Abkhazia is a disputed territory and partially recognised state controlled by a separatist government on the eastern coast of the Black Sea and the southwestern flank of the Caucasus.
Abkhazia considers itself an independent state, called the Republic of Abkhazia or Apsny. This status is recognised by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, and also by the partially recognised state of South Ossetia, and the unrecognised Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Georgian government, United Nations and the majority of the world's governments consider Abkhazia a part of Georgia's territory, though Georgia is not in control of it. Under Georgia's official designation it is an autonomous republic, called the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, whose government sits in exile in Tbilisi.
Abkhazia covers an area of about 8,660 km2 at the western end of Georgia. The Caucasus Mountains to the north and the northeast divide Abkhazia and the Russian Federation. To the east and southeast, Abkhazia is bounded by the Georgian region of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti; and on the south and southwest by the Black Sea.
Abkhazia is diverse geographically with lowlands stretching to the extremely mountainous north. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range runs along the region's northern border, with its spurs – the Gagra, Bzyb and Kodori ranges – dividing the area into a number of deep, well-watered valleys. The highest peaks of Abkhazia are in the northeast and east and several exceed 4,000 metres above sea level. Abkhazia's landscape ranges from coastal forests and citrus plantations to permanent snows and glaciers in the north of the region.
Because of Abkhazia's proximity to the Black Sea and the shield of the Caucasus Mountains, the region's climate is very mild. The coastal areas of the republic have a subtropical climate, where the average annual temperature in most regions is around 15 °C, and the average January temperature remains above freezing. The climate at higher elevations varies from maritime mountainous to cold and summerless. Also, due to its position on the windward slopes of the Caucasus, Abkhazia receives high amounts of precipitation, though humidity decreases further inland. The annual precipitation vacillates from 1,200-1,400 mm along the coast 1,700-3,500 mm in the higher mountainous areas. The mountains of Abkhazia receive significant amounts of snow.
There are two border crossings into Abkhazia. The southern border crossing is at the Inguri bridge, a short distance from the Georgian city of Zugdidi. The northern crossing ("Psou") is in the town of Gyachrypsh. Owing to the ongoing security situation, many foreign governments advise their citizens against travelling to Abkhazia.
While Sukhumi has an airport (Sukhumi Dranda Airport (IATA: SUI)), unsolved politics prevents its use for anything but UN flights.
Suburban trains (Elektritschka) leave twice daily from Adler but they run only as far as Gagra. There is a year-round daily train from Moscow's Kursky Rail Station to Sukhumi. It takes a little short of two days and passes through Adler at about 08:00am and arrives in Sukhumi about two hours later. It starts the return journey at about 2:00pm. Alternatively, marshrutka run from Adler railway station, which is much better connected, to the border.
From Georgia, take a taxi from Zugdidi to Enguri bridge (GEL 10), get your passport controlled by the Georgian military checkpoint and walk across the several hundred metres long, dilapidated Enguri bridge to the Russian military checkpoint at the Abkhazian side. Alternatively, horse carriages also run between the two checkpoints (GEL 1); at the Abkhazian side you find taxis, marshrutka and coaches to Gal and Sokhumi.
There are no exchange or any other facilities at the border. Get sufficient rubles in Zugdidi, otherwise it may be difficult or overly expensive to obtain transport to the capital.
Buses to Sukhumi run from Sochi and Rostov-on-Don, Russia, at least in summer. Buses and marshrutkas to Gali and Sukhumi also run from the Enguri bridge crossing, near the Georgian border; a trip to Sukhumi shouldn't cost more than 300 rubles, although drivers may try to charge you double, particularly if you have to pay in Lari. Don't let them scam you.
Going from Sukhumi back to Enguri Bridge, direct marshrutkas leave the trainstation at 9:10am and 11:10am, but are often packed and won't take anybody with too much luggage. Alternatively go to Gal only (roughly hourly departures) and hire a taxis (350-400R), this being much preferable to hanging around the decidedly unpleasant Gal "bus terminal."
If crossing the border on foot from Russia, prepare for long waits in summer (2–3 hours are not uncommon) and bring enough water. Frequent (ancient Ikarus) busses and marshrutka leave from the parking lot once you have cleared customs. Entering from Georgia will involve at least 15 min walking between the two military checkpoints but, apart from the paperwork which can be somewhat lengthy, this is a straightforward process.
A high-speed, seasonal daily boat service (running between 10 June and 1 October) was introduced in 2011 linking Sochi with Gagra, where it is possible to enter Abkhazia being in possession of a Clearance (see above) indicating the Psou border crossing. The boat leaves at 9:00am from Sochi's Morskiy vokzal (sea port) (boarding time: 08:00am) and arrives at 10:30am. In the other direction, it leaves from Gagra at 7:00pm (boarding at 6:00pm), a one-way ticket costs 500 rubles, in Sochi it has to be bought at least one day before leaving, for the way back though, it can be bought on board. From the Gagra port, just walk 100 metres ahead to the main road to catch a bus for travelling onwards.
Visitors may also use taxis for travel within the country. Many taxi companies provide special rates for sightseeing. There are a number of travel agencies providing excursions to the mountains using jeeps / four wheel drive cars.
There are frequent buses and marshrutka along the coastal road between Psou and Sukhumi. You will find a bus timetable at the Sukhumi Bus Station (in front of the train station). Twice daily suburban trains run from Gagra to Psou and on to Adler.
Entering from Russia is more "user-friendly" . This border is crossed by hundreds of people every day. However, you will need a double-entry Russian visa. However, it may be possible to be issues a Russian transit visa in Sukhumi, but not having the correct Russian visa may prevent you from entering Abkhazia in the first place. The Russian guards do not stamp your passport at this border and they may question you about having already used up your double-entry visa - it shouldn't cause you any problems, and don't give into any demands for bribes.
You should leave Abkhazia to the state you came from: it is not allowed to transit through Abkhazia from Russia to Georgia or vice versa. While some travellers reported that visiting Abkhazia from Georgia and continuing the trip to Russia is viable, it's clearly not recommended. Visitors who go to Georgia after visiting Abkhazia through Russia may be subject to a punishment and fines by Georgian Customs officials since they consider it a violation of the Georgian border regime.
There are three types of Abkhaz visa: Single-entry (10 days, USD10; 30 days USD20; 1 year USD30), Multi-entry (from USD40) and Transit. Official information is available online.
See also Money Matters
Abkhaz, in the Northwest Caucasian linguistic family, is related to the Abkhaz-Adyghe language group in the same family. There are two official languages: Abkhaz and Russian. Russian is convenient for inter-cultural communication since Abkhazia is a multi-ethnic state. Russian is universally understood and the most convenient language for the traveller. In the cities one also can use English for basic communication.
The Georgian language is not particularly widespread in the country. The government of the de facto independent Abkhazia has not approved Georgian as an official language, many Abkhazians find it offensive to be accessed in Georgian. But there are many ethnic Georgians who live in the south of the country who speak their language.
Dominant in Abkhazia are the Mediterranean influenced Caucasian and Russian cuisine. It has Mediterranean characteristics due to the abundance of subtropical fruits, vegetables and seafood. Almost everywhere kebab is offered.
You should try Abkhazian local dishes including Akud (bean sauce) and Abista (corn porridge with cheese) and a variety of meat and fresh greens. Most dishes are usually spicy.
Abkhazia is also a wine region. Local wines are a must try; Apsny, Ashta, Buque, Dioskuria (ancient Greek name of Sukhumi), Gumsta, Lykhni, Psou, and Radeda.
Local spirits distilled from a dry wine and fruit mash are very diverse and cause stormy enthusiasm among tourists.
For the common traveller the country is relatively safe, but you should make sure to avoid any place near the border to Georgia. Some minor unregistered minefields are reported near the border, an additional reason to steer well clear of it. Keep in mind that Abkhazia is, in the view of international law, still a part of Georgia. Further military confrontations are unlikely but you should closely follow the international and independent news in case the situation changes. Travellers who have visited Abkhazia and intend to visit Georgia can be questioned, refused entry to Georgia or in the worst case be imprisoned by Georgian immigration officers, as entry to Abkhazia is seen as illegal immigration.
While many travellers cross the border with Georgia proper back and forth with no problems, keep in mind that the southeastern areas of Abkhazia on the way, around Gali and Ochamchira more specifically, are the most impoverished parts of a country already not doing so well, so the time spent there should be kept no longer than is necessary. The Abkhaz side of the actual border zone at Enguri/Ingur seems safe as long as the militia is there - but note that they leave the place as soon as the crossing gets shut by 7:00pm, and there is at least one report of a traveller being a victim of a violent mugging which took place there after the militia left.
If you are not from the few countries that recognize Abkhazia, being in a conflict zone means that you are left stranded with absolutely no consular support should you lose your passport for some reason. In such a case, a traveller reportedly could make it back to Georgia only after the involvement of the Red Cross delegation (48 Inal-Ipa St, Sukhumi) and some high-ranking Abkhaz officials, which may not be available next time. Thus it is recommended to make a copy of the passport and any appropriate visas before entering Abkhazia.
See also International Telephone Calls
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