Popular 5-day trek connecting historical centers of regions Tusheti and Khevsureti.
This marvelous 5-day trek connects villages Omalo and Shatili, historical centers of regions Tusheti and Khevsureti
- both are still quite unspoiled due to poor roads.
It's intriguing not only by natural sights but also by traditional middle-age villages dominated by stone towers.
Trek follows old shepherds path connecting both regions. The first two days are spent mostly on jeep road connecting villages of Tusheti and if you are not that much into medieval villages
and prefer views instead, I recommend to try alternative route traversing Pirikita range. Then you leave hamlets behind and spend two days in the "wilderness."
Trek is quite popular and therefore suitable also for people who would like to try camping trip, but don't want anything too remote.
Duration: 4-5 days
I describe a 5-day version of the trek, to finish it in 4 days you have to hike from Omalo to Parsma on day 1 and from Parsma to Kvakhidi on day 2.
You will gain elevation quite slowly and the path is well-trodden, but the trek is 75 km long, takes five days and you will need to cross 3400m high pass.
So it's somewhere on edge between moderate and hard.
Best time to go is July-August. For people looking for a shoulder season - Atsunta pass usually becomes passable in the second half of June
and shepherds leave the area with their herds in the first half of October.
You should know that this trek is different from the others which are permitted all year long. Here, you need to pass several border outposts - and the guards don´t want to risk the hassle if some hikers get hurt. So they send people back if they think the crossing is too dangerous. Unfortunately, there is no fixed date when the trek becomes "open", it´s up to their decision. But, generally, in the first half of June, there is a decent chance that you will be turned back. If you are coming in the early summer, I recommend you to call the National Park Administration to confirm whether is this trail already open to hikers or not --> (+995) 577 101 892.
I prefer the direction from Omalo to Shatili. It's more pleasant as you will gain elevation slowly for several days instead of steep ascent from the other side.
Shatili is a great “reward” at the end of the trip and initial jeep trip into Tusheti is also a good way to get into the mood.
There is no public transport to Tusheti. To get to Omalo, you will need to hire a driver with 4WD. If you are traveling from Tbilisi, you will first need to get to Kvemo Alvani village - this can be done by marshrutka or a taxi.
The marshrutka departs from Ortachala bus station in Tbilisi at 9.am and arrives at Alvani two hours later (price 7 GEL). Drivers are used to tourists and often arrange them further transport to Tusheti. Just confirm with the driver that he is going all the way to Alvani, they sometimes try to drop passengers in Telavi in order to make them hire another taxi to Alvani. Or they simply want to hook you up with the jeep driver from Telavi but that is OK if the price is right.
If you want to take a taxi from Tbilisi to Alvani instead of a bus, the price can be anywhere between 50 and 100 GEL (it grows with your distance from the Ortachala station :))
In Kvemo Alvani, the bus or taxi will drop you at the main (and the only) junction. This is the place from which depart jeeps to Tusheti so if you get here before noon, you should be easily able to hire a driver.
The ride to Omalo takes about 4-5 hours and costs 50 GEL per passenger (or 250 - 300 GEL for the whole jeep). BBC once placed it among the "10 Most Dangerous Roads in the World", but with a good driver, it definitely doesn´t feel like that. In navigates pretty steep mountainside but the road is usually wide enough and unless you are passing another car and need to navigate to the very edge of the road, there is no reason to feel nervous. Still, the accidents happen here and the road claims a few lives every year. Therefore, even if you have your own car, for this stretch of the road, it may be better to use the service of the local driver.
Hitchhiking can be "hit or miss" since jeeps traveling to Omalo are usually booked by tourists and full. And even when they are not, tourists might be reluctant to pick someone who just walked a few hundred meters beyond the departure point and raised a thumb (especially if he is dressed up in Arc´teryx gear like a couple of "travel hackers" we saw there the last time :)). Professional drivers will rarely pick you up for free. Therefore, your best bet will be locals heading to Omalo for a visit - but it may take a while until some shows up.
Another option is the Kamaz truck which brings supplies from the lowlands to Omalo. These drivers usually pick up passengers for a symbolic price but the truck has no fixed schedule. It departs like each other day in the morning, so it can´t be relied upon.
How to leave Shatili:
Marshrutka to Tbilisi leaves every Thursday and Sunday at 12:00 am and costs 20 GEL. During the season, it's often full so I strongly recommend to buy tickets in advance on the day before.
Ask around the village where to find the driver.
If you missed the marshrutka, you would have to hitchhike or take a taxi. Taxi to Tbilisi costs about 300 GEL, to Barisakho village it's 150-200 GEL.
Description of the route
Day 1: Omalo - Dartlo distance 10.9km, 405m and 670m
This undemanding walk can be finished the same day you arrive in Tusheti providing you leave Telavi early in the morning. You follow the dirt road to Dartlo,
just on one spot, approximately 1,5 km behind the village it's better to take a shortcut - follow the serpentine climbing the meadow to the right of the road, over the hill (see map).
Shortly afterward, you will reach dirt road again. Climb a bit further to the small pass - the meadow there is called Ghele and in the past served as the meeting point of elders of local communities.
From there, follow the slowly descending road all the way to Dartlo.
The village is pretty nice - there is also a guesthouse, two restaurants, and small grocery shop. For even better sights, I recommend climbing to the Kvavlo tower, standing some 200m above the village.
A good place to camp is by the river, beneath the village.
Day 2: Dartlo - Girevi distance 14km, 414m and 196m
In the morning, you can pick of two roads. One follows the Alazani river all the way to Parsma; the other one goes a bit uphill, passes Dano village and descends to the river again.
Parsma is a great spot for a lunch break - it's a really nice village with several impressive towers.
In the afternoon, leave the jeep road behind and continue walking upstream, toward the Girevi. The path sometimes leads on the rocks very close to the water,
but keep going and stay on the left bank. In Girevi you will be approached by border guards and asked to fill in registration forms for trekking in the border area,
the whole process could take some 15-20 minutes.
Day 3: Girevi - Kvakhidi meadows distance 14.2km, 978m and 584m
Not far behind Girevi village, Alazani valley splits into two. Follow the stream of river Kvakhidisitskali (valley to the right), the path is clearly visible.
You will pass ruins of Chontio village and then just keep walking up the valley. During the day you will be checked by border guards twice,
first time halfway through the valley, second time towards the evening.
At the end of the day, you should come to shepherds shelter and a small bridge over the river.
Since 2016, the shepherd turned it into a little food stall so you can buy here also some basic food.
Cross it and soon you will come to flat meadows ideal for camping (as on the photo, you can see them long before). We got water from one of the smaller streams in the area.
Since 2017, some enterprising shepherds with horses are waiting at the meadows for the hikers and offering them to take their backpacks. They may even persuade them that a horse is necessary to cross the river upstream. However, most usually, it isn´t.
Day 4: Kvakhidi meadows - Khidotani ridge distance 16.8km, 1405m and 1168m
Continue by Kvakhidisitskali river. You will have to cross it twice, the first time by a footbridge, the second time just to ford it.
After you ford the river (there is a stone with Exit Shatili mark), you will see three valleys in front of you.
Take the one to the right and start the ascent - path in the lower section is not too obvious, but soon becomes much more visible.
You will see a saddle which looks like Atsunta pass. When you think you are almost there, the path turns right and climbs heap of shale - Atsunta is to the right of the lowest part of the ridge.
But you can't miss it, just follow the path and the map. Climb the pass. Here starts red touristic marking.
Descent from Atsunta pass is my favorite part of the trek. You may be tempted to descend all way down to the river, but don't do it.
Stay on the left side of the valley and the road will eventually bring you to Khidotanis range. It is an amazing place with great view of the Tebulo mountain.
If you walk far enough, you will reach a border guards camp not far above the treeline level. Nearby, you will also find a water spring so this is a good place to break a camp.
Day 5: Khidotani ridge - Shatili distance 19.6km, 300m and 1511m
From the guards camp, there are two ways down into the valley, both steep and muddy. One heading to the west descends to the Ardoti village but we will take the more straightforward one which leads to the north. The trail soon enters the forest and then comes steep, arduous descent into the Khonistskali valley. Here the path turns into dirt track again. Follow the road, it will lead you through Khonischala village to the confluence with Andaki river, where lies the ancient fortress Mutso (there is one more checkpoint not far before the fortress).
Mutso fortress is definitely worth a climb. There is a major reconstruction project going on (works should be finished in 2018), so some areas turned into a building site.
I must admit I liked it more when Mutso was empty and quiet, but looking forward to the time when the whole reconstruction is finished.
Not to forget, there is also a small restaurant by the road, another place to get food on the trek.
Continue down the road (or hitchhike, this section is not that interesting). Another interesting sight on the road is Anatori - House of the Dead in a place where the road bends back south.
From there it's only 30 minutes to Shatili fortress.
Where to stay in Shatili:
When it comes to sleeping, you have several options in Shatili. You can camp - the best spots are by the river upstream from the village and at the football pitch above the fortress. In theory, you can also sleep in one of the abandoned tower houses - some were transformed into guesthouses but there are still many empty ones. However, this works better in theory than in reality since these towers are quite dirty and dusty.
Of course, there are also several guesthouses, some in the fortress, others in the upper village and there are also a few down by the river, opposing the fortress. Some good ones are:
Guesthouse Mziani - very pleasant guesthouse located in the new village, it´s the first house on your left if you enter the village from the direction of the football pitch. The hosts are helpful, friendly and speak English, German and Russian - thanks to them, the guesthouse, even though it´s fairly popular, retained its family atmosphere. Food is tasty and rooms modern, at least by Shatili standards. Overall, a pretty good pick.
Front castle - stylish guesthouse located in the large tower-house in the bottom part of the fortress, close to the river. Its main asset is the tower itself -its simple, but elegant rooms with wooden and stone walls have the real Middle-Age feeling (but bathrooms are modern). The staff is also professional and speaks English.
Jalabauri guesthouse - traditional guesthouse situated in the tower-house, close to the center of the fortress. This tower looks a bit more "lived in" compared to the "Front castle" but just as much charming. The owner speaks English and know the surrounding mountains very well.
Many great photos used in this article were taken by Mario Sklenar. More of his photos can be found here.
One photo (Omalo village) was also taken by Nela Wurmová.