You can get to Abkhazia from two sides: Georgia and this more popular one – Russian Federation. To get there through Russia it is necessary to apply for double entry Russian visa which costs a lot and when to take into consideration the three of us it means some serious amount of money. Therefore we decided to get there from Georgia.
Preparation to the trip you should start already at home and apply for Abkhazian visa. On the website of Ministry of Foreign Affairs www.mfaapsny.org you should find an application, fill it in with all your passport data and send by email to the Ministry together with a scan or a photo of your passport. Waiting for an answer should take no more than 7 days and within that time you should receive entry permit letter. Print it couple of times and take all copies with you.
This is only the first part of the procedure because after crossing the border within 3 working days you should visit Consular Service. It used to be situated on 21 Lakoba street but today it is on 33 Sakharova street in Sukhum. There you should get actual visa but to get it you will first have to pay the consular fee according to the type of visa you are applying for. The most popular one – single entry visa for 10 days cost 10 USD. How to get to right place you can check here.
But let’s start from the begining: Georgian-Abkhazian border is partially on the river Inguri and further goes up to Caucasus mountains. It can be crossed in the area of Georgian Zugdidi, where you can easily get by any minibus going to Mestia. It’s the best to get off at the bus station and there either to catch a bus for 2 gel/person or take a taxi for around 10 GEL.
Because Georgians do not recognise Abkhazia at all and its whole territory consider to be their own, you will not find there a regular Georgian border checkpoint. From Georgian side there is only a police station where you need to show your passports. Border as always is full of stray dogs and people being there for some unknown reasons. Between Georgian police station and Abkhazian customs officers there’s quite a distance which can be covered either on foot or by horse carriage for few Russian rubels. Yes, Russian rubels. This is official and the only currency being used in Abkhazia. Some time ago they even issued their own currency Abkhazian apsar but it is not in use and functiones more as a collector’s item.
Right after the police checkpoint the road seemed to be very good so we decided to walk. Ola’s stroller was easy to push on such an even road, we only had to steer clear of cows lying on the street.
We passed the post of the army and this is where the real trouble started. We saw the bridge over the river Inguri, the bridge of the surface that has never been renovated. Covered with holes, smaller and bigger, full of water and mud. At the beginning we managed to walk between them but the further we were the worse it was. We barely managed to get to Abkhazian post with Ola and her stroller wondering why we havent taken the carriage.
Abkhazian border post operates from 8:00 am to 19:00 local time, which to distinguish them from Georgia is an hour back, and coincides with Moscow time. As the Abkhazians say: Moscow life runs according to Sukhum time.
In the first post we just show our passports and the document we received by e-mail and make customs officer call his superior to ask what to do with us. Such an exotic doesn’t happen here to often. Here they usually see Abkhazian passports, but as they are unrecognized by the rest of the world, most of people also has and uses Russian and Georgian ones.
We are moving further in the narrow corricor behind the fence together with the crowd of locals and their numerous bags. Finally we are reaching the last customs officer where again we are showing all documents. It doesn’t go prompt again and the officer has to contact his superiors as well. Finally he keeps one copy of the letter and let’s us in. Now, here’s where the party is! Buses, minibuses, taxis, tradesman and stray dogs. Life in full bloom.
Now in the way you want (bus, minivan, taxi) you have to get to Sukhum and in the first way visit Consular Service to be given actual visa. There are maximum 3 working days to do it but we recommend to do it right away. In case of any problems you will still have time to solve them. When we arrived to Abkhazia at our surprise we found out that they have some holidays, a series of religious and national holidays one after another, and it won’t be finished until we leave so there is no option to get a visa at all. We even got scared a little when realized that we cannot count on any help of our embassy or consulate because according to our country Abkhazia doesn’t even exists!
So before we should have looked for some Abkhazian calendar, which would let us be prepared for such things as even the official issuing the entry permit for exact dates didn’t pay attention that we won’t be able to get visa at all.
We were lucky to privately meet some high members of Abkhazian administration and thanks to their help on our way back we were going to the border with serious dose of confidence. There we found even more problems than we expected and only thanks to our daughter’s charm and the goodwill of officers we were able to leave the country. Hovewer first we had to meet the highest rank officer at the border who asked us about almost all the stamps in our passports. Finaly we were let go and amazing Abkhazians even got us a car to take us accross the bridge.
Russian officer at the border is not the only sign of Russian presence in this country. Russia probably finances not only Abkhazian pensions but also invests in the country helping to rebuilt it.
Good idea for your stay in Abkhazia is to get a local sim card. Even if you don’t care about the roaming costs usulally, in Abkhazia to use your phone you will have to use local card. You won’t find here any Russian or Georgian operators, only local operator works and has no roaming services with other countires. Basic card costs 200 rubels and besides some amount of minutes it offers good package of internet in 4G speed. Also do not try to call Abkhazia from abroad, for example if trying to book a hotel – use e-mail.
Out of practical information it is worth to also mention that the possibility of paying by card in Abkhazia is very rare but there is no problem with ATM’s. European cards work so you won’t stay without cash. Internet is very popular and wi-fi is available in restaurants and hotels.
One more thing for people who might come up with an idea of renting a car and taking it to Abkhazia – entry to Abkhazia by car on Georgian plates is not possible. Abkhazian cars freely ride on Georgian roads but Georgian ones are forbidden to enter Abkhazia.
We have been through a lot already so let’s summarize the whole procedure:
1. Fill in the form on www.mfaapsny.org and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org together with scan or a photo of your passport
2. Within 7 days you will receive a premit letter, print it in few copies and take with you
3. On the Georgian police post show only your pasport
4. Cross the bridge (the best is by carriage especially on rainy days)
5. Pass the pistol monument and soldiers post
6. Show your passport and permit letter to the officers in the first booth
7. In next post give them again all the documents and finally be let to the country
8. Go to Sukhum to Consular Service to finally get your real Abkhazian visa
Having one in your passport (in fact it’s a separate piece of paper) you can feel safe to be in and to leave Abkhazia. If you are interested in souvenir photo of the visa take it in Abkhazia because it will be taken when you leave!