Georgia is a land of great contrasts. At 27,000 square miles, just slightly larger than the state of Virginia, it contains three very different climate zones and a wide variety of typography, including everything from frigid mountain regions with more than 700 glaciers to subtropical zones so lush that it is considered one of the most beautiful vacation spots in Eastern Europe. The country is bounded by Russia in the north, Turkey in the southwest, Armenia in the southeast, Azerbaijan in the east, and the Black Sea on the west. It is separated from Russia by the Greater Caucasus mountain chain, with the highest point being Mount Shkhara at more than 17,000 feet. Slightly farther to the south and west, bordering Turkey, the Lesser Caucasian mountain range rises to points below 15,000 feet but still offers a rugged, Alpine climate. Another mountain range, the Likhi, divides the country almost in half down the middle. The country has six mountains over 15,000 feet and 10 more that are over 12,000 feet. More than half the land in Georgia lies higher than 1,000 feet above sea level.
The mountain ranges, along with the Black Sea, serve to divide the country into its various climate regions. A humid subtropical climate dominates in the western part of the country near the Black Sea. Here, temperatures are very moderate, reaching slightly below freezing in the winter months and reaching into the high 70s Fahrenheit during August, the hottest month. This northwestern region bordering on Russia, called Abkhazia, was once the most popular resort area in the Soviet Union but since 1991 has suffered due to civil strife. The mountain Alpine climate is very cold, with highs of just 50–60 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August, and lows well below zero for as long as five months in the winter.
To the east of the Likhi mountain range, the country is much hotter and drier. Annual precipitation is 50–110 inches and temperatures can reach into the 90s. This area has more plateaus and flat lands. The country has heavy snowfall in the mountains, but the melt does not produce lakes. The largest, lake Paravani, is just 14.4 square miles. Lake Kartsakhi is 10 square miles. The country also is dominated by just one main river, the Kura, which starts in Turkey and flows east through the capital, Tbilisi, and then through Azerbaijan to the Caspian Sea. In total, it travels nearly 850 miles. In western Georgia, the Rioni and Inguri Rivers flow from the mountains to the Black Sea. Several other rivers, all shorter than 500 miles long, flow north into Russia and eventually to the Caspian Sea.
There is little in terms of freshwater lakes and rivers in any part of the country, but Georgia has much water lying below the surface. The country has more than 2,000 mineral springs capable of producing more than 130 million litres of water a day. Georgia also has a great deal of limestone, which has washed out into areas to produce a large network of caves across the country. The Pantiukhin cave is more than 5,000 feet deep. Because it has high mountains, a subtropical coastline and near-desert terrain, the vegetation of Georgia is extremely rich and diverse. It contains nearly every type of habitat found in Europe, as well as several found in Asia.
There are more than 100 different species of animals in Georgia. There are more than 300 types of birds, more than 50 different reptile species, about a dozen amphibian species, more than 150 different types of fish, and several thousand different types of small sea animals such as mollusks. Even more important than the variety, however, is the fact that the country is home to more than 60 different animal species that are considered rare, threatened, or endangered.