Everybody knows Russia has annexed Abkhazia, but people are still busy keeping up appearances. Georgians keep up the illusion Abkhazia is still a part of Georgia. Abkhazians keep up the illusion that it is somehow a separate country, as do the Russians. It all makes for complicated reading, but getting in and out of Abkhazia is possible and not all that difficult. Don’t forget to read Abkhazia visa!
For an exact location of these and all other border crossings on the Silk Road, see the border crossing map on the overview page.
Exit and entry: important notes
Exit and enter from the same border. If you enter from Russia and exit to Georgia, you will have illegally entered Georgia according to Georgians, who see Abkhazia as part of their country. Recent info seems to indicate this route has been decriminalized, and no longer carries prison sentence, but only a fine. Estimates of the fine range from 400 to 2000 lari.
We cannot say for sure it is not going to land you in prison: it might.
Entering from Georgia and exiting to Russia is possible, but unadvised. You will not be able to visit Georgia on the same passport, but it is unclear how well their database works if you return to Georgia with a new passport – it seems currently you can still get away with that, but once again, we cannot guarantee. It is also a bit tricky as Russian border guards don’t stamp you in when entering Russia from Abkhazia, possibly leaving you with awkward questions when exiting Russia; they do stamp the immigration card so be sure to keep that one.
If you want to leave Abkhazia via Russia you need a Russian double, multiple or transit visa. In case you have a single-entry Russian visa, you can apply for a transit visa in Sukhumi to the Consular Office of the Russian Embassy in Abkhazia (Zvanba Street 9) , which enables you to exit the country through Russia.
Russian transit visas are issued within 5 working days.
The Russian Embassy in Abkhazia will not issue transit visas to the citizens of these countries:
Algeria, Angola, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Iraq, Iran, China, North Korea, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Syria, Somalia, Chad, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia.
Abkhazia – Russia border crossings
Psou – Adler: The Russian guards do not stamp your passport at this border and sometimes questions can occur. It helps to save the Abkhaz visa, and be sure to keep the immigration card. The border control does stamp the immigration cards that are handed at your entrance into Abkhazia and taken away during your exit from Russia. During re-entry from Abkhazia you will receive a new immigration card (that is why you need a valid re-entry documentation) which will be stamped with your entry date, you will submit this at your final exit from Russia.
Info on public transport from and to the border is welcome.
Georgia – Abkhazia border crossings
Inguri: From Zugdidi, a taxi costs 10 lari, a marshrutka is 3 lari. At the Georgian border, don’t say Abkhazia is a country. It’s a part of Georgia, obviously. You will be questioned about your profession and why you want to go to Abkhazia. You are a tourist and want to see all of Georgia. You then walk across the river (it’s not far, no need to take a cart across). Marshrutkas from the border straight to Sukhumi are available and leave when full. Otherwise, marshrutkas to Gal are also possible, from where you can take another transport to Sukhumi. Go back as you came.
Your visa is not stuck into your passport – when leaving Abkhazia, take it out of your passport as the border guards don’t tend to do this, and the Georgians will not be happy to see it. Some more questions by the Georgians, then you’re off. Buses at the border go to Zugdidi or straight to Tbilisi (15 GEL).
Zugdidi to Sukhumi or reverse takes minimum 5 hours, so make an early start. Border opens at 8am, closes at 7 pm. Don’t forget to exchange lari into rubles before you enter Abkhazia from the Georgian side, or to have dollars on hand, there are few if any options to exchange lari once in Abkhazia.
A good travel tip: dress inconspicuously. There are tons of Megrelians crossing to and fro, since the border shot right through the heart of the Samegrelo region, with split families on both sides. Guards do not stop locals at all. So if you’re Caucasian, dress in black only (that’s what the Georgians and Megrelians do), and do not carry a western-style big backpack, no-one’s gonna stop you, let alone question you. Which makes you also safe from any possible criminals targeting obvious tourists. Black trousers, black shirt (and maybe some black cap and shades, if you’re fair-haired and blue-eyed) and it’s much faster and easier. Leather jacket is a bonus.
Some more good info from Daniel Hamilton: It is well known that the area immediately surrounding the ‘line of occupation’ is a dangerous one with Abkhaz troops and various bandits extracting bribes from visitors to the territory with relative impunity. The LonelyPlanet forums are full of examples of cases where tourists have faced threats and violence at the border.
You have two options when you have through customs – taxi or bus. If you opt for the bus (as I did) then the most usual way to travel to Sukhumi is to go from Inguri up to the town of Gali where buses then connect on to Sukhumi.
Gali is now the only truly multi-ethnic part of Abkhazia and is home to the majority of the 40,000 (out of 250,000) Georgians who have returned to their homes since the end of fighting. The town is also dirt poor and entirely overlooked by the ethnic Abkhaz administration; full of shattered and bombed-out buildings and riven with organised crime. As a non-Russian speaker, I was as keen as anything to avoid having to loiter in Gali to pick up a connecting bus so was delighted when a bus running directly Sukhumi turned up.
Speaking subsequently to some Georgian friends in Zugdidi, they told me that my decision to make an early start was a wise one as muggings and hold-ups in Inguri are at their lowest in the morning, increasing steadily until the Abkhaz close the ‘line of occupation’ at 19:00. You are apparently most likely to find a direct service to Sukhumi if you are there when the border opens at 08:00.
Given that even a direct service from Inguri to Sukhumi takes at least two hours, I have also been advised that those returning to the Georgian side make an early start so as to avoid potential hold-ups such as bogus document checks in Gali that could see you stranded in the dangerous border area after 19:00.
The drive to Sukhumi is beautiful and depressing in equal measure.