I don’t remember how I found out about the city of Chiatura, Georgia. It’s not the most obvious destination for travelers exploring one of my favorite countries ever, most people focus on stunning Tbilisi, Black Sea resort Batumi, magnificent Caucasus mountains or wine region Kakheti. Even I, during my first visit to Georgia back in 2011, had no idea the place like Chiatura exists.
But the moment I saw the picture of rusty cable car going upwards almost at the right angle I knew I had to go there! It took me a while but I finally reached Chiatura and had a wonderful time in this kind of forgotten town.
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Short history of Chiatura
Chiatura is a fairly new city. It was established at the end of the 19th century, when the manganese and iron ores were found in the area. Shortly after numerous mines were opened and already in 1905 the manganese production here was 60% of the global output.
Chiatura was also the only Bolshevik heartland in Georgia during 1905 Russian Revolution. After years of prosperity these days Chiatura is a sleepy town that lives at its own pace, hidden in the mountain valley at the outskirts of the country.
How to get to Chiatura, Georgia?
Couple of years ago the low cost flights started serving Georgia, flying to Kutaisi located more or less in the middle of the country. While many complain it is not to convenient, especially if you want to go to Tbilisi (which is 4 hours away by bus) it has some advantages too and a close proximity to Chiatura is one of them.
During one of my latest trips to Georgia I’ve decided to head to the city of Kutaisi instead of directly to Tbilisi or Batumi, as always, and from there go to Chiatura for a day trip. I heard that there is one direct marshrutka (mini bus) from Kutaisi to Chiatura at 10 in the morning but when I got to the bus station no one seemed to know about it.
However, I was taken care of anyway, after all it’s Georgia and once again I was lucky to experience its amazing hospitality (that sadly slowly fades away). I was taken to the marshrutka that was about to go to Zestafoni, a nearby town where I was supposed to catch another one for Chiatura.
When we arrived to our first destination I was ready to leave with all the other passengers in the center but the driver told me to stay inside so he could take me to the bus station. Once there he walked with me to the ticket office and explained I’m heading to Chiatura so already others could take care of me and eventually put me in the right marshrutka and told the driver where to drop me off.
Less than 2 hours after leaving Kutaisi I was already in Chiatura, ready to explore. By the way, I would have probably managed all of this by myself but if you’ve seen how the Georgian language looks like you’d know how much of a challenge travelling around can be and the help of locals was invaluable in this situation!
Chiatura cable cars
The main reason why I wanted to visit Chiatura so badly were all the crazy, rusty cable cars. The reason why there are so many of them is due to the town’s location, deep in the valley.
Cable cars were introduced in Chiatura in 1954 as part of the public transport system – they were (and still are) the best way to quickly get around the town as they drastically reduce the time of the journey, what takes half an hour by car can be done in 5 minutes by cable car.
According to my map there are still 17 cable cars around – finding them all and riding all of them can keep you occupied for hours! There are operated either by the town or by the mine – the later one is free of charge but even when you have to pay for the ride it’s a very small amount of money (like 0,10€/010$).
Before arriving to Chiatura I marked couple of centrally located cable car stations on the map. Back then I still wasn’t sure if I would dare to ride them as a friend of mine who professionally works in cable car designing warned me before going. Since the opening in the 1950s hardly any renovations have been done and when he said he wouldn’t want to risk riding Chiatura cable cars I started having doubts too.
The first of the cable car stations I’ve found, next to the river and close to the train station, was going through the renovation (or at least I hope so but it could have been about to be destroyed too…). That’s when the first wave of disappointment came as that was the station with lines going in three different directions – it must have been so amazing to see it operating at the peak hours!
Shortly after I found another station and bummer – this one wasn’t working either but at least the car was hanging above the street. I saw the picture of this station from the 1960s and over the years nothing has changed here, only the advertisements appeared on the car. That says a lot about the condition of the infrastructure in Chiatura…
I crossed back the river only to see yet another car hanging above but not moving in any direction. At that time I started questioning the whole idea of visiting Chiatura – was it really worth all the efforts? I mean, I liked the industrial feel, all the railway tracks, the Soviet style architecture and a mosaic with Lenin and Stalin I found on the wall of another station but that’s still not why I came to Chiatura!
I was ready to admit the defeat and head back to Kutaisi but I’ve still decided to check the station inside. And that’s when the whole adventure began!
Riding cable cars in Chiatura
As I entered the building a nice lady was about to board the cable car and depart all the way to the upper part of the town. She asked me if I’m going too and I happily agreed, feeling all giggly and excited. If I had any time to think about it I don’t think I’d have been brave enough to enter the car but as the situation surprised me I ended up being totally spontaneous – and now I’m glad I did!.
The car was really rusty and probably last washed back when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union. I literally could see nothing through the windows, they were so dirty. But after a short chat in my poor Russian a nice lady saw I’m probably feeling slightly uncomfortable but also curious and managed to open the window so I could admire the views outside. And those were really stunning!
Even if it was a gloomy November day the autumn colors peek through and seeing from the high up the deep gorge / valley Chiatura is located at was just breathtaking. The journey that I was dreading so badly turned out to be a rather enjoyable one as soon as I focused on the views and not the cable car itself, and it passed by way too quickly for my taste.
Once up I was feeling ecstatic, I could hear the adrenaline trembling in my ears – it was a mix of disbelief and pride that I managed to overcome my fears and ride this damn cable car. Now even I’m laughing how silly that sounds!
But then I’ve realized that if I went up I have to as well get back to the center somehow and after quick check on the map taking the road wasn’t really an option as it would have taken me way too long. While waiting for the ride back down I had time to finally see how old and rusty everything is and I can’t say it calmed me down even the slightest.
But then more and more people came to take the cable car down and I figured it can’t be that bad if they are using it on daily basis and all is fine. And it was! This time I couldn’t enjoy the views properly as the car was packed and only then I’ve realized how long the journey really is – a solid few minutes. OK, it might not sound like too much (comparing to let’s say Tatev in Armenia) but in this particular place it felt like ages.
Once I was safe and sound where I started again I felt the joy taking over me and on the wave of this excitement I’ve gladly agreed to take another cable car that was located just outside the station’s building. This one however was more of a challenge.
It was tiny and with no windows at all – there were couple of round holes that used to be windows but most of them were boarded up with thick net so you barely could see what’s outside – in a way it was good as the cable car was going up in a really crazy steep angle and I would have probably freaked out if I could see it properly. Going up for few minutes in a tiny, dark and rusty box was definitely among the most thrilling and craziest experiences in my life but it actually wasn’t as bad as it sounds!
Once on top I could admire Chiatura in the full beauty – even in the gloomy weather it looked spectacular as the location of the town is really breathtaking, deep down in the gorge! There were also parts of mine’s infrastructure but those looked really creepy and could as well be part of horror movie’s scenery!
The ride down was even more thrilling – there was something uncomfortable with the feeling of rushing down in a tiny, metal box that should be out of use ages ago and seeing the town through the net getting closer and closer every second. Fortunately all was fine and I arrived to the lower station safely but I must admit my legs were slightly trembling when I left the cable car.
But again, I was more than ready to check even more rides! Too bad I couldn’t see any working ones nearby, I so would have taken them! According to maps.me there are 17 cable cars in Chiatura and surroundings but I’m not sure how many of them actually works – from 6 I’ve seen in the center only 2 I took were operating.
Some of them are located outside of the center so you need your own car / a car with the driver to take you there but I honestly don’t know if they operate or not – friends of mine did such a tour around in summer 2016 and some of them were working just fine.
What to see in Chiatura, besides cable cars?
But Chiatura is more than just cable cars! The walk around the center was really pleasant and if you like the Soviet architecture (I do!) you will appreciate the place even more. Even the weather at that point was getting better and better but it was time for me to leave so I could get back to Kutaisi at the decent time. I was lucky as this way I found the direct marshrutka and even if I had to wait for a long while (almost one hour) it was still much more convenient than going again via Zestafoni.
On the way, not far away from Chiatura, I could see another of Georgia’s top tourist attractions – Katskhi pillar – a 40 meters high monolith with a small monastery on top (unfortunately it’s not accessible anymore). If you’re visiting the area by car this should be your must stop too! If, like me, you’re using the public transport be sure to sit on the right side of the bus when leaving Chiatura – you will see the pillar just fine!
Is it worth to visit Chiatura, Georgia?
At first I was slightly disappointed with Chiatura and wasn’t so sure if it was worth going all the way there just to see rusty cable cars. But as soon as I started riding them my impressions changed dramatically!
Visiting Chiatura is until now one of the craziest travel experiences I’ve ever had and I’m really hoping to return there to ride all available cable cars!
If you like quirky places then this one is definitely for you and Kutaisi makes a perfect base for a day trip to Chiatura. It just might be not the best idea to visit the town in November, like I did, as the weather can tricky but I’m sure you’d enjoy the place anyway!
Chiatura – practical information
I flew to Kutaisi with low cost airline Wizzair – they operate from numerous airports in Europe and even if their tickets aren’t so cheap anymore it is still a good option to get to Georgia. You can also fly to Tbilisi and reach Chiatura from there – apparently there are some direct marshrutkas, the journet time should be between 3 and 4 hours and I expect the ticket to be around 5€/5$. Anyway, I always search for flights at Skyscanner as I love their options “anywhere” and “anytime” – you can look for and book your flights to Georgia here!
In Kutaisi I stayed at Green Flower Hotel – it has amazing reviews on Booking and I can definitely recommend it too. It is some 10 minutes walking from the center but the view from the balcony is really amazing. You can check more details and the current prices of the hotel here.
I haven’t checked any restaurants in Chiatura but I stoped by at the local bakery and had one of the best khachapuris in Georgia, for like nothing! The bakery was located in the center, in the building close to the bridge.
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