The small town of Stepantsminda in the Kazbegi region of Georgia is one of those places that makes you feel like you have stepped into a postcard.
The imposing jagged peaks all around you don’t even look real – they surround the village on all sides and are so tall that their tops are dusted with snow and crowned with clouds even in the summer. The village itself is a little ramshackle and run-down, but it has a friendly charm and a handful of welcoming restaurants serving up Georgian beer and piping hot khinkali (meat dumplings).
It’s certainly worth a trip while you are in Georgia – so here is our guide to how to get to Stepantsminda from Tbilisi.
How to Get to Stepantsminda, Kazbegi
A marshrutka is a shared minibus shuttle and it is the cheapest way to get to Kazbegi from Tbilisi. Here’s how to take a marshrutka to Kazbegi:
From Tbilisi to Kazbegi:
- Head via metro or taxi to Didube metro station on the outskirts of Tbilisi. When you get there, you’ll find a marketplace area where numerous taxis and shuttle buses are gathered.
- Ask for Kazbegi and someone will point you in the direction of the nearest marshrutka heading in that direction.
- It should cost 10 gel per person for a one way journey. (4 USD)
- There’s no schedule of when they leave. You’ll wait until the shuttle fills up (they can carry about 15 people) and then it will set off to Kazbegi. (Depending on the time of day you might wait anywhere from 5-30 minutes for the shuttle to fill up.)
- The journey will take around 3 hours.
From Kazbegi to Tbilisi:
- The marshrutkas leave the town centre in Stepantsminda from the same spot where they dropped you off when you arrived.
- The cost is also the same – 10 gel per person.
- There is a sign above the shuttle station with the times of when they are leaving. (However, I wouldn’t put too much faith in this sign. They leave roughly every hour, but it’s not like clockwork.)
Important Things to Know About Marshrutkas
- On our way there, the shuttle only stopped once on the three hour journey for a bathroom break, keep this in mind and don’t drink too much water!
- If you are prone to motion sickness, you might find the winding mountain roads pretty nauseating. (There was an American woman on our marshrutka who had to shout for the driver to stop so she could jump out and vomit by the side of the road.) Be prepared and take your motion sickness tablets before you go.
- Let go of your attachment to your own personal space. The marshrutka driver will pack as many passengers in as possible, so you’ll be pressed against the person next to you. Just relax – it’s all part of the travel adventure. I like to take a pair of headphones and zone out with a good podcast or some music.
- If you are visiting during the winter, the roads might be snowed in and impassable and the marshrutkas may be cancelled. (This is what happened to us in January – there had been an avalanche and the roads were blocked so we went to Gudauri instead.)
If you don’t feel like sharing your trip with anyone else, it is possible to book a private taxi from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda. However, this will not be as cheap as the marshrutka. It will cost you around 150-200 gel ($60 – $80 USD). The price will depend on the circumstances, whether or not it is peak season and your haggling skills – if you have a Georgian friend who can help you negotiate this might lower the price.
If you do take a private taxi, try to arrange for them to do a couple of quick stops along the way so that you can squeeze in a bit of extra sightseeing – such as in Mtskheta perhaps?
Rent a Car
Last but not least, the other option is to rent a car and drive there yourself. I would only recommend this if you are a confident driver – you’ll be driving along the Georgian Military Road and it can be quite steep and winding – passing through narrow gorges between the mountains.
If you plan to use your car to drive up to the Gergeti Trinity Church while you are in Stepantsminda, it’s important to get an SUV with 4 wheel drive because the road is pretty rough (just a dirt track, really). You can get rent one in Tbilisi for around 150- 250 gel ($60-$100 per day).
Having your own car can be advantageous, as it allows you to explore off the beaten track and go at your own pace. However – be aware that it’s easy to get lost in some areas of Georgia that aren’t very well sign posted, as I learned during my misadventures in Vashlovani National Park.
Can I visit Stepantsminda on a day trip from Tbilisi?Yes, technically you could. It’s a three hour journey each way, so you could get up super early, catch the first shuttle, hang out in the mountains for a few hours and then catch the last shuttle back.
However, why would you? That seems like a long day!
(6 hours in a cramped minibus!) for such a short taste of the mountains. If you have the time I would highly recommend staying at least for one night! There are many affordable hotels available.