Two Kinds of Fossilised Dinosaur Prints
There is perhaps no other place in the world quite like Sataplia Nature Reserve, where visitors may step into the fossilised footprints of both raptor (carnivore) and herbivore dinosaurs. Both kinds of these extinct animals left their paw prints imprinted and fossilised for us to discover them millions of years later in this temperate forest in Georgia. Besides the dinosaur footprints, a limestone cave was also discovered alongside the site and can be discovered during a visit to Sataplia Nature Reserve.
The Famous Limestone Caves
When booking our stay in Kutaisi, I knew that en route to Martvili Canyon we should plan to stop at one of Georgia’s famous limestone caves in the area. Although the more famous Prometeus Cave has the attraction of floating across an underground lake inside the cave we had decided to visit Sataplia cave instead, where we would also get the chance to see the dinosaur footprints. Who would not want to witness where real dinosaurs had passed what seems like an eternity ago?
Visits Only by Guided Tours!
Information about the cave, opening times and entrance fees seemed to be scarce and we ended up just driving there by chance. Tourist information in Georgia is still rather patchy as we had already discovered. On arrival we found that the Sataplia cave and dinosaur footprints were only accessible to visitors by taking a guided tour. These tours are offered in three languages (Georgian, Russian and English), the next tour after our arrival was in Russian. We decided that rather than waiting for over two hours for an English tour we would join the Russian one despite not understanding a word of the language.
Fees and Opening Times
Entrance fees were very reasonable, 15 GEL for adults and 6 for children over 6 years, 5 GEL and that included the guide. It is worth noting that the Sataplia State Reserve is open daily from 10-17:00 except on Mondays.
Once our group was ready the guide set out along a designated route through the Sataplia Nature Reserve. First we entered the Conservation Hall, especially built to preserve the dinosaur footprints for future generations. Discovered by a scientist in 1933, the dinosaur prints show paw prints of the so-called “Satapliasaurus” a group of reptiles that roamed the area millions of years ago. Scientists researched the footprints, and discovered the lower layers to be left by raptors sauruses and the upper layer by grass-feeding ones.
Discovering the Dinosaur Footprints
It was incredible to imagine that these gigantic animals had grazed and hunted in this area, an unimaginable time ago, and yet they just appeared to be left like handprints in concrete only a day ago… It came as no surprise that we were not able to walk near to or touch the dinosaur prints, I am sure thousands of feet and hands would destroy them in only a few years! In fact, we had seen dinosaur footprints before on our trip to New York a few years ago, where we were able to walk over them at a beautiful riverside location in Holyoke, MA.
Wanders Through the Colchic Forest
Leaving the building with the dinosaur prints behind we wandered along a dedicated path through the Colchic forest, this is a special ecosystem that stretches from Georgia along the Black Sea to Bulgaria. A type of temperate, broadly mixed forest with lots of shrubs and undergrowth, provides a thriving home to large variety of flora and fauna including some rare species.
Statues of Dinosaurs
The forest leafy canopy doused our walk into a mellow, green light. Along the path were statues of the well-known dinosaurs. Iguanodon and Tyrannosaurs Rex were two that provided kids with excitement and although touching them was prohibited, it did not stop a large number of the visitors from holding their claws and taking selfies and photos with the models of the scary creatures.
The Sataplia Limestone Cave
After a leisurely stroll for about 10 minutes, with some good views from the rock outcrops back across the plains towards Kutaisi, we reached the dark entrance to the Sataplia limestone cave. Stepping inside, we could immediately feel the temperature drop and we almost wished we had brought a jacket to cover up. In contrast to the outside, the cave’s temperature is around 14C all year round, which was a difference of almost 20C to the Summer’s heat! The cave offers the usual sight of stalactites and stalagmites, none were very impressive though admittedly we have explored more spectacular caves before on our travels.
Fascinating Underground World
However, entering a limestone cave always feels like entering a mysterious underground world and it holds a fascinating spell on visitors. The Sataplia Cave, like many other caves these days, tries to engage visitors by putting in colourful light shows, like a brief stint in a disco, and I personally could do without the disneyfying effects. The cave’s main attraction is the giant “heart” created over thousands of years by tiny drops of calcium in the water, falling from the stalagmites on the ceiling above. Jerome had also kept an eye out for the bats that are supposed to live n the cave but we could not spot any during our tour.
More Facts About Dinosaurs
Once we had reached the exit, we were left to find our own way back to the entrance and so decided to wander first over to the viewing platform nearby. On the way we took a quick look at the small exhibition hall where we discovered some interesting facts about the local wildlife and more information on the dinosaurs that lived in the area.
Glass Bottom Observation Deck
The observation deck is a fairly new addition to the Sataplia Nature Reserve and its walkway was entirely made of a see through glass floor, overhanging the cliff and forest below. Walking over the glass floor, some tens of meters above ground into nothingness is a challenge for many. While Jerome whizzed off ahead, I was aware that Chris hates overhangs and would find it hard to wander across the platform to enjoy the sweeping views of the surrounding forest and Kutaisi in the distance. However, he somehow managed to easily walk on the glass floor, I guess the shock of riding the rusty gondola in Chiatura the day before, was more terrifying and therefore lessened the angst!
Worth a Visit!
All in all, Sataplia Nature Reserve was worth the small diversion on our drive to Martvili. The dinosaur footprints are definitely an exceptional and rare sight and a great way to educate kids on the subject. The karst cave adds to the other-worldly experience but whilst interesting, it is not the best cave experience ever! Our next destination for the day were the cool waters of Kaghu waterfall, followed by a boat trip through the fascinating Martvili Gorge and a second swim for the day, with locals in a secret spot close-by.
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Hotels in Georgia
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Generally we would not recommend a chain hotel but the Best Western is the only upmarket hotel, for all those looking for home comforts and well-trained English speaking staff.
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