If you were to ask me to list my top five must-visit countries, Georgia is definitely on it. Note that I am referring to Georgia the country, and not the state in the United States! Georgia is small and packed with interesting sights. Whether you are a nature lover, a fan of architecture, a foodie or an admirer of cultures, Georgia has something to offer. Travelling is easy around the country, with frequent connections and excellent roads between places. Here is a summary of the various things you can do in Georgia, all in a nutshell:
1) Explore Tbilisi, the proud capital of Georgians
Initially I had trouble trying to pronounce this word. Should it be “Pi-li-si”, or “Teb-yi-li-si”? Well, actually it is simpler than that – the locals call it “Ti-bi-li-si” – although it surely does not spell as such. Tbilisi is a city bursting with culture and vibe. The old city is small, but has many well-preserved streets lined with houses of middle-eastern flavour. Take your time to explore the narrow alleys, or pop into a café that spills out onto the streets. As you walk further away from the old city, you will find yourself along beautiful boulevards with Soviet-era buildings. Definitely a far cry from the petite, wooden-themed houses in the old city, but still something worth seeing!
When you are done exploring, take the cable car to the nearby Narikala Fortress, atop a mountain that surrounds the city. From there, you have a vantage point of the entire city of Tbilisi. You can distinctly make out the different districts, the old city, downtown and the suburbs, based on their unique architectural themes. The Narikala Fortress is also a great place to enjoy a beautiful sunset over Tbilisi.
2) Enjoy a roadtrip to Kazbegi
Kazbegi (or now known as Stepantsminda) is 150km from Tbilisi and is a popular weekend destination for Georgians wanting to escape the city. The journey to Kazbegi is spectacular: the road snakes up and around several mountains, and the eventual views of Mount Kazbegi are simple stunning. Once in Kazbegi, you can climb up to the Gergeti Trinity Church, located on a peak surrounded by other snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains. The panoramic views from the church are worth the effort climbing (or paying, if you take a 4WD up the mountain).
3) Be transported back in time in the David Gareja Monastery
Located about 90km from Tbilisi, the David Gareja Monastery can be done as a day-trip or a more comfortable 2-day trip from Tbilisi. The David Gareja Monastery complex is one of the most impressive monasteries I have seen in Georgia, and I absolutely recommend this to everyone. Located on the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan, a great part of the monastery is built right on the mountain ridge that overlooks the vast plains of Azerbaijan. You can explore the dozens of cave churches or simply just admire the amazing panoramas of the area. Plan about three hours at the monastery because there is just so much to see!
4) Wander through the colourful Prometheus Caves
The Prometheus Caves are located about 20km from the capital city of Kutaisi, which is located in the central region of Georgia. To visit the caves, you have to join a guided tour that brings you through various formations, naturally formed halls and impressive stalactites and stalagmites. Though some would say that the excessive filtered lights destroy the natural beauty of the caves, I thought it added a layer of mystery to the entire experience. With these lights, the formations seem to come alive and you will feel like you are on an adventure. I must say I enjoyed the experience wandering through the artificially coloured caves!
5) Conquer your fear of heights at the Okatse Canyons
The Okatse Canyons are also just a stone’s throw away from the capital city of Kutaisi, just 50km away. The highlight of the canyons is a boardwalk hanging over the valley, boasting incredible views of the canyon, the lush forest and the turquoise river running deep down below your feet. There are various viewing platforms sticking right into the valley where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding nature. The Okatse Canyons is an amazing place to explore, especially if you are a big fan of forest nature, waterfalls and a little bit of adventure.
6) Surround yourself with the magnificent Caucasus Mountains in Mestia
The Svaneti region of Georgia is the highlight of any trip to Georgia. Right in the heart of the Caucasus Mountains, the entire region is absolutely stunning. Apart from just the spectacular nature, the hamlets in Svaneti are also worth exploring for their history and architecture. Mestia is the capital town of the Svaneti region and is a good base for the various hiking trails in the area. Visit the massive towers in town and climb to the top for panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. These towers are not just for show – they were once used as defence towers to protect families from other attacking families. There are many interesting stories surrounding these towers, and they are definitely worth hearing out.
Visit the tourist information centre for a great list of hiking trails around Mestia. One hike I really recommend is the day-hike to Chaladi Glacier. It is not tough and passes through amazing mountain scenery and pine tree forests. The end-point is a vast and open view of the Chaladi Glacier that is hanging off a mountain peak. Another more famous hike is a multi-day hike to the village of Ushguli. Though I did not attempt that hike, many travellers have told me how amazing it was! Note that it rains a fair bit in the Svaneti region, and parts of the trail turn into rivers and lakes, so bring along a pair of waterproof shoes.
7) Find your way through the maze of cave churches of Vardzia
The series of cave churches of Vardzia is an architectural wonder. Carved from a mountain face, the cave churches form a complex of intricate tunnels, stairs and rooms. One cave leads to another, and another and sometimes you do not find an end. The frescoes in the caves are impressive, but what was more spectacular was the panaromic view of the possibly hundreds of caves. From afar, the place looked unreal, as if it came alive from a fantasy story.
8) Ride a cable car among the green hills of Khulo
Khulo and the surrounding areas are famous for their greenery and beautiful valleys. The villages are thinly spread out along the valleys and sometimes the only way to access them is by cable car. Ride the cable car at Khulo across the valley for impressive views of the landscape. The access to Khulo is through a windy mountain trail, but the views along the way are worth the twists and turns. If you are looking for a few days off the grid and just relaxing with the sounds of nature, Khulo is a great choice.
These 8 things to do in Georgia quite aptly sum up what Georgia has to offer. It is hard to find a country that offers beautiful nature, rich history and a unique culture, yet easily accessible from the main modern cities. Despite its small size, Georgia packs a great punch. You do not have to endure two-digit hours bus rides just to get from one place or another, nor move out of the comforts of big cities just to visit historical sites. Georgia is an easy tourist destination, but one that is still quite off the radar and more importantly great value for money!
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