Interested in Kazbegi Georgia? Then obviously you may already know at least something about this beautiful country.
The chances are that you have already decided to visit Georgia. Or you are already there and looking for the best things to do and places to visit.
If not yet, here’s a set of reasons why you should visit Georgia (Sakartvelo) right now.
Not many travelers know this but Georgia’s official name is Sakartvelo now. This is the name of the country in Georgian language and in Georgian constitution. Georgians are also trying to promote this new name internationally.
You’ll get bonus points in the eyes of almost every Georgian by using Skartvelo instead of Georgia.
The trip from the Georgian capital city Tbilisi to Kazbegi mountain area is a popular choice. I took it during my trip to Georgia at the beginning of May, which is still very much off-season there.
Here are the things for you to know and some real-life stories before you go on this trip.
- How To Get To Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)?
- What To Expect From A Classic Local One Day Tour To Kazbegi Georgia?
- What To Expect From A “Cosmic” Local Tour To Kazbegi Georgia? My Unique Experience
- Hiking from/to Juta Village
- Mount Kazbek
How To Get To Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)?
To get to the famous Kazbegi Georgia you must travel to the village Stepantsminda.
There are several options for traveling to Stepantsminda.
You can go there on a scheduled day trip or take so-called “marshrutka” from Tbilisi to Kazbegi on your own.
You can also consider renting a car. However, driving in Georgia is not always a pleasant experience due to the bad roads and so to say a bit crazy other drivers on the road.
Whatever option you choose you will have to take around three hours’ trip on the famous Georgian Military Highway (note that this time is just for driving). It is a truly spectacular road on its own. You’ll see breathtaking views of the Caucasian mountains throughout your route.
What To Expect From A Classic Local One Day Tour To Kazbegi Georgia?
By taking the day tour Kazbegi Georgia tour from Tbilisi you can be sure that everyone will promise you the most unforgettable experience. Yet, all one-day Kazbegi Georgia tours are with pretty much the same itineraries. The difference is only in price depending on how many travelers you will share your experience with.
You will leave in the morning and stop to see the most popular sightseeing sites on your way:
#1: Mineral Springs & Yellow Rocks
Well, this one was one of my favorites on the way to Kazbegi. The time and high density of minerals in the mineral springs have formed amazing yellow formations on the rocks.
You cannot pass this place as it stands out in the mountain scenery with its awesome looks.
Some travelers and probably local guides’ too think that it’s enough to admire these formations from the car. Don’t buy this! I suggest not only to get out of your vehicle but to try out how the real mineral water tastes. There is a tap set up in this place just for this purpose.
I bet you won’t drink more than one sip. It’s that salty and specific. Yet, this is how REAL mineral water tastes.
#2: Ananuri Castle Complex
Ananuri Castle is to say quite crowded and touristic place on your Kazbegi Georgia trip. The complex is nice and interesting to visit, but its popularity is a bit overwhelming.
The castle stands in a gorgeous place though. Hence the view alone is worth stopping by.
There are also two churches in the castle complex.
Most Georgians (especially the older generation) take religion very seriously. Georgians have their own orthodox branch.
Note that women are not allowed to enter churches without a headcover.
This might seem old-fashioned and somewhat limiting. Yet these are old local traditions. I’m sure any authentic traveler must respect local traditions regardless of his/her own opinion about them. And it is not just a matter of being polite. It’s what being a guest means. Georgians love and respect guests a lot. I think we should do the same being guests.
#3: Jvari Pass – The Highest View Point On Your Kazbegi Georgia Trip
Jvari pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 2,379 meters.
There is almost no vegetation at this altitude. You can feel the cold and already a bit thin mountain air here.
The views from Jvari pass will be among the most amazing on your Kazbegi Georgia trip.
A popular site of attraction here is Soviet-style monument once set-up for the friendship between Russia and Georgia.
Well, the friendship has not been very successful so far. Nor is the style of the monument. Yet it is still worth stopping by to admire the breathtaking mountain views. The monument itself is a part of history and should be accepted as such.
#4: Gudauri Ski Resort
There is famous Gudauri Ski Resort on your way from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda. As the name suggests it’s relevant for winter-sports’ lovers during the winter. Hence, it was not worth stopping by at the beginning of May. You’ll find plenty of information about this place on the web though.
#5: Gergeti Trinity Church
Once you reach Stepantsminda you will want to get to the famous Gergeti Trinity Church – probably the most famous sightseeing place in Georgia.
You have two options to get from Stepantsminda to Gergeti Trinity Church. Choose a short 4X4 wheel drive on an awful road or go for a three hours hike up there and then again back to the village.
Gergeti Trinity Church is a must-visit destination for almost any traveler to Georgia. The church dates back to the 14th century. It stands at an altitude of 2,170 meters and is still being actively used by Georgian Orthodox Church.
4X4 wheel drive in Georgia
In case you take a day tour to Kazbegi Gerogia you should check out if the 4X4 wheel drive is included in your tour (sometimes it’s not).
In case it is, I’d say there is a 99.99% chance that you’ll have this trip on the most popular 4×4 car in Georgia – Mitsubishi Delica. This 4X4 vehicle is capable of dealing with the bad Georgian roads and is easy/cheap to maintain. It explains its popularity in Georgia.
What’s strange most Delicas’ on Georgian roads are for the traffic on the left side while the traffic in Georiga is on the right side. This is because this car was originally foreseen for the Asian market only.
I’d say these “weird” cars on the already dangerous Georgian roads do not make them safer by any means. Yet sometimes it’s the only (and cheapest) way to get ahead (you’ll pay much more for a 4×4 tour on jeep-alike cars in Georgia).
Apart from these interesting facts, don’t expect that Mistibushi Delica is a very comfortable car. It is just bare minimum you need to get ahead on Georgian off-road.
Hiking to Gergeti Trinity Church
In case you have more time or if you stay more than one day in Kazbegi area (which I highly recommend you do) hiking to Gergeti Trinity Church is a great alternative for activity lovers.
I didn’t do this hike. Yet people say that this three-hours’ challenge has not been the easiest in their lives. It’s a steep walk up in the mountains and then coming back to the village.
Gergeti Trinity Church is, of course, very touristic sport. Yet, somehow it didn’t feel too crowded. It is probably because I visited Georgia at the beginning of May when it’s still pretty much off-season there.
The scenery is gorgeous, and the place itself has a very special aura up there.
Going back to Tbilisi
Soaking up awesome views from Gergeti Trinity Church is usually the last sightseeing in the standard Kazbegi Georgia one day tour. After this expect some three hours driving back to Tbilisi on the same road – Georgian Military Highway.
Be ready to meet sheep herds on your way. They block the road for 15 minutes or so. Yet it feels like forever. Be patient, eventually, they’ll move!
There is another sightseeing on your way to or from Kazbegi worth visiting. It’s Bazaleti Lake.
I’m coming from the country that by no means has a shortage in lakes. There are more than 3,000 lakes in Latvia. Hence, I had no intention to visit any in Georgia this time.
Besides, I was going to Kazbegi Georgia primarily for hiking (see next chapter below). Hence staying at the lake on the way to Stepantsminda was not in my plans.
Nevertheless, many people have good reviews about this place, and lots stay there overnight. Hence you may check it out if you have time on your way.
#7: Gveleti waterfall
I had decided to abandon my day tour services in Stepantsminda already before I signed for the Kazbegi Georgia tour.
My plan was to stay in Kazbegi at least for one night and to go for a longer day hike in the mountains the next morning.
If you choose to stay in Kazbegi, you still have plenty of time left for some other things to do in Stepansminda on the same day (as you save three hours going back to Tbilisi).
After a quick chat with locals on the street, I found a homestay for the night.
It was simple and rustic. The dorm had Soviet-style furniture, and I shared it with a loudly snoring but very friendly local guide.
Yet, the best part for the homestays in Georgia is their hospitality and the price. I got a bed for some 15 GEL (5 EUR), homemade dinner for another 15 GEL and filling breakfast for 10 GEL (3 EUR). Pretty good deal I’d say.
In the afternoon I chose to visit Gvaleti waterfall, which is easy to reach from the village by hiring a 4×4 car or just by feet if you have time. It was late afternoon and I chose to hire the host of the homestay to drive me to the waterfall.
Old Mimino’s stories
To be honest Gvaleti waterfall did not impress me much. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen lots of waterfalls in my previous journeys around the world. Maybe I was just tired. Who knows.
Yet, what made me smile was time spent with my homestay host. Let’s call him Mimino in this story.
I mentioned before that Georgians are hospitable people. They are also very proud of their history and can speak about it for hours. Mimino was from the older generation. Like many Georgians, he was tough and serious from outside, but very emotional at his heart.
During the short ride to the waterfall, I heard many stories about Georgian history, epic fights, and heroes. Some stories obviously turned into tales in Mimino’s interpretation. Yet they were God damn interesting to listen to.
Moreover, the Mimino enriched them with some very personal experiences. He didn’t like the new generation’s attitude towards life (what a surprise). He was disappointed about his more than 40 years old daughter’s choice to build a career in the city instead of giving him the grandchildren.
The old man was deeply convinced that this choice is a disrespect to him and the family. “The young generation thinks only about themselves”, he shouted angrily. I kept silent, nodded and listened. I mean, what could I say being at the age of his daughter…
What To Expect From A “Cosmic” Local Tour To Kazbegi Georgia? My Unique Experience
Now, before I switch to the next day hike in Kazbegi area I’d like to clarify, what is the difference between a “classic” one day tour to Kazbegi Georgia” and a “cosmic” to this area.
As said I knew I’ll stay in Kazbegi area for more than one day. Hence, I took “a risk” and signed for a day tour organized not by a big tour company but by the host of my hostel in Tbilisi. Let’s call him Zorik in this story!
I knew that the locals tend to exaggerate the service level they are going to provide in Gerogia (and not just in Georgia). Hence, I didn’t have a lot of expectations from the tour described as “cosmic” and “unrepeatable”.
I did not want to spend three or four hours in public “marshrutka” and I wanted to see the main “must-see” places on my way. After some bargaining, the price I agreed with for the tour was ok (around 50 GEL). I had to get to Stepantsminda anyway.
Very talkative Zorik also promised a local guide/driver in one person.
The next morning the car arrived.
I was not the only traveler. Zorik had managed to convince some other people to join this “cosmic” day tour. The five other people were all lades: four Russian and one French.
Russian women were not all the same though. Two were from Russia while the other two were the citizens of Germany and Switzerland. To say that they were very different is to say nothing.
The “cosmic” tour was “cosmic” from the beginning. Yet, in a different way, you may expect from such a high-stake promotion.
It turned out that the driver was only a driver and not a guide (what a surprise…). He did not speak any other language but Georgian.
This fact caused a sharp reaction from the sensitive Russian women (the ones from Russia). It was clear that they were not ready to agree with this reduction of the included services.
Another two women with non-Russian citizenship (Maria and Lisa) and Miriam from France were much easier going. We found a common language very quickly. Even more, during our several hours trip to Stepantsminda, we turned into very good like-minded friends. After I returned to Tbilisi, we continued our further travel in Georgia together.
As it usually happens sharp discussions did not lead anywhere. All finally agreed to accept the only Georgian language speaking driver option.
We all went to Stepantsminda with all the above-described stops on the way – just without many comments from our not very talkative driver.
The tour was “cosmic” only in the sense that the pilot of our “spaceship” was almost dead silent. Well, as we know there are no sounds in the space. At least he stopped in all the sightseeing places. Good enough.
The retrospective lesson
The lesson is again before you book a tour make sure you get what you expect and/or just take a relaxed mindset.
Many years ago a guy working for a car rental company in Rome Italy with a very serious face expression once pointed to me after I expressed my concerns for the long waiting at the desk: “What’s your name? Rolands? You see, it’s not God. So, relax!” I relaxed and I always keep this suggestion in mind wherever I travel now.
Hiking from/to Juta Village
Once you are in Kazbegi Gerogia you have several options for hiking there.
While all of them are appealing routes for a hiking lover, this time I chose a day hike from/to Juta village.
Juta is the second highest village in Europe. It stands 2,200 m above sea level. The small village stands in a secluded beautiful place surrounded by alpine terrain 20 km away from Stepantsminda.
The long but interesting way to Juta
Inevitably my homestay owner Mimino had become my friend by that time. Hence, I had no other choice to hire him again to get to Juta village.
He picked up me and my hiking buddy Miriam from France, who stayed in another homestay.
It was not surprising that Mimino had many more stories to tell in his collection. The road from Stepantsminda to Juta was awful, and we were moving like snails. Yet, Mimino made our trip to Juta much more interesting than it otherwise could be.
We crossed several small villages on the way. Mimino had something to say about each of them.
We got to know about terrifying snow avalanches that had killed people here in the past.
We were also informed about a small village with the dumbest people in surroundings.
There was also a story about a killer that killed someone accidentally in the fight. Running from the justice he (again accidentally) run into a house, where the mother of the victim lived. As all guests (even enemies) are to be respected in Georgia, she welcomed the killer although she knew what he had done. He was safe until he stayed in the house and was killed by the hospitable mother of the victim as soon as he left her house.
We listened to these stories and we didn’t care if they were all true, partly true or not. They were so mesmerizing.
The incredible beauty of Juta
After so many Mimino’s stories we felt like we have spent several days with this amazing old man. Yet it was time to get out of the car and go hiking.
There were no other travelers/hikers in Juta. The day was sunny and beautiful, and we started our four hours long hike in the mountains enjoying pure serenity and feeling totally cut from civilization.
On the way, we met a couple of sad snowboarders from Switzerland, who returned from the glacier. The spring’s sun had melted the snow and they could not get any fun.
“So good that we are just hikers without many expectations”, we thought and continued our way.
The hike itself was easy for Miriam, who lives in a mountainous area of France, and of average difficulty for a flat land rat like me. Yet it was absolutely stunning in terms of scenery and landscape beauty.
Kazbegi Georgia and Juta is a place for hikers who are looking for outstanding scenery, off-the-beaten-path and getting away from crowds all in one. It’s amazing.
On to of that the environment is so clean here that you can still dring nonfiltered water from any mountain spring.
Finally, what’s up there for mount Kazbek itself? After all, this is where we are supposed to be heading, right?
Yes and no.
Mount Kazbek is the third highest peak in Georgia. It is 5,054 meters high potentially active volcano.
The most common route to the summit is not technically difficult. Yet, needless to say, it still needs some a week or so for acclimatization. Hence it’s a must-do for one of my next trips to Georgia.
Would you visit Kazbegi area and the amazing Juta village? Drop your comment below or do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected].