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First off — the Caucasus is such an fascinating place that you could possibly spend months there with out seeing all of the factors of curiosity. But most individuals don’t have months to spend right here. If all you’ve gotten is 2 weeks, you’ll be able to undoubtedly make a large dent within the area’s highlights.
The Caucasus is residence to unbelievable pure magnificence, fascinating cultural hotspots, and implausible delicacies. Georgia is residence to beautiful mountains, excellent wine, and a singular tradition within the area of Svaneti. In Armenia you’ll discover beautiful monasteries constructed fantastically in canyons, virtually as in the event that they grew out of mountains. Azerbaijan has geothermic exercise pushing flames from the earth. And the three capitals — Tbilisi, Yerevan, and Baku — are beautiful and enthralling and extremely totally different from one another.
Best of all? All three international locations within the Caucasus are very reasonably priced to journey.
I traveled within the Caucasus as a hosted visitor of JayWay Travel. But this itinerary would work whether or not you’re on a visit with them or planning an unbiased journey of you personal! I look ahead to going again to the Caucasus for some solo journeys. Here’s the way to spend two weeks within the Caucasus.
Looking for an outline?
All About the Caucasus
Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are the international locations that make up the Caucasus area.
Some folks contemplate the Caucasus a part of Europe; others declare it’s a part of Asia. Culturally, Georgia and Armenia really feel way more like Europe, whereas Azerbaijan feels extra just like the Middle East.
The Greater Caucasus mountains are within the far north of Georgia and simply past the border into Russia. The Lesser Caucasus mountains vary from southern Georgia into Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh area of Azerbaijan.
You can go to the Caucasus year-round, however if you wish to hike within the Caucasus mountains (particularly Svaneti), goal for June via August.
Traveling the Caucasus is commonly as secure as staying in your hometown. Crime is low. The one problem is that Georgians typically drive recklessly. While a few of the international locations have conflicts with one another, there isn’t any violence and vacationers is not going to be affected.
Generally talking, all three international locations are fairly cheap. Backpackers staying in hostels can dwell on $40 per day. You can have a meal with wine for below $20. Four-star motels within the capital cities will often run you $100-150. Prices are on par with a lot of Eastern Europe.
English is spoken in touristy areas in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The native languages are Georgian, Armenian, and Azeri. Many older locals communicate Russian, as all three international locations had been as soon as a part of the Soviet Union. The Georgian and Armenian languages every have their very own alphabet.
How a lot time do you want within the Caucasus?
If you wish to go to all three international locations — Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan — I like to recommend having a minimal of two weeks to journey. If you’ve gotten lower than two weeks, I might suggest axing Azerbaijan and simply visiting Georgia and Armenia. See beneath for extra on particular itineraries.
If you needed, you may also take pleasure in spending two weeks in a single nation. If you’re trying to spend in-depth time in a single nation particularly, I might suggest Georgia — it has numerous selection and you’ll pack so much into two weeks with out being bored.
Two-Week Caucasus Itinerary
I’ve taken my very own private itinerary and barely finessed it into the proper two-week Caucasus itinerary for Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
This itinerary is for pretty energetic vacationers — you’re going to be seeing so much in a reasonably brief period of time. Here’s the place you’ll be spending your days:
- Days 1-3: Baku, Azerbaijan
- Days 3-5: Tbilisi, Georgia
- Day 6: Imeriti Wine Region and Kutaisi, Georgia
- Days 7-9: Svaneti, Georgia
- Days 10-12: Yerevan, Armenia
- Days 13-14: Dilijan, Armenia
Days 1-3: Baku, Azerbaijan
For your two weeks within the Caucasus, begin in Azerbaijan. Why Azerbaijan first? I like to recommend Azerbaijan earlier than visiting Armenia (see extra on that beneath) and you will get direct flights to Baku from the US.
Spend your first day exploring the very best of Baku: discover the UNESCO World-Heritage-listed Old City, stroll the streets and take a look at the cool cafes within the metropolis; pose for images on the trendy, curvaceous Heydar Aliyev Center. At night time, get dinner with a view at Panoramic Restaurant (tip: go within the afternoon and reserve their desk that has the very best view of the Flame Towers at night time) or head to the sting of the Caspian Sea to dine on fish at Derya Fish House.
On your second day, discover the sights surrounding Baku. Be certain to go to Qobustan, the place you’ll be able to journey in a Soviet-era car to see the gurgling mud volcanoes. Qobustan can be residence to UNESCO World Heritage-listed petroglyphs and an accompanying museum. Back in Baku, go to Ateshgah, the Zoroastrian hearth temple, and Yanar Dag, the place the fireplace bursts from the earth. They’re fascinating websites in a singular metropolis.
Make certain to have some native tea and purchase some native macadamia nuts earlier than you go. Try to get a flight to Tbilisi on the afternoon or night of Day Three.
Alternative possibility: If you’re up for an journey, contemplate taking the in a single day prepare from Baku to Tbilisi. It gained’t prevent cash — the flight takes an hour and sometimes prices across the identical — however it may be a enjoyable cultural expertise.
Where to Stay in Baku: While I had a superb keep on the mid-range Deniz Inn Boutique Hotel within the Old City, I like to recommend staying within the hopping neighborhood simply east of the Old City as a substitute — two top-rated locations round listed here are Passage Boutique Hotel and Hotel Hale Kai. Check out more Baku hotels here.
Days 3-5: Tbilisi, Georgia
Tbilisi is among the most beguiling cities I’ve visited in fairly a while. The metropolis is stacked in beautiful layers — monasteries atop mountains, cable automobiles flying via the air, trendy bridges of steel and glass, patterned historic baths, rocky cliffs dropping right into a turquoise river.
While in Tbilisi, dive into Georgia’s meals scene — I like to recommend consuming at two of my favourite eating places, Shavi Lomi and Bina 37. Spend a night at Wine Factory, the place you’ll be able to order bottles of wine at low cost costs, and dive into khinkali. Check out the baths and stroll via the Peace Bridge. And don’t neglect a cable automobile journey to the highest of the town! But a lot of the enjoyable of Tbilisi is simply wandering and see what you discover.
Where to Stay in Tbilisi: I completely ADORED the Communal Sololaki resort in Tbilisi. It’s has beautiful, modern-but-warm design and the most effective breakfasts I’ve ever had in a resort. This was my favourite resort of 2019. Get the tub room if it’s out there! Check out more Tbilisi hotels here.
Day 6: Imereti and Kutaisi, Georgia
Georgia is among the oldest wine-producing nations on the planet. Visiting a vineyard is among the quintessential actions of Georgia, and the Imereti area is residence to some up-and-coming wine producers.
Start your day by driving to Gori, the hometown of Stalin, and take a stroll via his prepare automobile, which has been preserved as is exterior the Stalin Museum. Next up, the Imereti Wine Region simply south of Kutaisi is an up-and-coming worldwide wine vacation spot.
One vineyard that I like to recommend is Baia’s Vineyard, a woman-owned vineyard the place she and her sister make qvevri wine within the floor. Their meals is sensational, too! Call forward and e-book a complete meal.
Once you’ve had your fill, end the brief drive to Kutaisi. Kutaisi is Georgia’s second metropolis, residence to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Gelati Monastery. Kutaisi isn’t as thrilling as Tbilisi, nevertheless it’s value a couple of hours.
Tip: Khinkali, or Georgian dumplings, are a scrumptious (and dirt-cheap!) specialty — however don’t waste time ordering tons of them in good eating places. Instead, go to an informal restaurant that makes a speciality of khinkali. One that I liked was El Depo in Kutaisi.
Days 7-9: Svaneti, Georgia
Hidden excessive amongst the Caucasus mountains is Svaneti, an interesting area in contrast to wherever else in Georgia. Thanks to their geographic isolation, the Svans have maintained their very own language and tradition for hundreds of years. Svaneti is residence to beautiful mountain surroundings, world-famous stone towers, and villages so remoted that you just really feel achieved only for surviving the journey there.
Get an early begin on Day 7, driving from Kutaisi to Mestia by way of Zugdidi — the drive ought to take round 4.5 hours. Upon arrival, spend the remainder of the day chilling out and exploring the mountain-surrounded resort city of Mestia, full of mountain lodges, cafes, and bars with conventional music.
On the morning of Day eight in Mestia, take a look at the Museum of Ethnography to study Svan tradition. Next up, take the cable automobile to the highest of Zuruldi Ridge, residence to the very best restaurant in Georgia. Grab lunch right here and revel in your meals with a view!
In the afternoon, set off on the epic two-hour drive to Ushguli.
Tip: the street to Ushguli is extraordinarily tough and ABSOLUTELY MUST be pushed by an area driver with expertise on this particular street. Do not try driving this street by yourself. We witnessed drivers who tried it and needed to flip round midway via. There are loads of commonly scheduled 4×Four journeys from Mestia.
Visiting Ushguli seems like reaching the top of the world. Just getting there’s its personal reward — however you don’t want a lot time there. Explore the villages (together with UNESCO World Heritage-listed Chazhashi) and marvel at how the colours change within the valley relying on the time of day.
Have dinner at your guesthouse and spend the night time in Ushguli, then get an early journey again to Mestia, stopping to see the famed Tower of Love en route.
Later on Day 9, should you’re in a position to, fly from Mestia to Tbilisi on Vanilla Sky Airlines, then fly from Tbilisi to Yerevan, Armenia. Keep in thoughts the Tbilisi flights will arrive and depart from two totally different airports.
Tip: Vanilla Sky Airlines flights can’t be booked on-line. You’ll have to name or have an area journey agent safe them for you. If you journey with JayWay Travel like I did, they’ll deal with getting these tickets for you. Keep in thoughts that tickets are restricted and promote out shortly — e-book as quickly as attainable.
If you’ve gotten a couple of hours to kill in between flights in Tbilisi, go to Mtskheta, the traditional capital of Georgia. This metropolis is residence to a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Jvari Monastery, Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral, and Samtavro Monastery. This is a well-liked spot for Tbilisi residents to get married — should you’re fortunate, you may spot a marriage!
If you’ll be able to’t fly, drive as a substitute, however understand it takes a very long time. The drive from Mestia to Tbilisi takes about eight hours; from there you could possibly seize a flight to Yerevan from Tbilisi (one hour) or drive the remainder of the way in which (5 to 6 hours). You even have the choice of breaking apart the journey by overnighting in Kutaisi, Tbilisi, and even Mtskheta.
Where to Stay in Svaneti: In Mestia I extremely suggest Chalet Mestia, a centrally positioned mid-range resort with the comfiest beds and pillows I skilled in all of Georgia! In Ushguli I like to recommend Hotel Panorama, with primary ensuite rooms (and good meals). Know earlier than you go that the web is usually poor in Svaneti — motels can have frustratingly sluggish web or none in any respect.
Days 10-12: Yerevan, Armenia
Welcome to one of many coolest cities nothing about. Spend your arrival day acclimating to Yerevan and strolling round, having fun with the vast, clear streets; the fountains that mild up at night time; and the stylish cafes.
Spend one full day exploring Yerevan. Don’t miss the Yerevan Cascade, Republic Square, the Vernissage, and the Armenian Genocide Memorial. If you drink, a go to to the Ararat Brandy Factory is a scrumptious and fascinating expertise!
One of the pleasures of Yerevan is exploring all of the cafes and bars, particularly in hotter climate. Two of my favorites are Temurnots, residence to the best possible bread I had in Armenia (don’t neglect to stuff it with thick matsoni yogurt, cheese, and contemporary herbs). Gouroo Club and Garden has a lovely outside setting and terrific worldwide meals.
Armenia is a small nation and you’ll see fairly a little bit of the nation on day journeys from Yerevan. I like to recommend reserving no less than sooner or later for day journeys from Yerevan.
My prime day journey advice is to go to Khor Virap monastery (don’t miss the view from the street with Mount Ararat within the background), Noravank Monastery, and the city of Areni, the place you’ll be able to cease for lunch and maybe some wine tasting.
Where to Stay in Yerevan: I like to recommend the Tufenkian Historic Yerevan Hotel. It’s centrally positioned simply off the Vernissage, the rooms are massive and comfy, and so they supply an ideal breakfast. Check out more hotels in Yerevan here.
Days 13-14: Dilijan, Armenia
Wind down your journey in a calming out city. Dilijan calls itself “the Switzerland of Armenia,” which I feel is a bit overly laudatory, however it’s a stunning, quiet, peaceable area with mountains, lakes, and evergreen forests. If you’re visiting in the summertime, it’s cooler right here than most of Armenia.
On the way in which to Dilijan from Yerevan, you’ll be able to cease at Lake Sevan and/or Geghard Monastery — each wonderful spots for images. In Dilijan, don’t miss Cafe Number Two (the place they prepare youngsters to work within the hospitality business!) and Papanino House.
Where to Stay in Dilijan: I loved my keep on the Tufenkian Old Hotel Complex, positioned in one of many stunning picket buildings. It’s a central and comfy place to remain, however do consider it’s a preferred Instagram spot and also you may get crowds coming as much as your balcony to pose. Check out more hotels in Dilijan here.
Alternative Two Week Caucasus Itineraries
If you’re not a fan of this two weeks within the Caucasus itinerary, that’s completely advantageous! Feel free to change it to suit your wants. That’s the fantastic thing about journey — we do what’s proper for every our journey wants. I wouldn’t suggest decreasing time in any of those areas, however you’ll be able to completely strike sure areas altogether. Here are three urged modifications:
Remove Baku from the itinerary and add extra three extra days in Georgia and/or Armenia. This could be my prime suggestion — Azerbaijan was fascinating, however Georgia and Armenia had been extra stunning, extra enjoyable, cheaper, and had extra selection to supply.
Replace Svaneti with Kazbegi. Traveling to Svaneti requires numerous time on the street and I perceive should you’d moderately not try this. Instead, plan 2-Three days in Kazbegi, which additionally has spectacular mountain surroundings and is a a lot simpler three-hour drive from Tbilisi. Kazbegi is extra developed than Svaneti and has a larger number of lodging choices.
Skip Kutaisi and Imereti and fly from Tbilisi to Mestia and again. Be certain to e-book these flights on Vanilla Sky Airlines prematurely, as seats are restricted. This is one other technique to see the mountains with out the lengthy drive to Mestia.
Spend extra time day-tripping from Tbilisi. If you axe both Baku or Svaneti, Tbilisi makes an ideal base for day-tripping round Georgia. You can add day journeys to Mtskheta, the Kakheti wine area, or Davit Gareja monastery.
Add some seaside time in Batumi. This resort city on Georgia’s Black Sea coast is spectacularly set amongst palm bushes and mountains. It’s a preferred get together spot, particularly in the summertime.
One Week within the Caucasus
If you solely have one week to spend within the Caucasus, spend all of it in Georgia. You gained’t remorse it.
Tips for Visiting the Caucasus
Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are growing international locations with little tourism infrastructure. Traveling in these international locations is way more difficult than touring in Europe. You’ll discover fewer vacationers, restricted journey assets and repair tends to be at a decrease customary. This is why I like to recommend with an organization like JayWay Travel should you’re not used to touring in international locations like these.
The driving in Georgia is horrible. Georgians drive recklessly and the roads are sometimes in poor situation. Be certain to all the time put on your seat belt. Don’t be afraid to inform your driver to decelerate. I urge you to not drive in Georgia until you’re a extremely expert driver who thrives in tough, unpredictable situations.
Cover up when visiting church buildings in Georgia and Armenia. Women should cowl their heads and should put on lengthy skirts (even should you’re carrying pants). Men should put on lengthy pants. Many monasteries will present a field of scarfs on the entrance for girls — small ones in your head and enormous ones with ties to tie round your waist.
Azerbaijan requires a visa for many guests and you should get it prematurely. There are a lot of imposter websites that cost you sky-high charges — get it direct from evisa.gov.az. The appropriate worth is $20. If it’s greater than that, you could be on an imposter web site.
Read up on the Armenian Genocide earlier than you go to. While it occurred 100 years in the past, the lingering results have an effect on a lot of Armenian life at this time. I wrote about it in depth right here.
Visit Azerbaijan Before Armenia
If you’re planning to go to each Azerbaijan and Armenia, I urge you to go to Azerbaijan first. The two international locations don’t get alongside in any respect, borders are closed, there are not any flights between the international locations, and every nation will interrogate you about your go to to the opposite nation.
One of their conflicts is over Nagorno-Karabakh, also referred to as Artsakh, a area of southwestern Azerbaijan that’s presently occupied by Armenia.
You can completely go to each international locations — it’s not like visiting Israel, the place an Israeli passport stamp will deny you entry to a number of Muslim nations. But anecdotally talking, I’ve heard that Azerbaijan tends to present you a tougher time about visiting Armenia than the reverse.
Additionally, should you ever go to Nagorno-Karabakh, you’ll mechanically denied entry to Azerbaijan, each in your visa type and on the border.
No matter whether or not you go to Azerbaijan or Armenia first, be ready to reply numerous questions on visiting the opposite nation at immigration. The simplest way is to be truthful and easily say, “Tourism.”
How to Fly to the Caucasus from the United States
It’s not simple to fly to the Caucasus — another excuse why it is sensible to plan to go to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan unexpectedly on the identical journey. You might have two layovers.
As of press time, the one direct flight from the United States is from New York to Baku on Azerbaijan Airlines. I’ve taken this flight myself and whereas it’s good to fly nonstop, it leaves on the early hour of 4:00 PM, which suggests you’ll battle to get any sleep and arrive early within the morning.
Other fashionable flight routes from the US to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are on Turkish Airlines by way of Istanbul (to not Armenia for apparent causes) and by way of Kyiv on Ukrainian Airlines.
You could wish to contemplate reserving a flight to a European hub, then reserving an inexpensive price range flight to Georgia or Armenia. WizzAir has low cost flights to Kutaisi, Georgia, from a number of European cities, and RyanAir is including low cost flights to Yerevan and Gyumri in Armenia in 2020.
Travel the Caucasus with JayWay Travel
I traveled all through the Caucasus as a visitor of JayWay Travel, a bespoke journey company specializing in Central and Eastern Europe. I’ve labored with JayWay Travel for journeys to Ukraine in 2017 previous to this Caucasus journey in 2019. JayWay added all three Caucasus international locations as locations in 2018.
JayWay builds customized journeys to locations and organizes your journey in full, arranging motels, transportation, particular experiences, and guides alongside the way in which. They additionally provide you with a SIM card or perhaps a cellphone so you’ll be able to keep in contact simply.
Not all vacationers want that quantity of journey planning — however the very best factor that JayWay does is make growing, low-infrastructure international locations like Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan simpler to deal with. For instance, public transportation in Georgia is especially by marshrutka, or shared minibus, however JayWay will organize a personal driver to take you from sight to sight.
JayWay additionally units you up with wonderful native guides all through your journey, together with an area contact who runs your journey. If you get to satisfy Gio in Georgia, you’ll love him!
The guides deal with a lot of the day-to-day within the Caucasus. They’re accustomed to what Americans anticipate for customer support — and requirements listed here are very primary and never usually American.
Some of the opposite benefits of touring to 3 totally different international locations with JayWay: they deal with issues like including in stopovers between locations, making native suggestions, exhibiting off the native meals specialties, and dealing with any troubleshooting you want alongside the way in which.
Let me put it this fashion — somebody like me can journey independently within the Caucasus, however most informal vacationers I do know would have a tougher time. I wouldn’t really feel snug with somebody new to touring in growing international locations, like my mother and father, touring right here independently, however I might really feel very snug in the event that they had been touring the Caucasus with JayWay.