Tucked away in the Caucasus, Georgia is sandwiched in-between Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. If you’re looking to expand your overlanding Horizons from Georgia then heading to Armenia is a fantastic idea. Currently, there are three points where you can enter Armenia from Georgia: Sadakhlo, Ninotsminda, and Guguti. On the main road from Tbilisi to Yerevan you’ll find the largest and most commonly frequented border crossing, Sadakhlo, just over an hour’s drive by car from Tbilisi. If you’re heading to Yerevan and you want to make the best time, this is definitely the route for you.
If you’re reading this though, you’re probably not interested in tediously smooth and uninteresting asphalted roads, because where’s the fun in that? You want adventure, excitement, or maybe something a little bit different, and what better way to find it than taking an off-road backcountry route through mountain passes and canyons dotted with great spots to stop and enjoy the view.
In this post, we’ll outline an itinerary to or from Tbilisi and Armenia via the Guguti-Gogavan border.
Route: Tbilisi, Georgia to/from Gogavan, Armenia
Suggested time: 1,5 days
If you’re starting from Tbilisi, head over to the southside around Vake Park and drive up the road to Tskneti. Drive on through the village, and shortly afterwards you will pass a viewpoint looking over the Vere River valley where you can still see the damage the 2015 flash flood caused. Continue your way until you see the turn for the Betania Monastery, built under Queen Tamar’s rule. If you’re feeling up for a side trip, take a turn here and head down into the valley, where you’ll find your first off-road stretch with some pretty steep and rocky sections. When you make it all the way down you’ll come across the remarkable monastery complex looming up above. Stay a while, enjoy the silence, the serenity, and take a walk around.
When you’re done, head back up the way you came onto the main road and cruise for a while on the asphalt until you come upon the village or Orbeti. Here the fun starts again on an unpaved road, which leads you along the Trialeti National Park and the Birtvisi Canyon. If you’ve got the time to stop and roam around, both the National Park and the canyon have some great hiking opportunities.
Once you reach Tbisi, continue in the direction of Tetritskaro on the main road and there take a turn to Bolnisi. The next stretch is quite an interesting unpaved pass, taking you through the Khrami Canyon. If you’ve got time it’s well worth the detour to Samshvilde Fortress, where you can enjoy stunning views over the canyon and get a peek at snow-capped mountain ranges all the way over in Armenia.
A short drive further down into the canyon you will find some nice meadows and picnic spots, making it a great place to stay for the night. Depending on the season the river here is a great spot to cool down by.
The next waypoint is Bolnisi, a village with an interesting history. Previously named Katharinenfeld, it was home to 95 German colonist families. You can also find the oldest dated Christian structure of Georgia here. A few kilometres outside the city the St. Peter and Paul monastery is located high on a hill, overlooking the agricultural fields of the Kvemo-Kartli region.
The last stretch of this route leads you down winding roads through beautiful valleys. Make sure you stop at the Dmanisi archaeological site where the earliest evidence of early humans outside Africa was unearthed. Here you’ll find a small open-air museum where the skulls are displayed.
The last few kilometres along your route to the border are in a very poorly maintained state, with large potholes everywhere. The silver lining to be found here is the lush beech forest all around. Once your reach the border you should find it quite painless and efficient on both sides. A small stand selling Armenian car insurance just after the Armenian border checkpoint.