Discover the secrets of the Caucasus and Turkey, from Baku to Istanbul

Visit three countries that have taken a big leap into the 21st century, where historical old towns and monasteries sit comfortably alongside towering skyscrapers. Visit one of Europe's largest open-air rock museums, warm your hands against a mountain that is forever on fire, walk through the gardens of a local Kakheti family and talk about provincial life over a hearty lunch. Uncover the centuries-old recipe for producing Georgian wine and learn how to make your own yoghurt. Reconnect with nature on hikes through wooded forests and past the mountainous Chaladi glacier. Indulge your inner history buff as you stand on the steps of the Blue Mosque, wander the ramparts of the Narikala Fortress, learn the secrets of Georgian cheese making and join the homely ruckus of a Turkish tavern. This all-encompassing trip takes you from eccentric Baku, to the lush green slopes of Georgia's Mestia valley and into the crowded spice markets of Istanbul.


Start
Baku, Azerbaijan
Finish
Istanbul, Turkey
Countries
Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey
Style
Original
Theme
Explorer
Code
KFSTC
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why we love this trip

  • Azerbaijan's cosmopolitan capital of Baku is often referred to as the 'new Dubai'. Enjoy a guided walking tour around the city's World Heritage-listed Old Town.

  • Mud volcanoes, ancient mosques, lush forests and tall peaks – the Caucasus Mountains will take your breath away

  • Journey to the Svaneti region, the remote and alluring land of snow-capped mountains, medieval-style tower-houses and a fascinating local dialect.

  • Far from a mere sightseeing tour, this trip is active and hands-on. You'll try your hand at preparing delicious kubdari, hike to the Shkhara glacier and to Soganli Mountain in Turkey.

  • Visit the picturesque Uzungol, the Switzerland of Turkey.

  • With a strong historical focus, this trip is perfect for history buffs.

Is this trip right for you?

  • You will reach a significant altitude on this trip 2,200 metres at the highest point. A good level of fitness is required. That said, alternative activities can often be arranged for those who would prefer not to hike.

  • Cross the border between Georgia and Turkey overland.

  • This trip uses a mix of public and private transportation. While the latter is convenient, public transport in Georgia & Turkey is a great way to experience daily life as the locals do.

  • Photography of sensitive sites such as military bases and power installations is prohibited. You maybe charged a photo fee at some tourist site. Be aware of cultural sensitivities when photographing churches and other religious sites.

  • Please note there is a chance of potential changes to the itinerary due to: heavy rain, flooding and snow at higher altitudes, which often affect roads and bridges making travel difficult or impossible (particularly in remote areas). Landslides are also common.

  • As we don't want you to miss anything, the itinerary is densely packed, so you'll be busy. There will, however, be plenty of free time and opportunity for independent exploration.

  • On some days, there is a lot of walking between sights and around towns and cities. While it can be tiring to be on your feet, this is the best way to see a destination. Make sure you bring comfortable walking shoes with good support.

Itinerary

Welcome to Azerbaijan! On arrival at Baku Airport you'll be met by one of our representatives and transferred to your hotel (approximately 40 minutes drive). Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm this evening. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Get to know Baku with a tour of the city, taking in a visit to the Old City, including time at Shemakha gate, Shirvanshakhs` Palace, Maiden Tower, Old Market Square and the Carpet Museum. Don't forget your camera as you'll also see panoramic views of Baku's skyline. Afterwards head out on a tour of the Absheron Peninsula, visiting the Ateshgah fire temple, Mardakan medieval fortress and Yanardagh fire mountain (which is literally on fire). Return to Baku in the evening. 
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Baku - Maiden's Tower
  • Baku - Shirvan Shah Palace
  • Baku - Carpet Museum
  • Baku - Caravanserai
  • Baku - Absheron Peninsula Tour
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Drive to Gobustan and visit the open-air rock paintings museum, a UNESCO heritage site with its own archaeological museum. Enjoy a free afternoon to wander Gobustan National Park before returning to Baku. 
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Qobustan - Petroglyphs
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Have breakfast at the hotel before leaving Baku. Drive to the Caucasus Mountains in the northwest of Azerbaijan, a dry landscape that gives way to a densely forested mountain area. Take part in a yoghurt-making masterclass at a private house in Shemakha. Afterwards head to Lahic, where you'll visit a local copper workshop and get to know some of the locals over tea. Tonight, enjoy dinner with your group and stay overnight at a guesthouse in Lahic (private facilities).
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Samaxi - Yoghurt making
  • Lahij - Copper Workshop
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Special Information
Please note that in case of foggy or wet weather driving conditions in the mountains can be treacherous. If the drive to Lahic is deemed unsafe by your tour leader due to the weather then we will replace the overnight stay there with the town of Qebele (Gabala).
After breakfast, head to Nidj village and meet the native Udin people, the direct descendants of ancient Caucasian Albanians. Later arrive in Sheki and visit Sheki Khans Palace, known for its magnificent frescoes and stained glass. Spend the night at a hotel in Sheki.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Sheki - Sheki Khan Palace
  • Nidj - Udin village visit
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
In the morning visit nearby Kish village and its old pointy spired Christian church. Return to Sheki and visit local craft workshops, where famous 'Shebeke', intricate handmade vitrages, are produced. The afternoon is free to roam the village. Stay overnight at a hotel in Sheki.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kis - Church
  • Kis - Village Visit
  • Sheki - Shebeke Workshop visit
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
After breakfast at the hotel, drive to Lagodekhi at the Azerbaijan-Georgia border. Visit a traditional bazaar and change leader and transportation. From Lagodekhi, travel to the Kakheti region, famous for its wine making and welcoming hospitality. From here, both the snowy Caucasus mountains and bountiful green valleys are visible. Visit a local family and learn about the provincial way of life. Explore the gardens and vineyards and then enjoy lunch, with delicious homemade food, wine and Georgian grapewater 'Chacha'. Later, visit a 300-year-old Georgian wine cellar and taste Georgian wine produced using Qvevri, large earthenware pots. This method of wine making is protected on UNESCO's heritage list and Georgian farmers have used this method for centuries. Continue to the beautiful 18th-century town of Sighnaghi, known for its quaint stone walls, small houses with terracotta roofs and decorated balconies. Admire the picturesque views of Alazani Valley and Great Caucasus mountains. Stay overnight at a hotel in Sighnaghi.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Sighnaghi - Georgian Wine Tasting & Home Cooked Lunch
  • Sheki - Bazaar
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
In the morning drive to the David Gareja caves, a rock-hewn monastery carved into the stark semi-desert landscape in the sixth century. After seeing the Lavra Monastery, walk for about 50 minutes up a steep hill to the Udabno Monastery. This monastery features wonderful painted caves and dramatic views across to Azerbaijan.

Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • David Gareja - Monastery Complex & Hike
  • Udabno - Udabno Monastery
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
Good physical condition is required to walk up to Udabno monastery as the walking time is around 2.5 hours (round trip). We recommend long trousers as there can be snakes in the area on occasion as well as sturdy shoes appropriate for trekking.

The exact line of the Georgia–Azerbaijan border up here has not yet been finally demarcated, and you may find Azerbaijan border guards patrolling here; they are not normally any hindrance to visiting the caves unless there is a flare-up of border tensions. In the case of border tensions we will not visit this site. Later drive to Tbilisi and enjoy an afternoon of free time. Stay overnight at a hotel in Tbilisi.
Today, explore the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. Wander the old districts of the city, which are structured like terraces, and walk through the narrow streets to appreciate the colourful houses, patterned balconies and revamped modern architecture. Start the tour from the 13th-century Metekhi church, with its magnificent views over old Tbilisi. A stroll along winding little streets takes us to the main sights of the city. Afterwards enjoy the panoramic views of the whole town and climb the battlements at the ancient Narikala fortress. Later explore the historical domed sulphur bath area and learn how this precinct is connected to the name of the city. Take the afternoon to continue exploring, perhaps visit the Museum of History and see the treasury as an optional extra, or why not try a spa for yourself. Spend the night at a hotel in Tbilisi.

Farewell to the group members who will not be travelling on to Turkey tonight.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tbilisi - Old Town Walking Tour
  • Tbilisi - Narikala Fortress
Optional Activities
  • Tbilisi - National History Museum - USD5
  • Tbilisi - Sioni Cathedral - Free
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Tonight is a free day for independent exploration until your meet with your new group and leader tonight.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
After breakfast choose to join your leader for a walk around some more sights of the city or spend it enjoying optional activities.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tbilisi - Sightseeing City Tour
Optional Activities
  • Tbilisi - Museum of Georgia - USD5
  • Tbilisi - Museum of Fine Arts - USD2
  • Tbilisi - Sulphur Baths Entry - USD35
  • Tbilisi - Aerial Cable Car - USD1
  • Wine Tour – Kakheti Region (8-9 hours) - USD155
  • Tbilisi - Funicular - USD2
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today, drive 25 kilometres (approximately 30 minutes) to Georgia's ancient capital and religious centre – the town of Mtskheta, which is over 3000 years old.

Visit Mtskheta's top historical sights: Jvari church (6th century) and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century), where the Robe of Christ is said to be buried. Both Jvari and Svetitskhoveli are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Afterwards, continue to the pretty town of Kutaisi, the second largest city in the country (the drive will take approximately 3 hours). Kutaisi is more than 3000 years old, connected to the legend of Jason and the Argonauts, along with his mythical (or is it?) Golden Fleece. Here we visit another significant historical site, the Gelati Cathedral. There may also be time to explore the cobbled streets of the town as you make your way up to the ruins of Bagrati palace and citadel. Spend the night at a local guesthouse in Kutaisi with private facilities.

Total driving time today is approximately 4.5 hours.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Mtskheka - Jvari Church
  • Mtskheka - Svetitskoveli Cathedral
Optional Activities
  • Kutaisi - Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery - Free
  • Iago’s Winery Tastings - USD5
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
After a restful night, visit a local farmers market and a natural grotto filled with stalagmites and stalactites. After lunch get ready for the next part of the tour: a journey to the remote Svaneti region. Svaneti is the highest inhabited area in the Caucasus and is divided in two parts: Upper Svaneti and Lower Svaneti.

Arrive into Mestia, the centre of Upper Svaneti. Mestia is surrounded by mountains, medieval-type villages and disctinctive tower-houses. The famous tower-houses were built to accommodate villagers at times of invasion and violence during the 9th -13th centuries. Around 175 towers still stand today, although many are uninhabited.

The area is home to the Svans, a proud people with a long history of survival in this isolated part of Europe, who speak their own language. Spend the night in a local guesthouse (with shared facilities).

Total driving time today is approximately 5 hours.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kutaisi - Farmers Market
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Drive to the village Lakhiri (approximately 20 minute drive) and start our walk (approx walking time 4-5 hours) in the direction of Mestia. After little uphill walking we descend to the beautiful valley full with blooming flowers and enjoy an amazing view of Chalati Glacier (2300m) and of Mestia Valley with its watchtowers. The paths can be steep and the ground uneven so you will need good fitness and appropriate footwear for this walk. Those not wishing to hike can stay in the village or in Mestia.

Today we also witness the making of Georgian cheese. Cheese is found in many Georgian dishes and is a key ingredient in the famous khachapuri, a traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread which you will no doubt eat plenty of during your time here! Participate in the preparation of another traditional meal called kubdari, a filled bread dish filled with pork and beef that originates from this region.

Total walking time today is 4-5 hours.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Mestia - Kubdari (Cooking- Preparation)
  • Mestia - Lakhiri Village Hike
  • Mestia - Georgian Cheese Making
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Today, visit the World Heritage-listed village of Ushguli, a town around 50 kilometres southeast of Mestia. The village is located at 2,200 metres above sea level, and is one of the highest inhabited villages in Europe. Ushguli is most famous for its abundance of watchtowers – this is where you'll see the famous view of the towers set to the highest mountain in Georgia, the snow capped Mt Shkhara (5,068 metres).

Visit the 12th-century Lamaria Church and walk to Queen Tamar’s tower. Total walking time is 2-3 hours depending on fitness and trail conditions. Those not wishing to walk may stay and explore Ushguli, where there are a few small ethnographic museums in the watchtowers. In the evening you can walk around the village and become familiar with the daily life of the local people. Spend the night in a family-owned guesthouse (with shared facilities.)

Total driving time today will be approximately 3 hours.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Ushguli - Village Hike
  • Ushguli - Lamaria Church
  • Ushguli - Queen Tamar`s Tower
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Today's walk starts from the guesthouse. The route takes us along the river to the base of Mt Shkhara. Fingers crossed for great weather! We will have a picnic lunch today. The walking trail ends at the Shkhara glacier, where the Enguri river originates below. In the afternoon, return to Mestia and stay overnight in the guesthouse.

Approximate walking time is 5-6 hours. If you do not wish to walk, please discuss options with your leader in advance.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Ushguli - Shkhara Glacier Hike & Picnic
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Drive to the Black Sea coast and the city of Batumi, with its waterfront parks and beaches. You’ll have a chance to walk around the town of Batumi and see its tastefully restored Old Town. Stay overnight at a hotel in Batumi.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
In the morning take part in a short city tour. Afterwards drive to a Makhuntseti waterfall for a short walk. Return to Batumi for an afternoon of free time.
Batumi has such a relaxed atmosphere and great restaurants and nightlife
The town in more recent years has been renovated, new architecture has sprouted up, including a small forest of eye-catching tower buildings. Batumi quickly gained the reputation of one of the Black Sea's top resort magnets, with a great party scene in summer.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Batumi - Makhuntseti Waterfall
  • Batumi - City Tour
Optional Activities
  • Batumi - Qemal Turmanidze Ethnographic Museum - USD10
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today travel to Sarpi, a village at the border of Georgia and Turkey. At this point, you'll be meeting up with a new leader and changing vehicles. Bid farewell to Georgia! Don't be too sad, as you'll have the sights and sounds of Turkey to keep you excited. The bus journey will take around 2.5 – 3 hours. Once you've arrived at the green plateau of Ayder, there will be a quick orientation walk followed by free time. Tonight enjoy a BBQ dinner.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
This morning go for a hike around Ayder and the Çat Valley. Stop and marvel at the beautiful Palovit fountains on the way. Stop for lunch at an authentic Çamlıhemşin house. The rest of the afternoon is free for you to do as you wish.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Ayder - Cat Valley, Zilkale and Palovit Fountains
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Today head to Uzungöl, which means ‘long lake’ in Turkish. Like Ayder, Uzungöl is a great spot to relax and enjoy easy hikes. It will take 2.5-3 hours to get to Uzungöl. After arriving, head out on a trek to Soğanlı Mountain. The rest of the day will be free for you to relax. In the evening, we recommend joining your leader for a traditional Turkish dinner.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Uzungol - Soganli Mountains Hike
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Drive to Trabzon, a city on the Black Sea coast of North Eastern Turkey. The bus journey will take around 1.5 hours. Once you arrive in Trabzon, take city tour, which includes a local tea tasting, a visit to the Sumela or Vazelan Monastery, Trabzon's own Hagia Sophia and Atatürk’s Palace.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Trabzon - Trabzon Castle
  • Boztepe - City Tour (Hagia Sophia and Atatürk’s Palace)
  • Boztepe - Samovar Tea Tasting
  • Sumela or Vazelan - Monastery Visit
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
This morning drive to Trabzon airport and fly to Istanbul, the biggest and most crowded city in Turkey! After checking into your hotel, head out for a wander around the old city of Istanbul. Visit Sultanahmet Square, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and Suleymaniye Mosque, and finish the walk around the spice market. You have an option to join our Homecooked Istanbul Urban Adventure tour or enjoy a farewell dinner at a local meyhane (Turkish tavern).
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Istanbul - Old City Walking Tour (Half Day)
Optional Activities
  • Istanbul - Homecooked Experience - Free
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Sadly, your trip come to an end today after breakfast at the hotel. If you'd like to stay on in Istanbul to further explore the city, we are happy to organise extra accommodation (subject to availablity).
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

23 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 7 dinners

Transport

Private Bus, Plane

Accommodation

Hotel (17 nights), Guesthouse (6 nights)

Included activities

  • Baku - Maiden's Tower
  • Baku - Shirvan Shah Palace
  • Baku - Carpet Museum
  • Baku - Caravanserai
  • Baku - Absheron Peninsula Tour
  • Qobustan - Petroglyphs
  • Samaxi - Yoghurt making
  • Lahij - Copper Workshop
  • Sheki - Sheki Khan Palace
  • Nidj - Udin village visit
  • Kis - Church
  • Kis - Village Visit
  • Sheki - Shebeke Workshop visit
  • Sighnaghi - Georgian Wine Tasting & Home Cooked Lunch
  • Sheki - Bazaar
  • David Gareja - Monastery Complex & Hike
  • Udabno - Udabno Monastery
  • Tbilisi - Old Town Walking Tour
  • Tbilisi - Narikala Fortress
  • Tbilisi - Sightseeing City Tour
  • Mtskheka - Jvari Church
  • Mtskheka - Svetitskoveli Cathedral
  • Kutaisi - Farmers Market
  • Mestia - Kubdari (Cooking- Preparation)
  • Mestia - Lakhiri Village Hike
  • Mestia - Georgian Cheese Making
  • Ushguli - Village Hike
  • Ushguli - Lamaria Church
  • Ushguli - Queen Tamar`s Tower
  • Ushguli - Shkhara Glacier Hike & Picnic
  • Batumi - Makhuntseti Waterfall
  • Batumi - City Tour
  • Ayder - Cat Valley, Zilkale and Palovit Fountains
  • Uzungol - Soganli Mountains Hike
  • Trabzon - Trabzon Castle
  • Boztepe - City Tour (Hagia Sophia and Atatürk’s Palace)
  • Boztepe - Samovar Tea Tasting
  • Sumela or Vazelan - Monastery Visit
  • Istanbul - Old City Walking Tour (Half Day)

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. A Single Supplement is available on this trip, excluding some nights at guesthouses/
2. The flight from Trabzon to Istanbul is included in the trip price.
3. High altitudes will be experienced during this trip of up to 2200m above sea level.
4. In the case of a genuine crisis or emergency, Intrepid's local operator Visit Georgia can be reached on: +995 593 99 69 68 and/or +995 599 55 89 98 or in PEAK Istanbul in Turkey on +90 532 641 2822.
5. Please make sure you have access to an additional US$500, to be used when unforeseen incidents or circumstances outside our control (eg. a natural disaster or civil unrest) necessitate a change to our planned route.
6. Your leader will change at the border of each country on this trip.
9. The Azerbaijan Ministry of Foreign Affairs requires that all travel arrangements in Azerbaijan be booked through the same provider. In order for us to process your Azerbaijan E-visa any additional accommodation in Azerbaijan must be booked through Intrepid Travel.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.