Itinerary #4: Tour of Georgia – 14 days
Main points of interest: Tbilisi, Khertvisi Fortress, Vardzia, Borjormi, Kutaisi, Black Sea, Mestia, Ushguli, Uplistsikhe, Gergeti Trinity Church, Kakheti Wine Region, David Gareji Monastery
- Day 1 – Arrive in Tbilisi and pick up rental car. Spend the day enjoying the city. Find a nice wine bar in town and pick out a few bottles to take with you on your journey. Don’t forget a wine key! Overnight in Tbilisi City.
- Day 2 – Leave early and pick up picnic supplies before leaving town. Drive two hours to Dashbashi Canyon for a refreshing hike, then park right here to enjoy your picnic lunch with a view of the lake. Continue on to visit Khertvisi Fortress (another two hours) before checking in to your guesthouse for the night.
- Day 3 – Leave your guesthouse in time to arrive at the Vardzia caves at 10:00am. Spend a few hours enjoying this incredible site before driving two hours to Borjomi for a late lunch. Spend some time wandering the beautiful park, and be sure to try the famous mineral water! Two more hours on the road and you’ll arrive in Kutaisi for dinner and overnight.
- Day 4 – Head out early to make the two-hour drive to Shekvetili on the coast of the Black Sea. Spend the day swimming in the shallow waters or walking through the nearby pine forest. Overnight at the coast.
- Day 5 – After breakfast, drive along the beautiful route to Mestia. Upon arrival in Mestia, check in to your guesthouse and enjoy a traditional Svanetian dinner in town.
- Day 6 – Today will be a full day spent in beautiful Mestia. See Itinerary #3 above for ideas and details.
- Day 7 – Fuel up your car and leave as early as possible to make the drive to Ushguli. See my notes above on visiting Ushguli.
- Day 8 – Full day in Ushguli. See above for ideas and hiking options.
- Day 9 – Drive back through Mestia on your way to Gori (or, as far as you get that day — again, see my notes in Itinerary #3).
- Day 10 – Depending on where you stayed last night, wake up in time to arrive at the ruins of Uplistsikhe by 10:00am when they open the gates. There’s a tasty restaurant near the exit where you can enjoy local cuisine on the patio. After lunch, make the beautiful drive to Stepantsminda (about 3 hours and 15 minutes, but plan for 4 hours due to traffic and construction delays). Explore the town, have dinner, and breathe the mountain air.
- Day 11 – Wake up early to visit the Gergeti Trinity Church. Afterward, eat an early lunch and then put on your game face to brave the road into the Truso Gorge (Warning: You MUST have a 4×4 vehicle to do this!). The views are spectacular and the drive itself is a total riot. Once you come back out of the gorge, head towards the Kakheti region for an overnight in Telavi. The drive will take around four hours, so pack some snacks and load up a playlist. Once in Kakheti, you can opt to stay in a simple guesthouse, or book a room at a luxury wine chateau.
- Day 12 – Designate a driver (or arrange a tour!) and spend the day indulging in the best wine Georgia has to offer.
- Day 13 – Depart from Kakheti early in the morning and drive to the David Gareji Monastery complex. After exploring the site, enjoy the beautiful views on the drive back to Tbilisi City for overnight.
Day 14 – Spend the day soaking in the famous sulfur baths, visit the flea market, and explore Old Town. Relax and prepare for your return flight home!
Most visitors from ‘Western’ countries (including the United States) will not need a visa to enter and remain in the Republic of Georgia for up to one year. Refer to the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more information.
Money & Costs
Georgian currency is the Lari. At the time of this writing (mid-2018), $1 USD will buy you about 2.5 Lari.
A typical meal cost us between 8 and 12 Lari each. Add an extra 4 or 5 Lari for each beer or house wine you enjoy with your meal. We averaged a cost of $6 USD each, per meal.
Accommodations can range from $6 USD per night for a bare-bones guest house in a village all the way up to $300 USD per night for a 5-star hotel in Tbilisi City.
We like to save our money so we can travel more often, so our average night cost for two people was $27 USD. We spent two of our ten nights in “moderately upscale” accommodation (one in Tbilisit City and one in the Kakheti wine region), and averaging the remaining 8 nights we spent about $20 per night.
As I mentioned, gas cost about $3.31 USD per gallon. We spent $165 USD on gas during our trip.
Here’s the cost breakdown for our 10-day road trip through Georgia:
- Accommodation: $274 (breakfast was usually included)
- Meals: $279
- Rental Car: $530
- Gas: $165
- Misc: $178 (snacks, souvenirs, entry fees, etc.)
- TOTAL: $1426 USD (about $70 per person, per day)
You could certainly do this trip on a lower budget if you stay in very affordable accommodation and spend less money on beer, wine, and chacha.
Car Rental & Driving
Vehicles can be rented in either Tbilisi or Kutaisi. Reserve a car ahead of time on a site such as cars4rent.ge (this is what we used!).
The rental process was straight-forward and quite easy. We were able to arrange for the agency to bring the rental car to us at our hotel in Tbilisi. They even gave us the option of returning the car by leaving it in airport parking and giving the key to the attendant at the information desk. We decided to just meet an agency representative at the airport to avoid any misunderstandings with dropping off the car.
Pro tip: I always pay for my rental cars with a credit card that covers the insurance (such as Chase Sapphire Preferred). If you want to pay with a credit card you MUST tell them ahead of time so they will prepare the card-reader machine. Otherwise, they will expect cash-in-hand.
I would recommend renting a SUV-type vehicle that has high clearance off the ground. You will need a 4×4 to visit David Gareji Monsastary, Svaneti, and Kazbegi.
We rented a 4-wheel-drive Subaru Forester for our 10-day road trip through Georgia at a cost of $530 USD. Not the cheapest car I’ve ever rented, but certainly not the most expensive!
The agency asked us to put only premium unleaded gasoline (petrol) in the vehicle. While we were there, one liter of regular petrol cost about 2.25 Lari. This works out to be about $3.31 USD per gallon.
There were a lot of mountains on our itinerary, so we found ourselves re-fueling quite often due to all of the inclines. I highly suggest you follow the rule of never letting the gas tank sink below half-full. There can be long stretches of road with no re-fueling options in sight!
We visited in mid-May and did not encounter any trouble with snow on the passes. There was quite a bit of mud, and we saw a few people who got themselves stuck. Exercise caution and common sense!
Georgia has some seriously amazing food, at very reasonable prices. We often over-ordered because the prices were so low and we under-estimated the portion sizes!
For a brief introduction to some amazing Georgian dishes, check out this article on Serious Eats.
Okay, on to a few restaurants I recommend checking out:
- Mestia – Laila Restaurant (with traditional music in the evenings) and Cafe Panorama (try the chicken cooked in milk!)
- Stepantsminda – Cozy Corner (truly cozy and delicious)
When you stay at guesthouses outside of the main towns, most of the time they will offer you the choice to add dinner on to your bill. We did this several times and usually had a good choice of options!
Here’s the spread provided for us at our guesthouse in Ushguli for about $8 USD per person (including wine):
*food in Ushguli was among the most expensive on our trip, likely due to the difficulty involved in transporting supplies to this remote region.
We had a few duds on this trip, but here are three places I loved and recommend (affiliate links!):
- Tbilisi – MM Hotel – Great location, friendly staff, tasty breakfast, and a quiet (air-conditioned!) room.
- Kakheti – Chateau Eniseli – Lovely grounds, delicious dinner, tasty wine, and a tour of their Qvervi cellars.
- Kazbegi – Nikoloz Guesthouse – Close to town, friendly hosts, delicious homemade wine, and the most comfortable bed in Georgia.
I hope this post has helped (and inspired!) you to plan your own road trip through Georgia!
Until next time —
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