In recent years, there have been a handful of countries that have emerged as exciting up-and-coming travel destinations. These are destinations that are affordable, interesting, unique, and most importantly, free from the hordes of tourists that have clogged the cultural arteries of cities like Barcelona, Reykjavik, and Venice.
One of those countries is Georgia.
Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Georgia has become a popular destination in the region for both backpackers and digital nomads alike. Tourist numbers are climbing fast, with nearly nine million foreigners visiting Georgia in 2018. While the majority of them come from neighboring countries, it’s also a destination that is quickly becoming popular with western tourists, too.
Tbilisi, the country’s capital, sees the most visitors — and for good reason. It’s a stunning city with a picturesque Old Town that has been colorfully restored in recent years. There is also lots to see and do in and around the city, like exploring the Narikala fort ruins, seeing the Jvari Monastery on the nearby mountain top, and visiting the many beautiful cathedrals and churches that dot the city.
Outside of Tbilisi, travelers can explore the mountains and caves of Georgia’s picturesque landscapes and if you like wine, you’ll be happy to learn that Georgia is actually one of the oldest wine regions in the world!
Best of all, Georgia is super cheap (a huge plus in my book)!
But is Georgia safe?
While there was some danger a decade back during the Russo-Georgian War, Georgia is now a safe country to visit. In fact, the International Crime Index rated Georgia as the seventh safest country in the world in 2017!
But because many people don’t know much about Georgia, I still get some messages from people asking about the safety concerns there.
So, what do you need to think about before you go to Georgia? Are there any places you shouldn’t go?
The eight safety tips below will tell you all about the risks in Georgia and how to deal with them so that you can enjoy your trip safely.
1. Avoid South Ossetia and Abkhazia – The regions of South Ossetia (on the Russian border, north of Tbilisi) and Abkhazia (bordering Russia and the Black Sea in the far west of Georgia) are not safe to visit. These are breakaway regions of Georgia that have experienced high conflict in recent years.
There are still car bombs and other terrorist attacks reported periodically in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and there are unexploded landmines too.
Just don’t visit the areas, and you’ll be fine.
Also, don’t try to travel through them into Georgia from Russia, as that’s illegal under Georgian law.
2. Stay alert – Like in any country where the locals see the tourists as being wealthier, petty theft can happen. It’s a lower risk than in many countries but it’s still important to take precautions.
Don’t wear flashy jewelry or watches or flaunt large amounts of cash. Keep an eye on your bags at all times too. The most common incidents occur in busy tourist areas or on crowded public transportation. If you can keep your guard up in these places, you’ll be fine.
3. Beware of the bar scam – There are been reports of tourists in Tbilisi being scammed by locals who invite them into a bar for food and drinks and then force them to pay a really high bill. It’s not common here but it’s something to be aware of.
4. Be wary of demonstrations or protests – It’s quite common for political demonstrations to take place in Tbilisi and sometimes other parts of Georgia, though they most commonly happen outside the parliament on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi.
While the most likely problem is just an interruption to public transport you should always be aware that protests can turn violent and it’s probably safer to stay away.
5. Be careful when driving – Unfortunately, the road conditions in much of Georgia aren’t great. When combined with reckless driving from the locals, traffic accidents are pretty common. Sometimes road markings are lacking and there is often confusion about which driver has right of way.
When in a car, always wear a seatbelt. Additionally, avoid driving after dark as well as the lack of good lighting makes it even more dangerous.
6. Learn a few words or have a translation app ready – Georgians are usually really friendly, but not many of them speak English. If something goes wrong they are always happy to help you out, but you might need a few words of the local language or a good translation app to help you explain what you need.
The Georgian language is pretty special – it’s one of the oldest in the world and it has a unique script. If you can learn a few words before you go. There are lots of free resources online and you can download Google Translate just in case you need to translate on the go.
7. Be cautious in the mountains – Georgia’s beautiful alps are making it a popular destination for skiing and mountaineering. But at the moment, it’s still hard to get up-to-date, accurate information about the weather conditions there, so you need to be cautious. If in doubt, skip the adventure for the day.
Also, although they’re improving, the safety standards for adventure sports in the mountains in Georgia are still lower than you might expect. If you’re having doubts about an activity, try using a specialist guide and check reviews for safety levels before you go.
8. Buy travel insurance – I never leave home without travel insurance. While most trips are uneventful, it’s important to be prepared just in case. Travel insurance can save you hundreds and thousands of dollars and provide critical assistance in an emergency. Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!