Georgia (the country) – Albeit short, I loved my hiking trip to Georgia. I spent my time exploring the remote Svaneti region with snowy peaks, impressive glaciers, and green valleys. Here, high in the mountains, the isolated and proud Svan people still managed to maintain their ancient traditions, culture, and language. Because of warring mountain clans between the 9th and 13th century, defensive stone towers were built for protection. These austere towers are still an incredible sight. Hiking in wild Svaneti has been nothing short of amazing. Here are some of my experiences and tips!
- Svaneti – Mestia
- How to prepare trekking Svaneti?
- Where to find a hiking buddy for Svaneti?
- Day 1 – Hiking Mazeri via Guli Pass to Koruldi Lakes
- Day 2 – Hiking from Koruldi Lakes to Mestia
- Day 3 – Hiking from Zhabeshi to Adishi river
- Day 4 – Hiking from Adishi river to Ushguli
- Day 5 – From Ushguli to Mestia
- My stay in Nino’s Guesthouse, Mestia
- Things to do in Mestia / Svaneti
- My stay at Nato Guesthouse, Ushguli
- How fit do I need to be to do this trekking?
- Quick Q & A
- How to get from Kutaisi to Mestia
- How to get from Mestia to Mazeri?
- Easiest way from Mestia to Tbilisi: Night train from Zugdidi to Tblisi
- Costs of trekking in Svaneti
Svaneti – Mestia
How to prepare trekking Svaneti?
- If you have them, bring trekking poles. However, these are not needed for the Mestia-Ushguli section.
- Bring proper hiking shoes for your Svaneti Mestia trekking.
- Download the MapOut application and download your routes beforehand. MapOut worked really well! Very detailed maps with altitude lines.
- Ask around in your guesthouse for the current weather situation and whether or not passes are closed.
- Bring some food and snacks from home (gels / energy bars / nuts).
- Take a simple, thin rain coat with you.
- If you bring a paper map, consider to put plastic on it.
- Check out the splendid website Caucasus Trekking. I used this website in the preparation stages for my Mazeri-Guli hike, the Mestia-Ushguli hike and the Gergeti glacier hike. Reliable and useful information. I would like to refer you to this website for a more detailed trekking description.
Where to find a hiking buddy for Svaneti?
You could try the Caucasus trekking website, check out one of the Facebook groups like Trekking the Caucasus or ask around in Svaneti Mestia. I noticed that the majority of people in Mestia was actually not trekking and only few people went camping. Many people did day hikes or went to Ushguli by car. I was lucky to find a great hiking buddy in the guesthouse, who was interested in doing the same type of trekking. Wouldn’t count on being so lucky though!
Day 1 – Hiking Mazeri via Guli Pass to Koruldi Lakes
The first day is the toughest one. In total, we climbed close to 2000 vertical meters in about 12 hours. You start the hike in Mazeri village. Here, you can find red and white markers, showing you the way. After a short rocky road up, you will soon pass through a green meadow with small flowers, cows and horses. Mount Ushba is on your left side. After this, you pass the ruins of Gul village and then a few hundred meters more up and you reach the windy Guli pass. Make sure not to take the path to the glacier! In our case, the Guli pass itself was still largely covered in snow (June), which made it very difficult to find our way down. I think we had to cross about 20 snow banks.
After that, there is a long road winding on the side of the mountain leading to the Kuraldi lakes. The last 30 minutes involve hiking uphill on the main road. Don’t underestimate this part. You still need to hike quite a few hundred meters up to get to the lakes. For us, this was definitely the hardest part of the day. We arrived at the lakes just before dark. However, it was all worth it. The Kuraldi Lakes were beautiful and we were the only ones there. There is a wooden shelter (with only two walls) for cooking which gives a bit of protection from the wind. It gets very cold at night, so make sure you have the proper gear.
- Total time hiking: About 10-11 hours
- Vertical ascent: About 1900 meters
- Vertical descent: About 600 meters
- Maximum altitude: 2946 meters
- Backpack weight: 15 kilograms
- Distance: about 25 km
Day 2 – Hiking from Koruldi Lakes to Mestia
Today, it was mostly a hike downhill. The first part was on the main road again, after that we hiked on small paths with friendly big Georgian mountain dogs. We passed by a wooden shelter and after that, we finally reached the famous Cross and view point. From the Cross, it was only 1-2 hours through the forest to get back to the city. Unfortunately, it started to pour, so we decided to stay one night in Mestia.
- Total time hiking: About 3 hours?
- Vertical ascent: ?
- Vertical descent: About 1500 meters
- Distance: 11 km’s
Day 3 – Hiking from Zhabeshi to Adishi river
Fortunately, the weather got better. We took a short cut and lifted a few kilometers by car. In total, we hiked > 8 hours on this third day. A little bit after midday, we reached the beautiful Zhabeshi and Cvabiana villages with traditional Svaneti towers, where we stopped for lunch. Most people opt to stay here.
Again, we went through some pastures and forest. After that, we reached the broad main road with the Tetnuldi ski resort to our right. We finally reached the village of Adishi and decided to hike another hour on to the Adishi river to set-up camp. Today’s trekking was beautiful. Everything was green, lots of wild flowers, baby animals, sounds of birds, glaciers, and big snow-capped mountains around us.
- Total time hiking: > 8 hours
- Vertical ascent: About 1200 meters
- Vertical descent: About 800 meters
- Distance: 15 km
RIVER EMERGENCY – At Adishi river, there was an emergency situation. It is generally known amongst hikers that Adishi river is very dangerous to cross (especially with high water levels). Therefore, in the mornings, Adishi villagers help hikers to cross the river with their horses. This service is mostly booked from people who stay in Adishi. There was a solo hiker girl, who came from the other direction and tried to cross the wild river to get to Adishi at the end of the day. She fell in and was even carried away with the ice-cold glacier stream for almost 500 meters. Luckily two other hikers were around, who got her out of the river. She had bruises all over her body and face and was hypothermic. When we arrived, they had already put her in several sleeping bags. We called Nino’s Guesthouse and after about 2 hours help finally came from Adishi village. They carried her to the village on a horse (at that time it also started to pour rain), and from there they took her to Mestia. As a medical doctor, I felt quite helpless. There was nothing more I could do then keep her warm. As a hiker, it shows how important it is to hike together (which I don’t always do :S) and to be properly prepared and informed.
Day 4 – Hiking from Adishi river to Ushguli
Today, we did two days in one day. From the river, there is a steep, winding path leading towards the Chkhunderi Pass (2655 meter). After reaching the pass, it gets easier and you will have stunning views on the Adishi glacier. In our case, there were a few huge ice blocks on the road, which we had to climb. Here, we also met some other hikers, and we all had a drink at the Khalde village. Here you can find one cafe with a terrace, serving soup and beer.
Most people stay in Iprali village, which has a few decent-looking guesthouses, but we decided to head straight to Ushguli through the ‘forest trail’. The first part was through meadows, after that it becomes a slippery steep path through the forest hill slopes. The last few km’s to Ushguli are on the main road. In Usghuli, we stayed in a cute family-run ‘Nato’ guesthouse, which served delicious food and had a hot shower (recommended!). Because of its geographical location, most food in Ushguli is locally produced.
- Total time hiking: About 10 hours
- Vertical ascent: About 1500 meters
- Vertical descent: About 1500 meters
- Distance: 28 km
Ushguli is the highest inhabited village in Europe (2200 meters above sea level). It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Day 5 – From Ushguli to Mestia
We spent the morning in Ushguli, enjoying the view on Shkhara glacier, visiting the house of a famous local Svaneti painter Fridon Nijeradzes, and climbing into one of the watch towers. After that, we took a shared taxi back to Mestia on a very windy road.
My stay in Nino’s Guesthouse, Mestia
Nino’s Guesthouse in Mestia is a popular guesthouse ran by a lady called Nino Ratiani. I will not quickly forget Nino. Not only does she run an excellent business, but she also helped us tremendously during an emergency situation in the mountains. A girl, who was hiking alone, fell into an ice-cold glacier river and we were far removed from anything. I called Nino, whose number I had on my phone and she contacted the local authorities and the nearest village. She was very worried and sweet and I’m very thankful for her help.
I enjoyed staying at Nino’s Guesthouse. The veranda in front of the house is a good place to meet other travelers. There is a mix of older travelers (also groups unfortunately) and backpackers. They serve breakfast and a dinner buffet. Although the dinner buffet did not sweep me off my feet, I thought it was good value for money. The entire guesthouse staff is friendly and welcoming. The rooms are clean and comfortable. It’s about a five-minute walk to town. There are also plenty of other hotels in town! You could check booking.com or another website to compare some Svaneti Mestia hotels.
Things to do in Mestia / Svaneti
- Enjoy the Svan cuisine
- Take a ride in the ski lift to enjoy the views
- Visit the Svaneti History Museum
- Hiking and trekking!
My stay at Nato Guesthouse, Ushguli
Nato guesthouse is a family-run guesthouse in Ushguli. They have 10 available rooms, holding up to twenty persons. Every evening and morning, delicious home-cooked Svan food is prepared. Also, the guesthouse was recently renovated and looks beautiful! If interested, the family has several horses available for rental. In Ushguli, you can visit the Usguli Ethnographic Museum, Fridon Nijeradzes Art house (famous Svan painter) and the Ushguli history museum. In winter, you can go skiing!
How fit do I need to be to do this trekking?
My hiking buddy was very fit, and I was also reasonably fit at the time of the trekking. The weeks prior to the trekking, I exercised about three times a week in the gym. Since we were also carrying our full gear with camping equipment, the trekking was at times tough. Especially for Mazeri to Koruldi Lakes, you need to be in a good shape. Mestia to Usghuli is much more easy, but still requires a basic level of fitness.
Quick Q & A
- Where to find water? – We passed by several streams with clear glacier water. It was no problem.
- What about the weather? – Like always, very unpredictable in mountains. Make sure to be prepared for rainy days!
- What about food? – From Mestia to Usghuli, you can buy Georgian food in the villages. There are no shops though.
- Do I need to book guesthouses beforehand? – We haven’t stayed in the village guesthouses ourselves, but in June it did not seem to be necessary to book beforehand
- How cold is it at night? – In June, it was quite cold at night. Especially at the Kuraldi lakes. Close or below zero.
- Will I meet other hikers on the way? – In our four days of hiking, we came across about 10 hikers.
- Is the trail well-marked in Svaneti? – Yes, generally the marks are good!
- Is Svaneti safe for travelers? – It seems to be a very safe place. No reports of harassment or pickpocketing or stealing.
How to get from Kutaisi to Mestia
There are direct minibusses from Kutaisi to Mestia for about 25 GEL. They leave from behind marshrutka station behind the Mc Donalds. Make sure to get a window seat, because the views along the way are stunning. Get there early (around 8 A.M.) to secure a seat in the first bus. After about 10 A.M. the buses leave when full. The bus stops for lunch at a small restaurant, where you can get absolutely delicious (!) Khachapuri, which is made in a way specific for this region.
How to get from Mestia to Mazeri?
The only way is by taxi, as there is no public transportation between Mestia and Mazeri. We arranged a private car through Nino’s Guesthouse and paid 12.5 euro. You can also hike from Mestia to Mazeri (approximately 7 km). On your way, you will pass Mt. Ushba (4710 meters), one of the highest Svaneti mountains.
Easiest way from Mestia to Tbilisi: Night train from Zugdidi to Tblisi
We arrived back in Mestia in the late afternoon and decided to take a shared van to Zugdidi (7 euro per person, sharing with three other persons). From there, we booked a night train back to vibrant Tbilisi (6 euro per person). Lots of things to do in Tbilisi and would advice to spent at least two full days exploring the city.
Costs of trekking in Svaneti
In total, I spent 240 GEL (80 euro) during those five days from Mestia to Mestia. Here are some example prices.
- Taxi to Mazeri: 35 GEL (total 70 GEL for one car)
- Stay in Nino’s Guesthouse, Mestia: 50 GEL
- Lunch: 8-15 Gel
- Horse ride: 17 GEL
- Room and board Nato Guesthouse: 50 GEL
- Marshrutka from Ushghuli to Mestia: 30 GEL
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I definitely plan on returning to Georgia! Have you visited Georgia? What were your favorite places? Or do you have any questions or recommendations concerning hiking in Svaneti?