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Georgia and Armenia: beautiful places, friendly and knowledgeable guides

This trip was very well organised. Everything worked like clockwork. The itinerary covered the kind of places we wanted to see, but also allowed us some free time (especially in Armenia) to explore on our own. We travelled through some beautiful landscapes, from craggy mountains to lush plains, and visited interesting historical sites and museums. Our guides were excellent - knowledgeable and friendly - and the drivers made sure we got everywhere on time. The accommodation was what we had requested - clean and comfortable but not luxury standard. Our only problems were that the Georgia part of the trip was more strenuous at times than we had anticipated, which was a bit challenging, and the car we had in Armenia was a very bumpy ride in the back. The driver was good, but the suspension wasn't always up to coping with the bumps on the road. But altogether a very good trip.

Kathy, from Hemel Hempstead, UK

Visited Georgia in

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What was good about our local partner based in Georgia?

We always had a very quick response to messages. They suggested an interesting itinerary, we had plenty of basic information about it (we were able to read more about places ourselves), and they included the places we had requested. Our guides were very knowledgeable and gave us a lot of information. They were also happy to talk about modern society, life and politics in their countries, and we had some very interesting conversations. We enjoyed their company. Our drivers were also very good and got us to all our destinations on time. We had complete confidence in our guides and drivers. All our accommodation was good and was the sort of standard we were expecting (middle of the range). Everything went very smoothly on the trip, thanks to careful organisation.

What could our local partner based in Georgia improve on?

We have very few criticisms, but one or two small things could have been a little better. The first itinerary included a visit to the Georgian National Museum on the day it is closed (Monday). Luckily I noticed and we changed the dates. It just needed careful checking before sending us the itinerary. It would have been very frustrating if we had missed the museum. Some parts of the Georgia section were quite strenuous, e.g. the walk up to Gergeti church was described as "leisurely" but for us at our ages (69 and 64) was a steep and exhausting climb. Our guide went slowly at our pace, and we got to the top, but it was demanding. We realised that there is a jeep service from Stepantsminda to Gergeti church and we took this on the way down. It would have been helpful to know about this option beforehand, so that we could decide whether we wanted to pay for it ourselves. A new road is being built, which will be very good when it is open. There is also a jeep service to and from Okatse canyon. We enjoyed the walk there through the woods very much, but were glad to pay for the jeep on the way back. We also found the climb up to Udabno monastery at Davit Gareja was steep and difficult as the path is not good and is slippery with sand. Our guide was very good at giving me a helping hand when I was afraid of slipping, but this climb is not suitable for elderly or unfit people. We would suggest not using the road crossing from Georgia to Armenia which we took from Vardzia to Gyumri. For the last 20 km on the Georgia side the road is very bad. We had to travel very slowly. Our driver Zaza drove with great skill but the road wasn't suitable for an ordinary car (an SUV would have been better). We were concerned that his car might be damaged, and in wet weather I think it would be very difficult to drive on that road. The condition of the road meant that we arrived late at the border. We asked before the trip for advice on tipping our guides and drivers. We come from a non-tipping culture (apart from restaurants) and really didn't know what we should offer. We are used to expressing our gratitude as thanks rather than as money. We usually travel on our own so we have almost no experience of employing guides and drivers. I asked TravelLocal's partner in Georgia for advice but the answer was that we could offer however much we wanted if we were happy with the service, which didn't help us. We still didn't know how much was a fair amount or what the guides expected. We felt that what we were offering was probably much less than we were expecting, but we hadn't budgeted for a large amount. It caused us a lot of worry and embarrassment.

What did you think about the guides or drivers on your trip?

Both our guides were absolutely excellent. They spoke very good English, were friendly and knowledgeable, and it was a pleasure to spend time with them. They each had a slightly different style but both worked to a very high professional standard and we were impressed. For this reason we felt uncomfortable that we really didn't know what would be an appropriate tip. Both drivers were very good and got us to all our destinations on time. The car we had in Georgia (a Mercedes) was a very good car. The car in Armenia (a Nissan) was less good as the suspension in the back was bad and we went over some very hard bumps on the road, so on the less good roads it was an uncomfortable ride. Our Armenian driver was very good and careful, the problem was just the bumpy ride in the back of the car. I would have given 5 stars for the car in Georgia but only 3 stars for the car in Armenia.

What advice would you give to other travellers planning a trip to Georgia?

In Georgia, try to go to at least one of the cave complexes (Davit Gareja, Uplistsikhe, Vardzia). If you pick just one, I would suggest that Vardzia is the best. In Tbilisi the Old Meidan hotel is an attractive, comfortable hotel in a great location. For good restaurants in Yerevan, try Sherep or Tavern Yerevan.

What was the most memorable part of your trip?

In Georgia, probably the cave cities of Uplistsikhe and Vardzia, though we really enjoyed all the different landscapes, especially the mountains. Also the Colchis gold collection in the National Museum in Tbilisi was stunning. In Armenia, we most enjoyed Geghard monastery and also Yerevan, which we found a vibrant modern city.

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