A Girl's Guide to Kazbegi, Georgia
october 22, 2018
a day trip from tBILISI
The sloping beauties known as the Caucasus Mountains are a must-see for any wanderer who has found herself in Georgia. The town of Kazbegi in the northeast of Georgia, also known as Stepantsminda, is home to some of the highest peaks in the range along with a dose of myth and mystery. Just under 3 hours from Tbilisi and with ample transit, Kazbegi is an ideal day trip to get a true sense Georgian history, culture, and landscape; and indeed, the perfect add-on when my best friend from childhood, Katie, came to visit me in the capital, Tbilisi.
Getting There // Getting Around
There are several options for getting to Kazbegi. Below I will explain each and the pros/cons:
Hire private taxi: This is a bit more expensive, but you will have a lot more comfort to enjoy the views along the drive. The drivers will also make stops at the notable Ananuri (13th century castle overlooking the Aragvi River, pictured above this section) and the Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument (a cylindrical series of arches decorated with colorful tiles depicting regional history, pictured below this section). Estimates online say you should pay $60-80 each way. But, you can usually bargain a rate that works well for you.
Join a tour: If you like to avoid extra planning, joining a tour is the best bet (starting at $25 per person). Although, be prepared for lots of crowds and other tourists, unless you want to shell over a lot more for a private tour (starting at $200). Most of these tours will also stop at the Ananuri Castle and the Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument.
Rent a car and drive yourself: This is ideal for setting your own pace and having a bit of an adventure. Car rentals start at $35 per day for very basic, manual vehicles. The downside here is that drivers in Georgia are aggressive and the route to Kazbegi is a bit intimidating and dangerous - this option is not for the faint of heart.
Take a bus (aka Marshrutka): This option is by far the cheapest (10 gel, about $4 each way) and the least comfortable. Another downside, the bus doesn’t stop at the aforementioned sights, Ananuri Castle and Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument. Yet it is a cultural experience in itself, as it is how the locals get around. The bus leaves every hour from Didube station, simply accessed by metro in Tbilisi.
What we did: Our plan was to take the public bus there and then take a private taxi on the way back. Now we made it to Didube station 15 minutes ‘til 9am the day of our trip. We were immediately bombarded by a man asking where we were going. Thinking he’d take us to the correct bus, we told him we were going to Kazbegi. Instead, he escorted us to a private taxi van with two other couples in it already. He explained in broken English that we’d leave right now and the cost would be 30 gel each ($11 each), a bit more than the Marshrutka, but way less than a private taxi. We agreed, as it would be much more comfortable (we got the entire back row to ourselves), we would also get to see the other sights along the way, and it was still very affordable. No regrets there. They got us to Kazbegi in 3 hours and left us at the bus station
On our return trip, we went down to the bus station figuring we’d take the marshrutka or negotiate a taxi depending on what we found. We ended up negotiating the same rate we paid on the way there, but with a private car just for us! It was a little sketchy though, because the car was not marked like a taxi and the man didn’t speak English, but we spoke with some other drivers and they said it was fine. I also had my phone on me and was following Google Maps as we went to ensure he wasn’t taking off with us. In the end we made it back and were quite happy with the arrangement.
SEe // DO
Upon disembarking our taxi in Kazbegi arriving at noon, we began the trek to Gergeti Trinity Church. While there are endless hiking trails, this is the path most traveled as it offers a beautiful lookout and the historical context of the 14th century church.
Now, sans-guide, it was a bit confusing trying to find the correct path up the mountain; there’s no signage. I recommend getting a map beforehand or hiring a guide, because we ended up on a different mountain. This actually wasn’t a problem for either of us, because we were left on a trail all alone to enjoy the raw and untouched beauty that surrounded us. Additionally, we were doing a bit of photo shooting for fun (first image on top of the page is a teaser). and it helped to keep fellow tourists out of our shot. But if you really want to see that church, make a better plan than we did. If you decide to go it alone as we (accidentally) did, be extra careful! There are some sharp drop offs and very steep areas.
If you have time or other interests, there are many less popular hikes leading to waterfalls, gorgeous lookouts, and other camps.
After hiking and snapping photos for a good couple hours, we made our way down the mountain and across town to Rooms Hotel for a hearty meal and bottle of red overlooking the valley and surrounding mountains. With its cozy and trendy decor and international clientele, Rooms offers the perfect recovery lunch with hearty local foods, a bit of fusion, and a curated beverage menu, leaving visitors excessively nourished after a day in the mountains.
After late lunch we made our way back down to the bus station where we found our taxi. Weighed by our exhausting day, food coma, and wine chill, we dozed in and out of sleep during the 3 hour ride back to Tbilisi.
pictures below, courtesy of Rooms Hotel
STAY // SLEEP
If you have a day or two, I highly recommend staying over in the area. Rooms Hotel is the most luxe option, but still approachable price-wise on an international scale (starting at $120/night). There are numerous guest-houses which can be booked online, starting at $15/night. For the adventurous spirit, I recommend hiking over to the Fifth Seasons Camp in Juta for a unique, off-the-grid experience.