HOSTEL REVIEW: The Circle Hostel Baler, Philippines

Circle Hostel in Baler, Philippines

WHY BALER?

Baler is a place where surfing started in Philippines. Because of the filmmakers of war movie Apocalypse Now who left there surfboards after filming so locals could start to learn. Over time Baler has become a surfing destination where surf competitions are also held. I stayed for only one day and two nights at The Circle Hostel because of my flight from Philippines back to my country. It definitely worth for a longer visit.

THE CIRCLE HOSTEL

The Circle Hostel is a network of hostels in Luzon island and you can find them in surf destinations. Besides Baler they are located in Zambales and La Union.

[fac_icon icon=”globe” color=”#ff5353″ color_hover=”#000000″]|[fac_icon icon=”facebook-official” color=”#ff5353″ color_hover=”#000000″]|[fac_icon icon=”instagram” color=”#ff5353″ color_hover=”#000000″]
[fac_icon icon=”map-marker” color=”#ff5353″ color_hover=”#ff5353″] Buton Street, Brgy. Sabang, Aurora, Baler, Philippines
[fac_icon icon=”phone” color=”#ff5353″ color_hover=”#ff5353″] +63 917 501 0235

STAFF, FACILITY AND ATMOSPHERE

You will feel really comfortable during your stay and you will be surrounded by friendly atmosphere of staff and other travelers who had headed there also for surfing. The staff can advise you with current surfing conditions, trips around or transportation to Manila. I found my surfing buddies (from Sweden and Philippines) right in the morning so it was not boring in the waves even I sucked that day. But as they say at the hostel “The best surfer out there is the one having most fun!”. And I had. I really liked the colorful interior full of creative drawings from travelers. And you can also enrich some free spot with your work! I did not manage to make it so maybe next time.

You can stay in a classic mixed dorm room with three bunk beds. Each is equipped with mosquito net for a quiet night without unwanted visitors and you can also find lockers in the rooms. But you have to have your own lock. They offer also female dorm rooms. Other options are rooms for two persons or sleeping in hammock. There are a lots of bars around thanks to their loud music and karaoke you will not get much sleep. So bring your own earplugs. Another disadvantage of the rooms is absence of power outlets but you will find them in common areas in sufficient quantities. Check the rates and availability on http://www.baler.thecirclehostel.com/#reservation.

Tidy and clean showers with toilets are shared by all guests and they are divided for men and women. And you can enjoy shower with hot water!

If you want to cook your own meal you can use the furnished kitchen, just remember to clean up after yourself. For relaxation you can use hammocks, a place with beanbags next to the small skating U ramp or you can climb the stairs to the spacious chill area full of beanbags, hammocks and tables. At both places there is plenty of power outlets. You will not find WiFi there, you need to use your mobile data.

 The price includes breakfast which is served from 6:30 (surfers need to wake up early) and it consists of pastry, peanut butter and bananas. There is also free drinking water so don’t worry about buying bottles. They will also gladly prepare coffee for you and you can buy some other refreshments from the current offer at the reception.

Since this is a surf hostel you can rent there surfboard  and the offer surf lessons with instructors. During my stay the surfboard was for 200 pesos per hour and lesson for 350 pesos per hour.

SURFING AND SURROUNDINGS

As I wrote, the main activity in Baler is surfing. The main season is from October to April but you can surf there during the whole year. If you can not get the required equipment at the hostel you can borrow it at many other places around the beach. The Sabang beach is only few steps away and there are four spots nearby: Sabang Beach (beach break, suitable for beginners), Cemento Beach (reef break, for advanced surfers), Charlie’s Point (beach break) and Lindy’s Point (rivermouth break).

And if you don’t surf you can visit 65m tall banyan fig tree in Aurora (Giant Balete tree, Millenium tree), Ditumabo Mother falls, exploring nearby beaches or go hiking to the nearby mountains.

 HOW TO GET TO BALER

In Manila take a bus from Cubao bus terminal (there are more terminals according to bus company). Direct connection should be offered only by Genesis at unpleasant times: five connections between 12:30AM and 5:30AM. You can book the tickets online on https://www.pinoytravel.com.ph/ (at the latest 3 days before departure), the price is around 700 pesos, as an origin choose Cubao, Quezon City, Metro Manila and as a destination choose Baler, Aurora. But you can get to Baler also during the day. Also from one of the terminals in Cubao or Pasay (I went with Five Star company for 185 pesos but Victory Liner and Baliwag Transit also should go there) take bus to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija where you will change to shuttle bus/van to Baler for 200 pesos. Just ask the driver or local people. From the bus terminal in Baler take a tricycle to the hostel for 15 pesos.

From Baler to Manila there is also five direct buses. The first at 4:30AM and the last one at 3:30PM. You can buy the ticket in advance at the bus terminal in Baler. Or you can go with the change in Cabanatuan again.

Transportation in Tbilisi

Public transportation in Tbilisi

Public transportation in Tbilisi is good, bud the traffic can be madness. Into three lanes fit at least four cars and drivers are not used to give priority to pedestrians. The only safe options are crosswalks with traffic lights, overpasses and underpasses. But you can cross the street anywhere you want, you won’t get a fine and you will notice that everybody does it. You just need to be brave enough, guess the right moment and also wait in the middle of the road if needed. After some time you will run between those cars as anything.

For public transport in Tbilisi purchase METROMANI card which will save you money while changing lines. Without this card you will pay for every single ride by bus 0.50 GEL and you won’t be able to use the metro. You can get METROMANI card at every metro station for 2 GEL and you can charge it there with any amount. Another charging option are orange pay boxes which you can find around the city with any problem and you can also use them for top up your mobile phone credit and another services. Just place the card at a designated point on the machine, insert coins or banknotes (the lowest accepted coin is 50 tetri) and you are recharged. But beware that pay boxes won’t give you change so charge only with amount you really want. With this card you pay also 0.50 GEL for the ticket but it’s valid for 90 minutes so while changing line or bus you won’t be charged again. However, if you get on a different bus, use the card again at the machine, you will get ticket for 0 GEL. Therefore it is good that everybody have their own card. Although the card is not tied to a name and you can take any amount of tickets, the discount will be applied only once. Before leaving Tbilisi you can return this card (up to 1 month from purchase) and if you provide your purchase receipt, they will give you 2 GEL back.

BUS

In every bus you will find a machine in which you can buy the ticket for 0.50 GEL – just put there coin or their sum or place the card and it will give you the ticket. At every bus stop there is always departure stop which is also in English and the ID of the stop can be useful. You can find all of the stops, routes on ttc.com.ge where you can plan your journey, find timetables etc. There is also an Android app which offers same functions as the website and one of the useful function is Route Maps. Are you standing at the bus stop and you don’t know where the lines are going? Just enter the line number and you can see the route on the map. To find a route it is easier to use ID of the stop than writing the name. It is interesting that in a lot of buses you will meet employees who will pass you the ticket and sometimes check your ticket even you just purchased it in front of them. You can also meet inspectors but I found their approach to controls quite lax. I also noticed that passengers often didn’t buy the ticket if the employee wasn’t at in the bus, before getting off the bus they checked the bus stop if there are no inspectors and they had the ride for free. BTW, the fine for black passengers is 5 GEL.

METRO

Metro in Tbilisi has two lines – First Line (red) and Saburtalo (blue) and the only transfer station is Station Square I (Sadguris Moedani I). It runs from 6:00 till 23:59, the signs are in Georgian and English, so the announcement about the next stop and at each entrance there are turnstiles.

MARSHRUTKA

If you are missing fast and furious intercity marshrutkas, you won’t get this kind of ride in Tbilisi. Yeah, it would still be full of honking and crazy driving. They will make a stop for you almost everywhere you say/wave and the price is 0.40–0.80 GEL per ride. You won’t find marshrutka’s departures on the stop boards but will find the routes in the Route Scheme or you can plan the route on the map.

TAXI

Sami lari! You won’t regret with this sentence in Tbilisi. Sami means three and because the prices are mostly between 3 and 5 GEL you probably always find some driver who will accept this price. Except you don’t want to go through the whole city or to the airport. The city is full of taxis so you can get it anytime and everywhere, that’s why you can try sami lari with more drivers. These taxis doesn’t have taximeters so always bargain about the price in advance. But of course you can find also taxi services where you can order taxi by phone. They have taximeters and they should be slightly cheaper. You won’t find UBER here but you can use the app Taxify (iOS, Android, WP) which is kind of Eastern European copy of UBER.

HOW TO GET TO/FROM THE AIRPORT

The cheapest option is bus or train. The bus #37 goes to the airport and his route starts at Station Square and goes through Freedom Square. Between 7:00 and 20:00 it runs every 15–30 minutes and then every one hour till 23:00. The train goes from the Tbilisi central railway station (next to Station Square) only twice a day and it also costs 0.50 GEL. From the central railway station it goes at 7:55 and 17:20 and from the airport to the railway station at 8:45 and 18:05. Since a lot of flights are early in the morning you won’t probably avoid the use of taxi. It should costs a maximum of 25 GEL from the city center to the airport, some of taxi services can do it for 14 GEL.

CABLE CAR

Do you want to visit Mother of Georgia (Kartvlis Deda) or Narikala fortress but you don’t want to walk up there? From Rike park you can take cable car which offers view on the old city and takes you directly next to the fortress which is just a short walk from the statue. For the ride you need METROMANI card (you can buy it there) and it costs 1 GEL per ride.

The second and probably less known is funicular from Vilnius Square to Mtatsminda amusement park where you can find Ferris wheel and TV tower. You won’t succeed with METROMANI card here and you have to buy another card which also costs 2 GEL. The ride is for 2 GEL and you don’t need more cards for more people.

How to fly to Mestia from Natakhtari (Tbilisi) and Kutaisi

Flight to Mestia

Updated on March 1, 2020

Curious about how to get to Mestia in Georgia? You can spend many hours on the road to get to Mestia by bus, or you can take a flight to Mestia and be in the beautiful mountains in less than one hour!

Vanilla Sky offers flights to Mestia from Natakhtari (Tbilisi) and Kutaisi throughout the year. Service Air operates the flights to Mestia on LET-410 UVP aircraft (registration 4L-LSA) for 19 passengers.

In addition to these routes, they also operate flights between Natakhtari and Ambrolauri, and between Tbilisi and Batumi.

Currently, the flight schedule is available until the end of May 2020.

Flights between Natakhtari (Tbilisi) and Mestia

Natakhtari airfield is located in Natakhtari, approximately 30 km north of Tbilisi city center. Flights between Natakhtari and Mestia are operated up to six times a week and up to twice a day.

Ticket price for Natakhtari – Mestia (one way):

  • adult: 90 GEL
  • child 3–12 y. o.: 63 GEL
  • child 0–3 y. o.: free

Flight schedule Natakhtari – Mestia in 2020

DAYNATAKHTARI – MESTIAMESTIA – NATAKHTARI
Monday10:0015:00
Wednesday10:0012:00
Friday9:3014:00
Sunday10:0012:00
DAYNATAKHTARI – MESTIAMESTIA – NATAKHTARI
Monday10:0015:00
Wednesday10:0012:00
Friday9:3014:00
Sunday10:0012:00

How to get to Natakhtari airport

The price of the flight ticket from/to Natakhtari includes transportation between Natakhtari airfield and Tbilisi by van. The departure is from the Rose Revolution Sq. (corner of Kiacheli str. & Rose Revolution sq., the opposite side of the Bike monument), find the pick up point on the map below. The departure is 45 minutes before the indicated check-in time.

If you don’t want to use the provided transport for any reason, you can use a taxi. You can use Bolt (formerly Taxify), and it will cost you around 25 GEL from the city center of Tbilisi. Get 5 GEL off your first ride with this Bolt promo code: BCV5C. Uber does not operate in Georgia.

You can also hitchhike or catch a marshrutka heading north. Ask the driver to stop in Natakhtari and then walk from the main road to the airport for 1 km.

Where to stay in Tbilisi

You will find plenty of hostels, guesthouses, apartments, and hotels in Tbilisi. While the cheapest hostels start at 4 EUR/night, the most expensive place is probably a private house RARE with a garden and swimming pool.

Another option is to stay next to the airport in Natakhtari at Vanilla Sky hotel.

Stamba Hotel

Luxurious 5* hotel in the city center close to the pick-up point.

Pushkin 10 Hostel

Budget hostel perfect for backpackers right in the city center.

Fabrika

Fabrika offers suites, dorm rooms, and also coworking space.

Bude Hostel

Hostel with a garden close to the Marjanishvilli metro station.

Flights between Kutaisi and Mestia

The flights are operated from the David the Builder Kutaisi International Airport. Flights between Kutaisi and Mestia are mostly operated twice a week. This is perfect for those arriving in Kutaisi with Wizzair or Ryanair.

Ticket price for Kutaisi – Mestia (one way):

  • adult: 50 GEL
  • child 3–12 y. o.: 35 GEL
  • child 0–3 y. o.: free

Flight schedule Kutaisi – Mestia in 2020

DAYKUTAISI – MESTIAMESTIA – KUTAISI
Monday13:3012:00
Friday12:3011:00
DAYKUTAISI – MESTIAMESTIA – KUTAISI
Monday13:3012:00
Friday12:3011:00

Where to stay in Kutaisi

Kutaisi is a great base for visiting the sites around, such as Sataplia Nature Reserve, Okatse Canyon, Martvili Canyon, or Kinchkha Waterfall. For easier transportation, I recommend staying close to the bus/marshrutka and train station (both next to McDonald’s).

Prices start at 2 EUR/night for a bed in a hostel dormitory, but you will also find guesthouses and 4* hotels.

Best Western

Best Western is the best 4* hotel you can find in Kutaisi.

Winery

Guesthouse with its own wine cellar? Go for it!

Memory House

I can personally recommend this guesthouse.

Hostel Mandaria

I can personally recommend also this clean hostel.

Queen Tamar Airport in Mestia

Queen Tamar airport was built in 2010, and you can fly to Mestia from Natakhtari (Tbilisi) and Kutaisi.

How to get to/from the airport in Mestia

Queen Tamar Airport in Mestia is located 2 km east of the town center. You can easily walk, take a taxi or hitchhike, but there is not much traffic.

How to book the flight to Mestia with Vanilla Sky

You can book the flight to Mestia online, or at Vanilla Sky office in Tbilisi. If you want to cancel your booking made online, you can do it no later than 48 hours before the time of departure. It’s not possible to make any changes to your reservation. The baggage allowance is 15 kg per passenger.

For more info, read terms & conditions, or contact Vanilla Sky on Facebook, they reply quite quickly.

Also, don’t hesitate with the booking, flights to Mestia are sold out quickly!

Book the flight online

Booking your flight to Mestia online is the easiest way, and you can make a reservation for up to 4 people at once. The highlighted days in the calendar mean only days with flights, not days with available seats, so you have to try your desired dates. Also, you can’t see how many seats are available.

Payment is possible only with VISA or Mastercard cards, and there is a 3.5% fee for a transaction.

Visit Vanilla Sky office in Tbilisi

Another option is to visit the Vanilla Sky office in Tbilisi and make the reservation there. Find the Vanilla Sky contact below.

  • Address: 13 Alexandre Kazbegi Avenue, Tbilisi
  • Opening hours: Mon–Fri: 10:00–18:00, Sat: 10:00–13:00, Sun: closed
  • E-mail: mari@vanillasky.ge or info@vanilla-sky.ge
  • Phone: +995 599 65 90 99
  • I recommend paying with a card in case the flight will be canceled. It will be easier to get the refund.

What to do when your flight to/from Mestia is canceled

Flights to/from Mestia are operated under Visual Flight Rules. This means if the weather conditions are bad, the flight will be canceled.

Don’t expect they will let you know the status of the flight. They sent us an email one day before with the information that the departure will be postponed but didn’t contact us on the day of the departure that the flight was canceled.

So it’s smart to have a backup plan.

In case you made the booking online or at the office and paid with a card, you will get the refund back to your card within 30 days. You can get it earlier if you contact them by email. The same applies for cancellation from your side.

If you did booking at the office and paid with cash, then I don’t know, I can only wish you good luck. Will you get the refund at the airport? Will you get it at every airport? Or do you have to go back to their office in Tbilisi? Or will they be able to use bank transfer, so you will probably pay a fee for an incoming transaction in a foreign currency? Let me know in the comments if you know the answer.

Other domestic flights in Georgia provided by Vanilla Sky

Vanilla Sky provides other domestic flights in Georgia.

Tbilisi – Batumi

The route between Tbilisi and Batumi is operated on SAAB 340 aircraft for 32 passengers. Georgian Airways also provide flights from Tbilisi to Batumi.

These flights depart from Tbilisi International Airport, not from Natakhtari.

Natakhtari (Tbilisi) – Ambrolauri

Another destination available from Natakhtari is Ambrolauri, also on LET-410 UVP aircraft.

Vanilla Sky flight route map in Georgia

On this map, you will find all of the mentioned routes, airports and other places.

My review of flight to Mestia with Vanilla Sky

I have two experiences with Vanilla Sky. The first one was in the summer of 2015 when my friend and I flew successfully from Natakhtari to Mestia. The second one was in the summer of 2017 when our flight from Kutaisi to Mestia was canceled due to bad weather in Mestia.

The best part, of course, is the flight itself. You fly over the whole country, and the mountainous scenery of Caucasus is simply amazing! If you have the opportunity to take this flight, do it!

The worst part is the communication and customer service, but that might be better by now.

Successful flight from Natakhtari to Mestia

It was not possible to book the flight online at that time, so we had to make a reservation via email. The communication was slow and insufficient since we had to urge them to get available dates. The payment was possible in cash only at their office in Tbilisi, but it was no problem for us because we were spending two months there.

On the day of our flight, we were provided with transport from Tbilisi to Natakhtari airport and everything was on time. At the airport, there was a registration of passengers before the flight and a standard security check. I had a small knife in my bag, but it wasn’t a big problem for them as they took it and gave it back to me at the airport in Mestia.

Canceled flight from Kutaisi to Mestia

My second flight to Mestia was supposed to be from Kutaisi, but the weather made it impossible. We received an email day before that the time of departure changed, but on the day of the flight, we didn’t receive any info. So we had to go to the airport to find out the flight was canceled and figure out how to get to Mestia (we hitchhiked).

Then I sent an email asking for a refund and received the money back in less than 30 days, probably within one week. They state the 3.5% fee is non-refundable, but they refunded me the whole sum.

Mestia

Mestia is a small town located in the Svaneti region in the Caucasus Mountains. It’s famous for its stone defensive towers, beautiful nature and a trek to Ushguli.

Mestia has become a popular destination amongst travelers visiting Georgia, and it can be quite crowded during summer.

Accommodation in Mestia

Tourism in Mestia is drastically increasing, and so the availability of accommodation. New hotels and guesthouses emerge every year, so you will easily find the one that suits your needs. Hostels are also available.

I can recommend KORTE Guesthouse, which is located right next to Seti square. It’s modern and clean, and it offers a big and well-equipped kitchen. In your free time, you can chill in the living room with other fellow travelers.

KORTE

I highly recommend this guesthouse in the town center.

Manoni’s guesthouse

One of the cheapest and well-rated guesthouses.

Hotel Posta

Luxurious 4* hotel in the center of the town.

Chalet Mestia

Chalet Mestia is a well rated hotel in the center of Mestia.

How to get to Mestia

All flights are sold out, your flight was canceled, or you just can’t or don’t want to fly?

To Mestia by rental car

To get the freedom of traveling in Georgia, rent a car with a Georgian car rental company CARS 4 RENT. I had a positive experience with them! Driving to Mestia is not difficult, and the road is normal. Just be careful with potholes and fallen rocks in some parts.

To Mestia by marshrutka or train

If you prefer public transportation, you can use marshrutkas (minibus) or a combination of train and marshrutka. In case you can’t find a direct marshrutka to Mestia, look for a connection to Zugdidi and in Zugdidi for another marshrutka. There are two direct trains from Tbilisi to Zugdidi and also from Zugdidi to Tbilisi. If you are in Kutaisi, you can get on the train in Mukhiani or Samtredia.

  • Tbilisi – Mestia
    • direct marshrutka Tbilisi – Mestia (there might be a swap of marshrutkas on the way)
    • marshrutkas with up to two transfers in Kutaisi and/or Zugdidi
    • train Tbilisi – Zugdidi, transfer to marshrutka Zugdidi – Mestia
  • Kutaisi – Mestia
    • direct marshrutka Kutaisi – Mestia (there might be a swap of marshrutkas on the way)
    • marshrutkas with one transfer in Zugdidi
    • train Mukhiani or Samtredia – Zugdidi, transfer to marshrutka

To Mestia by taxi

You might also find taxi drivers offering a shared ride, it’s more comfortable, and it doesn’t have to be too expensive when the car is fully occupied. We used a shared taxi between Mestia and Zugdidi and then took the night train from Zugdidi to Tbilisi.

To Mestia by hitchhiking

Another option is hitchhiking. It’s not difficult to get a ride in Georgia, but the road between Zugdidi and Mestia isn’t busy. Anyway, I was able to hitchhike from Mestia to Tbilisi and make a stop in Anaklia (a city on the Black Sea coast; a time-consuming detour while hitchhiking) in one day.

Helicopter flight to Mestia?

There is a chance you will find some info about a helicopter flight from Tbilisi to Mestia. The info is outdated, but if you want, I’m sure you will be able to arrange a private and expensive flight by a helicopter.

What to do in Mestia

Mestia is popular among trekkers, and the most popular is a trek from Mestia to Ushguli – one of the highest continuously inhabited settlements in Europe recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other favorite hikes are to Koruldi Lakes (you can hike only to a viewpoint with a cross above Mestia) and to Chalaadi Glacier.
If you are a lover of skiing, you can definitely visit Mestia during winter. There are two ski resorts, Hatsvali in Mestia and Tetnuldi 20km east of Mestia.
Not into hiking and trekking? Make a one day trip to Ushguli with a private driver or visit some of the many restaurants and cafés.