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 or too difficult, easy to organize, 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 - in this case, you can do days 1 & 2 or days 3 & 4 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 portals 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. At the end of each day section, I included a couple of places which I recommend.
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 21 GEL, tickets for sleeper berths can be bought in advance at matarebeli.ge website (the official web is railway.ge, but that never worked for me). Just one important thing - tickets are released for the online sale only some 20 days in advance. So don´t freak out if you can´t buy your ticket online because of the "no tickets available" error :)
There is also a day train option for those who don't like sleepers. This train departs from Tbilisi at 8:10 and makes it to Zugdidi at 13:45, just in time to catch some of the last marshrutkas to Svaneti. The price of the ride is 16 GEL.
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 90 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 - besically, it's just slower, marginally cheaper and less comfortable alternative for the day train.
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 used to be minivans making day trips from Mestia to Ushguli. They usually had a few empty seats on the return trip which occured around 3 pm. .
However, in the past years, drivers became reluctant to bring hikers back since the Ushguli drivers try to claim all hikers that reached village on foot and other drivers don't want to have problems with locals. So don't rely on these buses too much.
So what to do? You can either take a taxi from locals (costs as much as 40 GEL per person) or walk on the road towards Iprali and once the village is out out sight, try to stop some minivan with daytrippers, that should be a bit cheaper.
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 (which makes sense if you plan to stay there for the night).
However, it is a bit more interesting to continue on the northern side of the river (the trail is marked) and cross the river by the bridge, entering the Zhabeshi village from the north.
Where to stay in Zhabeshi:
Together with neighbouring Chvibiani village, Zhabeshi offers numerous guesthouses - maybe this competition is the reason why they mostly manage to maintain the high level of service. Since there are so many, usually there is no need to worry about an accommodation here, something will be always available.
Vodo´s guesthouse - a pleasant homestay located in Chvabiani village. In spite of recent renovations, has still managed to retain its authentic spirit. The lady running it doesn´t speak English but is very welcoming and works hard to make her guests feel comfortable. Moreover, she is a great cook.
Lali´s guesthouse - a popular guesthouse lying in the eastern end of Zhabeshi village, not far from the river. Its good reputation is well-deserved cos this guesthouse does almost everything right - rooms are clean, beds comfortable and bathrooms have enough hot water (which is not always the case in other guesthouses). But the greatest asset of this guesthouse is its owner which is very welcoming and also a great cook.
Irina´s guesthouse - another high-quality homestay located in the middle of Chvabiani village. The interior looks a bit "rustic" and "lived in", but it only gives place more charm. Irina speaks English and has the good attitude, ready to help you with any issues you might have. Also, she is a wonderful cook.
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. Overall, I think it is a pretty good way to prolong this, otherwise quite easy, hiking day. 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).
Where to stay in Adishi:
Adishi, the most isolated village on the trek is the notorious pain point. The village is quite small, there is only a handful of guesthouses and these mostly had no online presence so booking far in advance always posed a problem. Moreover, several of these guesthouses are at best average - the facilities are very basic, food only decent, prices quite high and the owners are often moody, sometimes very friendly and sometimes not so much. However, considering the amount of hikers which come here only to spend a night and leave after breakfast, it's not that surprising. Here are some of the better guesthouses where stayed either me or my friends. There are also others, but I have no feedback about them - feel free to write me how you like them :)
Elisabeth Kaldani's guesthouse - large, blue-painted wooden guesthouse situated at the bottom part of the village. Until recently, this was the only guesthouse in Adishi available on Booking.com so was always packed with hikers. Several of my friends stayed here and while they weren't particularly impressed, it was "good enough". Elisabeth speaks basic English and works hard to keep the place running and clean. However, the food was only average.
Tarzan & Nino - Pleasant guesthouse ran by a friendly older couple - this is where I stayed during my Adishi visit. While the beds weren't too comfortable, the food was good - if you don't expect luxury, you should like this place. Contact: (+995) 790 870794.
Gunter Avaliani guesthouse - Classic Adishi guesthouse, ran by Gunter, his wife Zaira and their daughters Nana and Jameki. The house is old and facilities very basic, but the family is really friendly, they even sang and played music for and with their guests when my friends stayed there (but that depends on the mood, don't expect it each evening). Also, the meals are excellent. Contact: (+995) 598 477180 (Nana speaks also English )
Natia´s guesthouse - Another popular guesthouse with several rooms or varying quality and decent food.
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.
Where to stay in Iprali:
Iprali is the another village which, until recently, offered only a very limited accommodation - essentially, almost all hikers stayed at Ucha Margveliani guesthouse. Luckily, in the past few years were opened several new and pretty decent places which give Ucha´s run for its money.
Betegi guesthouse - a new guesthouse strategially located at the beginning of the village. The place was opened only in 2018 and it shows, it looks new and clean. The owners family is very friendly and the food superb. The only drawback are somewhat thin walls between rooms and the fact that there are only two bathrooms. Still, it is certainly one of the top guesthouses in the village, if not the best one.
Robinzon guesthouse - Another pleasant, family operated guesthouse. Situated in the old, but recently renovated house, so now it has new beds, wooden facade and plastic windows. The place is clean and the owners Giorgi and Katia work hard to keep it that way, food is also very good. But, again, when the place gets full (20+ people), you may have to wait for a while for one of two bathrooms.
Ucha Margveliani's guesthouse - And last but not least, Ucha´s, the largest guesthouse (or rather a hotel) in the village, able to accommodate 50 people or even more. The place has a long tradition and it shows - the staff, while not too friendly, is professional and the food, while not extraordinary, is hearty and filling. Rooms are also nice and beds comfortable. The place would not be my first choice since it kinda lacks character but saved loads of people - the owners are good at finding that one extra spot for some hapless guy who trekked without prearranged accommodation. Contact: (+995) 599 250578
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, cross Khaldechala river and instead of crossing of the bridge onto the main road, turn left onto the small road which will lead you to the Davberi village. Once you pass the church, turn left onto the steeply climbing trail. There is a signpost showing you the way to Ushguli so you shouldn't get lost.
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
Where to stay in Ushguli:
There is certainly no lack of choice in Ushguli - almost every house got already got converted into a guesthouse, not counting those newly built. Below is a short list of places where stayed either me or my close friends and can be recommended. But, of course, there are also others, many just as good as the ones below.
Caucasus guesthouse - a wonderful guesthouse located in the Chvibiani community, not far from the Inguri bridge. Bathrooms and rooms are modern and clean, especially considering the price and the local standards. Tariel and his wife are lovely hosts - they don´t speak English, but their sons is there to help with interpreting. And last but not least - both breakfast and dinner were delicious.
Guesthouse Angelina - a popular guesthouse located a bit away from the village, close to the road junction. Famous for its pleasant, friendly atmosphere and a delicious food. Rooms are spacious and clean, beds comfortable and there is some nice wooden furniture so the whole place looks very cozy.
Guesthouse Garamjoba - one of the oldest guesthouses in Ushguli, located at the northern end of the Zhibiani community, right by the church. The facilities are a bit dates, but the beds are comfortable, blankets warm and the guesthouse is overall clean. The meals are also pretty good. One of great assets of this guesthouse are people running it - Temraz and Lela Nijaradze are very friendly and welcoming hosts and their daughter Mariam also speaks English. In the house lives also Temraz´s quirky brother Fridon, who is a painter and turned one of the rooms into a small art gallery.
Booking: email@example.com or send them a message via their fb page.
Mshvidoba guesthouse - budget homestay located at the heart of Zhibiani community. The place is not too large so it keeps a "local feeling". The family running it is really friendly and Laila is a great cook.
Guesthouse Nora - a pleasant homestay located at the eastern edge of Zbibiani village. The rooms are simple bus cozy, owners very friendly and the food delicious. The only downside is the lack of heating, so the rooms might be a bit cold outside of the summer.
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.