Georgia Travel Tips - How to stay safe

Georgia's location makes it an important commercial transit route. In ancient times, it was an important post on the famous Silk Road linking China to Europe.

In recent times, Georgian economists have discussed a possible resumption of this ancient role. As a modern transportation and communications hub, the republic could become a "dry Suez" for the transshipment of Iranian oil west across the Caucasus.

When it became independent in 1991, the country inherited a well-developed transportation system. Since the nineteenth century, Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, has been the centre of the highway system connecting the entire Caucasus region. Four main highways radiating in roughly the cardinal directions connect Tbilisi with the rest of the world.

In 1990 Georgia had 35,100 kilometers of roads, 31,200 kilometers of which were paved. In 1993, Georgia had 1,421 kilometers of rail lines. Most lines were 1.520- meter broad gauge, and the principal routes were electrified. The northern highway, A301, the Georgian Military Highway, which crosses the Greater Caucasus range to Russia, roughly follows the route first described by Greek geographers in the first century B.C. Until the early 1800s, this was the sole northern land route into Russia

Much of Georgia's transportation system was damaged during the August, 2008 five-Day War with Russia. But, since the end of hostilities, the Georgian government has undertaken extensive borrowing, and repair and reconstruction are underway.

Land and sea borders with Russia remain closed for tourists and it is still illegal to attempt to enter Georgia from South Ossetia or Abkhazia since there are no official border control checkpoints. Although the North Ossetian border crossing between Russia and Georgia (Verkhny Lars) has reopened for citizens of Georgia and the C.I.S., traffic is strictly regulated and neither Russian nor Georgian visas are available at the checkpoint.

The likeliest and safest entry to Georgia is by air. Despite the recent conflict, airports are well-maintained and reasonably cheap flights from Turkey and many European countries are readily available. Entry to Georgia by Ferry boat over the Black Sea is available from Turkey, Russia and Ukraine. Buses are also available from Istambul to Trabzon (18hrs) and Tblisi (30hrs)

In the past, travel by bus through Georgia was uncomfortable. Buses were worn out and slow. Most have been replaced and now, excellent new busses run between Tbilisi and Telavi. Minibuses (mashrutkas) are the quickest alternative, but bookings are not available.

Minibuses leave whenever they're full and travel direct to their destinations. On the principle of "first in best dressed" tourists are advised to be at the bus station between 8 and 9 in the morning. Later in the day, when not so many people choose to travel, it takes longer to fill the minibus and therefore a long wait is likelier.

At such times, a tourist is better off looking for group taxi; taking only 4 or 5 passengers. Although a little more expensive, this mode of transport is likely to be faster.

Rail travel in Georgia is no worse than in most parts of the world. Like in many European countries, there have been reports of assaults and robberies on trains as well as in and around the main railway station in Tbilisi. Reservations are required for all trains.

The government has now restored order on the railway, which had suffered from fuel shortages, armed attacks on trains, sabotage of track and bridges. However, passengers are advised to store valuables in the compartment under the seat/bed and not to leave the compartment unattended. It is also a good idea to ensure the compartment door is secure from the inside by tying it closed with wire or strong cord.

Travellers attempting to drive around Georgia independently should be aware that there is a policy of zero tolerance for drink driving in Georgia - i.e. driving with a blood alcohol level greater than zero is an offence.

In Georgia, it is difficult to buy fuel without highly specialized local knowledge. When driving away from the capital, an adequate supply of fuel should be obtained in beforehand. Also, reliable road maps or signposts do not exist.

Driving in Georgia may be hazardous due to poorly maintained roads and vehicles. Lighting and signage are often inadequate and, despite the existence of clear traffic rules and regulations, these are often ignored. Tourists are advised to exercise extreme caution on the road.

The Republic of Georgia straddles some of the most rugged mountains on earth and experiences extremes of terrain and climate. When venturing far from the capital, drivers should ensure that their vehicle is suitably equipped to deal with a range of adverse conditions.

In winter and year- round at higher altitudes, snow is a constant. Heavy rain and flooding often affect roads and bridges. This makes travel difficult if not impossible, especially in remote areas.

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