Tag Archives: How-To

Crossing the border from Armenia to Georgia – Alaverdi to Tbilisi

The most common way to cross between Armenia and Georgia is the overnight train between the capitals, but as we wanted to visit the northern UNESCO monasteries of Sanahin and Haghpat we put them at the end of our Armenian adventure so that it’d be a short hop to the border. Here’s our account of the straightforward crossing using public transport, the only drama being the manufactured kind at the hand of taxi drivers keen for business at the end of the off-season.

~09:00 Alaverdi ↝ Bagratashen (500 Dram, 1hr)

Alaverdi, Armenia

The main road through Alaverdi – marshrutkas depart for the border from where the yellow bus is parked

We’d been told by our guesthouse that the marshrutka from Alaverdi to Bagratashen (the Georgian border) would leave at 08:50 so we got there about 10 minutes early, which just added another 10 minutes to the wait as it didn’t arrive until 09:15. One local taxi driver insisted that there wasn’t a marshrutka to the border that day, and another said that if it didn’t arrive by 9am then it wasn’t coming at all so we should obviously just hire his taxi instead. We politely declined and said we weren’t in a hurry!

Marshrutka to the border, Alaverdi, Armenia

The marshrutka arrived already pretty full with locals. They made space for our bags under the bench seats and I ended up on that small wooden stool next to the sliding door – at least I had a seat!

~10:15 Border crossing (15min)

No Man's Land, between Armenia and Georgia

The footpath follows the road over a bridge, and from there the Georgian border building awaits

The marshrutka dropped us about 100 metres from the border and the driver pointed us in the right direction though it was pretty obvious. After dredging up “hello” in Turkish to speak to some very friendly Turkish lorry drivers waiting to cross we walked through the almost empty Armenian Border Control building, had our passports stamped without a question or delay and continued through the building and outside.

It’s a 5 minute walk across a bridge spanning the Debed river to the Georgian Border Control building. Just inside the entrance is a bank counter – it’s a very good idea to change any remaining dram or withdraw some Georgian (GEL) money here as we didn’t see an ATM the other side of passport control.

All of our bags were X-Ray scanned before reaching passport control. No queues or questions for us here either and we walked out the other side into the small car park looking for our onward marshrutka – a Ford Transit or Mercedes Sprinter-style van.

~10:45 Sadakhlo ↝ Tbilisi (5 Lari, 1¼hr)

Fortunately for us the marshrutka driver had parked right next to the exit and was standing in front of his van having a smoke so we asked “Tbilisi?”, he nodded and waved us on board.

A taxi driver saw us getting on and had a bit of a go at him in Georgian – we presume because we’re tourists and should therefore have taken a taxi. His taxi. Our marshrutka driver didn’t seem at all bothered by his plight. We waited in the marshrutka for about 10 minutes to see if anyone else arrived before we set off.

Samgori Metro Station, Tbilisi, Georgia

The Tbilisi metro is 0.50 Lari to go anywhere, charged onto a contactless travelcard which is also handy for buses and the cable car, and costs a refundable 2 Lari which can be purchased from the counter inside any metro station

The final destination in Tbilisi is the western bus station which is also conveniently close to the Samgori metro station making it trivial to get anywhere in the city. Including a trip on the metro, the total cost from Alaverdi to Tbilisi was the equivalent of £2.70 each.

How to: Baracoa to Holguin via Moa – the adventurous route

The distance from Baracoa to Holguin is only about 150 miles (250km) by the most direct route, but the only option if you want to travel by the Viazul bus service is to take the bus back to Santiago de Cuba and change there for Holguin. In theory this is possible in one day – if you take the 08:15 bus out of Baracoa which arrives in Santiago 13:45, you could then catch the 16:00 which gets into Holguin at 20:15. This seemed like a very long day along roads that we’d already seen so when we were planning our route through Cuba we decided that we would like to try to go along the notoriously bad road to Moa and there transfer back to Holguin where our flight landed. During our pre-trip research, it was difficult to find any clear information on how to do this and so here’s our trip report from April 2016 if anyone else is planning the same journey.

In Baracoa, you need to go to the local transport yard at the corner of Calixto Garcia and Coroneles Galano, just a few blocks from the central square.

Baracoa local transport yard map

Early morning is best as there are no fixed schedules so you may have to wait for quite a while (we did). We arrived at 07:15. For Moa, wait at the far end closest to Rubert Lopez (see blue arrow in the map above) – place names are painted on the wall around the yard although we didn’t see them at first and asked around. While you’re waiting we recommend grabbing a fried egg sandwich for breakfast from the Terminal Cafeteria.

Baracoa local transport yardLocal transport yard in Baracoa

I get the impression that usually transport is a bit more frequent because by the time the first truck pulled up at 08:30 a LOT of people were waiting. Also, I understand that it’s usually jeeps that do the Baracoa-Moa stretch but in our case it was a passenger truck with bench seats down either side of a covered back section. The guy who takes the money shepherded us in – it’s a bit of a scrum – we were the only tourists and he charged us more so I think we got some kind of priority. Locals were charged 60-70CUP (2.5CUC), we were charged 4CUC each, I tried to argue about this but there was no negotiating he just repeated the price. Our big rucksacks were stowed under the seats and our small rucksacks on our laps. The truck was tightly packed.

Passenger truckJulie in the back of the passenger truck from Baracoa to Moa

The road from Baracoa to Moa is in a pretty poor state of repair with lots of potholes and it’s quite dusty as the back of the truck is open. We stopped after about 1.5 hours at a roadside cafeteria where it was possible to buy snacks (including cucuruchos at local prices = CUP5 each). The driver also changed the wheel as we had a puncture – lots of guys pitched in and we were on our way within 20 minutes.

Changing the wheelHow many Cubans does it take to change a wheel…

As we approached Moa we noticed a lot more heavy industrial activity compared to the more rural sights that we passed on the first part of the journey. The road passes the huge nickel plant and the wasteland stretching out around it. We eventually arrived at the bus station in Moa at 11:15 (a journey time of 2.75 hours) – this is the last stop so just get off when the truck empties.

Moa bus stationBus station at Moa

A local couple who came from Baracoa were also going on to Holguin and they adopted us – I don’t know their names but for the purposes of the story we’ll call them Pedro and Maria. We waited inside the bus station with Maria while Pedro went looking for colectivos (private taxis that leave when they’re full) out in front (after first checking the back to see that there were no trucks). The bus station has snacks available from various vendors and toilets (no running water) – follow the corridor behind the seating area to the right when you enter. I noticed on the timetable that the Omnibus Nacionales bus was due to leave at 1pm (37CUP) but Pedro asked at the ticket desk and it was no good for us as you must have a Cuban ID card to travel on that service.

After almost an hour, he found a car that was going to Holguin – if you’re on your own I would recommend just hanging around outside and asking each vehicle that pulls up. The only problem was that the price for Cubans was 100CUP (4CUC) each but the driver said that for us (foreigners) it would be 10CUC each! I tried negotiating, including walking away back to the waiting room where the driver eventually followed us but he absolutely would not budge on the price. If we’d been alone we might have hung around to see if we could find a cheaper alternative but Pedro and Maria seemed to be reluctant to leave without us so we agreed. He did move the other passengers into the back so that we got the whole bench seat behind the driver to ourselves which meant we had lots of space and access to the windows to take photos. We left Moa at 12:15.

Colectivo to HolguinOur large bags were stowed on the roof

Inside our colectivo taxiOur colectivo taxi from Moa to Holguin was a very old Pontiac (with a slightly newer Mercedes steering wheel!)

The road between Moa and Holguin is in a much better state of repair and we arrived in Holguin at 15:00 (a journey time of 2.75 hours) at the Intermunicipal Bus station on Avenida de los Libertadores, near the baseball stadium.

Holguin Intermunicipal bus station mapIntermunicipal Bus station in Holguin

Outside Holguin Intermunicipal bus stationColectivo taxis outside the Intermunicipal Bus station in Holguin

There are lots of local taxis and bici-taxis hanging around to take you on to your destination, or it’s roughly a 1.5km walk from here to Parque Calixto Garcia in the centre of town.

Another option to get from Baracoa to Holguin would be to arrange a tourist colectivo through your casa particular – we were quoted 30CUC per person based on a car with 4 passengers and our casa owner said he could ring around to find others who wanted to share the journey – obviously this would be much faster as there would be no hanging around at bus stations and it would probably also take you directly to your destination in Holguin.

Transport type (Baracoa to Holguin) Total price per person (CUC) Estimated time incl waiting (hours)
Public transport (via Moa) 14 7.75
Viazul Bus (via Santiago) 26 13
Tourist colectivo taxi (via Moa) 30 ~5

Mongolian Visa – Registration and Extension

Getting our 30-day Mongolian Visas in Irkutsk was straightforward, but extending our stay once we’d crossed the border wasn’t. Here’s a quick guide to pay forward the help we received.

If you wish to stay in Mongolia longer than 30 days, you have to register within 7 days of arrival. Registration and visa extension can be done at the same time with the same registration form in the Office of Immigration, Naturalisation and Foreign Citizens (INFC). Note that you can only extend your visa once.

What you need

You must bring the following with you:

  • Passport
  • Passport photo – there isn’t a photo booth in the building, so bring one with you
  • Money to pay for your registration form and extension: 1000 MNT (Tughriks) per form (required for registration and extension), ~$2.60 USD per day for extension, payable by cash or credit card
  • Full address and phone number of your current accommodation in Mongolia – If your accommodation is in Ulaanbaatar, you’ll need the District and Sub-district too

It’ll be faster if you can also bring the following with you:

  • Photocopy of Passport and Current Mongolian Visa – these can be on the same piece of paper, and on the reverse of your explanation letter (see below). The front desk does photocopies for 100 MNT
  • Explanation Letter (sample below) – a simple letter from you explaining the reason for your visa extension request
  • A pen

Getting there

20130706-222748.jpgThe right-most blue and white building is the The Office of Immigration, Naturalisation and Foreign Citizens (INFC) in Ulaanbaatar. You can just see the Ulaanbaatar welcome arch to the left, look out for the big red and white building with the circular roof which is next door and clearly visible from the main road

  • If you’ve arrived by aeroplane, the office is en-route to the centre of Ulaanbaatar, 1.8km from the airport. Head west along the busy main road (turn right out of the airport), and the INFC office is on your right before you pass under the Ulaanbaatar welcome arch, about 1.8km from the airport. It’s easily walkable, but there isn’t a footpath.
  • If you’ve arrived by train, bus, or are already in the centre of Ulaanbaatar, take bus #11 heading south from outside the Bayangol Hotel. Get off at the Ulaanbaatar welcome arch, about 30 to 40 minutes later. The bus costs 400 MNT (Tughriks)

Mongolian Visa Registration and Extension

When you enter the building, the front desk is on your left, and before the stairs in front of you are doors to your left and right. To your left is a branch of the Golomt Bank, and your first stop if you are extending your visa. To your right is the visa registration hall.

  1. Pay for your visa extension. (skip this step if you’re just registering)I know, it sounds absurd to pay upfront, but you need your receipt of payment to get your application form! Go the Golomt Bank in the left hall. There are 3 cashier windows, and you’re unlikely to get an English speaking clerk. If you’re told you need the form first, try a different window. We hit lucky on our first attempt, but a fellow tourist from Holland was knocked back, tried a different window and paid successfully! All you need to tell them is the number of days you want to extend by (minimum 7, maximum 30) – write it down if necessary.
  2. Collect an application form. In the visa registration hall (the hall on the right), you’ll find numbered windows facing you as you enter, and down the right-hand side. On this right-hand side is a lowered information window with chairs in front of it, and the first standing-height window to the left of this is where you show your bank receipt and collect a registration and extension form, paying the clerk 1000 MNT in cash.
  3. Fill out the form. There are plenty of tables to rest on, and there are glue-pens for affixing your photo.
  4. Write out a simple Explanation letter, if you haven’t already (see sample below). You can ask for blank paper from the front desk.
  5. Go to window number 4 “Tourist”, and hand over your Passport, copy of your passport, copy of your visa, completed application form with photo attached, explanation letter and payment receipt to the clerk. It’s likely there will be a queue, don’t take a number, just queue (the numbers are for the regular windows)

The clerk will check over your registration form, passport, visa, copies and receipt, and likely won’t read your explanation letter. After a few minutes on their computer, they’ll stamp your passport and return it to you with your payment receipt.


Sample Visa Explanation Letter

20130707-175649.jpgThe Visa Explanation Letter I submitted

[Home Address – same as on the Registration Form]

[Todays Date]

To whom it may concern,

I would like to request visa registration and extension of [# Days] days for the purpose of tourism in Mongolia.

Yours faithfully,


Passport # [Passport Number]