This small Caucasian country has way more to offer than meets the eye.
Backpacking in Georgia (country) is perfect all year round. From the banks of the black sea to the tall mountains of Caucasus, the country which locals call Sakartveloby is full of surprises.
But one thing is for certain, nowhere in the world will you meet people like Georgians! They are some of the most welcoming and generous people in the world. And if you speak at least some Russian or Georgian, you are going to fall for it, and fall for it big time!
Talk to people
Most likely, just like me, you wont be able to read Georgian writings, so you will have to depend on asking people all the time. Young people do speak English and are happy to practice it, but it’s only Russian with older ones. So scan the age group before you approach to ask, or have a pocket dictionary, you will need the language there!
It’s hours not kilometers there
When Backpacking in Georgia make sure to planning your route well, for that ask for distance in hours, not kilometers! Georgia’s terrain includes a lot of mountains and some roads are extremely dangerous and steep. Furthermore, buses and minibuses tend to stop to pick up people on the road, so only the driver will know how long the ride usually is.
Marshrutki (minibuses) are an absolutely priceless experience! First of all they are rather cheap and frequient, leaving once full. They drive relatively fast and provide endless entertainment aboard by letting you see real people run their errands and as it stops often, people constantly change, so its never boring!
An elegantly dressed lady holding a small purse on her knees calmly opens the purse, where she has a loaf of white bread taking up the whole space. She gently tears a small piece off, closes the purse and eats it, while somebody in the front is struggling with a cage of tiny yellow chickens and every passenger shouting advices despite the loud local music blasting so hard you can hardly hear another person! Now that’s the real Georgia!
Trains are cheap and so much fun
Trains are a perfect mode of transportation for backpacking in Georgia. They reach quite many places and are ridiculously cheap and are just as entertaining as Marshrutki: I saw people loading countless plastic bags full of cakes, fruit and wedding decoration just to go 3 short train stops. Just note that trains are rather slow and don’t go very often.
Tbilisi is chaotic
At some point you are likely to end up in Tbilisi, which, note, has two bus stations. Ask locals which one you need depending on your destinations. When going to Mtskheta, I ended up in a bus station that was also a market place. Navigating though a crowded market/bus station is time consuming, especially when you can’t read the signs on the busses. I simply shouted ‘Mtskheta’ to drivers and kept walking the direction they pointed. I reached the marshrutka I needed in some 8-10 shouts.
When it comes to food, Georgia is great – khinkali, kharcho, khachapuri with only the latter being a vegetarian dish. Just like any other country in the region, Georgia is a tough place for Vegetarians. This scene from ‘Everything is Illuminated’ illustrates the situation very well:
Get in shape for drinking!
You like it or not, but backpacking in Georgia includes a lot of drinking. Nearly every house (guesthouses included) will welcome you with a shot of Chacha, Georgian pomace brandy. Guesthouses are often family houses with some rooms for rent. So to welcome you into their homes, they will bring you often their own or neighbors brewed cha-cha and wine. Until you drink and compliment it, nothing really happens further.
Get ready for churches
Many of the most impressive sights in Georgia are churches and monasteries. To enter these you will be asked to wear appropriate clothing. Summer heats can reach extreme temperatures making it very difficult to bear such clothing. So simply remember to carry additional clothes with you, the struggle is absolutely worth it!
Country, not the state
While the annoying part is that US has a state with the same name. When researching and booking accommodation, bear that in mind, Georgia the Country, not Georgia the State!