In brighter times, the sunny and tropical region of Abkhazia was called the jewel in the crown of the USSR. With jaw dropping mountains rolling into the sparkling waters of the Black Sea and palm tree lined streets with grand, Tsarist era buildings running into lush tropical gardens, the region is truly beautiful and was the destination of choice for the Soviet elite, including Josef Stalin himself.
In the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, Abkhazia refused to be incorporated into the newly formed republic of Georgia which resulted in a blood soaked ethnic conflict which saw thousands slaughtered in brutal urban warfare and ethnic cleansing. Georgia suffered a bitter defeat and withdrew from the region which rapidly descended into anarchy.
Today, Abkhazia remains unstable but survives on cash flow from Russia and a steady flow of Russian tourists seeking a cheap, Black sea vacation. The breakaway republic remains a fascinating time warp back to the Soviet Union. This is a place where Lenin still stands and the local zoo proudly shows off the apparent descendents of the monkeys the Soviets sent into space decades ago. Despite the trauma of war, the locals are mostly warm, friendly and hospitable and welcome guests with open arms.
Independent Travel to Abkhazia
There are two ways to enter Abkhazia, the first is via Russia which requires a double entry visa and the other is via the Inguri crossing from Georgia, the latter is only advised to those with a basic grasp of Russian and experience of tense border crossings. Whilst Abkhazia is generally safe the further North you go, the Inguri border crossing is not for the inexperienced.
We offer affordable, fully guided and secure independent tours to Abkhazia from Tbilisi in Georgia. Our guides for volatile regions are all former security operatives and qualified in close protection. The tour will be completely customizable to your tastes and is available 365 days a year, we take care of the visa, permits, border negotiations for you so your trip will be stress and worry free.
Our private tours to Abkhazia include meeting veterans of the recent civil war and hearing their stories, visiting the summer retreat of Josef Stalin, the infamous abandoned parliament building still riddled with bullet holes since it was captured and those inside massacred during the war. At the bottom of this page is a sample itinerary for a private tour of Abkhazia.
Hotels in Abkhazia:
Hotels in Abkhazia range from luxury 5 star hotels on the beachfront to comfortable, family run hotels. As well as homestays, there are also a small number of hostels in the republic.
Join a group tour to Abkhazia
Soviet Wastelands run one group tour a year to Abkhazia as part of our unrecognized country tour. Join like-minded travellers for a low priced adventure into the badlands of the North Caucasus.
What are you waiting for?
Abkhazia boasts everything needed for an adventure with everything. From Soviet heritage and dark history to stunning natural landscapes, friendly locals and incredible Caucasus cuisine, this young rebel republic has a lot to offer. Join our group tour or contact us for a private, tailor made tour.
What is the best time to visit Abkhazia?
May to September is the best period to visit Abkhazia, as it means that the roads to the mountains will be open and the weather will be warm enough to enjoy a swim in the Black Sea. On the 30th of September is Abkhazia independence day which features a Soviet military parade,in the day, a patriotic concert in the evening and celebrations go on deep into the night.
Sample Itinerary for Abkhazia:
- Meet up in Tbilisi in the morning or early afternoon, grab some local Georgian breakfast / lunch and discuss the tour plan.
- I will then show you the best sights in Tbilisi, visiting the ancient fortress that dominates the skyline, ancient monasteries and the stunning old town.
- We will grab some traditional Georgian food at a local cafe.
- We then head to the suburbs, to the functioning headquarters of the Georgian Communist party and the site of Stalin’s old hideout and secret propaganda printing press.
- We then head to the dry bridge flea market, where you will have the chance to buy some awesome antiques, jewellery and Soviet relics at very low prices.
- We grab dinner and some drinks overlooking the beautiful Tbilisi skyline.
- Overnight in Tbilisi.
- At 09:00, our driver will meet us at the hotel in Tbilisi
- We cross the border and start the journey to the land of ancient traditions and oldest temples: Armenia!
- Drive to Lori region and visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites Haghpat and Sanahin* monasteries. Two stunning examples of Armenian traditional architecture which were erected in 10-13th centuries. Standing on a hillside, Haghpat beautifully overlooks Debed River. The location of the monastery was chosen to protect the peace and seclusion of its monks. The complex consists of several structures. The biggest one is the Cathedral of Surb Nishan with a beautiful fresco depicting Christ Pantocrator.
- Continue to the 10th-century Sanahin monastery, famous in the Middle Ages for its calligraphy and illumination school. The name of Sanahin can be translated as “this one is older than that one” presumably meaning that Sanahin was built earlier than its neighbour Haghpat. There are numerous khachkars (Armenian cross-stones) on the territory of monasteries dating back to 11-13 centuries. Both Haghpat and Sanahin were important educational centres of medieval times.
- We will also see some colossal Soviet monuments on the way, from war memorials to fighter jets.
- After sightseeing, we’ll enjoy a delicious lunch at a local restaurant. You will have a chance to taste traditional local dishes and get an insight into Armenian cuisine.
- Cross the border back to Tbilisi around 5pm.
- We grab dinner and some drinks overlooking Tbilisi before we jump in a taxi to the train station.
- We grab supplies and board our train for the overnight journey to the frontier town of Zugdidi, located on the war torn border of Abkhazia.
- Overnight on train.
- We arrive in Zugdidi in the early hours.
- We will grab breakfast at a nearby cafe and wait for the border to open.
- Take a taxi to the tense border zone, you can grab a beer or coffee at the nearby border cafe and I will deal with local security forces, waiting times are unpredictable.
- When we receive clearance, we will board a horse and cart to cross the war-torn bridge that is the heavily militarised zone between the two countries, this is also one of the most heavily militarised borders in Europe. You will see guns pointed at either side and the iconic and ironic monument of a twisted barrel pistol on the way, pointed at Abkhazia…
- We then clear Abkhazian / Russian security forces formalities, again, waiting times are unpredictable but I will deal with all formalities and questions and I will have our visa clearance prepared.
- We will then grab a local bus to the capital of Sukhumi and check into the hotel, depending on our arrival time, I will head to the foreign ministry and collect our visas this day, or the next if we are too late.
- We head out for some local Abkhazian food and some drinks overlooking the Black Sea.
- Overnight in Sukhumi.
- We’ll get breakfast in a nearby cafe, with bullet holes in the ceiling from wedding celebrations.
- We then do an intensive tour of war-torn Sukhumi: We will visit the waterfront, WW2 bunkers, the eerie, battle-scarred parliament building and climb onto the roof if possible to take in the unbeatable view. Inside the walls are stained with blood from the massacre that occurred here very recently.
- Visit the military sanitorium with its Russian army outpost, Cosmonaut training centre and Soviet relics, we will see the monkey sanctuary, the war-damaged suburbs and then visit a military shop to buy some fantastic souvenirs and Abkhaz flags if you wish.
- Dinner and drinks overlooking the Black Sea.
- Overnight in Sukhumi
- We grab breakfast and grab a taxi to Novi Athon, see the stunning monastery and explore some of the deepest cave systems in the world.
- We will then visit the tropical park and photogenic abandoned train station that was the scene of fierce battles in the latest war.
- After lunch in Novi Athon, we will visit the military museum dedicated to the recent civil war.
- We then take a taxi to Gagra.
- Gagra is often described as the Russian Riviera because it has been the favourite Summer destination for generations of Russians. Gagra hosts some of the most spectacular landscapes in Abkhazia because the mountains and beaches sit side by side.
- We will explore Gagra, seeing the abandoned holiday villas of the Soviet elite, the abandoned Soviet cinema and the football stadium that witnessed a horrific massacre during the recent civil war.
- Overnight in Gagra.
- We make an early start for our tour of Lake Ritsa, one of the deepest lakes in the Caucasus. Surrounded by mountains with heights of up to 3,500m. Joseph Stalin frequently visited the lake and fell in love with Ritsa so much that he had a Summerhouse built on the banks, which still stands today and which we will visit weather permitting. The road to Ritsa is breath-taking. Weather permitting we will take a boat trip out on the lake.
- We will then take a tour of the private summer house of Stalin.
- Overnight in Gagra
- Head back to the border via Sukhumi.
- We will stop at some sights related to the war on the way back and if there is time we’ll stop at a natural Sulphur spring for a refreshing break.
- After crossing the border we’ll return to central Zugdidi and enjoy an evening meal whilst we wait for our train.
- Night train back to Tbilisi.
- Early morning arrival in Tbilisi
- End of tour