Here is our guide to the ultimate two week road trip through Armenia & Georgia. We will explain our itinerary from October 2016 (with a few modifications), how to organise your car and what to expect whilst driving through both countries.
Armenia and Georgia have an incredible amount to see and do. Both countries are spoiled for ancient monasteries, stunning scenery, fascinating history and delicious wine. We didn’t have much time so we decided that we should hire a car. This would allow us to see everything we wanted and would cut out days spent on public transport, plus give us plenty of flexibility.
For our road trip we started off in Yerevan, so for a look at what to do with your time there have a look at our Guide to Backpacking in Armenia.
Day One: Yerevan to Goris
Driving Time: 6 hours inc. stops
Your first day is a perfect introduction to Armenia and the roads you will encounter over the next 2 weeks. Drive out of Yerevan on the the highway running south to Goris. Along the way, stop in at the serene Khor Virap and Noravank Monasteries. Grab some supplies from Yerevan for a picnic lunch along the way. There are plenty of good places to stop, but we loved Spandarian Reservoir.
Where to stay: Aregak B&B in Goris – a great introduction to Armenian hospitality. Marieta will welcome you in to her home with a big hug and great cooking. It doesn’t look like much from outside, but inside there is everything you need.
Day Two: Goris to Yeghegnadzor
Driving Time: 5 hours inc. stops
Today you will backtrack towards Yerevan, but detouring to see the incredible hilltop Tatev Monastery in the morning. For lunch, Tatev has a couple of options but we suggest another picnic!
TRAVELATOR TIP: The cable car at Tatev (‘the Wings of Tatev’) is 4000 dram return ($8USD) but can often be clouded by fog. If you’re super keen to catch the cable car, visit around lunch and hopefully the fog has lifted.
Where to stay: Guesthouse Nataly in Yeghegnadzor – huge rooms, a beautiful sitting room, spotless bathroom and great food. The view from the balcony is fantastic as well.
Day Three: Yeghegnadzor to Lake Sevan
Driving Time: 4 hours inc. stops
A shorter day today as you drive over the stunning Selim Pass towards Lake Sevan. Lake Sevan is the largest body of water in Armenia, and is surrounded by quaint fishing villages. Allow time for a few photo stops along the way. We would recommend a roadside lunch again, as some of the views along the way are sensational.
Note: If travelling in winter, ask your accommodation in Yeghegnadzor whether the pass is open as it can be closed due to heavy snow.
Where to stay: We found the range of accommodation options in Sevan to be a bit thin so stayed in Ch’kalovka instead. Lavash Hotel has a quirky Soviet resort feel to it, but the rooms are great, the restaurant serves up delicious food and it’s great value for money.
Day Four: Sevan to Alaverdi
Driving Time: 5 hours inc. stops
Today you will head north towards the Georgian border and the beautiful village of Alaverdi in the Debed Canyon. In the morning, visit the hilltop monastery of Sevanavank, which is just off the main highway between Sevan and Dilijan. After settling in to your accommodation in Alaverdi, head out to the Sanahin Monastery.
NOTE: When we completed this trip (October 2016) a section of the main road to Alaverdi was closed so we had to take a detour through Dsegh. We were advised by locals that the road could be closed for another 2 years. Take a right off the M6 onto the H22 (here) and head across the bridge and up to Dsegh. Head through the village and then towards the east, where the road winds back down to the M6. The road is terrible but there is no other way for the moment.
Where to stay: Iris Guesthouse in Alaverdi – this was one of our favourite guesthouses in Armenia. The owners are incredibly welcoming and always up for a chat, the facilities are great and the food is absolutely delicious.
Day Five: Alaverdi to Vardzia Cave City
Driving Time: 7 hours inc. stops & border crossing
A longer day in the car today as you cross the border into Georgia. As you leave Alaverdi in the morning, stop off at the beautiful Haghpat Monastery. From the Monastery, it is a fairly short drive to the border. After the border the roads improve, but they are quite windy. Expect another 4 hours of driving onwards to Vardzia. Near Vardzia stretch your legs with a visit to the Khertvisi Fortress.
Crossing the border: We found the border crossing to be an absolute breeze. You will need your passports, the car passport (the car hire company will provide this) and any relevant visas. The crossing is not well signed but the border guards will point you in the right direction. Passengers need to walk through the border crossing terminals, while the driver completes all formalities in the car. You will clear Armenian border first, then drive through another passport check and over a bridge to the Georgian border.
Where to stay: We (foolishly!) booked online and wouldn’t recommend the hotel we stayed at. There are a few guesthouses in the area, so just try your luck on arrival.
Day Six: Vardzia Cave City to Akhaltsikhe
Driving Time: 3 hours inc. stops
Your first stop this morning is the incredible cave complex of Vardzia. Allow at least one hour for your visit to do the complex justice. There are several cafes at the bottom if you need a snack before heading off.
Back on the road, make your way north towards Akhaltsikhe. As you enter Akhaltsikhe, detour south to check out the gorgeous Sapara Monastery. Once you arrive in Akhaltsikhe, settle in to your accommodation and then check out the superbly renovated Rabati Castle.
Where to stay: We didn’t sleep in Akhaltsikhe but in hindsight we definitely should have. Travelling from Vardzia to Kutaisi in one day was just way to long. Akhaltsikhe is the perfect spot to break the journey up and has a lot of accommodation and restaurant options.
Day Seven: Akhaltsikhe to Kutaisi
Driving Time: 4 hours
A pretty uneventful morning as you head to Georgia’s second largest and surprisingly cool city, Kutaisi. No stops along the way today so you will have plenty of time to explore Kutaisi in the afternoon. Check out the town square and grab a glass of Georgian wine or beer.
NOTE: There is a road that connects Akhaltsikhe to Kutaisi travelling through the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park: avoid it! The road is in terrible condition and is often closed due to snow. Take the longer route via the highway through Khashuri.
Where to stay: Hostel Lviv in Kutaisi – located within walking distance of some great restaurants and the centre of town, Hostel Lviv is a great option. The host does not speak much English but will help you with anything you need, the shower is piping hot and the beds are comfy. Oh, it’s also incredibly cheap.
Day Eight: Exploring Kutaisi
Driving Time: Minimal
Kutaisi has plenty to see within a short drive from the city. Make sure you check out the Gelati Monastery, Prometheus Cave (closed on Mondays) and the Bagrati Cathedral.
TRAVELATOR TIP: For some cheap food, great music and even cheaper drinks, head to Enso Restaurant in Kutaisi. Great for anyone who loves rock music.
Day Nine: Kutaisi to Gori
Driving Time: 3 hours
Back in the car this morning as you head west to Gori, the birthplace of Josef Stalin. After you arrive in Gori, spend the afternoon visiting the strange yet incredibly interesting Stalin Museum. You will get a guided tour of the museum, plus a chance to see Stalin’s train carriage and childhood home. There is no mention of the atrocities Stalin was responsible for, so keep your expectations low on this front. However, it is fascinating to learn more about Stalin, his family and his relationship with them. The Uplistsikhe cave city just outside of Gori is well worth a look as well.
Where to stay: Guesthouse Levani in Gori – the hosts here are the highlight. Incredibly friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, they will make your time here memorable.
Day Ten: Gori to Sighnaghi
Driving Time: 4 hours inc. stops
Today you make your way further west to Georgian wine country. We recommend a night in the picturesque village of Sighnaghi. Along the way, be sure to stop at Mtskheta and check out the beautiful Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and the perfectly located Jvari Church. In Sighnaghi, visit St Nino’s final resting place at the Bodbe Monsatery and walk the old city walls. If you’re in the mood for wine, head to Pheasant’s Tears where you can taste 4 wines for 15 GER.
TRAVELATOR TIP: While in Sighnaghi don’t miss the chance to visit Georgia’s only Mexican restaurant, Pancho Villa. The delicious meals here are a great change from Georgian cuisine and the host is incredibly friendly.
Where to stay: Maya Guesthouse in Sighnaghi – the host, Maya, is the highlight of this small guesthouse. Maya and her family are very friendly and welcoming and she prepares a great breakfast. The guesthouse itself is in a great location in the heart of town, is spotlessly clean and incredible value for money.
Day Eleven: Sighnaghi to Telavi
Driving Time: 1 hour
From one wine village to another, a short day in the car today as you make your way to Telavi. In Telavi, you can visit the city fortress and relax with a few glasses of Georgian wine at Bravo cafe.
Where to stay: If you have a little cash to play with we would highly recommend staying at the Schuchmann Wines Chateau. The grounds are beautiful, the rooms and perfect and the service is fantastic. Guests get a free tour and wine tasting, plus a discount at the onsite spa. The restaurant also serves up delicious Georgian fare at reasonable prices.
Day Twelve: Exploring Telavi
Driving Time: Minimal
Telavi is a charming town to stroll around in with some great architecture and excellent restaurants. Jump in your car and head to the Chavchavadze Estate for the English tour of this famous aristocrat’s manor. The history of the manor, Chavchavadze and his family is really interesting. After the tour, head down to the cellar for a glass of wine (entrance and wine 7 GEL). Afterwards, head next door to Shumi Winery for their free tour and 4-wine tasting. Schuchmann Wines Chateau is a great spot for some more wine and a spot of lunch. Afterwards, take the short drive out to Alaverdi Cathedral.
Day Thirteen: Telavi to Tbilisi
Your final day of driving today as you finish off your time in Georgia in the vibrant capital of Tbilisi.
Hiring Your Car
We started our road trip in Yerevan and looked at various car hire companies. We eventually chose Travel Car. They gave us the cheapest daily rate, beating the closest competitor by almost $5USD per day, and had a competitive one way hire fee. The service in their Yerevan office was fantastic, they spoke perfect English and answered any questions we had. Travel Car also offers roadside assistance in Georgia and Armenia, and provided insurance with a US$300 excess.
There are a few must do’s when hiring a car – to see them all check out our Backpackers’ Guide to Car Hire.
What car did we use?
Say hello to our trusty steed Marcel the Micra:
Marcel may not look like much but he took us everywhere we needed in comfort. Plus, he was great on petrol as well!
Did we use GPS?
Somewhat. We used the MAPS.ME free mobile app and it worked with varying success. For the most part it was fine but it did lead us astray a few times. We would recommend cross checking your routes with Google Maps and (God forbid) a roap map. Alas, we figured this out the hard way.
What To Expect
Armenia – We drove on everything from newly paved 4 lane highways to dirt tracks that were allegedly main roads. Be careful with your planning and stick to major roads where possible – the route may be a further distance but will take less time due to road conditions. We have highlighted the best routes in our itinerary where possible.
Georgia – if coming from Armenia, you will find Georgia’s roads to be a gift from God. Throughout our itinerary we encountered very few dirt roads at all and most major tourist destinations were serviced by paved roads in great condition.
Armenians and Georgians aren’t the worst drivers we have seen, but they are certainly not the best. Expect a lot of speeding, crazy overtaking and stopping in totally random locations.
Overtaking – you will see locals overtaking wherever and whenever they want. You will see signs indicating that overtaking is not permitted but they are not followed. Our guide would be to use common sense and overtake only when you feel safe to do so. However, expect to veer towards the right to allow crazy drivers to overtake you, and be prepared for cars from the other direction to be in your lane occasionally.
Speed limits – We were at a complete loss on speed limits in both countries. Some are well signed, other are not. Following the locals will most likely result in a speeding ticket, as you don’t know where the speed cameras are hiding. We ended up with two speeding tickets in Armenia! Our general rule of thumb after this was 50km/h through towns and cities and 80km/h on country roads, unless otherwise signed. Along your journey you will see signs indicating limits for speed humps, pedestrian crossings etc – these are for the obstacle only and then the limit returns to normal.
Parking – you can park pretty much wherever you like. If there are people parked there, go for it! If not, as long as there is not a cross marked on the ground you are fine. In Yerevan, you often need a parking permit (these are city-wide) so check with the car hire company whether this is included for your car.
What do you think about road tripping through the Caucases? Tell us in the comments below!
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