Trans Eurasia travel

Bus & Marshrutka

Tbilisi has three long-distance bus and marshrutka stations: Didube (the main hub for national transport), Ortachala (for Kakheti, Armenia, Turkey and Greece) and the main train station (for western Georgia and further Yerevan services).

Didube bus station (347239; Tsereteli; Metro station 'Didube') is a sprawling chaos outside Didube metro station. In the first yard you reach, just outside the exit tunnel from the metro, you’ll find marshrutkas to Gardabani, Borjomi, Bakuriani and Akhaltsikhe. A second yard, straight ahead from the metro tunnel, then across a small road and behind a line of buildings, is the departure point for marshrutkas to Mtskheta and Kazbegi, and the bus to Barisakho. For further services walk 300m to the right along the abovementioned small road. Here you’ll find the Okriba bus station on your left, with buses to Kutaisi, and two chaotic yards on your right, with marshrutkas to Gori, Kutaisi and Batumi and further marshrutkas to Borjomi and Akhaltsikhe. Buses to Gori leave from the back of the first of these yards.

Ortachala bus station (753433; Gulia 1) is something of a backwater, about 2.5km southeast of the Old Town. From here marshrutkas depart for Yerevan (30 GEL, six hours) via the Sadakhlo border point, Vanadzor and Sevan, hourly from 7am to noon. Note that if you want to get off before Yerevan, you still have to pay the full 30 GEL fare. Marshutkas leave for Qax, Azerbaijan (10 GEL, five to six hours), via the Lagodekhi border crossing, at 8am, 11am and 1pm. A minifleet of four or five buses run by different companies departs at noon for Istanbul (US$40, 27 hours) via the border at Sarpi, Hopa, Rize, Trabzon (US$25, 11 hours) and Samsun. There’s also a minibus to Trabzon (US$25, 11 hours) at 8pm by Golden Travel  tel. 877457680), and a 6am bus by Özlem Ardahan (tel 899919958) to Istanbul (US$50, 27 hours) via the Posof border point, Kars, Erzurum and Ankara. For the truly hardy, several companies run buses to Thessaloniki and Athens (€100) from Ortachala.

You can reach Ortachala on marshrutka 94 from in front of Tbilisi’s Borjomi train station via Marjanishvili metro station, Vardebis Revolutsis moedani (lower level), Tavisuplebis moedani and Gorgasalis moedani. Bus 55 runs to Ortachala from Vake via Rustaveli (it stops opposite the Opera House) and Tavisuplebis moedani, and marshrutka 150 runs between Didube and Ortachala bus stations.

Further marshrutkas to Yerevan (30 GEL, six hours) go from the front of the main train station, on Vagzlis moedani, at 8am, 10am, 1pm and 5pm. Further marshrutkas and buses to Kutaisi, Batumi, Zugdidi and Poti depart from a yard at the back of the main train station on Tsotne Dadiani. There is no bus or marshrutka service from Tbilisi crossing into Azerbaijan via the Krasny Most border crossing. If you don’t want to take the train, fly or go via Lagodekhi, you have various choices.

Coming from Turkey, you're most likely to travel by bus (the rail link to be built from Kars to Akhalkalaki will not be finished until 2012 at the earliest). There are two routes, along the Black Sea coast to Batumi, and by the Vale border crossing to Tbilisi; a third crossing is planned at Qlldir.

For the first route, fly, sail or take a bus to Trabzon (there are no-frills airlines plus several buses per hour from Istanbul, taking around 18 hours for the 1,110km journey and costing US$25-38; flying is usually not much more expensive); from here buses run east to Нора every half-hour, taking three hours to cover the 165km (US$10). From Trabzon Airport head south (with the sea behind you) to the main road; just to the right is the stop for minibuses to the bus terminal and town centre, while 200m to the left (at an overpass) is a stop for buses to Нора. There are a couple of decent hotels, and various fleapits, in Нора, which is also served by one or two buses a day from Erzurum, which is five hours to the south and can be reached from Istanbul (via Ankara) by the Dogu Ekspresi sleeper train.

The border crossing at Sarpi, another 20km to the northeast, is effectively a huge bazaar, and there's plenty of transport on both sides of the border. It costs US$2 in a minibus, US$4 by shared taxi or US$15 by private taxi from Нора to Sarpi, and GEL1 (US$0.50) by minibus or GEL9 by taxi onwards to Batumi; remember to put your watch forward two hours. Avoid the through bus which leaves Trabzon at 16.00 and Нора at 19.00, as this can take between four and eight hours to cross the border, due to the large amounts of merchandise to be negotiated through customs, and it'll get you to Batumi in the middle of the night; but if you want to go all the way to Tbilisi, it'll get you there in the morning for US$20. However, there are direct minibuses from Trabzon to Batumi (and on to Tblisi) from mid morning onwards, leaving from just outside the Trabzon Otogar, which are a better bet.

To reach the Vale crossing, take a train or bus to Kars, then a minibus to Posof (4hrs), then a taxi or minibus via Turkozu and Eminbey to the border (30mins) and finally a taxi (on a very bad Georgian road) to Akhaltsikhe (US$25). The Vale route is used by through buses from Istanbul and Ankara to Tbilisi (and on to Baku), costing US$25 from Ankara and US$40 from Istanbul. It's a 42-hour marathon, but there are also buses between Yerevan (Armenia) and Tbilisi, as well as minibuses and shared taxis, and a train (see above). The buses are slow, taking seven to eight hours for about 250km, and cost US$15 (in Tbilisi buy tickets at Kassa No 3 at Ortachala). There are about six a day, leaving between 08.00 and 15.30 and at 19.00. Hourly marshrutka minibuses are a better bet, taking five to seven hours and costing US$20; you can also go to the bus station and wait until a shared taxi is full. This trip will take five or six hours and cost about US$35, as long as all four seats are taken. The road via Sadakhlo is in a poor state, but allows you to stop at Sevan en route to Yerevan; buses usually take the route to the west via Bolnisi and Tashir, which has less traffic and a quicker border crossing. These roads should be rebuilt as part of an international project to improve infrastructure in the Armenian-populated areas of Georgia.

A few buses run from Vanadzor and Gyumri (in Armenia) to Tbilisi. There's also a daily bus from Yerevan to Akhalkalaki (8hrs, US$7), continuing three times a week to Batumi (15hrs, US$25). Take your own food and drink.

From Baku to Tbilisi there's less traffic so you're less likely to find a taxi; the train is slower and far more erratic than the Yerevan service. There are a few buses 14hrs), mostly coming through from Turkey; ask at the offices of the Turkish companies at Ortachala. There's also a daily bus via Kazbegi between Tbilisi and Mineralni Vodi in the Russian Federation, continuing several times a week all the way to Moscow (US$60); however, Westerners are not allowed to use this border crossing (although flying to Moscow is fine, with the required visa).

Tbilisi to Baku: Pay a taxi driver US$10 per person in a shared taxi to take you to the Georgia-Azerbaijan border. You will be dropped off at the border and then cross it by foot. Once on the Azerbaijan side, you will easily find buses, many taxis and some mini-vans (marshrutkas) that can take you to Baku. A ride in marshrutka would be around 10 AZN/EURO per person to go to Baku from the border. The ride will take around 6-7 hours, larger buses cover the distance for around 8 hours. Though some may think this is a sketchy way to travel, it will surely be felt more "authentic."

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