So, you want to travel to a country which doesn’t exist? A barely recognised, war torn state somewhere on the black sea? Well then you are reading the right article! Here’s how to travel to the Breakaway Republic of Abkhazia!
The breakaway Republic of Abkhazia is a little known, self declared nation on the sub tropical shores of the Black Sea! Russia is to the north and Georgia to the east. The Abkhazians have been fighting for their independence from their Georgian neighbours ever since the Soviet Union collapsed.
There’s beautiful, palm fringed boulevards in the capital of Sukhumi, rustic old Soviet buildings to explore, abandoned train stations, incredible lakes, deep caves and friendly people- if you can speak a few words of Russian to them that is. It’s off the beaten track. International isolation tends to do that to a place. But it’s far from impossible to get to.
And Stalin himself used to holiday here, so it might just be worth the effort!
I travelled to Abkhazia, from Georgia in 2016. This article will explain how you too can do the same.
So without further ado, here’s how to travel to the Breakaway Republic of Abkhazia!
Where Even Is This Breakaway Republic Of Abkhazia??!
Abkhazia is on the Black Sea. It’s de facto independent, but most of the world recognises it as part of Georgia. Except the Russians, and a few small Pacific Islands, who recognise it as independent. It’s between Georgia and Russia, so that means that you either have to travel in from Georgia, or from Russia. And there won’t be any flying, as the Georgians have vowed to shoot down any aircraft unlawfully entering their territory…
Step 1] Secure An Entrance Letter
First up you need to secure the all important entrance letter. This allows you to cross the border. This is not, however, a visa. Once in Abkhazia, you have to exchange your entrance letter for an official visa in Sukhumi. More on that shortly.
You need to include a scanned copy of your passport. I sent a photo of the passport, this was acceptable. Specify your date of entry and your entrance point. From Georgia, your entrance point will be Inguri. You should get an automated reply informing you that within 5 working days you will receive the entrance letter. I received mine exactly 5 working days after applying! The system works!
The entrance letter looks exactly like this:
Print off a minimum of 2 copies, if not more, as the border guards will keep a copy and you will need one to get your visa later. Importantly, it has to be a paper copy, screenshots just won’t do here!
Step 2] Get to Zugdiddi
Once your entrance letter is secure and you’ve printed off multiple copies- the more the merrier!- then it’s time to head to Zugdidi. This is the last Georgian city before the border. There are night trains from Tbilisi, or marshrutka’s from Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Mestia…
There’s not much going on in Zugdidi. There’s a tourist information, and a few guesthouses if you spend the night there.
Step 3] Get to the Inguri Border Crossing
The mighty River Ingur separates Georgia proper from its breakaway territory of Abkhazia. From Zugdidi, the crossing point is about 20 kilometres away. A taxi will cost 10 Georgian Lari. There are also marshrutka’s heading there which cost 2 Lari per person. They leave when full but not from the Train/Bus Station where you will probably arrive at.
If you are being cheap and want to take the marshrutka option, then walk into town and by the bridge- and the Sunday Market labelled on the map below- you should be able to find one eventually. If not stroll up the road which goes parallel to the river, without crossing it, and you can try and hail one down as this is the road they all take out of the city. Incidentally this is also where minibuses to Mestia arrive and depart from if you want another adventure after Abkhazia!
**** The borders are open from 8am until 7pm ****
Step 4] Check in with the Georgian Police
Once you’ve made it to the border, there’s a police building on the left hand side facing the bridge. The police here will scan your passport and will want to see your entrance letter to Abkhazia before they let you across. They might ask you a few questions, but it’s pretty relaxed. They just want to know that you won’t get arrested for not having the right documents, and that you aren’t working there at all. They won’t stamp you out, as technically, you aren’t even leaving their country.
Step 5] Cross the Bridge!
Once you’ve talked to the police, it’s time to cross the bridge that spans the mighty Inguri River and separates Georgia from Abkhazia. It’s supposedly a pedestrian only bridge, although quite a few cars did pass over when I walked it. It’s about a 200 metre walk from border post to border post.
If you’re feeling particularly lazy then you can always take the horse and cart service which runs from one side to the other.
There’s some great views from the bridge, although the bridge itself looks like it was built too many years ago. It’s rather dilapidated. Just before the bridge itself you will pass some armed Georgian soldiers and a strange and slightly threatening revolver statue which points towards Abkhazia but has had the muzzle tied in a knot…
Step 6] Get Through the Abkhazian Border!
At the end of the bridge, there’s a look outpost and a small office. Go to the window and hand over your passport and entrance letter. The guard will then make a few phone calls. I had to wait at least half an hour here before I could advance, while locals were just walking through all carefree and such like.
After the phone calls have been made, you walk up through the gates and barbed wire fencing towards the actual passport inspection point. Yes, there’s more checks. Here they thoroughly check your passport and entrance letter, and again make more phone calls. Probably to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If everything is in order, they keep one copy of the letter and then send you on your way. It’s rather time consuming, but I found there was no hassle or even any questioning. Just a lot of phone calls being made.
Step 7] Get to Sukhumi
So you made it across the border, and you’re actually in Abkhazia! Now what?
Most people will need to head to Sukhumi, the sea side capital. From the border you might get really lucky and find a direct minibus, but don’t count on it. Find a minibus to the town of Gal, about half an hour down the road. This will cost 100 Roubles per person.
Gal looks just like this in Cyrillic writing, the top bit in red. Sukhumi is the bottom right bit:
In Gal, the minibus stops at a large open square, parking lot type thing. This is the end of the line and also where minibuses to Sukhumi depart from. These leave every few hours. I caught one at 3pm. This might even have been the last of the day. The price will be 300 Roubles per person and the journey time is around 2 hours.
Step 8] Get Your Visa!
Once in Abkhazia you have three working days to collect your visa. Even if you only want a day trip, you’ll need a visa. This you collect from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is located at 33 Sakharov Street, near to the giant burned out government building. The ministry looks like this:
The cost for up to 10 days in the breakaway nation is USD 10. This has to be paid for at a bank, separate to the ministry, on Lakoba Street, five minutes walk away. You can pay in Roubles or Dollars. Hint: Walk past the National Bank of Abkhazia, unfortunately, this isn’t the right bank! It looks a little like this:
I’ve put directions from one to the other on the map below for you:
I paid for mine before I went to the ministry, as there was a big ass quee on Monday morning. The bank will know what to do, even if you don’t speak Russian, just keep saying Visa and wave some money around. At least a hundred people- mostly from Central Asia I found out after waiting so long with them- were trying to get work visas. Go in the afternoon, when it’s empty, as the actual process only takes about five minutes once you’ve paid.
You’ll get a Visa, which won’t be stuck into your passport, but be careful not to lose this vital piece of documentation as you can’t leave without it!
Step 9: Returning to Georgia!
It’s best to leave early to catch a bus back to Gal, then onto the border. I got to the bus station in Sukhumi around 10 am and there was one leaving around midday. Although the schedule was lax.
Sukhumi bus station is located next to the old train station. A taxi from the centre will cost around 150 Roubles depending on your haggling skills.
From there, it was another short ride to the border. The crossing back was easier than entering. No questions, just a quick look at the passport and the visa, and away I went. On the other side, I checked in with the police, the only questions they asked were about work. It’s illegal to engage in economic activity with Abkhazia, although I guess simply spending money there doesn’t count… I said no, of course I hadn’t been employed in Abkhazia. Then away I went, on a marshrutka to Zugdidi, to find another marshrutka to Mestia. That’s a whole other story. There are also minibuses straight from the border to Tbilisi if you don’t fancy hanging around!
And that’s it! That’s precisely how to travel to Abkhazia!
Time Zone: Abkhazia runs one hour behind Georgian time. This can mean waiting at the border if you arrive too early, or getting stuck when leaving if you exit too late!
Money: Abkhazia uses the Russian Rouble. It’s important to get some of these before hand, as there are few ATM’s in the country. I couldn’t find any money changers on the border either, and few in Sukhumi. Getting Roubles in Georgia shouldn’t be too strenuous a task.
Language: Abkhaz is the national language, but everyone speaks Russian. Not English. A few restaurants on the Sukhumi boulevard have picture menus, but it’s best to bring a Russian phrasebook. It helped me out immensely!
Dangers: Abkhazia seemed perfectly safe when I visited, but I read plenty of reports urging people to cross the borders early to avoid being stuck in bandit country. It’s not recommended by most Western governments to visit the region at all, there’s no embassy’s or consular help unless you’re Russian or Venezuelan and your average travel insurance probably won’t cover you here.
In addition, despite mine and many other traveller’s care free trips, it is a volatile region. Anything could happen. Just look at the war in 2008. Most recently, a few weeks after I visited, a Georgian man was shot dead on the border in very hazy circumstances. Travellers are unlikely to be caught up in anything, but just be careful, as with anywhere in the world these days, anything could happen!
Travel From Russia: I have no experience of this, but I met a few travellers in Abkhazia who had made the journey from Sochi. The border crossing was quite easy I heard, however you do need a double entry Russian visa, as you can’t exit to Georgia if entering from Russia. And vice versa.
If you have any updates, please comment below!