David Gareja (Georgian: დავითგარეჯის სამონასტრო კომპლექსი, Davit'garejis samonastro komplek'si, sometimes spelled Davit Gareja) is a rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex in the Kakheti region of Georgia, on the half-desert slopes of Mount Gareja, 60–70 km southeast of Georgia's capital Tbilisi, and partially in Azerbaijan.
Although most of the complex is in Georgia, part of the site is in Azerbaijan, and the exact border is still the subject of a dispute between these countries.
There is an inexpensive (25 lari "both ways") shuttle bus Gareji Line, more details on their Facebook page, going daily from and back to Tbilisi between 14 April and 15 October. The itinerary as of September 2018:
- 11:00 Departure from Pushkin Square (better be there 10:45)
- Stop in the way at a little shop with a bakery
- 14:00 Arrival at David Gareja
- 16:30 Departure from David Gareja
- 17:00 Dinner break at the Oasis Club in Udabno
- 18:00 Departure from Udabno
- 19:30 - 20:00 Arrival in Tbilisi
If you want to continue to Sighnaghi after visiting David Gareja, ask the driver to drop you in Sagarejo. You'll probably be dropped at the intersection of Highway 5 and Street 172 (the one coming south from Udabno). There you could ask around for a taxi. The owner of the little bar next to the "restaurant in a bus" drove us to Sighnaghi for 70 lari (70 km, 50 min).
There are two options to get there: either via Sagarejo (with a road in an acceptable state), or via Rustavi, which offers an amazing view on the industrial desert of this former factory city, but at the price of a road in a very bad state (4-wheel drive only). In both cases, make sure you have a good GPS software, as the road signs are almost non-existent (slightly better via Sagarejo).
- Chartering a taxi from Tbilisi; this may cost at least 100 lari, including the 2 or 3-hour waiting time in the monastery.
- Going by marshrutka (e.g., the one heading to Sighnaghi) until the crossroad of Sagarejo; from there, charter a taxi, which may cost 50-60 lari. This option will for sure work during the high season, but can be more challenging in winter time.
By travel agency
Many travel agencies (e.g., in Tbilisi) can organize a one-day or half-day tour to the monastery. But it may be much more expensive than chartering a taxi yourself.
- Rest Hostel and Tours, 68 Dimitri Uznadze str., Tbilisi, ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rest Hostel and Tours can organize half-day trips to David Gareja. The driver will also accompany you for the walk around the monastery. 150 lari for up to 1-7 people in a minivan Mitsubishi Delica 4-wheel drive..
No entrance fees.
It's often windy; so during winter be sure to wear warm clothes.
Toilets are available in the building next to the parking lot for 0.50 lari.
The main monastery is right behind the small parking lot. You can visit most of it; the rooms not allowed to tourists are clearly marked with "no entrance" signs, in both English and Georgian. See the tomb of the first monk to have lived there (St. David Garejeli).
Then, you can follow the path starting right behind the church shop, that goes on the top of the small mountain. There, you have a wonderful view towards both Georgia and Azerbaijan. And you will see many troglodyte churches, some of them with paintings from the 11th and 12th centuries. Total time: about 1hr 30min, using a sometimes steep path.
Wandering around is the activity of choice.
The church shop at the entrance of the site sells some religious objects.
Eat and drink
There are only very few places to eat and drink, so bring your own food.
- Oasis Club, Main village road, Udabno, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. open 24 hr. Food and drinks in the middle of a Georgian desert. Polish owners, traditional Georgian food.
- 1 Oasis Club, Udabno village, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. "In the middle of a steppe". This places offers a restaurant, hotel, and hostel. Check out the website for more details. Dorm from 25 lari, single including breakfast 70 lari.
The monastery is partly inside of Azerbaijan. Generally, the entry is possible without any problems, but sometimes Azeri soldiers might block the way due to current or recent differences between the two countries. This might be troublesome, but it does not pose any danger to tourists.
Travelling further is not possible. Travel into Azerbaijan requires a visa and a proper border control.
Probably the Oasis Club also has WiFi. Out of all mobile carriers Magti has the best reception and 4G internet is available along most of the way and at David Gareja. You can buy a simcard package in Sagarejo or Rustavi.
- Rustavi – a post-Soviet upcoming city with the Sioni Church, 30 km W
- Gurjaani – one of the centres of Georgia's wine industry. Landmarks include the Church of the Dormition aka Church of All Saints (Kvelatsminda; 8th-9th century), 60-80 km NE
- Sighnaghi – a restored wine town with an Old Town, the Pirosmani Museum and an extensive fortifications, as well as the Bodbe Monastery (aka Bodbe Convent or St. George of Bodbe) on its outskirts, 50 km NE
- Telavi – nearby Alaverdi Monastery and gateway to Tusheti National Park, 70 km N
Also, see Kakheti region for more details.