Nice day hike to the group of lakes lying at the foot of mt. Ushba.
Decent day hike to the group of alpine lakes lying at the foot of Mt. Ushba. Even though the lakes themselves are not that special, the view of surrounding mountains is superb. On the other hand, this hike follows a dirt road so expect jeeps passing by.
Duration: 7 hours
4 hours there and 3 hours back.
Sixteen kilometers of walking on the dirt road, elevation change 1400m up and down.
If you hire a driver with 4WD, you can significantly shorten the hike - even to the point
where you don't have to walk at all. But what kind of a hiker would you then be?
From Zugdidi: Marshrutkas to Mestia leave from Zugdidi train station every day. The first one departs around 6:30 a.m, after the arrival of the night train from Tbilisi, but there should be several others before noon. The last one usually departs at 14:30. The trip takes about 3-4 hours (1-hour break included) and the price is usually 20 GEL per person.
From Tbilisi: In my opinion, the best option is the night train to Zugdidi and marshrutka from there. Train departs from Tbilisi at 21:45 and reaches Zugdidi at 6:05 am. Price of the ticket is 30 GEL, tickets for sleeper berths can be bought in advance at biletebi.ge website (the official web is railway.ge, but that never worked for me).
If you want to save time, you could also consider a flight - there are 4 flights a week from Natakhtari airport near Tbilisi, operated by VanillaSky company . You would see Caucasus from a completely different perspective and for 65 GEL it´s quite a bargain. On the downside, they ocassionally get canceled because of the weather and during the summer, you should book at least month in advance since they get booked up pretty fast. For more info, pls check this excellent post about the flight (covers also flight from Kutaisi).
The last option is the direct marshrutka - it departs at 6:00 from the area in front of Railway Station, come at least 30 minutes earlier to catch a spot. The price is 30 GEL, so it´s quite cheap, but I can´t recommned it since this uncomfortable journey takes grueling 9-10 hours.
From Batumi: Marshrutka is the only option, it departs from the main bus station. Since you will have switch the bus in Zugdidi (you may have to wait for several hours there), this ride takes a better part of the day. The first bus departs at 8:00 am, then there should be another one at 9:30 am.
How to leave Mestia:
Marshrutkas to Zugdidi depart every day in the morning. There are usually a few more during the day, depending on the demand.
In a high season there should also be daily marshrutkas to Tbilisi and Batumi, departing in the morning). For actual timetables and booking of tickets,
please visit Bus Office near the new gate leading to Seti Square.
Description of the route
The route starts at the newly reconstructed Seti square. Your first task will be to make it to the cross on the Tshkhakezagari mountain north of Mestia -
it lies halfway to the lakes and is visible from the city.
Start walking from square to the east and after 500 meters turn left and take the street heading directly towards the cross on the hill.
Follow it past several Svan towers; soon you will pass under the old stone arch - trail should be marked if you are not sure, ask around or watch for orange/white markings.
Follow the street towards the cross. You will leave the village behind and eventually come to the spot where main tourist trail sharply turns to the right.
Here you have an option to take a shortcut which could save you some 30 minutes of walking, but is very steep and not that well marked.
If you want to follow it, just leave the tourist trail and continue climbing directly towards the cross.
However, I would recommend taking the standard trail; it's longer but more comfortable. Follow the main trail to the east and after some 30 minutes, you will emerge on the jeep track.
It will comfortably take you to the cross (there are also several shortcuts on the way) - whole walk from Mestia to cross takes up to 2 hours.
At the cross, there is a wooden shelter and pointer showing the way towards the lakes. Follow it to the north, pass by shepherds hut and you will soon appear on a dirt road.
There is a sporadic traffic as it's possible to drive to the lakes by car and if you still don't feel confident about your direction, there are also wooden poles to show you the way.
The road slowly, but steadily climbs to the north on Lamaaja ridge, to get to the lakes you will need another 2 hours.
On the way you will also pass a turn-off left heading to the Guli pass, from here to the lakes it's no more than half an hour of walking on the main road.
Lakes are for some people a disappointment because they are more muddy than rocky and not suitable for bathing.
Still, they beautifully reflect surrounding mountains, which is more than adequate compensation.
If you are fit, not afraid of heights and have good shoes, you can climb even higher, to the cross on Koruldi ridge at the elevation of 3300 meters.
From here, you can have some of the best views ordinary hiker can get in these parts of Caucasus. The climb is not technically that hard,
but exposed and quite exhausting as you are often climbing in broken shales, which slide beneath your feet.
The whole hike to the cross on Koruldi ridge from Mestia and back can be done in a day, but only by really fit and fast hikers as Koruldi plateau lies almost 2000 meters above Mestia.
Slower hikers should consider hiring a jeep to take them at least to the cross on Tshkhakezagari mountain to save some time.
Also, hike to the cross on Koruldi ridge is one of those where I would consider hiring a guide (just to make it clear - hike to the lakes is easily doable without one).