Trek report: Mestia to Ushguli

The Upper Svaneti region of Georgia near the Russian border is one of the most spectacular parts of the Caucasus Mountain range. The snow-capped mountains and picturesque medieval-style Svan villages of the region form part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has long been preserved naturally by its isolation. The best way to experience this part of Georgia is on foot on the popular four-day Mestia to Ushguli trek.

The trek takes you through traditional, remote villages, over jagged ridgelines and through deep valleys to one of Europe’s highest villages. The sloping grasslands, snow-capped peaks and cascading glaciers make for breathtaking landscape and it’s certainly one of the most memorable experiences you can have in Georgia.

It’s one of the most popular multi-day treks in the Caucasus because of its accessible nature, well worn and easily navigable trail and friendly guesthouses along the way. It’s the perfect adventure for anyone with reasonable fitness and a love for the outdoors. This is a detailed trek report on the four-day hike for anyone planning on travelling to Mestia.

Planning on travelling to the Caucasus? Read: 12 must-see places to visit in the Caucasus with suggested itineraries

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A video of my time on the trail

Mestia

Mestia is a small highland town in the Caucasus Mountains and the main hub of the Upper Svaneti region of Georgia. It sits at 1500m and is surrounded by incredible snow capped mountains, great hiking trails and skiing resorts. The local population is just around 2000 and yet it swells to double that with tourists and outdoor enthusiasts visiting almost year-round.

Many of the original houses have the traditional Svan towers intact but the boom in tourism infrastructure has meant that the truly remote feeling of the place has been lost. Still, it’s a great base for exploring the mountains with everything you need from good quality hotels and restaurants to a supermarket and well-organised marshrutkas and day trips.

Getting around Mestia

The marshrutkas, or local minivans, tend to congregate in the centre of town, on the main road, not far from the tourist information centre. You can find plenty of people standing around offering day trips and in high season you simply have to turn up at around 9am and join a group. In low season, like in October when I was there, it’s a matter of heading there at 9am and waiting to see how many other tourists are floating around to join together and decide where you all want to go.

There are some great day trips around Mestia. A short hike to the Chaladi glacier is a popular option and a short drive from town. A rough drive to the lakes at the base of Mount Ushba is another picturesque option. And some people prefer to take a day trip to Ushguli rather than do this four day trek.

Mestia
Mountains near Mestia

How to get to Mestia

To get from Tbilisi to Mestia, you really have two options. You can either take a marshrutka for the whole journey which start from around 6am outside Station Square. Or, a more comfortable option is to take the train to Zugdidi and then a marshrutka from Zugdidi to Mestia. I decided to do the latter and it was surprisingly easy to coordinate and relatively inexpensive.

Heading to Tbilisi? Read: 11 free things to do in Tbilisi, Georgia

From Tbilisi to Zugdidi by train, I got my hostel in Tbilisi to book my ticket online for me. Otherwise, you can head to Station Square to buy it directly from the counter the day before (or earlier in high season). The train departs from Tbilisi at 8.10am and cost 14 lari (AU$7) for a seat. The journey took 5.5 hours.

There is also an option of an overnight train between Tbilisi and Zugdidi that leaves at 9.45pm and takes 8.5 hours. The ticket prices vary depending on the class and level of comfort you want with sleeping berths.

Once arriving in Zugdidi, there are marshrutkas parked just outside the train station waiting for people wanting to head up to Mestia. In high season in the summer months, you’ll have plenty of options, but I was travelling towards the end of October and there was only one marshrutka and not enough of us tourists to fill it. We waited for a bit but the driver decided to leave anyway and we each paid 25 lari (AU$12) for the three-hour trip. (I think the regular price for a full minibus would be 20 lari).

Alternatively, you can reach Mestia from Batumi, a city on the Black Sea coast and a popular first stop for those crossing from Eastern Turkey. There are regular marshrutkas travelling between Mestia and Batumi and the journey takes around 6 hours and costs 30 lari (AU$15). I took the 9am minibus from Mestia to Batumi. They congregate in the centre of Mestia town where there are a couple of booking offices open all day. I reserved a seat the day before.

Mestia svan towers
Mestia

Where to stay in Mestia

Mestia has some great accommodation options and the little town has well over 200 hotels and guest-houses, which is hard to believe.

I adored the place I stayed and it was one of my favourite guesthouses I found in Georgia at an incredible value. It was called N&N Guesthouse and on the main road running through town. It was just 200m from where most of the marshrutkas congregate. I paid 20 lari (AU$10) for a room and there was a small kitchen and loungeroom as well as a nice balcony to sit out on. The owners didn’t speak any English but they were still the friendliest people and they allowed me to leave my luggage there while I did this Mestia to Ushguli trek.

Where to eat in Mestia

Being a tourist-oriented town, there’s quite a lot of good quality restaurants, mostly around the tourist information centre. There are two very popular places that also have live Georgian music every night, and I highly recommend them.

Cafe Laila is a sort of Mestia institution now and it sees by far the most tourists. It is a great pub type place and its food is pretty amazing, with very cheap and good quality house wine. They have live music every night.

On the other hand, I actually preferred Lile Restaurant. A similar style restaurant and bar with live music and good quality food. I ate here numerous times.

Day one: Mestia to Zhabeshi

I left my guesthouse at 10am and headed to the information centre, where I took the street that ran passed it and down along the square. You need to pass Korte Guesthouse and Elite House Mestia, then continue to pass Cinema Dede and head across the bridge. Turn left and follow the road, sticking to the right when it splits into two. From there it will eventually turn into the official trail which will take you away from town. Follow the Maps.Me app and you should be fine.

It was a steady hill climb for the first two hours out of town until it finally flattened out to a plateau that revealed the first incredible panoramic view of the trek. I could see down into the valley and to small Svan villages dotting the way forward.

I walked through two villages, sticking to a higher trail which ran mostly above the rooflines. The villages were quiet with just a few people who nodded as I passed. Each house had a Georgian Shepherd dog, huge aggressive guards, but luckily they were all tied up in their yards.

The final stretch of the day I followed the river on a worn trail with limited markings. It seemed as though the trail may change yearly with the varying levels of water in the river. As I crossed the small bridge into Zhabeshi, a man was working on the dirt road and he immediately took me to meet his wife. It was a lovely house and she gave me a room for 40 lari (AU$20) including dinner and breakfast. She poured a cup of tea for me and we sat and smiled at each other with no common language between us.

They had a traditional Svan tower at their house and the lady ushered me up. So I climbed up through the old stone tower to watch the final light of the day disappear. The dinner was delicious and I sat against the fire in their kitchen to stay warm. My bedroom was freezing, but I had every blanket in their four rooms at hand with nobody else staying there.

Distance: 16.5km Time: 5 hours Ascended: 750m

Autumn in Svaneti
Near Zhabeshi

Day two: Zhabeshi to Adishi

I left the warm house at 10am and it was almost an immediate hill climb away from the village and up over the ridge behind it. Eventually, the trail came out to a gravel motorable road underneath cable car lines from the nearby ski lodge. I turned left and followed the road for a little bit.

You’ll notice a signpost heading down and off to the right from the gravel road indicating the way to Adishi. From there, it’s only just over an hour to the village.

An alternative option, and one I decided to take, was to continue following the gravel road up towards the ski lodge and upper cable car station. A local car with a few men passed me and they stopped to ask where I was from. They spoke a bit of English but didn’t seem to know much about the trekking trail. They handed me a couple of apples and drove off again. Georgians really are some of the nicest people.

I saw back down below that other trekkers were taking the lower route directly down to Adishi but I pushed on. Just before one of the last switchbacks on the road, there was a trail and a signpost that indicated the upper route to Adishi.

Mestia to Ushguli trek
Upper route to Adishi

The skinny trail skirted around the jagged peaks and continued to climb a little bit more. The views were certainly spectacular and I was glad to have chosen the higher path. Eventually the trail began to head downhill again through open grasslands.

This entire section of the trail wasn’t marked at all and I had to heavily rely on Maps.Me, checking it every five minutes to make sure I wasn’t deviating off the way. The last hour was steeply downhill with no switchbacks or zig zags cut into the slope, making it really hard on your knees.

I highly recommend taking the upper route to Adishi that I took as opposed to the shorter lower route. It’s much quieter and the views are incredible for most of the way. Just be aware of the navigation challenges as the trail is definitely less worn.

Finally, the village suddenly appeared below in the bottom of the valley. It was a stunning location and the Svan towers made it a very picturesque view. It was very quiet, but a man in the centre of the village offered to take me back to his family’s home. It didn’t have an official sign but he had guestrooms upstairs and I was able to read on the balcony for the afternoon and watch his kids play in the yard.

They fed me dinner early which I was grateful for and the man gladly poured me a home brewed beer, followed by a shot of homemade vodka. Georgian hospitality at its finest!

Distance: 12km Time: 5.5 hours Ascended: 900m

Adishi village
Adishi

Day three: Adishi to Iprali

I actually motivated myself to leave at 9am on day three, which is pretty early for me, especially in the increasingly freezing mornings of late October.

However, I knew that not far into this section of the trail was the infamous river crossing that seems to stoke fear in most trekkers. Everyone says that it’s better to cross the Adishchala River in the morning before the sun heats the glaciers on the upper peaks and causes a higher river level. In the summer months, locals wait with horses and charge an incredibly expensive 20 lari (AU$10) to get you across. But when I was there in October, the horses were just roaming around freely instead with very few trekkers to make any business from.

The first 5km of the day were a very gentle and enjoyable stroll heading towards white-capped peaks deeper in the Caucasus mountains. As I reached the edge of the Adishchala river where the trail disappeared across to the other side, I was surprised to find four other trekkers. I’d hardly seen anyone, so it was nice to think that I wasn’t alone.

Mestia to Ushguli trek
Trail to Iprali

Being late October the river was actually at its lowest level and it was only up to my mid-shin at its deepest point. However, the edges of the river had begun freezing over as winter was fast approaching which meant it was the coldest water I’d ever felt! I hurried across and quickly put my boots back on.

Tip: I used sandals and hiking poles to walk across the river and I believe it made it much easier. The sandals protect your feet from the rocks and the poles can help you stay balanced in the rushing current.

After that, a relentless climb began up to the highest point of the Mestia to Ushguli trek. About halfway up, there was a small plateau that offered incredible views across to the Adishi glacier which had come into view now that I was getting higher. I continued upwards, covering the icy track at a good pace.

I finally made it to Chkhunderi Pass at 2655m, which had incredible 360 degree views of the Caucasus Mountains in every direction. I dropped my pack and followed a trail along the ridgeline to about 50m higher and a bit closer to the Adishi glacier. I had it all to myself until I began the descent and I saw the other trekkers making it up to the pass.

Chkhunderi Pass
Chkhunderi Pass

The descent was long and the trail wound its way down into another valley. The views were still beautiful on the other side and even down at the bottom where a few abandoned shepherds huts can be found with a signpost pointing to Iprali.

From there it was a gentle and relatively flat gravel road all the way into the village. Upon arriving, I approached a couple of guesthouses but they were all closed. A young guy who spoke English told me that they’d all decided to close up for the year not expecting anymore trekkers to come through. But one large guesthouse had agreed to stay open and they would take all the trekkers who came in until winter.

It was less of a homestay and was run more like a hotel. The young girls running it didn’t seem to care too much so it wasn’t as enjoyable as my first couple of nights. However, by nightfall there were nine of us trekkers and so it was nice to have a sociable evening around a fire for a change.

Distance: 18km Time: 6.5 hours Ascended: 860m

Trail to Iprali
Trail to Iprali

Day four: Iprali to Ushguli

The final day of the Mestia to Ushguli trek is thankfully the shortest and easiest day. Some people choose to get onto the main motorable road and follow it all the way to Ushguli. However, it sees a constant stream of traffic with day trippers from Mestia. So there’s a forest trail instead, which I highly recommend.

The trail was a little difficult to find and starts just across the bridge in Lalkhori. Soon you’ll come to Davberi, another small settlement. The trail veers past some houses to climb higher on the slope. If you struggle to find it, there were a few men working outside to help and I’m sure there will always be someone around to ask.

After that, it’s very easy to follow and undulates through the valley, at a much higher elevation than the road below. It’s a beautiful forested trail and a pleasant walk. Eventually, the trail met up with the main road and for the last couple of kilometres you have no choice but to follow the road into Ushguli.

Distance: 12km Time: 3.5 hours Ascended: 650m

Trail to Ushguli
Trail to Ushguli

Ushguli

Ushguli considers itself the highest continuously inhabited village in Europe. It was also once considered Georgia’s most remote village, although the gravel road linking it with Mestia now means it’s very easy to reach by vehicle. It’s an incredibly beautiful settlement with the stone Svan towers and the backdrop of rugged, snow-capped peaks.

The village sees many tourists and a walk through the main village reveals plenty of cafes and guesthouses. I chose not to stay the night in Ushguli and headed back to Mestia. However, some trekkers choose to spend the night there to experience the place when all the day trippers have left for the day.

There is a day hike to the Shkhara glacier further up the valley or there are also trails for overnight camping treks further into the Caucasus Mountains.

I found that walking around the village was enough to get the feel for the place after four days of coming through more remote and less touristy places. I did walk up to the stone tower on the hill just above the start of the main village where the bridge is. It offers great views over the entire area.

Interested in other multi-day treks in the Caucasus region? Read: 9 treks that showcase the Caucasus’ remote and rugged beauty

Ushguli
Ushguli

Getting back to Mestia

Marshrutkas and taxis tend to congregate at the bridge at the start of the main village in Ushguli. Some are hired for private day trips by people but there are always empty ones waiting for trekkers wanting to get back to Mestia.

I waited in Ushguli until more trekkers arrived behind me. Soon, there were around 7 of us who’d stayed together in Iprali the night before. We tried to negotiate with a few of the driver’s but they were quoting ridiculously high prices. Of course, we’d heard of the so-called ‘Georgian marshrutka mafia’ who worked together to set their prices high when they knew us tourists had no other option.

We tried to bluff them by saying we would walk back to Mestia instead and we began to walk back along the road. One man near the last restaurant in the village yelled out to us and he said he would take us for 30 lari each. We were just approaching his vehicle when the other drivers all come running down, yelling and screaming. They were visibly furious with this man who tried to undercut them.

We decided to leave them in their argument and continued to walk. Soon one of the original drivers we’d tried dealing with drove up to us and said his last offer was 35 lari (AU$18) each. We figured we were just wasting time and so we all climbed in.

The journey from Ushguli to Mestia was a bumpy two-hour drive and I was glad to be back at my beloved guesthouse in Mestia again.

Ushguli
Ushguli

Accommodation

Accommodation in the villages along the way range from homestays to more hotel style places. It really depends on what you prefer. The prices are pretty stable and set at around 50 lari per person including dinner and breakfast. I managed to get the first night for 40 lari, without asking, but it was late in the season.

The rooms on offer by most places are all private and usually have two beds in them. Bathrooms are shared and food is served in a dining room.

Surprisingly, many of the guesthouses and homestays have put themselves on Booking.Com and it’s possible to book them before you even begin your trek. In high season during summer, this might be a better option if you’re concerned about finding a place to stay.

When I trekked in late October, there were only around 10 of us on the trail at the time and I had no problems finding a room upon stumbling into the villages. A lot of the local people don’t speak much English, if at all, but I found communicating basic things pretty easy with some sign language and gestures!

Zhabeshi guesthouse
Zhabeshi guesthouse

Food

The food was very good and abundant. The family’s certainly treated me very well. I had multiple courses for both dinner and breakfast and it’s very heavy with plenty of freshly baked bread, cheese, salad, soup, khinkali and baked potato. Sometimes alcohol is also included, usually home brewed!

I recommend bringing some snacks, especially for lunch, as you don’t really stop to eat anywhere. There were occasionally little restaurants in the villages I passed and I suspect in high season they would be fully operational. But I would still be fully self-sufficient for during the day in case you can’t find anywhere that sells food. Mestia has a good supermarket and small bakeries to stock up.

I would also recommend taking a water filter like a LifeStraw. You can get boiled water at the guesthouses and homestays but if you want to fill up during the day then you’ll most likely be using streams and rivers.

The trail is marked with painted red and white streaks on rocks as well as the occasional signpost at major junctions. For a few sections I would certainly say you need to have your own navigation system like Maps.Me, but the trail is still usually well worn and for experienced trekkers it shouldn’t be hard to follow.

There are some goat tracks and other trails occasionally crossing over the main trail and this can cause some confusion. Just be aware and have Maps.Me downloaded for offline use in case.

Between Mestia and Zhabeshi
Between Mestia and Zhabeshi

FAQs about the Mestia to Ushguli trek

When is the best time to hike the Mestia to Ushguli trek?

The trek is usually open between May and October each year. July and August are especially busy and the most popular months to do the Mestia to Ushguli trek. September and October would be the best months in my opinion with less people and beautiful Autumn colours coming into the valleys.

I hiked it at the end of October and it was extremely cold in the mornings but it was very quiet and the landscape was beautiful. However, just two days after I finished the trek the first snow fall came to the mountains and the trek was closed for the season. It can be difficult to determine when the first snow hits and when the last of it melts (usually by mid-May) so keep your eye on the weather reports if you’re cutting it close to the start or end of the season.

Do you need a guide on the Mestia to Ushguli trek?

No, you don’t need a guide to do the Mestia to Ushguli trek and in fact, it’s the most popular multi-day trek in Georgia for this exact reason. The trail is relatively well marked and well-trodden, meaning navigation is not too much of a challenge.

The villages are also well organised with accommodation and you don’t need a guide to organise any logistics for you.

Do you get phone reception or WiFi along the trail?

If you have a local Georgian SIM, you’ll be able to use it along the way, especially on the higher sections of the trail. In the villages, I was able to get coverage and reception in all the places I stayed, although Adishi and Iprali were a little weak.

In Adishi, my homestay even gave me their WiFi code which was nice of them and I suspect rare. But it’s also nice to switch off and use the time to read a book instead.

I was able to charge my phone and camera at every night’s stop as well with electricity available throughout the area.

Upper route to Adishi
Upper route to Adishi

is the trek safe?

I hiked this trek as a solo female and I would say it’s a very safe trek to do independently. The locals that you come across are extremely friendly and I never felt unsafe or concerned on the trek. In high season, you would come across plenty of other trekkers too so you’re almost never alone.

The only real dangers on the trek is some of the shepherd dogs in the villages which can be quite vicious but are usually tied up. Although I had one dog approach me which wasn’t but luckily a boy was able to restrain him pretty quickly. Just be aware and be prepared to throw a rock in their direction to scare them off (it usually works!).

What do you need to bring on the Mestia to Ushguli trek?

You just need a 30L or so daypack and bring what you would normally need for a day hike. The guesthouses supply two meals and blankets and bedding so you don’t need to be self sufficient in this way.

I would bring a fleece for the cool nights though and a rain jacket for the unpredictable mountain weather. Otherwise, I was comfortable in the same hiking pants/tights and a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt for the entire four days.

I would also leave room for some snacks and around 3L of water to get you through the days.

The Mestia to Ushguli trek can actually be done as a tented trek and there are some good campsites along the way. In high season, this would be appealing simply because the trail and guesthouses can get very busy. But otherwise, it’s not necessary to carry all that gear in a large pack.

Cost

Guesthouses/homestays and meals: 140 lari (AU$71)

Snacks and food purchased in Mestia before the trek: 50 lari (AU$25)

Transport back to Mestia: 35 lari (AU$18)

There are no trekking permits or national park fees required.

Total: 225 lari or AU$114 for four days

Planning on doing more hiking in the Caucasus?

Read my guide on hiking in Kazbegi.

Check out my complete guide to Dilijan National Park in Armenia.

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