Stepantsminda (Georgian: სტეფანწმინდა; formerly Kazbegi, Georgian: ყაზბეგი) is a town in the north of Georgia, popular for the trekking opportunities in the visually spectacular surrounding mountains, its views of the mighty Mount Kazbeg, and for the beautiful view from the town of the Holy Trinity Church outlined against Mount Kazbeg itself.
The town of Kazbegi—officially named Stepantsminda (სტეფანწმინდა: st'eh-pahn-ts'meen-dah), but better known under the old name of Kazbegi) -- is a mountain town on the Georgian Military Highway. The town is 10 km south of the border with Russia, which is open again for some nationalities. On the western side of the river, the town is known as Gergeti (გერგეტი: gehr-geh-t'ee), but for all intents and purposes of a visitor, it is one town.
This pretty town is getting the increased attention it deserves, so there are increasing numbers of guest houses, restaurants and tourist facilities, but prices are inflated compared with the rest of the country.
Marshrutkas leave more or less hourly from Didube bus station in Tbilisi, mostly before 16:00. For sure there are two at 12:30 and 14:30. 10 lari, 2¾ hr.
To find the marshrutkas, go down from the Didube metro station, turn right, cross the underway, cross the first parking lot (full of marshrutkas), and the marshrutkas to Kazbegi are in the second parking lot.
Kazbeki shared taxis (15 lari), which park along the side road, start from a different place than the marshrutkas, which go from inside the (building/bus) complex at Didube. Don't get fooled (by a touty taxi driver) into believing that the bus already left. However, it might be 1-2 hr until the next one leave, so you might want to pay the extra 5 lari, provided that the shared taxi is not also waiting for another hour for more passengers.
Marshrutkas stop half-way for around 10-15 min where travellers can use the bathroom (1 lari) and buy snacks from street vendors.
If you have a bunch of people in your party, you can almost always find a driver hanging around the marshrutka who is going there anyway, and hitch a ride for a fare lower than the total your group would pay on the marshrutka.
Also, many drivers will take you in a small group (8 people) with 2 stops on route at the Ananuri Church of the Mother of God and Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument for 15 lari—5 more than the standard rate and well worth it for the comfort.
The town is easily covered on foot.
- 1 Gergeti Trinity Church (გერგეტის სამების ეკლესია: gehr-geh-t'ees sah-meh-bees ek'leh-see-ah, also known as Tsminda Samebis Church). It towers over the city at a height of 2,170 m (7,120 ft). Free entrance. No smoking, no photography inside the monastery. Decent clothes required. Can become very busy, as crowds of people are brought there by 4x4 taxis.
- Alexander Kazbegi Museum. Tu-Su 10:00-18:00.
- Hike further into the mountains via a path starting behind the ridge to the start of the Gergeti Glacier (at 3,000 m).
- Climb mount Kazbeg (5,033 m) with a guide.
- Hike in wonderful nearby Juta valley
- Kazbegi Marathon.
- Rent a mountain-bike and cycle towards the castle by the Russian border, and visit the small valleys south of the town.
Gergeti Trinity ChurchEdit
Hiking is the best option, since you enjoy the view. This can be done throughout the year. It takes between 1 and 2 hr one way, and the difficulty depends on the path. Although the easiest way is very easy, keep in mind that there is more than 400 m to climb. All four paths are easy to follow.
- By following the road: after the bridge, turn left, and follow the road until the end, about 6 km further. Duration: about 2 hr.
- By the (relatively) easy trail: after the bridge, turn left, and follow the road for about one kilometer, almost at the end of the small village. You will see a sign for cars to turn right; don't turn right, but go until the end of your street, about 100 m. Then, turn right, walk 10 meters, turn left, and walk about 500 m. Then you will meet the road again; turn left, follow the road for about 2 km, until the trees suddenly disappear (and you have a wonderful view on Mount Kazbeg). You will see a path on the left; this is quite steep, though not difficult. In winter, avoid this part (keep going on the road). After 5 minutes on this path, you will reach the "summit", and see the church. Just go to the end. There are green/blue signs at each crossroads, so the path is very easy to find. Duration: 1hr 45min.
- By the steep path. After the sign for cars to turn right, don't turn right, but go until the end of your street, about 100 m. Then turn left, and walk up! This path is very steep, and cannot be used in winter. Duration: 1 hr.
- There is a fourth path to the left of the "(relatively) easy trail" along the river. It seems counterintuitive as there is no incline to start with, but you can navigate around the mountain, slowly making progress uphill, following a beautiful stream and the helpful arrows painted onto the rocks. Looking up you'll see the other 2 non-road paths and feel like you have done it wrong, but upon finishing you'll have a terrific view of the church from a distance with the mountain backdrop and you'll be easily able to join the other 2 paths and feel smug that you didn't have to navigate too many steep hills compared to everybody else.
Many taxis (mostly in the main square) offer a return trip to Gergeti Trinity Church from Kazbegi for 40 lari. This is almost a scam, since this is 6 km from the city, and it is much nicer to climb yourself (see above). But if you are unable to walk that distance, or in a hurry, why not. Try to bargain as much as possible!
There is now a new ATM in town at the bank branch of 'Liberty Bank'. Its 200 m from the main square, next to the Mini-Markets. The bank also exchanges money and opens around M-F 10:00 - 17:30 also open Saturdays but a bit shorter. The money changers right on the main square has horrible rates.
There are few restaurants in the town, it's easier and cheaper to get the food at your guesthouse. Hotel Stepantsminda has a restaurant and the hotel next door as well.
There are some small shops just of the main square, in the direction of the 'center' (big sign on the side of the square).
Bar - Karaoke - Restaurant "COZY CORNER" in Kazbegi does some excellent barbeque skewers (the vegetable ones are incredible so there are vegetarian options!) and of course karaoke for later in the night.
The café Shorena's hotel & bar restaurant (right on the main square) has decent prices for food and drinks, and provides free Wi-Fi. English-speaking and French-speaking staff. Update: The place is rather nice but the prices are unexpectedly high and the portions are very small (but food itself is good as usual). For example - chicken shish costs 9 laris but only contains 4 small pieces of chicken.
Plenty of homestays, with older ladies swarming any arriving mashrutka. Expect to pay 15 lari/person/night for a bed, 30 lari to include dinner and breakfast. Most of the cheaper guesthouses and hostels are on the other side of the river. Walk a few hundred meters north, cross the bridge to the left and then take another left after three hundred meters.
- Hotel Stepantsminda on the main square.
- B&B Iago Arabuli in Juta (nice homestay in remote Juta in Sno Valley, 40 lari per person with delicious Georgian food, tel 593422951.) Great starting point for hiking tours.
- Anano's Guesthouse: newly added top floor with several rooms, private and shared bathrooms. Less than 5mins walk from the main square. Family provides breakfast and dinner and they even pack some lunch for your day trips. 40 lari per person. email: email@example.com phone: +995 593 34 42 74.
- Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, 1 V.gorgasali St, Stepantsminda 4700, Georgia, ☏ . A beautiful, luxury hotel with a gorgeous terrace overlooking the Caucasus Mountains. The hotel has a pool, a sauna, a massage room, and a menu of mixed European and Georgian cuisine. It also offers tours of nearby sites. US$150+. Keep an eye out for discount codes..
- [dead link] Rhezo Guest House, Gergeti, ☏ . The Rhezo guest house - very good location and exceptionally tasty food. Solo Kazbek climbers choice! 35 lari.
- Kazbegi Mountain Hut, Gergeti Village, ☏ , . Accommodation for climbers; can arrange guides, horses, porters, etc.
- Ketino's Guesthouse, Qvemo Gergeti Street (Head across the river and take first left.), ☏ , . One of the best guest houses in all of Georgia. The older rooms are spacious and have cool artwork. The value though is in the food and Ketino herself. A stay can include a huge breakfast and Georgian Supra (dinner) that includes flowing wine and chacha and hilarious amounts of food. Ketino is like the Georgian grandmother you never had that will fret about your lack of socks and speaks good English. Tip: discuss the prices and what that includes with Ketino on your arrival. US$15-25.
- Alpenhaus (At the back of the town), ☏ , . Very peaceful bed and breakfast with mountain views and balconies to enjoy them from and the sounds of cows to lull you to sleep as you look out the window from your bed at the starry night. US$70+.
Stepantsminda Medical Centre is tucked behind a couple inactive-looking buildings on the main main (opposite Mountain Freaks Agency). You can get essential medical services here, but very little English is spoken. There is open Wi-Fi so you might use a translator app to describe your symptoms.
Wifi is generally available and good.
- Sno Valley – Visit the villages Sno and Juta. To get there take a jeep from Stepantsminda. It's a long and pretty scary way but really worth it. However, Sno can also be reached on foot from the highway to Stepantsminda, about 4 km.
- Tbilisi – Marshrutkas depart from the main square. Several departures in the morning. In the afternoon, departures at 13:30, 15:30 and 17:00 (last one). Price: 10 lari.
- Russia – Be sure that your citizenship or visa allows you to cross the border before attempting.