Things to Do, Hikes and Complete Guide for Your Weekend in Kazbegi
Kazbegi, a melting pot of religion and mythology, is one of the most sentimental destinations in Georgia. You might not know this yet (or might actually do if you are a mythology-geek), but these icy slopes have long been recognized in Georgian and Greek stories to be the place where Prometheus, a Titan credited to have made humans, was imprisoned. In the Biblical days, the town (Kazbegi) was even said to have been the home of many relics. Orthodox monks have also dwelt in the place specifically in what they now call Betlemi (or Bethlehem).
History aside, Kazbegi, now officially called as Stepantsminda, is a true beauty. Its mountain ranges and glaciers provide you adventure. Its culture and people, on the other hand, offers remarkable stories to share.
In this article, be well-versed with Kazbegi travel tips that will surely help you with your journey to Kazbegi (Stepantsminda), including how to get there, its currency, useful facts about the town, hiking activities, food, and more.
Kazbegi Travel Tips: What You Should Know About Kazbegi
1. Kazbegi is Stepantsminda
You might be a bit curious (or confused, too) when you tried to search Kazbegi, but results kept on directing you to Stepantsminda. That is an ordinary scenario, especially for people diligently doing their research of places they want to visit in Georgia.
They named Kazbegi to honor the famous Georgian writer, Alexander Kazbek, although some think it was from the mighty Mount Kazbek. For almost 100 years, Kazbegi was referred with that name. However, in 2007, it was changed to Stepantsminda.
2. Kazbegi (Stepantsminda) is a small town
With icy mountains in view and so many tourist destinations to visit, many believe that Kazbegi (Stepantsminda) is a big place to explore. In fact, Kazbegi (Stepantsminda) is a townlet in the Mtskheta-Mianeti province, in the municipality of Kazbegi. Stepantsminda is also the center of the said municipality and is the most popular.
And since it is a small town, you can reach a lot by foot. For instance, if you are at the town center, you can access facilities such as supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels just by walking. We were slightly after the river or at the other side of the river but despite that it took us only 10 minutes to walk to where most of the good restaurants are so that was easy.
3. Kazbegi is known for hiking
A Kazbegi trip will never be complete without hiking activities. People usually visit the place because of this fun and brave venture. Know more about their hikes as you go further in this article. First, let us know how to get in this town.
How to Get to Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)
If already staying at a hotel in Tbilisi, or just arrived at the international airport, the first problem that may come in your mind is on how to get to Kazbegi. For first time travelers, you may choose among these options: 1) ride a marshrutka (local transportation), 2) rent a private car, 3) hire a day tour.
1. Ride a marshrutka
What is a marshrutka? You might already made mental pictures of some weird-looking vehicle, but a marshrutka is just a routed taxicab, or a mini bus. The appearance of this public transportation is like the fusion of a jeepney, van and bus. Length may be just as similar as our jeepney’s, sitting capacity almost parallel to that of a van, and an over-all-look of a bus, but smaller.
How much will I spend for a marshrutka to Kazbegi? If you are on a budget, riding a marshrutka is your best choice. It only costs 10 GEL to get you to Kazbegi. The ride is a three (3) hours trip. You might be tempted to sleep, but you would rather not because the scene is quite a treat, especially during the second half of your travel.
Where can I get a bus (marshrutka) to Kazbegi?
You can find a marshrutka that will take you to Kazbegi at the Didube Bus Station. Route from Tbilisi to the station takes about 20 to 45 minutes (depending on your mode of transport). You can have as fast as a 20 minute-ride in a taxi (fastest option), but may cost you of around 24 GEL to 30 GEL.
What about departure time to Kazbegi?
Marshrutka leaves every after hour. First trip is scheduled every 8:00AM. The last nighttime trip is by 7pm. The complete bus timetable for departure is as follows:
|AM Trip||PM Trip|
The two to three-hour trip only stops once for a bathroom break. So before getting on the bus, make sure you already visited the comfort room to attend to your necessities. It would be good to bring some snacks too if you are traveling at odd hours.
2. Rent a private car
Can I rent a private car?
Of course, you can rent a private car. It is actually more comfortable to travel and saves time, too. In addition, it allows you to do a more personalized itinerary (such as stopping by important landmarks in the Georgian Military Road like we did), and can cater to a number of people if traveling by group.
Is it costly?
If you will be paying alone or traveling solo, it is. In my case, car rental costs about 160 GEL (60 USD). But I traveled with friends, a group of four, so each of us paid only 45 GEL (or 15usd). It is still more expensive than riding a marshrutka, but then, if the budget allows, it is totally fine.
Read about the stops from Tbilisi to Kazbegi here
3. Hire a day tour
First, why should you consider a day tour? Booking for a tour lets you visit several places for a day. Depending on the package, this might just be the best opportunity for you to visit as much places in Kazbegi as possible. For first timers, this could mean a more organized tour with persons who can actually guide you throughout the day.
There are sites, such as www.getyourguide.com, which will help you pick packages at a price right for your budget. Prices vary depending on the destination or whether it is a group or private tour. Here are some affordable day tour packages at Get Your Guide.
- Kazbegi, Stepantsminda, and Gudauri Tour
This is a guided tour which starts from Tbilisi (meeting point in a square near Avlabari subway) on the way to the region of Kazbegi. First stop is at the Ananuri Fortified Castle Ensemble which stands in the famous Georgian Military Road. There, you’ll experience the Celtic patterns of the castle. You can also oversee Jinvali Lake from the road.
Next, you will be able to visit the well-known ski resort in Gerogia—Gudauri—and experience the high-quality skiing opportunities offered by the resort.
You will be able to participate in the best tandem paragliding and get the best of your travels in Georgia for the next 20 to 25 minutes of your life. You’ll be able to catch a birds-eye view of Jvari pass or Aragvi Valley, but for an additional price (which is worth it).
Lastly, you’ll land your first steps at the Gergeti Trinity Church located at the southern slopes of Mkinvarcveri. This is one of the challenging, yet rewarding walks of this day tour, because you’ll have to climb up a hill just right below the icy slopes of Mount Kazbek.
Package includes a professional tour guide, entrance fees, fuel surcharge and all taxes, fees and handling charges for only Php 1, 462 per person (prices vary every day). It does not cover for your hotel fees, off-road car to Gergeti Holy Trinity, paragliding, lunch and gratuities.
- Tbilisi: Kazbegi Full-Day Group Tour (14 hours duration)
This is a 14-hour trip to the famous destinations in Kazbegi including the mythical Caucasus Mountains, Ananuri Medieval Castle, Gudauri, and Gergeti Holy Trinity Church. From Avlabari metro station (meeting point in Tbilisi), you’ll stop by at the great Junvali lake. Few minutes from the lake is the Ananuri, also known to be UNESCO World Heritage Site. Additional sight also includes the People’s Friendship Arch of the famous sculptor Tsereteli. The last destination is the Gergeti Church, where you will have a one to two-hour hike.
Transportation, guide and entry to the destinations are covered by your tour package. But food meals and transportation from Kazbegi to Gergeti Holy Trinity need additional charges.
4.Currency Exchange in Kazbegi
Without a doubt, you’ll nod when I say cash is essential in travels. But money exchange can sometimes give you headaches especially if talking about fluctuating rates in different places in Kazbegi even on the same day. So to be prepared, let’s talk about the things you need to know about Kazbegi’s currency.
The official currency of Georgia is called the Georgian Lari (GEL). Lari have both coins and banknotes. Coins are expressed in Tetri which has the following denominations: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 Tetri, and 1, 2 Lari. Meanwhile, Lari Banknotes include the following denominations: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 Lari. When going around Kazbegi, it is very important to have even the lower denominations. Most of the transactions, even checking-in at hotels in Kazbegi, accepts only cash.
How will you exchange your money in Kazbegi?
There are ATMs at hotels and banks, such as the Liberty Bank in the town center. Although there are smaller shops in Kazbegi, it is always more advisable to have your money withdrawn in ATMs or have your money exchanged in Tbilisi first.
Exchange rate in Kazbegi is terrible. But if really on an emergency and suddenly run out of GEL, look for a shop that has a “No commission” sign. Don’t hesitate to ask the staff how much GEL you’ll get before exchanging it. After leaving, count your money, just to be sure. During my visit exchange was 2.75 to 1 usd while in Tbilisi is 2.96. It was a big disparity and I only witnessed this in Kazbegi. Perhaps either exchange in Tbilisi or use your ATM
5. Hikes in Kazbegi
Never miss the opportunity to try Kazbegi’s hikes. It is a very fun activity not just for tourists who are daring and bold, but also for those who are not that into adventures. With your fighting spirit (or fighting pilit), you can proudly finish your one of a kind trek.
Here are some hikes you can try at Kazbegi and choose what best suit your thirst for thrill.
1) Gergeti Church Hiking
This is the most famous of all the hikes, also one of the easiest (or considered moderate for some). Gergeti is not far from Kazbegi (Stepantsminda). It is a village next to it, so it will usually take you about 1 hour of walk to get there.
There are also different trails you can choose to reach Gergeti Trinity Church. The most famous, I think, is the trail that goes up to the side of a steep hill that later on intersects the main road. If you are a solo traveler and wanted to follow the rest of the pack, then do so. But there are other trails that offer more spectacular views than the first. They are less traveled so some are not marked by signs. If planning to take different tracks, it is very practical and highly suggested for you to use Maps.Me, a mobile application that allows you to access the Gergeti map offline. We did that, and it really helped us along the way.
Elevation of the hike there is about 500 meters, almost similar to trekking Mt. Gulugod Baboy or Mt. Tibig in the Philippines, if you’ve already been there.
On the way up, you’ll walk through houses, meadow, jeep track, and forests. You can already celebrate ones you noticed that you are already walking towards a cow pasture. After a short and a little bit of a steep walk from there, you’ll now be able to land your foot steps to the famous spot.
All in all, the hike to Gergeti Trinity Church will take about 1 to 2 hours of walk, depending on your pace and trail, and has a distance of 5km (roundtrip).
2) Gergeti Glacier Hike
Up for more adventure? You might still feel the thirst if you felt like the trek to Gergeti Church is like a stroll in your backyard. If so, then you might as well continue the trek towards Gergeti Glacier.
Compared to the first hike, this one is steeper, about 1, 600-meter elevation (up and down), so you have to make your steps slower, to not exhaust yourself instantly. Despite the walks, the view is more breathtaking and rewarding. Past the church, you’ll see a small pass called the Arsha pass, and from there, you’ll be able to see the first view of the glacier and Mt. Kazbek. Walking further, you’ll come across a stream which makes up the Sabertse River.
Timing is really important in this hike. We were there in August and we were blessed because we saw the glaciers.The weather really cooperated and it was really rewarding on our part.Hike to Gergeti Glacier is a 20 km walk (roundtrip) and takes about 8 to 10 hours, again, depending on your pace.
Read more about Gergeti Glacier Hike here
3) Trusso Valley Hike
If you suddenly got tired of steep slopes, then, you might consider trying the Trusso Valley hike. Technically, you will not be really hiking, but just walking—a 22-kilometer walk!Despite the distance, there is so much to see in this route. You’ll be able to experience unique things such as the geysers (or waters suddenly bursting in pipes), travertine formations (limestones that are formed exceptionally), abandoned settlements, and ancient towers.
There are two ways to get to Trusso. You can ask a marshrutka to drop you by at the Kobi village near the Georgian Military Highway, or ride a taxi to get you to Kvemo Okrokana village which is 4km deeper the valley. It is much preferable to do the second option, but drivers can charge you a bit higher than a reasonable price.
Your journey will start in Kvemo Okrokana. There, you’ll pass by abandoned houses and reach Kasari canyon. Past the canyon is a river bank and a bridge. Behind the bridge, you’ll see the first travertines which are orange and white in color. In the main road, you’ll see even more travertines (mostly read) and geysers.
Next, you’ll be able to reach Ketsiri village, where there are ruins. At the end of the village are monasteries. In fact, throughout the hike, you’ll see two monasteries. You’ll also be able to see Zakagori fortress, and explore the hills and the ruins (but you will not be allowed to go further the valley unless with a permit).
Read more about my Trusso Valley Hike Experience
Other Things to Remember When in Kazbegi
6.) Check the weather
Almost all of the activities are outdoor, and you don’t want to get stuck in snow or showers. To enjoy your stay, choose days of the week that has a lower chance of precipitation. If you are planning for a hike,
7.) Bring a jacket.
Hot and cold, that’s how others describe Georgia’s weather. But since Kazbegi is closer to the mountains, it is colder there, especially during winter season. Also, temperature drops at night, so even if it’s hot during the day, it will surely be cold at night. Bringing a jacket and other clothes that will keep you warm is wise choice.
3) Stay for a few nights.
While you can create an itinerary that is accomplishable for a day, it is highly recommended to stay there at least for two nights. Especially if you like to hike. A day will not plunge your thirst. Even if hiking is not your thing, you’ll eventually end up wanting to try more, or visit other places, too. Plus, there are really great places to stay in Kazbegi which will suit your budget. Most of the accommodation feature the mountain view, even the forest view, which is really good for taking pictures and keeping cozy.
8.) Enjoy the view in Rooms
Speaking of accommodations, one of the best places to stay in Kazbegi is the Rooms Hotel. It has a panoramic pool, a deluxe restaurant and has an amazing terrace view. It can be pricey to stay there but you can enjoy all of these even if you are not there as a guest. Just go for coffee or dinner or something , it will be worth it.
9.) Eat local Georgian food.
Kazbegi is pretty small, and there isn’t so many restaurants to choose from. The advantage is that, since it’s a small town, restaurants and food corners became neighbors, so hopping from one place to another is easy.
Almost all of the restaurants serve traditional Georgian food which is good, since eating them is like tasting a part of their culture. Most of the food is from the town’s produce and they are served fresh to customers.
Georgian Military Highway is one of the touristy places in Kazbegi. From there you’ll see mountains, rivers and lakes. But aside from these spots, people also visit it because of Cozy Corner, a restaurant owned by a family. The restaurant is family-owned and serves European and Georgian cuisines. One of their dish is the soup kharcho, a tomato-based soup with rice and beef. If not into meat, they have vegetarian options as well.
The staff is nice, and the place is strategic because it lets you see the mountains. But on months when there are a lot of tourists, you’ll find it difficult to have vacant seats.
This restaurant specializes in serving healthy Georgian dishes. They also offer the nation’s best wines, which is a must-try. You can ask them to recommend which wine suits your meal, if not so sure about your preferences. Moreover, the place has beautifully decorated museum rooms on the inside, and an earthly and heavenly view on the outside. One of their dishes it the Chinkali or Georgian dumplings.
Vitamin opens from 8:00am to 11:45pm, so you can have late night bonding with your friends there.
If you wanted to have a last glimpse of the Gergeti Trinity Church, you may consider visiting Hotel Stancia. From the restaurant, you’ll be able to see the sight as you enjoy a nice dish, probably a trout they serve with the pomegranate sauce. Service is friendly, and view is breathtaking.
Though Asians, Filipinos can’t say no to pizzas. In Anno’s Corner, one of their best seller is the country’s pizza version which is very tasty and one of a kind. Though the venue is not as grand as Vitamin or other hotel restaurants, the food, especially the desserts, are to die for. After all, they specialize sweets.
While strolling at Kazbegi Street in Stepantsminda, you’ll probably notice a bus filled with tables and chairs. Yup, that’s it, the Awto Bus. From the name itself, the inspiration is to give you a literal traveling vibe while in the place. Unlike other restaurants which serve local cuisines, Awto Bus bring teas and cakes at the table.
Today, Kazbegi has secured a place in the hearts of many travelers around the world. Not only that it has a rich history, it also is stunning in many ways because of its mountains, glaciers, churches, food and people.