Abkhazia : travel itinerary in a country that doesn’t exist

Beach in Gagra on the Black Sea coast in Abkhazia

Abkhazia is a small country unrecognised by the majority of the world, yet it really exists. This small territory on the coast of the Black Sea, bordered with palm trees and the Great Caucasus mountains in its background is home to about 250 000 Abkhazians haunted by the fear of losing their own identity.

Traces of the war of 1992-1993 are still visible today : many destroyed and abandoned houses with bullet holes on the walls, in the exact same state for 30 years due to a lack of money and international recognition.

Travelling in Abkhazia is discovering a small nation in search of recognition and a piece of land at the center of the great geopolitical game of the Caucasus !

Last updated : 07/02/2024

I have traveled twice to Abkhazia for a couple of weeks each time. I absolutely love it there and planning on going back as soon as I can to explore more the mountains andi the southern parts of the country.

Here are some travel itinerary suggestions to help you plan your trip, whether you only have a couple of days to spend in Sukhum or a whole mouth to explore this beautiful part of the Caucasus deeply.

Abkkhazia is divided into 7 districts (Район = Rayon in Russian) and has 3 nature reserves with endemic plant species of the Caucasus. The reason for traveling to Abkhazia is not only political, its nature is truely amazing and unique !

You can swim in the warm waters of Black Sea in the morning and hike in the Great Caucasus mountains in the afternoon !

Ritza lake in the mountains of Abkhazia in the South Caucasus
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On the map above, at the top of the page you will find all the locations of the following places. I highly recommend you to use maps.me around Abkhazia instead of Google Maps or even Yandex Maps. The names can be spelled in a different way from Cyrilic to Latin scripts, so you will find the names in Russian in this post to make it easier to search on whatever map you use.

Abkhaziamapdistricts 3

Gagra district

  • Gragra (Гагра), the largest city of the district, is basically a resort town with plenty of restaurants on the promenade by the beach side. It’s meant to be the warmest place in Abkhazia and even in winter the weather is very enjoyable. Off season – read, outside of Russian holidays – it turns into a creepy ghost town though.
  • Mamdzyshkha (Мамджишха) is a 1800 meters high mountain right behind Gagra. Within a few hours you can hike to the top and enjoy a coastal view from Sukhum all the way to Sochi in Russia. The trail is well marked on maps.me. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union they planned on building a ski resort upthere and even made a serpentine asphalt road from Gagra.
  • Pitsunda (Пицунда), a small resort town full of pine trees by the sea side where you can enjoy a swim. Pitsunda gave its name to the Pistunda bay, one of the largest in the eastern Black Sea region.
    The town is in my opinion much more enjoyable than Gagra.
  • Krubera Cave (Пещера Крубера) also known has Voronya – Krubera cave is the second deepest cave in the world. It’s deeper than 2 000 meters ! I’ve seen organized tour offers in the streets of Gagra but didn’t join any. I guess anyway that the regular tourist tours don’t go that deep.
    The deepest one is Veryovkina Cave in the same area. In fact, speleogues haven’t reached the bottom yet !
  • Khashupse canyon (Хашупсе) is a roughly one kilometer long canyon about 5 kilometers off the main road from Gantiadi.
    There is a small entrance fee during high season. Avoid going there if it’s been raining heavily the past days or it’s about the rain. You will be literally walking in the riverbed and there may be strong current.
    Accidents happen every year, so be careful & be smart.
The Black Sea coast in Abkhazia in the South Caucasus

Gudauta district

  • Novy Afon (Новый Афон) or New Athos as other bloggers often call it, is a touristy town with thousands of years of history. It’s probably the prettiest coastal town in Abkhazia, with lush green forest, turquoise water and friendly babushkas selling their overpriced goods to Russian tourists. If you only have a few days in Abkhazia, I highly recommend you to come here even for a day.

Places to visit in Novy Afon :

  • The gorgeous Orthodox Monastery of Novy Afon was built in 1875 by Greek monks from Mount Athos. Ladies, long skirts & headscarfs are mandatory to get in and are provided at the entrance in case you forgot yours !
  • Novy Afon cave. Take a little train trip in this huge karstic cave discovered in the middle of the 20th century. Get ready to queue in summer time, it’s packed of Russian tourists.
  • The Anacopia fortress, a must go ancient Byzantine fortress to get a great view of the bay.
    Anacopia was the capital of the Kingdom of Abkhazia between the 8th to 11th centuries.
  • You can watch some Russian trains (Moscow – Sukhum is a real thing) passing by the abandonned but pretty train station next to the Psyrtshkha lake by the now abandonned electric power station.
  • The Saint Simon the Canaanite church where the holy man is believed to have died, was built between the 9th and 10th century. The cave/cell where he lived for 2 years can be found pass the railroad. You need to hike up stone carved stairways for some 10 minutes to reach it. The trail is marked on Maps.me and is still considered a holy place nowadays.

I’d really recommend to stay overnight in Novy Afon, the town even though touristy is very enjoyable, locals are friendly, there’s a nice beach, it’s easy to get a marshrutka to Gagra or Sukhum from the main road, there’s plenty to see, and it’s easy to find restaurants & accomodation.

The Orthodox Monastery of Novy Afon in Abkhazia, Georgia in the South Caucasus

There are more places to check out in this district if you have time & want to go away from the touristy towns :

  • The Bichvinta – Mussera Nature Reserve, along the Pitsunda bay
  • The Ambara church (Церковь Амбара), which is now the ruins of a large basillica from the 7th to 8th century. It used to be a pirate lair that everyone had forgotten until it got rediscovered !
  • The church is located a few hundred meters from the Black sea, after the village of Musera and there is a camp site next to it if you feel like camping by the sea for a night.
The Ambara church in Abkhazia, used to be a pirate lair in the South Caucasus

There is no public transportation to reach it. I hitchhiked my way from Gudauta down the road to the coast and walked half an hour on the beach to get there.

  • The church of Dormition in the village of Likhny (Лыхны) is a 10th century medieval Orthodox church. It has plenty of frescoes as well as Georgian and Greek inscriptions. Ladies, again skirts and scarves are mandatory to get in and you can borrow some at the entrance of the church.
  • Otkhara dolmens (Дольмен Отхара). Yes, Dolmens. It’s not Stonehenge, but still, the circles of stones are very visible and it’s nice to roam around quiet Abkhaz villages without tourists.
Otkhara dolmens with stone circles in Abkhazia in the South Caucasus
  • Otkhara cave monastery (Отхара Монастырь) is the only monastery in Abkhazia built in the mountains. Similar to Vardzia in Georgia, but kind of inaccessible. The path begins at the trout farm. The entrance to one of the cave is meant to be few meters above the ground, via a ladder.

    A group of Russian tourists and I haven’t managed to find it. In fact the path ends up in the middle of the dense forest and we couldn’t get any further. The walk through the forest along the river is pretty epic though, moss covers the trees and make it looks like a fairytail forest !
  • Lake Ritsa (озеро Рица) is one of the most touristy place in Abkhazia. The lake is pretty big so you can totally avoid the possible crowd. The lake was already very popular for Soviet leaders like Stalin. You can visit his datcha and even get a guided tour (in Russia).

    You can hike up to the less touristy and smaller Ritsa lake called Malaya Ritsa (Малая Рица). The path is properly showned on Maps.me and there are also plenty of hikes to do in the area.

There is no public transportation going to Ritsa. You can either book a tour to get there, or hitchhike the way. It’s only one road and there are plenty of Russians tourists and families driving up there in summer time.

Warning : border zone

If you’re a mountain hiker looking to explore more the surrounding mountains, keep in mind that you are roughly 5 kilometers away from the border of the Russian Federation. I don’t know if a border zone permit or any special permit is required to hike on the Abkhazian side (no need for sure in Ritsa) but you definitely need a border zone permit in Russia (plus a valid visa and having crossed by a legal border post, not a sheep trail through the mountains) to be on the Russian side. The FSB is watching the borders, don’t play with their rules or you will end up in a Russian prison.

Sukhum district

Sukhum (Сухум) is the capital of Abkhazia. If you only have two days to spend in Abkhazia, it’s the place to go. The city is a mix of Soviet, abandonned buildings, and trendy cafés. It feels empty but lively at the same time. Here are some of the many things to see and do in Sukhum :

  • Visit the abandoned Georgian Parliament with a giant Abkhazian flag flying in the wind at its top. It dominates the city center, you can’t miss it. It’s possible to go inside and walk your way to the roof of the building. Great views of the whole city, Black sea and mountains from up there !
The ruins of the abandonned georgian parliament covered of the Abkhazian flag in the city of Sukhum in Abkhazia in the South Caucasus
  • The national Abkhaz museum. It has a Soviet section but the most interesting is the display of Georgian – Abkhazian war pictures and objetcs. The place is really well kept, the ladies staffs are friendly, however everything is in Russian.
  • Walk on the promenade along the beach : restaurants, cafés, beach, and old men playing backgammon. Enjoy a feel of the Soviet rivera !
An old woman dressed in black seating on the promenade in the city of Sukhumi in Abkhazia, Georgia in the South Caucasus
  • The old Soviet Saunatorium. It’s half abandonned but also partly still working ! If you feel like having a Soviet health retreat, this is the right place !

    You can explore the abandonned buildings and look for Lenin’s mosaiques hidden in the pretty green gardens !
  • The Research Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy.

    This Soviet research center has its very own urban legend : a human and a monkey were interbred to create a superhuman. I would honestly not be surprised if it was true, Soviet scientists you know …

    During the Abkhaz war the place was damaged and monkeys were roaming freely around the city, some of them even attacking people. The place hasn’t been fixed and monkeys are still living in rusty cages. They apparently still do some research on them …

    Now let me be clear, I absolutely do not support even zoos or any sort of prisons for animals. I went there because I’ve heard about the place as a “monkey sanctuary”, I had the idea that these Soviet monkeys were old and only a few left because the URSS collapsed in the early 90’s right ?

    I was very wrong and I kind of blamed myself because as someone who travel a lot in Russia I should have known better.

    These monkeys are still making babies. There are hundreads of them. The cages are old but kept clean and the monkeys seemed well feed, which is probably the only good thing.

    Just so you know, it will not stop because you don’t go and don’t support. Russians are okay with that. In fact, they go for amusment, they think it’s okay, don’t see any animal distress or anything wrong with these monkeys in cages.

    If you’re sensitive to the animal cause, I highly recommend you to avoid this place.
Headshape vases in the park of the Soviet saunatorium of Sukhumi in Abkhazia, Georgia in the South Caucasus

Sukhum is quite in the center of the country and you can totally make it your base and do day trips from there to explore the country. In the city’s cafés and restaurant you might bump into staffs speaking english. They are most likely Circassians from Syria !

Gulrypch district

Right East of Sukhum district on the way to Gal and the Georgian border you will cross the Gulrypch district. There are two interesting places to check out :

  • The Sukhum international airport, or what’s left of it. It was heavily damaged during the war and now only serve has a sort of base for the Russian army and has some domestic flights to mountains villages. They are still abandonned military helicopeters and Soviet passengers planes.
Old soviet plane at the abandoned airport in Abkhazia, South Caucasus

Technically the airport is guard and tourists aren’t allowed to visit it. A female local friend and I got lucky. We chit-chat and laugh with the guard for a bit and enjoyed a 10 minutes private tour before getting kicked out by another guard.

Few years ago, the local Abkhazian authorities spoke about rebuilding it and start international flights again, so maybe in a near future there will be Moscow – Sukhum or Damascus – Sukhum flights ! Forget about a quick & cheap EasyJet Tbilissi – Sukhum line though.

  • Prince Smetsky’s palace of love (Дворец князя Смецкого). Not far from the airport, hidden deep in the forest you can find the ruins of prince Smetsky‘s palace, built in 1913 for his wife Olga. She had tuberculosis and back then it wasn’t treatable. Yet, the doctor recommended that she slept in a different room everynight, with clean and pur air.

    Prince Smetsky who was obviously very rich and loved his wife beyond anything built a palace with 365 rooms for her to sleep in a different one every night of the year. Apparently it worked because she died at the age of 90 years old, after her husband !

    The palace is unfortunetely completely abandonned but you can still go inside, walk a bit up the large staircase but the floors are almost complety gone. It must have been stunning back in the days !

    Like many abandonned builldings in Abkhazia, there’s no safety nor any signs prohibiting to get it. It is not safe, you go there at your own risks.

Ochamchire district

  • The town of Ochamchire (Очамчира) had before the war a large Georgian population. Nowadays it does feel really empty and abandonned more than any other large town by the coast. You can easily walk around the town square, up to the abandonned train station (there are still some trains full of coal from Tkvarcheli mine passing through) and the sea side. The town, even in the middle of july seemed to be empty of Russian tourists for some reasons.

    I actually really enjoyed my time there because of the lovely family I rented a room from !
  • A few kilometers from Ochamchire, on the main road to Sukhum you will find a sort of abandonned hot springs, and old broken pipes pulling warm water smelling sulfur out of the ground. You can swim if you dare.
  • Kindghi (Кындыг), a village with datchas in the midle of the forest totally deserves to be explored.

    The little fortress of San Tommaso is a italian medieval fortress built in the 13th century as a trading post for Genoese merchands. The fortress is the only one left in Abkhazia and is totally unique ! And the sea views are great !

    There is a quiet beach nearby with a little “beach café”. Nice to chill a few hours.

    In Kindghi you can also experience some outdoor Soviet hot springs with proper pools etc. The ladies working there are lovely and the place seemed pretty clean to me.
Hot springs in Abkhazia in the South Caucasus
  • The Mokva Cathedral (Собор Моква) is one of the oldest Orthodox cathedral in Abkhazia, built in the 10th century. The last sovereign prince of Abkhazia Michael Shervashidze is buried there.

    The cathedral is nowadays really well kept by Sergey, a middle age man whom mother and grandmother were already watching after the place. He lives right nearby and open the door to tourists coming up. He only speaks Russian but he’s super friendly !

Gal & Tkvarcheli districts

The Gal (Gali in Georgian – Гал) and Tkvarcheli (Ткварчели) districts were and still are mostly populated by ethnic Migrelians Georgians. Yes, thousands are Georgians are still living in Abkhazia today. If you come from the Ingur border, you should notice plenty of Georgians crossing, carrying bags of goods. They are allowed to cross the border depending on the situation.

Most (like there were many) travel blogs warn about crossing these districts and claming it has the highest criminal rate in the country. I’ve looked and haven’t found any reliable datas though.

These districts are the poorest in the already quite poor country, local Georgians are facing a lot of disminations including no protection from local authorities aka police. You can read more about it in this interesting article by Jam-News. Poverty, discrimination and mafia (look for the dark windows cars without any number plates + avoid them if you hitchhike!) doesn’t lead to anything good.

I personally never experienced anything bad overthere and as for the rest of Abkhazia, I would recommend to be careful like in any other country, especially if you are from a country not recognizing Abkhazia because there is no foreign embassy representation. You will be on your own. So if you get robbed, better give your cash rather than your passport !

Horses eating grass in front of a lake and mountains in Abkhazia in the South Caucasus

You can visit the small town of Tkvarcheli which used to be an important mining town and is now half abandoned. The power plant was bombed on the first days of siege during the war but is still partly working so if you want to roam around the abandoned part, make sure to ask workers if you see them.

I have not explored the area properly yet but I will next time I get the chance to travel to Abkhazia and will update this guide.

Extra ressources

There are many more places to explore in Abkhazia, from abandoned Soviet buildings to centuries old churches and obviously the mountains ! You could totally spend an entire month exploring the country.

I’ve only mentionned places where I have been. There were more, like many abandoned buildings but I don’t think they were worth mentioning in this list.

If you are looking for even more places to check out, I recommend you to do your google search in Russian. Even if you don’t speak it, you can just translate the pages, right ?

Here are some :

Let me know in the comment section if you have anything to add to this guide or any questions & don’t hesitate to report your trip if you end up going after reading this post !

Blue canyon in Abkhazia, Georgia in the South Caucasus
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