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Home » From Mestia to Ushguli (Svaneti) — The Easiest and Most Scenic Trekking Route in Georgia

From Mestia to Ushguli (Svaneti) — The Easiest and Most Scenic Trekking Route in Georgia

Svaneti Without Tents, Sleeping Bags, and Heavy Backpacks

The pedestrian route from Mestia to Ushguli is situated in the most popular mountain region of Georgia — Svaneti. The trail winds through landscapes dotted with 5000-meter peaks, glaciers, turbulent mountain rivers, and Svan towers. Each day’s journey passes through local villages — Svan communities — allowing trekkers to stay in guesthouses instead of carrying tents, sleeping bags, and warm clothes.

Svaneti is a historical region in western Georgia, known as one of the highest regions in the country with incredible natural landscapes that include glaciers, mountain lakes, passes, stone defensive towers, and the unique culture of the Svans who live there.

It’s important not to confuse: Svaneti is not just one of Georgia’s regions but a historical area predominantly inhabited by the Svans. In terms of administrative division, historical Svaneti falls under two Georgian regions — Samegrelo and Upper Svaneti, and Racha-Lechkhumi and Lower Svaneti. The Svans have their own language, cuisine, and traditions, which differ from other regions of the country. Although since the census post-1926, they have been included as part of the Georgian population. A notable feature of Svaneti is the stone towers, similar ones are built in other regions of Georgia — Tusheti and Khevsureti and in the Russian part of the Caucasus Mountains — in Ingushetia and Chechnya. For Svans, a tower serves simultaneously as a home, a defensive structure, a place to wait out avalanche-prone periods, and even as a barn. Each family built their own tower, with the main house constructed adjacent to it. Today, Svans live in regular houses but carefully preserve their ancestral towers, conduct tours, and establish ethnographic museums inside them. Officially, there are no hotels or guesthouses inside these towers, but you might persuade locals to organize such a unique overnight stay.

Why Svaneti?

If choosing a region for your first trip to the Georgian mountains, Svaneti is definitely the place to be. Firstly, it’s easily accessible: there’s a well-maintained asphalt road and direct buses from all major cities in the country, and even flights from Tbilisi and Kutaisi. Unlike the isolated region of Tusheti, which can only be reached by jeep taxi on the so-called “road of death”. Secondly, Svaneti is well-civilized with banks, ATMs, chain supermarkets like Spar and Nikora, police stations, and even a large hospital. For instance, in the mountain regions of Khevsureti and Racha, starting points for trekking trails might only have a small shop at best. And thirdly, there is a large number of hotels, which means accommodation prices are relatively low. In Mestia, you can rent a room in a guesthouse for 30–40 lari (10.97–14.63 USD). In terms of convenience for tourists, only Stepantsminda near the Russian border can compete with Svaneti, but the multi-day treks there are more challenging, and due to easy accessibility, the region has lost some of its authenticity.

The main populated area in Svaneti is the village of Mestia. Credits: Marek Piwnicki / Unsplash.com

The main populated area in Svaneti is the village of Mestia (1500 meters), home to over 2000 permanent residents. Mestia has supermarkets, restaurants, a large museum, banks, hotels, and a ski resort. It is the starting point for all popular routes in the region and where all transportation arrives. It’s a convenient place to rest after a journey or to acclimatize before embarking on day trips or stocking up for a week-long trek. From Mestia starts the three-day route to Ushguli.

Ushguli is recognized as one of the highest inhabited places in Europe (2200 meters). It is not just a village but a community consisting of five villages — Zhibiani, Lamdzhurishi, Murkmeli, Chazhashi, and Chvibiani, with a total population of about 250 people. Here, a large number of Svan towers remain, alongside snow-capped peaks and squat residential houses, creating an astonishing landscape. This architectural ensemble is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From Mestia to Ushguli is 50 kilometers. The populated areas are connected by a well-maintained asphalt road, but in winter it is often closed due to avalanches. You can travel this distance by car or bus, but then you won’t experience another side of Svaneti — without tourist crowds, among shepherds and endless herds of cattle on alpine meadows, amid five-thousanders with snow-capped peaks and the noise of moving glaciers. The trekking route from Mestia to Ushguli is technically not difficult, with villages along the way where you can eat and stay overnight, meaning you won’t need to carry a heavy backpack. If you’re looking for a challenge, there are plenty of options to make the route more difficult and longer.

Ushguli is recognized as one of the highest inhabited places in Europe (2200 meters). Credits: Alex Berger / Flickr.com

Mestia

In 2010, the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, grandly inaugurated the renovated Mestia resort. This village in Svaneti has become one of the showcases of Georgian tourism, alongside Mtskheta and Sighnaghi. During the reconstruction of Mestia, the model was Alpine resorts, and they even brought in German architect Jürgen Mayer. However, something didn’t go according to plan—whether it was a lack of funds or time. As a result, the center of Mestia now looks quite odd and does not fit into the overall picture of the village. On the main square stands a futuristic-looking police station made of glass and concrete, flanked by the town hall and post office built in the style of Alpine chalets, and a couple of hotels in the same vein. Surrounding these are the centuries-old Svan towers and all the things we love about rural Georgia—corrugated iron fences, slates of all colors and textures, and endless extensions.

On the main square stands a futuristic-looking police station made of glass and concrete, flanked by the town hall and post office built in the style of Alpine chalets, and a couple of hotels in the same vein. Alex Berger, Marco Fieber / Flickr.com
On the main square stands a futuristic-looking police station made of glass and concrete, flanked by the town hall and post office built in the style of Alpine chalets, and a couple of hotels in the same vein. Alex Berger, Marco Fieber / Flickr.com

Mestia has its own cinema—Dede, but it’s not just any cinema. They show just one film all day, “Dede”—a 2017 movie by an international team led by Georgian director Mariam Khachvani, filmed in Ushguli. The events take place in the communities of Upper Svaneti during the 1990s, at the time of the Abkhazian War. The film accurately reflects Svan life, customs, and traditions. It’s in Georgian, but you can request Russian subtitles.

The Hatsvali cable car operates year-round in the village. At the top, there’s a café with not the tastiest food but excellent wine and views of the mountain peaks. In winter, it serves as a ski resort.

Not far from the lower cable car station stands a minimalist building, a standout among the other structures—this is the result of that same reconstruction of Mestia from the 2000s. It is the Svaneti Historical-Ethnographic Museum, whose exhibits are much richer and more interesting than those in the private museums in Svan towers. However, don’t expect any special interactivity; it’s a typical provincial museum.

You can stroll through the nearby historic villages—Laghami, Lanchvali, and Lekhtagi. Or visit the house-museum of Mikhail Khergiani, a seven-time USSR climbing champion. The village also preserves several ancient Svan churches—Lamaria (Assumption) or St. Savior, the first floor of which dates back to the 8th-9th centuries.

The Hatsvali cable car operates year-round in the village. Credit: GVZ 42 / Unsplash.com

Surroundings of Mestia

In the surroundings of Mestia, there are numerous trails of varying difficulty. One of the most popular is the one-day trek to the Koruldi Lakes, which covers 20 kilometers and includes an elevation gain of over 1500 meters. The ascent starts right in the center of Mestia, with a steep and constant climb, but the landscapes that open up around are almost akin to those of the Dolomites (we have also released a guide about Dolomite Alps), making the effort worthwhile. The trail is very popular, so don’t expect a solitary mountain walk. To simplify the route and skip the most mundane forested section, you can hire a taxi and travel by jeep to the Koruldi Lakes viewpoint (round trip costs about 70–100 lari with waiting), and then hike from there to the lakes. This reduces the trek to just 4–5 hours, and the most stunning views are found between the viewpoint and the lakes themselves.

A less popular but equally picturesque route is along the Chkhuti mountain ridge. This trail is more challenging, with an elevation gain and loss of 1900 meters and a length of 23 kilometers, typically requiring a full day of daylight (10–12 hours) to complete. This trail is where you’ll find the most vibrant alpine meadows, especially striking in July. The path is poorly marked on maps, but it’s easy to navigate the terrain: once you reach the Chkhuti ridge, you’ll see three stone pillars on a hill—the final point of the hike. For navigating this trail, it’s best to use tracks from the Wikiloc app.

The popular Chalaadi Glacier, which almost all tourists are taken to on tours around Svaneti, is not worth the attention. A few years ago, the glacier’s tongue collapsed, and now it looks like a dirty muddle of ice debris and rocks. It’s not safe to approach closely, and if you try, rocks can come flying down the slopes at you. Most of the path to the glacier is a dirt road, and the final section is a boulder field, requiring you to hop from stone to stone. Moreover, the glacier itself is far less colorful than Tetnuldi or Shkhara glaciers.

Route Description

The classic route from Mestia to Ushguli is one of the most popular in Svaneti. Thus, throughout the trail, you’ll encounter both solo travelers and groups of tourists. The path is well-marked, with yellow signs at all key junctions indicating the names of settlements and distances. It’s hard to get lost here.

The route is 50 kilometers long, with the highest point being the Lagem Pass (3008 meters). The best time for hiking is from July to early September. In June, it often rains, and the passes may still have snow, while in the latter half of September, it gets colder, many families from the communities move to the plains for winter, and some guesthouses and cafes close.

Minimal physical preparation is required; you need to be able to walk about 15–20 kilometers per day over uneven terrain and handle elevation gains of 500–700 meters. No special equipment is needed for the route, although trekking poles and shoes will provide significantly more comfort than running shoes and a walking stick. The first and second days resemble more a walk through the forest surrounded by beautiful mountains, with rare ascents. Only the third day of the route is technically more challenging, but it can be simplified if necessary.

Day 1: Mestia to Zhabeshi

16 kilometers / 10 miles

This is the easiest day on the trail, but it’s still best to start before noon. The route begins with a steep but short ascent, and there are no mountain passes to conquer. At the top of the climb, there’s a small café not marked on any maps, where you can enjoy tea or coffee, have some Georgian sweets, and then continue on your journey. The remaining path passes through many Svan villages. Some have shops and cafes, while others are completely abandoned with ruined towers, giving a somewhat somber impression. At one point, the trail merges with a well-paved road, and at the end of this road lies the final point for the first day — the village of Zhabeshi.

Credits: Tomáš Malík / Unsplash.com
Credits: Tomáš Malík / Unsplash.com

Day 2: Zhabeshi to Adishi

11 kilometers / 7 miles

The day starts with a climb of 840 meters. However, the path is comfortable, not steep, and not overgrown, and is easily passable even after rain. The ascent leads to the lower station of the Tetnuldi cable car, which operates as a ski resort in the winter and is closed in the summer. Near the lower station, there’s a café with beautiful views of Mount Ushba and the Tetnuldi Glacier.

Credits: Karel61 / Wikimedia.org

If desired, you can make a radial trip to the upper station and view the glacier up close, thereby extending the second day’s route. This detour takes about three hours one way and involves gaining an additional 700 meters in altitude. However, you will still need to return to the lower cable car station, as the trail to Adishi begins there. The rest of the trail is a straightforward descent into the Adishchala River gorge without steep gradients, where the final point of the second day’s route is located — the village of Adishi.

Day 3: Adishi to Ushguli

21–29 kilometers / 13-18 miles

This is the most challenging day of the route: it’s the longest and involves crossing two high mountain passes. It’s best to start as early as possible to avoid getting caught on the trail after dark. The first part of the trail is easy, with no significant elevation changes. Surrounded by flowers, grazing cows, distant creaking glaciers, and the scent of thyme, the atmosphere is wonderful. Then, the trail abruptly ends at the turbulent mountain river Adishchala. There are two ways to cross this obstacle. The first option is to ford the river, which requires removing all lower clothing and shoes: the river is deep, and any footwear will get thoroughly soaked, with mountain passes ahead. Ideally, cross in sandals, definitely using trekking poles. For safety, unbuckle your backpack’s waist and shoulder straps so you can quickly shed the backpack if you fall. This option is for the experienced (and risk-tolerant) hikers. The simpler alternative is a local man with a horse who, from around nine in the morning, ferries tourists across the river for ten lari (3.66 USD). The first option is certainly more thrilling and wild, while the second ensures you keep dry feet and backpack.

After crossing the river, the ascent to the Chkhunderi pass begins, gaining just under 700 meters in elevation. The path is well-trodden and comfortable. The view from the top offers a great look at the neighboring glaciers, where you can take a break. Then it’s downhill into the valley, losing all the altitude you worked hard to gain. The valley is stunning, blanketed with flowers, offering good views of the mountain ridges. Here is a good spot to camp if you are traveling with tents.

After the descent into the valley, there are two options. For those not ready to tackle a second pass that day, the path leads to the village of Iprali. This route is longer but much easier, without the steep climb to a pass. You can spend the night in the village and then reach Ushguli via the car road, though this section of the road is not very scenic.

For those feeling strong and equipped with trekking poles, the next challenge is the climb to the highest and undoubtedly most picturesque pass of the route—Lagem Pass (3008 meters). After descending into the valley, cross the river Khaldeschala via a homemade wooden bridge—no need to walk in icy water. Right after the bridge, a spring with tasty mineral water emerges from the ground. A short plateau follows, then a steep climb of 750 meters begins. The path here is poorly visible due to rhododendron thickets, which also scratch the legs terribly but bloom beautifully in July.

At the highest point of the pass, the view is incredible, but it’s always windy, and there’s hardly any place to rest. From the top of the Lagem Pass to Ushguli, there are seven kilometers and a 900-meter descent left. The path onward is beautiful, well-trodden, and less challenging. Ushguli is visible from afar—dozens of Svan towers, small houses, and herds of cattle all around. With breaks and minimal weight on your back, a person without special physical preparation can complete this day’s route in 10–11 hours.

Ushguli

Upon reaching the final destination of the route — the community of Ushguli — don’t rush back to Mestia: there’s much to see, and it’s worth staying for a day or two. Directly in Ushguli, there is an intriguing ethnographic museum located inside a Svan tower. The museum displays the lifestyle of the Svans as they lived and worked 100-200 years ago. Similar museums exist in many Svan communities and, of course, in Mestia itself, but the one in Ushguli is the most authentic, perhaps due to the village’s isolation, as it remains largely cut off by snow for much of the winter. Unlike smaller communities, Ushguli remains inhabited even during the winter months. On the outskirts of the village, you will find the 12th-century Lamaria male monastery, which offers splendid views of the mountains and glacier.

Credits: Aydin Hassan / Unsplash.com

Every Sunday in summer, an auction of livestock takes place in the square near the 12th-century church. It’s a fascinating spectacle: crowds from nearby smaller communities converge on Ushguli, bustling about and selling various vegetables and fruits. Animals are led into the center of the square one by one, and locals loudly shout their bids. The Svans say this is a very ancient tradition, and that their ancestors sold lambs and calves in this manner hundreds of years ago. The auction is held once a week from 10 AM to 12 noon.

The main attraction around Ushguli is the Shkhara glacier, unique for its low-hanging position, allowing visitors to walk right up to it and even touch the millennia-old ice. The river Inguri originates here, with thin streams rolling off the melting glacier, gradually forming a roaring torrent. The trail to the glacier from the village spans almost nine kilometers, mostly a dirt road with no elevation changes, making it accessible by jeep or horse for those who are tired after the three-day hike.

Credits: Jordan Sanchez / Wikimedia.org

In general, Ushguli is a delightful place to simply wander, peek into abandoned towers, chat with local Svans, sit on café terraces, and enjoy the mountains while savoring a juicy Kubdari. You can return to Mestia by minibus, which runs two to three times a day. There is no fixed schedule, so it’s best to verify locally; the fare is 50 lari (18.28 USD).

Ushguli offers a delightful opportunity to explore, interact with the locals, and immerse in the peaceful mountain ambiance, providing a fitting conclusion to an adventurous journey through Svaneti.

Accommodation

Accommodation options in Svaneti tend to be quite uniform, with guesthouses being the most common. These are typically rooms in a house where locals live, usually with the owners occupying the first floor and renting out rooms on the second. Hotels are found only in Mestia, and there are only a few.

Old House Mestia or Lahili are located a bit away from the village center, but they offer great views from the rooms, and Lahili also has its own bar. If you prefer to stay right in the center, Old Seti, situated on Mestia’s central square, would be ideal. A double room in the peak summer season costs between 150–200 lari (54.84–73.13 USD). Since there are few hotels, it’s necessary to book several months in advance.

Credits: Hotel Lahili
Credits: Hotel Lahili

The situation with guesthouses is different: there are many, and you can book them just a few days in advance in Mestia. In the communities along the route (Adishi, Zhabeshi, Ushguli, and others), it’s possible to find accommodation on the spot. The cost directly depends on competition: the fewer accommodation options in a community, the more expensive the room. In Mestia, there are many guesthouses of various types, often with a shared kitchen. Rooms costing 50–70 lari (18.28–25.59 USD) will have fresh renovations and a pleasant interior. We recommend guesthouses like Memory or Sanli. Guest homes charging 30–40 lari (10.97–14.63 USD) are typical Svan homes with simple décor, mismatched beds, but homely comfort (for example, Guesthouse am Museum and Mushkudiani Manor).

An interesting feature of accommodation in Svaneti is the very high ratings in booking systems. Often, this has little to do with the quality of the accommodation itself and more with the hospitality and friendliness of the hosts. Svans might treat you to compote upon arrival, help you get the best meat for a barbecue, and even offer homemade chacha. How could one leave a bad review after such experiences?

Credits: Marek Piwnicki / Unsplash.com

In smaller villages, the choice of accommodations is limited, and prices range from 30 lari (10.97 USD) per room to 100 lari (36.56 USD) for a stay with breakfast and dinner included. Considering that there are few cafes along the route and more substantial stores are only in Mestia, it’s always better to choose accommodations that include meals. In Zhabeshi, consider the traditional Svan house with a tower, Tanano/Dodo, or the cozy, mountain-view guesthouse Victor, which has excellent food. In the village of Adishi, Stone House Marexi offers great views of the Adishchala River.

Although Ushguli is a very popular tourist destination, most visitors come for day trips, so there isn’t a wide variety of accommodation. One of the few options for a separate chalet with a cozy atmosphere inside is Ushguli Cabins, and there are traditional Svan stone houses like Old House and Divo Hut.

Food

Svan cuisine differs from that of other regions in Georgia due to the high altitude, harsh winters, and historical isolation of the region. Common dishes like khachapuri and khinkali are less frequent here and often not as tasty as in the lowlands. Therefore, it’s worth trying specific Svan dishes — kubdari, a closed pie filled with chopped meat and onions; chvishtari, fried cornbread with cheese; and tashmijabi, a puree with a generous amount of sulguni cheese. Svan salt plays a special role in the local cuisine; it is not just salt but a blend of various spices (dry coriander, caraway, red pepper, fennel, and garlic). Svan salt is used in all local dishes, and many families have unique recipes and make their own salt. Moreover, this salt is one of the best souvenirs you can bring back from Svaneti.

Kubdari, a closed pie filled with chopped meat and onions. Photo: georgianrecipes.net

Most cafes in Mestia have similar menus, almost everywhere the food is delicious, but some places deserve special mention.

  • Laila is not just a café on the central square but one of the main attractions in the village. The terrace offers a stunning view of the mountains. It’s essential to book a table for dinner here. They serve classic tashmijabi and kubdari, offering a great opportunity to experience Svan cuisine in a wonderful atmosphere.
  • Kate’s Cakes is a bakery with homemade cakes and pastries.

In Ushguli, dining options are quite limited, mostly offering home-cooked Georgian food.

  • Tasty kharcho can be found at Murkvam café
  • authentic Svan kubdari with a view of the mountains and towers at Svaneti.
  • The tourist-favorite café Koshki serves small portions and mediocre food, but presumably, everyone loves it for the beautiful view from the terrace.

As for food in the smaller communities along the route, these are usually home cafes without a menu, where the food is always tasty and hearty but the dishes extremely simple. When booking accommodations in such places, it’s best to arrange meals (dinner and breakfast) in advance since there are no shops along the way. Snacks and light meals can be purchased in the supermarkets of Mestia. These will certainly be needed on the third day of the route, as there are no cafes or shops on the way from Adishi to Ushguli.

In Ushguli, dining options are quite limited, mostly offering home-cooked Georgian food. Tasty kharcho can be found at Murkvam café. Photo: Café Bar Murkvam

Gear

Technically, the route is simple, so no specialized equipment is required. Comfortable trekking shoes, sports clothing with long sleeves, a head covering, and sun protection are sufficient. SPF cream with the highest protection factor is necessary: the sun is very aggressive in the mountains, and even non-obvious places can get sunburned, like the tips of the ears or the inside of the knee, so it’s important to apply SPF before heading out and reapply every two to three hours. By the way, it’s more convenient to use sun protection in stick or spray format on the trail. Be sure to carry a water supply and snacks; there are many springs along the way, so you can carry a small amount of water, about one liter per person. Everything else is optional and can add convenience on the trail, but remember — a light backpack is the most essential thing on a hike.

List of things that might be useful:

  • Raincoat
  • Trekking poles (very useful for the ascent to the Laghem Pass)
  • Thermos
  • Thermal underwear and a down jacket (if you plan to hit the trail early in the morning or in autumn)
  • Windbreaker
  • Trekking sandals
  • Warm socks
  • Change of clothes for guesthouses
  • First aid kit
  • Backpack (hiking or city, the main thing is a comfortable back and a small volume of 25–30 liters)
  • Headlamp
  • Repellent
  • Power bank
Technically, the route is simple, so no specialized equipment is required. Photo Martin Lopatka / Flickr.com

Tips

Maps and Route: The best routes can be plotted using the apps Maps.me or Organic Maps. You can download area maps and use them anytime. These apps also allow you to save important points along the trail (passes, cafes, guesthouses, water sources). If you need ready-made tracks with descriptions and details, the Wikiloc app is perfect. Searching for Mestia to Ushguli yields dozens of tracks, including interesting custom options that are longer and more challenging. Google Maps, however, is not useful here: it doesn’t recognize the route, stubbornly suggesting paved roads, and doesn’t even show the passes, only the largest villages.

Connectivity: It’s important to know that widespread Wi-Fi is only available in Mestia, while in the villages along the route and even in Ushguli, guesthouses and cafes often lack internet. Therefore, a local SIM card is necessary for communication. The best Georgian operator that has coverage almost everywhere is Magti, while the popular Geocell has poor service in the mountains.

Animals: There are no mosquitoes in the mountains, but plenty of horseflies, especially at the passes, so it’s better to wear long-sleeved clothing and use repellents. Ticks are rare in this area, but it’s still essential to check yourself after each day’s hike. The main animal threat comes from shepherd dogs; try to avoid herds of cows and sheep and do not approach them closely, as the guarding dogs are usually quite aggressive. Bears or wolves are unlikely to be encountered, as these areas are very populated and noisy.

How to Simplify the Route: Besides the option involving the village of Iprali, you can also cut a few sections by arranging a horse ride with locals. This is especially relevant on the third day, from the village of Adishi to the base of the Chkhunderi pass. This six-kilometer stretch passes through a picturesque valley, and on horseback, it can be covered quickly, plus you won’t need to ford the river or wait for locals to ferry you across. In Adishi, almost every family keeps horses, so arranging a horse ride is easy—either in advance with your guesthouse host or by finding shepherds on site and asking them. The first option is easier, while the second is likely cheaper. This method helps both to diversify and simplify the route, saving energy for tackling the passes.

In Adishi, almost every family keeps horses, so arranging a horse ride is easy—either in advance with your guesthouse host or by finding shepherds on site and asking them

How to Get to Mestia

Minibus (Marshrutka): From Tbilisi, marshrutkas depart from the square in front of the railway station as they fill up, only in the morning. After 2 PM, there are no more departures. The fare is 70 lari (25.59 USD), and the journey takes about nine hours with two technical stops along the way. Be prepared for a long, exhausting, and not very comfortable trip.

From Kutaisi, marshrutkas run throughout the day as they fill up, costing 45 lari (16.45 USD) and departing from the central bus station, with a travel time of about six hours. You can also catch this marshrutka near Kutaisi Airport, which is ideal for those who don’t want to go into the city. Just step out to the road next to the airport and wait for a marshrutka with the sign “Mestia.”

From Batumi, marshrutkas run only once or twice a day in the morning, adhering to the Georgian tradition of no fixed schedule. They depart from the old bus station, costing around 50 lari (18.28 USD), with a journey time of six hours. It’s more convenient to travel with a transfer in Zugdidi, as marshrutkas to Zugdidi run much more frequently.

Train + Marshrutka: A more convenient option is to travel from Tbilisi to Zugdidi by train and then transfer to a marshrutka to Mestia. The Tbilisi — Zugdidi train runs once daily at 8:20 AM, taking six hours. Tickets range from 16 to 43 lari (5.85–15.72 USD), depending on the class of carriage. All details can be viewed and tickets purchased on the Georgia Railway website; the train is highly sought after in summer, so it’s best to buy tickets in advance. In Zugdidi, marshrutkas depart from the railway station and from a stop near the Koshki Hotel. The fare is 35 lari (12.80 USD), with a travel time of three and a half to four hours, including a stop at a café with excellent khachapuri.

Transfer: Paradoxically, hiring a car with a driver in Georgia can be cheaper than renting a car. A car from Tbilisi for four people, booked through the Gotrip service, costs only twice as much as a marshrutka. The trip typically costs around 600 lari (219.38 USD). You can arrange stops along the way with the driver, turning the long journey into a day trip with photo stops and snacks of Georgian dishes in roadside eateries.

Paradoxically, hiring a car with a driver in Georgia can be cheaper than renting a car. Photo: Aleksei Zaitcev / Unsplash.com
Paradoxically, hiring a car with a driver in Georgia can be cheaper than renting a car. Photo: Aleksei Zaitcev / Unsplash.com

Airplane: The most scenic, fastest, and comfortable way to get to Mestia from Tbilisi and Kutaisi. The ticket price is almost the same as for a marshrutka. A flight on a small 17-seat plane over the Caucasus mountain peaks costs 100 lari (36.56 USD) and takes only an hour instead of nine hours in a stuffy marshrutka with a backpack at your feet. Sounds too good to be true? That’s because buying tickets for the plane to Mestia is a challenge.

Flights from Tbilisi and Kutaisi are operated by Vanilla Sky. Previously, tickets could be bought months in advance, but in 2023, a new rule was introduced, and tickets can now only be purchased for the current month — either at company offices or online. Thus, on the first day of any summer month, the airline’s website traditionally crashes due to the high demand for tickets. Locals also claim that owners of local tour companies and expensive hotels buy all the tickets and resell them at a significant markup.

However, flying on this plane is still possible. The least popular flights are from Kutaisi, although planes only fly there twice a week, unlike the daily flights from Natakhtari Airport in Tbilisi. On the first day of the desired month, it’s best to go online immediately, preferably at night, and try to buy tickets. If the website is already down, which is usually the case, go to the office (Kote Abkhazi Street, 44) early in the morning and try to buy tickets there. If you manage to get tickets, remember: the plane is small, and flights are canceled under any adverse conditions (wind, rain, clouds, fog, hail), and your money will be refunded. Therefore, consider the plane option only if you are willing to go through the hassle of buying tickets and are not constrained by vacation days in case of flight cancellations.

Consider the plane option only if you are willing to go through the hassle of buying tickets and are not constrained by vacation days in case of flight cancellations. Photo: Gaëtan Werp / Unsplash.com
Consider the plane option only if you are willing to go through the hassle of buying tickets and are not constrained by vacation days in case of flight cancellations. Photo: Gaëtan Werp / Unsplash.com
  • Text by Alexandra Borisovskaya
  • Photo: Alex Berger

 

 

 

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