Visiting Abkhazia Is Easy. Leaving It Might Be Harder.

One writer had a surreal visit to the once-idyllic region on the Black Sea

A view of the mountains in Abkhazia on the coast of the Black Sea
A scenic view of Abkhazia.
Artem Bryzgalov/Unsplash

What happens when regional conflict utterly transforms the fabric of a place? For one thing, it can make the experience of getting there and getting out again a little more challenging. “Nobody comes to Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia still scarred by the fighting of 1992-93, expecting to be pampered,” Andrew Higgins wrote in The New York Times in 2016. “Instead, they come for sun, sublime scenery, low prices — and memories.”

The question of Abkhazia’s sovereignty is a significant one. A small group of nations, including Russia, recognize it as an independent state, while most nations view it as a part of Georgia. A recent article by Robert O’Connor at Vice referred to it as “[a]n idyllic Black Sea paradise in balmy subtropical climes,” and offered a good sense of the sociopolitical challenges it presently faces.

That numerous articles about Abkhazia mention its scenic landscape helps to explain its appeal to travelers. A new article by Erika Fatland at The Daily Beast — excerpted from her book The Border — chronicles Fatland’s own visit to Abkhazia, and the challenges she faced upon arrival.

She notes that getting into Abkhazia isn’t difficult — the visa process involves registering online a few weeks in advance. But for her, a glitch in the system meant that her entry visa had almost expired by the time she’d arrived, leading to a tense moment where a passport official told her, “As soon as you get to Sukhumi, you must go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and get an exit visa. Otherwise we cannot let you out again.”

Thankfully, Fatland was able to do just that — and her chronicle of her time in Abkhazia offers another fascinating window to a part of the world with a complex, ever-shifting history.


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