The popular story behind the naming is that a boy was lost here. His uncle searched for him and eventually found him, because the boy shouted out from the rock cave above "I am here uncle", which in local language is close to the word Vardzia, i.e. am here uncle.
By marshrutkaFrom Akhaltsikhe there are four marshrutkas a day, leaving at 08:30, 09:30, 13:00, and 15:00 (5 lari).
The rides back to Akhaltsikhe leave from Vardzia at 09:00, 13:00, and 15:00. In addition two marshrutkas to Aspindza leave from Vardzia at 18:00 and 19:00 (2 lari), carrying all the workers back home. Rides within the Vardia canyon (16 km) are 1 lari.
Also, there is one marshrutka leaving from Nakalakevi/Tmogvi between 08:10-08:20 to Akhaltsikhe.
By tourMost people do an organized tour from Akhaltsikhe or Borjomi (50 lari, 2019), e.g. through the tourist office in Akhaltsikhe.
By taxiAlways an option. You might even get here from Gyumri, Armenia for about 12,500 dram—see there.
Fees and permits
Church of the DormitionA late 12th-century church decorated by elaborate mural paintings. Among them are the portraits of Giorgi III and of queen Tamar, his daughter and successor, during whose reign the paintings were created. Other painting include scenes from the New Testament and images of saints. The church is cut deeply into the rocks and even has further interesting tunnels leading from behind the church rooms to the upper level.
Upper Vardzia & Nuns MonasteryA church restored during Soviet times, 1975-1978. and in 1997, returned to use by a community of Christian nuns.
Vanis KvabebiAnother cave monastery consisting of six churches and very popular with people. Several hundred rock caves on 16 floors, used as shelter, vault, tomb and market. About an hour's walk or 5 km away from Vardzia on the road back to the highway.
The church (St. George) built here dates back to the 8th century. The caves where added between the 9th and 11th century. In 1089, a strong earthquake destroyed parts of the caves and the church. Reconstruction was carried out during the reign of Queen Tamar. In 1204, the old stone wall was rebuilt. Between 1204 and 1283, the site was owned by a feudal family named Mkhargrdzeli-Tmogveli. In 1265, the gate, a bell tower and the hall of the St. George church were built. However, in 1551 and 1576 the place was destroyed by the Persians and Ottomans, respectively. After this the place was not used as a monastery anymore.
Khertvisi FortressThe fortress looms over the village of Khertvisi. The outcrop was used as a fortress from the second century BC, and was reputedly destroyed by Alexander the Great. The "modern" fortress, however, was built around the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries, and saw fighting during the Ottoman invasion (and subsequent occupation) in the 16th century. The walls on the far side drop down a sheer cliff to the Mtkvari far below, so if you fancy a bout of vertigo, pull yourself up and look straight down.
- Walking through the caves is pretty much it.
- Otherwise, you can hike to the nearby attractions.
Hot PoolA local business man has built a shed with a large swimming pool inside, which is fed by hot (not so) sulphur water. It is indeed a nice refreshment, especially in winter. But also in summer it can be fun, especially in the evening. Bring some clean qater from the well next to the Vardzia car park to wash yourself after the bath. Otherwise, the water might leave a slight sulphur smell. The owner is building another pool right where the road goes right to the Vardzia car park. So, reading this, you might already be lucky not to walk the 900 m. However, it will now probably be crowded.
Also, staff and people hanging around the Vardzia ticket office will likely offer you a guesthouse if you so need one.
Gocha GuesthouseRun by Gocha who checks your tickets on entry. His guesthouse is in the nearby village of Nakalakevi. He will take you to and from the guesthouse according to his work hours. Comfortable beds, Wi-Fi, and homecooked meals. He may offer to take you to the Madame Monastery and will charge you 10 lari for his troubles. He speaks little English but enough to get by.
phone: +995598563822address: TmogviA nice holiday home close to the road but far enough away to be out of sight. Great panorama. Simple but authentic.
If you continue east, you can take any marshrutka and get off at Khertvisi and then take another marshrutka to Akhalkalaki. Note that the marshrutkas going to Akhalkalaki do not come into Khertvisi village, so you need to walk up to the highway. But of course you can always just get dropped off at the junction at the highway instead of getting off in Khertvisi village. Hitchhiking from the highway near Khertvisi is readily possible (May 2019).