Mestia - Ushguli hike in Caucasus Mountains
Thinking about making a multi-day mountain hike somewhere in Europe? Breathtakingly beautiful Svaneti area in Georgia is a wonderful destination for hiking. Hike from Mestia to Ushguli up in Greater Caucasus Mountains is one amazing option for hikers looking for a bit longer trek. There is a reason why this 3-4 days hike is popular; it offers amazing mountain views, but doesn’t require special gear. You can spend the nights in guesthouses, so this hike can be done with a day-pack only, without carrying camping gear or food supplies.
In this post we introduce the route of the hike, our three-days version of it, and help you to prepare for this, or other hikes in gorgeous Svaneti.
Table of contents
- About Svaneti and Mestia
- Classic itinerary of Mestia – Ushguli hike
- Day 1 Mestia – Zhabeshi
- Day 2 Zhabeshi – Adishi
- Day 3 Adishi – Iprari
- Day 4 Iprari – Ushguli
- Getting back to Mestia from Ushguli
- Our demanding 3-days version of the hike
- From Mestia to Chvabiani
- From Chvabiani to Adishi
- Crossing Adishi river
- Over Chkhunderi pass to Iprari
- From Vichnashi to Ushguli
- Practical info and required gear
- How to get to Mestia
- When to go and where to stay
About Svaneti and Mestia
Mountainous Upper Svaneti area is in north-western Georgia, in Greater Caucasus Mountain range. It’s a nature-lovers wonderland with snow-topped mountain peaks, part of them reaching 5 000 meters, green valleys, glaziers and wild rivers. Photogenic Svan villages, situated in valleys between mountain ridges, are typically built of stone and dotted with old stone defensive towers. The whole Upper Svaneti region with it’s medieval-type villages and tower-houses is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mestia is the only actual town in Svaneti, and a natural starting point for trekking and skiing in the Upper Svaneti area. Mestia has developed from a small Svaneti town towards a tourism hub with busy main street and stylish hotel buildings. If not fully authentic anymore, it’s a great base for hikers, offering all basic services like ATM’s, small shops and of course a lot of accommodation options and restaurants. The town is located right under several high mountain peaks, and hiking trails start basically straight from the city center.
Related post: Mestia, the beating heart of Svaneti
Classic itinerary of Mestia – Ushguli hike
The Mestia-Ushguli hike takes you from Mestia (in 1 500 meters above the sea level) to a smaller mountain town of Ushguli (2 100 m) through several other villages, over mountain passes, along green valleys and across rivers and streams. The classic itinerary is divided in four hiking days, spending the nights in guesthouses.
Day 1 Mestia – Zhabeshi
The first day of the hike is relatively easy, taking you over a mountain pass to Zhabeshi village, or one of the neighboring villages just next to it. The length of the trek is roughly 16 kilometers, with 750 meters ascent. It takes from around 4,5 hours to 7 hours, depending on your pace. Starting from central Mestia and going over the Mulkhra river, the trail starts climbing up and goes through forested areas and mountain meadows with great views towards Mt. Ushba (4 710 m) behind Mestia.
After roughly 9 km of walking you’ll reach the highest point of the first day (1 982 meters) and a meadow with amazing views over the next valley and towards Mt. Tednuldi (4 858 m). The rest of the hiking day you’ll slowly descent to the valley, walking above and through mountain villages.
Day 2 Zhabeshi – Adishi
The second day of the hike is the shortest when it comes to distance, less than 11 kilometers, but it there is a relatively steep climb of over 800 meters to a mountain pass. For fit hikers it’s nothing, but for less experienced it might be a bit demanding, so take your time and stop to admire the views every ones in a while. Trail up will lead you to the new skiing slopes and the maintenance road of Tetnuldi skiing center. After following the road for a while, the trail separates from the road again and soon after that, the descent to the next valley begins.
The highest points of the hike are around 2 500 meters of elevation, and again offer very beautiful mountain views. Small Adishi village is in very scenic spot below the slope that the trail follows. You won’t see the village until coming really close to it.
Day 3 Adishi – Iprari
The third day of the hike is the most scenic and most demanding, an 18 km trek with steep climb over Chkhunderi pass and roughly 800 meters ascent. When leaving from Adishi, the trail first follows the Adishi river for several kilometers. Then you need to cross the river, which can be a bit tricky. There is no bridge, so the options are limited to crossing on foot or hiring a horse. The water in the river is coming from Adishi glazier, so it’s extremely cold.
The river is not very steep, but the current can be strong, depending on the time of the year and time of the day. Crossing on foot is usually possible in the morning, when the water level is lower, wearing shoes like hiking sandals and having a walking stick to keep balance. Don’t even think about crossing barefooted. There usually are horsemen waiting by stream, ready to take you over for a fee arounnd 20 GEL (under 7 euros).
When on the other side, the steep climb towards the pass begins. After an hour or two you’ll reach Chkhunderi pass with awesome views towards several snow-covered mountains and the Adishi glazier. Take your time admiring the views before starting the deep descent to the next valley. When reaching the valley, the trail turns right towards Iprari village. It’s a scenic and quite even walk of roughly 2 hours. In the midway you’ll walk through the village, or former village, of Khalde. It was destroyed by the Russian army back in 1876, and newer rebuilt. There is one guesthouse though, ran by the only family who lives in the village.
Day 4 Iprari – Ushguli
Iprari is along the main road that goes from Mestia to Ushguli. Part of the hikers use the road too to get to Ushguli, but there is also a trail going above it. To find it, you need to walk along the road until the bridge that leads to Davberi village. From there the trail ascents to the hills, going through forests and over meadows in elevation of roughly 2 100 meters. It’s an easy hike of roughly 12 kilometers with 550 meters ascent.
Ushguli is a group of 4 Svan villages in very scenic setting beneath snow-topped peak of Mt Shkhara (5193 m), the highest mountain in Georgia (and 2nd highest in Europe after Mt Elbrus that is on Russian side of Caucasus). It is a photogenic village, with over 20 Svaneti towers. Tourism has increased quickly, and Ushguli has lost part of it’s authenticity already. When the road re-construction between Mestia and Ushguli will be completed, the new paved road will for sure even further increase the amount of visitors. So go before it’s too late, as they say.
There is bunch of accommodation options in the village, and staying couple of days enables further hikes, like a day hike to Shkhara glacier. Experienced hikers with camping gear could continue all the way to Lover Svaneti along paths from Ushguli.
Getting back to Mestia from Ushguli
To get back to Mestia, there are no public buses, so you need to use the mini-buses that operate tours between Mestia and Ushguli. You could arrange a ride with your guesthouse in Mestia before your hike, or just ask for free seats and jump in one of the vans. The ride should not cost more than 20 GEL (even 15 should be possible) but the “organizers” in the first village try to ask up to 35 GEL for a ride. Don’t believe them, but walk a bit further up and ask around, straight from the drivers. You could collect a bigger group of people; that should help with the negotiation.
Our demanding 3-days version of the hike
We arrived in Mestia in September 11th, and headed to the Mestia-Ushguli hike the next day. Our original plan was to follow the classic itinerary, but we ended up varying it a bit. The biggest change was shortening the hike to three days due to weather forecast. The second day was perfectly sunny and beautiful, but there was cloudy weather with rain coming for the next days. That is why we combined days two and three of the classic itinerary into one very long but rewarding hiking day. It would be also possible to combine days 1 and 2; it’s not as demanding option as this, but still recommended only for fast hikers.
From Mestia to Chvabiani
The first day, we agreed with our guesthouse in Mestia (Manoni’s Guesthouse) that we could leave part of our bags there for few days, packed the essentials (plus our laptops, since the luggage storage wasn’t a locked room) and hit the trail around 11. It was a partially cloudy day, but still warm and pleasant. It took us 5 hours to combine the first days hike, including a lunch break up on the ridge, enjoying the views. When arriving in the next valley, we chose the alternative, upper route instead of walking through all the villages. It was a bit challenging above Murshkeli village, going through overgrown forest, but it was still possible to push through it and continue.
We had booked accommodation beforehand from Chvabiani, a small village next to Zhabeshi. Vodo’s Guesthouse was a nice choice with clean, newly renovated bedroom and bathroom, and huge, delicious meals prepared by the owner Vodo, with whom we didn’t have common language but it didn’t matter. We made an afternoon walk in the neighboring villages, enjoying the rural feel and cute animals running around.
From Chvabiani to Adishi
Second day started with a sizable breakfast, and we got to watch Vodo milking her cows just outside the dining room. At nine we hit the trail, and started the ascent towards the next mountain pass. It was a beautiful morning with no clouds, so we had perfect views towards mountain peaks. Absolutely stunning 3,5 hour hike took us to Adishi, where we stopped for a beer and chatted with Jakob, an Austrian fellow who was crazy enough to join us and walk all the way to Iprari the same day.
Crossing Adishi river
It was half past one when we continued, under the burning afternoon sun. It took 1,5 hours to reach the river-crossing point. We had planned to cross on foot, but quite soon realized, that the water level was too high and the current too strong, and we didn’t even have walking sticks or proper sandals. Luckily one horseman “happened” to arrive to the crossing right after us, and after considering our options for a while, we asked him how much it would cost to cross on a horse. We agreed to pay 20 GEL each, so a bit under 7 €. Then we hopped in the saddle one by one, and crossed in no time. It was worth it for sure, as it would have been dangerous to try to cross on foot. Plus it was fun and not something you get to do everyday.
Over Chkhunderi pass to Iprari
Climb up to Chkhunderi pass was not the easiest, as we were already quite tired, but the views helped us to keep going. I think we lost the official path at times, walking up along small streams, but it didn’t matter really. It took a bit over an hour of climbing to reach the pass. Views from the ridge are spectacular, not a bad setting for eating some lunch. We were accompanied by a super-friendly mountain dog, that stick with us all the way down, a cute fellow.
Reaching the pass felt like accomplishing the days target, but we still had 10 kilometers to go. It was mostly descent, but have to admit that the last few kilometers to Iprari felt very long. But the scenery was so beautiful, we could see the snow-topper peaks still, and also the autumn colors in the lower altitudes, waterfalls and mountain meadows. Evening light made the slopes even more beautiful. We reached Iprari around 7 pm, just before dusk, after walking 28 kilometers and over two mountain passes with over 10 kg backpacks.
We didn’t have accommodation booked, but Jakob’s friend had suggested him a large hotel-guesthouse for staying the night. We were so happy when we reached it and took our backpacks off, but then we heard that they were full. Luckily the staff spoke English, and arranged us places from another guesthouse couple of kilometers away. They picked us up, and so we drove along a muddy road to River Side Guesthouse near Vichnashi village. Due to a power outage headlamps came in handy for taking a shower, but that didn’t matter, we were just so happy to get a warm shower and wear dry and warm clothes.
We ate dinner together with other hikers staying in River Side, chatting about trekking and traveling. Getting sleep wasn’t hard after the tough day. Or actually for Jakob it unfortunately was, since he got a bed from the upper level of the house, that looked like an abandoned dorm room, with broken windows and thus a cold breeze blowing through the room. I suppose it was not officially in use, but all other rooms were full.
From Vichnashi to Ushguli
The third day was more cloudy, but luckily there was no rain. We ate early breakfast, but decided to rest still for a while before the final 13 km stretch to Ushguli. The path above the dirt road was for sure a better choice than the busy road, going through lush forests and meadows. The views on the way were not as gorgeous as during the previous days of the hike, but when reaching Ushguli we could again see the gorgeous mountains.
We had planned to stay in Ushguli for couple of days, and make a hike to the glazier, but the first feeling of the village was not that pleasant. It’s beautiful for sure, but the way they try to rip off tourists, especially with the ride back to Mestia, got us on our toes, unfortunately. In addition, the forecast for coming days still promised heavy rain, so we decided to go back the same day. After asking around, we got places in a van with 20 GEL. First part of the journey was a very bumpy ride along the dirt road that follows the river up in the slope. I think our driver was trying to make a new record, and made crazy bypasses. When we reached the paved section, he hit the gas pedal to the floor whenever possible, and we were back in Mestia in 1 hour 21 minutes.
Practical info and required gear
To make this hike in four days, you don’t need to be especially fit or experienced hiker. No special equipment is needed, though many hikers seemed to have walking sticks with them, it might make the ascents and descents easier. Paths are mostly easy to walk, not very rocky or muddy, unless you make the hike after heavy rains or early in summer when the snow has just recently melt.
You’ll need comfortable hiking boots, preferably water resistant since the hike includes crossing some small streams along rocks. During summer months shorts and T-shirts are usually enough when you move, but it’s necessary to bring long sleeves and windproof jacket for breaks. Nights are always chilly in the mountains, so bring warm clothes to wear in the evenings. A hood or a woolly hat is a good idea to wear after a shower, as dining rooms of the guesthouses can be a bit chilly.
The trail is marked with red (or yellow near Mestia) painted trail marks and some signposts, but not too clearly. There are a lot of other paths crisscrossing with the official trail, and without a map it’s easy to choose a “wrong” path. We recommend to use maps.me off-line map app with GPS navigation. It worked like charm, showing all the trails in the area.
Necessary gear also includes a torch or a headlamp, a first aid kit and a mobile phone for emergencies, sunscreen (even in chilly and partly cloudy days you’ll need it!). Carry plenty of water, even though you can fill your bottles on the way from streams and springs. Water in Svaneti is of good quality, but water purification tablets never harm when taking drinking water from streams. Take also snacks, you’ll burn bunch of calories when walking, and there are no shops in the villages, except maybe some small kiosks. Guesthouses usually offer packed lunch or leftovers from the breakfast to take with you. Some katchapuri (Georgian cheese-filled bread) will keep you going for hours. Try to pack lightly, max 10 kg, or you’ll really start to feel the weight when climbing up the ascents.
You’ll need cash for all payments, there are no ATMs in the villages and card payments are usually not possible. Withdraw cash latest in Mestia, where you can find several ATM’s (though part of them were empty when we were there). A night in a guesthouse with dinner and breakfast, possibly also packed lunch, costs around 50 GEL (17 €) per person.
How to get to Mestia
How to get to Mestia to make this hike? The quickest way is a flight from Tbilisi or Kutaisi. Flights to the small Queen Tamar Airport in Mestia are operated by Georgian airline Service Air, also known as Vanilla Sky. Flights are surprisingly cheap (30 € from Tbilisi, less from Kutaisi) and tend to fill up early, so if planning on flying to Mestia, book your tickets in advance. You should also be prepared for changes in schedule, since the flights over the mountains can get canceled or delayed due to weather conditions.
Overland transportation to Mestia runs via city of Zugdidi, on the lowlands southwest of Mestia. The scenic mini-bus ride from Zugdidi to Mestia takes roughly three hours along a winding, paved mountain road. Zugdidi is well connected to all major cities in Georgia. An overnight train from Tbilisi is a popular option, and Kutasi and Batumi are roughly three-hour bus ride away from Zugdidi.
When to go and where to stay
Hiking season in Sveneti usually begins in early June and lasts until late October, depending how early the snow falls and when it melts down. July and August are the most popular months, so we recommend avoiding those. Early September was great for hiking, and even later in the autumn the weather can be still warm and dry and the autumn colors get better.
Booking guesthouses in advance is recommended especially in the peak season. Most of the guesthouses in the smaller villages are not on-line, but your guesthouse in Mestia surely can help with booking. Villages on the way to Ushguli are small, so the amount of beds is limited. New guesthouses are opening up though, and the locals for sure will help to arrange some place to sleep even if it would be officially full everywhere.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this hike, shoot us in the comment box below! We can warmly recommend Mestia – Ushguli hike, and overall visiting Svaneti mountain region when you are in Georgia, it’s simply stunning. For more information about this hike and other trails, as well as about transportation schedules to Mestia, check out the very informative Caucasus Trekking web-page.
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