Georgia – Come and Visit us
Georgia is a land filled with magnificent history and unparalleled natural beauty. Archaeologists found the oldest traces of wine production (8000 BC) in Georgia. For those of us in the West, we unfortunately get precious little exposure to this stretch of land between the Black and Caspian seas. However, this is changing drastically.
Georgians are not Russians, Turks or Persians, nor do they have any ethnic connection with other people. However, there are theories which link Georgians to Basque, Corsican and North Caucasian people. Georgia is a multi-ethnic state, the dominant ethnic group are the Kartveli, but other significant Georgian ethnic groups include the Mingreli, Laz, and Svan (all of whom speak Georgian languages distinct from the national language, Kartuli). Georgian language is in its own language group, completely unrelated to Indo-European or Semitic languages.
Georgians have been embroiled in struggles against the world’s biggest empires ( Mongol, Persian, Ottoman, Russian, etc) for centuries. This little country was invaded many times and destroyed as many. However, Georgians have managed to preserve their cultural and traditional identity for 9,000 years. The countryside is covered with ancient towered fortifications, many of which house ancient churches (including one of the oldest in Christendom) and monasteries.
Christianity was introduced into Georgia in the first century, and became the official national state religion in the mid fourth century (Georgia was the second nation to adopt Christianity) with the evangelism of St Nino of Cappadocia. The Georgian cross is recognizable, for it was forged by St Nino with grape vines and her own hair. The grape and the vine thus hold important places in Georgian symbolism.
The conversion to Christianity meant that Georgians would have a historical cultural leaning to the West instead of with the Muslims in the region (Turkey and Persia to the South). Nonetheless, Georgian culture stands at the cross-roads of civilizations. Its culture and traditions are the product of the influence of its neighbors and of its own unique civilization.
During the Soviet era, Georgia was the "Riviera of the Soviet Union" and was renowned for its cuisine and wine. Russians may love vodka, but the Georgian wines were favoured by the Soviet elite. During Soviet era, Georgia flooded Russian markets with high quality tea, wine and fruits. The Georgian Black Sea coast, in particular (Abkhazia and Adjaria), enjoys sub-tropical conditions and beautiful beaches (imagine pine trees and mountains covering the coast line).
Georgia, on the periphery of the Soviet Union, also contributed greatly to the dissolution of the Soviet Union with nationalist calls for independence (and the Georgians have catalyzed the dissolution of empires before). Georgia stood on one of the key routes of the Silk Road and now plays a significant geopolitical role, being located at the crossroads of Central Asia, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East, and currently contains important oil pipelines leading from Azerbaijan to the Turkish Mediterranean coast.
This proud nation is still in transition after the fall of the Soviet Union. Tense relations with Russia (and deepening friendship with the USA and the EU) has led Russia to close its markets to Georgian exports, badly affecting the Georgian economy. Russia has closed its border with Georgia since 2006, while Russia's allies, the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have also closed their borders with Georgia, and have maintained the strict economic embargo against Georgia ever since. In 2008, the country went to war against Russia over South Ossetia, in which the Georgians were defeated within days, leading Georgia to lose 17% of its territory, Russia to diplomatically recognizing both separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the severance of diplomatic relations with Russia, which had a serious impact on the economy.
Imagine cities with narrow side streets filled with leaning houses, overstretched balconies, mangled and twisted stairways, majestic old churches, heavenly food and warm and welcoming people. All of this with a backdrop of magnificent snow peaked mountains, and the best beaches of the Black Sea.
The Georgians have exceptionally strong traditions of hospitality, chivalry, and codes of personal honour. They believe that guests come from God. Friendship is prized highest among all the virtues. It is celebrated in Shota Rustaveli's 12th century national epic, The Knight in the Tiger's Skin ("ვეფხისტყაოსანი" or " Vepkhistqaosani "), in which a person's worth is judged by the depth of his friendships. The Georgians are proud, passionate, and fiercely individualistic, yet deeply connected with each other by a shared sense of belonging to a greater Georgian family. Women are highly esteemed in society and are accorded a chivalric respect. The statue of Mother of Georgia (kartlis deda) that stands in the hills above Tbilisi perhaps best symbolizes the national character: in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine with which she greets her friends and in her right is a sword drawn against her enemies.
Citizens of Albania, Andorra,
Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Barbados,
Belarus, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei,
Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, The European Union, Iran, Iceland,
India, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Malaysia,
Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Panama,
Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San
Marino, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa,
South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey,
United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and CIS
nations need no visa to visit Georgia for up to 360 days (Russia—
up to 90 days, visas not required since March 2012)
As of July 2013, Iranian citizens need to apply for a visa.
If you’re not from one of the above countries, you can get a visa from a Georgian embassy or consulate.
Visas are also issued at the official road and air (but not rail or sea) entry points into Georgia.
The standard fee for a 90-day, single-entry 'ordinary' visa, which covers tourism, is 60 GEL or its equivalent. Double-entry 90-day visas (only available at consulates) are 90 GEL.
Visa-issuing procedures are pretty straightforward and can normally be completed in a matter of minutes at entry points to Georgia, although consulates require a few days for processing.
Georgia’s international entry and exit points are as follows. Visas, for those who need them, are available at the road and air entry points only.
Batumi International airport (visas available) and Black Sea port (visas not available).
Böyük Kəsik Rail border with Azerbaijan – visas not available here.
Guguti/Tashir Road border with Armenia.
Krasny Most (Red Bridge, Tsiteli Khidi, Qırmızı Körpü) Road border with Azerbaijan.
Ninotsminda/Bavra Road border with Armenia.
Poti Black Sea port – visas not available here.
Sadakhlo/Bagratashen Road and rail border with Armenia – visas available for road travellers only.
Sarpi/Sarp Road border with Turkey.
Tbilisi International airport.
Tsodna (Postbina) Road border with Azerbaijan, between Lagodekhi and Balakən.
Vale/Posof Road border with Turkey, reached via Akhaltsikhe.
The border with Russia at Zemo Larsi/Chertov Most, north of Kazbegi, was only open to Georgians and Russians for several years until 2006, when Russia closed it (‘temporarily’) to everybody. However, there is an open border crossing point with Russia at Verkhniy Lars (Верхний Ларс). It doesn't issue visa.
The crossings from Russia into South Ossetia (the Roki Tunnel) and Abkhazia (Psou River between Gantiadi and Adler) are considered illegal by Georgia. Some travellers who continued on into Georgia after entering South Ossetia or Abkhazia from Russia have been fined or jailed. Others have got away without problems.
There are flights to Tbilisi from a number of European, North American and Asian cities, including London, British Airways (http://www.ba.com/), Paris (Georgian Airways )Vienna (Austrian Airlines), Warsaw (LOT Airlines), Kiev (Georgian Airways), Munich (Lufthansa), Athens (Georgian Airways), Riga (airBaltic,), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), Prague (Czech Airlines). Just recently, KLM cancelled their flights to Tbilisi but you can fly with Georgian Airways from/to Amsterdam. Belavia (Belarusian National Airlines ) is now offering daily direct flights from Minsk to Tbilisi at great rates, and there are plenty of connecting flights from European cities to Minsk, e.g. from Amsterdam (transit visa is not required if you fly to Georgia). Please note that Georgian Airways (AirZena) has many flights from many different cities. See also airBaltic for cheap flights to many European destinations. Tbilisi is also served from the Middle East from Dubai with the low cost carrier www.flydubai.com, which offers flights three times a week. May 26, 2007 saw the reopening of the airport in Batumi. Turkish Airlines flights run every day between Batumi and Istanbul. Other destinations serviced by the Batumi airport include Kharkov, Kiev and from 15 September 2010 - Minsk (twice per week with Belavia). The Batumi airport is located about 10km south of the city center and is accessible by minibus and taxi.
Flights to Moscow and other Russian cities are still irregular, given the current state of affairs between the two countries.
Rapidly expanding touristic infrastructure (Black sea resorts along Georgian coastline, ski resorts in the mountains of subtropical Ajara region and in Svaneti) led to opening more international airports (most recently in ski resort of Mestia), and along with recent ranking as one of the safest countries in Europe and rapidly improving infrastructure, the number of tourists is increasing exponentially.
There are direct bus services from Istanbul, Turkey, which stop at various places on the route and terminate in Tbilisi. There are also several non-stop bus services between Tbilisi and Baku, Azerbaijan.
There is a bus that goes from Ardahan, Turkey to Tblisi every day during the summer around 10:30am. To get to Ardahan there is one marshrutka every day leaving from the old bus station (eski otogar) in Kars at 8am. There may be more buses latter in the day as well depending on the day of week and time of the year.
There are many minibuses (sing. samarshruto taxi; pl. samarshruto taxebi) that operate international routes to and from cities and large towns in Georgia. Minibuses run between Georgia and Russia (and despite the current state of affairs between two countries, are more reliable and more accessible than the often irregular flights to Russia), Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran, and Iraq. In Tbilisi, these routes usually originate and terminate at bus stations and the Didube subway station. Outside Tbilisi, minibus routes may stop at either bus stations or central locations (town squares).
Entering with a car is no major problem. It is recommended to carry a power of attorney with you if you are not the car owner. A sticker containing the car plate number will be affixed to your passport in connection with the entry stamp. In the past, the International Insurance Card was not valid for Georgia, purchasing insurance at the entry point was necessary (even though the amount covered to be ridiculously low). Note that only the driver may enter the control area with the car, anyone else in the car has to use the pedestrians' lane.
Traffic laws are now strictly enforced—one of Mikheil Saakashvili's first steps as president was to disband the corrupt traffic police. Norms are strictly observed, in the cities and on the highways throughout the country. The most important norm to be aware of is that passing occurs in the middle of the road, and cars on both lanes are expected to move to the outside of their own lane to make this as safe as possible. Roads within Tbilisi and other major cities are typically very smooth and safe, but country roads are often in utter disrepair. Though traffic laws are enforced, driving is still completely chaotic. Drunk driving is a major problem, drivers will often pass with little room between vehicles, speed limits and right-of-way are rarely obeyed, pedestrians will walk into traffic without so much as a glance in either direction, and of course, a random herd of cattle will occasionally slow traffic to a standstill. An adventurous traveler may find an automobile a convenient way to tour the country, but with the abundance of taxis, buses, and marshrutkas, the average traveler would be better off in the passenger's seat.
There are train services from Baku, Azerbaijan which stop at various places on the route and terminate in Tbilisi. Note that the "BP train" has been canceled. Construction of railroad linking the Turkish town of Kars to Baku, Azerbaijan-including both a new line and modernization of existing lines-is underway and will be finished sometime between 2010-2012. This will establish a direct link from Tbilisi to Istanbul and farther to Europe as well as a faster, more comfortable ride into Azerbaijan. Also, there's service from Yerevan, Armenia. The train for Yerevan is old but first class and offers wifi and air conditioning.
There are boat services to Batumi and Poti from Istanbul and Odessa. At the time of writing the Turkish Black Sea port of Trabzon was closed to passenger services. Be also aware that Georgian port of Sukhumi is closed for any cargo or passenger boats apart from those with humanitarian purposes. All vessels going to Sukhumi must undergo border check with Georgian coast guard in nearby port of Poti.
Taxis in Georgia are the most convenient method of travel, and they are very cheap. Trips within Tbilisi range from 5-15 lari, depending on distance. Drivers are known to exaggerate prices for foreigners. You should establish your destination and price before getting in the cab. All official taxis are required to install meters, but the drivers may not use them unless prompted. The vast majority of taxis in Georgia are still unofficial "gypsy cabs" driven by anyone looking to make some money.
Minibuses are locally called marshrutkas, and they operate on established routes. After finding out the number of your route, flag down a marshrutka on the street by holding out your hand, palm facing down.
There are also minibus lines from city to city. Their routes end usually at bus stations and city markets. Their destination is written in Georgian, on a sign in the front window. Ask marshrutka drivers if you can't find the minibus you are looking for.
There is a relatively extensive network of trains in Georgia. The train company's website is http://www.railway.ge. The trains are rather slow, but also very cheap. If you plan to take the train long distance, i.e. from Tbilisi to the Black Sea coast, it may be worth your while to consider taking the night sleeper train rather than a cramped marshrutka.
As the country is relatively mountainous you should consider a mountain bike. Many roads remain unpaved. But by bike allows you to reach more remote regions. You can rent mountain bikes in bigger towns, for example at the Jomardi club in Tbilisi.
There are new Dutch buses operating in Tbilisi. More or less comfortable (they have no air conditioning), they are the cheapest way to go around (for 50 tetri). However, the buses are old and slow in the Georgian countryside and outside Tbilisi.
To get to the more remote regions of Georgia (e.g., Dusheti, Khevsureti, etc.) without a tour company, buses and taxis will only take you so far. At some point it will become necessary to hike, catch a ride on a goods-transporting truck, or hire a jeep. Catching a lorry requires that you are flexible in your travel plans. Hiring a jeep can actually be quite expensive because of the high cost of gas caused by scarcity in the remote regions. To find out about either option, ask around at the bus station or central market of the last town on the bus or marshrutka line.
For language fans, Georgian and its related languages are a real treat. For everyone else, they could be a nightmare. Georgian is a Caucasian language which is not in any way related to any languages spoken outside of Georgia, and it's famous for its consonants. Not only are there quite a slew, but many, possibly even most, words start off with at least two and it's possible to string together as many as eight , as in gvprtskvni (გვფრცქვნი), figurative for "you are ripping us off". This combination of formidable consonant clusters and an original alphabet make Georgian a hard language to acquire.
Everyone who visits should attempt to learn at least a few Georgian or Russian words. People most likely to understand Russian include: older generations, non-Georgian citizens like Azeris, Armenians, Abkhazians, Ossetes, etc. most of whom are not fluent in Georgian (the reason was that Russian was compulsory during the Soviet period, whereas the local languages of each Soviet state were not) and thus use Russian as a lingua franca, members of the elite (who are likely to speak more English than Russian). Speaking Russian is useful and recommended in areas where ethnic minorities live, especially in the regions of Kvemo Kartli where 50% of the population is ethnic Azeri and Samtskhe-Javakheti where 50% of the population is ethnic Armenian.
The younger generation, largely due to hostility towards Russia, now prefers to study English . The access to good quality English instruction in province was low, however recently many schools got native English speaking teacher and English is rapidly becoming a second language nation-wide. When in need for help, look for younger people; they are more likely to know some English.
Finally, signs in Georgia are rarely bilingual (apart from Tbilisi metro) or some stores; however, most road signs are in both the Georgian and Latin alphabets. Basic knowledge of the Georgian alphabet is very useful to understand road signs, store/restaurant names, and bus destinations. Those traveling without knowledge of Georgian should carry a phrasebook or travel with a guide.
Things to buy
Gold & Other Jewelry - Gold, silver, handmade & other misc. jewelery, precious stones are very cheap in Georgia and quality of the precious stones, gold and silver is superb. Many foreigners visit Georgia to buy jewelery because of its cost and quality.
Art & Paintings – Georgian artists, such as Pirosmani, Gigo Gabashvili, David Kakabadze, Lado Gudiashvili, Korneli Sanadze, Elene Akhvlediani, Sergo Kobuladze, Simon Virsaladze, Ekaterine Baghdavadze and others, are famous for their work. In Georgia you will find many various art shops, paintings and painters who sell their works on the streets. Their work is high quality and are often very good values.
Antiques & Other Misc. Gifts – in Georgia you will able to find many antiques not only from Georgia, but Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Russian and European as well.
Georgian wine, as much as you can. Georgia is the cradle of wine making, and with 521 original varieties of grape you will be sure to find excellent wines.
Brandy. Georgian brandy is unique as it's made from Georgian wine. Try Saradjishvili 'Tbilisi' cognac.
When heading outside the cities, you might find an original hand-made carpet for sale.
Georgians love to drink, so the country has an seemingly infinite amount of beers, wines, liquors and distilled drinks. To take home, buy a bottle of chacha , a potent grape vodka somewhat similar to Lebanese Arak.
Georgian export commodities (especially wine and mineral water) used to be widely counterfeited in the domestic and CIS markets. For example, the Borjomi bottling plant used to produce roughly one million bottles of Borjomi per year, but there were three million bottles sold in Russia only!
Recent update (Dec 2007): government together with business circles has initiated a wide-scale fight with counterfeit wine and mineral water so the percentage of counterfeit products have almost been eliminated. However when stocking with bottled wine it is best to buy it at large supermarkets which have better control of their procurement compared to smaller stores. Such supermarkets are Goodwill, Big Ben or Populi. Same applies to mineral water.
The quality of wine making improved immensely in recent years following re-orientation of wine exports to EU markets.
Currency: Lari, 100 tetri=1 lari
Currency code GEL
1 USD = 1.65 GEL (Feb. 2013)
1 EUR = 2.18 GEL (Feb. 2013)
1 GBP = 2.51 GEL (Feb. 2013)
When exchanging money in banks be sure to present your ID. With small exchange cabins available almost anywhere in the country this is not necessary. These cabins may also have slightly better exchange rates. When traveling out of Tbilisi and in need of Georgian laris, be sure to exchange money before the trip as exchange rates are more discriminative in rural areas. The Georgian Lari is a closed currency, so be sure to change the remainder of your money back before leaving the country. Most importantly, be aware that some ATMs in Georgia may not accept foreign cards (though this is not usually a problem in Tbilisi).
This can be a potentially serious problem if you are caught without cash during non-business hours or on weekends, so have some cash. Also, while prices are generally very reasonable in Georgia, a side effect is that many small establishments and taxis will not have change for large lari notes (especially 50 or higher), so travelers are advised to carry plenty of smaller notes and coins.
If you visit Georgia for one week, you would have a great time if you bring $700-$800 USD with you. With this amount you will be able to stay in a good hotel, have wonderful sightseeing tours and eat good food.
All other items such as gifts & jewelry might require more. For more details try searching and contacting travel & tourist agencies.
A budget traveler would have little difficulty getting by (and staying very well fed) on less than 150-200$ per week, even in the capital. Allow another 30-50$ for travel and sightseeing. (November 2008)
The cuisine of Georgia is justly famous throughout the region (visitors to Moscow will have noticed the amount of Georgian restaurants). Popular "national" dishes include "khachapuri" (A cheese filled bread, it more resembles cheese pie) and khinkali (minced, spiced meat in a dumpling, served in enormous quantities). While the khachapuri comes with every meal (and it's very possible to get tired of this), khinkali is usually reserved for its own separate meal, where Georgian men will down 15 huge dumplings like it's no big deal.
Mtsvadi, a tasty grilled chunks of marinaded pork or veal on stick with onions, is another staple. But this is by no means the end of the list of wonderful dishes, usually flavored with garlic, coriander, walnuts, and dill. A traditional Georgian feast (supra) is truly a sight to behold, with a spread that no group could finish, accompanied by at least 20 toasts set to wine or brandy.
For a quick snack you can try all variety of "ghvezeli" pastry stuffed with meat, potatoes, cheese, or other ingredients, usually sold in markets and on the side of the street. Be aware of western-style dishes (pizzas, hamburgers etc) though, which are usually a pale copy of their true selves. Pizza, for example, is often topped with mayonnaise instead of cheese. It is much better to try local food.
The fruit and vegetables here will spoil your taste buds forever—you may no longer be able to stomach the produce you get at home. Whatever it is here—the lack of any processed foods, a special quality to the soil, the fabled tale of God tripping on the Greater Caucasus mountains and dropping his lunch here—the produce is bursting at the seams with flavor. And it's very cheap. Even if you only speak English and stand out as a foreigner like a slug in a spotlight, you can get fruit and vegetables in the market for a mere fraction of what you would pay in, say, Western Europe. Grabbing a quick meal of tomatoes, fresh cheese, puri (bread), and fruit is perhaps the most rewarding meal to be had in the country—and that's saying a lot.
If you can, try and get yourself invited to dinner at someone's home (this is not too difficult in Georgia, owing to their hospitality and general desire to stuff foreign visitors full of all the food they can afford).
The food in restaurants is an odd set piece of the same dishes over and over. But Georgian cuisine is far richer, and has an untold number of dishes to try, prepared from scratch with fresh, locally grown products (although supermarkets are now spreading throughout Georgia). Try and get your hands on ajabsandali, a sort of vegetable ratatouille, made differently according to each family's recipe, and which is wonderful.
Another streak of dishes made out of lamb (chanakhi, chakapuli) is simply delicious. Finally, there are a lot of vegetarian dishes (mostly in western parts of Georgia) which are surprisingly tasty and accompany most of local parties with heavy wine drinking.
Chacha (ჭაჭა) is a clear fruit homebrew, which is analogous to Italian grappa. Chacha is made of grape pomace (grape residual left after making wine). It can also be produced from non-ripe or non-cultured grapes and in some cases fig, tangerine, orange, or mulberry. It is usually bottled "manually". It can be purchased in Mom and Pop corner markets, Farmers Markets, back alleys and basements throughout Georgia. There is Chacha commercially made that can be found in some shops and supermarkets. The term "Chacha" is used in Georgia to refer to any type of moonshine made of fruits. Their fruits are very great, so I recommend trying them!
Georgia has one of the oldest wine-making traditions in the world and has been called the birthplace of wine (also as "Cradle of Wine"), due to archaeological findings which indicate wine production back to 6000 BC. Due to this fact, Georgians have some of the best wines in the world. Thanks to the ancient tradition of wine production and amazing climate, Georgian wine holds its strong competition with French and Italian. Definitely try out Georgian wine. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to export home-bottled wine, which is often the best kind. Georgian wines are actually quite famous. It may be true that they are little known in the West, but this definitely does not include some 280 million people in the former Soviet Union where Georgian wines remain a welcomed drink at any dining table.
Saperavi (საფერავი sah-peh-rah-vee)
Mukuzani (მუკუზანი moo-k'oo-zah-nee)
Khvanchkara (ხვანჭკარა khvahnch-k'ah-rah) - semi-sweet
Kindzmarauli (კინძმარაული keendz-mah-rah-oo-lee) - semi-sweet
Tsinandali (წინანდალი ts'ee-nahn-dah-lee)
rkatsiteli (რქაწითელი rka-tsi-te-ly)
Tbilisuri (თბილისური tbee-lee-soo-ree)
Imports of Georgian wine and mineral water have been banned by the Russian government from 2005 to 2013, because of the political tension between the two counties, but now the wine is available in Russia again.
Georgia produces a number of local beers. A beer tradition has existed in Georgia since ancient times in the mountainous regions of Khevsureti and Tusheti. After independence from the Soviet Union, Georgia revived its beer production and introduced its high quality beers to the market. The first and most popular of Georgian beer was Kazbegi. As of today, beer production in Georgia is still growing, offering high quality beers (thanks to the high quality mountain spring waters in Georgia and to German designed beer factories). There are also many foreign beers like Heineken, Bitburger, Lowenbrau, Guinness, etc.
Kazbegi (ყაზბეგი q'ahz-beh-gee)
Georgian mineral waters have exceptional and interesting tastes - very different from French and Italian varieties. The most famous Georgian mineral waters are Borjomi (ბორჯომი bohr-joh-mee) and Nabeghlavi (ნაბეღლავი nah-beh-ghlah-vee). But there is a plethora of less well-known springs located in small towns and alongside roads throughout the country that is worth sampling.
Lagidze Waters (Soft Drink)
Mitrofan Lagidze (ლაღიძე lah-ghee-dzeh) is a surname of a very famous Georgian businessman of the 19th century who produced very popular soft drinks in Georgia. Nowadays these waters are called “the Lagidze Waters.” Lagidze soft drinks are made only with natural fruit components, without any chemical, artificial sugars or other additives. The most popular flavors are estragon / tarragon and cream&chocolate. You can find them bottled in stores.
Most of Georgia is very safe for travelers. Crime rates are one of the lowest in Europe.
Corruption, once a big hassle for tourists, has become far less visible since the Rose Revolution. It is now safe and reasonable to trust the Georgian police, as the infamous and corrupt traffic police have been disbanded. Police cars are patrolling streets in Georgian cities and towns regularly, and can help in case of car trouble, or any other problem on the road.
Use of seatbelts is now obligatory and strictly enforced. Radars are installed at all main junctions and on key streets and highways throughout the country. However, Georgia leads the South Caucasus in reported road traffic accidents. A person is injured every hour in a traffic related accident, while one death occurs every 18 hours, according to a study released by Georgian NGO, Safe Driving Association. The World Health Organization puts the number at 16.8 fatalities per 100,000 a year (compared to Azerbaijan at 13 and Armenia at 13.9).
Things in Tbilisi and the surrounding countryside have calmed down a lot in the last 5 years or so. Although Tbilisi sometimes has been singled out for its (not always deserved) reputation for street crime, mugging is now a rare phenomenon.
Other crime-related hazards in Tbilisi used to be the apartment break-ins and carjacking. Situation changed dramatically, and today Georgia boasts one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.
The available evidence indicates that Kutaisi, the second largest city in Georgia, suffers from crime rates significantly higher than the national average. It is very important to exercise caution in Kutaisi after dark.
The separatist conflict between Adjara and the central government has ended with little violence, and it is now perfectly safe to travel throughout the region. The once rampant corruption should now be a rarity for travelers. Passing through customs at the Sarpi-Hopa border crossing is now routine and uneventful for most tourists.
The mountainous areas of Georgia are remote and lightly policed. The safest and most easy to visit regions of the Georgian Upper Caucasus are Kazbegi and Racha. The biggest hazard in these regions is altitude sickness.
Previous worries of instability in the Georgian northeast, near the border with Chechnya, have subsided, and the Pankisi Gorge is certainly not considered as dangerous a region to visit as Abkhazia or South
Svaneti is perhaps the most romantic and mysterious of all Georgian regions, but its inhabitants, the Svans, have a reputation for fierce independence and distrust of outsiders (as well as legendary hospitality for accepted guests). Travelers should exercise special caution when visiting Svaneti, which is best to see with a local guide.
Tusheti is the most secluded part of the Caucasus range in Georgia. Access is only possible from June to October because of the large quantity of snow. Only a few families live there the whole year. It remains the most authentic place in Georgia.
It is not safe to travel to Abkhazia or South Ossetia. These regions are not under the control of the national government and are marked by violence between the Georgian military and separatist militant groups, who since Summer 2008 are backed up by Russian troops who are considered to be occupiers by the Tbilisi government. The area's high rate of crime/lawlessness is facilitated by the absence of the central government's police and legal jurisdiction.
In Georgia, especially in Tbilisi you will be able to find many gyms and fitness centers with swimming pools and brand new training equipment, where you will be able to work out. Facilities include:
Vake Fitness, Chavchavadzis Gamziri 49b. It is a large, modern place with a big swimming pool.
Tbilisi Marriott Hotel, Rustavelis Gamziri 13.
Giardia is a common threat to foreign visitors. Contraction is most likely via:
swallowed water from lakes, rivers, pools, or jacuzzis
raw fruits & vegetables
unpasteurized milk or other dairy products
Georgians are hospitable to a fault (and beyond). If a Georgian invites you somewhere it will be almost impossible to pay for anything and even raising the subject of who will cover the bill can be embarrassing for your host. If invited to a private home for dinner, make sure you arrive amply stocked with wine or sweets.
If traveling in small towns (and in the quieter parts of Tbilisi) it is customary to greet almost everyone who passes you with a friendly "Gamarjoba" (Hello). And the proper response to this is "Gagimarjos".
It is a very ingrained and idiosyncratic characteristic of Georgian hospitality that Georgians wish nothing more than to hear that foreigners are enjoying their experience in Georgia. Expect to be asked whether you enjoy Georgia and its cuisine. And it is expected that you respectfully reply in the affirmative. Otherwise your "hosts" will look terribly dejected as if expressing a feeling of collective failure to show visitors enough hospitality.
Dress conservatively when visiting churches. Shorts are not recommended. For women, head covering and dress or skirt are usually required; in some places, these are provided.
Avoid discussing about Russia, and especially about the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Talking about this subject can lead to hostility and maybe even fierce debates, sometimes fight. Tense relations between the two countries have led to many conflicts, most notably the 2008 South Ossetia war and the severance of diplomatic relations. Georgia has lost 17% of its territory, and must support a large amount of refugees displaced by the war, in 1992 there was civil war between Ossetians, Abkhazians and cossacks fighting for freedom.
Georgia uses GSM (900 MHz and 1800 MHz) for mobile phones and there are three providers, Geocell (pre-paid LaiLai card), Magti (two prepaid brands "Bali" and "Mono") and BeeLine. Service provided by the first two is exceptionally good and you should be able to use your phone in most non-mountainous areas provided is supports the afore-mentioned technologies. Check with your mobile provider to ensure that they have roaming agreements with at least one of the Georgian operators. Both, Geocell and Magti have UMTS/3G service including video call and high speed data. Roaming is possible if you own a UMTS capable mobile phone. Geocell has cheapest mobile internet solution over its network.
DSL is available in Georgia.
Fiber Optic internet is available in Georgia
In major hotels WLAN service is available.
Internet cafés are common and cheap. Some places offer free WLAN to their customers.