Whether you’re visiting Georgia for a week or a month, Kazbegi is an easy 3 hour drive North from Tbilisi and a trip is necessary to get a real feel for the country. It’s a very handy trekkers base slash authentic Georgian town nestled in the Caucasus mountains 12km from the Russian border. Most trekkers come to attempt 3-7 day treks up and around the highest peak – Mt. Kazbek – which is one of the highest mountains in the Caucasus. The rest of the visitors that don’t have hiking in mind come for one of the most recognizable symbols of Georgia – the Gergeti Trinity Church. Regardless of your reason for visiting, make plans to stay a couple nights, immerse yourself in nature, stand in awe of the towering mountain range, and appreciate true Georgian hospitality.
1750 meters above sea level
Average Summer temp: 14.4C
Average Winter temp: -5.2C
How to Get Here
Coming from Tbilisi: Make your way to the main bus terminal “Didube”. Here, you’ll find minivan-like “marshrutkas” that will take you to Kazbegi (and almost anywhere actually) for 10GEL a head. Funny enough, I was just there with one other traveler I met at my hostel in Tbilisi and upon being approached by the first driver inquiring where we wanted to go, we organized 15GEL a head including all the stops for photos we wanted. Little did we know, it was a private SUV all to ourselves for the same price as a packed shared van. I believe he was just heading home to Kazbegi and wanted to make some extra money by taking some passengers, so you can ask around if you have the time. I don’t think our situation was common but it was nice to get so lucky! Also, our driver asked if we needed a guest house and arranged that for us as well (all while only speaking maybe 5 words of English).
If you take the marshrutka, keep in mind that the drivers don’t leave til they’re full. Therefore, you may be waiting around for a while. Try to get there early to get a window seat or the front and to have a place to store your bags. Bring some music, sit back, and relax because anything can happen on these taxi-bus rides!
You’ll drive in on the Georgian Military Road, which is still used for passage by Armenian and Russian supply trucks. About halfway into the trip, the views get good as you begin the climb in elevation.
Where to Stay
The best option is of course, a guesthouse. This provides locals with revenue, gives you an authentic experience, and allows you to connect with true Georgian life. For about 25GEL you can have a room to yourself. Another 20GEL gets you home-cooked dinner and breakfast, made with love, from a local Georgia momma. I can’t speak for any others, but ours was ‘Lena’s Guesthouse’ and it had pretty quick wifi and a few bedrooms with double or single bed options. There are a couple hotels, but I can’t suggest any first hand.
A Note: The whole town experiences electricity shut-downs every other day or so for about 10 hours, so don’t be surprised if the restaurants can’t make certain dishes or your guesthouse is powerless. Also, the water shuts off occasionally in some buildings, so don’t be too surprised about that either!
Where to Eat
The town has a handful of restaurants with typical Georgian food and wine, but I definitely suggest opting for dinner at your guest house. This is hands-down the best experience I’ve had in Georgia so far! If you speak a bit of Russian, you can chat with the family and get to know them better. If you don’t, you’ll still feel the love and you can use gestures and drawings for conversation. Eat out for lunch or just one night to meet other hikers or just get a feel for the town. Otherwise, binge on all the dumplings, tomato/cucumber salad, soup, and fresh BREAD you can consume.
Things To Do
If you haven’t gotten the idea by now, the main thing to do here is hike and/or trek. There are a few tourist buildings that will aid in planning a route and renting tents, sleeping bags, and climbing equipment. If it’s too cold for you to camp or you like your guesthouse, opt for some day hikes. The main and most touristic route is heading up 4km to the Gergeti Trinity Church which overlooks Kazbegi/Stepantsminda. It’s a straight steep climb up about 2000km or you can take the more level car road. From here you can head on another 8km to the foot of the Gergeti Glacier that covers Mt. Kazbek. You’ll get great views of the snowcapped mountain, but only if the weather and clouds allow.
If your stuck on a day where there’s just too much cloud coverage for hiking, get a lift to Tsdo: a nearly abandoned, forlorn town with a population of 4. Yep, just 4 people still live in this town on the side of the mountain because everyone moved down the the bigger Stepantsminda. From here, head through the Deriali Gorge to Gveleti where you can do some light hiking to 2 picturesque waterfalls tucked into the mountain side. Lastly, have a driver take you to the border of Georgia and Russia so you can grasp the effectiveness of the natural barrier between countries that the Caucasus mountains provides. The border is just 12km from Stepantsminda, so I suggest getting a driver for the day. It’s just a bit too far to walk and the river flowing through the middle of the gorge doesn’t make the walk any easier to all these stops. Total time if you’re being leisurely: 4 hours
For more trekking options and ideas, this expert has personal accounts and all the details.