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Georgia - Travel and visas
Citizens of the European Union, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and many other countries do not require visas for visits to Georgia of up to 90 days; you should have a full passport with 90 days validity remaining. Otherwise you’ll need to buy a single-entry 30-day visa. For further information contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It’s better not to overstay – on exit you will pay three times the cost of your visa plus a fine for each day overstayed. It’s not easy to cross from Georgia to Abkhazia but it is just about possible with some prior planning; however, it’s not possible to visit South Ossetia or Tskhinvali for the time being; British and US embassies advise against visiting both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Tbilisi, Georgia © Wiktor Bubniak, Shutterstock
Travelling directly from western Europe or North America, you have little choice but to fly; however, almost all the schedules are pretty inconvenient and
there are no longer any direct flights from London. The most obvious route is to go via Istanbul, and Turkish Airlines give the most options: from Britain there are five flights a day from London (both Heathrow and Gatwick), two from Manchester and one each from Birmingham and Edinburgh, the latter connecting with a midnight flight from Istanbul (Ataturk) that reaches Tbilisi at 04.25 (there’s also an 06.45 flight that arrives at 11.00); they also fly from Ataturk to Batumi.
Coming from Turkey, you’re most likely to travel by bus (the rail link from Kars to Akhalkalaki will not open to passengers until 2016 at the earliest). There are two main routes, along the Black Sea Coast to Batumi, and by the Vale border crossing to Tbilisi; a less useful third crossing has opened at Çıldır in Javakheti.
The main mode of public transport is the bus. Cities have fairly substantial bus stations, while smaller places may just have a yard by the rail station or in the centre of town. Departure bays will have the destinations served written in Georgian, but if you look at the rear of this sign you may find the same information in Cyrillic or even Latin script. Comfortable modern buses run from Tbilisi to Kutaisi and Batumi. Fares are generally about GEL1 per 20km, eg: GEL8 to Lagodekhi, GEL18 from Tbilisi to Batumi or GEL10 from Kutaisi to Batumi.
Driving is difficult, given the awful state of the roads and the excessive urgency of the other drivers. Self-drive car hire is not yet common, and the cost of a driver is not high, so this may be the easiest solution; in Tbilisi it’s easy to hire a taxi (including 4x4 vehicles) at the Didube bus station. The only major international car-hire chains represented in Tbilisi are Avis and Hertz, whose agents are Caucasus Travel. A licence from almost any of the developed Western countries is valid in Georgia.
Distances are not great: by road it’s about 85km from Tbilisi to Gori, 128km to Khashuri, 230km to Kutaisi and 384km to Batumi (349km by rail).
There has been a remarkable revival of Georgia’s railways, making it the safest and most pleasant option for tourists travelling to the west of the country. The tracks were previously neglected and pounded by heavy trains transporting oil from Baku, but now the pipelines are open and new trains have been introduced, in addition to the long-distance overnight trains – although there are still enough oil trains to cause delays. The main line from Tbilisi to Samtredia is double-track, and all Georgia’s railways are electrified, though at one time power cuts were causing US$30,000 of damage a month to delicate traction equipment, and causing oil trains to take an average of 35 hours from Baku to Batumi instead of the scheduled 21 hours. Now, new day trains run from Tbilisi to Batumi (5hrs 15mins), Poti (5hrs 10mins), Ozurgeti (8hrs 20mins) and Zugdidi (5hrs 30mins).