The Caucasus

Maybe you’ve heard the Caucasus is a bit rough around the edges. Well, we’re not going to claim otherwise. But besides enormous potholes, crumbling buildings and a widespread fondness for day-drinking there are many other things that make cycling in Georgia and Armenia a unique experience. Spectacular valleys and beautiful lakes, old caravanserais and modern capitals, rowdy but well-meaning locals and a Soviet touch all combine to turn every day into a little adventure. Belonging to neither Europe nor Asia, the Caucasus is just different.

Some numbers:

Countries: 2 (Georgia, Armenia)

Currencies: 2 (Lari, Dram)

Total km: 1.073

Total days: 15

Rest days: 2

Nights in the tent: 10/15

Flat tires: 0

Highest point: 2.535 m (Meghri Pass)

Longest day: 115 km (Kareli-Tbilisi)

Top experiences

  1. Spending a night at the Orbelian Caravanserai: The high mountain passes of Armenia can be discouraging sometimes, so to be reminded of the beauty of the place itself and of the scope of your trip can only be a good thing, and this Caravanserai ticks both boxes easily. A piece of the Silk Road along one of the most scenic roads in Armenia, it will make your day.
  2. Into the clouds of Meghri Pass: If you cross Armenia from north to south you’ll be sick of mountain passes by the time you reach this one, but this country has been saving the best for last. It’s the highest and the hardest, especially the ridiculously steep 6-8km after Karajan, but it’s probably the most spectacular in terms of scenery.
  3. Fun in Tbilisi: The capital of Georgia is a wonderful place to take a break from anything you might need a break from, as the many foreigners who call it home for a few months will tell you readily. With many things to see (and eat!) and something going every evening of the week, Tbilisi is modern, diverse, vibrant, cheap and a lot of fun.
  4. The quiet beauty of Lake Sevan: The towns around it might have seen better days, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the gorgeous lake itself besides the temperature of the water. After a few days in the narrow valleys of the region, cycling amid these far horizons feels refreshing, and the sunset views from the mountain pass to the south are a thing of beauty. Try the smoked fish sold all around the lake!
  5. Goderzi Pass: While it’s probably the most awful road in all of Georgia, disappearing into the thick fog after two days of cycling up the forested valley still turns it into an unforgettable experience. Make sure your screws are tight though, the descent is the worst part.

Useful information for fellow cyclists:

Weather: The Caucasus is a cloudy place, even foggy when one gains some altitude. Sunny days are few and far between, and the weather and the wind change fast in the valleys, especially in Armenia. That being said, the temperature in mid-July is tolerable because of all that.

Roads: The worst roads of the trip by far, in all aspects. The tarmac is old and crumbly, especially in Armenia, and potholes abound, and between reckless (or drunk) drivers, cows and decades-old Soviet trucks there’s never a shortage of obstacles. Goderzi Pass is in a category of its own, supposedly a main road but a sea of pointy rocks of all sizes sprouting out of a loose dirt track. Be careful out there!

Sleeping: Couchsurfing is virtually non-existent outside the capitals, where it’s easy to find nice hosts. There’s plenty of nice camping spots in the countryside though, and people will leave you alone provided they’re not too drunk. A nice smile and a shared drink works wonders in those cases, and people quickly find something better to do.

Food: Local specialties are salty and heavy on cheese and butter, but most of the time people eat a simple salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, which are delicious and super cheap, and some salami. Smoked fish sold at the side of the road is worth trying as well. Supermarkets are very poorly stocked on the countryside but bread, fruit and vegetables can be found anywhere, anytime.

Drinks: Oh boy. Drinks come in all shapes and sizes, and more often than not in shape of an invitation on the side of the road. Beer is cheap but watery and liquors range from interesting to terrible. Red wine is also a thing in some regions, supposedly, but we didn’t get to try it.

Water: There are many fountains, and we drank from a lot of them without having any issues.

Money: Georgia is cheap, Armenia is even cheaper. Fruit (apricots, peaches, apples) at the side of the road go for 0,50-1€ a kg, the same or cheaper applies to cucumbers and tomatoes. Bread comes in enormous flat loafs for less than 1€, a bowl of meat stew or a Kachapuri in a restaurant doesn’t cost much more than 2€. A night in a really nice B&B in Batumi set us back 30€, a hostel bed would have cost us only 5-7€. ATMs available in most places.

Wi-Fi: Available in some restaurants, in Georgia more consistently so than in Armenia.

Visa: Both countries visa-free for EU nationals.

Blog posts:

Clouds, cows and company in Georgia

No respite for weary legs in Armenia