Travel to Georgia from Bishkek
~$400 for a 6-day trip
I am currently a student in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan but I love traveling in general. Therefore, when my friend studying in Moscow asked me if I’d be interested in taking a trip to Georgia to meet up, I obviously said “Yes.” I planned out a six-day trip, including creating a budget, getting to my flight, and returning. In order to cut down on costs, I decided to fly from Almaty and not Bishkek because flights are cheaper. I spent roughly $250 on the flight (round trip), around $100 while in Georgia, and around $30 getting to and from Almaty.
A local acquaintance took me to the Kyrgyz/Kazakh border and then I took a shared taxi (marshutka) to the Almaty airport. This is honestly pretty difficult as you have to haggle and converse with your driver in Russian. Do not try to do this alone if you cannot speak Russian fairly well. If you have a group it will be much easier as you can simply take the cab as a group, as opposed to waiting an hour to fill all the seats. Also, you have to ask your driver to take you to the airport. You need to make sure he understands the request and will be able to do it – not all the drivers will go to the airport. If he won’t, he’ll take you to the bus depot in Almaty and from there you will have to take a different taxi.
My flight was roughly four hours to Tbilisi, which is a beautiful city. I met up with my friend and we saw the main church, which is one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world. We also explored the Old Town including the medieval fortress in Tbilisi. After this, we drove to Kazbegi, but along the drive we stopped at an ancient monastery on the lake with a friend we met in Tbilisi.
Kazbegi is incredibly beautiful because of the mountains surrounding the town, not to mention the 14th century monastery built in the mountains themselves. Our driver took us to the monastery and a frozen waterfall only 4km from the Russian border. We found out from him that his family has been in Kazbegi since the 4th century. Also, incredibly the same road we drove on to reach the waterfall was the same road used by Lermentov when he explored the Caucuses. Having read Lermentov’s Hero of our Time this was truly spectacular. Finally, Mount Kazbegi itself is special because the ancient Greeks believed this was where Prometheus was chained after giving fire to man.
After Kazbegi we drove to the southern border to see Vardzia. On the way we explored Akhaltsikhe Castle which was used to defend against the ottomans in the medieval period. Eventually, however, we reached Vardzia.
Vardzia is an 11th century cave city that was unearthed in an earthquake and now houses a working monastery. Before we could explore Vardzia we overnighted in a hostel with a view of the city. Although we didn’t have any heat, which was terrible, we ended up having an incredible experience. A family of Georgians were having their yearly feast and invited us to join. Since they spoke Russian and we speak Russian it was a great time. We had ethic Georgian food, homemade Georgian wine, and they sang songs which were originally ancient mountain songs. It’s honestly hard to describe how amazing it was to be invited to a centuries old tradition.
After this we explored Vardzia proper. This was similarly incredible since it is an entire city built into the mountains. We spent hours exploring tunnels, shops, homes, and churches. Having seen many beautiful things so far, Vardzia is one of the most beautiful and unique places I have ever seen.
Georgia is a great country with incredibly friendly people. It’s easily accessible to Russian speakers, but doesn’t have a large tourist population. So we were able to see most of these things practically by ourselves. My flight and journey back to Bishkek was fairly normal. I took taxis from the airport to the bus depot, to the border, and then to Bishkek. I definitely recommend going to Georgia for students based in Bishkek. I only recommend going through Almaty if you are very cost-conscious, are going with a group, or can speak Russian well.