Unconventional destinations. Abkhazia – beauty forgotten on the shores of the black sea
When the word Abkhazia, especially in older people, the luxury of the Soviet Riviera, where the whole Soviet Union went to vacation. Unfortunately the time when even the great Stalin had his dacha here is long gone, and due to the military conflict of the early 1990s and the complete isolation of this small country visiting the region has been reduced to a minimum. However, this forgotten beauty located between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea has something to offer to everyone.
A bit of history
Abkhazia was known long before Christ, when the Greeks founded their trading settlements here. After that the area around the Black Sea was part of the Roman Empire, until its dissolution. The Byzantine Empire had a strong influence on its development, and Abkhazia also converted to Christianity. The turning point came in 1570, when the territory was occupied by the Turks and many residents converted to Islam. But the turning point came with the arrival of Tsarist Russia, which gained final control of the territory in 1864.
A bit of history
The sad history dates back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, when an armed conflict broke out between Georgia and the newly formed republic of Abkhazia, which declared independence on July 23, 1992. The armed conflict continued until 1993, when ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population also began. The exact figures are not fully known, but it is assumed that during these purges were killed more than thirty thousand people, and the territory of Abkhazia left more than two hundred fifty thousand people of Georgian origin. Since 1994, there has been peace in the country, but Abkhazia has found itself in international isolation: only a few states in the world recognize its existence (Russia, Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela or Nauru).
An unclear international status and entry regime
An unclear international status and entry regime
Abkhazia is officially part of Georgia, which, however, lost control of the territory after the 1993 war. Visiting this republic, which is not recognized by the United Nations or the vast majority of the world’s nations, is easy on the one hand and very difficult on the other. It’s just a matter of which side you come from. If you want to visit Abkhazia, you need to get a visa, which you can arrange online at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia and. After filling in all the details you will receive a visa document by e-mail in a few days, and thanks to it you will be able to cross the border, which is guarded by Russian and Abkhazian troops. There are many half-truths and misconceptions around entering Abkhazia, so below we will tell you what options the average tourist has.
Entering from Georgia – Enguri border crossing
Entering from Georgia is officially the only legal way to enter Abkhazia. Georgia does not recognize the independence of Abkhazia, so it still considers the republic, where about two hundred and fifty thousand people live, as its territory. From the city of Zugdidi a shuttle bus goes directly to the border, and from there you cross the 800 meter bridge over the river Enguri . In 2019, the border area between Georgia and Abkhazia is already safe and almost no danger for tourists.
Entering from Georgia – Enguri border crossing
But you can never be too careful. Tourists can only cross the border on foot, cars are not allowed. Don’t be frightened if one of the border guards puts a stamp in your passport. One of the untruths posted on the Internet is that if you have a stamp from Abkhazia in your passport, you will no longer be allowed into Georgia. This is not true. If it is an Enguri River crossing stamp, you may be checked on the Georgian side, but you have not broken the law, you were still “in Georgia,” in fact. The problem arises if you enter Abkhazia from Russia.
Entering from Russia – Psou border crossing
Entering from Russia is problematic under international law, and it’s especially problematic if you want to continue on to Georgia afterwards. This is due to the fact that we are talking about unauthorized entry into the territory of another state. As we have already mentioned, Georgia does not recognize the independence of Abkhazia and therefore does not recognize the border between Russia and Abkhazia.
So if you enter the territory of Abkhazia from Russia and then want to continue on your way to Georgia you will face arrest, interrogation and a thousand Euros fine. Russian citizens do not need a visa to enter Abkhazia for up to 90 days. But for foreign citizens you have to apply for it: if you want to enter through the Psou border-crossing.
Entry from Russia – Psou border crossing
The only legal border crossing point between Russia and Georgia at the moment is Stepantsminda – Vladikavkaz. However, if you have an Abkhazian stamp in your passport from the Psou border crossing, you can again be detained, questioned and heavily fined. The good news is that you can enter Abkhazia from the Russian side in your car.
In both cases, i.e. regardless of whether you come from Russia or Georgia, the foreign tourist must then register at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital Sukhumi, where you will receive a real visa for a fee on a separate form. Payment can be made by card or cash, and everything is processed in a few minutes.
How to travel in Abkhazia?
As mentioned, Abkhazia was a very popular vacation destination during Soviet times, with more than two million people visiting annually. Although now that figure is ten times less, the infrastructure has been preserved since Soviet times, at least for road transport. Therefore, the main road along the coast is very well served by minibuses, which run several times an hour between all towns.
How to travel in Abkhazia?
The center of the whole country is the capital Sukhumi. Abkhazia is especially worth visiting in spring or summer. In spring you will enjoy a pleasant seaside climate, lots of greenery and flowers. In summer you can cool off in the beautifully clear Black Sea or go hiking in the unexplored mountains of the Caucasus. However, fans of the old Soviet architecture will find something to their liking. Abkhazia offers something for everyone, but its problematic status can scare away many travelers, so you can mostly find tourists from the Russian Federation here.
Those who come from the west are few and far between. The official languages are Abkhazian and Russian, and the currency is the Russian ruble. Accommodation can be found in a huge number of places – from private accommodation to luxury hotels. Everything can be arranged on world-class booking sites.
By the sea
As already mentioned, Abkhazia is a small republic on the Black Sea coast, which is the biggest tourist attraction. Gone are the days when literally the entire coast was dotted with luxury hotels. But still there are a few more resorts where you can go on summer vacations and enjoy the sea and the sun.
Unfortunately, just as Croatia is popular with the Czechs, Abkhazia is popular with the Russians. In summer the seaside resorts are bursting at the seams under the onslaught of Russian tourists. The most famous resort is the town of Gagra, with long pebble beaches all around. Don’t worry, the service here, especially in summer, is at a high level, and there are dozens of cafes, bars and restaurants along the promenade. Thanks to its direct location on the main road that crosses all of Abkhazia and connects the capital to Russia, getting here is very easy.
By the Sea
A favorite, especially after Russian President Putin’s visit to the city, is Pitsunda. The city is located on a separate peninsula, which is also separated by hills and removed from the main road, so it is second only to Gagra, and you do not have to worry about the influx of tourists here. However, bathing beaches can be found all along the coast of Abkhazia, and it’s up to you to decide what kind of luxury you want. Another popular resort is the town of Novy Afon , where you can also visit an Orthodox monastery, the remains of a castle or a famous cave.
Beyond the Mountains
The mountains of the Greater Caucasus mostly end right at the Black Sea, so they occupy most of the country. However, the beauty of the Caucasus can be found in the Georgian regions of Mestia or Kazbegi, but the more adventurous can explore the lesser known corners here as well. However, it is advisable not to stray too far from the trails and mountain paths. Unexploded ordnance may remain in the forests and mountains, especially in the area of the Kodori Gorge, where fighting took place until 2008.
Behind the Mountains
Lake Ritsa is the most famous mountain tourist resort of Abkhazia. That’s where most tourists go to get a break from the hot beaches and cool under the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus. The popularity of the area says the fact that even the great Stalin had his dacha here. Located directly on the shore of the lake.
But Lake Ritsa is just the beginning . If you really want to get lost in the mountains of the Western Caucasus, go to the village of Pskhu, which is considered one of the most inaccessible villages in Abkhazia . You will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, which are part of the Pskhu-Gumista Reserve. The village is located near the Russian border, and you can say that it is literally a godforsaken land. Local shepherds will be happy to host you or rent a horse for a walk. After all, they say that the world is most beautiful from a horse, and here this saying takes on a completely different meaning.
Lovers of history and religious monuments should not miss a visit to the magnificent Orthodox monastery of New Athos. Its rich history goes back to the third century AD, when it was an important Greek trading colony. However, its modern history begins in 1874, when Russian priests from the Athos Monastery came here and in 1875 founded an Orthodox monastery, which is also the main attraction here. But it is also worth visiting the local cave, where the underground railroad leads . Also worth mentioning is the seventh-century fortress Anakopia, which offers a beautiful view not only of the entire city of New Athos, but also of the Black Sea and the surrounding Caucasus Mountains.
The capital of Sukhumi
In Soviet times, the fame of the capital went far beyond the borders of Abkhazia. That time is also long gone, and today the east coast is better known for cities such as Sochi (Russia) and Batumi (Georgia). In Sukhumi you will not find many historical monuments, so perhaps the most famous building is the former government, which stands right in the center. Also worth mentioning is the local seaside promenade, where there are expensive hotels, restaurants, bars and, for example, the presidential palace. So Sukhumi serves more as a starting point for exploring all of Abkhazia, as you can get to the whole country from here.
The capital city of Sukhumi
Beyond the remnants of the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but in many places in Abkhazia you will still feel that this era never ended. It could be said that of all post-Soviet republics, it is in Abkhazia that you will find the most reminders of the Soviet empire. This is due not only to the significant isolation of the region, but also the war that broke out here in 1993, and the subsequent lack of funding for repair and general maintenance of the country. The once rich Riviera is now only a memory of its former greatness.
Beyond the remnants of the Soviet Union.
In the past, there was a railroad that ran along the entire coast to the rest of the Soviet Union. The local train stations looked something like this, and in some places resembled theaters and government buildings rather than train stations. Nowadays there are no trains and the station buildings slowly decay. Among the best preserved is the main station in Sukhumi, which was also the largest in the country. The station in Gagra, on the other hand, looks as if people left here only yesterday. All the buildings are works of art, and the ceiling stucco is a feast for the eyes.
The most romantic station is undoubtedly the small station building in New Athos. It is located on the shore of a beautiful blue lake and, together with the nearby monastery, offers the opportunity to take a wonderful tour. However, there are dozens of small or large train stations throughout Abkhazia, and if you want to remember what it was like when millions of tourists came here every year, don’t miss the local train station buildings .
Visit countless abandoned Soviet-era hotels and sanatoriums. You can find them along the entire Abkhazian coast, and some of them are truly magnificent. Here are just a few of them: the giant sanatorium in Gagra or the Black Sea spa complex in the capital city of Sukhumi. If you look hard enough, you can also find a mosaic depicting Lenin. The former glory of the Abkhaz Riviera is perhaps best conveyed by an abandoned summer theater in Gagra. All you have to do is add seats and the show can begin.
Then in the village of Eshera on the outskirts of Sukhumi is a real gem of Soviet architecture. It is here where athletes from all over the Soviet Union used to come to prepare for major sporting events, and the local sports complex still inspires awe. And if you do not want to travel all over Abkhazia in search of something, just go to the capital of Sukhumi. It is here, in the heart of Abkhazia, that you will find a giant abandoned government building that will probably never see ministers or officials again.
What to look out for
As you look around the abandoned buildings, you can’t help but think about how rich Abkhazia must have been under the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, this time has long passed, and instead of tourists you will meet the ubiquitous secret police. Indeed, they are everywhere, and the slightest suspicion is enough for a big black SUV to stop in front of you and interrogate you. Deleting photos from your phone and camera is no exception if men don’t like something.
What to watch out for
Tourists should also be careful who they talk to about the political situation. The status of Abkhazia is still unclear, but Abkhazians are sure that they have their own state. Therefore, any mention of belonging to Georgia can be divisive. It is also not recommended to take pictures of government and military buildings.
Despite all the problems that might seem to accompany a visit to Abkhazia, this small republic is definitely worth a visit . There are not many countries in the world that do not officially exist, but have their own president, parliament, police and army.
The most attractive wild beaches of the Black Sea coast of Abkhazia
We will not dispute the advantages of beaches with water parks, attractions, restaurants, cafes and numerous vendors of corn. It’s all convenient, loud, fun. That’s how we usually imagine a vacation.
But what if you suddenly realize you need a break after a week of beach hustle and bustle? Or maybe you do not like big crowds and noise? It happens, a modest budget and does not let in expensive resorts.
Come to the aid of wild beaches. Not the ones that are abandoned, littered and boring. Absolutely not! We consider only the most interesting places on the Black Sea coast of Abkhazia. The beaches that we will talk about have in common:
- the purity of the coast;
- the cleanliness of the sea;
We will tell you about the characteristics of each of the beaches separately, at the same time prompting where to rent an apartment nearby.
Surface: pebble, sand. Pros: the proximity of infrastructure and housing. Cons: a strong slope of the sea bottom. Suitable for: campers.
The village of Alakhadze is well located between Pitsunda and Gagra. There the main tourist bustle – entertainment, restaurants and cafes, excursions, and the village beach attracts those who want to escape from the noise.
Nature in Alakhadze is marvelous – mountains, lots of greenery and sea, of course. Six coastal kilometers are at your disposal 24 hours a day. There are sandy and pebbly areas. Loungers, umbrellas, changing rooms you will find where the beach is adjacent hotels and pensions.
With food there will be no problems, in any cafe tasty and very inexpensive you will be fed without a queue. And for complete economy come with a tent. Stay right by the sea without rent.
It is important to know! The bottom of the sea on this section of the coast is steep, the depth is reached quickly. If you are with children, you need to be especially careful.
Accommodation in Alakhadze
In Alakhadze there is a large choice of accommodation, we will stop at options closer to the beach.
- In the hotel “Saint Abkhazia” prices do not bite and there is a cafe with complex meals.
- Private house “U Artem” offers four-bed rooms and a pool in the yard.
- In the guest house “SarKar” triple rooms for only 1,800 rubles per day in the high season.
Coverage: pebble, sand Plus: proximity to infrastructure and housing, clear water, pine forest. Minuses: different coastal depth of the sea throughout the beach Suitable for: diving, snorkeling.
The village Lidzava or Ldzaa is located very close to Pitsunda, but the prices for housing here are much lower and the beach is not as crowded.
The sea is quiet and clean. Small fish can be found even near the shore, and deeper – a world of underwater wonders. For diving and snorkeling is ideal.
The pebble and sand beach, 4 km long, is surrounded by pine trees, so there is an aroma of pine in the air. The forest and the sea are a perfect combination.
The ubiquitous loud salesmen do not disturb sunbathers, apparently, there is not a rich catch for them here. You can buy ice cream in a cafe near the beach, have lunch in a restaurant right by the sea.
Important to know! At different parts of the beach the depth of the sea is different. There are places where it is deep right by the beach. You must be careful when entering the water.
Accommodation in Ldzaa
So you’d better choose a place near the sea without having to walk far from it.
- In the camping center “Tri Topolya” there are three-bed rooms and small houses right on the beach.
- Rapitsa camping site is also located on the beach. The choice of cabins and rooms is greater here.
- Svetlana” guest house is 150 meters away from the sea. Rooms are for three and four guests.
- Near the pine forest and not far from the sea there is a Mini hotel “Green House”. There are several types of rooms and cottages.
Surface: pebble. Pros: “place of strength, near the ruins of the temple. Cons: no infrastructure. Suitable for: photo shoots, meditation.
The sea is in front of you, protected forests are behind you, a hundred meters away are the ruins of an ancient temple. Just you, nature and a little bit of history.
Tourists usually visit the temple of Ambar, and there is almost no one on the beach. Lovers or adepts of spiritual practices drop in here. Some for a few pictures, others to touch what they call “the power”.
When you go to the cape, do not forget food and drink. There are no stores, cafes or hawkers nearby.
There is no lodging near Cape Ambar, which is its advantage and the reason it is deserted. Stay in Pitsunda, and from there it is not far to the quietest place of the coast of Abkhazia.
Coverage: pebble, sand. Pros: the most well-kept wild beach, pine grove, gentle descent, the proximity of housing, dolphins. Cons: cows wander in, almost no infrastructure. Suitable for: families with small children.
The most well-kept wild beach of Abkhazia “Gold Coast” is located in the village Mgudzyrhua. 4 kilometers along the sea on one side and pine groves on the other. Sometimes in the evenings, dolphins swim by.
From the amenities on the beach there are only changing rooms, toilets and garbage cans. For entertainment you have to walk to the hotel beaches. On the “Gold Coast” there is one restaurant, if it does not suit you, you can eat by the sea near the hotels or in the village.
The descent to the sea is gentle, the water is always warm. The bottom is flat, children can splash without fear of falling into a hole.
On the beach sometimes appear unexpected guests – the cows of local residents. They like it here, although there is nothing to chew on. When the time comes, the owners will take their animals, but until then you will have to share the beach with them.
If you have a car, we advise you to stay at “Golden Beach” house. From it to Gudauta – 5 minutes, to the sea – 2 minutes, to Pitsunda – 15 minutes. And the place there is magnificent, green, quiet.
Beach “Lighthouse” in Sukhum
Coverage: pebble, fine sand The pros: the proximity of infrastructure and housing, dolphins, gentle slope. Cons: vacationers themselves monitor the cleanliness of the beach. Suitable for: campers.
Wild beach in the city is not always a pleasant place to relax. About Sukhumi “Mayak” this cannot be said.
Abandoned at first glance buildings on the beach are actually used for research, which only spurs curiosity and desire to look into them. But it is better not to do so.
Near the beach there is a rental of sun loungers and umbrellas. One set for the whole day costs about 200 rubles.
The flat bottom is perfect for children, so the beach is beloved by camper families. They come with tents and stay for several days. One more reason to choose “Beacon” – here more often than to other beaches of Sukhum, swim up dolphins.
If you decide to spend a day near the lighthouse, keep in mind that you have to clean up your garbage yourself. The beach has no owner, although no one cleans up for tourists, except for the tourists themselves. Usually it’s clean.
Sukhum is a large city and there is enough accommodation, but if you want to be closer to the beach Mayak, pay attention to the guest house “Pearl”. Close and cheap.
Surface: pebble. Pros: a unique place, cool in any heat. Cons: no infrastructure, remote from housing. Suitable for: diving.
Near the village Tsandripsh there is a beach with azure water, white rocks and black pebbles.
White cliffs are on the list of the most popular attractions of Abkhazia. Usually come here on a tour, but true connoisseurs stay in the village to enjoy the clean sea and a cozy beach the whole vacation.
The sea really is very clean in this place. Transparent water attracts fans of scuba diving here.
The height of the rocks is no more than 5 meters, the length is only 200 meters. Do not expect dizzying precipices. But it is always cool here. The rocks are not heated even under the blazing sun.
And thus people on the beach quite a little, affects the absence of the usual conveniences. Of infrastructure – just a small cafe, for the rest walk to Tsandripsh.
Where to Stay
Tsandripsh is not a very big village, so, there are rooms and houses for rent in almost every street. There are small hotels. White cliffs are located to the east of the village. Choose accommodation closer to the wild beach to be able to walk there at least every day.
Perfectly suited, for example, Hotel “ECO LIFE”. It is located near the river Hashupse, a 5-minute walk from the sea and three kilometers from the White Cliffs.
The two basic rules of recreation on a wild beach are simple and clear, but, unfortunately, not always respected.