The tour starts from Tbilisi, heading towards Tsalka town, then on to Tabatskuri Lake and the Nisiktskaro Pass, 2,000 m above sea level. From the pass, a dirt road takes you closer to Tabatskuri Lake in which there is a small island inhabited by scoters. This rare bird can only be seen here, and the adjacent village has a trail dedicated to these ducks, leading to the lake.
Note that the lake water is generally too cold for a swim, even in summer.
The section from Tsalka to Tabatskuri Lake has often been referred to as “The Caravan Road” dating back to the rule of Queen Tamar.
From the lake, the road climbs to the beautiful Tskhratskaro Pass (2,300 m above sea level - the name translates as “the place where nine springs meet”) and descends to Bakuriani Resort.
There is a police station at the Tskhratskaro Pass, where you have to present your ID card. Moreover, taking pictures here is prohibited, as this is a sensitive and strategically important point on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
On the first night, you can stay at a hotel or guesthouse in Bakuriani.
Depart from Bakuriani and head to Akhalkalaki through the Tskhratskaro Pass, after which you can navigate your way to Vardzia.
On the way, at the confluence of the Paravani and Mtkvari Rivers, visit Khertvisi Fortress, a medieval fortress built on a high rocky mountain. From here, there is a turn to Vardzia, which is only 16 km away. Tmogvi Castle, another historic castle-city that was destroyed by an earthquake in the 15th century, is also nearby.
The next stop is the rock-carved city of Vardzia and its astounding monastery complex from the 12th-13th centuries.
Stay overnight in Vardzia, at either in a hotel or a guesthouse.
If you want to try local cuisine, be sure to ask for batis apokhti (goose ham) and apokhtis khinkali.
The next day, visit the glorious Akhaltsikhe Castle.
The road then continues to Abastumani, where you can go up to the Zekari Pass. If the weather is clear, visit the famous astrophysical observatory here.
The road then descends to Sairme resort, famous for its mineral waters, which can either be consumed as a drink or applied as a healing treatment. There are two hotels and a spa center in Sairme.
From Sairme, continue on the road towards Kutaisi to spend the third night there.
Spend the fourth day exploring Kutaisi and its surrounds including the Bagrati Temple and the UNESCO-protected Gelati Monastery Complex.
On the way back to Tbilisi you will pass the city of Gori, and on (or rather in) a hill nearby there’s an important historical monument, the city of Uplistsikhe, carved into a rockface. In Gori, you can also visit the controversial Stalin museum.
To travel this route, you will need an SUV or similar vehicle.
Depending on the weather and road conditions, all-terrain or mud tires may be needed.
You should keep your GPS navigation equipment turned on at all times.
In case of emergency, dial 112.