What to see in Georgia’s Greater Caucasus?

If we consider Georgia as part of Europe, we must admit that Mont Blanc is not the highest peak on our continent!

Mount Shkhara (5193 m) looks down from above, as do Mount Janga (5085 m) and the famous Mount Kazbek (5054 m). It’s not bad for a country nine times smaller than France.

The first motivation for coming to Georgia is its mountains. And rightly so! They are superb and still preserved. Let me explain what you can see.

I went there in July 2021.

Our three-week trip to Georgia in summer 2021

We organized a three-week trip to Georgia in the summer of 2021. Following this, I wrote three articles:

  1. One of our impressions of a trip to the mountains of the Greater Caucasus. It’s this article!
  2. The other is on Georgia’s cities which are far from uninteresting.
  3. Finally, to read lastan article in which I explain how we planned our trip and give you some practical tips for organizing your own.

Three regions, three atmospheres

We visited three very different regions of the Greater Caucasus.

  1. First and foremost Tusheti which is the most isolated and wildest region.
  2. Next, Kazbegi easily accessible from Tbilisi via the Georgian military road, the only way to reach Russia.
  3. And finally, in the west of the country, Svaneti which is the most spectacular, with its snow-capped peaks and trekkers’ paradise.

These are the very different atmospheres I’m trying to convey to you in this article through our travel impressions.

Caucasus mountains

What to see in Tucheti

The mountains at the end of the world

To get there, you have to travel 74 km of vertiginous track, which takes almost four hours to cover! The Anglo-Saxons, with their penchant for compiling rankings, have ranked it among the world’s most dangerous roads. Some sensationalist bloggers have even dubbed it “the road to death”.

The most regrettable aspect of this list is that it encourages some people to come just to “do” this route. We met a convoy of a dozen 4x4s driven by Poles who had made the round trip in a day!

But if you take it with a good 4×4, go slowly, and avoid heavy rain, because of possible landslides, you’ll be fine. For our part, we tore a tire on a rock when we rolled a little too far to the side to dodge a truck! Several Georgians spontaneously stopped to help us, and the rest of the journey went smoothly.

The road begins in a gorge before climbing to the Abano pass at 2850 meters and then winding down to Omalo.

Track to Omalo
Track to Omalo
Our 4X4 in Tuchetia
Track to Omalo

Tusheti was our favorite. Imagine mountains that look like the Pyrenees, but are much more isolated and wild! The region is only inhabited in summer by locals who come to welcome tourists and look after their livestock. The villages have a raw charm, with muddy paths and domestic animals roaming everywhere.

Upper Omalo overlooked by Fort Keselo

We stayed in Upper Omalo, the most characteristic village in Tusheti, with Fort Keselo dating back to 1230. It towers majestically over the village, with its 13 medieval towers so typical of the Greater Caucasus. It has been beautifully restored. Go at sunset – it’s the best time!

We started with a warm-up walk around Upper Omalo to the cemetery.

Tusheti map
View of Upper Omalo village from the fortress

Dartlo: the most beautiful village in Tuchetia

Our walks led us to discover other villages in Tuchetia: Dartlo is the best preserved of them, in an extraordinary setting.

If you’re feeling fit, you can walk to it from Omalo. Alternatively, it can be reached by 4×4. That’s what we did, as the village is 14 km away and it was drizzling.

In 1 hour 30, we reached the Kavlo fort 300 m above the village (walkway no. 1 on the map). The sun even came out, allowing us to appreciate the scenery all the more. Be careful! One area is off-limits to women!

View of a quarter of the village of Dartlo
View of Kavlo fortress

A beautiful hike between the villages of Shenako and Diklo

The villages of Shenako, with its pretty church, and Diklo are also very typical. It’s a nice hike that you can do on foot from Omalo, but it takes 22 km round trip and a climb of +/- 900 m.

It is also possible to go by 4X4 to Diklo. A good compromise is to start the hike at Shenako (walk no. 2 on the map). Especially as two paths allow you to make a loop. The path is well-marked and easy to find.

On our arrival in Diklo, we have fond memories of the lunch offered in the guesthouse at the entrance to the village. For less than 4 EUR per person, we had a real feast! After a glass of “tcha-tcha”, a kind of grape marc, we left in high spirits.

Shenako church view

Hike to the summit of Pitsilanta

Our last hike was along a ridge between two valleys to the summit of Pitsilanta at 2996 meters. The views were breathtaking. We left the 4×4 on the road to Dartlo (walkway no. 3 on the map). Then we climbed up an easy path.

The author hiking on a ridge in Tuchetia

Tusheti: a favorite!

We are far from having explored all the hikes around Omalo. Be aware that hiking distances are often long. Unless you’re in excellent shape, we advise you to leave Upper Omalo by car and start your walk a little further on. In all the villages you’ll find food and accommodation.

The weather was stormy during our stay. The high peaks were mostly in the clouds. Fortunately, the rain had the good taste not to set off during our walks.

We stayed for three days but could have planned a longer stay. The impression of being at the end of the world is total. We’ll certainly be returning to Tusheti.

What to see in Kazbegi?

The Georgian military road to Mount Kazbek.

The Georgian military road allows you to get there in less than three hours from the capital. It is the only direct access between Georgia and Russia. This explains the large influx of trucks.

We were a little worried about it, but the ride turned out to be smoother than we’d imagined. Likewise, we thought Stepantsminda would be an unpleasant town, because of its traffic congestion. This is not the case at all, and it retains a peaceful, mountainous feel.

The Georgia-Russia friendship monument

On the way, be sure to stop at the Monument of Friendship between Georgia and Russia, erected in 1983… just before relations between the two countries began to deteriorate sharply. Its architecture is quite astonishing. Spectacular views over the valley. When we went to Georgia the war in Ukrainia did’nt start yet.

The area is very popular with tourists. Unfortunately, many are tempted by the “Instagram” photo on the rock overlooking the void! Sooner or later there will be a stupid accident.

Georgia-Russia Friendship Monument

Mount Kazbek: a major attraction!

Kazbegi’s main attraction is Mount Kazbek, which, surprisingly, is an ancient volcano! We discovered its full majesty in the late afternoon, as it gradually shed its scarves of clouds. Magic! We enjoyed a cocktail on the huge terrace of the luxurious Rooms Hotel to take in the spectacle.

By the way, here’s a tip! Choose accommodation in an inexpensive guesthouse (we were very happy with ours: Up) and have a drink or dinner at the Rooms Hotel. You’ll enjoy its surroundings without paying the price of the rooms, which are, in our opinion, too expensive for the standard on offer.

Of course, there’s no substitute for climbing. It’s not very technical but requires good stamina, time to acclimatize to the altitude (3 to 4 days), and guidance to avoid the pitfalls of the high mountains.

We didn’t feel like doing it, but in return, we enjoyed a superb hike to the foot of the glacier from the famous Gergeti Trinity Church, which features in almost every tourist publication in Georgia.

On the way back, we relaxed with a snack at the “Altihut” hut, at 3014 m, an unexpected luxury in Georgia. To get the most out of your walk, start early, as the clouds usually envelop Mount Kazbek by 10 am. With its 1,200 m vertical drop, the hike is a sporting one! If you start from Stepansminda, and not from the church of Gergeti Trinity, you will add 300 m and 2 hours of walking. The choice depends on your physical condition!

Juta’s pleasant surprise

The other pleasant surprise of our visit to Kazbegi was Juta. It’s a small hamlet about ten kilometers from the military road.

We stayed at the Fith Season. Halfway between a hotel and a refuge. It can only be reached on foot after a climb of around 200 m and a half-hour walk. We slept in their most comfortable double rooms. The view from the bed was simply incredible!

We had planned to spend just one night there, but after our interminable but magnificent hike up the Arkhoti Valley to the Chaukhi pass we decided to stay one more.

A little tip: on the way, we had to cross a stream. We recommend you carry plastic sandals in your bag. This will often come in handy in the Greater Caucasus.

The Truso valley on the borders of Ossetia

Our last stop in this region was a stroll through the Truso valley. It is easy, but long: 22 km and +/- 200 m ascent. That’s why we did the first part, in a somewhat monotonous gorge, by car. Then the valley widens out, with some beautiful views.

Along the way, we pass through abandoned villages and two monasteries: one for women, the other for men. We wondered if they communicated with each other! There are also astonishing sulfur springs to discover.

At the end, you’ll reach a ruined fortress. It is located just before the border with South Ossetia. Russian-backed separatist region. Don’t dare go any further, because the Georgian army will stop you! Plan your picnic before.

Monks working in the fields in the Truso valley
Sulfur spring in the Truso Valley

Kazbegi: the Great Caucasus within easy reach

After our hike to Truso, we planned to spend the night at the Gudauri ski resort. It’s the largest in the country, but its unbridled urbanization didn’t appeal to us. So we continued to a hotel in a vineyard near Mtsekha. We also enjoyed a much-appreciated bonus after the hikes: the swimming pool!

Kazbegi is the region of the Greater Caucasus to visit if you’re staying in Georgia for a short time. It’s easy to reach from Tbilisi with a normal car. On the other hand, you’ll encounter more tourists here than in Tuchetia.

What to see in Svaneti

Mountain big shows!

If you’re very lucky, you’ll reach this region by plane! Vanilla Sky flies from Natakhtari (near Tbilisi) to Mestia with a Let L-410, a Czech turboprop. I couldn’t take it myself, as all the frequencies on offer were fully booked. I’ve seen it land in the narrow Mestia valley, however, and I imagine the flight must be impressive… provided the weather is good because the flight is often canceled.

Svaneti is Georgia’s most spectacular region. Snow-capped peaks surround you and glaciers are within easy reach. So it’s not surprising to see so many holidaymakers.

Guesthouses and small hotels are springing up like mushrooms, especially in Mestia. Don’t panic though, you won’t see any large tourist complexes! You’ll find yourself in the company of hikers, as Svanetia is a trekking paradise. The village atmosphere is still friendly.

Our stay in Svaneti was a rainy one. As a result, our hikes were shorter than planned, and the views of snow-capped peaks and glaciers were less grandiose. But like any situation, it has its advantages! Watching cloud veils appear and disappear over the mountains is a spectacle in itself. This lends a mysterious quality that encourages daydreaming.

View of Upper Omalo village from the fortress

Mazeri: a small mountain village

Mazeri was the first village we discovered. It still has a very rural feel, with stunning views of Mount Laila (4009 m) and Mount Ushba (4700 m).

We took a lovely walk to the Shdugra Falls, the highest in the country. We could have continued to the Mount Ouchda glacier, but the weather wasn’t quite right.

Another great trek that all guidebooks recommend is to reach Mestia from Mazeri via the Guli pass. We didn’t make it because the skies were too fickle. Don’t underestimate its difficulty, with a fairly substantial vertical drop (10 hours, 1,600 m of ascent, and 1,200 m of descent). But it’s said to be one of the most beautiful hikes in Svaneti.

Ushguli: the high point of the trip

The highlight of our trip to Georgia was undoubtedly our stay in Ushguli. It’s a small village, deep in a valley bristling with the famous fortress towers.

In the background rises Mount Shkhara at 5903 m. You can see its extraordinary glacier plunging from the summit. Ushguli is still only accessible by a bad track. But that’s about to change, as impressive work is underway to create a concrete road. Let’s hope that easier access to the village won’t cause it to lose its current authenticity.

In Ushguli, on a rainy afternoon, we went to the cinema! In a barn, sitting on benches with a sheet stretched out as a screen, we saw the film “Dede” by Mariam Khatchvani. Set some twenty years ago in Ushguli, the story tells of a woman who wants to break with tradition and live her life as she sees fit. Many of the actors were residents. It was one of the heroes who welcomed us! We found it a great way to immerse ourselves in the world of Svanetia.

Mestia: the capital of Svaneti

Our third stop in Svaneti was its capital: Mestia. This is the town from which tours and hikes in the region are organized. Mestia is a good base camp for exploring the region. Especially if you don’t have a car.

Svaneti alone is worth a trip to Georgia. We’re glad to have finished our discovery of Svaneti with this one, despite the weather not always being favorable.

Practical tips for your trip to the Greater Caucasus

I explain how we organized our trip to the Greater Caucasus, with all my practical advice, in the following article:

How to prepare for your trip to Georgia?

practical tips for your trip to Georgia

კარგი მოგზაურობა!

Bon voyage!



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