Tbilisi at dusk

Many people around the world may not have heard of Georgia, the tiny republic sitting along the Caucus Mountain range, which many considered to be Europe’s eastern boundary in Central Asia. Many more have never considered it a travel destination, in fact of the 1.8 million visitors Georgia saw in 2011, less than 25% weren’t from bordering countries. I spent some time this past April in Georgia, flying to Tbilisi from Istanbul (a 2.5 hour direct and inexpensive flight I might add) and the entire time I was there couldn’t stop asking myself – why aren’t more people visiting?

Few countries and peoples have endeared themselves to me (and my wallet) as quickly as I experienced in Georgia. But while the country’s government has worked to increase tourism (most visibly with it’s easy entry rules for most nationalities) several things may currently be working against it. A big part due to a garbled media message for this gem in the Caucasus that won’t be hidden for long.

Where Is Georgia? (The One Without The Atlanta In It)

Georgia is a small country, about the size of South Carolina, bordered by Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey. Over the centuries it has had a close but often heated relationship with Russia and seen conquest by the Arabs, Persians, and Ottomans. (Something very evident both in Georgia’s artwork and cuisine.) Being at the crossroads of so many cultures and armies, similar to India, Georgia has absorbed and incorporated what it couldn’t repel militarily. That makes a visit to Georgia a rich cultural experience but difficult to refine into a narrow tourism message.

View Georgia in a larger map

Add on top of that arguably Georgia’s most famous national; Joseph Stalin, who was born in the city of Gori in 1878. A museum, statue, and shrine of the home he grew up in is in the town square. Or more like, is the town square.

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tbilisi sunriseInternational Flights Tend To Land At Terrible Hours

Landing in a new city you’re not familiar with at 3 in the morning as a traveler can be intimidating. It’s a time when you’re vulnerable to scams, fatigue, and heightened anxiety due to your awareness of both. It’s one of the disadvantages of not being a country that built some of the first airports (i.e. United States and much of Western Europe) or being a major connection hub.

In Tbilisi, where the overwhelming majority of international travelers will land first, there is a train-metro station into the city; which unfortunately only runs until about 10pm. Most hostels, like Old Town Hostel I stayed at, do offer shuttle service for around 40 Lari (~$24 USD) which could end up being cheaper than negotiating one of the taxis around that hour. You may also have to book an extra night wherever you’re staying for a 5am arrival; one of 4 things non-planners should prepare for.

Naming Conventions And Confusion

You might be thinking that “Georgians” call themselves something similar in their language – no – they use the term “Kartvelebi”. So while every other person here does seem to be named George, or some variation of it, the translation of the country name is a rather odd one in English. (One of the many examples of such country and city confusion.) It is thought that “Georgia” was used by early European explorers because of their observation of the locals’ reverence for a particular Saint George. In any event, it’s not because of Britain’s King George II, whom the US state Georgia is named after.

georgian flag

Either way, for many in the Americas, the Cola-Cola factory, deep-fried anything, and CNN probably come to mind before nigvziani badrijani. Naming conventions can make promotion – and even writing blog post titles – difficult, cumbersome, and less-distinguishable. Just imagine if Azerbaijan were named New York or Greece, Virginia.

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The War Of The Roses In Russian Roulette

Americans may remember then-President George W. Bush’s visit to Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi in 2005. During a public speech between Bush and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Vladimir Arutyunian threw a live grenade at the two; the explosive failing to detonate due to a malfunction. (Talk about luck for everyone within a 30 meter fatality radius.) Still, if this event made you think that Georgian’s are anti-American, it’s quite far from the truth. The Bush Administration was instrumental in negotiations between opposition parties after widely-disputed elections in 2003 and a strong supporter of the Rose Revolution shortly after.

Much like you’ll find in northern Iraq, Bush is quite popular in Georgia; even the highway from the airport into the heart of Tbilisi is named after him.

Then there is the Russian invasion and subsequent occupation of northern Georgia in 2008 where the fighting reached as far south as Gori. It is difficult to undo bad press, especially when there is so little of it from Georgia in the western media.

My Guess On Why Not, Coming Up Countless Reasons: Why You Should Visit Georgia

While these issues may be working against Georgia’s tourism efforts, I don’t believe they will be for long. In the coming weeks I’ll be writing more about why you should consider visiting this Caucasus nation and the advantages of doing so, especially soon. After than, you’ll likely be asking yourself the same question I am – why aren’t more people visiting Georgia – and hopefully be happy you weren’t one who missed out.