Earlier this Summer amid all the craziness that is 2020, I was invited along on a sponsored trip by Karavanly to help promote my favourite place in the entire world – Georgia. June, July and August were sort of the sweet spot for Georgia during the pandemic. By that time, we hadn’t had any huge qualms with the virus compared to our European and Asian neighbours. Late September and early October on have seen a massive uptick in cases around the country. While cases are on the rise it seems that Georgia is finally feeling the brunt of this year’s pandemic. While traveling around Georgia right now is next to impossible, I think Karavanly is the perfect tour to look forward to once things are up and running again. All in all, Georgia is a strong country and one that I trust to handle this wave of the virus responsibly.
That said, here’s all you need to know about Karavanly and why they are a great choice for experiencing Georgia post-pandemic.
Pssst. This post is sponsored by Karavanly. That said, all reviews and opinions expressed in this post are based on my personal view. I have not been incentivized to paint Karavanly in any light other than my own.
What is Karavanly?
Karavanly is a tour company that emphasizes authentic, meaningful experiences with local communities. Their tours are comprised of off the beaten track experiences in places like Andriatsminda, a town of just a hundred families hidden away in the mountains of Samtskhe-Javakheti and in-depth exploration of lost communities such as Gorelovka and their spotted history as a refuge for Dukhabors. Most importantly, they always take the scenic route meaning guests get to experience the beauty of otherwise hidden villages in places like the Gorelovka Pass. They take the fuss out of typical tour groups by offering a hop on hop off feature so that you have time to dive into the places you love most. That means if you make it to Kutaisi (or any other stops along the route) and decide you want to stick around longer, you can just catch the next Karavanly bus coming through in the next few days. You are also free to start and end your tour in the three main cities of your choice – Kutaisi, Tbilisi or Batumi. Another perk is choosing your own accommodation – this means you can stay at quaint family guest houses, unique Airbnbs, or quirky boutiques – your pick! No cookie-cutter travel here.
Who is it for?
Karavanly is for the intrepid traveler. It’s for the person who wants more from a place than a few cheap souvenirs, some burgers, and Heinekens at a Hard Rock Cafe, and some showoff selfies. It’s for people who want to go deeper – who want to see Georgia in a way that’s raw, profound, and full of surprise at every turn. With Karavanly, you get a front-row look at what makes Georgia so special – its people, their history, and of course, food. You’ll connect with locals who have more than a few stories to tell, eat regional foods that are ancient and rich with history, and marvel at the rugged landscapes that’ve been home to countless wars, victories, and dynasties for several millennia.
What are the options?
Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or a full 11 day deep dive, Karavanly’s got ya covered. The itinerary that I followed (and highly recommend!) was the Kaleidoscope travel pass. The Kaleidoscope pass spans 9 to 11 days and takes you through nearly every region with 36 stops that are each more unique and interesting than the last. From charming farm stays on Guria’s tea route, massive supras in forgotten villages, countless regional delicacies, Soviet ghost resorts, lost cave towns, and so much more, this pass truly offers the best of Georgia from all angles.
Don’t have the time? Check out these passes that you can do in one week or less:
Black Sea Express – 6 days (recommended 7)
With the Black Sea Express, you get the very best of southern and eastern Georgia in a week tops with several stops, including Gomismta and Pankisi!
A Brief Glimpse – 3 days
3-day getaway departing from Tbilisi and highlighting Kazbegi and Pankisi’s unique food, culture, and scenery. It’s the perfect city break.
Highland Essential – 5 days (recommended 6-7)
The Highland Essential departs from Kutaisi and includes a visit to the eery Soviet sanitoriums in Tskaltubo, Rachuli delicacies in Ambrolauri, the art of ancient qvevri making and a unique glimpse in Pankisi’s Kist community.
What’s included in the cost?
One of my favorite things about these passes is how affordable they are. Each pass includes daily family lunches (i.e. massive feasts loaded with regional specialties that you’ll be full from for days!) and all entrance fees to sites and highly experienced English speaking guides. The only thing that’s up to you is accommodation, dinner, and any costs you incur on free days. Click here for current prices on each of their passes starting at just $156.
What can I expect with the Kaleidoscope pass?
Well, with nine days minimum of nonstop adventure, there’s quite a lot to look forward to. Here are some of my favorite experiences:
Doukhobors Village in Gorelovka
For the unfamiliar, the Doukhobors were an ethnic group of Russians who were exiled (damn the Empire!) and took up shop throughout the Caucasus, namely, Gorelovka in Samtskhe-Javakheti. The Doukhobors were a unique people for their time (the late 1800s); they’d rejected the orthodox church, were extreme passivists and preferred small communes to regular society. Ultimately, the majority of them wound up in Western Canada where many of them still live and practice today. However, remnants of their lives in Georgia can still be felt in the tiny village of Gorelovka. Here you’ll stop to explore the village, and indulge in a delicious local lunch.
Vardzia and Uplistikhe
Most have heard of or at least seen photos of Georgia’s famous abandoned cave towns. From Vardzia’s forgotten monastery to Zoroastrianism shadows in Uplistikhe, it’s no wonder they are top tourist attractions. With the Kaleidoscope pass, you get both! If leaving from Tbilisi, Vardzia is the main stop on Kaleidoscope’s first day, which was the perfect way to start the tour! Uplistikhe is toured on the way back from Ambrolauri toward Tbilisi. A real highlight is that the route to Vardzia is taken through the unbelievably scenic Paravani Lake. Not only is this lake practically impossible to access without your own car, it’s also not offered on any other day tours from Tbilisi.
Experience Meskhetian Cheese Making in Andriatsminda
Have you heard of tenili? Don’t worry, me either. Tenili is a style of rope cheese hailing from Akhaltsikhe’s teeny tiny village of Andriatsminda. Once a common feature at celebrations and supras, tenili died out over time due to the labor and patience required to make it. That is until a few villagers made it their personal mission to revive the lost art. Today only a small handful of people still make the cheese by hand – and with Karavanly, you meet two of them! Pictured is Mzia. In addition to observing this highly revered style of cheese making, you can also join in! Guests have the option of trying their hand and learning a few tips and tricks from the cheese masters.
Adjara via Goderdzi Pass
I’m a road trip girl, through and through. I love taking the scenic route and popping on some good tunes while I take in the open road. So, I guess it’s no wonder one of my favorite drives on the Kaleidoscope tour was Goderdzi Pass. This rough, rocky road leads you through some of Adjara’s most stunning natural scenery and loads of scattered sleepy villages. It takes a bit longer than the usual route, sure – but the views are certainly worth it.
Free Days in Batumi (morning) and Kutaisi, Tbilisi
I’m the first to admit that I need my privacy – especially while traveling and especially while in groups. I like to take cities on foot with little planned and just let the day guide me. That’s why I loved the fact that Karavanly gives you free days. With the Kaleidoscope pass, I had a free morning in Batumi to wander the boardwalk, a full day in Kutaisi, where I explored the surrounding monasteries, ate Bikentia, and more. I also had a free day in Tbilisi! I used this to my full advantage, too. I love this city, and exploring it as a tourist again was very special.
Tea Traditions in Guria
Georgia is extremely family-oriented. It’s no surprise to find families who’ve been making wine together for centuries or children learning their parent’s trade of craft. I mentioned that Karavanly places emphasis on authentic travel with a real connection to the locals – Komli was a perfect example of this. Komli is a small, family-run farm stay that functions as a tea plantation in the moody mountains of Guria. It’s been run by the same family for six generations and is every bit as warm and charming as you’d expect.
Every. Last. One. Of the Regional Foods
I’ve been known to travel long and far for food – whether it’s the best jamons joint in Granada or the juiciest al pastor in CDMX, I’m there. I’ve been long overdue for a regional foodie tour of Georgia, and with the Kaleidoscope pass, I got a taste of one. (pun intended!) I indulged in Racha ham, bikentia kebab in Kutaisi, and Adjara’s incredible cheese-loaded foods such as borano and sinori. We even stopped at a roadside shed in Surami famous for its delicious sweet raisin bread called nazuki.
Tskaltubo’s abandoned sanitoriums are equal parts haunting and glamorous. I was allowed ample time to explore the area’s bygone halls, crumbling foyers, and weathered staircases. I never thought I was much for abandoned places, but Tskaltubo certainly changed that for me.
Prior to visiting the lush and peaceful village of Jokolo in Pankisi, my knowledge of the region could be generously described as ignorant. Pankisi is such a wonderfully unique place full of culture, community, and love at every turn. I learned so much about the Kists and their defined traditions that link to both their Chechen and Islamic heritage in many spiritual, culinary, and cultural ways.
All in all, there are so many wonderful things I could say about my time with Karavanly – but I’d rather you experience them yourself. As always, feel free to ask away with any questions in the comments! You can find Karavanly on Instagram here and Facebook here to keep up with all the latest.