Kazbegi and Svaneti are justifiably two of the most popular destinations in Georgia. Both offer spectacular mountain scenery and excellent hiking. The best time for hiking in the greater Caucasus mountains is the summer which begins around mid May/early June. However that does not mean that these 2 destinations are off-limits out of season.
We ended up visiting Kazbegi at the beginning of April and Svaneti at the end of April. Major hiking routes close to Kazbegi itself were free of snow however this was not the case in Svaneti. When we were planning our trip to the Georgia traveling to these two regions outside of the summer season was one of main concerns. By the looks of some of our Google searches it seemed we weren’t the only ones that were asking questions.
Here we will give you all the tips and info you need for a spring trip to 2 of Georgia’s most stunning destinations.
Can you visit Kazbegi and Svaneti in April?
Yes. The road to Kazbegi is open all year round, and by April the ski season is beginning to close meaning that a number of hiking trails will be open around Kazbegi itself. However hikes to Juta and down the Trusso valley are unlikely to be open until the summer.
The condition of the road to Svaneti is not as good as to Kazbegi. However if visiting in April there should be no issues getting to Svaneti itself. When we visited at the end of April there was still a lot of snow on the ground. Hikes up to the Cross and Chalaadi Glacier were fine. However the Koruldi lakes were still covered with snow.
Only a 3 hour or so drive from Tbilisi, marshrutkas, private taxi’s and organized tours frequently pound up and down the Georgian Military Highway. For marshrutkas you will need to head to Didube bus station (it has its own stop on the Tbilisi subway) and find marshrutkas heading to Kazbegi (Stepantsminda). They will usually charge around 10-20 gel per person and will leave when the vehicle is full.
Private taxis and tours can easily be found in Tbilisi. There are numerous tour agencies and private drivers that will probably find you before you find them. The biggest concentration is on Kote Abkhazi Street just off Liberty Square heading into the old town.
We hired a car for part of our trip to Georgia and we used this for the drive up to Kazbegi. The road is open all year round and is generally in very good condition. It took us around 4 hours to drive from Tbilisi, since I did not drive quite as fast as the locals.
The vast majority of people get to Mestia by marshrutka directly from Tbilisi (9 hours), Kutaisi (6 hours) and Zugdidi (3-4 hours). There are marshrutkas that travel directly to and from Batumi in the summer. Outside of that you will need to transfer in Zugdidi.
We took the night train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi. On arrival in Zugdidi, a minibus to Mestia costs 20 lari. We took the same route in reverse back from Mestia and took the night train from Zugdidi back to Tbilisi.
The best place to buy tickets is at the train station in Tbilisi. I would recommend buying return tickets if you’re going back to Tbilisi, as buying train tickets in Mestia can be hit and miss. When we were there in April there was plenty of space on the train. However I would imagine summer would be much busier so try and buy train tickets at least a couple of days in advance.
If heading elsewhere from Mestia it’s best to check with your guesthouse or the tourist information centre in Mestia for transport options. Only Kutaisi, Zugdidi and Tbilisi are serviced by marshrutkas. Private taxis are available, but they are very expensive.
There are plenty of drivers and cars around the main square offering to take you to a wide variety of places, or you can arrange rides through your guesthouse.
The main town of Mestia is where most travelers end up. Its central location means hikes and transport to the other villages can easily be arranged. Your guesthouse will be able to help you arrange transport around the area. Alternatively the information centre and the waiting area outside are other excellent places to meet and arrange drivers.
What Can You Do
Gergeti Trinity Church
There are two choices here; hike up or drive up. To be honest the fees to drive up are quite expensive, we heard people pay up to 80 lari to go up to the monastery and back down. We took the option to hike, and it really is worth it.
The views on the way up are truly extraordinary. Head up through the village and take a left at the t-junction passing past a small cafe. This way up will take you past a crumbling tower which offers some spectacular views on the way up.
Hiking to the big and small Gveleti waterfalls is easier than hiking up to the Gergeti Trinity Church. To get here you will need to drive up. The hike up has some particularly beautiful mountain scenery as does the drive down.
This demanding hike opens in early spring. There are two routes up, the left track and the right track. We took the left track up and the right track down. The left track is very, very steep and as a result is particularly demanding, whereas the right track is much longer but nowhere near as steep. When we completed the hike there was still a lot of snow around the top. This included the summit itself and also a substantial part of our ascending and deciding track.
The road to Ushguli is particularly bad and as result you will need to hire a driver with a 4×4 vehicle. The alternative to hiring a driver is to walk from one to the other, however around April the designated hiking trail is not open meaning you’d need to walk on the road. A UNESCO world heritage site, Ushguli does not disappoint. Whilst it is undeniably popular, when you arrive it is easy to see why.
We didn’t actually do this hike, but some people we met in Mestia did. In April there was still a large amount of snow. Also the majority of the hike follows the road. You can arrange a driver to take you up to the footbridge and wait for you there. Expect to pay around 80 gel.
This article was written by Richard Barnes and first appeared on A Bear and A Pig.