In the first quarter of 2016, our group of friends were thinking of where to go after our adventure in Turkey. We like somewhere cold, and to include Turkey again because we haven’t toured Istanbul as much as we’d like. I researched and came to know about the Caucasus Region which consists of Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. When I told the girls about Caucasus, everyone asked me “where is that?!” Haha! Well, the Caucasus is a region at the border of Europe and Asia, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. It is Eurasia, literally in the middle of Europe and Asia. However, the idea was shelved because there were still some ongoing conflicts in that area during that time and we didn’t want to risk it. Also, the idea to travel the Trans-Monglian Rainway came into view. That didn’t materialize as well because of budgeting and scheduling. What happened though was Morocco. And it was a warm place. So the quest for the winter wonderland is still lingering on the air when I received a tip from a friend (thank you Joevan and friends), regarding Georgia in the first month of 2017.
Georgia is still a relatively “young” country. It was absorbed into the Sobiet Union in 1921 as the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. The country has suffered from civil and economic crisis for most of the 1990s when the modern Georgian republic was established. The country had the bloodless Rose Revolution in 2003 and the Russo-Georgian War in 2008. So for decades, Georgia was in turmoil and it wasn’t open to tourists. Until it eventually opened its doors to us a few years ago, thankfully. Georgia is now known as the “balcony of Europe” and for someone like me who hasn’t been to Europe, the title fits. It indeed provided me a good view into the continent.
Georgia is blessed with lush landscapes and gorgeous seasons (they go through four!). It has Tbilisi, the capital, and its modern cityscapes. It also has the quaint villages that line the provinces. There are many activities waiting for guests in Georgia from horseback-riding to trekking to hiking or just food tripping! I wasn’t expecting much of Georgia, to be honest, but its beauty blew me away! It’s simply captivating! And I’ll tell you more about Gorgeous Georgia on our travel series up next!
Tour Package. Our friend forwarded me a post of a $99 tour package in Georgia care of the Facebook group “Kabayans and Pinoys in Tbilisi, Georgia.” $99?!? I couldn’t believe it! That’s only SR 380! This is probably the best way to spend my SR 380! At first, I thought they were a group of Filipinos living in Georgia who are giving tours to fellow Filipinos who are visiting the country. I was wrong. Haha! The group “Kabayans and Pinoys in Tbilisi, Georgia” is manned by Filipinos Ghenies and Geraldine. They’re two of the friendliest and loveliest people you’ll meet in Georgia. They started the group after noticing how Filipinos in the Guld like to travel and troop to Georgia for the weekend. They are a part of a bigger travel agency named G7 Euro Travel and Tours. The $99 promo is a part of their Happy Heart’s promo for two weekends of February and is not a permanent rate. We just got lucky, we know! Haha! And these are what’s included in our $99 per person package:
- 3 days/2 nights 3-star hotel accommodation
- Tbilisi City tour
- Ski Resort / Snowy Mountains tour
- Ancient City Tour
- Airport transfers (pick-up and send-off)
- 3 days breakfast
- Fares to the cable car, furnicular and metro
They’ve got to be kidding right?! All of that for only $99?! Why is it so cheap? We’re not complaining though. Of course, we’re going! Definitely going! We didn’t know it then but we were really lucky to have availed of this promo. Imagine, the regular rate for a 3-day Georgia tour is $120, or more depending on where you want to go. That excludes accommodation! (You can check some of their rates in this page.)We’re not sure when they will have another promo like this so if I were you, LIKE their Facebook page now so you’ll be updated. At first, we were worried that the tours might be sloppy because it’s inexpensive but truly, G7 provided us with the best service they can offer. I can’t wait to tell you more about our trip (yes, yes, I’ll work on writing the travel entries faster from now on).
OUR BUDGET for Tour Package, Accommodation, Transfers: $99 (approx. SR 380) per person
***Please take note that we got this on their Valentine’s promo rate. Regular rates apply if availed.
Before confirming our tour package, we had to look for flights first. Because what if we got the tour at a low price but the flight will set us back thousands of riyals? Then there’s no point in going right? Good thing, Air Arabia was still on sale. And because the package was made in conjunction with the schedule of the Air Arabia flights going and coming from Tbilisi, it was the perfect airlines to fly with. From two The Pink Tarha ladies, our tour group expanded to eight after we persuaded some of our friends to come along. Unfortunately, our husbands couldn’t come with us on this trip. My husband is more of a gadget person so instead of spending for travel, he’s spending his travel money on gadgets (haha). I’m just really glad he understands my wanderlust and lets me travel on my own or with friends from time to time. Anyway, it was an all-woman trip for our Georgia trip!
Flights. Our Air Arabia round-trip flights was SR 1,925 per person. The flight is not direct and we had lay-overs in Sharjah. However, like I earlier mentioned, it’s the perfect schedule because we left Riyadh on a Thursday afternoon, reached Sharjah an hour and 45 minutes later, waited for three hours in the Sharjah airport, flew to Tbilisi, Georgia at around 10:00 in the evening and arrived in Tbilisi airport around 2:00 AM the following day. We rested for a few hours and was ready for our first tour by 9:00 in the morning. It was a bit of a tiring journey and we had the most turbulent flight we’ve ever in from Sharjah to Tbilisi! We were so scared when the plane lurched from time to time. All of us were nursing a headache and drowsiness when we landed.
Based on my research, there are no direct flights to Tbilisi from Riyadh. Even though Saudi Airlines has flights to Tbilisi, it has a lay-over in Istanbul, Turkey. Regular roundtrip fares in Saudia go from SR 2,800 and above. Fly Dubai also has flights with lay-overs in Dubai that go for SR 1,900 or more, depending on when you purchase. Other airlines that has flights to Tbilisi are Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, and Egypt Air. Their prices though are much more expensive and I’m assuming the lay-overs are longer and more gruelling. So Air Arabia is still your best bet in flights going and coming from Tbilisi. In our experience, the flights are on time, sometimes a few minutes earlier in landing.
OUR BUDGET for Round-trip Tickets to Georgia from Saudi Arabia: SR 1,925 per person
Requirements. According to my friend who spent the holidays in Georgia, we only needed to bring our iqama (resident card). As expats living and working in Saudi Arabia, we can get visa-on-arrival in Georgia. Take note though that if you are a Filipino citizen who is NOT a permanent resident in the GCC country, there is a need to apply for a Georgian tourist visa before traveling. We don’t know the process to that so we’re only writing about the process which we did, as Filipinos who are permanent residents of Saudi Arabia. Other nationalities may inquire with the Georgian Embassy in Riyadh or their nearest Georgian embassies and consulates in your countries.
Since our transfers, accommodation, and tours are already covered by the $99, we only had to worry about the documents we needed to bring. I called the Georgian embassy in Riyadh to confirm what those documents are and the friendly guy who answered listed the following:
1. Passport (valid for 6 months on the date of travel)
2. Exit/Re-entry Iqama (SR 200), applied through your work place
3. Iqama (residence card)
***Yes, we had to bring our original iqama. Not photocopy only!
4. Translation of iqama to English
***We had our iqama translated at the Al Salem Translation Center in Dabab Street for SR 30 each. Any certified translation office in Riyadh will do.
5. Tour Package/Itinerary (provided to us by the travel agency; we just had to print it)
6. Accommodation (provided to us by the travel agency; we just had to print it)
7. Travel Insurance
***If you have travel insurance card from Saudi Arabia, check if it covers international travel. As for us, we availed of the insurance of Air Arabia which covers the whole leg of our trip. Insurance fee is included in the flight price. Print the insurance document that will be sent by Tune Insurance (if you’re flying Air Arabia).
8. 3 months bank statement
*** We had ours stamped by the bank just to be sure.
There are no visa fees to be paid. Just bring these all documents with you. The airline officers or the immigration officers may or may not check them. In our case, our iqama was checked at the check-in counter of Air Arabia in our flight from Riyadh to Sharjah. Then our documents were checked in the boarding gate of our flight from Sharjah to Tbilisi. The immigration officers in Tbilisi asked for our iqama and the translation. So you’ll never know what is needed so we just made a folder of all documents we listed above so whatever they ask, we can show them. Immigration in Georgia wasn’t a breeze for some of us. It depended on the mood of the officer because in Reina and I’s case, the officer was friendly and even welcomed us. In the case of our friend, the officer was grumpy and had her line up in another lane even though she’s saying she’s with our group. The officer didn’t listen. Fortunately, all of us were permitted through eventually.
Again, the documents above are for permanent residents of Saudi Arabia only. However, we’re not sure if the occupation in your iqama will be considered or it’s enough to have an iqama. If you’re on a dependent visa, you might have to be with your sponsor parent. For clarifications, you can call the Georgian Embassy to Riyadh directly at +966 11 400 2841 (full address and contact details below).
OUR BUDGET for Requirements: SR 200 (iqama) + SR 30 (translation) = SR 230
Accommodation. Our tour package includes accommodation already. I know, $99 and every thing is included (yes, taxes too)! We were billeted at the London Palace Hotel, 11 kilometers away from the airport. It’s a 3-star hotel that has the basic amenities. Accommodation is for doubles (2 in each room) and each room is different. Ours had a modern shower enclosure complete with temperature control, lighting, and massage. Haha! The room itself is a bit small but it’s manageable. It’s clean and modern with enough cabinets for our coats and clothes. We also had free breakfasts for the three days that we stayed in the hotel. An average stay for a night in the London Hotel Palace is SR 195 (135 GEL).
Of course, no one is stopping you from booking at more luxurious 5-star hotels like the Radisson Blu Iveria Hotel (approx. SR 1,290 per night), the Ambassadori Hotel (approx. SR 1,140 per night), or the Marriott Tbilisi Hotel (approx. SR 1,045 per night). Four-star hotels like the Hotel Rasta, Kalasi Hotel, Rustaveli Boutique Hotel, or Mercure Old Tbilisi go for around SR 500 per night. Or just go with the 3-star hotels because on trips like this, you’re more likely to spend your time outside the hotel than inside. Take note that most hotels lower than 5 stars don’t have elevators so if you’re bring a whole lotta luggage, don’t. You can ask your travel agencies for their recommended hotels that are near to almost everything.
OUR BUDGET for Accommodation: It’s included in our tour package.
Pocket Money. For reference, USD ($) 1 is equal to 2.59 Georgian Lari (GEL). 1 GEL is equal to 1.45 Saudi Riyals (SAR). (Subject to change because this is based on today’s currency exchange.)
One of the things our friend told me about their trip to Georgia is how they exchanged $300 (approx. SAR 1, 140) to Georgian Lari at the start of their trip and by their last day, they still have a lot! So he said that $300 is more than enough for our 3 days/2 nights stay. $300 is equal to 777 GEL. It’s better to bring US dollars than Saudi riyals because the exchange rate is better. The US dollars should have no stamps and should be 2000 series and above. We exchanged our money in the Tbilisi International Airport. Just in case you ran out of money in the tour, there are a lot of exchange counters in the city. Bring cash and don’t depend on your credit cards because most restaurants and stores don’t accept cards.
The $300 (each, separate from the $99 we paid for the tour) that we brought as pocket money was really more than enough for the trip. The food in Georgia are inexpensive, as well as the other stuff that we needed for the trip like water, gloves, and hats. Souvenirs are also cheap at only 3 GEL for magnets and keychains, 5-10 GEL for plates and accessories, 20 GEL for bigger souvenirs like flasks, shirts, etc. We even had money to pay for our 250 GEL paragliding experience with the pocket money we had. We were always pleasantly surprised when our restaurant bill comes to our table because we thought we’ve ordered the whole menu but paying for 2-3 dishes only. Haha! We love eating in Georgia because their food is so cheap yet so delicious!
OUR BUDGET for Pocket Money: SR 1,140
When To Go. We chose February because of the promo. Haha! Also, we want to experience snow and winter all over again.
Now, if you ask us when is the best time to go, it depends on you. Georgia enjoys four seasons and they have different activities for any season. If you enjoy winter activities or just like to frolic in the snow, then December-February is the best time to go. The country is very green from late April to September but rainy days come during May so it’s not advisable to travel in May. June is in between spring and summer so it’s a good window to visit Georgia on a nice weather. It is said that July-August is hot, although some parts of the country remain cool because of their locations. According to one of our tour guides, September is one of the best months to visit because it’s autumn and the changing of the colors of leaves is a wonderful sight. If we ever visit Georgia again, it will be in the month of September.
TOTAL BUDGET FOR OUR TRIP: SR 3,675 per person
What To Bring (For Winter Travel). We are not used to traveling for winter because the Philippines, which we of course frequent, is not a cold country. This is the only second trip that we’re going to a cold country, the first being Turkey in January 2015. We had more or less an idea on what to bring but if it’s your first time, then here’s a list that might help you pack efficiently:
1. 2 coats
*** You don’t have to get the really bulky coats but it’s good to have at least one thick one for the ski resort tour. We bought our coats and winter wear from Terranova, New Look, American Eagle, Aeropostale, Debenhams, etc. And in Haraj! (Remember the FB Live we did in Haraj? We were looking for winter coats! And why not? We’ll only use them once or twice anyway.)
2. Thermal shirts and leggings
***This is what you should wear first and they’re effective in keeping your bodies warm. I got long sleeves ones for our Turkey trip from Debenhams and I also had my sisters buy me a Heattech shirt and leggings from Uniqlo in the Philippines.
3. More shirts and leggings, for layering
4. Gloves with removable fingers
*** This will make sure your hands are warm when you’re not using your phone/camera. And it will also be conducive when you want to press that button for a photo. The fingers part is easily removable. If you can’t find this type of gloves, don’t fret. You can buy them in the souvenir shops in Georgia.
5. Scarves and hats
***These accessories will keep the cold away from your necks and heads. Bundle up!
6. Winter Boots
***Pick boots that are all-rounder: you can use whatever the weather is. Our Crocs boots which we used in Turkey still looks brand new and we like it because it’s suited for rain or snow. Make sure you pick boots that can be used in the snow and not just pang-porma lang or you’ll regret that once your butt lands on the slippery ice. Yung can use fashionable boots in the city tour though. You can buy winter boots from Al Garawi (CAT, Moschino, etc.), UGG in Athlete’s Co., Woz in Panorama Mall, etc. Unfortunately, Crocs is no longer stocking winter boots nowadays.
Air Arabia has a baggage limit of 20 kilograms. There’s enough room to accommodate all these clothes and accessories. Don’t fill your luggage too much though because you need some space for souvenirs!
What an inexpensive yet worthwhile trip! I mean compared to our trips to Morocco, Turkey, Maldives, etc. Georgia was inexpensive yet it’s also such a beautiful place! The food is great, the Georgians we’ve met are great, the sceneries and landscapes are great! Ahhhh thank you Lord for opening up Georgia to the world! It’s also such an easy trip. A weekend and a day will transport you to the joys of traveling this country. I’m pretty sure we had it good in the winter with the land and mountain blanketed with snow. Temperatures dip to negative degrees. And windy weather caused our cheeks and fingers to freeze. But spring and autumn have their own spell to cast and some day, we will take notice and see those charms. Georgia is gorgeous!
Embassy of Georgia in Riyadh
Al Wurud, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia