juliamhammond

How to visit Abkhazia from Georgia

Why visit Abkhazia?

Country counters are always on the lookout for opportunities to add to their total, hence a visit to Abkhazia is on many a bucket list. It’s no longer an active conflict zone, though banditry at the border is reportedly still an issue, particularly after dark. Gal, the scruffy border town near the Enguri crossing, still bears the scars of war in the form of burnt out and abandoned homes, but though it does have something of a reputation, I didn’t feel unsafe as I travelled through. Sukhumi, the capital, is also only part way through reconstruction. The hulking Government Palace is the most noticeable landmark to await renovation, overgrown with weeds inside and riddled with concrete cancer. I visited a couple of hours after a summer thunderstorm and the sound of percolating rain water only added to the atmosphere.

But the Botanical Gardens were pleasant and down by the waterfront of this Black Sea resort, you’ll find pavement cafes and ice cream sellers with plenty of family-friendly attractions to keep the kids happy. Many of those who visit Sukhumi are Russians, coming across the border from nearby Sochi. Arriving from Georgia, I was the only visible tourist. Most of those crossing are local. Some are returning to Abkhazia with purchases from Zugdidi – I saw one rotund lady struggling in the heat pushing a trolley loaded with a refrigerator. Others cross daily for work.

Securing a visa

At least a week or so before your planned visit, you’ll need to apply for a visa. No payment will be necessary at this stage. It’s a simple form and can be downloaded from this website:

http://mfaapsny.org/en/council/visa.php

The only thing to be careful about is specifying exactly which dates you intend to travel as these will be fixed. You don’t get an open-ended month long visa for example. Email off the form together with a scan of your passport. In about a week, you should receive a letter of invitation. You may need to check your spam folder; the email that popped up into my inbox was headed simply “clearance” with the sender’s name in Russian and I almost deleted it. You’ll need to print off a copy of this letter and carry it with you. Some bloggers suggest you might require two copies but I needed only one.

Abkhaz

The letter will have your date of birth next to your name plus your passport number

Getting to the border

The easiest route to the Enguri border is by taxi from Zugdidi which should cost you 10 GEL (Georgian Lari, about £3.30 at current exchange rates). It’s also possible to travel by marshrutka. I speak no Georgian or Russian and taxi drivers didn’t see to understand border or even Abkhazia. Drop into the tourist information office on Rustaveli Street and pick up a regional map; you can then point to the border if necessary.

Money

Before you set off, stop at one of the exchange places on Kostava Street to get some rubles. They don’t all stock rubles and again you might have trouble being understood; I ended up taking a photograph of a sign marked “Rub” and showing that. $100 was plenty to cover mid-range accommodation, food and transport for a couple of days. I didn’t see anyone obviously changing rubles at the border and you’ll need small notes (50s and 100s) to pay the marshrutka drivers once you arrive.

Abkhaz1

Sometimes you need to use your initiative!

At the border

I made the mistake of arriving early, figuring that as I had read online about lengthy waits at both ends of the bridge, I should give myself plenty of time. There was a flaw with this plan and that was that the Georgian police official who could authorise my transit didn’t arrive until 10am. From 8.20am when I arrived, I was given a frosty but polite welcome by the police manning the exit booth. I was held for around an hour and a half. Technically. In practice, what this meant was that they waved me in to sit and wait in their office where they were watching Ultraviolet, a really bad Milla Jojovich vampire movie. Fortunately, they also had unsecured WiFi so the time passed quickly. When the boss arrived, I was processed without a single question and pointing to the door, pronounced good to go.

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Your ride across the bridge – should you need it

The walk across the bridge took around 15 minutes, as I had luggage, it was hot and I made frequent photo stops. Mostly no one seemed to mind that I was taking pictures. There are horse and carts which can be hired, but no one seemed to be that bothered about picking up a fare so shanks’ pony it was.

At the other side, a cheery official in army fatigues studied my passport and on learning I spoke no Russian, ushered me to sit down on what looked like it had once been a 1970s British bus seat. Lots of smiles, lots of “Hello, American? ensued” Ten minutes later, another soldier arrived, this time he knew some English. I was asked where I was from, my job, how long I planned to stay in Abkhazia and what I wanted to visit.   I made sure I was very positive, smiled a lot and concentrated on the places rather than the politics.  Satisfied with my answers, I was passed to the customs hut who processed me with a minimum of fuss.

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Welcome to Abkhazia

It was then time to find a marshrutka heading for Sukhumi. I’d read that you could get a direct minibus but the only labelled marshrutka was for Gal. The name is easily recognisable in the Cyrillic: a back to front 7 followed by an A and a 3. The minibus was nearly full and left almost immediately, charging me 50 rubles theoretically but in practice, as I had no change, 100 rubles in practice. It took just half an hour or so, maybe less, to reach Gal and then circle around dropping people off, picking up flour and then, eventually, handing me over to a minibus driver bound for Sukhumi. The ride to the capital took under two hours, by which time the heavens had opened and I stepped out into torrential rain. That ride cost me 200 rubles. I was let out in the centre, saving me the fare from the train station where the marshrutkas terminate.

IMG_9411

Inside the marshrutka

After the rain eased, and not before I was soaked to the skin waiting for my hotel owner to deign to come to the gate or answer the phone, I headed down to get my visa. For this, I needed to visit 33 Sakharov Street, an easy to find building set in a small but well maintained garden.

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This is the building to look out for

Inside, there was a gloomy corridor with a sign for consular services which led to a poky office. I was seen right away. Not only could I process the letter here, but I could also pay. The official asked if I wished to pay with a credit card and the chip and pin machine accepted my British Visa card with no problems. My overnight visa cost 350 rubles, though I’m not sure if a longer stay would necessitate a higher price.

Untitled

What your visa will look like

Having thoroughly explored, I caught a taxi to the train station (150 rubles) in time to get me there for 11am, about the time my Lonely Planet said the border-bound marshrutka would leave. In fact, it was scheduled for 12.30pm. A shared taxi took a group of about six of us to the border. The fares were the same, 250 rubles in total. Crossing the border was much quicker than before. A few questions from the Abkhazian authorities about where I’d been and much smiling as I said I’d very much enjoyed Sukhumi and I was on my way. Aside from being asked to turn back and use the pedestrian path rather than the road the other side of the wire fence, it went without a hitch and after a cursory inspection from the Georgian police, I was back in. Another 10 GEL taxi ride took me to the centre of Zugdidi from where I was to catch my overnight train to Tbilisi.

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First class sleeper to Tbilisi: 8 hours for a bargain 30 GEL!

If you’re thinking of visiting Abkhazia yourself and have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment.

32 responses

  1. Hey Mary! Can we cross into Russia from Abhkazia?

    Liked by 1 person

    January 21, 2018 at 11:46 am

    • You can enter Abkhazia from Russia, but also have to leave through Russia. In other words you can’t transit through Abkhazia as the other country won’t permit entry, whether that’s Georgia or Russia. Hope that helps, regards, Julia.

      Liked by 1 person

      January 21, 2018 at 1:19 pm

      • Oliver Boesche

        I would like to enter Abkhazia south and exit north for the World Cup/Sotchi in June. Russia says, that you can enter country with the “FanID” for the World Cup (NO need for visa that month). Should that work out?? And how many hours do I need minimum with a taxi/private driver?

        Like

        March 22, 2018 at 10:49 pm

      • Hi Oliver, in terms of time needed in Abkhazia, a day would suffice to explore Sukhumi and perhaps one of the nearby sights, particularly if you had a driver. I entered and left via Georgia rather than from Sochi, Russia so can’t help you with that information unfortunately. From Georgia you need a separate Abkhazia visa as I detailed in my blog post; I’d guess that would still be the case if entering and leaving via Russia but do check with the relevant authorities.

        Liked by 1 person

        March 23, 2018 at 1:51 am

  2. Oliver Boesche

    Thanks, Julia. Great help. Is it easy to catch a private driver? I am travelling with my son Nico and would spend 100 USD plus for about 8 hours. Can I find one at the border?

    Like

    March 23, 2018 at 7:43 am

  3. Hi Oliver. There were plenty of drivers at the Georgia border all ready to do a deal so can’t see why it wouldn’t be the same at the Russian border too. I’d advise taking a Russian phrase book to help negotiations.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 23, 2018 at 11:28 am

  4. Oliver Boesche

    OK, cool. THANKS! We now plan to catch a driver after the border-control Georgia and drive with him to the border to Russia. Do you know anything, that could desturb this plan? Thanks, again! Ollie

    Like

    March 23, 2018 at 6:40 pm

  5. Hi Ollie, when I visited you couldn’t enter via one country and exit into another. Best to check if this has changed, it was only last June that this was accurate.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 23, 2018 at 6:56 pm

  6. Oliver Boesche

    “…when I visited you couldn’t enter via one country and exit into another” is a big problem for us. WHY do they do that? I ve asked already the embassys by mail, but no response.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 23, 2018 at 9:09 pm

  7. Well in this case it’s because Abkhazia was once part of Georgia until it declared independence. Russia is helping to fund reconstruction and Georgia doesn’t like it.

    Like

    March 23, 2018 at 9:16 pm

  8. Oliver Boesche

    OK, thanks, again. Great help. I wonder how they handle that during the world cup this summer and keep you updated. Do you know as well about crossing borders in the triangel Georgia, Armenia, Azerbeidjan?

    Like

    March 26, 2018 at 5:41 am

  9. Hi Oliver, yes, please do update me after the World Cup – it would be interesting to know. In terms of Georgia and Armenia, there are no issues crossing the border in either direction. Armenia and Azerbaijan have no open border as they are in dispute over Nagorno Karabakh. Most people intending to visit all three in one trip visit Azerbaijan first to get around this, then Georgia (no border crossing issues between the two) and then finally Armenia.
    Note that you may be asked more questions if you enter Armenia with an Azerbaijan stamp in your passport. It’s not always the case, but when I crossed from Georgia to Armenia, some British people who’d previously visited Azerbaijan had many more questions than the rest of us, were delayed and asked to pay off the border officials (none of the others on the bus were and we were of various nationalities). They paid up and were allowed in.
    If you do decide to visit Nagorno Karabakh while in Armenia, note that the Azerbaijan authorities consider this illegal and you can be arrested if you travel to Azerbaijan afterwards (even if you do so via the Armenia-Georgia-Azerbaijan route).

    Like

    March 26, 2018 at 6:34 am

    • Oliver Boesche

      uarxx…I like that chaos. I ve made it thru 177 countries so far, but that big mess I never had before. Really interesting. Thanks! Should I count Abkhazia as a “country”? Even hat is not quite clear….lol

      Like

      March 26, 2018 at 6:45 am

  10. Oliver Boesche

    “Ok. Then you have to know that you will not able to enter Georgia anymore after that. Because you will out from Abkhazia to Russia. “..the newest information from a tourguide in Abkhazia.

    Like

    March 26, 2018 at 7:50 am

  11. Thanks for that update, Oliver. I reckon you should count Abkhazia as a country!

    Like

    March 26, 2018 at 9:36 am

    • Oliver Boesche

      Von: Info RVAC Hamburg
      An: oliverboesche
      Verschickt: Mo, 26. Mrz 2018 15:40
      Betreff: Botschaft Russland wg Abchasien/Abkazhia, info.rushamburg@vfshelpline.com, | VFS Support. Query Update. {Do not delete Ticket Id #17783#}

      ——Please, Do not delete this line.——–

      Sehr geehrter Herr Bösche,

      Wir bedanken uns, dass Sie sich an das Visumzentrum der Russischen Föderation in Deutschland gewendet haben.

      Falls Sie eine Fan-ID haben, dann können SIe ohne Visum während der Fußball WM nach Russland ein- und ausreisen.

      xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

      That s from the Russian Embassy in Germany and confirms, that people with tickets (and free Fan-ID, comes with the ticket) do NOT need a visa during World Cup (and extra ten days before and after). Additional train-rides in Russia are free. Cheapest ticket is 100 USD. Might be a good deal for travelling to buy one CupTicket, even without going to the Cup.

      Driving with a private driver incl. his car thru Abkazia is so far 150 to 400 USD, when I book in advance. With guide.

      Like

      March 26, 2018 at 4:24 pm

  12. Great, thanks for the update.

    Like

    March 26, 2018 at 4:45 pm

  13. Oliver Boesche

    …I finally have my visa-letter for TRANSIT THRU Abkhazia! Yeah….
    So my plan for the World Cup works out. Arrival in KUT-Airport in Georgia, transit thru Abkhazia and border-crossing with FAN-ID into Russia/ Sochi. That saves lots of Dollars, because flights during World Cup to Russia are hell expensive. ONLY: same way back might be a problem. Thats what Embassy Abkhazia told me on the phone (very friendly, good English). Georgia border-patrol could arrest you because of stamps in your passport….. I don t care, I hold 2 passports. And fly back home from Sochi.
    This FAN-ID is btw a great deal to travel WITHOUT visa into Russia in June/July 2018.
    Regards, Ollie

    Like

    March 30, 2018 at 9:48 pm

  14. That sounds great Oliver. Have a good trip.

    Like

    March 31, 2018 at 6:36 am

  15. MOSTAFA ABAZA

    it seems that entering Abkhazia from the Russian side is a problem if i ever wanna visit Georgia one day.

    i’m planing to travel to Sochi then to Abkhazia and back to Sochi and from there i wanna enter Georgia as i have visa to it, would that be a problem to me???????

    Like

    May 21, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    • Maybe not. I’ve visited Russia on a previous trip. Best to check with the nearest Georgian embassy to make sure.

      Like

      May 21, 2018 at 7:15 pm

      • Ollie

        In my point of view, embassys would be “defense” and say no, even if it would be possible. Best solution is, to apply for a second passport. Just tell your gov.-office, that you travel frequently and you need a second passport, while the first is for weeks in the mail for new visas. Or social-work! That works as well.

        Like

        May 22, 2018 at 10:10 am

  16. MOSTAFA ABAZA

    ok, thank you Julia

    Like

    May 21, 2018 at 8:32 pm

  17. David Powell

    Do they take your visa when leaving Abkhazia back into Georgia? I have heard that this happens. Also is the visa given an actual sticker or just a sheet of paper?

    Like

    June 18, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    • Yes, they collected in the visa on exit which was a separate piece of paper and not stuck into my passport.

      Like

      June 18, 2018 at 1:17 pm

      • David Powell

        Ok thanks for letting me know, thats a shame. Thinking about crossing from the Georgian side and I would very much like to keep it as a souvenir. Have heard some people have asked and its not allowed so I thought I would check.

        Like

        June 18, 2018 at 2:08 pm

  18. I took a photo of mine and I guess you might find somewhere in Sukhumi to get a colour photocopy made. However, I did read that the Georgian authorities might not be happy if they find one in your things. How true this is I don’t know, but my bags were not searched as I re-entered Georgia.

    Like

    June 18, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    • Ollie

      online: http://mfaapsny.org/en/consular-service/permission/

      copy from page:

      ATTENTION!
      The temporary visa-free regime for foreign citizens from June 15 to August 1, 2018 introduced by the decree of Raul Khadzhimba, the President of the Republic of Abkhazia in connection with the World Football Cup in the Russian Federation.
      In accordance with the Articles 6 and 24 of the Law of the Republic of Abkhazia “On the Procedure for Departure from the Republic of Abkhazia and Entry into the Republic of Abkhazia” and in connection with the holding of the FIFA World Cup on the territory of the Russian Federation from June 15 to August 1, 2018 to allow to the foreign nationals to enter to the Republic of Abkhazia for tourist purposes without obtaining a visa through the checkpoints on the Abkhaz-Russian state border.

      The action of this decree does not apply to the citizens of Georgia. “

      Like

      June 20, 2018 at 10:50 am

  19. Thanks for the update Ollie.

    Like

    June 20, 2018 at 11:45 am

  20. MOSTAFA ABAZA

    i went to Abkhazia through Sochi borders on the 12th of June without any visa and they asked me at the borders to obtain a visa from the ministry in 3 days and i did , it was just a small paper to put inside the passport and they take it from you when you are passing the borders to Sochi again , nothing is shown in your passport whether you entered Abkhazia or not, it’s never stamped nor any mark that you have been in Abkhazia , so you can enter Georgia any time after that.

    i once again entered Abkhazia on the 26th of June and again , nothing in my passport shows i was in Abkhazia through Sochi borders or i was in Abkhazia , i then went to Georgia , Tbilisi and nothing happened at the borders and they didn’t discover i was in Abkhazia through Russian borders cause nothing shows in my passport

    Liked by 1 person

    July 9, 2018 at 9:20 pm

  21. Thanks for the update Mostafa.

    Like

    July 9, 2018 at 9:28 pm

  22. Awesome read! I’ll definitely try and visit when I move to Tbilisi!

    Like

    August 1, 2018 at 11:43 pm

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