In 3 days I hiked through green pastures, authentic little mountain villages, scenic glaciers, and tough mountain passes. I slept in quaint guesthouses and ate delicious local food. Now I’m here to tell you why you should too!
How to get to Mestia from Kutaisi
There are direct buses to Mestia from all 3 big cities in Georgia: Batumi, Kutaisi, and Tbilisi. I traveled to Mestia from Kutaisi.
The first minibus from Kutaisi to Mestia leaves at 10, but getting earlier is recommended. I got there at 9:05 and was the last to board the bus, which promptly departed. Price: 40 GEL/14 EUR.
It’s a long journey. The minibus stops for a short while in Zugdidi and then a bit longer halfway to Mestia for food, toilet, stretching your legs (mind you, these minibuses are not the most comfortable), and of course to get a breath of fresh air.
Our driver was extra kind when he stopped once more just before Mestia for the exceptional views of a very picturesque peak.
There are also flights from Kutaisi and Tbilisi to Mestia on the domestic Vanilla Sky airline. They are affordable, but very popular and sell out VERY quickly. Find out more on the linked official website.
Mestia – stay or go hiking right away?
Travel time from Kutaisi to Mestia is 7 hours, more or less. Some people start hiking from Mestia to Ushguli on the same day, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
For one, you’d be tired from the long drive, for two, it’d already be 4-5 PM and for three, Mestia is actually quite nice to explore for an afternoon.
Go check in in one of the hundred+ guesthouses (if you’re wondering, I stayed in N&N Guesthouse for only 20 GEL / 7EUR per night) and go up the northern slope of the village to get amazing views of the whole valley.
Most guesthouses let you leave your luggage there for a couple of days. Take only a small backpack – you’ll be hiking a lot.
The Mestia to Ushguli trek usually takes 4 days to complete but is doable in 2 or 3.
I managed to do it in 3 just because I wasn’t very tired at the end of the original Day 1. Talking about Day 1…
DAY 1: Mestia to Adishi
Wake up early, obviously. I left Mestia at 10:10 but I left it was quite late. I almost paid for it at the end of Day 1, reaching my guesthouse after dark. Good hikers leave early – around 7-8 AM.
If you’re doing the Mestia to Ushguli in 4 days, then day 1 is around 5 hours, so leaving at 10 is admissible.
Mestia to Zhabeshi
You’d want to take the road in Mestia going northeast until you cross the river. The trail is quite well-trodden from there and slowly slopes upwards before reaching the highest point of day 1 (only of the original day 1) with views over Mestia and Mount Ushba.
You’ll cruise through the meadows on the top and not too much farther start your decline towards Zardlashi.
The trail branches several times, giving you a choice between harder, but more picturesque or easier, but lower altitude hiking.
I chose the former. Soon after you will see Lakhiri from above:
From Mestia to Lakhiri it’s 3.5 hours, so depending on when you started, you might want to get your lunch here. I left Mestia with a few snacks: biscuits, energy bars, and crackers, but no actual food.
There’s a guesthouse in Lakhiri that prepared a tasty lunch for me and although it was on the expensive side, hungry hikers can’t be choosers. The guesthouse is in the middle of the town with signs pointing to it on every corner – you really can’t miss it.
From Lakhiri it’s a simple 2-hour walk to Zhabeshi. Most hikers opt to spend the night here, ending day 1.
Day 1 Extension: Chvabiani to Adishi
I arrived in Chvabiani (the village just before Zhabeshi) at around 3 PM and wasn’t very tired. My only concern was that sunset was at ~7 PM and the hike to the next village is 3.5 hours, so I’d be cutting it close. That’s why it’s important to start your hiking early!
Regardless, I decided to push forward.
If you’re going directly to Adishi on day 1, there’s no point in going to Zhabeshi first. The trail goes up from Chvabiani.
It’s a steep trail. At times there’s barely any trail. I had to go through mud, cross multiple streams, and climb a couple of mounds. That was the most exhausting part of day 1.
The hike to the top takes about 2 hours where you’ll see the ski lift and a cafe. It may or may not be open. Follow the lift up until you see the road turn right, reach Cafe Txharpeli, and take the trail down.
From Cafe Txharpeli to Adishi it’s only downhill, taking around 1.5 hours.
I reached Adishi just before sunset, although it was quite dark, because of the surrounding high mountains blocking the sun.
I was quite tired, ain’t gonna lie. Two days packed into one is doable but exhausting. I went to Gunter’s Guesthouse as I’d heard good reviews about the food. Georgian food is tasty in general, but Gunter’s Guesthouse’s blew me away!
I met other hikers from Germany and Israel there and we were treated to a very homey dinner by the lovely lady running the guesthouse.
The dorm room was quite cold (understandable, it was late September and Adishi is at 2100 m.a.s.l.), but the common area was cozy with the fireplace warming like it was Christmas.
Bed, dinner, breakfast, and a simple packed lunch were 80GEL/28EUR. On the pricier side, but totally worth it.
DAY 2: Adishi to Lalkhori
Before you leave, make sure to ask about the river’s water level!
The River Crossing
“What the hell?“, you’re asking, “aren’t there bridges?“.
Maybe it’s because the river gets too wild at times throughout the year and destroys any fort or maybe it’s because the locals need to make an extra buck getting hikers across on horses, but there are no bridges.
The river crossing is about 2 hours from Adishi. You’ll see the horses carrying people across. It’s a pricey service though – 20GEL/7EUR for less than a minute.
Go down the river a little bit and look for a crossing that won’t require you to even touch the water. I couldn’t find one though, so I went back to the main crossing point, took off my shoes, rolled up my pants, and crossed.
The water is cold and fast and can definitely knock you over if you’re not careful.
If the current is too strong, just take the horses. In such cases, 20GEL is worth every tetra.
It’s now time to ascent to Chkhutnieri pass. This is the highest point of the whole trek and stands at 2721 m.a.s.l. The views though, oh what views!
On the way you will have splendid vistas of Adishi Glacier and on top, you will see the whole Adishi Valley as far as the eye can see.
Down to Khalde, Iprari and Lalkhori
From the pass, it’s an hour of steep downhill and then an hour-long pleasant stroll to the historical village of Khalde.
It stayed destroyed for many years after the Russians leveled it in 1876 because the locals refused to pay the exorbitant taxes. Today there are signs of revival with new guesthouses and even hotels popping up.
From Khalde the trail continues down to Iprari (1.5 hours) where most people end day 3. I opted to stay in Lalkhori, a further 30 minutes downhill.
I stayed at Robinzon Guesthouse. The room was way better than in Adishi, but the food was so-so. I paid 65 GEL / 23EUR for the bed plus dinner and breakfast.
DAY 3: Lalkhori to Ushguli
Most people say that the last leg of the hike is quite boring. Compared to the Chkhutnieri Pass and the Adishi Glacier, it’s true. But if you don’t take the car road, the hike is quite pleasant.
Lakhori to Murkmeli
Instead, when you reach Davberi (15 minutes from Lalkhori), take the path up through the village, getting you on a trail running parallel to the road down. From Davberi, it’s a 3-hour walk to Murkmeli, the first part of Ushguli.
Make your way 10 minutes further to Chazhashi, where the Svan towers still grace the sight. Go up to Queen Tamar’s tower and visit the very old Matskvarshi church.
Walk all the way to the end of Ushguli to visit Lamaria Monastery. There are some pretty nice views there of the valley and the river.
Go back and enjoy a cup of tea in one of the cafes. The main one is Cafe-Bar Enguri – most organized tours drop off the tourists in front of it. Ushguli is a UNESCO heritage site with tours from all over Georgia.
The tricky part is getting back to Mestia. There are shared taxis with their drivers waiting around or inside the Cafe. They will approach you to offer a ride back, the running rate being 50 GEL / 17 EUR per seat.
The road is in very poor condition, but even so, that’s a very expensive proposition. I decided to walk a bit outside the city and try to hitchhike, and if it didn’t work, to go back and take a taxi.
Most cars leaving Ushguli are taxis or minivans and won’t stop. I was lucky though – after about 40 minutes a Georgian couple picked me up and drove me back to Mestia. 50 GEL saved!
I spent the night in Mestia in the same guesthouse as before. Buy a bus ticket to Kutaisi or Tbilisi the previous day as the morning marshrutkas are your only option to get out (also hitchhiking of course).
That’s the Mestia to Ushguli Trek Done!
Staying in the guesthouses in Adishi and Lalkhori was the highlight of my stay in Georgia and I totally recommend the whole experience! Go hike from Mestia to Ushguli – you won’t regret it!