also understand Georgian’s national identity but also to learn about the Caucasian ethnicity and culture.
Whether you come for sightseeing, partying or to live your life as a digital nomad, Tbilisi is a great capital to spend a couple of days in.
From abandoned factories to masterpieces of Soviet Modernism, Communist buildings and functioning infrastructure, as a former Soviet Union country, Georgia has the largest Communist heritage I have ever seen.
Check this Soviet modernist building:
One of the remotest mountain regions in Georgia, only accessible by a 4×4 through a 3,000-meter pass, and where you find some of the most unspoiled mountain villages in the country.
Georgia was the first country ever to produce wine and Kakheti is the region where most wine is produced, so I recommend you go there during harvest season and visit small, random wineries to see how wine is made most traditionally.
Read my Kakheti travel guide
Georgia was never fully under Ottoman rule, just a small part of it one occupied part being the mountains that stretch from the coast along the Turkish border, and that is the reason why most people living there are Muslims.
That area is named Adjara, and its tiny villages are home to absolutely hospitable people and aluminum-made mosques.
There is not much to say here other than Georgia is very safe to visit, as it enjoys some of the lowest crime rates ever.
In fact, I used to work in different cafés around Tbilisi every day and I was very surprised that the Georgians would always leave their laptops and belongings on the table and go outside for a couple of minutes, something I would never do in Spain or in pretty much any European city.
Traveling to Georgia is safe, really, including for solo women.
Are you traveling to Central Asia? Check my travel guide to Central Asia
Georgia is a country located in the Caucasus region that used to be part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. It is located at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, which made it particularly appealing and convenient to occupy for several empires, from the Mongols to the Ottomans, the Persians and, of course, the Russians, both the Russian Empire and the USSR.
Georgia is a country with many layers of history, absolutely fascinating, yet, and, surprisingly, they have been able to maintain their strong culture and character, very different from anywhere else you may have been to.
From a geographical point of view, the country is literally, right in between Asia and Europe, in Eurasia, so some people may argue when it comes to allocating it.
To be honest, I don’t really care where it sits because I personally think that its culture is more important than its geographic location and, in my opinion, Georgia has many similarities to Eastern Europe, more than even Turkey, which is geographically closer; and it barely shares any similarity with its Central Asian cousins and it is extremely different from any country in the Middle East.
Moreover, as a Spaniard, I will even tell you that they have many similarities with South Europeans, especially Greeks and Spaniards, not only in the way we look like but also, in the way we eat, drink and sit around the table.
Actually, some studies confirm that Georgians have common ancestry with Basque people, a separate nation within Spain.
So yes, I think that Georgia is part of Europe.
Heads-up. Georgians don’t like Russians, for many reasons, but mainly due to the Georgian-Russian war in 2008. I don’t really want to enter into politics but, basically, Georgia went to war with South Ossetia, a region that wanted to separate from Georgia and had the support of Russia, which ended up into a military invasion of Georgia with Russian tanks.
It is, of course, much more complicated than that, but this is what most Georgians will tell you and, if you meet some Georgians, you are likely to hear them complaining about Russians all the time.
This topic is kind of controversial because Georgia largely depends on Russian tourism, and they can actually travel to Georgia visa-free, but Georgians need to go through a very tedious process to enter Russia.
My country is 20% occupied by Russia
If you stay in the country for long enough, you are going to hear this sentence quite often, directly from Georgians or even written on blackboards from the most progressive bars. This 20% refers to South Ossetia and the Republic of Abkhazia.
Tbilisi is one of those capitals which, on the one hand, is home to a very traditional and super religious, conservative society which still lives in the last century and, on the other hand, a large young population, very open-minded in all senses and with very strong European values.
From not hiding their homosexuality to fighting for gender equality, the young crowd is really demanding change.
They would like to be at the level of any EU country, to be part of it even, but, unfortunately, they are in conflict with the large, utterly conservative branch, who are supported by the powerful Church and, as a result, many of their demonstrations end up with violence.
Really, when I was living there in 2018, I witnessed quite a few extremely violent episodes.
Georgians speak Georgian, a language whose origins are a bit uncertain plus it is similar to nothing you ever listened to. They also have their own alphabet, pretty beautiful in my opinion.
In Tbilisi, most young people speak good English but outside of Tbilisi not that much. Unlike in most former Soviet countries, in Georgia, they stopped teaching Russian at school right after their independence, which means that people who were born after 1991 don’t speak Russian at all, and some of the older generation who do don’t really like to speak it for the above-mentioned reasons.
85% of Georgians belong to a Christian branch named Georgian Orthodox, one of the world’s most ancient Churches, founded in the 1st Century and the main reason why Georgians have been able to preserve their national identity despite all the invasions.
Georgia is the most religious Christian country I have ever been to, a country where you are going to see a lot of young people crossing themselves every time they pass a Church.
By the way, visiting the endless Georgian Orthodox churches and monasteries is one of the highlights, as they tend to be built in epic locations, plus they have their own architectural style.
Furthermore, 10% are Muslims, mainly living in Adjara, a region bordering Turkey, as that area used to be part of the Ottoman Empire.
In this Georgia travel guide, I think it is a good idea to mention some independent, yet, non-recognized, countries you may not have heard of.
Basically, an unrecognized republic is a country that has got its independence, but, nobody in the international community recognizes it, which means that the UN doesn’t acknowledge its existence.
There are many ghost countries around the world and in Georgia, you find two: Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Those countries declared themselves independent from Georgia, which led to a bloody war and, since nobody recognized them, they weren’t able to be part of the international banking system and their borders were closed, so today, they are economically backed up by Russia, in exchange for recognition, influence and military presence.
However, entering these enclaves feels like being in a totally different country, as they have a border, require separate visas, have a distinct culture and Georgia has absolutely zero power and influence over them.
Read my articles to other unrecognized countries:
Georgia is an emerging tourist destination but I think that, in a couple of years, it will enter the mass tourism destination stage.
In fact, some parts of Georgia, like Kazbegi or Mestia are already quite commercialized, which means that taxi rip-offs are common and the locals don’t care about anything but the money you have in your pocket.
It is a pity because Georgians are known for their humble hospitality and it seems that this commercialization came too quickly.
Nevertheless, don’t be disappointed because most of the country has been barely visited by tourists and there are many pure regions, pretty raw, where the locals will bless you with their hospitality. These are the best off the beaten track places to go backpacking in Georgia:
Like I said before, the Georgia-Russia relationship is kind of controversial because, on one side, they want to erase any Russian influence from their culture but, on the other side, here you find a shit load of Soviet Heritage, much more than in its neighbor Azerbaijan, a Soviet Country that decided to eliminate most Soviet buildings, yet, they have good relations with mother Russia.
Some Soviet relics you may find:
Here you can learn more about Soviet countries in Europe
Georgia is the ultimate trekking destination, home to some of the highest mountains in Europe, with its highest peak being Shkhara, located at 5,193 meters.
A few things you should know about trekking in Georgia:
For more information, including my personal tips + a packing list, read my trekking guide to Georgia.
If you really want to know about all the hiking trails in Georgia, I recommend you check this website: Caucasus Trekking – It contains very detailed guides to pretty much any trek in Georgia.
Wine is part of Georgian’s identity and, therefore, the highlight of traveling to Georgia and it truly deserves a single section in this Georgia travel guide.
Traditionally, they used to make wine in something called qvevri, which are some clay vessels which are placed on the floor of a room called marani. This used to be the traditional way and, like most traditions in Georgia, many wineries still use it.
In rural areas and smaller towns, it seems that everybody produces their own wine at home and, if you are staying in a traditional guest house, it is not uncommon that your host will probably offer you some for breakfast, no kidding.
It also happened to us that random people stopped us in the middle of the street to just greet us and give a few litters of wine, for free.
The fact is that Georgian wine is everywhere, and you are going to find good wine and bad wine but the most important is that for just a few €, you can find some good stuff.
If you want to really witness the wine culture in Georgia, you must visit Georgia in September, during the harvest season, when all Kakheti is filled with Soviet trucks extra loaded with grapes and all the small wineries are in their production stages.
By the way, Georgia produces a large variety of grapes but the most common ones would be Saperavi for red wine and Rkatsiteli for white wine.
When Georgians don’t drink wine, they drink chacha, a really strong liquor usually made from grape which can easily contain up to 60-70% of alcohol.
You will be surprised to know that some guest houses also offer you chacha for breakfast.
We also got offered chacha by many taxi drivers, bus drivers and just random people we bumped into.
Moldova has a very similar wine culture. Read my Moldova travel guide
The food is another of the highlights of visiting Georgia.
In fact, Georgian cuisine is the cuisine of reference in the Soviet Union, to the extent that the best local restaurants in Ukraine and Russia are Georgian restaurants.
Their food, however, tends to be heavy but they offer a large variety of dishes and, unlike all the developing countries I have been to, in Tbilisi you already find quite a few restaurants serving high local cuisine.
Cheese, walnuts and meat, loads of meat, are usually the core of any of their meals but they also have many vegetarian options, especially eggplant dishes.
Some of the dishes you are likely to taste are:
Churchkhela is not really a dish but a traditional candle-shaped candy, and I am putting it on the top of the list because you find it everywhere.
Basically, it consists of walnuts and almonds dipped into a super thick, and extremely hot, grape juice, which they need to hang for a couple of hours to dry out.
Don’t buy it in touristic areas, as they charge 4 or 5 times the actual price. The local price is 2-3GEL per unit.
The local dumplings, typically stuffed with meat. You may also find them stuffed with cheese and other ingredients but those are aimed at tourists.
By the way, the local way to eat them is biting one a tiny bit to suck all the meat broth and then eating it as if it was an apple.
Khachapuri is, basically baked bread with melted cheese, but they have many variations and adjaluri is boat-shaped khachapuri with loads of melted cheese, butter and an egg floating over on top of it.
Grilled eggplants with walnut paste. Perhaps, my favorite.
Chicken in walnut sauce. This dish tends to be expensive and not available on most menus but I strongly recommend you order it, at least once.
Bean stew, usually served with cornbread and pickles.
Gobi is a special starter dish containing several vegetarian snacks such as phkali, which are spinach balls with walnut paste.
The local grilled sausage.
Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi is great throughout the country. In the mountains, the signal is bad, of course, but you can still connect to pretty much anywhere, even in Tusheti.
SIM Card – Magticom is the mobile company I was using and I remember that for just a few €, you can get loads of GB every month. The best is that you can top-up your phone online. Check their website for the latest deals.
Basically, an eSIM is a regular SIM card with a digital format that works like a normal physical SIM card, with the added benefit that you can buy it from home before the beginning of your trip, hence avoiding the hassle of buying it at your destination.
Moreover, you can benefit from a 5% discount with the following code: AGAINSTTHECOMPASS
You should always use a VPN when you travel, especially when you connect to public Wi-Fi networks.
Your connection will be much safer.
Moreover, you will be able to access content which is typically censored in Georgia.
I recommend ExpressVPN – Extremely easy to use, fast and cheap.
If you want to learn more about VPN, check: Why you need a VPN for traveling.
In Georgia, they use the Georgian Lari (GEL) and, approximately:
1 USD = 2.64 GEL
They call the small currency Tetris.
In Tbilisi, you can pay by credit card pretty much anywhere and ATMs abound, all of them accepting international credit cards. You will need cash for taxis and the traditional shops. Outside of Tbilisi, do bring cash.
Exchanging money is easy and € and USD are accepted everywhere.
The good news is that Georgia is really, really cheap.
Backpacking Budget for Georgia: from 25-30€ a day
Marshrutka – Marshrutkas are the tiny mini-vans used to move around the country. They go pretty much anywhere, are the cheapest way to move around and leave once they are full. However, the drivers are literally crazy, seriously, some of the craziest I have ever met, and note that I have been traveling in places known for their crazy driving like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Train – There is a train line that goes all the way to Zugdidi, Batumi and also to Armenia and Azerbaijan. You can book your train tickets at the train station itself but I used to buy them online through this website. Do book them in advance, especially in summer because they run out pretty quickly.
Renting a car – When my parents came to visit us in Georgia, we traveled around Georgia for a week by car. It is very convenient and, if you drive carefully, you should be all right. We used a local company named parent.ge, which is significantly cheaper than most international branches. The owner of this company was our landlord, Dato. He is a cool guy.
Here you can find more information on renting a car in Georgia.
In Georgia, you find a wide range of accommodation throughout the country:
Hostels – In Tbilisi, you can find a shit load of hostels.
Guest Houses – Budget, lovely guesthouses also abound all over Georgia.
Hotels – From 5-star hotels in Tbilisi to the mountain lodges in Kazbegi, the hotel options are endless.
Homestays – In Svaneti and Tusheti, homestays are the way to go.
📢 In my Travel Resources Page you can find the list of all the sites and services I use to book hotels, tours, travel insurance and more.