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Turkey and the Caucasus: My final itinerary

posted in: Plans, Turkey and the Caucasus 2022 | 2

With just nine days until I leave, I’ve settled on my final itinerary.

An itinerary is a constantly moving target. Things can happen, change is often necessary, and flexibility is absolutely essential.

Since I posted my original itinerary, things have happened, change has been necessary, and flexibility has come in handy. Some of the changes were based on decisions I made, and others were the result of things that were outside my control. And I added a number of activities to fill in some of the empty spaces.

Skipping Batumi

I already shared about one of the changes I decided to make. I originally planned to spend two nights in Batumi, a beach resort city on the Black Sea in western Georgia. Skipping Batumi gives me two extra days to spend elsewhere, and less time spent in the car.

Part of me is second-guessing this decision, but I am sure I’m going to appreciate the extra time I will have in Tbilisi and Kutaisi.

Closed Land Border between Azerbaijan and Georgia

The original plan was to drive across the border from Azerbaijan to Georgia. But Azerbaijan closed all of its land borders with its neighbors early in the Coronavirus pandemic, and they have still not reopened them. So a few weeks ago I heard from my JayWay travel advisor, and he said we would need to make a modification.

Instead of driving from Sheki, in northwestern Azerbaijan, to Sighnaghi, in northeastern Georgia, I will go back to Baku and fly to Tbilisi. Sadly, this involves a lot of backtracking: it’s about a five-hour drive from Sheki to the Baku airport.

This gives me an extra day in Tbilisi and eliminates one of the single-night stops, so I don’t mind. Plus, I’ve added a day trip that includes a stop in Sighnaghi, so I will at least have a little time there.

So Here It Is: My Final Itinerary

I’m including maps, because (1) I love maps; (2) you might not be familiar with these many of these locations, so this might help you picture things; and (3) even if you don’t care about the relative locations of things, I love maps.

If you want details about the places on my itinerary, you can check my previous posts on details of each portion of my itinerary:

Of course some of the details have changed, but you can at least get some descriptions and photos of the places I’ll be visiting.

Travel Days

September 14: Fly Guadalajara to Mexico City

Volaris flight 221
Depart GDL 17:49
Arrive MEX 19:23
izZzleep Hotel Aeropuerto Terminal 1

September 15: Fly Mexico City to Cancun to Istanbul

Turkish Airlines flight 181
Depart MEX 10:05
Arrive CUN 12:20
Depart CUN 13:50
Sleep on plane


September 16: Arrive in Istanbul

Arrive IST 9:45
Transfer to Doruk Palas Hotel (5 nights)
Local Food and History Walk at Night (starting at Karaköy Ferry Terminal, ending at Istiklal Caddesi)

September 17: Historical Highlights of Istanbul

9:30 Tour of Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Hippodrome (Sultanahmet Square), and Grand Bazaar

September 18: Spice Bazaar and Bosporus Cruise

9:30 Visit to the Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) followed by a cruise on the Bosporus

September 19: Culinary Backstreets Food Tour

9:30 Two Markets, Two Continents

I’m not sure of the exact route, but we start at Perşembe Pazarı Caddesi and cross the Bosporus by ferry, ending at the market in Kadiköy.

September 20: Free Day, Evening Shows at Hodjapasha

19:00 Whirling Dervishes
20:30 Rhythm of the Dance

September 21: Fly Istanbul to Izmir; Transfer to Kuşadası

Free morning and early afternoon
15:30 Transfer to airport
Turkish Airlines flight 2336
Depart IST 19:00
Arrive ADB 20:05
Transfer to İlayda Avantgarde Hotel (3 nights)

September 22: Hierapolis-Pamukkale

8:00 Tour of spas, pools, and terraces at Pamukkale (Turkish for “cotton castle”) and necropolis at Hierapolis

September 23: Ephesus

9:00 Tour to Ephesus with visits to the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, the House of the Virgin Mary, and Isabey Mosque

September 24: Fly Izmir to Antalya

5:00 Transfer to Airport
Sun Express flight 9090
Depart ADB 7:45
Arrive AYT 8:50
Transfer to Elegance East Hotel (2 nights)
Rest of the day free

September 25: Perge, Aspendos, and Side

8:00 Tour to Perge, the capital city of Pamphylia, Aspendos, site of a Roman theatre considered to be the best-preserved theatre of antiquity, and Side, on a peninsula in the Mediterranean with some of the most extensive ruins of the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine eras (plus a modern resort town)

September 26: Fly Antalya to Kayseri; North Cappadocia

5:50 Transfer to airport
Pegasus flight 3502
Depart AYT 8:20
Arrive ASR 9:35
Tour to Devrent Valley, Avanos, and Goreme
Transfer to Hasse Cave Konak (2 nights)

September 27: Hot Air Balloon Ride; South Cappadocia

Early early early pickup for hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia
9:30 Tour to Rose Valley, Cavusin, Ortahısar Castle, Kaymakli Underground City, Pigeon Valley, and a local winery

September 28: Fly Kayseri to Istanbul

6:00 Transfer to Airport
Turkish Airlines flight 2011
Depart ASR 8:35
Arrive IST 10:05


September 28: Fly Istanbul to Baku

Turkish Airlines flight 334
Depart IST 17:15
Arrive GYD 20:55
Transfer to Two Seasons Boutique Hotel (4 nights)

September 29: Baku Highlights

9:00 Walking and driving tour of Old Town, Palace of the Shirvanshahs, Maiden Tower, Fountain Square, and Highland Park
7:00 Baku By Night

Daytime tour
Nighttime tour

September 30: Baku’s Surroundings

9:00 Tour to Gobustan, Bibi-Heybat Mosque, and Ateshgah Fire Temple

October 1: Khinaliq

9:00 Tour to Khizi, Quba, and Khinaliq

October 2: Transfer to Sheki

8:00 Hotel pickup
One-hour stop at Diri Baba Mausoleum
One-hour stop at Juma Mosque of Shamakhi
15:00 Arrival at Sheki Palace Hotel
16:00 Sheki walking tour: Karavansaray, Sheki Khan Palace, and Sheki Fortress

October 3: Sheki to Baku Airport; Fly to Tbilisi

Free morning
13:30 Transfer to Baku Airport
Azerbaijan Airlines flight 9225
Depart GYD 21:45
Arrive TBS 22:55
Transfer to Vinotel (6 nights)


October 4: Tbilisi

9:00 Walking and driving tour including Anchiskhati Basilica, Bridge of Peace, Narikala Fortress, Trinity Church, and Chronicle of Georgia Monument

October 5: David Gareji Monastery

9:00 Tour to Davit Gareji Lavra, Ubadno, and Sighnaghi

October 6: Kazbegi Day Trip

8:00 Tour to Jvari Monastery, Mtskheta, Ananuri Fortress, Gudauri, the Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument, and Stepantsminda

The Russian border is the solid zigzaggy line across the top

October 7: Free Day; Evening Food Tour

17:00 Private food tour in the Sololaki district

The tour starts at Freedom Square and covers the Sololaki district

October 8: Kakheti

9:00 Tour through the Tsiv-Gombori mountains to Kakheti, Georgia’s primary winemaking region, with stops in Telavi and at Ikalto Monastery

October 9: Transfer to Kutaisi

9:00 Hotel pickup
Stops in Gori (birthplace of Joseph Stalin), Chiatura (famous for its network of Soviet era cable cars, Mgvimevi Monastery, and Katskhi Pillar
15:00 Arrival at Hotel Solomon

The dot next to Mgvimevi convent is the town of Chiatura

October 10: Kutaisi

9:00 City tour including Bagrati Cathedral, the city market, the White Bridge, and the Old Town
13:00 Visit (on my own) to Gelati Monastery, Motsameta Monastery, and/or the Botanical Garden

October 11: Natural Wonders near Kutaisi

9:00 Tour to Okatse Canyon, Kinchkha Waterfall, Martvili Canyon, and Prometheus Cave

October 12: Transfer to Akhaltsikhe

9:00 Hotel pickup
Two-hour stop at Borjomi & Kharagauli National Park
15:00 Arrival at Hotel Julia

October 13: Meskheti Region

9:00 Tour to Rabati Fortress, Vardzia, and Khertvisi Fortress


October 14: Transfer to Yerevan

9:00 Hotel pickup
One-hour stop in Gyumri
Half-hour stop at the medieval fortress of Dashtadem
17:00 Arrival at Hotel 14th Floor (4 nights)

October 15: Yerevan

9:00 Walking tour including Cascade Complex, Opera and Ballet Theatre, Republic Square, and Vernissage open-air market
19:00 “Gayane” by Aram Khatchaturian at Armenian National Opera and Ballet Theatre

October 16: East of Yerevan

9:00 Tour to Geghard Monastery, Garni Temple, and Master Levon’s Divine Underground Cave Museum, with a Lavash bread baking class in Garni

October 17: South of Yerevan, along the Turkish and Azeri borders

9:00 Tour to Khor Virap and Noravank Monasteries, with wine tasting in Areni

Khor Virab is right on the Turkish border, with a close-up view of Mount Ararat. The road south from there hugs the border with Azerbaijan.

Turkey Again

October 18: Fly Yerevan to Istanbul; Visit to Büyükada

3:30 Transfer to airport
Pegasus flight 551
Depart EVN 6:30
Arrive SAW 7:55
Transfer to ferry terminal
Ferry to Büyükada
Return ferry
Transfer to airport

I may go from a different ferry terminal, and in any case, the ferry ride is not 2 1/2 hours each way!

Travel Day

October 19: Fly Istanbul to Mexico City to Guadalajara

Turkish Airlines flight 184
Depart IST 2:00
Arrive MEX 8:20

Volaris flight 220
Depart MEX 15:37
Arrive GDL 17:09

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