Recently Abkhazia has become a quite popular tourist destination in the post-Soviet territory, so let us talk about a safety of the trip. In this article we describe the main challenges tourists can meet upon arrival in Abkhazia, and we will give general safety recommendations.
Now we live in Sochi and have discussed the safety issues with many people who visited Abkhazia. People entered Abkhazia by train, by car or by tour bus and a lot of them met minor or serious problems during their trip which they shared with us.
You can argue that any tourist may encounter problems in any other country. That's true, you are right. Moreover, most people travel to Abkhazia with no trouble and they are sure it is a safe destination. I would even say that it is possible to have a safe tour to Honduras or Iraq, but that cannot guarantee safety for all tourists. A poor criminal country with the broken economy just cannot be safe. So, it is important to take into account probable safety problems in Abkhazia.
General safety rules for travelers
There are some basic rules for tourists: do not walk alone in dark streets at night, do not leave personal belongings (documents, camera, cell phones and wallets) on the beach unattended, check locks in your apartment, leave valuable possessions in a safe if possible to avoid probable theft and robbery.
The beaches are full of petty thieves. They steal valuables on the beach and from hotel apartments. If you leave valuables in a car, they might be stolen, even your vehicle might be stolen. Actually, in Abkhazia every second car is registered in Russia as stolen. Abkhazia is a place for stolen cars, and Abkhazian criminals prefer German cars like Mercedes and BMW. But any car may be stolen or smashed in attempt to find something valuable inside. Abkhazian addicts or hoodlums can smash glass for a GPS-navigator or even a pack of cigarettes. So, you would better park your car near a police post (for a fee, of course) or on a guarded parking area.
Do not leave valuables in the car for night. Drive only along tourist routes. Mind that you can have problems even at the most popular tourist places in broad daylight. Our acquaintance told about some muggers broking glass in his car glass parked at Lake Ritsa in the afternoon in summer.
Local residents often leave their cars unlocked: they don’t want thieves to smash the glass or to break the trunk lock in attempt to open the car. So, an open car symbolizes nothing interesting or valuable to take – check and leave, hoodlum.
Questionable quality goods
The Abkhazian economy is in a poor condition, quality control and sales licensing doesn’t work properly: in case of justified claim about counterfeit product you are unlikely to get your money back. And you cannot even count for good qualified medical care in case of food poisoning. So, buy food carefully.
The best amusement of merchants worldwide is to push up prices for tourists. Abkhazia is not exception. Local fruit and vegetables prices in summer are even higher than in Sochi, especially in resort towns.
We advise not to buy "homemade" food and preserves – it is mostly cheapie: “homemade wine” sold here and there, in every corner, is more than likely not homemade and not even wine, there are not so many vineyards in the neighborhood to sell such a quantity of good homemade wine.
I cannot claim that all the goods are of poor quality, but make careful purchases. Do not buy if you are not sure in quality: if you don`t know the difference between honey and diluted sugar, you most likely buy diluted sugar for the price of good honey.
Be very careful on the road: most local drivers drive very aggressively, breaking all possible road rules. Even when you are crossing the road on green light, look around.
Boorish behavior is common to not only for expensive powerful car owners, but even for taxi and tour bus drivers. Local drivers easily cross solid double line to overtake or to turn around and usually get away with it. If you speed just a bit and a local car overtakes you at a furious pace right in front of a police officer, be sure, that he will stop you, not a local car.
In the summer of 2016 a local driver crossed solid double line when overtaking on the highway and collided head-on into a minibus carrying Russian tourists. In the accident one tourist was killed on impact, others were hospitalized. And this was a routine case.
Traffic police tries to take a bribe for any excuse and they often just make up a reason. Actually, traffic code violation fines are higher than in Russia, from 1000 to 3,000 rubles. There is unprecedented corruption: until full payment of the fine a police officer confiscates your driver's license, but it is not easy to pay a fine officially. No wonder, most drivers prefer to bribe the inspector who doesn`t mind.
Be very careful while traveling around Abkhazia!