Ushguli is a famous mountain village, an obligatory stop for any tourist visiting Upper Svaneti. It is often promoted as "the highest inhabited village in Europe", but this statement is only half correct - while Ushguli is truly an inhabited village, it is not the highest one and even doesn´t lie in Europe. Still, Ushguli is such a beautiful destination that it doesn´t need such crutches - the view of its towers with the mountain wall of the Greater Caucasus in the background is truly iconic.
Nowadays, most people visit Ushguli on a day trip from Mestia. They arrive at 11 am, stroll around the village and then have late lunch at Cafe Koshki till 3 pm when their bus departs. Given how much time they have, it´s a logical approach. And yet they miss a lot since the village is most beautiful on mornings and evenings when crowds leave.
If you have time, Ushguli deserves more than just a few hours. There is an ethnographic museum, monastery and, of course, numerous hiking trails.
To be honest, as a base for day hikes, Ushguli pales in comparison with Mestia. The reason is that its trump-card (Khalde wall) is visible right from the village. So someone could say that even if you hike around, you will keep seeing the same thing, only from a different angle (unlike Mestia, where the real views open up only after you climb above the village). That doesn´t mean that hikes aren´t good - they are, just not as varied. So doing two or three of them should be enough. So, without further talks, these are all hikes one can do around Ushguli - or at least all I am aware about. If you know some other, let me know
First two walks on this list take only a couple of hours to finish - so can be done even if you visit Ushguli on a day trip. However, that doesn't mean they are easy - both have some steep sections.
1. Hike to Tamar's castle
1,5 - 2 hours
The easiest walk on the list climbs to the lonely, ruined tower standing on a hill two hundred meters above the Ushguli - the place is known as "King Tamar's castle". According to the legends, it served as a summer residence of this famous Georgian queen. Tamar was known for being very fond of Svaneti and visited it regularly.
To get to the castle, you have to walk to Murkmeli community and from there turn into the valley to the south, is if you wanted to climb to Gorvashi pass. Then, once you reach the confluence of two creeks, turn left and climb short, but steep series of switchbacks to the tower you can already see above.
Short but pretty intensive climb to three stone cairns on the nameless hill situated to the northeast of the village. From the top, you will enjoy some of the best views of Khalde wall as well as the interesting perspective of Ushguli (with Enguri valley as a backdrop). If you have only a few hours, are fit and the weather is good, go for this one!
Regarding the duration of the hike, the accounts greatly vary. Our landlord told us that we will need three to four hours only to get to the top, but we did it in less than two hours. Still, this hike is worth it even if you are unsure of yourself - views improve with each gained meter of elevation and if you feel you are running out of time, you can just turn back (that's why it is among short strolls - people usually climb only a few hundred of meters and turn back).
When to go: June - mid October (you can go also earlier if you don´t mind that you won´t climb all the way to the top)
The other two walks on the list are considered to be a "classic Ushguli hikes". However, they mostly follow dirt roads. So, even though they are pleasant and the scenery is great, I cannot recommend them that much as pure walks (unless it´s very cloudy and there is no point in climbing higher). But if you are staying in Ushguli and would like to try some horseback riding, they are just perfect.
This hike follows the dirt track following Enguri river to its source by Shkhara and Namkuami glaciers. Only the last section, the final approach through the moraine to the glacier is by the narrow trail. The hike is mostly flat, suitable for everybody and there is even a small snack bar along the trail. And the views are pretty nice since you will be able to closely observe the mountain wall.
The whole hike takes some 5 hours to finish but can be greatly shortened if you rent a jeep to shorten the walk. This way, even daytrippers can visit the glacier. Prices for the ride vary but expect to pay from 60 to 100 GEL for the return trip.
Hike following the old road heading east of Ushguli. These days, it sees only very sparse traffic - no more than a few dozens of offroaders, bikers and cyclists pass it during the day. The road ends in the Lower Svaneti but we won't that far, our destination is Zagar pass (2616) which separates both valleys. During the hike, you will admire mountains of Svaneti range (Shkhara & others are blocked by a hill). Views of the main ridge open up only once you made it to Zagar pass - panorama will be dominated by mountains Ailama and Tsurungali. For even better views, I recommend following a small track heading to the left at the highest spot of the pass - some 400 meters later, you will find a small chapel built high in the hillside.
When to go: Late May-late October
And then we have here some serous hikes. Most of these overcome serious elevation and take a better part of the day. And then there is a hike to Iprali which didn´t fit in any other category :)
This route, while often used as an alternate ending of the Mestia - Ushguli trek, works well also as a day hike with a base in Ushguli. Of course, in this scenario, there is no reason to descend to Khalde. Just climb to Lagem pass (3000m, sometimes known as Southern Karetta pass) and then just follow the ridge to get even better views of Khalde wall, Tetnuldi, and surrounding mountains. If you go far enough north, you may even reach Karetta pass, but that may be too ambitious, feel free to turn back anytime. Another good destination is the mountain to the south of the pass. Then use the same route to return to Ushguli.
Classic hike climbing onto the Svaneti mountain range, running in the east-western direction south of the village. Offers some of the best panoramic views of the main ridge of the Greater Caucasus - on clear days, you will see Ushba, Elbrus and even more distant mountains. And of course, also mountains and valleys of Lower Svaneti to the south. The hike is not easy, but definitely worth it.
A longer variant of the Gorvashi pass hike for fit and fast hikers. After making it to the pass, you will not return but follow the top of the ridge in western direction, towards Latpari pass. The walk is really pleasant since the ridge is almost flat - also, you can take a dip in a couple of small but nice ponds right at the ridge. The only difficult sections come before Latpari pass where you will need to bypass (and almost climb) one 3000 meters high, yet unnamed mountain - but you can also turn back when you reach it if you don´t feel into it.
At Latpari pass, you will find another lake, a small chapel, and a dirt road. To get back, you could use the same way you arrived. Or just walk down the dirt road to Davberi and then hitchhike or take a taxi back to Ushguli.
When to go: Early June - late October
By Jitka Jakešová
8. Western loop by the Vakhushti pass
This hike connects hikes 3 and 4 and greatly improves them - but at the cost of increased difficulty. There is a direct trail between Shkhara glacier and Zagar pass, destinations of walks 3 and 4, the one which crosses the nameless ridge which separates them. From the ridge, you will enjoy postcard views of Khalde wall and you will also have an option to see it in the water since you will be passing small, but photogenic Namkuami lake.
Also, the ridge you will cross is the same one you climb in the "Hike to three stone cairns" (no. 2). There is a small trail connecting cairn with the Vakhushti pass so this is also a very attractive option - connect these hikes as you wish
The last hike on this list follows the final section of the classic Mestia - Ushguli trail. For the last day of the trek, it´s a good route - hikers are already tired and so don´t mind that the walk is and difficult, they just want to finally make it to Ushguli. However, for someone who already IS in Ushguli, this is not a very attractive day hike. You will hike down the Enguri valley on a forest trail running some 200 elevation meters above the car road, but still with quite limited views. And once you make it to the end, you will have to return the same way or take a taxi back. I had to think a while why would someone pick this walk over the ones below. But there are some reasons - for example, this is the only walk on the list which mostly runs through the forest.
When to go: May - October
By Andrey Stepanov
Thank you for reading all the way down here. If you think I overlooked some hike which deserves to be in the list or made some other mistake, please let me know.
And if you enjoyed this list and are into trekking, hiking or Caucasus, you can share it or
like my Fb page. Thanks again! Jozef. :)