Complete Guide To Getting From Georgia To Abkhazia
A complete guide on how to get from Georgia to Abkhazia, based on personal experience in May 2019 and updated with information from other travelers.
Note: The Georgian border is currently closed due to COVID-19. The border with Abkhazia is also closed. I will update this guide when more information becomes available.
Abkhazia is a breakaway republic backed by Russia. Recognized by only a handful of countries, Georgia considers it part of Georgia. Many travelers believe, due to its convoluted status, it’s impossible to visit Abkhazia.
However, visiting Abkhazia is relatively straightforward, provided you have some patience. Below you can find a complete guide to getting the visa for Abkhazia, and how to get from Georgia to Abkhazia.
Getting an entry permit for Abkhazia
Hold your horses! Before you can head out to Abkhazia from Georgia, you have to get an entry permit from the Abkhazian government.
To do so, go to the website of the Abkhazian foreign affairs and fill out the form. Make sure to put enough time under the “period of stay” option. Many people only say they want to stay a few days, but end up staying longer.
It takes 5-7 working days for the entry permit to be issued. I applied for mine on a Monday and got the permit the following Monday.
Once you get the permit, print out 2 or 3 copies. You need one at the border, and another one to get your actual visa in Abkhazia (more on this later). The third copy is in case you lose one. Shit happens, you know.
There are a handful of countries that don’t need a visa for Abkhazia. These are:
- South Ossetia
- Vanuatu, Venezuela
Bored while waiting for your entry permit? Check out this guide to visiting Tbilisi on a budget!
How to get to the Georgia – Abkhazia border
The nearest city to the Abkhazian border at Ingur is Zugdidi. You can reach Zugdidi from Tbilisi by train or marshrutka.
Marshrutkas to Ingur, where the border is, wait at the train station and start running around 7:00 in the morning. They leave when full, and cost 3 GEL.
It’s also possible to take a taxi to the Abkhazian border from Zugdidi. This should be around 10 GEL.
Make sure you have some Russian rubles on you before you cross the border. There is no money changing facility, and they don’t accept GEL in Abkhazia.
Crossing from Georgia to Abkhazia at the Ingur border
The Georgian side
The border is officially open from 7:00 in the morning. However, foreigners who want to cross the border need clearance from Tbilisi. The office that gives this clearance doesn’t open until 10:00, and it can take a few hours before they get back to the police post on the Georgian side. Make sure to bring snacks and a good book!
I arrived at the border around 7:30, but couldn’t cross until 12:00. The Georgian side will take your passport to put some information on their computer, and they might ask a few questions. Don’t mention that Abkhazia is its own country. If they ask why you want to visit, just say you want to see all of Georgia. I wasn’t asked any questions, as no one at the police post spoke English.
The Abkhazian side
Once the Georgian police say you can go, it’s about a 15 minute walk to the Abkhazian side. If you’re carrying heavy luggage, you can jump on a marshrutka, but it’s better to just walk. Once you reach the Abkhazian border, there are two border posts.
The first border post is manned by an Abkhazian guard. He’ll check your entry permit and will stamp your passport. They didn’t speak English but were friendly enough to ask me where in the passport I wanted my stamp. This part took about 10 minutes.
About 100 meters further is a Russian checkpoint, manned by the FSB. Here they’ll lazily search your bag, check our entry permit, and ask you a few questions. Several people here spoke English, and they were friendly and professional.
They took me to a back room for some extra questions, but the FSB officer was friendly and told me it was routine. They were mostly interested in my travels to Pakistan and Iran. This part took about 20 minutes.
Onwards travel from the Abkhazian border
There are taxis and marshrutka waiting right outside the border compound. There is no direct transport to Sukhumi, so you’ll have to go to Gali (Гал) first. A marshrutka to Gali costs 50 rubles and takes about 15-20 minutes.
The marshrutka drops you off at the bus station in Gali, from where you can take a bus or marshrutka to Sukhumi (Сухум). A bus costs 200 rubles and marshrutka cost 250 rubles. The ride takes about 2 hours.
If you get dropped off at the bus station in Sukhumi (right next to the train station), you can take local bus number 1 into the city center. It goes right in front of the bus station.
Getting a visa in Sukhumi
Once you reach Sukhumi, you have two days to get your visa. But since it’s such an easy process, you might as well get it over with. The visa office address is Sakharova 33 in Sukhumi. It’s open from Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 17:00. They have a lunch break between 12:00 and 13:00.
To get the visa, show the people your entry permit. The entry permit has the duration of your stay on it, but if you ask nicely, they might give you a few extra days if necessary. My visa was 400 rubles, payable in cash. The whole process took about 10 minutes.
The visa is a separate piece of paper, so make sure you don’t lose it. You need it to leave the country.
Where to stay in Sukhumi
Many people use Sukhumi as their base to explore Abkhazia. There are plenty of hotels and guest houses, and a handful of homestays too.
- Budget: Roza Guesthouse. A bit outside of the city center, Roza offers a dorm room and private rooms. Run by a friendly young family and with a great garden, this is a perfect budget option in Sukhumi. Book Roza Guesthouse here.
- Mid-range: Sukhumi City Hostel. Don’t let the name fool you, this is not a hostel. Right at the water, close to the center, this place is popular with the handful of foreigners who travel to Abkhazia. The owner speaks English. Check out Sukhumi City Hostel now.
- Homestays: If you’re looking for a homestay, head up to the seaside promenade and talk to one of the ladies selling tours there. They can help you sort it out. It helps if you speak Russian, though, English isn’t common.
There are plenty of other options online. Browse Sukhumi accommodation here.
Other places to visit in Abkhazia
New Athos (Новый Афон), also known as Akhali Atoni, is about 30 minutes away from Sukhumi and makes for a great day trip. The drive up here is stunning, and New Athos has several points of interest. These include a gorgeous monastery, a hilltop fort, an abandoned railway station, and a cave.
Gagra is a beach resort popular with Russian tourists. I honestly didn’t think it was that special, although the drive from Sukhumi to Gagra is really pretty. Some people opt to stay a night in Gagra, but I personally think a day-trip from Sukhumi is enough. However, if you want to visit Lake Ritsa without going on a tour, it’s probably easier to get there from Gagra. Gagra is about 1.5 hours away from Sukhumi.
Due to bad weather, I didn’t go here, but it’s supposed to be stunning.
Unfortunately, there is no public transport to the lake. Getting there with a (Russian) tour is easily organized in Sukhumi or Gagra, and costs around 1,000 rubles.
However, if you have time and camping equipment, it’s worth trying to hitchhike there. There are also several hotels, but they are quite expensive. Besides the natural beauty, it’s possible to take a look at one of Lenin’s summer houses at Lake Ritsa.
Money in Abkhazia
Abkhazia uses Russian Rubles. There are ATMs in Abkhazia that accept international debit and credit cards. However, these ATMs are often empty or out of service, and when they’re not, there’s often a long line to get money. It’s best to bring enough Russian rubles for your entire trip.
Getting a SIM card in Sukhumi
Unless you speak Russian, getting around in Abkhazia can be tricky due to the language barrier. So it’s useful to get a local sim card to get connected. Luckily, it’s very easy to get a local sim card in Abkhazia.
The two main operators are A-Mobile and Aquafon. They both have offices on Victory Avenue. You need to have a visa to get a SIM card. The whole process of getting a sim card in Sukhumi takes about 10 minutes, and prices range between 500 – 800 rubles.
Safety in Abkhazia
Most governments advise against travel to Abkhazia, and there are no consular services available for most nationalities. However, these travel advisories mostly date back from the time there was still an active conflict in the region.
For tourism purposes, Abkhazia is relatively safe, especially if you stick to the main tourist areas of Sukhumi, New Athos, Gagra, and Ritsa Lake. For more information on places to go outside these areas, talk to the owner of Sukhumi City Hostel.
So there you have it, a complete guide on getting from Georgia to Abkhazia, including all other information you might need. Anything else you want to know? Just ask in the comments.
Lurking in the Caucasus? Don’t miss this Georgia travel guide!
Yay transparency! There are affiliate links in this post. If you book something using one of the links, I’ll make a bit of money at no extra cost to you. It covers the costs of running the blog!