Slide Show of Visit to Abkhazia

Background on Abkhazia

Abkhazia is a de facto independent country on the Black Sea that broke away from Georgia in a 1992-1993 war that killed about 8,000 people, an enormous number considering the size of the population. It is recognized by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru. Its de facto currency is the Russian ruble.

It's pre-war population was about 500,000. After the war, 200,000 to 240,000 ethnic Georgians fled. Now about 200,000 mainly ethnic Abkhaz live there. To understand the history, consult a map and read the informative Wikipedia article.

Background on my Visit

Abkhazia is listed as one of 320 countries by the Travelers Century Club. It is also on the master list. In April 2010 while I was visiting Sochi, site of the 2014 Olympics, I decided to make a day trip from Sochi to Sukhumi, capital of Abkhazia. I took a taxi from my hotel in Sochi to the border where I was met by a car, driver and an English-speaking guide. We drove to Sukhumi stopping on the way to take photos.

Entry Formalities

About a million Russians visit Abkhazia every year because it has a mild climate, borders Russia and no visa is required for Russian citizens.

For US citizens, the procedures are a bit unique, and, unfortunately this seems to be what American tourists emphasize when they talk about Abkhazia. First an Entry Permit Letter is obtained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by submitting a visa form (via UTS in my case), and receiving an email with the attached Letter. This took several weeks. The Letter is presented at the border to gain entry, then the visa itself is obtained in person at the Foreign Ministry in Sukhumi. Another interesting aspect is that the modest fee for the visa must be paid for at the near-by bank with the receipt shown to the Foreign Ministry to obtain the visa. All this is done in a friendly way.

General Comments on My Visit

Abkhazia is safe, and it feels safe. There is no street crime. There is de facto stability in the political situation with Georgia. I did see a couple of Russian tanks, but found that it added to the tourist experience, and did not seem menacing.

The small population gives a small scale, small town feel to the country. On the other hand, you can see from the highway the highest mountains in Europe, the snow-capped Caucasus.

Abkhazia was in isolation for years, but is now rebuilding. The restoration of public buildings has started. There is some war damage still to be seen, but I was struck by the quality of the architecture of these mildly damaged buildings. Again this seemed to add to the tourist experience.

Abkhazia has a very mild, sub-tropical climate along the Black Sea, and it reminded me of the Adriatic. The country has a lot of natural, unspoiled beauty, and an untouched quality that is rare to find. The people are friendly.

Specific Comments on My Visit

These comments will introduce the slide show below.

The country is uncluttered with few houses along the highway and with several attractive public buildings. The sea shore has clear water and a pebbled beach. There are a number of war monuments and memorials to the 1992-1993 War.

Stopping along the way, there were a number of nice discoveries from interesting trees, to black swans, to a shell-shaped bus stop shelter, to river views, etc.

In Sukhumi, there were many buildings with interesting architecture and architectural details like the Chanba Drama Theater. The wedding party seen on the road (white car) was seen in person. Old men enjoyed their games of chess and backgammon.

We had lunch enjoying local food in a vine-covered restaurant then walked along the shore seeing local sights and people. There was a WWII memorial with a classic statue.

The Foreign Ministry was housed in a substantial building with a row of the colorful Abkhazian flags. Strolling around the city, we discovered a free exhibit of women's fancy riding clothes from the 19th century.

On the return trip to Sochi, we stopped at the New Athos Monastery high in the hills. It is being restored. The sight of the Caucasus is unforgettable in full sunlight.

Slide Show

Below is a 6 minute, 70-photo slide show of my visit to Abkhazia.

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