In this review we will travel by bus from Batumi, Georgia, to the city of Kars in Turkey.
After a fun two days in Batumi it was time to move on and make my way into Turkey.
There are a lot of possible directions in which you can head from Batumi, with Trabzon and Kars arguably the two most interesting destinations in the vicinity of the Georgian-Turkish border.
Although it was tempting to revisit Trabzon and the impressive Sumela Monastery, I decided to head to Kars.
Not only are there a couple of great sights to see in and around Kars, but it made most sense for onward transport links as well.
Kars is the end (or start, depending on how you look at it) of the gorgeous railway line to Ankara on which I would travel in a few days time.
Although this railway line has now been extended into Georgia and is operational for freight trains, there are still no passenger services between Turkey and Georgia.
As long as there aren’t any trains linking the Georgian capital of Tbilisi with Kars and Ankara, you therefore have no other option than flying or taking a bus when travelling between Georgia and Turkey.
Batumi to Kars
Although there are direct buses from Batumi to destinations in Turkey such as Trabzon, Ankara and even Istanbul, there isn’t a direct bus to Kars.
However, there are buses to Kars from the Turkish town of Hopa just across the border from Batumi.
I managed to buy an online ticket from Hopa to Kars (€10 with the exchange rate at that time) at the website of bus operator Yesil Artvin – which even let me choose my exact seat in the bus!
Getting from Batumi to Hopa is straightforward.
You can either hop on of the long-distance buses linking Batumi with cities further afield in Turkey and simply get off at Hopa, or do this part of the journey in stages by minibus.
The latter is certainly a cheaper, more frequent and faster option as you can walk across the border instead of having to wait in a long queue of buses and cars.
This was therefore the option which I decided on – and below you can see how the journey exactly looks like.
From Batumi to the Turkish border
Even though the distance between Batumi and Hopa is just 37 kilometres and my Hopa-Kars bus would only depart at 10.30am, I decided to leave Batumi at the break of dawn.
With online information being scarce about travel between Batumi and Hopa, I had no idea how long it would take and I really didn’t want to take any chances of missing the bus departure to Kars.
Although there are marshrutkas (minibuses) linking Batumi to the Georgian side of the border at Sarpi, I decided to take a taxi given that I had quite some luggage and I didn’t feel like searching for the marshrutka departure point in the wee hours of morning.
Fortunately, I managed to hail down a taxi quite easily from the main seaside road near my Batumi apartment despite it being 5.30am in the morning.
At less than 10 euro, I even managed to arrange a fair price for the ride to the border.
Of course, I probably still overpaid for it, but I didn’t feel like haggling more at this hour as I was still tired and the taxi in question was a comfortable Mercedes.
The road from Batumi to Sarpi was gorgeous as it hugged the coastline was gorgeous, with the first rays of sunlight illuminating the lush, subtropical forests on the mountains in the interior.
At the Georgian border
The taxi dropped me off right at the border, where a huge crowd had already assembled.
It seemed like half of Turkey was on holiday in Georgia and now wanted to go home.
Foot and bus passengers have to walk through a special passenger entrance with their luggage in order to clear passport control and customs.
Unfortunately, the Georgians only let some 50 to 100 passengers through at a time in order to prevent overcrowding inside the building, which meant that things were moving rather slowly.
Needless to say, this resulted in a huge rugby-like scrum of people trying to position themselves in front of the gate, hoping to be let in when the next batch was allowed access into the facility.
I have seen my share of disorganised border posts before, but this one surely ranks among the top.
Don’t expect any proper British queuing etiquette and be prepared to shove your way forward.
I could perfectly understand now why the last Georgian road sign you see wishes you “good luck” instead of “goodbye”.
The Turkish border
Having played some rugby in my university days, I was however able to get fairly easily through the scrum.
It took me perhaps 20 to 30 minutes from the moment I arrived at Sarpi to reach the Turkish border post, which is called Sarp.
The Turkish border almost resembles an airport, although one without an actual runway and planes.
However, there is an airport-like luggage check with X-ray scanners when you head into Turkey.
Although I was carrying copious amounts of Georgian wine in my trolley bag being way over the legal import limit, the girl sitting behind the monitor of the X-ray scanner didn’t pick it up or simply wasn’t interested.
As I bought an online e-visa the day before, passport formalities were rather more straightforward, even though I lost another 40 minutes queuing at the Turkish border.
Overall, it took me just over an hour to get across from Sarpi in Georgia to the twin border town of Sarp at the other side in Turkey.
My first order of business was changing some of my Georgian lari to Turkish lira, something which I probably should have done already in Batumi or at the Georgian side of the border where you can find a couple of exchange offices.
As I wasn’t able to find any open exchange office, let alone an ATM, I asked around at the border where I could do this.
Fortunately, a taxi driver approached me and said that I could exchange the money with him for a decent enough rate.
However, it did require some haggling as his starting exchange rate was way too low.
Sarp to Hopa
With some Turkish lira in my pocket, I went looking for a way to get to Hopa.
You can either take a taxi all the way, or go by minibus (which in Turkish is called a dolmuş).
As taxi drivers wanted to have way too much money for the ride and I still had plenty of time left, I opted for the dolmuş.
To reach Hopa from the Turkish border, you have to take two dolmuş rides, which will cost you around €2 at most (probably less now after the huge devaluation of the Turkish lira).
From the actual border, the first dolmuş will only take you as far as the small bus station in the main settlement of Sarp some five kilometres south of the border.
Fortunately, there was a dolmuş to Hopa waiting to depart at the moment I arrived there, so I could almost immediately continue my journey.
About half an hour later, I found myself at Hopa’s bus station (called Otogar in Turkish) with lots of time to spare until the departure of my bus to Kars.
In total, it took me less than an hour to get from the Turkish border to Hopa, which includes time spent looking and waiting for the first dolmuş and exchanging money.
Although I was happy to have arrived on time in Hopa, it soon started to dawn on me that I still had to kill some hours at the bus station and that there was absolutely nothing to do around here.
There are two small cafés at Hopa’s bus station but that’s about it.
I decided to sit down, drink a tea, and eat a simit (Turkish-style bagel).
That said, even in hindsight I would probably not have departed later just to have some peace of mind and not be stressed during the journey whether I would will make it in time or not.
Luckily enough, the manager of the office of my bus company was friendly enough to share the office WiFi password so at least I could kill some time on the internet.
Bus to Kars
My bus to Kars arrived spot on time at the Hopa bus station, having started its journey about an hour earlier in the seaside city of Rize.
Fortunately, I managed to pre-assign window seat 1D when I booked my bus ticket online.
This gave me some great views from both the front window as well as to my right, something which would come in handy as the bus ride to Kars can only be described as spectacular.
Shortly after our departure from Hopa we entered a long tunnel right across the coastal mountain range.
While the weather in Hopa was cloudy, it was completely sunny at the other side of the coastal mountains when we came out of the tunnel.
The first couple of miles the bus follows a small but pretty stream which eventually flows into the Çoruh river (also known as the Chorokhi).
This river has been dammed at multiple places by the Turks, which has created some huge artificial lakes.
As the road hugs the shores of this artificial lake, there are some wonderful views from the bus window.
The first stop on our journey to Kars was the city of Artvin, an important regional hub where many passengers alighted.
Artvin seemed to have an interesting geographical setting being built on a mountainside overlooking the Çoruh river.
Historically, this region was settled by Pontic Greeks and the Armenians, although it is almost completely Turkish now besides some pockets of Georgian-speaking Laz people.
Even though it isn’t well known outside of Turkey, this region is apparently a prime ecotourism and hiking destination and I could easily see myself returning here once to explore the natural beauty.
Into the mountains
After Artvin, the road climbed higher into the mountains and became even more scenic.
The verdant hills slowly gave way to a more arid landscape of shrubland and bleak mountains, which formed a striking contrast with the sapphire blue waters of the artificial lake.
After some 3 hours on the road – more or less at the halfway point of the journey – we finally stopped for a break.
This rest stop area in the middle of nowhere had a petrol station and two restaurants and seemed like a popular place for buses to stop as two others were parked here as well.
As I wasn’t hungry, I just bought some ice tea and walked across the road to the fast-flowing river running through the valley.
The view was absolutely stunning.
If you would have told me that I was somewhere in a national park in Arizona I would have believed it even though I was really standing somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Anatolia.
Second part of the journey
When we continued the journey I started to get some pains from the cramped seat and started to remember why I hate bus journeys so much.
Compared to travelling by plane a bus is slow, compared to your own car it is inflexible and compared to a train in which you can stand up and stretch your legs it is uncomfortable.
However, the amazing scenery kept me glued to the window and enjoying this journey to the fullest.
At this point, the bus was driving through some narrow canyons and fertile valleys which almost made me feel like I was somewhere in the mountains of Central Asia.
After a while, the single lane roads through narrow canyons gave way to a proper dual carriageway and our bus was finally able to pick up some speed.
However, Turkey is certainly one vast country and distances are big.
As the road quality is not always as good in the more remote parts of Anatolia, always expect the journey to last a bit longer than route planners such as Google Maps say.
Moments later we arrived at the foot of a mountain pass, which slowed the journey down even further.
Judging by the signs at the side of the road, this pass sees quite some snowfall in the winter months and even requires snow chains.
This part of Turkey saw ferocious fighting in World War I between the Turks and Russians on a front largely forgotten by much of the Western world.
There were some bloody battles fought here, especially during the Erzerum offensive and the Turkish rout at the Battle of Sarikamish, although more people actually died from the severe winter conditions and inadequate equipment than enemy fire.
I had a fantastic book (On Secret Service East of Constantinople by Peter Hopkirk) with me about the battles and secret missions in the east during World War I.
Besides the chapters about the Russo-Turkish battles it also tells such tales about the secret German missions to Persia and Afghanistan in order to convince the Emir to join forces and invade British India.
However, my favourite part of the book is about the epic tales of the Dunsterforce and the political intrigues during the Battle of Baku.
I can highly recommend the book to anyone with even the slightest interest in history, the Great War, and epic adventures of hardy explorers and larger-than-life figures embarking on secret missions in exotic lands.
The last bits to Kars
Road conditions got even worse once we arrived on the mountain plateau.
Although the scenery had changed dramatically, the views of endless grassland as far as the eye can see were still fantastic.
Some seven hours after departure from Hopa the bus finally arrived at the bus station in Kars.
It wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys and I was completely knackered at this point, but it was certainly one hell of a gorgeous ride.
Although I’m not a fan of bus travel, this journey from Batumi in Georgia to Kars in Turkey was certainly epic.
It’s a long ride and not the most comfortable journey ever, but the scenery on the way makes up for it.
Even though there isn’t a direct bus between Batumi and Kars, it’s straightforward to do this trip in several stages.
From Batumi, you take a taxi or marshrutka to the Georgian-Turkish border at Sarpi, where you simply walk across into Turkey.
At the Turkish side, you need to take a Dolmuş twice in order to reach Hopa, from where you can take a bus all the way to Kars.
It’s a long day on the road, but you won’t forget the beautiful views and once in Kars there are plenty of great restaurants and highly interesting sights to wind down.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Khachapuri & Kebabs: A Summer Trip to Georgia and Turkey‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: Wizz Air Bucharest to Kutaisi (Airbus A320)
2. A Day in Kutaisi, the Charming Capital of Imereti
3. Caves, Churches and Monasteries – A Kutaisi Day Trip
4. Review: My Warm Guest House, Batumi, Georgia
5. Beautiful Batumi – The Pearl of Georgia’s Black Sea Coast
6. From Georgia to Turkey: Batumi to Kars by Bus (current chapter)
7. Review: Kars Konak Hotel, Kars, Turkey
8. A Day Trip From Kars to the Ancient Armenian City of Ani
9. Goose, Cheese and Russian Remnants: A Visit to Kars, Turkey
10. Review: Dogu Express Night Train Kars to Ankara, Turkey
11. Review: AnadoluJet Ankara to Izmir (Boeing 737-800)
12. Review: Ege Palas Business Hotel, Izmir, Turkey
13. Izmir: Turkey’s Most Liberal and Liveable City
14. Ancient Ephesus: An Easy Day Trip From Izmir
15. A Visit to the Hilltop Wine Village of Sirince
16. A Beach Trip From Izmir to Cesme and Ilica
17. Foça: A Beautiful Seaside Town to Visit From Izmir
18. Flying Back Home With Atlasglobal and TAROM