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  #1  
Old 30 Apr 2010
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Abkhazia

Abkhazia was the jewel of the Soviet Riviera, the mountainous coastal paradise where many of the supreme Soviets had their dachas, and is now relatively straightforward to visit, safe and the only land route at present from the South Caucasus (GE, AM, AZ) into Russia.

It's stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful, the people are warm and overjoyed to see foreigners, and, best of all, it has a quirky Soviet feel as very, very little has changed since 1991. Of course, it is the site of one of the bitter civil wars following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and a major thorn in the foot of Georgia / Russia relations. But it's safe and has opened up to western travellers.

You can enter Abkhazia from either Georgia (Inguri Bridge) or Russia (Adler / Psou). To enter from Russia you need a multiple entry Russian visa, and you CANNOT proceed into Georgia. To enter from Georgia is straightforward, but you also, theoretically, need a multiple entry Russian visa. The reason for this is that they do NOT stamp your passport when you enter / leave Russia, which could cause problems with a single entry visa. I don't know how strictly enforced this is. Note that if you exit Abkhazia to Russia, you will have no exit stamp for Georgia, so it's unlikely you'll be able to visit Georgia again with the same passport.

The first step is to make a visa application here:

Visa to Abkhazia

Make sure you fill in all the sections, particularly your vehicle details. Call the consular department after a week on this number: +99544 263948 or 844 263948 from within Georgia.

I was initially refused, and it required persistent needling to get to speak to the head of the consular department to get entry clearance. Once you have been accepted, they will email you a .pdf of your entry clearance. You should take two copies for entrance, one for the border and one for the MFA in Sukhum.

Once in Sukhum, the capital, you pay $20 at the Sberbank in the customs yard (ask for Tamozhnye, opposite the main pier), then collect your visa from the consular department of the MFA, the big grandiose building at 21 Lakoba Street. It's a conventional visa, but for whatever political reasons they won't stick it in your passport (though you could do it yourself?).

Technically, you need to register your vehicle. I'm not sure if this applies to motorcycles, as they are practically absent from Abkhazian roads. To register, you should go to the GAI (Road Police). It's on the way out of town, near the Novy Rayon, past the bus station. Take the Number 1 trolleybus from the bazar (Rinok) past the station (Vokzal) until it reaches a petrol station and turns left. Get off, walk back past the petrol station towards town, and take the first left (heading inland). The building is about 300m up here amidst general dereliction, on the left.

You need your passport, original vehicle registration papers (tekpassport) and an address in Abkhazia (can be a hotel). Registration costs R150 per 30 days for a car / 4x4 up to a maximum of 180 days, double that for a truck or bus.

Technically, I imagine you also need insurance, but I didn't bother. Russian insurace, as far as I know, is not valid in Abkhazia.

I had no problems with the Abkhazian police, they keep a low profile and never stopped me on the road. I'm pretty sure you can get away without insurace / registration.

Abkhazia uses Russian Roubles, the ATMs don't accept foreign cards, but moneychangers are widespread. There is a kiosk at the harbourmaster's office (next to customs where you pay for your visa) which gives very good rates on USD.

Entering from Georgia was easy - the Georgians were a bit puzzled by a private car, but made no problems. They just asked that I write a letter acknowledging that I was going under my own free will, and that the Georgian authorities could not assure my safety once in Abkhazia. On the Abkhazian side, the guys were very friendly, just wanted to see the entry clearance and let me go.

After Gali, the Russian army stopped me and thorougly, but very politely, searched the car. They control the southern buffer zone, and do a good job of it according to the local EU monitors. The area around Gali is pretty much uninhabited, ruined and the roads are trashed until Ochamchire. From Ochamchire to Sukhum and on to Russia, the road is pretty good.

Leaving Abkhazia, customs just wrote my car number in a ledger. There was no passport check. Entering Russia was surprisingly easy. No bribes / payment at all. The old system of a red / green registration document for your car was apparently scrapped 3 months ago, and now there is a barcoded sticker which is stuck to your customs declaration. They gave me 90 days clearance for the car without asking, none of the old 14 day nonsense with a 'payment' to get the full 90 day entitlement. You can buy insurance (strakhovaniye) on the border: 3 months' worth cost me R 3802 (about $131) for a 2.4L 4x4. Because of the disputed status of Abkhazia, the Russians did not stamp my passport, only the migration card. So don't lose the migration card! Of course, a bonus of this (if you have a multi entry visa like mine which only gives you 90 days stay out of 180) is that once you leave Russia, there is no mark of when you initially entered (no Abkhazian exit stamp), so you could probably get more than your normal entitlement... I've not had any trouble yet for not having an entry stamp (though it's early days), and managed to register without a hitch.

As said, I found Abkhazia stunningly beautiful. The snowcapped peaks of the high Caucasus give way to lush, rolling hills of deciduous jungle, lapped by a the Black Sea, which is a nice turquoise, and full of dolphins. Also, it's fascinating for it's timelessness. I've been to many parts of the old Soviet Union, but Abkhazia is about as Soviet a place as I've found.

There's plenty to see in the little country, though anything off the main road or Lake Ritsa road will soon become an off-road adventure. Highlights for me were:

-Sukhum: Interesting, part grandiose, part derelict city, very Soviet bazaar.
-Lake Ritsa: Gorgeous mountain lake at 900m, reached by a stunning, winding mountain road.
-Pitsunda: Timeless Soviet holiday resort off the main road where you step back into the 1980s.

I don't think there's any real danger in Abkhazia (there are a lot of mines, but I never saw any warning signs), though people say not to travel at night in the Gali area (i.e. south of Ochamchire).

Any questions, just ask

Daniel
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Last edited by danielsprague; 30 Apr 2010 at 21:50.
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Old 30 Apr 2010
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Koh Kaf/ Caucasia

Fascinating information Daniel.
Many fairy tales of the Indian subcontinent are based in a magical place called “Koh Kaf”. It is now ascertained that this is the name of Caucasian mountains, no wonder they are pretty.

BTW in most of those stories I heard as a lil child these places were inhabited by beautiful fairies.
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Old 30 Apr 2010
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Hey Omie

Yes, the Caucasus are great. I'm crossing over to the north side tomorrow and heading east to Dagestan over the following month.

Koh Kaf sounds a lot like Kavkaz - the Russian word for Caucasus. I remember in Sheherezade's 1001 Arabian nights was often mentioned beautiful Circassian maidens. Circassians are known as Cherkess here in Russia, and are one of the many peoples in these 'mountain of languages'. The story of Jason and the Golden Fleece is thought to be from the region. Derbent, in Dagestan is a corruption of Darband, a mythical Persian mountain and one of the old gateways to the Great Persian Empire. I think I also remember a Koranic story set in the Caucasus, something like a valley of Iron Gates??

No doubt, the region features heavily in the mythology and literature of the Old World. It's also stunningly beautiful...

All the best from Russia

Daniel
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Old 1 May 2010
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Thanks Daniel. Have fun in Koh Kaf.

Omar
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  #5  
Old 22 Jul 2010
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Thanks for the great info on Abkhazia! I sent my application in today, so we'll see how that goes.
Have you exited Russia yet? Wondering of you had any issues regarding no entry stamp for Russia.
Regards,
Forward

note: I receıved my Abkhaz clearance letter ın just three workıng days, no problem.

Last edited by forward; 29 Jul 2010 at 08:57. Reason: added note on clearance letter
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Old 5 Oct 2010
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Thanks daniel. Very helpful. But I read in this topic: http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hub...450#post299411 that entering to Russia from Abkhasia is not possible, also entering from Georgia to Abkhasia was illegal. What is the truth actually. I read somewhere you can cross the Geo-Abkh border only on one place...
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Old 6 Oct 2010
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Yes, I've exited / re-entered Russia three times since, no problems without an entry stamp... your migration card is the improtant thing.


Entering Russia from Abkhazia was not a problem in April, but you need a multi-entry visa as far as I know. Entering Abkhazia from Georgia is perfectly legal as long as you have entry clearance from the MFA in Sukhumi. As far as I know, Ingur (the Inguri River Bridge) is the only place you can cross.

Daniel
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Old 16 Jun 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by danielsprague View Post
Entering Russia from Abkhazia was not a problem in April, but you need a multi-entry visa as far as I know.
Hi Daniel. I'm planing now our trip and I'm thinking now about what you say. Why we need double entry visa for Russia, when we come from Abkhasia (from Georgia)? We are entering Russia one time only.
For sure, the double entry visa is required if you enter Abkhasia from Russia, because the only exit is again Russia and you enter for second time Russia on Psou river. But I don't see the point for double entry visa for Georgia - Abkhasia - Russia.
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Old 17 Jun 2011
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All the officials in Sukhum said I needed a multi-entry visa (which I had) to eter Russia from there. I didn't understand either. I expect that you actually don't need a double / multiple enrty visa.

Daniel
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  #10  
Old 17 Jun 2011
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They were probably speaking about Russia - Abkhasia - Russia move. I have official confirmation it's not needed:

Quote:
Dear Mr,
NO, the multy-entry Russian visa is needed in case you enter from Russia so you could return back to Russia. Because if you enter Abkhazia from Russia and then transit to Georgia you will be arrested by georgians, since they consider illegal the crossing from Russia.
But in case you enter from Georgia and transit to Russia then you need single visa.
But in this case you would not be able to return to Georgia after you come such way, since again, they will arrest you for "illegal" crossing of the border.
Georgia puts a lot of obstacles like this.

Best Regards
Omer Mersan-Marshan
Representative of the Republic of Abkhazia in Bulgaria and Balkan Countries
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