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Land Travel between Eastern Turkey and Georgia

Land Travel between Eastern Turkey and Georgia

Old Dec 29, 18, 4:44 am
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Question Land Travel between Eastern Turkey and Georgia

I'm considering a trip that would involve a land crossing from Trabzon to Batumi. Would anyone have advice on how best to accomplish that?
It appears that rental cars from Turkey can not be dropped (or even driven) across the border. I've also come across references about bus connections by metroturizm.com.tr either to Batumi or to the border, where presumably taxis or other transport might be available. Unfortunately, that company website shows only a single route with a very poor timing (arrival close to midnight). There was also an old review mentioning horrible condition of their equipment.

I could really use more recent data points for that part of the world.
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Old Dec 29, 18, 9:41 am
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Romanianflyer has a good current TR that I think will help you: Khachapuri and Kebabs: A Summer Adventure in Georgia and Turkey
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Old Dec 29, 18, 11:16 am
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I can't comment much on rental cars, but I wouldn't be surprised if most rental car companies would indeed not allow you to take a rental car out of the country (or charge hefty surcharges for additional insurance/paper work for each day you take it out). A one-way rental across the border sounds pretty much impossible.

As for buses, I took the exact same Trabzon-Batumi direct bus some 7-8 years ago and if memory serves well there were buses at least every four hours or so. Of course, that is hardly reliable information which you need, so let me give you an alternative which might be useful for you where I can vouch that the information is up to date.

There definitely are very regular buses from Trabzon to Hopa, the last major junction before the Turkish-Georgian border. If you look at a map you see that the road along the Black Sea coast continues from Hopa to Georgia - but most buses will actually take the other road inland from Hopa to destinations such as Artvin. There are hourly buses from Trabzon to such destinations as Artvin - which make an intermediate stop at Hopa. I would therefore just go to the bus station in the morning (or whatever your preferred time is) and ask for a Batumi bus. If there aren't any direct buses soon, ask for any bus to Hopa. Staffers at the Otogar are generally very friendly and eager to help (or to point you at the right company which offers the route if the one you approach doesn't serve it).

Hopa to Batumi is about 38 kilometres - and can be easily done either by taxi or minibus (called 'dolmus' in Turkey). If taking a taxi, it will probably be much more expensive (and time consuming due to border facilities) if you take a taxi all the way so I would recommend it to do in two stages (to the end of the road at the Sarp border, and then from the Georgian side of the border called 'Sarpi' to Batumi). I took the reverse route last summer, doing Batumi to the border by taxi, and onward by minibus (the taxi Batumi to the border was just a few euros only - alternatively, there is a minibus here too).

If you want to do the Turkish stretch from Hopa to the Sarp border - chances are that you need to do it in two stages. First a minibus from Hopa to Kemalpasa, then another from Kemalpasa to the Sarp border. These are very, very frequent (you probably won't have to wait longer than 15-20 minutes for each) and will cost you around 1 EUR each at most. Even with a change at Kemalpasa, you can easily reach the border from Hopa in less than an hour.

Border facilities are quite straightforward (but can get busy in summer when lots of people try to jump the queue and shove their way forward) but arguably much better going into Georgia than returning to Turkey. Make sure you have at least some Turkish lira with you to change to Georgian lari to cover the transport into Batumi.

I estimate that from Trabzon you are probably looking at a 4 to 5 hour journey depending on the amount of changes and queues at the border (be it crossing as pedestrian or for a direct bus to wait in a queue of cars/other buses). In any case, I would feel very confident myself to do this journey just by turning up in the morning at the Trabzon bus station - it really all is relatively straightforward!

About bus quality I don't have too much experience as I tend to avoid buses unless it's really not possible otherwise as in general I just think they are all about equally discomfortable. Metro is however the biggest (or among the biggest) bus company in Turkey, so in general they have a good record and buses on par in quality with other companies.
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Old Dec 30, 18, 1:45 am
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Just finished reading Romanianflyer's Trip Report! Many kudos to the author for such vivid and detailed descriptions and photos. Will definitely look forward to his remaining reports from that trip. Based on what I've read so far, I'd want to incorporate a visit to Ani into my travels as well. I'd also like to get close to Mount Ararat, although I'm not sure how much of that area is accessible to casual hiking.

In the process of looking up Kars, I came across references to the recently completed Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway. Passenger train traffic is scheduled to begin in Q3-2019. Hope the actual start will be close to that target. I'm guessing that some of that delay is related to the new train technology of adjustable wheel base. This railroad uses sections of wide (Russian) and standard width track. In the past, moving a train between different gauge tracks required changing the wheels. Passenger cars were actually lifted and suspended during the process. Adjustable wheel technology will make all that unnecessary.

Like Romanianflyer, I would also prefer to avoid bus travel if a rail option existed. The promised BTK passenger service will be a very welcome development. If that happens, I would not mind skipping Batumi, as I've visited there in the past.
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Old Dec 30, 18, 7:05 am
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Originally Posted by MaxVO View Post
Just finished reading Romanianflyer's Trip Report! Many kudos to the author for such vivid and detailed descriptions and photos. Will definitely look forward to his remaining reports from that trip. Based on what I've read so far, I'd want to incorporate a visit to Ani into my travels as well. I'd also like to get close to Mount Ararat, although I'm not sure how much of that area is accessible to casual hiking.

In the process of looking up Kars, I came across references to the recently completed Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway. Passenger train traffic is scheduled to begin in Q3-2019. Hope the actual start will be close to that target. I'm guessing that some of that delay is related to the new train technology of adjustable wheel base. This railroad uses sections of wide (Russian) and standard width track. In the past, moving a train between different gauge tracks required changing the wheels. Passenger cars were actually lifted and suspended during the process. Adjustable wheel technology will make all that unnecessary.

Like Romanianflyer, I would also prefer to avoid bus travel if a rail option existed. The promised BTK passenger service will be a very welcome development. If that happens, I would not mind skipping Batumi, as I've visited there in the past.
Thanks for reading it!

I was indeed hoping myself for the train line to be operational when I visited last summer, but unfortunately that was not the case. It is completed from Kars to Georgia/linked up with the Georgian railway network, but they are still waiting for delivery of the railway wagons/locomotives (I believe from Stadler) which would allow them to automatically change the gauge of the trains when crossing at slow speeds instead of lifting up each wagon individually. You are correct that it's planned for Q3 2019 according to the latest estimates (should be a real possibility given that the line has been completed already since a few years and train deliveries are generally done according to planning and are not prone to delays like infrastructure projects are).

It would make for a fabulous journey once completed - I did the Kars to Ankara line on this trip and the scenery was absolutely stunning. I just wonder how they will deal with the increase in train traffic (especially freight) as much of the line from Kars deeper into Turkey is single track for miles with little to no passing spots.
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Old Dec 30, 18, 8:51 am
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Originally Posted by MaxVO View Post
Based on what I've read so far, I'd want to incorporate a visit to Ani into my travels as well.
A friend of ours was at Ani two or three days ago. Here is his iG picture.
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Last edited by SanDiego1K; Dec 30, 18 at 8:59 am
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Old Dec 30, 18, 4:50 pm
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Originally Posted by SanDiego1K View Post
A friend of ours was at Ani two or three days ago. Here is his iG picture.
Great winter shot, and a welcome reminder that seasons at those higher elevations are much different than the coastal parts of Turkey. Btw flights between NA and DOH often pass over Eastern Turkey, with Mt. Ararat being prominently identifiable even from a distance.
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Old Dec 31, 18, 10:03 am
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Ani must indeed be spectacular in bleak winter weather as well. I hope to return one day in winter and compare how it is with summer.

And yes the winter season there is highly different for sure, it is not uncommon to get bogged down in metres of snow (as the Russians and especially Turks found out the hard way when fighting in the area in World War I).
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Old Dec 31, 18, 10:28 am
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My friend took the train from Ani to Ezurum, a four hour trip. This train goes on to Ankara though he will fly back to Istanbul. He posted a number of pictures on iG today of structures in Ezurum, all very interesting.
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Old Apr 28, 19, 7:11 pm
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High Speed Rail Update

Just came acrosss an update on the development of passenger train service between Kars - Tbilisi - Baku in this article. The break-of-gauge section was successfully tested with an actual sleeper passenger train that will run this route. There was no update on the firm service start date, but it's still projected to be in Q3-2019.
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Old Jul 9, 19, 4:21 am
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August 2019

Turkish Railways published a more detailed Announcement, according to which passenger service on the entire line Ankara - Baku will start in August 2019. Trains have been delivered, and are ready to go. Unlike the older trains, these also have a dining car. Fares for the whole journey will be in the range 50-120.
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Old Jul 10, 19, 4:11 am
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Originally Posted by MaxVO View Post
Turkish Railways published a more detailed Announcement, according to which passenger service on the entire line Ankara - Baku will start in August 2019. Trains have been delivered, and are ready to go. Unlike the older trains, these also have a dining car. Fares for the whole journey will be in the range 50-120.
Thanks for the information. Assuming that the prices are one-way, I guess it would be still cheaper to fly unless if someone would board the train somewhere east of Ankara.
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Old Jul 10, 19, 4:39 am
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Originally Posted by ISTFlyer View Post
Thanks for the information. Assuming that the prices are one-way, I guess it would be still cheaper to fly unless if someone would board the train somewhere east of Ankara.
I understood that the estimate was given for the entire journey one-way, with the range covering various classes of service. Airfares from Ankara within Turkey are usually cheap, and may indeed be under 50. But I'm not seeing flights to GYD being less than $100 o/w. In any case it's a tourist train with its main attraction being the scenery, not the fastest or cheapest transport.
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Old Jul 11, 19, 3:14 am
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Train Photos

This Turkish Rail Review site in English published interior photos of the new train. The Economy section looks seriously uncomfortable, especially for a 40 hr journey. But the Sleeper compartment seems rather comfy, and includes a private WC/Shower.
I could not find any reference to a schedule, even tentative. Perhaps others can contribute that info.
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Old Jul 11, 19, 6:26 am
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Originally Posted by MaxVO View Post
This Turkish Rail Review site in English published interior photos of the new train. The Economy section looks seriously uncomfortable, especially for a 40 hr journey. But the Sleeper compartment seems rather comfy, and includes a private WC/Shower.
I could not find any reference to a schedule, even tentative. Perhaps others can contribute that info.
The economy section looks like a refurbished version of current sleepers in Turkish trains. The seats *are* indeed uncomfortable in day-mode when you sit longer than an hour. That said, I always found mattresses and seat in bed-mode to be extremely comfortable on Turkish trains. I expect this would be similar.

I would however personally opt for a private luxury sleeper as this would still be perfectly affordable at about the price of a flight ticket - and at least guaranteeing yourself some good sleep if travelling alone (single occupancy) or with your partner.

I couldn't find any timetables so far - the train has not yet been loaded into the Turkish online booking website when I checked two days ago (I would love to make the journey when it starts to run - or at least as far as Tbilisi as I guess I would still need a visa for Azerbaijan as I'm not sure if their e-visa is valid at land borders).
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