Exploring the wilds of Georgia
Eagle Week to ancient forests by horseback
At the intersection between Europe and Asia, Georgia is a trove of stunning flora and fauna.
Thanks to its unique geographical position – somewhat isolated by mountains and sea yet linked to the major bio-geographical regions of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East – Georgia is one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world, despite its relatively small size.
From the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains, which dominate much of the country’s terrain, and the dense forest and brushland that covers over a third of the land, to the subtropical coastal plains that hug the Black Sea, Georgia’s varied landscapes and climatic zones are home to a unique combination of native species. Among them are 330 species of birds, 48 reptiles, 11 amphibians, 160 fish, and thousands of plants – of which 380 species are endemic.
Less than an hour’s journey from the capital of Tbilisi and easily accessible by bus, the stunning Tbilisi National Park sits on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus within the Saguramo-Ialno ranges. Explore the many hiking trails on foot, by horseback, or take a guided tour for a serene escape from the hubbub of the city.
In the southeastern corner of the country, with a landscape defined by dramatic canyons, jagged peaks, and expansive savanna dotted with pistachio trees, the Vashlovani Protected Areas encompass Vashlovani National Park, Vashlovani Nature Reserve, and three natural monuments: Eagle Gorge, Kaklisyure Alazani floodplain forest, and Takhti-Tepa Mud Volcanoes. It’s best explored by 4×4 under the knowledgeable direction of a local guide, to avoiding missing out on highlights such as million-year-old fossils of flora and fauna, or the archaeological site showcasing the remains of a mammoth.
The largest protected area in the country, at an impressive 400 square miles, is the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, which has 19 trails to traverse. It’s home to growing numbers of brown bear, lynx, red deer, chamois and wolves – although you’re more likely to hear these inhabitants than see them, it’s undoubtedly worth a visit.
Georgia’s very first nature reserve, Lagodekhi Protected Areas – also known as Lagodekhi National Park – is tucked away in the most northeastern part of Georgia on the southern slopes of the Great Caucasus. Characterized by a humid, subtropical climate, the area is an excellent example of the biodiversity that makes Georgia so special. And, thanks to well-marked trails and solid tourism infrastructure, discovering its hidden waterfalls, lakes, and ancient landmarks is easier than you might think.
At the other end of the country in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, the Javakheti Protected Areas are the only place in Georgia where you can find nesting white storks, common cranes, and Dalmatian pelicans. The lakes’ swampy shorelines are also home to waders including the great snipe, northern lapwing, and black-winged stilt. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the spectacle of the greater flamingo gracing the area.
Bird-enthusiasts should travel during autumn to witness the spectacular Eagle Week, when over a million raptors and other migratory birds fly over Georgia on their way from Eastern Europe and Western Siberia to their wintering grounds in Africa. View the spectacle from Batumi Bottleneck, a mere 10-kilometer-wide pass through which the birds travel. There aren’t many sights that beat that of thousands of eagles soaring serenely against a backdrop of the dramatic Caucasus Mountains.
For something more adrenaline-packed, drive along the Abano Pass – a road cut into a 45% slope that winds 3,000 meters into the Chanchakhovani gorge, known as one of the most dangerous in the world. Drivers will reach the Tusheti Protected Areas, located in northeastern Georgia and consisting of Tusheti Strict Nature Reserve, Tusheti National Park, and Tusheti Protected Landscape. This area boasts a rich ecosystem and diverse landscape where coniferous forests meet mountain meadows and fascinating historical settlements. Choose one of 13 trails to explore.
To be immersed in nature and experience a unique blend of wildlife in amongst some of the most stunning scenery in Europe, Georgia is a must-visit. And with 40 airlines now traveling direct, it’s never been easier to get there.
Main Images by Nikoloz Mchedlidze.