Without a doubt, the best thing I did in Georgia was the 4-day trek from Mestia to Ushguli. It was an immersive experience in the natural beauty of the Svaneti region. Taking on the trek in the offseason made for an exciting challenge with unforgettable views all throughout. The trek is hugely popular in the summers, but as the leaves begin to change and the snow begins to fall, the number of hikers begin to dwindle. Hiking from Mestia to Ushguli in the offseason will reward you with autumn colors, snow-capped peaks, and wide open natural spaces without any crowds. However, it will also challenge you with inclement weather, difficult terrain, and a limited selection of guesthouses and other tourist offerings in the villages.
I absolutely loved this hike, but will admit that there were a few things I had prepared more for. Here’s everything you need to know about hiking from Mestia to Ushguli in the offseason.
How To Get to Mestia
The quickest and easiest way to get to Mestia is by taking a flight from Tbilisi. Flights are pretty affordable, but since it’s a small plane, they have very limited luggage allowance. You might have to leave your bags in Tbilisi and come back for it after the trek. The airline is called Vanilla Sky and their booking website can be quite glitchy, but if you want to avoid a lengthy overland journey, they’re probably your best bet.
What I’d recommend is to take the train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi and then take a marshrutka from Zugdidi to Mestia. It was a long travel day to knock out in one go, but it was worth it to get to the mountains as soon as we could. It was already deep into October, so every day mattered, and we were glad we just finished the journey out in one day. You’ll see why later.
The train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi leaves at 8:45 in the morning and takes about 6 hours. The journey flew by as the train has WiFi as long as there is cell service. We paid a little extra for wider seats, spending about $12 USD for the journey. As soon as you get off the train at Zugdidi, the marshrutka drivers will come to you. It cost us 30 lari each, about $11 USD for the three hour journey to Mestia. It was a beautiful drive, although you’ll find that bus drivers in Georgia love to go fast.
The marshrutkas drop you off at the small “bus station”. From there, most of the guesthouses are within walking distance.
Oh, and before you go, make sure you have good travel insurance handy while you’re off adventuring across the world. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $45 a month, and their coverage includes Georgia among the 190+ countries that they cover. It’s handy to have travel insurance in Georgia, especially if you plan on hiking in remote areas, high altitudes, and taking to those crazy winding roads with even crazier drivers.
Where To Stay in Mestia
We opted to stay a little out of the main center, not realizing how steep of a climb it was to get there. The view was worth the hike, though. I could have easily stayed there for a few extra days just relaxing and taking in the view. The guesthouse was called Keti Margiani and cost 70 lari per room. You can pay an additional 20 lari for breakfast per person, which was worth it since it was huge and she let us take the leftovers in a bag to snack on the rest of the day.
Mestia is a small town, so location isn’t too big of a factor when picking a place to stay. Most places will be within a 10-minute walk of the main street where the supermarkets, ATMs, and cafes are. Be sure to stop by Erti Kava for a cup of coffee while you’re here.
If you opted to bring your luggage from Tbilisi or elsewhere, never fear. Most guesthouses will let you leave your luggage behind for a small fee. We payed 5 lari total to store our three big bags for the duration of the hike. If you plan on staying in Mestia on the way back, you might be able to bypass this fee by booking that night in advance. If not, 5 lari is a small price to pay to not have to carry all of your things on this epic journey.
What To Bring on the 4-Day Hike From Mestia to Ushguli
So, what to bring in your pack? Surprisingly, you won’t need that much. Although the trek is four days long, just pack what you’d normally bring in a day pack, plus a few changes of clothes. The guesthouses all have electricity, food, and showers, so we actually ended up over-preparing for the hike. You can charge your phone at guesthouses, so bringing all my battery packs was a bit excessive. Most of the guesthouses along the way have heating so we weren’t as cold as we thought we’d be at night.
Good hiking equipment is essential, though. Hiking poles will help tremendously, especially if you have to deal with snow and ice on your journey. Those downhill bits were treacherous without them. Bring a raincoat and a rain cover for your pack unless you want to be miserable. Sunscreen is also a must. We didn’t run into any mosquitoes, so I wouldn’t say bug spray is necessary this late into the year.
As for clothing, just bring some layers. Thermal base-layers, a fleece, a windbreaker, and a waterproof outer shell should be good. Gloves and a hat will definitely come in handy since it can get freezing cold in the offseason. Bring a few pairs of dry socks to change into. Staying at guesthouses with heating, we’d often be able to dry our socks over the radiator, which was nice. I’d also recommend having waterproof boots and maybe some leg warmers to add an extra layer of warmth and waterproof protection.
Snacks and water are nice to have along the way, but you don’t need to pack food for the entire journey. Some guesthouses will send you off with a small packed lunch. The breakfasts included in the nightly rate are often more food than one could ever eat, so one can pack it up and take it for the road as well. There are some shops and small markets in the villages, but in the offseason, they are poorly stocked and often only open up when someone comes knocking. We drank the tap water and were just fine, so water isn’t an issue either.
Other miscellaneous things would just include a few activities to keep you busy. I brought a book, and some hikers we met along the way brought some playing cards.
Is There Cell Service and Wi-Fi Along The Way From Mestia to Ushguli?
There is cell service almost all throughout the hike, but having an offline map is always handy. Maps.Me and AllTrails are useful if you want to have a live view of where you are on the trail. If you don’t have a physical SIM card, I’d recommend Airalo to get an eSIM if your phone is eSIM compatible. I paid $9.50 for 3 gigabytes and I had service almost all throughout the hike. You can use my code ELIJAH933 to get $3 off your first eSIM with Airalo. In some remote parts, like the villages of Adishi and Iprali, I didn’t have much cell signal, but the guesthouses usually have Wifi.
Now, let’s get to the good part.
The 4-Day Hike from Mestia to Ushguli: Day by Day Breakdown
Day 1: Mestia to Zhabeshi
Distance: 17 kilometers / 10.5 miles
Duration: 5-7 hours
Elevation Gain: ~ 750 meters / ~ 2500 feet
This is where the fun begins. From the main square, walk towards the cinema where they screen the Georgian movie Dede, which was filmed in Ushguli. Be sure to watch that, either in Mestia or in Ushguli. Cross the bridge past the movie theater and you’ll see a map and the yellow signs that will guide you all the way to Ushguli.
Follow the sign, turning left and continuing up and out of Mestia. The paved road will soon turn into dirt track and grassy meadow, but is well-marked throughout. Keep an eye out for the trail markers, the red-and-white flags, or yellow-and-white flags painted on rocks and trees. The yellow sign posts are few and far between, but always a relieving sign to know that you’re on the right path.
You’ll eventually veer to the right off the relatively flat path so far, beginning a steep climb through the forest. It only takes about ten minutes, but it’ll knock the wind out of you. Once you’ve conquered that incline, turn right until you see a wide, grassy field, a perfect spot for a lunch break or to rest your legs.
Don’t go through the meadow, continue following the main path that you’ve been on so far. The worst inclines of the day are done. You’ll seen reach the highest point of today’s hike, another meadow with a small lake with a perfect reflective view of Mount Ushba. I’d say this is the best view of the day, as you stand tall above the numerous villages in the valley below. Towards the end of the valley is your end goal, Zhabeshi.
Continue down the path and into the villages. The rest of the way is mostly dirt road through the villages but with amazing views all throughout. In the offseason, there won’t be too many things open to keep you busy. In the summer, there will often be beer gardens or cafes in the small villages that you can stop at for a quick break. Some of these smaller villages might also have guesthouses of their own, but in the offseason, your best bet at finding an open guesthouse will be at Zhabeshi or Tsaldashi.
After following the dirt road for a few kilometers, you’ll have to cross over the bridge onto the paved road. You’re almost there. Continue along this road until you reach Zhabeshi, or until you see a guesthouse to your liking.
We stayed at Guesthouse Dodo or Guesthouse Tanana. It is the same guesthouse, but you’ll see both names used on booking sites and Google Maps. In the offseason, there was nothing to signify that it was open, but we just walked into the yard until someone saw us. The old lady that runs the place is a sweetheart. It’ll make you feel like you’re at your grandma’s house, especially with how they feed you. She even sent us off with a bagged lunch and some fresh pears the next day, which was good, because we needed every bit of energy we could shove into our bodies.
Day 2: Zhabeshi to Adishi
Distance: 11 kilometers / 7 miles
Duration: 4-6 hours
Elevation Gain: ~ 900 meters / ~ 3000 feet
Today can be misleading. It’s only 10.8 kilometers according to the yellow signpost, but it is a doozy. There is a lot of incline, and in the offseason, the terrain can be tricky. This was the day I struggled with the most, and if it weren’t for the existing footsteps in the snow to guide us, we could have easily gotten lost.
Starting from Zhabeshi, head back towards where you came from the day before until you run into the yellow signposts. Follow them along a dirt (or mud) road passing through some fenced farms. It won’t take long before you get out of the village and begin your ascent. You’ll get beautiful views of the valley below before eventually delving deeper into the forest.
In the offseason, the dirt trail can be muddy, snowy, and icy. It was all three, and ended up being quite miserable. It was a cold, wet slosh to the top, but you’ll eventually find yourself at a ski village. If you see chairlifts, you’re on the right track. During the offseason, all the cafes, markets, and other things will be closed. It was pretty desolate aside from a small puppy that followed us for the next segment of the journey.
Up until this point, we did not see any other hikers. We followed the path along the ski lift, running into yellow signs every 10-15 minutes or so. Eventually, it veers away from the ski lifts. Follow the sign, turning right onto the trail that gives you panoramic views of the mountainous landscapes. The good thing about doing this in the offseason is that there’s much higher chance of seeing these beautiful mountains and forests blanketed in snow.
We ran into a couple of other hikers, two fellow Filipinas and their local Georgian guide. The local Georgian guide, Merab, would help us out quite a bit over the next few hours. The trail was snowy and muddy, and involved a few river crossings. If you have hiking poles and good boots, you should be fine. I had neither, and had to focus on every step. Today was meant to be a 4-hour hiking day, but by the time we were done, it had taken us close to seven hours. The hike continues through the forest until it opens up into a big meadow. You’re on the home stretch. Adishi will wait until the very last minute before popping into view, so don’t worry. Even if you don’t see your final destination, you’re not far at all.
Once the village pops into view, enjoy your victory lap down into the village. In the offseason, there weren’t very many guesthouses open, but some do open by demand. We were the only guests at ours, the one immediately to the left as you pull into the village. It had the name Tarzan on it, but I can’t remember its actual name and I don’t think I saw it online anywhere.
It was 70 lari a night including breakfast and dinner, which was an excellent value. The rooms were warm and cozy, and the views from the little balcony made the tough hike worth it. I grabbed a few beers from the only market that was open and enjoyed my much-deserved Natakhtaris.
Day 3: Adishi to Iprali
Distance: 20 kilometers / 12.5 miles
Duration: 6-8 hours
Elevation Gain: ~ 860 meters / ~ 2800 feet
Whew. Today was a day. We had our first gloomy day of the trek, and it only got worse from there. Knowing that it was going to be a long day, close to 20 kilometers, we burst out of the gates and made incredible time to the river crossing. The terrain is probably drier and better in the summer, but for us, it was quite a lot of mud. I took an early stumble into a small stream about 20 minutes in and had wet boots for the rest of the day, which was not ideal considering that the worst was yet to come.
We got to the river crossing where we paid 25 lari each to have a horse take us across. It took about 3 seconds, as it was winter and the river was very narrow by now. However, the current strong and would have been tricky to cross. Homie made about $40 for a minute’s work, but hey, what can ya do? The village of Adishi is very remote and I can only imagine how brutal the winters must be there. Anything you can give to the locals, please do.
We continued along the trail into the woods, taking a short break at a small viewpoint overlooking Adishi Glacier and the monstrous mountains flanking it. As I was wrapping my socks in plastic bags, it began to flurry before evolving into a full-on snowstorm. We hastily packed our things and continued up the mountain, following the existing footsteps, the only thing saving us from having to trudge our way through knee-deep snow at points. The way up involved scaling steep and icy trails where a stream would normally be in the summer. It was steep and the snowstorm prevented us from seeing any semblance of a view.
It actually made the steep and snowy journey go by quicker, since we weren’t stopping for pictures or breaks. We reached the highest point of the day, the Chkhunderi Pass, without even realizing it. The snowstorm was still in full blast at this point, so we hastily worked our way down the mountain. Well, as hastily as I could while walking on what was basically a slip-and-slide. Doing this hike in the offseason had its perks, but the endless wetness was not one of them.
Even as the snowstorm began to subside, the sky remained overcast and the mountaintops were covered in clouds. We followed the dirt path towards Iprali. The next few kilometers were mostly flat and easy-going, aside from the occasional rock-hopping over long stretches of mud and streams. The sun came out and the landscapes began to transform. We passed through frozen waterfalls and an endless forest of fiery golds, yellows, oranges, and reds. Autumn was in full blast, and with the snow-capped peaks in the distance, it made for an unforgettable view.
Our pace slackened as we took more breaks for pictures and began to enjoy ourselves for the first time all day. We passed through an abandoned village, one that had a guesthouse that had closed for the season. The trail continues along a dirt road all the way to Iprali, where we decided to stay at the first guesthouse we encountered.
It was called Family Guesthouse Ucha, and while a bit pricier, it was really nice. The lack of heating in the rooms was a bit of a problem, but we spent most of our time in the common area, the dining room, and eventually, in the family’s house where they put on a show for us with music and singing. Feeling warm and cozy after a few beers, we rested our heads for the night. We paid 80 lari per person, including dinner and breakfast.
Day 4: Iprali to Ushguli
Distance: 12 kilometers / 7.5 miles
Duration: 3-4 hours
Elevation Gain: ~ 650 meters / ~ 2100 feet
So, you have a few options on this day. This is the home stretch, and the hike takes about 4 hours with a distance of around 12 kilometers. However, many people will agree that the hike is the most underwhelming of the four days, and it’s possible to catch a taxi or hitch a ride to Ushguli.
We hiked down from Iprali, reaching the main road to Ushguli and having endured quite a bit during our last few days, we opted to go by car. The hikers from before, the two Filipinas and their guide, Merab, gave us a ride to Ushguli and we repaid them in beer. Otherwise, the trip costs around 50 lari per person but maybe you can haggle. The road was under construction, so it can be slow and bumpy, but resting our legs was much needed.
We arrived in Ushguli, dropped our things off at Guesthouse Angelina, and then ambitiously decided to go on a hike around the area. It took us about 5 minutes before we found a bar with a nice terrace and decided to spend our day there instead. As the day wore on, all the hikers we ran into, which weren’t many, ended up at the same cafe. The 10 of us kicked back with some beers and toasted to the journey behind us.
A few things to do in Ushguli are walk through the old town of Khadashi, where you can stop for food and coffee at Old House. Visit the church on a hill with a beautiful view of Shkhara, and if you’re feeling ambitious, hike all the way to Shkhara Glacier. The journey to the glacier at the foot of Georgia’s tallest mountain takes about 6 hours round trip. Be sure to watch the movie Dede that was filmed in Ushguli, and have a drink at the dungeon-y bar above the theater.
When you want to go back to Mestia, you can hire a private car or take one of the marshrutkas back. The last marshrutka leaves at 3 PM, so keep that in mind. Since we were a group of 3, we were able to take a private taxi for the same price, 50 lari. It seems quite steep considering it’s only a 90-minute ride, but hey, unless you want to hike the 4-days back, that’s really your only option. You’ll get dropped back off in Mestia where you can kick back and relax for a couple of days or continuing working your way through the rest of Georgia’s incredible wonders.
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