Simple, yet very rewarding walk in the vicinity of Mestia.
Short, simple, yet very rewarding walk in the vicinity of Mestia. It offers phenomenal views of some of the most prominent peaks of Caucasus such as Ushba, Tetnuldi, and Layla.
You walk to the transmitter on Mentashi hill and then return the same way you arrived.
The main reason why this walk has such a good ratio between views and the spent effort is the Hatsvali cable car. Now it's possible to ride all the way from Mestia to the top of Zuruldi ridge. All that expects you then is a simple stroll on a flat ridge - for this reason, this is the No. 1 pick if you have only a few hours and want to spend them in a best possible way. The hike can be prolonged to Tsvirmi. If you would like to hike to the top on your own (or the cable car is under maintenance, which happens surprisingly often during the high season), the purely walking route can be found in the description of the trek Mestia to Ushguli through Tsvirmi
Duration: 3 hours
The walk itself takes less than 2 hours. Even if we take into account a few breaks, the ride and the time needed to reach the cable car, you shouldn't need more than 3 hours to finish it
Nothing to write home about - this is an easy, comfortable stroll.
Hatsvali cable car
Modern cable car bringing people onto the Zuruldi ridge. Middle and upper stations were built in 2011 - earlier, hikers had to take a taxi or walk 9km to reach it. This changed in 2018, when was opened also lower station so tourists can comfortably drive up right from Mestia. The price for the ride to the top is 20 GEL, by the upper station is a restaurant with terrace and gorgeous views.
The cable car operates from 10:00 till 16:45 pm. It doesn't work in rainy or foggy weather. If you are not sure, ask at Visitor’s center at Seti Square and confirm if it currently works or not.
In summer 2021 started the reconstruction of the Hatsvali cable car and it is going to take a while - as a result, upper half of the cable car is not operating. Which kinda sucks, I don't see much point in taking it now. True, you can still ride the bottom half to save some altitude meters and then walk beneath lines to the top, but not sure if it's worth it, especially since you will be still charged 20 GEL for the whole ride. So I would probably hike to top from Mestia via Heshkili - the route is described here (Day 1), longer, but more comfortable. If it's too much of a walk for you, you might be able to persuade some jeep driver to drive you to the top, but it will be expensive since the road is in a very bad condition (my guess is at least 100 GEL)
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:
Few years ago, the best option used to be the overnight train to Zugdidi. However, it was cancelled in 2020 due to covid and there are no signs that it's going to be restored anytime soon. The only viable replacement is a long-distance night bus, which could also save you a lots of time, but won't be as comfortable as that cencelled sleeper train.
So you might have to stick to the day train. It departs from Tbilisi at 8:25 and makes it to Zugdidi at 14:10, just in time to catch some of the last marshrutkas to Svaneti. The price of the ride starts at 16 GEL, which is less than 5 EUR. Tickets 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 15 days in advance. So don´t freak out if you can´t buy your ticket online because of the "no tickets available" error :)
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 occassionally 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 - two minibuses depart at 7:00 from the area in front of Main Railway Station, come at least 30 minutes earlier to catch a spot. Another one departs at 8:00 from Samgori railway station. The price is 30 GEL, so it´s quite cheap, but I can´t recommend it since this uncomfortable journey takes grueling 9-10 hours - basically, it's just slower, marginally cheaper and less comfortable alternative for the day train.
So, if you prefer the bus, it's better to take comfortable long-distance buses operated by the Turkish company Metro bus. The downside is that they seem not to operate outside of the summer season and 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 is the direct minibus (the price is 25 GEL) departing from the station behind McDonalds. There is a fixed depoarture at 10:00 am but if you want to secure your spot, get there between 9:00 - 9:30 am. since it's quite popular among tourists. There may be also others during the day if there are enough tourists, but I wouldn´t rely on that. If you miss them 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 used to be the Georgian bus (they have a stand at the airport) - the price was 40 GEL per person. But it got cancelled when covid hit and not yet reinstated. So you will have to ask 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.
The first marshrutkas to Zugdidi, Batumi and Tbilisi depart early in morning, around 7 am. every day in the morning at (these should be booked one day in advance). There are more during the day, depending on the demand. The last marshrutka to Zugdidi leaves around 19:00 and it´s ideal if you want to catch the night train to Tbilisi which departs at 22:15. However, since marshrutka schedules are not 100% fixed, better visit station in advance to confirm this and book tickets.
For exact timetables and booking of the tickets, visit the travel offices at the station. Just keep in mind that there are several offices and don't buy tickets too far in advance. We met tourists who entered the first office, bought there tickets for the next bus which departed in 2 hours and then had to wait even though there were several other marshrutkas (operated by another offices). If you can't find a suitable tickets and are not under a time pressure, I recommend just to grab a beer at the bar by the station, sit on the terrace and check the situation once in a while - sooner or later, some driver driver will show up.
Description of the route
The trail starts at Seti Square. Leave it by a street heading to the southeast, after 200 meters cross the bridge and turn right. Cross another bridge and walk by a museum.
Main road here bends to the east - follow it for about 400 meters, then turn right. After another 100m, you should reach the lower Hatsvali station.
Buy the ticket, ride to the top (you will have to change line at the middle station). Once at the top of the Zuruldi ridge, head east. Walk between trees,
cross the small meadow and you will come to a bigger dirt road.
It will take you all the way to Mentashi transmitter, which is already visible to the east. There is only one crossroad halfway, in front of a small hill -
if you take left branch, you will climb to the nameless transmitter (limited views), if you take the right one, the trail will bypass the mount.
But no matter which path you choose, both will merge again and you will have to climb a hundred meters to another transmitter.
Mentashi hill offers breathtaking views in all directions and is an excellent place for a break. Then its time to return back the same way you arrived.
However, there is still much to look forward to, especially the cable car ride. Views when riding downwards are even better as you see Ushba all the time without need to twist your neck.