Europe’s Highest permanent settlement Ushguli (2060-2200m) is located in Svaneti, Georgia 50km from Mestia at the foot of Shkhara summit (5193) – one of the highest in Georgia. The Ushguli villages contain old Svan towers and buildings that are part of the UNESCO Heritage site of Upper Svaneti.
About 70 families (about 200 people) live in the area, enough to support a small school. The area is snow-covered for 6 months of the year, and often the road to Mestia is impassable. Ushguli is divided in 3 settlements. The last and most spectacular part is Zhibiani village where you can stop your car and explore and you don’t have to explore all 3.
How to get there: You can drive or hire a vehicle in Mestia for around 150-200GEL (if you pay for 7-person mitsubishi delica and share costs between others its good idea) or hike from Mestia through Mulakhi and Hadishi passing through spectacular mountains and historical passes on the slopes of Svanetian summits. Please note that Ushguli may not be accessible in winter.
Weather: Make sure you choose the sunny day for visibility. Stay in Mestia if you have just 1 day and its raining for the whole day. If you can’t see unbelievably gorgeous Shkhara Summit which lies in front of tower village, you will miss half of the show.
Things to do in Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia
Walk around Chazhashi
You can visit the tower museum where you can see medieval repousse work, icons, and processional crosses, also learn how people lived in towers. Then walk up from the museum and take pictures from the highest tower in the area. At the end eat traditional Svanetian meat pie – Kubdari.
Visit Lamaria church
Visit Lamaria church for great views of Shkhara for old frescoes (LA MARIA – if you spell like this – this church is named after Virgin Mary). Legend of Lamaria is connected with the murder in the late 19th century of a lord named Puta Dadeshkeliani who wanted to rule over the people of Ushguli. The people agreed to a meeting with him in front of the church. There the entire town helped pull a cord attached to the trigger of a rifle, thus dividing equally the responsibility for killing the man who sought to rule over people who had never had a ruler (Otherwise the family of the lord would seek blood of the murderer if it was only 1).
Hike to Shkhara Glacier
You can hike to the Shkhara glacier from where Enguri river starts. However, I would not prefer to hike all the way to the glacier 16km total – flat and may be some jeeps or horses around. I would prefer to horse ride to the glacier. It is wide pleasant gorge and horse riding is great idea.
Walk to Shkhara Glacier
Also you could just hire jeep and approach near the glacier and do short walk or even reach the lake near the glacier. 42°57’16″N 43°6’22″E but Maybe I would prefer to go up the ridge, hike Gorvashi pass and have views to all the summits and glaciers nearby in a good weather.
If you hire a Delica or other jeep from Mestia ask them include glacier visit in the price (if the driver insists on increasing the price, adding 5 gel per person must be ok if you stop there like 1 hour). Visiting glacier is not primarily for the better views of the summit as you already see most at Lamaria – it’s for you to see how Enguri river is born (like @Chalaadi glacier). The hike itself is easy – 6 hours to and back.
It starts from lamaria church -6km in the valley on the jeep trail, meeting some cows. The last couple of kilometres the trail climbs a little bit, goes through low forests, across many rocks and small creeks. The trail ends at 2 390 metres at the Shkhara glacier where the Inguri river originates below the glacier. Be careful close to the glacier as big and small rocks can come rolling and jumping down across the glacier.
Visit Ailama Summit
You can do dayhike/jeeptour to the Zagari pass if you are not planning to see Lower Svaneti and its summits, then its strongly advisable to have a little look from the pass. Walk around 7-8km to the pass which is above 2,600m from the sea level. You will not see any nice views of Ushguli but you will admire views to summit Ailama (4,547 m) in a nice weather (!) and alpine valley till the road descends to koruldashi. Then you can turn back. It’s nice dayhike with a rare possibility of hitchhiking. If you have a rented car you can ask it to take you here. In 1 day you will be able to do both the pass and the glacier jeep trips.
Dayhike to Laptari pass. You can see more information and GPS track below.
Trekking Options in Ushguli
- You can hike to Zeskho (lower Svaneti) and subsequently Ghebi and Gona villages of Racha and continue exploring Racha region by visiting udziro lake. You can see description of trial and maps for Zeskho-Ghebi hike here.
- If you are hiking and want a cheaper return trip from Ushguli to Tbilisi/Kutaisi, then you can choose to return via Laptari pass as there is a daily morning marshutka from Chvelpi to Lentekhi from where there are buses to Tbilisi and Kutaisi. If you are not in a real hurry you can camp on the Svaneti range, which is located between lower and upper Svaneti, in a beautiful alpine valley from where you can see both lower Svaneti mountains and Caucasus mountain range summits. You can also do the hike in 1 day. One more argument about sleeping at the pass besides making your trip more enjoyable and interesting is a lake which is worth visiting as it offers views to Shkhara summit reflected in the lake ( 42.881358° 42.943844°). In case of 2-day hike you will hike 10-12km from Chazhashi to the pass then 13-14km from the pass to Chvelpi. For GPS track of Laptari Pass hike click here. For the detailed discription of Laptari pass hike click here.
- If you are into more trekking you can continue your hike directly to Racha – you can see gps track of Chvelpi-Sadmeli (Lower Svaneti-Lower Racha trek) here. The path doesnt pass below Caucasus mountain range unlike Zeskho-Ghebi hike but there are some nice views to Caucasus summits in a good weather. it crosses 3,000+ pass of Lechkhumi range between wine-rich lower Racha and lower Svaneti. Rocks of Chutkharo are incredibly beautiful especially in early summer (August is the easiest and not that beautiful period). With lots of elevation to gain and especially lose you can do this hike in minimum 2 days. The route has alternative endings: villages: Khvanchkara, Chorjo, Uravi/Likheti, but Sadmeli is the easiest and safest destination. You can see the gps track here.
There is lots of information about this very popular trek among foreigners. It offers possibility to cross beautiful passes, have a view to all the summits, sleep in a village after each trek if you don’t have a camping gear. It takes around 4 days. This trek is less popular among ,,lazy” Georgians than among foreigners who are more into trekking.
First of all, there is so much to see in Svaneti, so many impressive hikes with lots of ,,photo effects”. Also after the construction of Tetnuldi resort it is possible to reach by car the highest point of the trek and even up till 3,000m and it is even possible to approach Tetnuldi summit even more.
The best part of the trek is Hadishi-Iprari hike where you can see Hadishi glacier.For that you might need a horse to cross the river if the water level is high (early summer, or in the afternoon when glaciers are melting). For Hadishi-Iprari hike, lazy and richer tourists have an option to take a car to Hadishi and have that car waiting for them in a hero village – Khalde just above Iprari to make things in more Georgian and lazy way.
Don’t be discouraged to take this beautiful trek, just take into account my tips if you are limited in time.
You can see HIKING track of Mestia-Ushguli:
Also track for Shkhara glacier hike: