© Emily Lush 2017

Two Months in The Caucasus: Our Final Itinerary for Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan

Planning a trip to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan? This is not a sample itinerary or a travel wish-list – this is a realistic, tried-and-tested, slow-travel itinerary that I personally followed in April/May of 2017.

Under each city section you’ll find information I collected on the ground about transport, accommodation and activities. Could I do this trip over (I wish I could), there are a few things I would change. I’ve noted those down at the start of each country section.

This itinerary is obviously very subjective. Before you take my advice too seriously, you should know a few things about my travel style: 1) I was travelling with my partner as a couple, and we refuse to stay in hostels (there’s no real need for that in the Caucasus, anyway, with so many Airbnb and homestay options); 2) We generally prefer citities to nature; and 3) I was freelancing while we travelled, which meant bunking down in front of my laptop every now and then. We had the luxury of time, but you could easily trim off a few days here and there, starting with the bigger cities and Kutaisi.

We prefer to travel as slowly as possible and attempt to get to know a place, especially if its a cool city. So while we definitely could have packed more into our itinerary, we were satisfied with the way the trip turned out. It’s also worth noting that we travelled during shoulder season (March–May), which kept prices down, but meant that certain places were inaccessible (notably, Tusheti in northeastern Georgia).

 


 

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This itinerary covers the final 55 days of our trip, not including the 30 days we initially spent in Tbilisi. In the overview below, day trips are in parentheses and mandatory stopovers are indicated by the square brackets. More details about overland transport and connections can be found under each city section.

 

 

ITINERARY OVERVIEW

[Tbilisi, Georgia > (Davit Gareja + Mtskheta)] > Baku, Azerbaijan > (Qobustan) > Quba > Sheki [via Baku] > Tbilisi [via Qax] > Yerevan, Armenia > (Tatev) > Sighnaghi, Georgia > Telavi > Gori [via Tbilisi] > Kutaisi > Batumi > Mestia [via Zugdidi] > (Ushguli) > Kutaisi > (Chiatura) > Tbilisi > Kazbegi > Tbilisi

 

TRANSPORT OVERVIEW

We prefer overland transport (trains, ideally) and will only fly if it’s absolutely essential. Lucky for us, public transport is efficient and very affordable in all three countries. We relied mainly on marshrutky (public minibuses) to get from city to city (we ended up taking more than 25!), with 2 shared taxis, 1 intercity train, and 3 overnight international trains thrown in.

We organised all our transportation on the spot (i.e. buying tickets on the day), bar the overnight trains, which we always reserved a few days in advance.

 

ACCOMMODATION OVERVIEW

We opted to rent private Airbnb apartments for the major cities – Tbilisi, Yerevan, Baku and Batumi. We ended up spending between a week and a month in each, so Airbnb worked out to be the best value for money. Travelling as a couple, we often find this is the case.

Outside of the big cities, we chose small, family run guesthouses/ homestays, most of which we booked through Booking.com. We stayed in a few hotels on the odd nights we had to transit back through Tbilisi.

Aside from our month-long stay in Tbilisi which we organised well in advance, we booked accommodation as we went. (This was actually our first time doing so, and it worked surprisingly well.) Our itinerary chopped and changed a fair bit, so it was good to have that flexibility. We never had trouble finding something within our price range at a few days’ notice – but that might have to do with the fact that we were travelling during shoulder season.

 

© Emily Lush 2017

Total days: 14.

Places visited: Baku, Qobustan, Quba, Sheki.

Tips: Sheki was the highlight of Azerbaijan for me. I could easily have spent more time there, chilling at the Buta Bar by night and exploring the cobbled neighbourhoods by day. I would recommend visiting Quba as a day trip from Baku rather than overnighting – or alternatively, use it as a base to venture deeper into Khinaliq. Quba itself doesn’t have all that much going for it (sorry, Quba).

Next time… Our original itinerary included stops in Lahic and Qax, but we were worn out after Quba and cut our time in Azerbaijan short. We didn’t make it to Ganja or the interior, either. Both would be great additions to your itinerary.

 

BAKU

Length of stay: 7 nights.

Accommodation: We stayed at Eugenia’s Airbnb, which I highly recommend. Airbnb hasn’t really taken off yet in Azerbaijan, so it’s important to have an experienced host who knows what they’re doing. Eugenia met us at the train station and took care of our police registration – she even invited us to accompany her to Qax. Her apartment is perfect for two people, close to public transport and a grocery store.

Transport: Tbilisi to Baku by overnight train. 46.09 GEL per person.

Day trips: Qobustan with BagBaku.

Posts from Baku:

 

QUBA

Length of stay: 1 night.

Accommodation: Lonely Planet describes Otel Oskar (Oskar Hotel) as ‘inexpensive but cheery’ – we found it to be quite the opposite. The owner, who seemed genuinely baffled by our presence at his reception desk, disappeared with our passports after we checked in, forcing us to wait, biting our nails, in the grimy common area for over an hour to get them back. We didn’t see any other rooms in Quba to compare, but we felt like the price was too high for what we got. Not recommended.

Transport: Baku to Quba by marshrutka. 1.5 hours. Quba to Baku by public bus. 2 hours.

Posts from Quba:

 

SHEKI

Length of stay: 3 nights.

Accommodation: We were lucky to get a room at the stunning Sheki Karvansaray Hotel – a renovated caravanserai close to the Summer Palace. This is the place to stay in Sheki, and one of the most memorable accommodations of our entire trip. (This was the only accommodation we didn’t organise in advance. There’s no website, so if you want to reserve a room, I suggest you contact the tourist information desk in Sheki once you arrive in Azerbaijan.)

Transport: Baku to Sheki by marshrutka. About 4 hours. Sheki to Tbilisi (via Qax) by marshrutka. Full day of travel.

Posts from Sheki:

 

© Emily Lush 2017

Total days: 10.

Places visited: Yerevan, Tatev.

Tips: We weren’t planning to stay in Yerevan for as long as we did (our original plan was to travel around Armenia). But illness, work deadlines, plus the fact that we really loved the city (and our Airbnb) kept us there for longer than expected. We got to know the city pretty well as a result, but missed out on a lot that Armenia has to offer. Lake Sevan, Dilijan, Goris, and/or Nagorno-Karabakh would all be good additions to your itinerary.

 

YEREVAN

Length of stay: 9 nights.

Accommodation: Arman’s Airbnb is probably one of the nicest apartments we’ve ever slept in (and we’ve rented more than 50 Airbnbs). We were tempted to stay forever – but when it was time to say goodbye, Arman shouted us a taxi to the train station.

Transport: Tbilisi to Yerevan (and Yerevan to Tbilisi) by overnight train.

Day trips: Tatev Monastery, Noravank & Zorats Karer with Hyur Service.

Posts from Yerevan:

 

© Emily Lush 2017

Total days: 30 (plus 30 additional days in Tbilisi at the start of the trip).

Places visited: Tbilisi, Mtskheta, Davit Gareja, Sighnaghi & Telavi, Gori, Kutaisi, Batumi, Mestia & Ushguli, Chiatura, Kazbegi.

Tips: If you are visiting all three countries and trying to decide how to split your time, I would recommend dedicating at least 50% of your itinerary to Georgia. Georgia has the most variety (in terms of landscapes and activities), and is probably the easiest of the three to get around. We tried to cover as much ground as possible in 30 days, but there was still a lot that we missed. Next time, we’d love to see more of the south (around Borjomi), Vardzia, and Sukhum.

 

TBILISI

Length of stay: 4 nights (+ extra 30 days).

Accommodation: We stayed in Tbilisi on several ocassions and wound up trying a few accommodation options as a result. Our longest stay was at Pikria’s Airbnb – a small but airy apartment in Tsereteli. We also spent a few nights at Lasha’s Airbnb near Rustaveli, another fantastic choice. (Both hosts will show you what famous Georgian hospitality is all about.)

We stayed twice in a double room at Fabrika, a unique and fun experience (make sure you order the buffet breakfast), and spent our final night in Georgia at the stunning Museum Hotel Orbeliani. I highly recommend both.

Transport: Yerevan to Tbilisi by overnight train.

Day trips: Mtskheta (independent) and Davit Gareja with Gareja Line.

Posts from Tbilisi:

 

SIGHNAGHI

Length of stay: 3 nights.

Accommodation: Zandarashvili Guest House is the most popular homestay in Sighnaghi – and for good reason. We had a great stay here, complete with incredible breakfast spreads each morning, and a personalised driving tour of Kakheti’s wineries and monasteries.

Transport: Tbilisi to Sighnaghi by shared taxi. 10 GEL per person; less than 2 hours travel time.

Posts from Sighnaghi:

 

TELAVI

Length of stay: 2 nights.

Accommodation: Guest House Lilia is a little bit out of the way, but Lilia, the hostess, is just lovely (as is her home).

Transport: Sighnaghi to Telavi by local marshrutka (at the time of our visit, there was only one marshrutka, leaving Sighnaghi at 9am). 6 GEL per person; about 3 hours travel time (with lots of stops to pick up and drop off passengers).

Telavi to Tbilisi by marshrutka. 6 GEL per person; 3 hours travel time.

Posts from Telavi:

 

GORI

Length of stay: 1 night.

Accommodation: When we arrived at Nukri Guest House, the first thing Nukri did was open up a dozen bottle of homemade chacha for us to try. Second thing he did was drive us all around Gori and to Uplistsikhe for some sightseeing. Another shining example of Georgian hospitality.

Transport: Tbilisi to Gori by marshrutka. 3 GEL per person; 1 hour travel time.

Posts from Gori:

  • Coming soon!

 

KUTAISI

Length of stay: 4 nights + 2 nights.

Accommodation: We stayed in Kutaisi on two occasions. The first time, we stayed with Mari at Guest House Smile, a homestay we booked through Airbnb. Mari picked us up from the train station and her husband, Georgi, drove us around for a full day of sightseeing outside Kutaisi. They are wonderful hosts.

When we returned to Kutaisi, we stayed for 2 nights at Hotel California, another excellent homestay. The hostess, Leila, is quite a character.

Transport: Gori to Kutaisi by train. 1 GEL per person; 4 hours travel time.

Day trips: Martvili and Okatse canyons (with our homestay host); Chiatura and Katskhi Pillar (independent).

Posts from Kutaisi:

 

BATUMI

Length of stay: 7 nights.

Accommodation: Levan’s Airbnb has everything you need for a comfortable stay. Highly recommended.

Transport: Kutaisi to Batumi by marshrutka. 10 GEL per person; 3 hours travel time.

Posts from Batumi:

 

MESTIA

Length of stay: 4 nights.

Accommodation: There is no shortage of guesthouses in Mestia. We chose Maroni’s Guesthouse, which is outside the centre of town but still close to restaurants and within walking distance from the main square. Breakfast and dinner served daily (at an extra cost) was to die for – and we probably had the nicest double room in Mestia!

Transport: Batumi to Mestia (via Zugdidi) by marshrutka. 15 GEL per person to Zugdidi plus 20 GEL per person to Mestia. Full day of travel. Mestia to Kutaisi (direct) by marshrutka. 25 GEL per person; about 5 hours travel time.

Day trips: Ushguli, organised by our guesthouse for a very reasonable price.

Posts from Mestia:

  • Coming soon!

 

KAZBEGI

Length of stay: 2 nights.

Accommodation: We would have loved to stay at Rooms Kazbegi, but we left it too late and missed out on a good price (the only time on this trip that we regretted not being more organised). Red Stone Guesthouse turned out to be a great choice. Breakfast is included.

Transport: Tbilisi to Kazbegi by share taxi. 27 GEL per person; about 3.5 hours travel time (including stopovers at various sightseeing spots). Kazbegi to Tbilisi by marshrutka. 10 GEL per person; 4 hours travel time.

Posts from Kazbegi:

  • Coming soon!

 


 

We are now taking tips for our second trip to Georgia (hopefully in Autumn 2019) – please leave any advice you have for us in the comments below.

 


 

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