Kutaisi, Georgia is often overlooked by tourists who enter the country via the local Kutaisi airport, the main hub for low-cost airlines in Georgia. While the city itself isn’t the biggest highlight of Georgia (but still is pleasant enough to spend a few hours in) you can use it as a base for day trips from Kutaisi.
The Imereti region that Kutaisi is the capital of is very interesting and offers a variety of attractions: old monasteries, quirky cities with the Soviet past, caves, canyons and more! This part of the country isn’t as popular as other regions (especially Svaneti or Kazbegi) but definitely deserves your attention. You can actually find some of the best places to visit in Georgia there!
I’ve been three times in Kutaisi, always dividing my time there between the city and its surroundings. During my recent trip to Georgia, I used Kutaisi as my main base to do all the day trips. And I enjoyed them all!
Table of contents
- 1 Day trips from Kutaisi
- 2 The best time to visit Kutaisi and surroundings
- 3 How to organize all the day trips from Kutaisi
- 4 Travel resources
Day trips from Kutaisi
Here is a little overview of all the best day trips from Kutaisi to help you plan your trip to Georgia. As you can see, there is plenty to choose from!
This is probably the easiest day trip from Kutaisi as Tskaltubo is located only some 10 kilometers away from the city and connected with frequent marshrutkas (minibusses). To get to Tskaltubo from Kutaisi you need to take marshrutka no 34 from across the bridge near the Kutaisi market, they depart every 20 minutes or so.
In Soviet times, Tskaltubo was a well-known spa town, welcoming tens of thousands of visitors each year. Even Stalin had its own cottage here and was a frequent guest in Tskaltubo. Today most of the sanatoriums are abandoned or occupied by internal refugees from Abkhazia.
If you like urbex and exploring abandoned places Tskaltubo will be pure heaven for you. Even if in the state of decay, the sanatoriums, hotels or bathhouses are beautiful, with the splendid architecture of the Soviet times (you will find lots of ornaments and mosaics here).
The rumor says the sanatorium will be renovated, some of them are already fenced and protected so you might not be able to enter but overall this is a wonderful place to visit. I spent the whole day in Tskaltubo and still haven’t seen all I wanted to!
The iconic town of old Soviet cable cars can be easily visited as a day trip from Kutaisi. It takes some 2 hours to get there, depending on your luck – you might get the direct marshrutka from Kutaisi or you might need to change in Zestafoni.
Chiatura, the mining town located in the deep valley, is known for the old Soviet cable cars that serve as a means of public transport here. They can quickly take you to the upper parts of town from where you can enjoy beautiful views of Chiatura and surroundings.
The cable cars are rusty and a bit scary but people use them on a daily basis and once you are actually inside it’s not so bad anymore.
You can find the locations of the cable cars on the map in maps.me app but most likely you will use the two from the station next to the bridge, with Stalin’s mosaic and a miner mural.
Apparently these days the cable cars are being renovated so might lose its charm but it’s still worth visiting Chiatura!
On the way to Chiatura, you will see Kathkhi Pillar – an impressive limestone monolith. It is around 40 meters tall, on top you can find a small church and the hermitage.
Katskhi pillar used to be dedicated to the god of fertility therefore it is often known as the Pillar of Life. The two churches you can find on the pillar (one is in ruin) date to the 6th-9th centuries.
In 1993 a local monk, Maxime Qavtaradze, inhabited the pillar – he goes down through a narrow ladder only once every 2 weeks to stock up on food supplies.
Even if it is not possible to go up to the top of the Katskhi Pillar, the place is still worth visiting. You can also see it clearly on the way to/from Chiatura – when you go to the town it will be on your left side when leaving Chiatura – on the right.
Founded in 1106 by King David the Builder, one of the greatest rulers of Georgia, the monastery is located only 9 kilometers outside of the city and makes one of the easiest day trips from Kutaisi.
It is a real masterpiece of the Georgian Golden Age, the period spanning from the late 11th till the 13th century. It used to be the main cultural and intellectual center of the country, often referred to as “New Greece”.
Today you can visit two churches, both with stunning frescoes from the 12th-17th century. It is a truly spectacular place.
When I visited the main church I was there on my own and I was transfixed with its beauty and greatness, I stood still for some 15 minutes, looking at all the details and admiring the frescoes in awe. No wonder Gelati Monastery has made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List, it is a must place to visit in Georgia!
The entrance is free of charge.
Located halfway between Kutaisi and Gelati Monastery, this is yet another example of impressive sacral architecture in Georgia. Motsameta Monastery was built in the 11th century and is beautifully located on the edge of the cliff above the deep valley of the Ckalcitela (“Red Water”) river.
The name of the monastery means “Place of the Martyrs” comes after two brothers from the noble Argveti family who were behind the rebellion against the occupying Arabs in the 8th century.
Motsaneta might not be as stunning as Gelati Monastery but it surely is interesting to visit too. According to the legends, there is a secret passage connecting Morsameta and Gelati Monasteries.
The monastery, together with its surroundings, is one of the prettiest places you will see in Georgia.
The entrance is free of charge.
Prometheus Cave is located only a short ride away from Tskaltubo so you can combine these two places together.
The Cave was discovered in 1983 by the local speleologists but was open to the public only in 2011.
The total length of the cave is around 11 kilometers but the tourist route has just a bit over 1 kilometer and goes through six of 22 halls. At the beginning of your sightseeing, you will hear that there are around 900 stairs on the trail but it’s not as tiring as it sounds!
The cave is beautiful inside, with so many stalactites, stalagmites, and other rock formations. The sightseeing takes around 40-50 minutes, as you walk through the halls lit in bright colors (a bit kitschy, if you ask me) you are accompanied by the classical music playing in the background.
At the end of the tour, you might optionally go for a boat ride inside the cave – I skipped this part but still enjoy my visit at Prometheus Cave a lot, it was beautiful! Maybe not as impressive as Postojna Cave in Slovenia but still pretty amazing.
By the way, the name Prometheus Cave is just a marketing trick but according to the legend, Prometheus indeed was chained to the mountain in this area.
Ticket prices (November 2019):
Entrance – 23 GEL
Boat tour – 17,25 GEL
The walking path in Okatse Canyon is a fairly new attraction in Georgia and this place is definitely not for the faint of heart. It seems like the path is hanging in the air, attached to the rocks.
If you have a fear of space visiting Okatse Canyon might be a bit challenging for you. For others – it is so much fun really! The views you can admire on the way are really amazing and the vast space around can take your breath away.
At the end of the path, you will find the air bridge from which you can admire Okatse Canyon in its full glory. The canyon in the deepest places reaches some 100 meters, you can also spot here some waterfalls.
This is such an exciting place to visit, not only for its beauty but also for the unique experience. The bad news – you need to walk around 900 stairs here and especially on the way back it is exhausting.
From the visitors center (where you have to buy the ticket) it’s some 2,5 kilometers one way to the entrance to the canyon. It’s a picturesque walk through the forest but it is also pretty steep in some parts. The total elevation change from the visitors center to the air bridge is around 200 meters, the round trip is around 7 kilometers and everything takes around 3 hours.
Alternatively, you can take 4×4 from the visitors center to the entrance to the canyon – local drivers will be waiting for you. They charge around 50 lari for the round trip, including the waiting time (you need around 1 hour to walk the path and back), I managed to lower the price to 40 lari which still was a bit pricey but I didn’t have time for walking from the visitors center and back (there was still Martivili Canyon waiting for me and I needed to get to Batumi on the same day). The car ride down to the canyon is a pretty interesting experience anyway.
Ticket prices (November 2019):
Entrance – 17,25 GEL
The impressive Kinchkha Waterfall is located very near Okatse Canyon and you should stop here too when you visit the canyon. The waterfall is 88 meters tall, flowing down the massive limestone mountain.
This is such a picturesque place to relax and have a picnic. If you opt for the 4×4 drive to Okatse Canyon you might talk to your driver to take you here as well.
I wanted to visit Martvili Canyon ever since I saw the picture of boat ride between the rocks. Even though in reality the place was much smaller than I expected, it still didn’t disappoint.
Martvili Canyon used to be a bath area for the noble families, these days it’s a popular tourist attraction near Kutaisi. You can walk along the canyon and admire this wonder of nature with small waterfalls and rock formation.
Additionally, you can go for a short boat ride (some 300 meters) and it is a truly magical experience, although not the most comfortable one (boats are inflatable). You go through a steep canyon, surrounded by rocks and with green, crystal-clear water around. Pure beauty!
I was there on my own (the advantage of traveling in late November) so this definitely added up to the experience.
Ticket prices (November 2019):
Entrance – 17,25 GEL
Boat tour – 15 GEL
Although the popular Black Sea resort and one of the largest cities in Georgia deserves more than just a day, it is definitely possible to visit Batumi as one of the day trips from Kutaisi.
There are so many great things to do in Batumi: walk along the very pleasant seaside promenade (it’s super long, a few kilometers, so you might not have time for the whole path), admire the quirky and modern architecture, get lost in the streets of charming Old Town, take the cable car to Anuria Mountain for the best views of Batumi, visit the amazing botanical garden with some exotic plants, find street art and Soviet mosaics or simply relax at the beach. You definitely won’t be bored in Batumi!
For lunch I recommend trying the famous Adjarian khachapuri – the local version of the most famous Georgian pastry, with the egg inside (I’m not a big fan but I always eat it in Batumi anyway), you can get it in numerous places all over the city.
The best time to visit Kutaisi and surroundings
I did most of these day trips from Kutaisi in November and, if only the weather is on your side, this is a good time to visit Georgia (however, I’d recommend more only April or May). All the places I visited were pleasantly empty, therefore I could enjoy it to the fullest, spend as much time as I wanted to and focus on the place itself, not the crowds around.
On the contrary, I heard that the summer season can be really busy here and that’s especially annoying in Okatse Canyon (where the hanging path is really narrow) and Martvili Canyon (where the river can be full of boats).
The only exception was Tskaltubo, I was there in July, but this place is almost always empty anyway.
How to organize all the day trips from Kutaisi
Now, you have a few options to choose from but, except for Tskaltubo, I would recommend either an organized tour or hiring a driver.
I booked a driver through my hotel in Kutaisi, he charged me 150 GEL for the whole day which might have been a bit too much but I’ve seen all I wanted to and the whole day was just as I planned. I’ve seen Motsameta Monastery, Gelati Monastery, Prometheus Cave, Okatse Canyon, and Martvili Canyon, we also stopped briefly in Tskaltubo to see the abandoned Stalin’s cottage.
The whole trip took 9 hours. I know I could probably find a cheaper option but overall I felt like these were money well spent. And let’s face it, it’s only €50 and I’ve seen a lot on that day.
If I had more time, I would opt for organized tours. You can easily take them from Kutaisi but they cover either the Prometheus Cave and two canyons or the monasteries (since those places are located on opposite sides of Kutaisi).
When I went to Chiatura I used public transport, with the change of marshrutkas in Zestafoni. On the way there everything went smoothly but when I was returning I had to wait for over an hour to the departure, as the marshrutka had to fill up. From the marshrutka, I could clearly see Katskhi pillar on the side of the road but I only passed it by, not visited the sight.
Again, I would consider the organized tour to include the proper visit to the Katskhi pillar on the way.
Tskaltubo is super easy to get to from Kutaisi. Marshrutkas depart every 20 minutes or so, you will find them across the bridge from the Kutaisi market.
The easiest way to get from Kutaisi to Batumi is marshrutka – the Soviet-style minibus that might drive a bit too fast. It costs 15 GEL, takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes, departs from the main bus station in Kutaisi and will drop you next to the cable car station in Batumi.
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