Nice hike crossing Zuruldi range and offering phenomenal views on some of the most prominent peaks of Caucasus
One of my favorite hikes in the proximity of Mestia. It crosses Zuruldi range and offers phenomenal views on some of the most prominent peaks of Caucasus such as Ushba, Tetnuldi, and Layla.
The walk usually finishes in picturesque Tsvirmi village.
I should mention here that there are actually three versions of the hike to Tsvirmi - this one uses cablecar to get to the top of the Zuruldi ridge.
You can also climb up on foot (route described here)
or just follow a valley of Inguri river (easier, less scenic trail, don't have it on the web yet).
The walk can be adjusted into an easy day hike with the return to Mestia
or the first stage of a longer trek (usually to Ushguli).
Duration: 5-6 hours
Hiking time can be reduced by almost 2 hours if you take a taxi from Mestia to Hatsvali station (9 km).
But if you want to return to Mestia on the same day and don't manage to find a car in Tsvirmi, you will have to walk another 30 minutes to the main road in the Ughviri pass.
If you walk all the way from Mestia, its 20 km hike with some minor climbing. If you take a taxi to the cable car station, it's even easier.
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.
Taxi to Hatsvali
You can shorten the trip if you hire a taxi to drive you first 9 km from Mestia to Hatsvali Ski station.
This section follows new concrete road so many people will be tempted to take a cab.
Still, its a nice walk mostly in the pine forest with occasional views of Mestia and Ushba. And you can, as always, try to hitchhike.
Also here, the taxi drivers got used to tourists, they usually ask 30-40 GEL for 9 km ride. You can haggle it down to 20-25, but no less.
But if that's too much for you, you can, as always, hitchhike.
Hatsvali cable car
The modern cable car built in 2010. Price is 5 GEL for a roundtrip. Near the upper station is a restaurant with terrace and gorgeous views.
The cable car operates from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm. It doesn't work in rainy or foggy weather.
If you are not sure, I recommend to ask at Visitor’s center at Seti Square and confirm if it currently operates or not.
Description of the route
The trail starts at Seti Square. Leave it by a street heading to the southeast, after 200 meters cross the bridge and turn right. Cross another bridge and walk by a museum.
Main road here bends to the east - follow it, pass few more houses and leave the village.
After 1,5 kilometers, the road splits. Turn right in the direction of Hatsvali. Next section is a bit tedious walk on a concrete road.
Ignore all smaller roads road and after 6 kilometers and few more bends, you will come to the Hatsvali ski station.
There should also be one shortcut which climbs from Mestia directly through the forest and joins concrete road later.
I guess it´s the much better option, it´s shorter and you will spend less time on the concrete road.
However, I haven´t discovered it during my visit and only later found it on the online map.
If someone wants to scout it, here is the GPS log.
Please, let me know if you try it - I would like to rewrite the article once I get more info about it.
Take a cable car ride to the top of Zuruldi range, then head east. Walk between trees, cross small meadow and you will come to bigger dirt road. It will take you all the way to Mentashi transmitter, which is already visible to the east. There is only one crossroad halfway, in front of a small hill - if you take left branch, you will climb to the nameless transmitter (limited views), if you take right one, trail will bypass the mount. But no matter which path you take, both will merge again and you will have to climb hundred meters to another transmitter.
Mentashi hill offers breathtaking views in all directions and is an excellent place for a break. Majority of people turn back here and return to the cable car.
It's also a viable option as views when riding downwards are even better (as you see Ushba all the time without a need to twist your neck).
But we continue eastwards. Descent from Mentashi is a bit tricky as the terrain is very steep and the path not always visible (to put it mildly).
Be careful. You need to make it to the meadow in the northeastern direction. Once there, find a small path heading northeast. Follow it, cross several pastures and belts of trees.
After two kilometers, you will come to a spot where the trail turns north and dives into the forest.
From here, it's supposed to continue to Mulakhi village. First sections are decent, but further stages are in a poor shape so I don't recommend it.
But if you have time, you can make a small side trip - after first 300 meters, there is a meadow with nice views of Mt. Ushba.
In case you want to go directly to Tsvirmi, keep walking east. Follow the grassy path between trees - on your left will be a dense forest,
on the slope below you a small group of trees. Once you walk pass this grove, turn right and descend some 50 meters. You will find a path, which soon turns into regular dirt road -
too narrow for a car, but wide enough for a cart. This track will take you all the way to Tsvirmi.
Tsvirmi is a lovely hamlet, barely touched by tourism. If you want to spend a night here, you will stumble upon a guesthouse soon after you enter a village.
If you want to carry on to Ughviri pass, head to the center of the village, where you will find tourist marker.
There is an arrow showing the trail to Mestia pointing to the west (Inguri valley path), but it's too far that way so we will set off in the direction of Zhabeshi.
Just follow the main road and after two kilometers you will come to Ughviri pass. Here you will (hopefully) hitch a ride back to Mestia.