Unless you are a citizen of the few friendly states that recognize Abkhazia as an independent republic, you will certainly need to obtain permission and visa to visit this little forgotten paradise. This is the way we entered Abkhazia from Georgia in February 2014. Conditions and procedures may change.
1. Apply for a permit
Download an Abkhazian permit application for at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fill it in (where it asks for the hotel, just find one online that you like, or write “accommodation in private guesthouses” no proof of reservation is required.
Scan or photograph your passport. And send it together with your application form [email protected] (Even if you write in English, you will be responded in Russian, so have your online translator nearby).
**We sent the applications for 2 people in one singe email and received a permit with both names in one page, which is ok if you are travelling together, but might not be a good idea if you are several people entering on different dates. So one email per application would be advisable.
Officially the waiting period is 5 days, but in practice it seems to be longer. If you do not get a reply within 5 working days we would recommend writing them (after 10 days waiting we had to re-send our application as they said they had no record of it, but they must have found our fist applications after a while because we ended up getting two permits for different weeks – the wonders of bureaucracy!)
3. Print the Entry Permit Letter (Clearance letter)
It is a simple letter, in russian language that gives you access to Abhazia for an specified interval of time. It might be wise to print it twice, as the border police will keep one at the passport control upon entrance to the territory of Abkhazia, but any further patrol or police control between the border and Sukhumi they may want to see a proof of your permit to be in their territory too.
4. Head to the border
The actual border is around 5 km walk from Zugdidi. If you do not fancy walking for an hour you can, of course, hitchhike or take a marshrutka or a taxi. The border is at the end of the village Rukhi, so there are cars going there.
Check the border opening times at the Foreign Minister website and in any case make sure you are there early and with light. There might be heavy traffic at the border and police controls are sometimes long, plus you would not like to be stuck at night around Gali unless you have some friends over there
5. Cross to Abkhazia
The Georgian police will not stamp your passport, as this is not considered an official exit from Georgia. However, they will scan it and keep track that you have crossed towards Abkhazia. If they ask you why you are going there you may say “All Georgians told us it is really beautiful” or something of the sort (avoiding any political or conflict implications)- they will probably coincide and just let you pass.
After you cross the bridge that separates Georgia proper from Abkhazia, you will go through 2 police controls. The first one will require to see your passport and permit, ask some questions about your visit (remember you are a tourist, curious to see a beautiful land) and may open your bag to check you do not carry guns, narcotics or explosives (make sure you leave these at home). The second control will carefully – very very carefully – examine your passport and request the printed copy of your permit..
If you have been attracted by the unusual local crowd and means of transport carrying people across the bridge and have taken any photos in between one land and the next, beware that the Abkhazian border police will probably request to see the contents of your camera and ask you to delete any photos taken at or near the border. So don’t waste your time and avoid taking pictures unless you are fast at changing SD cards .
6. Obtain your visa in Sukhumi
To reach Sukhumi you can either get on a marshrutka (50 R.to Gali + 200 R. to Sukhumi) or try hitchhiking. However, hitchhiking around Gali proved to be a bit dodgy and if you do not have a lot of experience and confidence, or are not ready to jump out of a car, you might be safer taking the regular transport. And if you still decided to walk or hitchhike (like us) and do not feel comfortable with your driver, kindly ask him/her to drop you at any of the police posts on the road (there is one after every town).
Once in Sukhumi, head on to the Consular Office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Lokanta Street). If you can’t find it easily ask at any travel agency for “Ministry Abkhazian Visa”- in English or Russian if you can, they may be able to direct you with words or signs.
To obtain the visa you will simply need to show your passport (do not worry anymore about the permit that the police kept) and pay a fee of 10 USD + 1 USD bank commission (even if you pay at the bank, or at the consular office, in dollars on in rubles, the bank charges the commission for some incomprehensible reason).
7. Keep your passport and visa safe but at hand
The visa is a paper not stuck to your passport, that you will need to show (and give) at the border for exit.
During the time of our visit, probably due to Sochi Winter Olympics, we were asked for our passports at least 2 times per day. Make sure you are showing your documents to an identified policeman. If by any chance you lose or are stolen your passport, it might be pretty hard to obtain a new one, as your country will most certainly not have a consular office to aid you (someone on the net explains he was aided in such an emergency by Peace Corps, but we can’t find the article at the moment).
8. Go back out through the same border
There are only two ways to reach Abkhazia, and two ways to get out, via Russia or via Georgia. For the first one you need a visa in advance, for Georgia you will just need to walk out of the border the same way you came in. Remember to make your way there early enough, we had to wait around 2-3 hours at a packed border gate.
HAVE A WONDERFUL TRAVEL! And if you are curious about our adventures in Abkhazia, just read this post.