Kazbegi is just one of the stunning destinations you can visit in north-eastern Georgia. The region is famous for the Gergeti Holy Trinity Church, the dramatic Mt. Kazbek and the village of Stepantsminda, which most Georgians and tourists call ‘Kazbegi’. An ideal opportunity for those wanting to escape hectic Tbilisi and wander off into nature.
Kazbegi, a small town close to the border with Russia, might be the final destination of your adventure in north-eastern Georgia, there’s so much more to see and do in the area! In this post you’ll find a short description of the things you’ll pass driving to Kazbegi, as well as information on the various ways to get there.
Georgian Military Road
The adventure starts off with a drive on the Georgian military road, a ca 212 km long ancient passage across the Caucasus towards Vladikavkaz, Russia. Nowadays this road is mainly used by truck drivers, who you’ll spot lined up by the side of the road, waiting to get into Russia. Waiting can take up days and many truck drivers sleep in their truck before they can finally cross the border.
The Georgian military road (or military highway) has been established in the 19th century and has been the décor of a long history of trade and invasion. The condition of the road can vary from asphalt to gravel, due to the heavy snowfall in winter.
The Georgian military road starts close to Tbilisi and takes you along the blue waters on the Zhinvali reservoir and the stunning Ananuri fortress from where you have great views of the striking blue lake. The Ananuri fortress was built by the Dukes of Aragvi and the earliest parts date from the 13th century. The fortress consists of two fortifications, the Sheupovari part that has been well preserved and the lower fortification which is mostly in ruins.
Back on the road you’ll meet the other inhabitants of the Georgian military road. Hundreds of cows occupy the bridges, giving you almost zero space to pass. You can imagine how careful you have to be when driving yourself.
Deeper into nature you’ll pass Gudauri, a ski resort on 2196m altitude. Apart from skiing (December – April) you can enjoy paragliding, which will be randomly offered to you wherever you go in that area. Recently Gudauri has been getting very popular and ski lifts are being added every year.
When you’re not that into extreme sports, you’ll find the Georgian-Russian friendship monument nearby. Made as a mosaic, with Georgia on one side and Russia on the other, this was one of the most spectacular places I’ve seen on the road so far. The view is simply breathtaking!
Through the story portrayed on the walls of the monument, becomes immediately clear how rocky Georgia’s history has been. In the middle there’s mother Russia holding baby Georgia, proving that equality and mutual respect between the two countries, isn’t quite reached yet. The fact that mother Russia has been shot at (in the head!) proves how fragile their oh-so ‘friendly’ bond really is. The view, however, is magnificent!
Where to stay in Gudauri
€€€ Good Aura Hotel
€€€€ Monte Hotel
From Gudauri it’s just a short while to the town of Kazbegi and the Gergeti Holy Trinity Cathedral. First you’ll see the Jvari pass, the highest point of your journey so far (2395m). Many travelers don’t suffer from altitude sickness, unless they hike to the higher parts of the Caucasus.
Kazbegi, or Stepantsminda, is usually the final destination for many travelers. The town itself isn’t that interesting, although you could spend a few hours exploring it. It’s the nearby town of Gergeti and road to the Gergeti Holy Trinity Cathedral that attracts most visitors. This highlight is extremely impressive because of Mt. Kazbek (5047m), which adds a little drama on top of the regular sensation that is the Kazbegi area.
The mountain, called Mkinvartsveri or ‘Ice Top’ in Georgian, has one of the highest peaks in the Caucasus. In ancient Greece it was believed Prometheus was chained to the flanks of the mountain for steeling fire from the Gods and giving it to the mortals. Some Christians, however, believe that the manger of Christ is hidden somewhere in the area.
Whether you’re into these stories or not, the view from the Gergeti Holy Trinity Cathedral is amazing! On most summer days the top of Mt. Kazbek is covered in fog, giving it the nickname ‘the shy bride’. When you want to see it whole, chances are you have to visit in winter.
Most visitors get up by taking a 4×4 up the road, which is the easiest way to get up. Hiring a driver to take you up there costs around 60 GEL when negotiated correctly. The driver will take you almost all the way up and waits for you to take you down again.
Another way to get up is by hiking or horseback riding. The roads are steep and dusty, but when you have time it can be very rewarding. The villagers usually don’t speak English but since Georgians are so incredibly hospitable, this won’t be much of a problem. Do bring enough water for the trip as I haven’t seen a shop around.
Near Mt. Kazbek you’ll find several hiking opportunities for the experienced hiker. One of the most popular hikes is the one to the glacier, passing the Gergeti Trinity Church. The route is difficult and will take the entire day.
A little warning: do not hike alone anywhere in this region. Hikes are extremely dangerous and difficult. Make sure you have a trained guide at your disposal!
Where to stay in Kazbegi
€€€€ Rooms Hotel Kazbegi
Although you’d think you’re at the end of your trip, I’d advise to travel a little further. Right at the border with Russia there’s the Archangel monastery (Dariali) complex, which is quite new and still not entirely finished. It’s interesting to see the monks at work as they build the monastery themselves.
The location is somewhat surprising, right at the border with Russia. “Its location on the Russian-Georgian border is not accidental as this monastery is a form of protection for Georgia,” according to the Patriarch. With the monastery being there, hopes are Georgia and Russia will finally find their peace.
How to get to Kazbegi
Although I wouldn’t advise the inexperienced driver to challenge the Georgian military road, the best way to get to Kazbegi is by car. You can rent a car in Tbilisi or take a private taxi, which will cost you between 140 – 200 GEL one way. Hitchhiking is also a popular way to get from A to B in Georgia and can be done safely.
From Didube station in Tbilisi you can also take the minibus (mashrutka), which goes every hour and costs around 10 GEL.
From Tbilisi there are many tour companies going to Kazbegi. Colour Tour Georgia and Kartveli tours are both tour companies I’ve used throughout my travels in Georgia and Armenia and I’ve found them to be great on information from a local’s point of view. By using one of these companies, a trip to Kazbegi can be done within a day. Other methods require you to stay the night.
Have you been to Kazbegi? Share your travel tips below!
Read more about my adventures in Georgia:
- 50 things to do in Tbilisi
- 18 reasons to visit Georgia
- Where to eat in Tbilisi
- How Gori still believes in Stalin
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