Abkhazia

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Capital Sukhumi
Currency Russian ruble (RUB)
Population 242,862 (2012 est.)
Electricity 220V/50Hz (European plug)
Country code +7(840)/+7(940)
Time zone UTC +3

Abkhazia (Abkhaz: Аҧсны (Apsny), Georgian: აფხაზეთი, Russian: Абхазия) is a de facto independent state that seceded from — but is still claimed by — Georgia. It is arguably a Russian colony—the most pompous building in the capital is the Russian legation, and photographs of president Putin are frequently seen in public spaces. It lies mainly on the eastern shores of the Black Sea in the Caucasus region. To its northwest, across the Psou River (Псоу река) is Russia; the Russian city of Sochi is nearby. To its east, across the Enguri River, lies Northwestern Georgia. The Greater Caucasus mountain range occupies its northern territory. The coastal lowlands have a subtropical climate. In Abkhazia's small area snow-covered mountains meet beaches, caves and lakes. A long human history has left an architectural and cultural legacy that complements its natural beauty.

The only UN members that recognize the independent Republic of Abkhazia are Russia, Nauru, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Cities[edit]

Abkhazia regions map.png

Other destinations[edit]

Understand[edit]

Nov afon monastyr.JPG

Despite suffering a similar history to South Ossetia, Abkhazia is much more accessible and open to travel. While not many westerners make it, it has always been a popular destination for Soviet, and now Russian, tourists.

History[edit]

Under the Soviet Union Abkhazia was an autonomous area of its Georgian republic. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Soviet Union was undermined by strong nationalist feelings among its various peoples. The Abkhaz people feared domination by the emerging independent Georgia and so sort their own independence. Violent clashes culminated in full-scale war in 1992: 3,000 Georgian troops overtook Abkhazia and dismantled the separatist government. In response various pro-Russian militias and regular Russian troops backed the secessionists. By 1993 they had driven the Georgians out and had massacred tens of thousands that remained.

After the war all Abkhazia, except a few villages, was out of Georgian control. As a minor operation in the 2008 South Ossetian war Abkhaz forces overtook these few remaining villages.

Since the 1990s Russia has supported the Abkhaz separatists and sought to isolate the region from Georgia; and it is to Russia that Abkhazia looks today.

Talk[edit]

Abkhaz, in the Northwest Caucasian linguistic family, is related to the Abkhaz-Adyghe language group in the same family. There are two official languages: Abkhaz and Russian. Russian is convenient for inter-cultural communication since Abkhazia is a multi-ethnic state. Russian is universally understood and the most convenient language for the traveller. In the cities one also can use English for basic communication.

Caution NOTE: Beware that for non-Russian speakers communication is nigh impossible. All signs -- where they exist at all -- are in cyrillic only. There are normally no signs regarding buses or directions. Asking for information by pointing etc. is likely to receive an indifferent reply. There are no tourist offices. The only option to obtain some information is to purchase a map (Abkhazia Atlas) at one of the bookstores in town.

Get in[edit]

As of 2012, there are two viable land crossings into Abkhazia: one is from Sochi, via Adler, in Russia, the other is from Enguri bridge (near Zugdidi) in Georgia.

Entering from Russia is more "user-friendly" . This border is crossed by hundreds of people every day. However, you will need a double-entry Russian visa (see details below).

From Georgia, take a taxi from Zugdidi to Enguri bridge (GEL 10), get your passport controlled by the Georgian military checkpoint and walk across the several hundred metres long, dilapidated Enguri bridge to the Russian military checkpoint at the Abkhazian side. Alternatively, horse carriages also run between the two checkpoints (GEL 1); at the Abkhazian side you find taxis, marshrutka and coaches to Gal and Sokhumi.

Caution NOTE: There are no exchange or any other facilities at the border. Get sufficient roubles in Zugdidi, otherwise it may be difficult or overly expensive to obtain transport to the capital.

A water border crossing point to Russia in Gagra was also opened in 2011 (see below).

You should leave Abkhazia to the state you came from: it is not allowed to transit through Abkhazia from Russia to Georgia or vice versa. While some travellers reported that visiting Abkhazia from Georgia and continuing the trip to Russia is viable, it's clearly not recommended. Visitors who go to Georgia after visiting Abkhazia through Russia may be subject to a punishment and fines by Georgian Customs officials since they consider it a violation of the Georgian border regime.

Visas[edit]

There are three types of Abkhaz visa: Single-entry (10 days, US$10; 30 days US$20; 1 year US$30), Multi-entry (from US$40) and Transit. Official information is available online [1].

Applying[edit]

Visa applications are submitted and processed via email. Visas are issued by the Consular Service department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (21 Ulitsa Lakoba, Sukhumi, +7 (840)226-39-48). Download the application form; once completed, send it to midraconsul@gmail.com. Within five working days you should receive an Entry Permit via email or fax. The consular staff may be slack and you may need to chase them up with a phone call, so don't leave applying to the last minute.

Collecting[edit]

Within three working days of your arrival in Abkhazia, head to the "Ministry of Repatriation," 'not the Foreign Ministry on ul. Sacharova (normal office hour with lunch break from noon to 1 pm).

Before proceeding pay the visa fees at the Sberbank (Сбербанк) branch nearby on Lakoba Ave. (opposite no. 37, 9.00-17.00 h). Staff are helpful, even if you don't speak Russian a frienly smile and saying "visa" is sufficient. The fee is payable in rubles calculated at the daily Dollar exchange rate, plus a nominal transaction fee.

Russian visas and border[edit]

Trips to Abkhazia from Russia will require you to re-enter Russia when you leave Abkhazia. Therefore your Russian visa must be double or multiple entry. However, it may be possible to be issues a Russian transit visa in Sukhumi, but not having the correct Russian visa may prevent you from entering Abkhazia in the first place. The Russian guards do not stamp your passport at this border and they may question you about having already used up your double-entry visa - it shouldn't cause you any problems, and don't give into any demands for bribes.

By train[edit]

Suburban trains (Elektritschka) leave twice daily from Adler but they run only as far as Gagra. There is a year-round daily train from Moscow's Kursky Rail Station to Sukhumi. It takes a little short of two days and passes through Adler at about 08:00 and arrives in Sukhumi about two hours later. It starts the return journey at about 14:00. Alternatively, marshrutka run from Adler railway station, which is much better connected, to the border.

By bus[edit]

Buses to Sukhumi run from Sochi and Rostov-on-Don, Russia, at least in summer. Buses and marshrutkas to Gali (Гал) and Sukhumi also run from the Enguri bridge crossing, near the Georgian border; a trip to Sukhumi shouldn't cost more than 300 rubles, although drivers may try to charge you double, particularly if you have to pay in Lari. Don't let them scam you.

Going from Sukhumi back to Enguri Bridge (Егры, russ.: Ингур), direct marshrutkas leave the trainstation at 9.10 and 11.10, but are often packed and won't take anybody with too much luggage. Alternatively go to Gal only (roughly hourly departures) and hire a taxis (350-400 R. ), this being much preferable to hanging around the decidedly unpleasant Gal "bus terminal."

By foot[edit]

If crossing the border on foot from Russia, prepare for long waits in summer (2–3 hours are not uncommon) and bring enough water. Frequent (ancient Ikarus) busses and marshrutka leave from the parking lot once you have cleared customs. Entering from Georgia will involve at least 15 min walking between the two military checkpoints but, apart from the paperwork which can be somewhat lengthy, this is a straightforward process.

By air[edit]

While Sukhumi has an airport (Sukhumi Dranda Airport (IATA: SUI)), unsolved politics prevents its use for anything but UN flights.

By boat[edit]

A high-speed, seasonal daily boat service [2] (running between 10 June and 1 October) was introduced in 2011 linking Sochi with Gagra, where it is possible to enter Abkhazia being in possession of a Clearance (see above) indicating the Psou border crossing. The boat leaves at 9 am from Sochi's Morskiy vokzal (sea port) (boarding time: 08:00) and arrives at 10:30. In the other direction, it leaves from Gagra at 19:00 (boarding at 18:00), a one-way ticket costs 500 rubles, in Sochi it has to be bought at least one day before leaving, for the way back though, it can be bought on board. From the Gagra port, just walk 100 m ahead to the main road to catch a bus for travelling onwards.

Abkhazia is partially under a naval blockade by the Georgian Coast Guard, and its waters are patrolled by Russian Border Guards' Coast Guard. If you are caught by the Georgians, the Georgian authorities will probably investigate whether you are involved in any economic activity, and if they find that you are, you might be prosecuted for unauthorized economic activity with Abkhazia. You may be penalized with a prison term and a heavy fine.

Get around[edit]

By bus[edit]

There are frequent buses and marshrutka along the coastal road between Psou and Sukhumi. You will find a Cyrillic only bus timetable at the Sukhumi Bus Station (in front of the train station). Twice daily suburban trains run from Gagra to Psou and on to Adler.

By taxi[edit]

Visitors may also use taxis for travel within the country. Many taxi companies provide special rates for sightseeing. There are a number of travel agencies providing excursions to the mountains using jeeps / four wheel drive cars.

See[edit]

One interesting destination for travellers is to visit Novi Afon (Новый Афон) or New Athos; a Christian Orthodox Cathedral, which is 20 min drive from Sukhumi. It is famous not only as a cathedral and living legacy of Christianity but also as a cave; where there are 7-8 enormously large halls with thousands of wonderful of stalagmites and stalactites. A special train takes you to the depths. There are also historical places like the village of Moqua with its beautiful cathedral, and Ilor Church near Ochamchira.

The beach at Gagra

Another attraction is Lake Ritsa, high in the mountains and about 1 hour drive from the main road (M-27). On the other side of the Lake Stalin's Dacha (summer cottage) can be found. The shortest way is by boat, but access is also possible by road (5 km). The cottage is open for tourists in the peak season. Even further up in the mountains is Lake Msui, a bit more off the beaten track; some tour operators offer trips. Weekly local flights from Sukhumi airport can take you to the remote village of Pskhu, where tourists may enjoy fantastic views of mountains and enjoy local produce such as honey and meat.

The city of Gagra and Pitsunda is the most popular tourist destination, offering a wide range of activities for a vacation.

Do[edit]

Abkhazia offers a wide variety of activities such as eco-tourism, gastro-tourism, rafting and extreme sports, mountain jogging and snowboarding, diving and sky gliding, hunting, and cultural and religious tourism.

These are some things a traveller should try before leaving Abkhazia:

  • Visit the Abkhaz Drama Theatre, Botanic garden and Monkey Park in Sukhumi.
  • Dine at the famous "Gagripsh" restaurant in Gagra.
  • Take a boat trip from Gagra to Sukhumi.
  • Visit the small cave of St. Simon the Zealot.
  • Visit the village of Kaman near Sukhumi.
  • Village of Lykhny with its historic churches and dome of Abkhaz Kings.

Buy[edit]

Due to economic sanctions, credit cards are not accepted in Abkhazia. Dollars and Euros are accepted in official exchange offices which can be found much less frequently than in Georgia—normal bnaking hours apply. Sometimes, visitors may pay with Dollars and Euros directly, though at a lower rate.

Eat[edit]

You should try Abkhazian local dishes including Akud (bean sauce) and Abista (corn porridge with cheese) and a variety of meat and fresh greens. Most dishes are usually spicy.

Drink[edit]

Local wines are also a must try; Apsny, Ashta, Buque, Dioskuria (ancient Greek name of Sukhumi), Gumsta, Lykhni, Psou, and Radeda.

Stay safe[edit]

In the past, Abkhazia has witnessed military confrontations between Georgian armed forces and the Russian-supported local independence groups. For the common traveller the country is relatively safe, but you should make sure to avoid any place near the border to Georgia. Some minor unregistered minefields are reported near the border, an additional reason to steer well clear of it. Keep in mind that Abkhazia is, in the view of international law, still a part of Georgia. Further military confrontations are unlikely but you should closely follow the international and independent news in case the situation changes. Travellers who have visited Abkhazia and intend to visit Georgia can be questioned, refused entry to Georgia or in the worst case be imprisoned by Georgian immigration officers, as entry to Abkhazia is seen as illegal immigration.

The basic precautions for travellers are those recommended in all tourist destinations:

  • Watch your bag or purse in public e.g. buses, trains and meetings. Keep your car locked with valuables out of view and do not leave your valuables like cameras, jewellery or mobile phones on the beach when you go for a swim.
  • If your mobile phone is stolen, the local cell phone company may help you to track it and in most cases telephones could be found if resold anywhere in Abkhazia.
  • Don't hesitate to report crimes to the local police. If you report a theft, people are generally helpful.

Respect[edit]

Abkhazia is a traditional and conservative country, so dress modestly. Clothing which exposes too much skin will give you a bad image from the local people, and you will thereby get unwelcome attention and less respect.

Connect[edit]

Telephones[edit]

In Abkhazia a phone number can belong to either Georgia or Russia so there are two styles of listing. Georgian numbers are of the form +995 442 123456 where "995" is the country code for Georgia, the next 3 digits are the area code in the range 442 to 448 for fixed (or land) lines and the remaining 6 digits are the "local" part of the subscriber number that can be called from within that particular area code using abbreviated dialing. You need to dial "0" in front of the geographic area code (from outside that particular area code (but when still within Abkhazia).

Mobile numbers on Georgian networks within Abkhazia can always be dialed using the full international format, no matter where they are being called from. The 5nn is a mobile prefix, not an "area code", as such and the second and third digits (the nn part) denotes the original mobile network assigned: +995 595-555-555.

For Russian numbers the format is +7 840 123-45-67 where "7" is the country code for Russia, the next 3 digits of 840 is the area code for fixed (or land) lines and the remaining 7 digits are the "local" part of the subscriber number that can be called from within the 840 area code using abbreviated dialing. You need to dial "8" in front of the geographic area code (from outside that particular area code (but when still within Russia and the Russian administered part of Abkhazia).

Mobile numbers on Russian networks within Abkhazia can always be dialled using the full international format, no matter where they are being called from. The 940 is a mobile prefix, not an "area code", as such and the second and third digits (the nn part) denotes the original mobile network assigned: +7 940-555-555.

Go next[edit]

  • Russia — The border with Russia is now open for all visitors.
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