Georgian Road-trip: Tbilisi to Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)

georgian road-trip

I’m a sucker for a great road-trip. As you can guess – when a total stranger posted about heading to Kazbegi with a small group I immediately chimed in with interest. Honestly, I knew nothing of Kazbegi and didn’t care. I knew that Georgia is full of amazing sights and I wanted to explore and was ready for a Georgian road-trip.

georgian road-trip

Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)

Kazbegi is located in Northern Georgia nearly on the Russian border. The primary reason that most visit Kazbegi is for the Kazbek Mountain and Gergeti Trinity Church.

I’ll be honest, the mountain and church are stunning, however this isn’t what I considered the best part. I’m so thrilled that I was able to get in on this Georgian road-trip. The drive along the Georgian Military Road was the BEST part of the excursion.

My recommendation: DON’T take a tour! Organize a guide and driver and enjoy the drive.

Road-Trip Tbilisi to Kazbegi

The Georgian Military Road

The Georgian Military Road is a highlight to any trip to Georgia, and one of South Caucasus’ most scenic roads. Steeped in trade, wars, and legends. This ancient passage across the Caucasus towards Vladikavkaz in Russia is a spectacular adventure. Don’t try to take this trip in the winter. The weather on this zone is highly unpredictable. The road can be closed anytime due to heavy snowfall, blizzards and low visibility.

georgian road-trip

Road-Trip Preparation

First and foremost, I would recommend that you leave early. We didn’t leave until 9am and by the time we got to Kazbek, we had limited time to get up to Trinity Church to see the views. Give yourself plenty of time for stops.

Secondly, Pack a picnic!! There are a couple of great spots that I would have loved to have stopped and nibbled on some fruit and cheese and chased it with a great wine. There are restaurants along the way, but we didn’t try any. I’m told that you are also welcome to pitch a tent if anyone is so inclined.

georgian road-trip

Last, consider driving yourself. We opted for a guide/driver, but honestly it’s an easy enough drive to do on your own. The only caveat here is that you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the views due to having to keep your eyes on the road. The road is windy, with lots of hairpin turns as well as being in poor condition due to the weather. Potholes and construction abound.

The Georgian Road-Trip Route

The route is simple…get on the Georgian Military Highway and go!! There is only only route to Kazbegi. Below, I’ve detailed some of the stops that we made along the way. The link in the map above has all of our stops detailed.

Ananuri Fortress Complex

The Ananuri Fortress was constructed of stone and brick in the 17th century. This complex survived several battles. It’s on the tentative list for inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage Site program.

georgian road-trip

Give yourself about a half an hour to explore and take in the views. If you plan to go inside the church, men must wear long pants and women a skirt and cover their hair. (Items are provided for use).

georgian road-trip

Vintage Car Graveyard

Located between Ananuri Fortress and the convergence of the Black & White River (below) on the left side of the road is an inconspicuous graveyard of rusted, vintage cars and trucks.

georgian road-trip

I love to photograph this sort of thing so it made the list! If you enjoy the Rusty and Rugged, check out additional photos HERE.

Black and White River Convergence

Not necessarily noteworthy for it’s photography interest, but interesting nonetheless. Two rivers merge here creating an interesting look at the intertwining of the muddy Aragvi river and the glacial Aragvi river.

georgian road-trip video

I didn’t get a good photo perspective of this. The above photo taken from a sky view drone video showing the convergence.

Bi-Annual Sheep Migration

In Spring (May & June) and again in the autumn; The mass annual migration of up to a million head of sheep and cattle on long established routes is perhaps one of the authenticities of Georgia, as is the century old tradition of sheep farming itself.

Our guide told us that they will move them up to 30km at a time from winter pastures to summer pastures. A little research revealed that the migration takes place along the ancient transhumance route. Transhumance related to sheep farming is still practised in Georgia. The shepherds with their flocks have to cross the 2,826 metre-high Abano Pass from the mountains of Tusheti to the plains of Kakheti. According to the video above they are moving 400km in 15 days.

georgian road-trip sheep

When initially seeing the herds of both sheep and cows, I didn’t realize that we were witnessing something that happens twice a year.

Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument

When taking a Georgian road-trip with friends, you must stop at something named the ‘friendship monument’, right? Also called Treaty of Georgievsk Monument is a monument built in 1983 to celebrate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Georgievsk and the ongoing friendship between Soviet Georgia and Soviet Russia. Source: Wikipedia

Graveyards surrounded by mountains

One of my quirky interests is graveyards. I find that not only are they peaceful places to visit but also lend to understanding a bit about the culture in a place. I have a mission to photograph graveyards in every country that I visit.

Small or large, I find them all interesting and beautiful… this one felt more like a family plot.

Kazbek Mountain and Gergeti Trinity Church

We were lucky enough to arrive with good weather. On overcast days, you can’t see the mountain from the lookout point.

We opted to hire a 4×4 from Kazbegi town center (expect around 50 Lari). The alternate option is to hike. I would recommend if you are hiking up to give yourself an overnight and begin your hike early in the day.

Mt Kazbek is More than a Mountain

On the drive back to Tbilisi my companion and I had the discussion wondering if there are volcano’s in Georgia. For anyone else that might be wondering, Mt Kazbek is a dormant stratovolcano. A stratovolcano is also known as a “composite volcano, is a conical volcano built up by many layers (strata) of hardened lava, tephra, pumice and ash. … The lava flowing from stratovolcanoes typically cools and hardens before spreading far, due to high viscosity.” – Wikipedia

There are 5 historical volcano’s in Georgia (none active). I couldn’t find any information on the last eruption in Georgia.

So much more that you could explore on your Georgian Road-Trip

There is so much to take in for a variety of interests. I’ve only hit on the items that I found a bit more significant. Check the full map of stops linked above for more information and suggestions on where to stop.

  • A variety of small villages waiting to be explored.
  • Interesting bridges, tunnels and covered passes.
  • Hang-gliding and skiing (in season)
  • Too many abandoned buildings to count (I don’t have these marked or know the legalities of exploration).
  • Jvari Pass (elevation ~7800 feet)
  • Natural Mineral Springs and Deposits
  • Monasteries and Towers

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