The most popular multi-day trek in Georgia and for a good reason.
The most popular multi-day trek in Georgia and for a good reason - it's not too long, it's accessible, offers excellent views and passes through several traditional Svan villages.
Another advantage is the possibility of sleeping every night in guesthouses, so unlike others multi-day treks, for this one, you don't need a tent.
If four days is not enough for you, you can easily extend this hike into an adventure almost two weeks long and explore other, less touristy parts of Svaneti.
Duration: 4 days
A good walker with a tent could comfortably finish this trek in three days, but if you want to sleep in guesthouses, you probably need to split it into four days. Unless you are a really fit hiker - in this case, you can do first two sections (27 km) in a single day.
The first and last day are quite easy, but on both days between you will have to overcome considerable elevation.
The season for this trek is from the beginning of June till late October. Each period has its pros and cons. In June, one can enjoy green scenery with blooming flowers,
but there is a reason why everything is green and it has something to do with rain. In October, you can admire colorful autumn foliage, but days are already much shorter and colder.
Also, in the second half of the month, one can expect first severe snowfalls.
The best time to visit is during July and August. Early September can also be really nice and free of crowds.
I would like to address one question I get very often - people coming in May often ask me if it is "possible" to finish the trek at this period. I find it very hard to answer. Trekking in sub-optimal conditions means the higher chance of the accident and who am I to decide if this still worth to risk it or not? Especially when I have no idea who is asking. But to give at least some answer, first hikers who manage to finish Mestia - Ushguli trek usually do it between 20th and 30th May. How you use this info is up to you.
The tent is not necessary; it´s possible to spend nights in guesthouses. Also, you don´t have to worry about food too much - they serve breakfasts and dinners and can also prepare a lunchbox.
People often ask me if it's necessary to book accommodation in advance. The answer is - if you are trekking in July or August and have no camping gear, you should. The locals will probably find you some place to sleep even when they are full, but it may not be the most comfortable option. To book in advance, you can use an online portal such as booking.com - (comfortable, but the offer of places in smaller villages is still limited) or ask your landlord in Mestia to make the booking for you, they have the necessary contacts.
People usually start from Mestia because Ushguli is a great place to finish the trek - and it's always more fun to hike somewhere where you haven't been yet than drive to Ushguli
and then return on foot.
Also, it's easier to cross the dangerous stream beyond Adishi which should be done in the morning, when the water level is lower.
The only disadvantage is that while in Mestia you can always find a driver, Ushguli is much smaller village so leaving it will be more difficult.
From Zugdidi to Mestia:
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 20 GEL per person.
From Tbilisi to Mestia:
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).
Another 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.
If you want to take bus, it much better to take comfortable long-distance buses operated by the Turkish company Metro bus. The downside is that they will get you only as far as to Zugdidi. There, you will have to switch to marshrutka to get to Mestia.
From Kutaisi to Mestia:
This depends on whether you want to get to Mestia from the city or from the Kutaisi airport.
In the first case, your best options are the direct minibuses (the price is 25 GEL) departing from the station behind McDonalds. The first one leaves at 9:00 but if you want to secure your spot, get there between 8:00 - 8:30 am. since it's quite popular among tourists. The next marshrutka then departs at 10:00 or even earlier if full. If you miss both and there is none other direct bus available, look for a marshrutka to Zugdidi (price 7 GEL) - it's the same way and you can find there transport to Mestia more easily (especially if you notify your driver in Kutaisi that you need to continue to Mestia).
If you are travelling directly from the airport, the most reliable way to get to Mestia is the use the service of Georgian bus (they have a stand at the airport) - the price is 40 GEL per person. You ask also ask some taxi drivers loitering at the arrivals hall, they may be willing to give you even a better price.
From Batumi to Mestia:
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.
If you need to return to Mestia, your best bet will be minivans making day trips to Ushguli. They are not always full and not all travelers want to go back on the same day,
so there is a decent chance they will have a few empty seats on the return trip. They usually arrive at 10 or 11 am. and depart back towards Mestia around 3 pm.
I recommend you to wait for their arrival and immediately arrange everything with the driver. Fair price for the trip could be 10-20 GEL (as the return trip costs 30 GEL).
If you don't want to wait and decide to hire a whole car, it will cost you about 200 GEL. And, as always, there is the option of walking back and trying to hitchhike.
If you want to prolong your trek, you can cross into Lower Svaneti on foot via Latpari pass or Zagar pass.
Day 1: Mestia - Zhabeshi distance 16.1km, 763m and 523m
The trek starts on Mestia's main square. Leaving the square towards the east, take the first street to the right/south, immediately after the buildings surrounding the square.
Follow it down to the river. After the bridge, turn left. The trail is now marked and climbs slowly passing the Hotel Tetnuldi and later a row of wooden chalets to leave Mestia behind.
After a while on a large dirt track, you will see some ruined buildings ahead. Before you reach them, turn right (south-east) for a short steep section which quickly turns north-east
again to climb more moderately. The trail goes through the light forest and over pastures from which you will have a nice view of Mt. Ushba.
After a while, you will reach a meadow with the another pointer. It will divert you from the dirt load onto a short, but very steep trail through the forest. You should reconnect the road in less than 10 minutes. Here, turn right and walk another 300 meters until you see a huge meadow on your left. Shortly, a path turns south-east and opens up for a beautiful view of Svaneti valley dominated by Mt. Tetnuldi peak. You are at the highest point of today's walk.
From here, you could follow the large dirt road and pass from village to village on the lower part of the slope. To enjoy a nicer view, however,
it is better to stay on the higher parts of the slope. This is also the marked trail, even if due to broken signposts, you might miss it at the beginning.
From the ridge, descend on the large dirt track for 100m. At the broken signpost, instead of continuing on the dirt track, take the narrow trails which run along the slope.
Crossing fields, pastures and some trees, you maintain your altitude until the trail descends past the transmitter towers between Murksheli and Zhamushi villages.
Pass through Zhamushi and Cholashi villages on the village dirt road. Coming down to the Mulkhura river, you could follow the main road over the bridge and to Chvabiani village.
However, it is better to continue on the northern side of the river (the trail is marked) and cross the river at one of the two wooden bridges to reach Chvabiani or Zhabeshi.
Both hamlets are good options to stay for the night.
Day 2: Zhabeshi - Adishi distance 10.6km, 909m and 527m
Walk uphill (south) along the stream flowing through the village until you cross it next to the last house and tower of the village.
Follow the path which passes the house and tower in western direction. The path finally turns south, then south-east and climbs over a series of pastures and through a light forest.
Cow trails might sometimes create confusion. After around 2 hours of climbing, follow the trail on a dirt track through dense, low forest
until you reach a new, big road and Tetnuldi skiing resort.
When you are in the skiing area, follow the road and skiing track towards the left/east (signposted).
After a little bit more than a kilometer, roughly at 2500m altitude, a marked trail (Hadiish) branches off to the south-east.
The path crosses open areas with nice views and wildflowers and then slowly descends into the forest. At some point, before crossing a stream, there is a small cabin in a meadow.
Contrary to what's indicated in the maps of the tourist information, you don't get any food or drinks there, but it's still a nice place for a break (and shelter in case of rain).
Less then an hour later, you reach Adishi. The village is hidden below the slope and you will see it at the last possible moment.
If you want even better views and don't mind climbing another 200m higher in the skiing area, you can also, instead of taking the direct trail to Adishi/Hadiish,
continue in the skiing area in the direction of Tetnuldi until the road sharply bends to the left at around 2700m altitude.
There, a trail branches off to the south-east. It stays on open grasslands and passes a small lake before turning south to go down to Adishi.
Here is the GPS log from this trail
It should also be noted that since the start of construction of ski resort, the upper trail to Adishi is slowly falling into disrepair as more and more people are using the lower path
(they want to get away from the new road as soon as possible).
Day 3: Adishi - Iprali distance 18.7km, 860m and 1069m
Another day and another tricky part in the morning - fording of the Adishi river. During the main season, when many hikers leave Adishi to Iprali,
you can expect people with horses waiting at the crossing to shuttle you across the river. The usual price is 20 GEL per person.
Outside the high season or if there are few hikers, it is good to ask around in the village about the water level and hire a horse if necessary - several locals offer this service, tho at higher price.
Leave the village by a path heading by the river to the east, to the foot of Adishi glacier. After one hour the path ends in a river - you will have to ford it.
In the morning, the water level tends to be lower. You can cross the deep, but the short section where the horses cross, or a little bit further towards the glacier,
where the river branches out into several not so deep streams. The water is freezing. Wear hiking sandals and use hiking sticks.
But don't take any unnecessary risk and use a horse if you don't feel confident.
Behind the river, the path appears again. After 2 hours of climbing through the fields of rhododendrons, you should make it to the Chkhunderi pass (2655m) -
it offers great views of surrounding mountains and the Adishi glacier.
If the weather is nice, you can leave your backpack at the pass and walk along the ridge north-east towards the glacier for even better views.
From the Chkhunderi pass, the trail heads straight down into the opposite valley. Down in the valley, you will find a couple of huts which can provide shelter in case of rain.
Turn right, the trail to Iprali which follows the Khaldechala river is mostly downhill and quite obvious. To Iprali, it should take another 2 hours of walking.
About halfway lies the ruined Khalde village, razed by the Russian army in 1876. Only one family lives there, running a guesthouse which is a decent place for an afternoon beer. Or even for the spending of the night if you want to try the new, more scenic route to Ushguli - crossing the Southern Karetta pass. Just one advice - if you want to try this route, after the descent from Chkhunderi pass check its initial section - walk about 100m to the northeast, deeper into the valley, then leave the road and head to the river. There is a marshy meadow and an old bridge which must be crossed - confirm that both are passable so you won't risk the major backtracking on day 4.
Day 4: Iprali - Ushguli distance 12.4km, 677m and 436m
Nowadays, most of the people trying to get to Ushguli hire a car or walk on the main road. It's a pity because that road is quite busy and lined by electricity poles.
Luckily, there is an alternative, much more interesting route. How to find it? Leave Iprali village and follow the main road for about 1,5km, till you reach the Davberi village - to get there you need to cross a wooden bridge. There is a signpost showing you the way to Ushguli. You need then to go up to the village and keep to the left until you reach a gate where somebody wrote "Ushguli trail".
Shortly after cresting of the first hill, there is a hardly noticeable junction. Right branch is much clearer and keeps the altitude, but deadends after 2 km. You need to turn left onto the small trail which leads uphill, it will soon improve. From now, the trail constantly hovers about the elevation of 2000m and 2km before the Ushguli village merges again with the main road. The marking is sparse, but most of the time you can see barely visible remains of the sledge track so you shouldn't get lost.
You should arrive at Ushguli in time to catch shared taxis which take daytrippers back to Mestia (and manage a short walk around the village). However, if you have an extra day, it's much better to spend a night here as the best views of Shkhara are in usually in the morning (as on the photo below). You can use the extra time to climb to the tower above the village or for
the walk to the Shkhara glacier. But, in my opinion, even better views offers an unnamed hill to the northeast of the village
Photos of Ushba and Tetnuldi are published with kind permission of Пабло Наумкин.
Also thanks to Břetislav for his cool photo of Adishi glacier. Several other photos were provided by Oriol Girona, Josef Formanek, Jozef Strezenec and me.
Four photos were provided by Jordan Atkins. More of his photos of Svaneti can be found at his web Inspired by Maps.
But the biggest thanks goes to Daniel Clauss, who in 2016 revised the whole description of the trek.