Kazbegi district lies in the Caucasus mountains north of Tbilisi, beneath the famous Mount Kazbek. Due to its combination of easy accessibility and natural beauty, it is the most visited mountain area in Georgia.

The center of the region is Stepantsminda village, still knows under its other name Kazbegi. Both these names refer to the famous characters from the past. Saint Stepan was a Georgian monk who resided here and built a hermitage in a cave high above the village (Stepantsminda = Stepan´s shrine). The other was local warlord Gabriel Chopikashvili, son of Kazi-Beg. After the region was annexed by Russia in the late 18th century, the local people revolted, but he decided to side with the Russians and helped to crush the uprising. As a reward, he got a position in the Russian army. He also adopted a surname Kazbegi and since there times, the village under his rule was often referred as Kazbegi as well. It was officially renamed to Kazbegi in 1925 and got its older name Stepantsminda only in 2006. Still, this little confusion doesn´t stop tourists - daytrippers from Tbilisi coming here to see Tsminda Sameba church while mountaineers attempt a popular Mt. Kazbek (5033m) climb.

The main lifeline of the region is the Georgian Military Highway which connects Russian city Vladikavkaz with Tbilisi. It was built by Russians in 19th century and played an instrumental role in their conquest of Caucasus. But, of course, the route itself is much older. It is one of two crossings of Caucasus mountain range (the other being Derbent in Azerbaijan) and since the antiquity was therefore used by traders and invaders alike. Nowadays, it constitutes the only border crossing between Georgia and Russia and is frequented by numerous truck. That´s also the reason why the village of Stepantsminda itself is not some serene mountain hideaway (as some people expect it to be) but quite busy traffic hub. Still, it´s definitely worth a visit - the morning view of Mt. Kazbek is unforgettable.

Kazbegi region also offers much more than Mt. Kazbek. In its smaller side valleys lie premium hiking destination such as Truso valley or the surroundings of Chaukhi massif. More adventurous hikers explore the accesible parts of Keli volcanic plateau (most of the plateau is under control of Russian army), Gudamakari mountains or the Khde gorge.

How to get to Kazbegi:

The best place to start is Didube bus station in Tbilisi. As soon as you leave the subway, you will be approached by taxi drivers offering a ride to Kazbegi. They usually charge 100-120 GEL, the best price we were ever able to haggle was 75 GEL for five people. The main advantage of a taxi is the possibility to make breaks at various sights along the highway such as Ananuri fortress, Friendship monument or travertines behind Jvari pass. Road itself is magnificent, so it´s worth it to pay a taxi, at least for the first time.
If you are not interested in a taxi, you can look for a marshrutka - they depart when full from 8. am till late afternoon. The trip takes 3 hours and costs 10 GEL.

How to get to Juta:

There is no public transport, so probably the best option for solo hikers and couples is the daily minibus arranged by Mountain Freaks agency. It departs twice a day, at 9:30 (return at 16:30) and 11:00 (return at 18:30) from their office in Stepantsminda. Price of the return ticket is 30 GEL and the bus departs when there are at least three passengers. It can take only 7 people, so during the high season (Jul, Aug), I recommend to book it at least one day in advance.
Larger groups or people going only there may prefer a private taxi - ask the owner of your guesthouse or people at the main square. Price for the one-way trip is 40-50 GEL and the ride takes 45 minutes. A return tip with 3-4 hours of waiting time included costs about 80-100 GEL.
Finally, if you want to walk by foot, from Kazbegi its almost 4 hours of walking (17 km) and there is also a possibility to hitchhike.


Mt. Kazbek in the morning

Mount Kazbek

Mount Kazbek ( Mkinvartsveri in Georgian) is a 5033m high, dormant stratovolcano lying north of Tbilisi, at the border with Russia. It is the third highest mountain of Georgia, towering 1000 meters high above it's neighbours. The mountain always evoked respect also played an important role in the Georgian mythology. It was a place of imprisonment of a mythical hero Amirani, who bears many similarities with Greek Prometheus. Because of this, the mountain is often referred to as a place where Prometheus himself was chained (Greek legend doesn´t specify the place, says only it was in the Caucasus).
The another legend is tied to the mythical cave monastery Betlemi. Established in 6th century in a cave hidden in a rock wall 80m above the ground at the elevation of 3800m, it was the most inaccessible monastery in Georgia (and that really means something!). The monks had to climb the iron chain to get inside. According to "Life of Kartli's Kings" chronicle, during the Mongol invasion, a unit of young soldiers hurried here to hide the royal and church treasures. And once the treasure was at a safe place, they killed each other to keep a secret. And they did an exceptionally good job - the monastery was hidden so well that it was rediscovered only during Second World War. Inside were find various coins, books and other antiquities (but no royal treasure). The iron door which once protected the entrance is now on display in the museum in Stepantsminda.
OK, enough history for now :). Even though the Kazbek boasts the status of "five-thousander", the climb is technically not difficult - these are the main reasons why it´s a very popular mountaineering summit. It can be climbed also from the Russian side but since this route requires a permit, the absilute majority of climbers uses the Georgian side where the permit is not necessary. The climb itself usually takes 3-4 days. I won´t write about it here since I am not a climber, but I strongly recommend you this post about the climb, I don´t think it´s posible to describe it in an even higher detail :)

Mount Kazbek

Mount Kazbek

Ananuri fortress

Ananuri is scenic castle complex lying by the Georgian Military Highway, right at the bank of Zhinvali water reservoir. It is a popular stop of tourists travelling to Kazbegi.
Fortress was built by eristavis (dukes) of Aragvi , its oldest sections date back to 13th century. In 1739 was Ananuri attacked by rival duchy and Aragvi clan got massacred. Four year later local peasants stood up agains the usurpers, killed them and invited Kakhetian king Teimuraz II. to rule over them. Fortress remained in use till 19. century. Castle consists of two fortifications joined by a wall. Upper fortification is well-preserved, within it are two richly decorated churches.
In the past few years, it is possible to notice creeping development of the site. True, the entrance is still free and toilets are still horrible, but the parking spot in front of the fortress is not covered by numerous merchant stalls. Also, nice viewpoint above the Zhinvali reservoir got sealed off by the iron gate. On the positive note, I think several straiways and wooden ceilings were reconstructed so it's possible to explore previously unaccesible areas.


Ananuri fortress

Memorial of Russo-Georgian friendship

Another popular stop of tourists heading to Kazbegi village, this memorial lies on Georgian Military highway in Gudauri, close to the Jvari pass. It was built by Soviets on 1983 to commemorate 100 years of common existence of both nations.
Memorial has a form of lange concrete semicircle decorated with scenes from Georgian and Russian history. It is built on a ledge overlooking the valley and offers superb views of surrounding mountains.


Memorial of Russo-Georgian friendship

Tsminds Sameba church

Georgians are well known for their habit of building churches on scenic, elevated places and this old shrine is the finest example. Tsminda Sameba (Gergeti Trinity) church lies on a top of the hill which is a part of Kazbegi massif, 3rd highest mountain in Georgia.
Church was built in 14th century and consists of actual church and separate belltower. Its isolated location in the heart of mountains made it a symbol of Georgia. During the invasion of Persians in 18th century it served as a depository of precious Georgian relics from Mtskheta such as St. Nino’s cross. During the Soviet era religious services were prohibited, but government realized the appeal of this destination and built a ropeway to it. Locals, however, opposed this act of defilement and promptly tore it down. Nowadays is the church active establishment of Georgian Orthodox Church.
Church is one of the most famous sights in Georgia, it can be reached by 1,5 hours long walk form Stepanstsminda village. I am not too religious but this place has really special atmosphere - its small, but one can really feel how old and sacred it is.


Tsminda Sameba church

From Stepanstsminda to Gergeti glacier

Nice dayhike from Kazbegi village to the foot of Gergeti glacier covering Mt. Kazbek at the elevation of 3200 meters. On the way you will pass beautifuly situated Gergeti Trinity church, probably the most famous Georgian landmark.

  • Duration: 1 Day
  • Difficulty: Hard

From Juta to Roshka via Chaukhi pas

Well-known Georgian trail connecting Kazbegi region with Khevsureti. It very interesting due to proximity of imposing Chaukhi massif with its seven sharp peaks and necessity to scale 3431 meters high Chaukhi pass.

  • Duration: 1 Day
  • Difficulty: Hard

The walk in Truso valley

Walking in Kazbegi area in almost abandoned valley in direction of South Ossetia borders. Nice nature, interesting travertine formations.

  • Duration: 1 Day
  • Difficulty: Moderate

From Roshka to Juta by Sadzele pass

Alternative, less demanding hiking trail connecting Juta village with Roshka which crosses 3060m high Sadzele pass.

  • Duration: 1 Day
  • Difficulty: Moderate

From Juta to Roshka via Arkhoti valley

Another great 2-day trek from Juta to Roshka, less frequented that classic Chaukhi route. It crosses two mountain passes and wild Arkhoti valley.

  • Duration: 2 Days
  • Difficulty: Moderate

From Shatili to Juta through Isirtghele pass

Very demanding 6-day trek connecting Shatili, historical center of Khevsureti with Kazbegi region. Crosses two mountain passes and leads through little visited border areas of Georgia

  • Duration: 4-5 Days
  • Difficulty: Very hard

Walk to the Gveleti waterfalls

Simple stroll to the couple of a nice waterfalls lying at the both ends of forked Gveleti valley.

  • Duration: 1 Hour
  • Difficulty: Very easy

Hike in the Artkhmo gorge

Hike start in Akhaltsikhe village in Sno valley and heads south, following the Artkhmo river. On the way you can see deserted village Artkhmo as well as several small waterfalls.

  • Duration: 3 Hours
  • Difficulty: Easy

Trek to Kelitsadi lake

This trek, starting in picturesque Truso valley, explores the Keli volcanic plateau, barren, rocky piece of land lying west of Georgian Military Highway. It crosses two 3400m high mountain passes and visits remote Kelitsadi lake.

  • Duration: 3 Days
  • Difficulty: Hard

Crossing Khde gorge to Juta

Trail connects Darial gorge with Juta village. It crosses beautiful, wild Khde valley with several waterfalls and offers great views from 3500m high Kibishi pass. Glacier equipment needed!

  • Duration: 3 days
  • Difficulty: Very hard

Crossing from Suatisi to Mna valley

This nice trek explores little-visited valleys of Suatisi and Mna. Highlights of the hike are rock formations in the upper parts of valleys and views from Southern Iriston pass.

  • Duration: 3 days
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Mt. Kazbek with Tsminda Sameba church Kazbegi Mt. Kazbek Ananuri fortress Russo-Georgian friendship memorial Gergeti Trinity church Mount Kazbek
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