Batumi, Georgia

My first impression of travel in the Caucasus region was a good one, arriving in sunny Batumi, Georgia to a warm welcome from the immigration officers. One night later, I was on an overnight train, sharing a couple of bottles of cognac with three new Georgian friends. It was just a taste of what was to come as the people throughout Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were some of the most welcoming I have met anywhere.

In addition to the people, these three Caucasus countries boast a wealth of ancient historical sites (some dating back to the 4th century!), beautiful mountain scenery and endless opportunities for adventure.  I had nearly three months to explore all the Caucasus region has to offer (and I still left feeling like I could see and do more), but if you only have time to visit one country, which should it be?

Here’s my take on how they stack up:

 

1. People

 
Perhaps it is the benefit of lasting first impressions, but Georgians won me over early – I don’t know if the Armenians or Azeris stood a chance. From the guys who befriended me on the Black Sea Ferry to my drinking buddies on the train to Tbilisi, every Georgian I met seemed to be fun loving and helpful.  Additionally, I never felt like anyone was trying to rip me off. The Azeris would have been a close second, but the helpfulness of strangers in Baku was offset by a creepy guy who propositioned me at a bus rest stop and the overall uncomfortable feeling I got from men staring at me constantly – it was one of the few things I disliked about Turkey and it felt the same in Azerbaijan.

Armenia may be at both an advantage and disadvantage because I spent so much more time there (six weeks altogether), which meant I saw more of the good and of the not-so-good. The people overall were friendly and welcoming, but I also ran into my fair share of taxi drivers and others trying to overcharge me.

Winner: Georgia

Georgian dancing
 

2. Prices

 
Armenia definitely comes out on top here. I could eat a good lunch for about $3, take a taxi anywhere in the city for less than $4 and even my marshrutka ride from Yerevan to Tbilisi was cheaper than going the other direction. Georgia comes in second, with a plethora of hostels to choose from in most major cities, cheap food and reasonably priced taxis for most day trips. Azerbaijan comes in a distant third. Prices in Baku were nearly at western European levels (not to mention I almost accidentally bought a pint of Baskin-Robbins for $25!). The country has few hostels and finding a hotel room for under $100 was difficult. Even homestays and guiding services outside of the capital are pricey compared to neighboring Georgia and Armenia. Add in the fact that for Americans a visa to Azerbaijan will set you back at least $140 and this is the least attractive country to visit in the Caucasus if you’re on a tight budget.

Winner: Armenia

Big loser: Azerbaijan

strawberries
 

3. Getting Around

 
This could reasonably be a three-way tie as each country in the Caucasus has its own benefits and challenges.

In both Georgia and Armenia, the unfamiliar alphabets can make getting around a challenge – you can’t read the signs to tell where a given bus or marshrutka is headed. At least the Azeri language uses mostly a Latin alphabet. On the plus side, in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, digital signs at the bus stops include the Latin alphabet translations of bus route destinations, making things a little easier. Likewise, announcements on the Tbilisi Metro are made in both English and Georgian while those on the Baku Metro are only in Azeri.  The Metro in Yerevan might have been the most difficult as signs were only in Armenian and Russian and announcements only in Armenian.

When it comes to intercity transport, Azerbaijan seems slightly more organized than the others. The prevalence of buses in the country means there are schedules on which you can somewhat rely instead of the typical marshrutka that just leaves when full – although buses traveling between smaller towns tend to be decrepit Soviet-era buses (see below!).

The new bus station in Baku has clearly labeled bays for both buses and marshrutkas – it was heaven compared to the mass chaos that I found at Didube Bus Station in Tbilisi, where the only way to find the marshrutka you need is to wander around and ask. Likewise, transportation out of Yerevan is made more confusing by the fact that the bus station or parking lot from which a given marshrutka departs often changes without warning.

Winner: Despite the Soviet-era buses in some parts of the country, Azerbaijan


 

4. Tourist Infrastructure

 
Georgia’s government has made it a priority to improve the country’s image as a tourist destination and you can feel the effects throughout the country. From the brand new border control stations to rebuilt roads up to mountain villages, the investment is clear. Whereas a few years ago a trip to the region of Svaneti would require an overnight train ride from Tbilisi followed by a six hour drive up perilous mountain roads, the construction of a new, paved road has cut the time down to three hours.

Tourist information was also readily available in nearly every city I visited in Georgia – I stopped into tourist information offices in Tbilisi, Batumi, Mestia, and Mtskheta. In each I encountered friendly, English-speaking staff and was able to obtain a plethora of maps (the office in Mtskheta actually gave me maps for the Kakheti and Svaneti regions as well).

While the Azeri government made a big effort to welcome tourists to Baku for the recent Eurovision 2012 finals, from all indications they have largely ignored the rest of the country – one woman I met told me of roads in Baku being repaired 3 or 4 times while roads connecting major cities in the northwestern part of the country remain unpaved. On the other hand, Community Based Tourism Azerbaijan has stepped in to fill some of the void, providing a great network of homestays and helpful information for tourists traveling outside of Baku.

Armenia arguably lags behind on the tourism front, with the Visitor Information Center in the capital of Yerevan closing due to lack of funding a few years ago. I know firsthand from my experience volunteering with the de facto national tourism board that they are trying to make improvements, such as developing a new tourism website and a new information center, but it may take a while. To Armenia’s advantage, most of the major sites are easy day trips from Yerevan and local tour company Hyurservice runs multiple tours every day costing as little as $15. I took two of their day trips and thought they provided great value.

Winner: Georgia

Sighnaghi, Georgia
 

5. Sightseeing and Activities

 
Of course, the big question is – what does each country have to offer in terms of sightseeing and activities?

Georgia and Armenia are very similar, with many, if not most, of their major sites focusing on the ancient history of Christianity in those countries. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its religion back in the 4th century and Georgia followed just thirty years later. This means that a majority of major sites are monasteries and churches, some of which are more interesting than others. Georgia additionally boasts a couple of cave monasteries built into the sides of cliffs and Armenia recently opened the world’s longest cable car taking tourists 5.7 kilometers across the Vorotan Gorge to Tatev Monastery.

In addition to its religious sites, Georgia has a burgeoning wine industry and a long history of wine-making, as well as an up and coming resort city in Batumi on the Black Sea coast. Add in the mountain regions and hiking opportunities in Svaneti and there seems to be a little bit of something for everyone.

Azerbaijan doesn’t have nearly the religious sites that its neighbors do, although a few ruined churches are scattered throughout the country.  Not far from Baku are petroglyphs, quirky mud volcanoes, a so-called fire temple and the James Bond Oil Field (featured in the opening scenes of The World is Not Enough). For me, the main draw was the mountains and hiking opportunities in the northern and northwestern parts of the country, although those closest to the Russian border have recently been limited.

Winner: Georgia

Kakheti, Georgia
 

6. Visa Requirements

 
I’ll just speak to U.S. citizens here, but you can generally enter Georgia visa free for up to 360 days. Visas to Armenia may be obtained upon arrival at the airport and land borders and cost about $8 for a 21 day visa or $35 for 120 days.

On the other end of the spectrum, a visa to Azerbaijan currently runs $140, plus the likely cost of a letter of invitation from an approved travel agency in Azerbaijan (I spent $160 altogether). And instead of making it easier for people to visit, the Azeri government has been making it harder. Not cool.

Winner: Georgia, with Armenia a close second.

Big loser (again): Azerbaijan
 

And the winner is…

 
If you hadn’t already guessed, I would say right now that Georgia is the place to go in the Caucasus – it is the easiest to visit, has the most developed tourist infrastructure, some of the friendliest people and the widest variety of sights and activities. At this point, it does not yet feel overrun with tourists, but get there fast as it likely won’t be long before the secret is out!
 

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111 Responses to “Travel in the Caucasus: Comparing Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan”

  1. Go Georgia! lol
    Unfortunately, I’ve only visited Baku and Erevan so briefly that had not had a real chance to learn about these. Loved the food though.

    I don’t think the secret you’re talking about will be out anytime soon. I’ve been living in the U.S. for 18 years now and still have to explain to people where Georgia is and try to prove to them that in fact it is.
    “country? you mean the state, right?” is what I usually get :(

    so glad you enjoyed your visits in Georgia!
    xx
    maya
    Soccer Mom Style a.k.a. Maya recently posted…Different Concept. Similar Output…My Profile

  2. Great post, Katie! Georgia is still on my list for my RTW trip next year after making a few changes – glad I’ve kept it on there after reading this! Still, I better learn the Cyrillic alphabet before I go…
    Waegook Tom recently posted…Feeling Like A Loser On A MountainMy Profile

  3. Great round-up! I’m always surprised at countries that keep making it harder and harder for tourists to visit. I know the US imposes high visa fees on a lot of countries, so they turn around and do the same to us. But I can’t help think they’re hurting themselves more than they’re hurting us. If I ever make it to that part of the world, I’ll definitely keep Georgia at the top of the list. Plus I can wear my Georgia (University of) sweatshirt and confuse people :-)
    Ali recently posted…Cappadocia Tour Company Switch-UpMy Profile

  4. cherishka says:

    Love this post! Great job Katie! I found your blog when I was researching for a place to study Russian in one of the former USSRers and have been reading since. Just want to let you know that your blog has been a great inspiration. Please keep writing :) Take care!

  5. Very cool comparison. Georgia sounds pretty cool. Knowing human psych I will probably start randomly seeing airplane deals from Germany to Tbilisi soon.

    Ali beat me to it, but I would love to see their reaction to her Georgia sweatshirt.
    Andrew recently posted…5 Lakes of Southern New ZealandMy Profile

  6. It is really hard to beat Georgia when it comes to the people! This is why it remains one of our favorite places in the world. But I notice you didn’t include food in this comparison. So who would win on the food front??
    Audrey recently posted…An Elephant Encounter in Udaipur (India): Panorama of the WeekMy Profile

  7. Of all overseas places to go to, the Caucasus is on my top list! From very good impressions with Georgian cities (even on Wiki articles), Georgia has been my priority especially BATUMI! Having read all these makes me want to go there more than ever. Thanks a lot for the very helpful info! :)

    • By my side is Caucasus favorite is Yerevan! I have been here 5 years ago and love this country! Thank you for sharing my dreams! Keep posting!

  8. I believed this post just convinced some friends of mine to come visit me in Tbilisi next April. Thanks Katie!

    Thinking of doing an overnight stay in Yerevan too…

    • That’s great! And yes, definitely recommend checking out Yerevan too! Let me know if you go and I can share some recommendations.

      • Dear Katie
        I am very sorry for the guy looking at You in a such way. Every country has idiots. It is undoubted that You can experience this case in other countries as well. Every country has old facilities. Please be honest that Azerbaijan has now more up-to-date facilities than any country in Caucasus. Azerbaijan is sincere and straightforward. It is not ashamed for the lacks. It takes it into consideration as a lack and tries to liquidate weaknesses or lacks. It does not hide weaknesses. It is natural. You will find plenty of sightseeing places in Azerbaijan even though it is a small country.

        • Thanks Katie for observation of Caucasus and good notes,

          Indeed, visa regime is not touristic-orientated at all, expensive air tickets from EU and bureaucracy at visa issue process. Almost no hostel culture and expensive-monopolised market where prices are high even for locals. Many Azerbaijani citizens, my compatriots stop comparing country with Armenia anf Georgia – went farer, compare with EU and Middle East where life standards moved far ahead and not based on sky-scrapers ,political museums or repaired roads,at least…self-critising is considered as normal civil attitude. In contrary to all said above Azerbaijan is beautiful country with colorful life and colorful people, which generates its individuality in Caucasus and for sure worth to get introduced to.Hopefully, our citizens will push its government to be closer to western society than own political portrets and share beauty of Azerbaijan together.

  9. Excellent post. I’m really interested in this part of the world and would love to explore it. How are the roads in all three countries? Would they be easy to drive around?

    • Thanks Bethaney. It really varies by country and even within the countries. Georgia probably has the best roads overall and they just paved the road up to Mestia (up in the mountains), which cut the driving time from 6 hours down to about 3 or 4 hours. That said, Georgian drivers are crazy!!

      I think the roads were generally okay in Armenia as well, from what I can remember. Azerbaijan had some of the worst – long stretches unpaved around Qax and Sheki in the northwestern part of the country and the road to the mountain village of Lahic was also unpaved and much sketchier than heading into the mountains in Georgia.

      • Thanks Katie. I’ll do a bit more research and see what I can find out about driving around the region. If they’re crazy drivers and roads aren’t great everywhere we want to go, maybe we’ll look into just trains and buses instead.
        Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted…More Travel Regrets, Ireland and a New OpportunityMy Profile

        • It’s pretty easy to get around on your own. The most common form of transport are marshrutkas – minivans that leave whenever they are full (although some leave on fixed schedules). There are buses, but they are MUCH slower – for example, Tbilisi to Yerevan by marshrutka is about 6 hours, while going by bus it’s closer to 9 hours. Even if you don’t speak the language, if you just show up at the bus station and ask around for your destination, people will happily show you.

          Trains aren’t too common, although there’s an overnight train between Batumi and Tbilisi that is good and between Tbilisi and Zugdidi.

          If you have an idea of which cities you might visit, let me know and I can tell you what I remember specifically.

          • Thanks for the great article on Georgia vs Armenia I have 11 days to explore both and planned 5 days in each and one travelling-should I spend longer in georgia maybe? Also, I understand the overnight train Tblisi to yerevan only goes on alternate nights….is there a better way to go?(I was thinking of saving a hotel night as well!) How does one get a shared taxi, which i have also read about, altho it might be too expensive.
            Thanks again for a great website!
            Angie ( Sydney Australia)

          • Hi Angie!

            No, definitely don’t do the train between Tbilisi and Yerevan – it takes forever. Marshrutkas (mini-vans) run regularly from Tbilisi’s Ortachala bus station to the main station in Yerevan. It takes about 6 hours, depending on how long it takes at the border (I made the trip once in as little as 5 hours).

            Ortachala is not the main bus station in Tbilisi and it’s slightly out of the center of town. There are buses that run there, but best to take a taxi. Be sure to tell the driver Ortachala Avtovakzal – Ortachala is also the name of the neighborhood so if you don’t specify the bus station, they get confused and just take you to the general area. The marshrutkas to Yerevan leave from outside of the lower level of the station (not on the side with all the big buses, the other side). Just tell someone “Yerevan” and they’ll show you. They start leaving around 8 a.m. and go about hourly (or whenever full) for most of the morning. I can’t remember the cost in Lari but it came out to around $16 – a little less coming back from Yerevan.

            Hope that helps!

          • Thanks katie- I appreciate the fast response! Angie

          • Hi Katie,
            I plan to fly to Yerevan from Moscow toward the end of June. My reason for going there is to make it my base for visiting Armenia’s churches & monasteries. How many days do I need? And how many for Georgia, also to visit its churches?
            Do you know if the weather will be OK at that time?
            Thanks,
            Tunai, Colorado, USA

          • There is an express train from Tbilisi to Batumi (Mahinjauri). It is comfortable, takes 4.5 hours, features aiplane seats, and costs around $14. In summer it runs twice a day.

            Kathie, you did not mention the town of Kutaisi with cool 1.4 km long stalactyte – stalagmyte full cave (named Promethei), with german made lighting and a classical music and a boat ride in a 400 m long cave lake. Plus there is Sataplia national park, with dinosaur traces dating 60 and 150 million years. And a forest of unique species.

          • I actually took the train from Batumi to Tbilisi overnight – a very nice ride.

            I didn’t mention Kutaisi since I didn’t get there unfortunately – will have to visit on my next trip to Georgia!

    • hi Katie

      Azerbaijan offers more facilities than other two countries. In addition, we should take into account quality when we talk about prices.If you want to see negative factors, you will see just bad side of this country
      I have been to chicago. I can make a list of negative factors of Chicago.When i approached to people to ask smthg, they were unfriendly. in many cases, they didn’t listen to me. But it doesn’t mean that chicago is winner or loser.

      • Hi Rustam,

        Thanks for the comment. Having traveled to all 3 countries, I can very definitively say that Azerbaijan does not offer more facilities than Georgia and Armenia. I enjoyed my visit to the country, but outside of Baku, the availability of tourist information and facilities is lacking, especially compared to Georgia.

        This was simply meant as a guide for people (especially independent travelers) about the pros and cons of visiting each country. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan’s government makes it difficult for people to visit by having strict visa requirements compared to the others and for budget travelers, it may be too expensive. I still recommend visiting Azerbaijan, but if someone only has time to visit one country, I would have to say Georgia is the easiest and provides the best value.

      • As far as i know, all your problems are about visa requirement and prices not about facilities.
        it is a pity that, this report includes some biased information.
        I hope next time, your travel will be more enjoyable
        However, thank you very much that i got a chance to see lacking in my country for middle class tourism

        • Well, by facilities I also mean accommodations. I was lucky to find a friend of a friend to stay with in Baku – otherwise, all of the hotels available were out of my price range and the two hostels I could find were already booked. Outside of the CBT homestays, I found it was difficult to find information about hotels in cities outside of Baku and impossible to reserve anything online. And today, most travelers want to be able to book online. I didn’t stop in Zaqatala on my way back to Georgia because I could not confirm whether any of the hotels listed in my guidebook even still existed and I didn’t want to show up there with no place to stay.

          That said, keep in mind I visited almost 2 years ago so I hope perhaps some things have changed and improved.

          • Aww ^_^ I wish you visited Zaqatala :) That is “my city” :D I mean I am from Zaqatala, and I assure you there are plenty of hotels to stay there ^_^ THey will be around 25-30 dollars per day :)
            And you could do hiking and sightseeing too :)
            Next time when you come to Azerbaijan,you are more than welcome to come to Zaqatala, And I will try my best to help you in zaqatala as much as I can ^_^
            Good luck in your all next travels ^_^
            Eltaj recently posted…This fruit is called “Alça” (alcha)My Profile

      • Firstly, there are more than 107 hotels in Baku offer online reservation. Secondly there are a lot of signs or labels which show direction to hotel in Baku streets and roads. Add to this, you can use phone applications to show sightseeing places and map of these of Baku and Azerbaijan. Please take account that when tourist goes abroad tries to travel big cities. For instance. if tourist comes to Illinois, he will trip Chicago not small cities like Gurnee or Waukegan.There is always lacking in small cities.
        As i mentioned before, I hope next time your trip will be great.

  10. So basically Azerbaijan sucks?

    • No, not at all! Sorry if it came off like that. I really enjoyed Azerbaijan, it was just more challenging than Georgia or Armenia and quite a bit more expensive. But definitely still worth a visit!

    • I have visited Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan 2 years ago and when it comes to people and culture, i pick 1. Armenia 2. Georgia and 10. Azerbaijan. I had some really bad experiences in Azerbaijan and i will never visit that country if my life depended on it…

      • You think that you are good at underrating the tourism in Azerbaijan. These both countries, namely, Georgia and Armenia, must exist and develop at least for ten years to be Azerbaijan. This gap will be expand in future years. Maybe these countries are more attractive now in terms of visa and prices because they started tourism development earlier. Even thogh Azerbaijan is an oil and gas producing country, Azerbaijani government’s goal is to diversify its economy, particularly through tourism, IT and transportation. Presently, our country starts to obtain revenues from tourism sector. The contribution is felt. Imagine, that oil of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia will be transported to the west countries through current Buku Tbilisi Ceyhan pipeline and Baku Tbilisi Kars railroad that is under construction. The construction of BTK railroad will be completed. Besides, foreign entrepreneurs handed over the biggest shipyard in the region. It will produce cargo vessels to facilitate transportation. The construction of the biggest sea port in the region will be completed in 2014. Fantastic revenues. All these revenues will be directed to the economy of Azerbaijan, as well as to the prosperity of tourism. Azerbaijan will be the 1-st, its political and economic friend, neighboring Georgia will be the second and finally the f-n Armenia will be last not only in the region, but also in the world. It will be very attractive of course. You may see there the humaniform rats in Armenia.

        • Please do not insult Armenia on my blog or I will not approve your future posts. I know relations are bad between your countries but I have many Armenian friends and won’t tolerate comments like yours about the country.

          As for tourism, you need to look through the eyes of a tourist. The fact is Georgia is far, far ahead of Azerbaijan. It is accessible to everyone with no visa requirements and low prices for accommodation and guides. They have paved the road up to Mestia to cut driving times in half (and make the ride more comfortable). When will Azerbaijan pave the road to Lahic or the roads in the area around Qax, Zaqatala and Sheki? When will Baku see the dozens of hostels and budget hotels that Tbilisi has? Those are all things that matter to tourists and right now Georgia is just better equipped for tourism.

          • As Armenian I want to thank you for these words! I liked your post! And now I want to visit Georgia as soon as it’s possible)

  11. Great and useful post!
    I’m traveling with some friends to this part of the world next week. I’m in Turkey now, so i’ll go first to Georgia, then to Azerbaijan.
    I have read somewhere that if I get a georgian visa I can visit Azerbaijan for five days. Is that true? And most important, do you know if can I get this georgian visa at the turkish-georgian border? I’m from Spain, so I’m supposed to not need it, but if I could get it, it would be cheaper than get the visa for Azerbaijan!

    • As an EU resident, you should just get stamped right through into Georgia with no need for a visa. I haven’t heard anything about a visa to Georgia getting anyone access into Azerbaijan. That would really surprise me. They have made it harder recently to get visas, not easier. Mine was $140 and I had to get a letter of invitation from a travel agent.

  12. Which do you think is a better time to visit these countries?

  13. I’ve got an extra week or so at the end of a European trip, and I was thinking a whistlestop trip to the Caucasus would be great as I’ve always been interested in them.

    I was thinking of flying into Batumi for a couple of days, then o/n train to Tbilisi, then onto Yerevan for a couple of days. Would that be doable without having to spend a load of time traveling?

    • Depending on when you’re going, not sure Batumi is worth the stop. It’s more of a beachy resort town, so if you’re going in like April, I would just save your time for elsewhere. That said, you can take an overnight train from Batumi to Tbilisi, so that saves time on travel. Yerevan is about 6 hours from Tbilisi – best way to go is by marshrutka, the earliest of which leaves around 8 a.m. each way.

      I would recommend just flying into Tbilisi, spending 2-3 days there, taking a marshrutka to Yerevan, spend 2 days there, then head back to Tbilisi and fly out. You could fly back out of Yerevan to save some time, but there’s not as many options.

      • Thanks heaps! I’ll probably come back and pick your brain some more!

        Did you go to Nagorno Karabakh at all?

        • Nope – I went to Armenia first and if I’d gone to Nagorno-Karabakh, they wouldn’t have let me into Azerbaijan.

  14. Exactly the post I was looking for. I’m planning on a trip to Turkey with a side trip to Georgia and Armenia, but was wondering if maybe my time would be better spent in one or the other. Have heard so many good things about Georgia I’m leaning to just focus on Turkey and Georgia on this trip. I’m sooooo excited!! 2 countries i”m most excited to visit and I’m going to see them both on the same trip. Yaaaaay!!
    jill recently posted…Island Hopping in BelitungMy Profile

  15. Hi Katie

    Many thanks for this fantastic blog. I was searching for information about Georgia. I am planning to go there for few days. What would you advise me on what to do/do not in Georgia?

    Many thanks again

    Ray

    • It depends a lot on your interests. Definitely spend some time exploring Tbilisi’s Old Town. If you’re interested in historical sites, you might head to the area around Telavi and Sighnaghi to visit a lot of the old monasteries. That region has some good wineries too. Batumi is more of a wannabe resort town or you could head up to Mestia and Svaneti in the mountains for hiking/trekking. The cave monasteries at Davit Gareja near the Azerbaijan border are also pretty cool.

  16. This is really great information. I was wondering if I could bother you for some more detailed information about costs in Georgia and Armenia- eg. how much were you paying per night for accommodation, how much did you budget for each day? Thank you in advance!

    • Hi Sally,

      I was volunteering while in Armenia and stayed with a family so I can’t really comment on accommodations there. Everything else is very cheap – I’d get a decent lunch for about $3-4, dinner around $5-6. A beer or mixed drink was probably as low as $1 or $2.

      Georgia was a little more expensive overall. I stayed at a mix of hostels and hotels there. Decent hotels were around $50/night and dorm beds in hostels were around $12-$15.

      I wrote this post summarizing my overall expenses by country – that should give you a better overall idea.

  17. Elisabeth says:

    Hello Katie,
    very interesting blog ;)
    With some friends I’m thinking about heading off to Georgia next August; for 10 days approximately. Which parts of the country would you recommend? (isn’t it very hot at that time of the year?)
    My friends have objected that there are security problems in Georgia… Is that true? (I’m trying to convince them of the opposite)
    Best
    Elisabeth

    • Hi Elisabeth,

      I’m guessing it does get pretty hot in Georgia in August – I was there in the spring, so I’m not really sure. I felt very safe everywhere I went. I would say the only areas where there may be security issues are near the border with Russia, where you likely wouldn’t be going anyway.

      I would definitely plan for a few days in Tbilisi – there’s a good deal to see in the city and it’s a good base for day trips to places like Mskheta, Uplistsikhe, Goris and Davit Gareja.

      For the rest of the time, it depends on your interests. For the beach, head to Batumi. For mountains/hiking, go up to Mestia in the Svaneti region (would probably be cooler up there). For wine tasting and ancient monasteries, head to Telavi in the Kakheti region. If you haven’t already, check out my other posts on Georgia – they should give you more of an idea of what to expect.

  18. I just found this post (via Twitter) at the perfect time… I’m planning a trip to Georgia and Armenia for this summer! Thanks for writing it, I’ll be reading everything else you wrote about this region now…

    • Hi Katrinka! Glad you found the post helpful! If you have any questions after reading through my other posts on Georgia and Armenia, feel free to shoot me an email.

  19. Michael says:

    Thanks for this helpful blog post Katie. I am mostly interested in Armenia and now I am even more interested! I plan to travel there later this year (hopefully in September) as I’ve heard the weather is good and the vibe is buzzing as many diaspora Armenians are there visiting. Do you have any recommendations of where to eat in Yerevan? I also plan on doing an extensive tour of the country mainly of the old churches, which are the most attractive? Ideally, it would be amazing to visit forgotten ancient churches hidden among the mountains or forests. Thanks again!

  20. I’m working on planning a trip for July/August that includes Georgia and Armenia, and this was super helpful! Originally Georgia was just going to be a “passing through” destination since I’ll be staying with a friend in Armenia, but its sounding increasingly wonderful the more I read about it.

  21. Good post with an overview – I’ll be visiting these three countries as well as Nagorno Karabakh in the next 2 – 3 months so look forward to my visit and also writing about it. The only visas I’ll need in advance with my passports are Azerbaijan and Nagorno, so I’d say Georgia is probably the easiest one to backpack round. Bit disappointed to hear Azerbaijan is expensive – really hadn’t reckoned that. This is great stuff as I have asked a lot of blogger srecently if they have been to these countries, and to be honest some travel bloggers havent even heard of these states. I kid you not! Safe travels. Jonny

    • Yeah, Azerbaijan is basically like Western Europe prices. Public transport is still cheap and you can do homestays outside of Baku, but even the homestays charge like $25 a night. There were only a couple hostels in Baku and they were totally booked when I went. I lucked out and stayed with a friend of a friend; otherwise I would’ve had to shell out $100 or more for a hotel room. And random things there were really expensive – I almost accidentally bought a pint of ice cream for like $20! Luckily I quickly did the math before I paid and changed my mind!

      • Wow! A $20 ice cream! Thats crazy stuff. I hope for those prices at least the food and the hotel rooms will be decent. I’ll report back after my trip! Safe travels. Jonny

  22. Dear Katie,

    The best ice cream in Azerbaijan costs at most 5 manats. However, I find the locally produced ice creams more delicious. They cost not more that 2 manats. They are with varieties of flavor. It was a fraud or cheat. It is not possible. You should kill that man:).

  23. Katie,
    Please do not remove azeri person’s posts! The readers should see these people’s response and the level of their human development–
    I’m Ukrainian from NYC and had the same bad experience in Baku and wonderful experience in Yerevan..

    • Tural Alizada says:

      Dear Elena, I have been in Ukraine many times, in Kharkov, Kiev, Yalta etc. I have had very good as well as very bad experiences with people there. But 1 or 2 people, even more, can not change my point of view on Ukrainian people. I love them and I have a lot of friends from there. Let’s pour our negative feelings onto the water and approach to the people with love and compassion. Agree with me that Insulting the whole nation for one person’s comments here is not right and really offensive. Let’s respect to each other!

  24. Thanks for the great round-up Katie. I’m sure it will help potential visitors get a better understanding of each country. Though, of course, it is by no means exhaustive (nor was it meant to be, so no qualms about that) and I encourage everyone to do further research and make up their minds. That being said, no amount of reading will replace first-hand experience, so I’d love for everyone to visit all of these destinations as each has their unique advantages and drawbacks. It’s like going to the Netherlands and not taking a detour to Belgium and vice-versa. Similar, but something different depending on what you’re looking for.

    I do want to make a small correction, many sights date back to much further than the 4th century. Though unfortunately not much survives intact, as the region has been one of conquest and destruction for millenia. Erebuni Fortress in Yerevan, for instance, was built in 8th century BC, which is also the founding date of Yerevan itself, making it about 2800 years old. Not much from that age survives, however. Erebuni itself is mostly just ruins though, so unless one is a real archaeology nut and understands what they’re looking at, there isn’t too much to see for the general audience. There are more gems that have lasted from that time scattered around the country and overall region, though buildings and sights from the 4th century AD on are much more prevalent, as you say.

    Like previously mentioned, Georgia and Armenia are like Holland and Belgium (except MUCH more mountainous). Near each other, relatively easy access to/from, shared history, similar architecture, and friendly relations (some political issues aside), but something different to offer to each individual. Tbilisi is wonderful and truly is the jewel of the Caucasus, but I personally find Yerevan much more open and with a buzzing vibe, especially in the summer months. Perhaps this is because I live here and am more acquainted and feel more “at home,” so don’t take my word as the gospel. Late nights/early mornings are the norm in the warmer months and you’d never have any problems with crime or other unpleasantness. “Outdoor cafe culture” was defined here during Soviet times (and later exported elsewhere) and it’s great for people watching before drinking and dancing the night away. Tbilisi is a better example of a “Caucasian” city, while Yerevan was modeled as a broad avenue West European city a la Paris/Vienna, with a circular design that is easy to navigate. It’s no Paris, of course, but it is very different from Tbilisi is what I wanted to emphasize. Comparisons aren’t very fair as each has it’s own soul and atmosphere that should be experienced. If you’re a fan of 20th century architecture, there are some real soviet modernism gems to be found scattered around neo-classical facades. Tbilisi is better for the traditional Caucasian architecture, as Armenia was under Turkish occupation during the period that Georgia experienced freedom to build and develop. On a final note, as eye candy, I don’t think anything beats Mount Ararat overlooking the city. So if you come try to opt out for a room with a view.

    I’ve never been to Azerbaijan (I wouldn’t be allowed to anyway) so I can’t comment on it, but I would never discourage somebody from visiting. Even though our countries are de-facto at war, I don’t wish to badmouth it and I’m sure it has much to offer to tourists. So don’t be afraid or put off, Baku is a real up and coming hub in the region.

    To summarize, if you want the real Caucasus, go to Georgia. If you want ancient history, the birth place of Christianity (with some important pagan past sprinkled in) and a fiercely nationalistic people (not in a negative sense) with a true passion for their rich past, come to Armenia. No offense to our neighbors as they may surely win out in some other departments (Georgian food = YUM), but Armenia being the only surviving nation from the oldest Babylonian map of the world should tell you enough. If you want a more “Eastern” atmosphere with a religious and ethnic twist (I do not mean this in a bad way) then go to Azerbaijan, which is related to Turkey culturally so that’s what you can expect. Baku is becoming much like Dubai, so if you like that sort of stuff then by all means go ahead. Like I said, each place has it’s own vibe and feel that shouldn’t be missed. This is what makes this region so rich in diversity and definitely worth a visit.

    If anybody wants more info or friendly suggestions, I’d love to help anybody out, especially about Armenia as that’s what I’m most knowledgeable about. I hope some Georgian and Azeri compatriots can also chime in with objective advice about their respective countries. All the best and safe travels.

    • Thanks Arto! Yes, this was just designed as a brief overview for anyone thinking about visiting the region. I spent about 4 weeks in Georgia, 6 weeks in Armenia and just 10 days in Azerbaijan.

  25. Great blog – thanks. My partner and I are travelling to Georgia in May 2014. She is also gluten intolerant. Can you give us any clues about what’s good and what’s not good. Also how you got on with asking about it.

    • Hi Martin,

      I speak decent Russian, so I just always said in Russian “I am allergic to wheat” (oo menya allergia pshenitsa). They don’t really know what gluten is, so you need to specify wheat, rye and barley (wheat was always the biggest concern). I would try to find or make cards before you go explaining what she can’t eat in Russian and/or Georgian (you can definitely find Russian ones online, I think at celiactravel.com, but Georgian may be harder to find). Most of the stuff to avoid will be pretty obvious – no bread or dumplings. Grilled meat should be fine, although some places will want to give it to you with a kind of pita bread so you’ll need to say no bread (khleb nyet). I would stay away from meatballs as they may be made with bread crumbs.

      Check out this website to give you a better idea of some of the traditional foods and what they are made of: http://georgianrecipes.net/.

  26. Dear all,

    First of all, merry Christmas

  27. Sheki and other regions are under rejuvenation now. It looks better than before. Now the road are better in these regions as well.

  28. Before holding European Olympic Games in 2015, Baku plans to amaze visitors with some constructions. I advise you that you come in 2015.

  29. Come always. Not only in 2015

  30. Orkhan from Baku says:

    Very good and realistic post, Katie, thank you!
    I lived in US so I understand your point of view and idea very clearly.

  31. I had had no idea how difficult it was to get a visa to Azerbaijan for a US-citizen till my American friend wanted to visit Azerbaijan. Actually he lives in Sri-Lanka, so he couldn’t get it. Because he needed to go to the embassy in his country. That’s just stupid. Azerbaijan could make a lot of money from tourism. But appearantly the Azerbaijani government doesn’t think they need tourists. Because of the tough visa procedures we lose thousands of tourists every year.

  32. I live in Azerbaijan and frequently travel to Georgia. Everything mentioned above is true: Azerbaijan is “fancier” and has lots of new developments, however it cannot make up for the lack of hospitality training (although, paradoxically, individual people are very hospitable), an absolute horrifying visa/ residence permit system (I have to go every 6 months through a set of medical tests including AIDS, plague and psychiatric checks in order to be allowed to be in the country, not to mention that I need some papers from my landlord that some landlords don’t even have as they are outdated! + many many other headaches), just some of the reasons for which I will soon move out of here and probably never come back to visit (but I will gladly go back to Georgia). also, yes, the catcalls, indecent questions (i get asked many many times on the street how much I cost because I apparently look Russian, although I am always wearing normal clothes (jeans, etc), groping (yes you read that right), general attitude of the male part of the population are a huge problem. top on that the more than hateful attitude you saw on Kamran posting here regarding Armenians, served to you in constant doses every day and you will understand that it is a place that wants and pretends to be nice but fails to be so. i completely agree with Katie that Georgia is the winner in this “contest” and their attitude (not their shiny buildings) will continue to make them so.
    P.S. I’m an EU citizen so no one has it easy in Azerbaijan, while in Georgia you are welcome and don’t need a visa at all.

  33. Dear all
    Comparing these three countries is not fair. Because,as the economy of Georgia and Armenia is too low, that is why they have cheaper prices, and from the living standarts of the population in that countries are too low (200 dollars salary per month is nothing for the whole family). Of couse, I do agree that Georgia is the first place regarding the prices, but please do not only take account only the prices. The price does not mean that the country has tourism background or not.
    As my studying for 4 years in tourism sector, I am also not agree with the high prices, no hostels for budget travelers of my country (Azerbaijan), but regarding the sightseeing, unfortunately I do not and cannot agree with you. Because maybe in Baku you just have visited “Old City”. But Baku is not only consist of Old City. The places like “Gobustan, Ateshgah, Gala Museum etc.” should be considered, as well.
    About the regions, yes, I do agree that because of less knowledge in our some regions, local people even not able to help you with english. However, I am totally disagree that you mentioned our people is not hospital. We are known as hospital population in the world, and “Tripadvisor” or other touristic sites proves it (from tourists` comments), as well.
    Regarding the hotel prices, you can find 3 star hotels in Old City (which is city center) for a room price of 25 eur per person (breakfast included).You can easily find any hotel in Baku that you want from booking.com. But take into consideration that, the price of food and transportation is not like in European countries. Local busses are for 0,20 cents and metro one way is for 0,20 cents, which is too cheap.
    What about male group,let`s being fair, in every country we have these kind of men. It is not about nationality or mentality, it is about the personal behavior, so that for one or two, it is not fair to compare all population.
    Also Dear Katie, I do not know how you found the type of that bus in Baku, but from 2009, I did not see that kind of busses in my country.
    Also regarding visa, I would like to notice that almost for 1,5 years, Azerbaijani visa costs just 20$ not more.
    Every individual while traveling they do not want to see problems regarding visa, transportation etc, but even for our people there are difficulties getting visa to USA,European countries. Visa costs 60 eur, non-refundable (no matter you get visa or they refuse it), also the embassy reqiures, job reference, bank account, but for our country the embassy just wants the confirmation of where you are going to stay.Also Azerbaijani Visa is e-visa, so you do not need even go to the embassy.
    Again, on my post I just wanted to explain that for bad or good experiences it is not fair concretely saying what is bad, what is good!

    • Havva,

      Thank you very much for your comments. Please notice that I wrote this post after my visit almost 2 years ago, so I realize things may have changed in Baku by now. When I visited, I could find only a handful of hotels on sites like Booking.com and nothing was under $100. I could only find 2 hostels and both were booked several weeks before my visit. Prices can be a major concern for travelers, so it is impossible to write a fair comparison of the countries without talking about prices.

      The picture of the bus is a bus I rode on from Qax to Sheki. I rode on a similar one between Zaqatala and Qax.

      I am not sure where you are getting that visa prices are only $20 because they were $140 when I visited and it has gone up to $160 since then.

      I stand by my assessment that Georgia is currently the easiest country for most Westerners to visit – they have a variety of accommodation options, almost everything can be booked online, the prices are lower than in Azerbaijan and they have tourist information booths or offices in multiple towns outside of Tbilisi. They have improved the roads significantly, making it easier to get around as well – especially up to the mountains. Again, perhaps Azerbaijan has done some of these things since I visited in 2012, but I can only speak to what I observed when I was there.

    • e-visa costs 20$, for several times I got this visa for my european friends

      • US and Europe may be treated differently, I just know it says on the Azerbaijan embassy website for the US that a visa is $160.

  34. These are great pics. I love the one at the top, so dreamy, like Narnia or something :) Thanks for the insight into these countries, very interesting!

  35. Dear Katie,

    Thank you for amazing post about my motherland , Azerbaijan, and the rest of the Caucasus !its 100% true, especially about the fact guys staring at you all the time, zero respect to the women( and they Love to talk about respect), def Love Georgia and Tbilisi, it’s was our little get away from dusty Baku! Unfortunately I never had chance to visit Armenia, as I am Azerbaijani citizen, but I have bunch of friends from PeaceCorp who had visited it and just loved it!))
    Traveling is the best thing to do!!!

  36. Orkhan Ahmadli says:

    Anyone would like me to write my comments on Minnesota as a tourist?

  37. I don’t get it too! why would you build so many fancy hotels, develop tourism but make it so difficult for tourists to get here. Regarding Georgia -I love the country and it’s nature but I’ve had bad experience there. Georgian men are very arrogant and aggressive towards women (especially tourists).
    So I won’t take into consideration travelling around Caucausus ever again… I prefer Asia & Central America! That’s the real life, fantastic experience, unforgetable memories, it’s different, it’s exotic,it’s incredible. loved every second I spent there!

    • Orkhan Ahmadli says:

      The reality is that major part of hotels in Baku are designated for rich tourists, business people and politicians who are rich. The ones who do not feel okay with the little amount of money that they have can go to countries where service is cheap (obviously the infrastructure in those countries and cities is also lagging behind). Baku is a rich and expensive city, if someone has money issue, then that person should not better visit Azerbaijan.

      I live very close to hotels like Republic, Four Seasons, Absheron – JW Marriot, Hilton. All of these hotels get upper class visitors from all over the world.

      Take into consideration that Baku is no longer a typical Post-Soviet city. It joins new high class emerging group of cities.

      • Baku is a rich city? Then why does a sizable part of the city still doesn’t have running water? Baku is a city that has rich people, it is not a rich city in itself. It’s enough to go two corners left or right from the glam areas to see the real Baku. But I guess you live in your rich bubble, so you wouldn’t know :)

  38. Leyla Aslanova says:

    Azerbaijan has a lot of religious places, in fact quiet ineteresting in termsof history to it. There are many travel books and even internet sources (you can just google and it comes out). You could have visited catholic church, the big orthodox, mosques in the Old City ad even take a picture of the Armenian church in the city center.
    When comparing prices though it is worthy to consider the GDP of each country, in Azerbaijan incomes are higher than in Armenia or Georgia therefore prices are higher too, however it is still manageble not to spend a lot. You just need to have a plan in advance and ask advise. You should have traveled to regions of Azerbaijan, it would be a different impression. People are beyond nice and all doors are open for guests and table full of food (free!).But in any case I can keep going on and on about Azerbaijan, at the end of the day there are as many impressions as many tourists :)

    • If you read my responses above you would’ve seen I did travel outside of Baku – I spent time in Qax, Lekit, Sheki and Lahic and stayed with local families who were very welcoming. I never said people weren’t welcoming in Azerbaijan (I just found Georgians even more so).

      And I did see some of the religious sites in and around the Old City. I just thought there was a lot more throughout the country in Georgia and Armenia. I did do quite a bit of reading in advance but most resources mentioned the same few sites over and over.

  39. for those who understand russian –
    http://kuprblog.blogspot.com/

  40. Great post!
    Amazing to find a blog which covers the Caucasus region that kind of extensive. I initially browsed through German travel websites and blogs and it was really hard to find any decent information.

    As I might want to visit Georgia as well on my way to SE-Asia in summer this year I highly appreciated your posts here and have now read nearly all of them.

    Thanks for all these information and the great blog. :-)
    Your blogposts convinced me that Georgia might be a really good choice off the beaten track.

  41. Great write up Katie. We are currently in Turkey and heading over to Georgia in a few weeks. We are also going to be heading to Armenia thanks to this write up. Since we are so close we might as well head over :)

  42. Hi Katie,

    First of all, Well Done on such a great write-up! In fact, yours is the most informative one from my googling.
    I plan to travel solo to all these 3 countries in September. Is public transport doable in most places?
    For accommodation, is it possible to just walk-in rahter than book in advance?
    Appreciate very much your comments.
    Thanks in advance!

    • You’re welcome!

      Public transport is definitely doable – that’s all I used. You’ll take buses and marshrutkas most places, plus Baku and Tbilisi have subway systems (small and easy to figure out) and you can take trains within Georgia (you could take the train between countries, but it takes way longer than by marshrutka).

      I would think in September you could just walk in to places to stay, it shouldn’t be super crowded. Just beware in some of the smaller towns, if you go to them, there aren’t a ton of options.

  43. I have been in Ireland for one year. I noticed that every two of five men or females are cursing. And it does not matter where you are. It may be in the bus or wherever you want. First when I went there, I stayed for a week at hostel near Cathal Brugha Str (downtown). Every night I could not sleep there because of loud shouting. I do not want to mention about high crime rates and stabbing accidents. When it comes to staring, it happens in many countries. It is a matter of mentality and personal behavior.I have been to other European countries as well. They are convergent to some extent.

  44. When it comes to prices, the economy of Azerbaijan is three time stronger than these two countries taken as a whole. With regards to dust, I think the city is not dusty because Baku means the town of winds. Thus, the wind sweeps the dust away:). You can see spectacular buildings in Baku.

  45. Maybe those countries are at Euphoria stage. Azerbaijan is at Antagonism stage. See Doxey’s irritation Index

  46. Hi!
    Thanks for the interest in the region. I guess you encountered different types of tourism. There is an impression that Azerbaijan is more focused on a higher class tourism. I think its pretty much like Paris for non-EU people. Hard to get visas and very expensive for an average tourist who wants to get to know the country, rather than just visit for a day.

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