12 February 2019.
Sprawling glaciers, rugged peaks, sweeping valleys, alpine meadows, warm Georgian hospitality, wildflowers, rivers and epic views, oh, and a historic trail of ancient crumbling towers make the 4-day Mestia to Ushguli trek one of Georgia’s best adventures.
These are my top tips for anyone planning to do the hike.
Looking for specifics on the trekking route instead? Check this post!
* This post includes affiliate links and any purchases made through these links will earn us a small commission at no extra cost to you. *
1 | Bring all the money you’ll need plus extra
Outside of Mestia, you’ll won’t find any ATMs along the route so it’s best to bring all the cash you’ll need, plus a bit extra just in case.
As a bare minimum, the Mestia to Ushguli trek will cost around 250 GEL (€82) per person to cover 4 nights of accommodation and meals (minus lunch), and transport between Ushguli and Mestia.
Any drinks, snacks, other meals, activities or extra nights you have along the way will be extra.
I’d suggest bringing at least 400 to 500 GEL per person for the 4-day trip in case your plans change unexpectedly – say the weather turns and you need to stay an extra night somewhere, there’s an incident and you need to take taxi out, or you fall so in love with Ushguli you want to extend your trip.
Prices during my visit in 2018 were also 10 to 15 GEL higher than those listed in my 2016 Lonely Planet so it’s worth anticipating that they’ll increase soon. If you visit and they’ve changed, it would be awesome if you could let me know in the comments below so I can keep this post updated!
2 | Pack Light
Along the trail, I saw more than a few poor sods lugging their enormous backpacks around. Though the 4-day trek is not a particularly strenuous one, you’ll be cursing yourself for having to carry any more than necessary up all those hills – and each day will have a more challenging one to throw at you.
Best is to leave your big backpack at your guesthouse in Mestia and take a day pack with just the bare essentials for the trek. I stayed at Manoni Guesthouse where I was able to leave my gear for free. Admittedly, the luggage is just stored in a separate room so not strictly as secure as you might hope, but you can usually give any valuables to the host for safe keeping.
3 | Bring Proper Gear
Between the frequent bouts of wild weather, muddy trails and steep, slippery descents, this is definitely a trek to come well equipped for. Now, that’s not to say your clothing needs to be decked out with all the bells and whistles, but at least enough to keep you mostly warm and dry for the duration of the trek.
Day Pack + Waterproof Cover | It’s nothing fancy and perhaps a little bigger than is strictly necessary for this hike, but I’ve been using this backpack for both carry-on luggage and as a daypack for the past year and think it’s a great all-around option. It’s comfortable for hiking, has plenty of pockets and, most importantly in this case, has a waterproof cover.
Hiking Boots + Socks | With so many hills and a high chance of wet weather, decent, worn-in hiking boots are essential to keep your feet dry and blister free. I love my Scarpa boots which are lightweight and water-resistant, along with a pair of thick, merino wool socks.
Hiking Clothes | I probably say this every time I get carried away talking about gear, but layers are key! In early autumn, evenings and mornings were chilly so I began most days wearing four odd layers, but by the time the sun peaked over the mountain tops, I was able to strip this down to just one.
As well as a t-shirt for the warmer weather, a thermal base layer, fleece or puffer jacket and a proper weatherproof jacket are all a good idea. For the bottoms, I just stuck with full-length leggings which were perfect for the temperature and easy to roll up when it came time to cross the river.
Non-hiking Clothes | When you arrive in the afternoon, there’s nothing better than being able to strip off your sweaty and most likely muddy attire, jump in a hot shower and then cosy up in something dry, clean and warm. Try to keep up it simple and lightweight. For me, this was a loose pair of pants (that’s trousers for the Brits), a fresh t-shirt and clean socks, as well as a pair of flip flops for when I couldn’t be bothered putting my boots back on.
Suncream | Slather it on every morning before you leave or expect to get sunburnt, even when there’s cloud cover.
First Aid Kit | In the spirit of not taking the kitchen sink, I tried to keep my first aid stash fairly basic. These are a few of the things I never go hiking without: band-aids, paracetamol, ibuprofen, water purification tablets, a small bandage, tiger balm and rehydration tablets (incidentally, the most used item in my first-aid kit).
Hiking Poles | Now, it’s not often I find myself lusting after someone else’s hiking poles, but there were a number of instances along the Mestia to Ushguli trek where I caught myself thinking, ‘yeah, those would have been a good idea.’ There are a number of really steep descents, some that forced me to crouch down and waddle through the grass to keep from sliding over, and then there are just the wildly muddy sections where a third and fourth point of contact just makes life a whole lot easier. Perhaps for my next trip I’ll become a hiking pole convert, but until then, these ones come highly recommended.
For my other favourite hiking gear, check out this post for my top hiking essentials.
4 | There are a few alternate routes for the trek
If you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge, or just to make the most of your time in the area, there are a few alternatives to the standard Mestia Ushguli route.
On day one, there’s the option to hike south-west of Mestia (or take the cable car) and follow the ridge towards Tsvirmi, a route that reportedly offers better views than the standard route.
On day two there’s the possibility to take the upper route which I highly recommend (see why in this post), as well as tracing the way through the forest for the final leg to Ushguli rather than follow the muddy road.
5 | There is wifi (but don’t rely on it)
This was one of those trips where I told my family I’d be off-grid in the mountains for a few days and there was absolutely no chance I’d be reachable way out there.
Low and behold, there was wifi virtually everywhere I stayed in the mountains, granted it wasn’t the fastest. That said, since you are way out in the wilderness, it’s also the perfect place to take a digital detox as well.
6 | Keep an eye on the weather
Most of the hike I was lucky enough to have beautiful blue skies, but I also experienced a violent hail storm, torrents of rain, wild winds and thick, disorientating fog. The weather can change at the drop of a hat and you really don’t want to be stuck unawares at the top of a pass when it decides to do so.
Be sure to keep an eye on the weather from day-to-day and if a storm is rolling in, it might be better to spend an extra night where you are rather than push on.
Also, bear in mind that heavy rainfall can seriously affect the water levels and strength of the Adishchala River if you’re planning to cross on foot.
7 | Don’t Forget The Map
Although the route is clearly marked and well-trodden, taking a map with you just makes good sense, especially if you’re hoping to take any of the alternate routes.
The entire trail is marked on Maps.Me including all the deviations, such as the path to Tsvirmi on day 1, the upper trail on day 2, the Chkhunderi Pass lookout on day 3, and the forest trail on the way to Ushguli.
For some extra peace of mind, you can also download the gps files of the route to your smartphone which clearly marks the trail in red. Routes are available from Caucasus Trekking which is an excellent resource for hiking in Svaneti.
8 | Spend The Night In Ushguli
Arriving to Ushguli beneath dark, moody skies was like stumbling into a wonderfully eery and oh so muddy village stuck in time. The prize at the end of a grand adventure. But, it’s not just a finish line. It’s a place to get lost between the tight cluster of ancient towers that make this tiny village so special, to drink in the wild beauty of the mountains wrapped in tendrils of mist and to reminisce about the hike you’ve just completed.
So then to see the vast number of trekkers roll into town, muddy and exhausted, only to snap a picture or two of the village and hot foot it back to Mestia was completely baffling.
For me, Ushguli and the countryside that surrounds it was one of the most memorable places in all of Georgia and to miss out on that just seems like a damn shame.
Admittedly, up close the growing development in the area does detract slightly from the air of mystique that is so tangible from afar. Between the beautiful stone towers and homes, haphazard expansions cobbled together from exposed metal and bright colours don’t exactly blend in. Still, it’s a fascinating place to explore and certainly deserves more than just a cursory glance.
9 | Should You Book Your Accommodation In Advance?
Annoyingly, the answer is maybe…
While the recent boom in development mean places like Zhabeshi and Ushguli have dozens of options available, the choice is fairly limited in both Adishi and Iprali. Even though I was hiking out of season, many of the favourite guesthouses in Zhabeshi were already fully booked, while both guesthouses in Adishi and Iprali were packed. I can only assume that as this hike attracts more travellers, these numbers will continue to grow.
If you’re visiting in summer, it’s probably a good idea to book ahead. If they’re not listed online, your guesthouse will usually be able to call ahead to make a reservation on your behalf. Otherwise, expect that you might not get your first choice of accommodation.
If you’re not booking ahead, it’s a good idea to at least arrive in the villages early so you can have the first pick of what’s left. Or, you can browse some of the accommodation options here.
10 | June to September is trekking season
By late spring, the thick blanket of snow has melted away unveiling landscapes washed in vibrant greens and speckled with wildflowers. As the season nears its close, early autumn brings cool evenings and fiery colours to the forests. Really, it’s a feast for the eyes at any time of year.
Expect plenty of rainfall early in the season which can make the river crossing a real challenge. The possibility of snowfall as October nears can also make traversing the upper passes a little tricky. July and August, when the weather is warmer and more stable, are the most popular times to visit.
11 | Leave No Trace
Few things are more infuriating than traipsing through a remote and remarkably beautiful wilderness only to look down and see the trash that someone else has felt compelled to leave behind – an empty plastic bottle, a torn chip packet or, perhaps worst of all, someone’s shitty toilet paper peeking out from the bushes.
Don’t be that person!
Like so many places in the world, what was once pristine backcountry will inevitably have to deal with the pressures that arise from the increasing number of visitors that pass through.
Now, this hike is by no means busy yet, even by Georgian standards it’s still considered relatively off-beat, but it’s up to all of us to do our part or conserve these environments.
Take out what you bring in, always.
12 | Remember Your Lunch
If you set off reasonably early each morning, most days will see you arrive in the next village by early afternoon with that niggling feeling that it might just be time for lunch. As family dinners are usually only served around 7 or 8 p.m., it can feel like an awfully long wait between meals if you’re not prepared, and that hangry-ness is no joke!
I bought a fresh boat of bread from the bakery in Mestia before setting off which I nibbled on every day, along with some fruit, sweets and nuts that I cobbled together from the minimarkets in town to tide me over. For a better selection, I’d definitely recommend buying supplies in Tbilisi or Kutaisi rather than when you arrive in Svaneti.
Another option is to arrange for a packed lunch through your guesthouse for an extra fee which will be ready to take with you the following morning.
13 | Evening Entertainment Is A Good Idea
If you’re hiking at a steady pace, you’ll find yourself with plenty of time to kill in the afternoons. Once you’ve recuperated and had the chance to potter around the village and take in the extraordinary views, it’s nice to be able to kick back with something to pass the time.
A pack of cards always goes down well, otherwise, a Kindle or well-stocked playlist of podcasts and Audible library will also do the trick.
Psst… New to Audible? It’s one of my most-used Apps! Sign up here for a free 30-day trial and receive two complementary audiobooks of your choice!