KUTAISA (QUICK NOTES):
You can also take multi-day tours from Kutaisi north into Svaneti National Park.
I started in Akhaltsikhe. I walked to the Central Bus Station and caught the 10:30am bus to Kutaisi. My suitcase went under the back seat. I was not charged extra for it. The price was G$15.
From there, I caught a #1 bus to take me the 4kms to the Old Town. The bus leaves from in front of the Bus Station. Go to the opposite side of the road … the bus travels from right to left. The price was G$0.40.
I pre-booked a Queen Room with Private Bathroom at the White House Hostel. It was advertised at a last minute discount of G$15 / US$5 per night. They showed me to a room just a little bit bigger than the queen bed. No furniture. No bathroom. It looked nothing like the photos. I cancelled the booking, found a cafe, got on the internet, and looked for something else.
I chose the Central Apartment. The price was G$50 / US$17 per night for 3 nights. It was a fully equipped 2 bedroom apartment located north of the centre at 39 Varlamishvili Street.
You can stay almost anywhere within walking distance of Kutaisi Park. A couple of nights here is enough. Use your 1 available day to do an EU€13 ‘Caves and Canyons’ tour.
The currency in Georgia is the Lari (or the ‘GEL’). I will refer to them as G$s. At the time of writing:
Over time, these exchange rates will change. Please check the current rates.
CHANGE OF PLAN:
It was late September and the weather was starting to change for the worst. My original plan was to head north into Svaneti National Park to see towns like Mestia and Ushguli. This area is said to be the nicest area in Georgia.
The problem is that to get to Mestia you have to take a 6 hour minibus ride via Zugdidi. The last 4 hours of which takes you up over 2,000 metres on bad roads. I decided that I didn’t want to go up into the mountains in the cold weather and the rain 🙁
Mtskheta has good reviews … so, let’s have a look …
I arrived at the Bus Station at 9:45am. The 10am bus to Tbilisi said that they would take me to Mtskheta. He looked at my suitcase. The price was G$12 plus G$10 for my suitcase. We stopped at 11:45am for a comfort stop in Surami.
I walked up the off-ramp to a small bus stop about 600 metres away. Some friendly locals helped to get me on a minibus into town. The price was G$2.
LESSON LEARNT: I am not sure but I strongly suspect that the minibus to Tbilisi would have stopped at the same Tbilisi Bus Station that services the route from Tbilisi to Mtskheta. If so, it would have been easier to connect in Tbilisi.
The “Historical Monuments of Mtskheta” became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Mtskheta was a site of early Christian activity and Christianity was proclaimed the state religion in 337 AD. It remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Mtskheta was declared a “Holy City” by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2014.
In 2016 the Historical Monuments of Mtskheta were placed by UNESCO under Enhanced Protection which protects the town in the ‘Event of Armed Conflict’.
Mtskheta was, most likely, founded by the ancient Meschian tribes in the 5th century BC. It was capital of the early Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD. The Kingdom of Iberia and its capital may have been conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.
Early 6th century AD the capital was moved from Mtskheta to the more easily defendable Tbilisi. However, Mtskheta continued to serve as the coronation and burial place for most kings of Georgia until the end of the kingdom in the 19th century.
Our walk starts 2kms north of the Old Town at Beberi Fortress. We check out the streets around the Old Town before entering the Old Town, itself.
The old city is the nicest area but the whole immediate area around it is also reasonably nice.
This is what GRANDPAckers can expect to find at short notice in early October:
PLEASE NOTE: HOTELS usually display prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. But many search sites (like HOTELS) don’t provide a ‘private bathroom’ filter, so be careful with some of the cheap hotels and make sure that you read the room details.
AIRBnB / HOLIDAY RENTALS:
PLEASE NOTE: Other sites (such as Homeaway, FlipKey and VRBO are also worth a look).
Guest House / Homestay accommodation is very popular in this part of the World. This means that sites like AirBnB usually have several listings. That said, many such listings are also now available on BOOKING.COM where you tend to get better value for money (because you avoid AirBnB’s service and cleaning fees).
HOTELS does not do well in the Georgian marketplace for short-notice bookings. To compete with BOOKINGS, their strategy is to ‘get there first’ by offering big discounts well in advance. This means that they will have no / few available rooms at short notice. Use them if you are booking in advance.
There are many accommodation options within our GRANDPAcking price range.
I made a mistake with my accommodation in Akhaltsikhe. The nicest area was below the castle yet I booked an hotel over 1km away. I didn’t want to make the same mistake in Mtskheta. I did some quick research before arriving in Mtskheta and knew that there would be accommodation available so, I waited until I got to Mtskheta and had a quick look at the place before making my booking.
GUEST HOUSE SVETI:
I booked a Triple Room in Guesthouse Sveti. I paid G$50 / US$17 per night for 4 nights.
I could have booked a 1 bedroom apartment on Antioch Street for G$35 / US$12 per night … but, I wanted to be in the heart of the Old Town so that I could enjoy the ‘atmosphere’. I am glad that I did.
My hosts were lovely people and I enjoyed my stay. The only negative was the shower … the water constantly fluctuated between hot and cold and I had to continually adjust the water flow whilst having a shower.
OLD HOUSE APARTMENT:
I liked the atmosphere in the Old Town so I decided to stay a few more nights. There was something serene and pleasant about living in the old streets and hearing the chime of the Cathedral bells.
I searched for an apartment and found the Old House Apartment with Garden. It was advertised on BOOKING.COM but it was also advertised on AirBnB with a 50% discount. Using BOOKING, I was able to locate the apartment address. I went to view it, spoke to the host directly, and did a ‘fees free’ deal at the AirBnB rate. I paid G$45 / US$16 per night for 3 nights.
The apartment was perfect. I had the Tatini Cafe next door and the Cathedral walls 20 metres away.
WHERE TO STAY:
You can stay anywhere within walking distance of the Cathedral.
However, for the best atmosphere, try and get into the Old Town streets (if you can afford the ‘premium price’).
Have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK:
Almost all of the restaurants are found in the Old Town. This is a ‘tourist trap’ area where you pay ‘premium prices’. But, in fairness, they aren’t ‘extortionate’ prices. An average main course will cost G$20 plus an imposed 10% tip.
North of Hotel Duti on Narekvavi is a small kiosk that sells simple snacks. You can get something like a pita bread hot dog for G$1.50 or a Cheese Filled Bread for G$2. In the Old Town there are some good budget options.
Considering its location (next to the Cathedral walls) it is very well priced. A Spaghetti Carbonara is G$12. A Chicken Schnitzel G$18. Glasses of wine start at G$6.
A local 500ml beer in a corner shop will cost about G$2.50. A 1L about G$4. A 2.5L starts at G$6.50. Expect to pay G$4 for a 500ml local draft beer in a tourist bar / restaurant.
In the Central Park cafes, you can get a nice Georgian Coffee for G$3.
Mtskheta Railway Station is about 1.5kms southwest of the Old Town across the Mtkvavi River bridge.
There are Money Exchanges around the Old Town.
INTERNET / WIFI:
Don’t trust your hotel to provide good wifi in our GRANDPAcking price range. There are 3 main prepaid providers in Georgia.
I chose Beeline because they offer the best data-only packages. For G$9 you can get 4GBs for 1 month. You are ‘meant’ to pay G$3 for the new SIMcard.
I purchased 30GBs for 1 month with a SIM for G$35. The 30GBs was G$25 but, somehow, I was charged G$10 for the SIM. I suspect that the lady who configured it up for me took a tip. I walked out of the shop with a working smartphone and immediately I downloaded the Beeline Georgia app. The app has an English option.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
There is no reason to feel unsafe. As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
WHEN TO GO
Mtskheta / Tbilisi has a humid subtropical climate that is mild with no dry season. Summers are hot and muggy with thunderstorms. Winters are mild with precipitation from mid-latitude cyclones. Seasonality is moderate.
The best time to come is May through September.
WHAT TO DO:
The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century) and the Jvari Monastery (6th century) are amongst the most significant monuments of Georgian Christian architecture, and are historically significant in the development of medieval architecture throughout the Caucasus. Of special significance are early inscriptions, which form a valuable reference in the study of the origins of the early Georgian alphabet.
In the outskirts of Mtskheta are the ruins of the Armaztsikhe fortress (3rd century BC), the Armaztsikhe acropolis (dating to the late 1st century BC), remains of a “Pompey’s bridge” (according to legends built by Roman legionnaires of Pompey the Great in the 1st century BC), the fragmentary remains of a royal palace (1st–3rd century AD), a nearby tomb of the 1st century AD, and a small church of the 4th century.
The Institute of Archaeology and the garden of Mikheil Mamulashvili are also worthy of note.
MONASTERIES & RIVER WALK:
This walk is about 19kms so allow 4-5 hours.
You have to be a bit of a religious fanatic to get anything out of these monasteries. But the walk is pleasant without being exceptional.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
As this is a ‘Living Idea’, I have deviated from providing a 1 month budget and reduced it to a 1 week budget.
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
I EXISTED to GRANDPAcking standard.
My accommodation G$50 / US$17 per night for 4 nights including Breakfast followed by 3 nights at G$45 / US$16 per night in an apartment.
I already had my Beeline SIMcard with 30GBs of data that I previously purchased when entering Georgia.
I averaged G$22 each day on Food and Water.
My COE worked out to be about G$60 / US$21 per day.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
I LIVED to GRANDPAcking standard.
Living Costs: I averaged about G$6 / US$2 per night on drinks.
Entertainment: I spent nothing on excursions.
Shopping: I spent G$25 on shopping.
In / Out Costs: I spent G$24 on public transport from Kutaisi.
My total COL was about G$71 / US$25 per day. This was 49% of my budget.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down into Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
Accommodation: I have booked you into an hotel / guesthouse at G$50 / US$17 per night including Breakfast; Breakfast at your hotel will be much better value for money than what you can get on the street.
Transportation: There is no budget for local transport … you will be going on paid tours to the local sites.
Communications & Fees: I have budgeted a 1 month 4GB Beeline SIMcard Package for G$19.
Food & Water: Your budget averages about G$60 / US$21 per day for 2 people. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants.
Your COE is about G$99 / US$34 per day. This is 32% UNDER budget.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
This leaves you G$46 / US$16 per day to LIVE on.
It is worth coming here for a few nights just to live in the Old Town. You can relax and absorb the atmosphere or party up … your choice.