|Currency||Russian ruble (RUB)|
|Population||242,862 (2012 est.)|
|Electricity||220V/50Hz (European plug)|
|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 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.
Abkhazia was a popular tourist destination back in a Soviet days because of its mild climate, its beaches and interesting nature. The country's tourism infrastructure has been developing again, but so far, it is frequented mainly by tourists from Russia and other CIS countries.
- Auadhare (or Avadhara) - Abkhazian resort, 18 km (11 mi) from Lake Ritsa, located at an altitude of 1,600 m, famous for its mineral springs and sulfide waterfall with sparkling water.
- Lake Ritsa
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.
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 sought 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 the Abkhaz and Russian paramilitaries mounted a major offensive and by 1993 they had driven the Georgians out and had massacred thousands that remained.
After the war all of 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.
Its status as an independent state is internationally recognized only by Russia, Nauru, Venezuela and Nicaragua. From the other side, the Georgian government, United Nations and the majority of the world's governments consider Abkhazia a part of Georgia's territory, though Georgia is not in control of it. Under Georgia's official designation it is an autonomous republic.
Abkhazia highly depends on Russian support and funding and has an uncertain political situation similar to that of South Ossetia.
Abkhazia is located south of the Caucasus on the north coast of the Black Sea west of the river Enguri in Georgia. With the exception of a narrow agricultural coastal strip it is a highly mountainous country reaching heights of over 4,000m.
There is also the Voronya Cave located in the Arabica Massif. At 2,190m deep, its the deepest known cave in the world.
Thanks to the protection of the mountain ranges, the coastal strip belong to a subtropical climate, which made Abkhazia a popular resort in the Soviet era. The mild climate promotes the cultivation of tobacco, tea, wine and fruit and agriculture, food and beverage industries are among the most important economic sectors of Abkhazia.
Very hot and humid summer. It can stay quite warm up until the end of October.
The average temperature in January is between +2 to +4 ° C. The average temperature in August varies from +22 to +24. The average annual temperature is +15 ° C.
Abkhazia has long been inhabited mainly by the eponymous people of Abkhazia, which represented in 1886 about 85% of the residents of Abkhazia. Besides there was of a small Greek minority as well as several thousands of Georgians. However, the number of Georgians increased dramatically in the 20th century for two major reasons; first was the grand migration that took place in the late 1864 during the Ottoman-Russian war, when a major number of the Abkhaz population followed their fellow Circassian tribes migrating mainly to the lands of the Ottoman empire, this caused a massive loss of the native Abkhaz population on Abkhaz soil, years after that and under the Soviet Union, many Georgians were relocated in Abkhaz empty lands and were given lands and properties while executing a policy of "Georginizations" through banning the Abkhaz language and attempting at reshaping the Abkhaz culture and history. Abkhazia was included into the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1931, which led to a further influx of Georgians. In addition many Russians, Ukrainians and Armenians were settling in the region since the end of the 19th century. The Abkhazians therefore were already a minority in their country at the beginning of the 20th century.
The last Soviet census of 1989 identified a population of approximately 525,000, of which almost 46% were Georgians and 18% Abkhazians . The rest of the population consisted of Armenians (14.6%), Russians (14.3%), Greece (2.8%) and some smaller minorities.
During the Civil War, there was ethnic cleansing and forced displacement. Approximately 250,000 inhabitants (including approximately 200,000 Georgians) left the country. Some other citizens emigrated later on due to the difficult economic situation. In 2003 the population was only of about 215,000 people. However, since 2008 the situation in Abkhazia continuously improves and the population increases again. According to 2011 census, the country had about 241,000 inhabitants: 50.8% Abkhazians, 19.3% Georgians, 17.3% Armenian, 9.2% Russians, 0.7% Ukrainians, 0.6% Greeks and about 0.8% of other minorities.
A large part of the population has passports of the Russian Federation received since Abkhaz passport being recognized by only a few other states. Many Georgian-born residents of Abkhazia are Georgian citizens.
Georgians living in Abkhazia are mainly concentrated in the south of the country, in Gal district they constitute 98.2% of the population, in Tkuartschal district - 62.4% and in Rajon Otschamtschyra district - about 9.5%. In all other parts of the country the percentage of Georgians is well below 5%.
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.
The Georgian language is not particularly widespread in the country. The Government of the de facto independent Abkhazia has not approved Georgian as an official language, and many Abkhazians find it offensive to be accessed in Georgian because of the war generally. But there are many ethnic Georgians who live in the south of the country who speak their language.
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.
There are no exchange or any other facilities at the border. Get sufficient rubles 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.
There are three types of Abkhaz visa: Single-entry (10 days, USD10; 30 days USD20; 1 year USD30), Multi-entry (from USD40) and Transit. Official information is available online.
- 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, +7 840 226-3948). Download the appropriate form; once completed, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
- 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 13:00).
- Before proceeding pay the visa fees at the Sberbank (Сбербанк) branch nearby on Lakoba Ave. (opposite no. 37, 09:00-17:00). Staff are helpful, even if you don't speak Russian a friendly smile and saying "visa" is sufficient. The fee is payable in Russian roubles calculated at the daily US dollar exchange rate, plus a nominal transaction fee.
- Getting from Russia.
- 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.
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.
Buses to Sukhumi run from Sochi and Rostov-on-Don, Russia. 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 train station 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 RUB ), this being much preferable to hanging around the decidedly unpleasant Gal "bus terminal."
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.
While Sukhumi has an airport (Sukhumi Dranda Airport (IATA: SUI)), unsolved politics prevents its use for anything but UN flights.
A high-speed, seasonal daily boat service (running between 10 June and 1 October) links 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 10 am from Sochi's Morskiy vokzal (sea port) (boarding time: 08:30) and arrives at 11:30. In the other direction, it leaves from Gagra at 19:00 (boarding at 18:30), 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 traveling 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.
There are frequent buses and marshrutka along the coastal road between Psou and Sukhumi. You will find a bus timetable at the Sukhumi Bus Station (in front of the train station).
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.
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.
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.
Abkhazia is one of the oldest Christian countries (Andrew and Simon the Zealot preached here in the I century). Therefore a number of medieval churches exist. Most notable of them are the temples in the villages Lykhny, Kaman, Otkhara.
It's the largest and the oldest (more than a thousand years old) village of Abkhazia which can boast of ruins of a VI-VII centuries Christian temple (located on the outskirts of the village), princes palace and Church of the Assumption of Our Lady. Lykhny village is located 5 km (3 mi) north of the city Gudaut.
- Glade Lyhnashta, village Lykhny (In the center of the village). Abkhazians performed nationwide gatherings, annual equestrian events, national celebration here from the old times. There is also a picturesque ruins of the palace of the ruling princes of Abkhazia Chachba-Shervashidze. Palace was founded in XI century and then destroyed in 1866.
- Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, village Lykhny (Next to the glade). Acting church. Built in XIV century. You can see there fragments of frescoes of XIV century, tomb of the last ruler of Abkhazia - Prince George Chachba-Shervashidze (died 1818) before it became part of the Russian Empire in 1810.
Christian legend states that the holy martyr Basiliscus (308 year) and St. John Chrysostom (407 year) died and were buried in this village. Here you can find the ruins of early medieval Christian church, the tomb of the holy martyr Basiliscus, Orthodox Monastery (operating since 2002). Kaman village located 15 km (9 mi) from the city of Sukhumi.
Dens of a medieval monastery can be found here.
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. Beach season in Abkhazia lasts from May to November.
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 and the cave in the village Abrskila Otap.
- Visit the village of Kaman near Sukhumi.
- Village of Lykhny with its historic churches and dome of Abkhaz Kings.
ATMs in Abkhazia accept Visa and Mastercard cards (2015), they are usually installed near bank branches in all major cities. However, it's still rare for the shops/restaurants to accept cards.
Dollars and Euros are accepted in official exchange offices which can be found at most tourist areas—normal banking hours apply. Sometimes, visitors may pay with Dollars and Euros directly, though at a lower rate.
There are some 24-hour shops in the villages. Sukhumi has a new shopping center on the outskirts of the city. Otherwise goods can be found in small shops, mini markets and numerous kiosks. The largest grocers in Gagra called "Continent".
Dominant in Abkhazia are the Mediterranean influenced Caucasian and Russian cuisine. It has Mediterranean characteristics due to the abundance of subtropical fruits, vegetables and seafood. Kebabs are offered almost everywhere.
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.
Abkhazia is also a wine region. Local wines are a must try; Apsny, Ashta, Buque, Dioskuria (ancient Greek name of Sukhumi), Gumsta, Lykhni, Psou, and Radeda.
Local spirits distilled from a dry wine and fruit mash are very diverse and cause stormy enthusiasm among tourists.
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.
While many travellers cross the border with Georgia proper back and forth with no problems, keep in mind that the southeastern areas of Abkhazia on the way, around Gali and Ochamchira more specifically, are the most impoverished parts of a country already not doing so well, so the time spent there should be kept no longer than is necessary. The Abkhaz side of the actual border zone at Enguri/Ingur seems safe as long as the militia is there—but note that they leave the place as soon as the crossing gets shut by 19:00, and there is at least one report of a traveller being a victim of a violent mugging which took place there after the militia left.
If you are not from the few countries that recognize Abkhazia, being in a conflict zone means that you are left stranded with absolutely no consular support should you lose your passport for some reason. In such a case, a traveller reportedly could make it back to Georgia only after the involvement of the Red Cross delegation (48 Inal-Ipa St, Sukhumi) and some high-ranking Abkhaz officials, which may not be available next time. Thus it is recommended to make a copy of the passport and any appropriate visas before entering Abkhazia.
Finding directions might be challenging as all signs are mainly in Cyrillic only.
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.
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.
It's possible to send letters and packages abroad from any post office in Abkhazia. Post offices also usually allow making international telephone calls at costs of about 10-16 rubles per minute.
Landline phone numbers have the format of
+7 840 XXX-XX-XX.
There are 2 local mobile operators A-Mobile and Aquafon, the latest one being the largest and having bigger coverage. Their mobile numbers follow the next format
+7 940 XXX-XX-XX. A SIM card costs about 200 rubles, incl. 150 ruble credit, and there are special rates for travelers, no ID is required for card purchase and almost all available tariff plans are prepaid ones. Both operators offer 4G which is available almost in all towns. Foreign SIM cards usually do not work with the exception of Russian branded operators MTS, Beeline, Megafon.