It’s possible to visit Abkhazia as a tourist although you should not do it right now. There have been cases of violent assaults on foreign visitors recently, especially in the border area of Gali. And there are still criminal groups organized in the area. Also, if something happens to you, you have to be aware that there is no diplomatic representative to help you. But if you still wish to visit, here are some tips to help you prepare for your trip:
- You should notify your embassy in Moscow about your plans.
- You should carry with you an English-Russian dictionary. There are hardly any people who speak English in Abkhazia.
- Ruble is the currency in the area. ATMs are rare in the country and if you find one, your credit card may not work. There are some exchange offices accepting dollars and euros but, just in case, carry the local currency.
- You should always cross the Georgian border of the Enguri River, 6 miles northwest of the city of Zugdidi. If you visit Abkhazia from Russia, you will be committing a crime in Georgia (entering illegally in the national territory) and they’ll refuse your entry ex post facto (with retroactive effect or force). This means that they will fine you with a large sum of money and you can even end up in jail. The opening hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Entry requirements: if you want to enter Abkhazia, you must have a passport with an expiration date that not less than six months from the day of your arrival. You will need to present the “letter of entry permission” issued by the Abkhaz Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the customs authorities as well.
If you want to get the permission letter, you have to fill out an electronic form that you can download on the web (http://mfaapsny.org/en/consular-service/permission/), fill it up accurately and honestly, and then send it to this e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to send along a scanned copy of your passport.
Recently, the authorities of Abkhazia have enabled an electronic form on the same website that you can fill up and submit the same platform. They usually respond within a week.
Once there, you have three working days to show up at the consular services of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia located in the city of Sukhumi so they can issue your visa. But first, you must pay the 350 rubles of fees via the Sber Bank Abkasii (http://mfaapsny.org/en/consular-service/consular/). Do not lose your visa, because it is the document that allows you to leave the country.
- Abkhazia is one of the most dangerous areas in the border region of Gali. The less time you spend there, the better. To get out of the area, you should take a taxi to Sujumi on the border. You will have to bargain, but the ride is around 65 €.
- Do not walk through the streets at night when staying in town. When the sun goes down, go back to your hotel.
- Warning! If you want to leave Abkhazia: the Enguri border crossing point closes at 7:00 p.m. You should go carefully there in case any unexpected event occurs. Imagine if they refuse you to leave and they just close the border post. Note that there have been cases of people who have been assaulted in the area.
- This is the tourism website of Abkhazia. You can check it out. It will be good for you to prepare for your adventure: http://abkhazia.travel/en/
The War in Abkhazia (by Mikel Venhovens, An Expert in International Conflicts)
Abkhazia is located in the northeast of the Black Sea coast. It limits to the east and northwest with Russia and it shares a de facto border with Georgia to the west. Its territory occupies about 8.700 kilometers and Sujumi is its capital.
On February 14, 1992, a fratricidal war began and lasted for 16 months. On one hand, the forces of Abkhazia fought quite hard, assisted by local civilians and fighters from other countries – mainly from neighboring areas belonging to Russia. On the other hand, the Government of Georgia, fought with forces from the National Guard, paramilitary groups, and volunteers. Abkhazia fought for independence and the Georgian government fought to maintain control over the territory.
There were intense combats by land, sea, and air. Around 8,000 people were killed; about 18,000 were injured and between 200,000 and 250,000 citizens became refugees. The armed struggle ceased in May 1994, when both parties signed the Agreement on Ceasefire and Separation of Forces.
The agreement resulted in the deployment of peacekeeping troops from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which were composed only of Russian detachments and they had to supervise the ceasefire. In addition, a United Nations mission called UNOMIG was deployed to the area to control the conduct of peacekeepers.
The loss of this “little paradise” is one of the most traumatic experiences in the collective memory of post-Soviet Georgia. After the war in South Ossetia in August 2008, Russia recognised Abkhazia as an independent state. At the time of writing this post, only four countries acknowledged their secession: Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru.