Nice hike crossing Zuruldi range and offering phenomenal views on some of the most prominent peaks of Caucasus
One of my favorite hikes in the proximity of Mestia. It crosses Zuruldi range and offers phenomenal views on some of the most prominent peaks of Caucasus such as Ushba, Tetnuldi, and Layla.
The walk usually finishes in picturesque Tsvirmi village.
I should mention here that there are actually three variants of the hike to Tsvirmi - this one uses cablecar to get to the top of the Zuruldi ridge (if it´s running).
You can also climb up on foot (route described here)
or just follow a valley of Inguri river (easier, less scenic trail, don't have it on the web yet).
The walk can be adjusted into an easy day hike with the return to Mestia
or the first stage of a longer trek (usually to Ushguli).
Duration: 3 hours
If you want to return to Mestia on the same day and don't manage to find a car in Tsvirmi, you will have to walk another 30 minutes to the main road at the Ughviri pass.
The descent from Mentashi transmitter is tricky, but overall, this is still an easy walk.
From Zugdidi to Mestia:
Marshrutkas to Mestia leave from Zugdidi every day, there is at least one in late morning and one in the afternoon. Morning marshrutka departs from the bus station situated by the bridge around 10 am (or even later if not full). Afternoon marshrutka waits for passengers of morning train from Tbilisi, which arrives around 14:30. Therefore, they wait in front of the Zugdidi train station. There might be some odd marshrutka in-between on you might get lucky and board marshrutka stopping at Zugdidi along its route to Mestia, but that cannot be guaranteed.
Either way, the price of the ride is 40 GEL and the trip takes almost 4 hours, mostly due to a rather large pause these buses tend to make around Khaishi.
If you get lucky or travel in a larger group, it could make more sense to secure your spot at shared taxi that depart from the station by the bridge (and in the afternoon from train station as well). The price tends to be 200 GEL per the whole car (50 GEL pp if the taxi is full), but varies depending on the situation. Trip is faster since any break is optional, takes 3 hours or so.
From Tbilisi to Mestia:
Few years ago, the best option used to be the overnight train to Zugdidi. However, it was cancelled in 2020 due to covid and there are no signs that it's going to be restored anytime soon. The only viable replacement used to be a long-distance night bus, which could also save you a lots of time, but won't be as comfortable as that cancelled sleeper train. Unfortunately, it seems that right now (summer 2023), they are not running them either, only bus leaving around noon, but it might be worth checking out Omnibus website to see if they were reinstated.
Currently, I would recommend the day train. It departs from Tbilisi at 8:40 and makes it to Zugdidi at 14:34, just in time to catch some of the last marshrutkas to Svaneti. The price of the ride starts at 16 GEL, which is less than 5 EUR. Tickets can be bought in advance at matarebeli.ge website (the official web is railway.ge, but that never worked for me). Just one important thing - tickets are released for the online sale only some 15 days in advance, but it's not explained anywhere. So don´t freak out if you can´t buy your ticket online because of the "no tickets available", "trains not found" or some similar error. Just try later :)
If you fail to secure the spot on the train, you may be forced to take a direct marshrutka - two minibuses depart at 7:00 from the area in front of Main Railway Station, come at least 30 minutes earlier to catch a spot. Another one departs at 8:00 from Samgori railway station and there should be something from Didube as well. The price is 40 GEL, so it´s quite cheap, but I can´t recommend it since this uncomfortable journey takes grueling 9-10 hours - basically, it's just slower, marginally cheaper and much less comfortable alternative for the day train.
If the are not travelling alone and don't mind spending some extra bucks, you might prefer a direct taxi. Those can be either arranged at bus stations or prebooked - looking at the prices of one of the most popular Georgian transport website, gotrip.ge, prices for the private transfer from Tbilisi to Mestia start at 650 GEL (230 EUR) for the group of 4.
The last option you could consider is flight - there are 4 flights a week from Natakhtari airport near Tbilisi, operated by VanillaSky company . You would see Caucasus from a completely different perspective and for 90 GEL it´s quite a bargain. On the downside, they occassionally get canceled because of the weather and during the summer, you should book at least month in advance since they get booked up pretty fast. For more info, pls check this excellent post about the flight (covers also flight from Kutaisi).
From Kutaisi to Mestia:
This depends on whether you want to get to Mestia from the city or from the Kutaisi airport.
In the first case, your best options is the direct minibus (the price is 40 GEL) departing from the station behind McDonalds. There is a fixed departure between 9:00 and 10:00 am, but if you want to secure your spot, better get there at 8:00-8:30 since it's popular among tourists and will depart much sooner if full.
According to locals, if this marshrutka gets full and leaves before 9:00 am, they will send another one. If it gets full later, they might not.
There may be also others during the day if there are enough tourists, but I wouldn´t rely on that. If you miss them and there is none other direct bus available, look for a marshrutka to Zugdidi (price 10 GEL) - it's the same way and you can find there transport to Mestia more easily (especially if you notify your driver in Kutaisi that you need to continue to Mestia).
If you are travelling directly from the airport, you also have some options. If you are travelling alone, you can arrange a transfer to Kutaisi at Georgian bus stand (5 GEL or so) and take marshrutka from there. Or, if you are willing to spend extra money and save time, find someone to share taxi with. It's actually pretty easy - do you see any people with hiking backpacks? If yes, there is a pretty high chance they are heading to Svaneti so this is a great chance to save some money and get to know some people.
If you are not alone and travel straight from the airport, you might want to book your taxi in advance. In this case, at gotrip.ge, prices of the transfer from the Kutaisi airport to Mestia start at 340 GEL, which is actually pretty solid. If you haggle with taxi drivers loitering around the airport and don't look to desperate, you might get a better price, but not by much.
From Batumi to Mestia:
Marshrutka is the only option, it departs from the main bus station. Since you will have switch the bus in Zugdidi (you may have to wait for several hours there), this ride takes a better part of the day. The first bus departs at 8:00 am, then there should be another one at 9:30 am.
The first marshrutkas to Zugdidi, Batumi and Tbilisi depart early in morning, around 7 am. every day in the morning at (these should be booked one day in advance). There are more during the day, depending on the demand. There should be also some marshrutkas departing in the afternoon to Zugdidi, just in time to catch the evening train to Tbilisi which departs at 17:25. However, since marshrutka schedules are not 100% fixed, better visit station in advance to confirm this and book tickets.
For exact timetables and booking of the tickets, visit the travel offices at the station. Just keep in mind that there are several offices and don't buy tickets too far in advance. We met tourists who entered the first office, bought there tickets for the next bus which departed in 2 hours and then had to wait even though there were several other marshrutkas (operated by another offices). If you can't find a suitable tickets and are not under a time pressure, I recommend just to grab a beer at the bar by the station, sit on the terrace and check the situation once in a while - sooner or later, some driver driver will show up.
If you prefer to have everything pre-planned, you might book a taxi in advance, especiallly if you are not travelling alone. The cost of prebookeded private transfer from Mestia to Tbilisi starts at 550 GEL. Of course, you might get an even better price if haggling with local drivers, it all depends on who you stumble upon. Svan drivers are often quite reckless - if you don't like the driving style of your driver, don't be shy and say so.
Modern cable car shipping people onto the Zuruldi ridge. Middle and upper stations were built in 2011 - so in the past years, the hikers who wanted to reach them has to take a taxi or walk 9 km on a concrete road. This changed last winter, when was opened also lower station so tourists can comfortably drive up right from Mestia. The price for the ride to the top is 20 GEL, by the upper station is a restaurant with terrace and gorgeous views.
The cable car operates from 10:00 until 16:45. It doesn't work in rainy or foggy weather. If you are not sure, ask at Visitor’s center at Seti Square and confirm if it currently works or not.
If it´s closed
Good news first - cable car got finally reopened for 2023 season, reports from June confirm that it is running. Still, noone knows how long will it last so better be prepared for an option that it is fully or partially closed.
So, as long as the upper half is closed, I don't see much point in taking it. True, you can still ride the bottom half to save some altitude meters and then walk beneath lines to the top, but not sure if it's worth it, especially since you will be still charged 20 GEL for the whole ride. So I would probably hike to top from Mestia via Heshkili - the route is described here (Day 1), longer, but more comfortable. If it's too much of a walk for you, you might be able to persuade some jeep driver to drive you to the top, but it will be expensive since the road is in a very bad condition (my guess is at least 100 GEL)
Description of the route
The trail starts at Seti Square. Leave it by a street heading to the southeast, after 200 meters cross the bridge and turn right. Cross another bridge and walk by a museum.
Main road here bends to the east - follow it for about 400 meters, then turn right. After another 100m, you should reach the lower Hatsvali station.
Take a cable car ride to the top of Zuruldi range, then head east. Walk between trees, cross small meadow and you will come to bigger dirt road. It will take you all the way to Mentashi transmitter, which is already visible to the east. There is only one crossroad halfway, in front of a small hill - if you take left branch, you will climb to the nameless transmitter (limited views), if you take right one, trail will bypass the mount. But no matter which path you take, both will merge again and you will have to climb hundred meters to another transmitter.
Mentashi hill offers breathtaking views in all directions and is an excellent place for a break. Majority of people turn back here and return to the cable car.
It's also a viable option as views when riding downwards are even better (as you see Ushba all the time without a need to twist your neck).
But we continue eastwards. Descent from Mentashi is tricky as the terrain is very steep and the path not always visible (to put it mildly).
Be careful. You need to make it to the meadow in the northeastern direction. Once there, find a small path heading northeast. Follow it, cross several pastures and belts of trees.
After two kilometers, you will come to a spot where the trail turns north and dives into the forest.
From here, it's supposed to continue to Mulakhi village. First sections are decent, but further stages are in a poor shape so I don't recommend it.
But if you have time, you can make a small side trip - after first 300 meters, there is a meadow with nice views of Mt. Ushba.
In case you want to go directly to Tsvirmi, keep walking east. Follow the grassy path between trees - on your left will be a dense forest,
on the slope below you a small group of trees. Once you walk pass this grove, turn right and descend some 50 meters. You will find a path, which soon turns into regular dirt road -
too narrow for a car, but wide enough for a cart. This track will take you all the way to Tsvirmi.
Tsvirmi is a lovely hamlet, barely touched by tourism. If you want to spend a night here, you will stumble upon a guesthouse soon after you enter a village.
If you want to carry on to Ughviri pass, head to the center of the village, where you will find tourist marker.
There is an arrow showing the trail to Mestia pointing to the west (Inguri valley path), but it's too far that way so we will set off in the direction of Zhabeshi.
Just follow the main road and after two kilometers you will come to Ugviri pass. Here you will (hopefully) hitch a ride back to Mestia.
In the past, Tsvirmi was visited only by few tourists and so it managed to retain a lots of its charm. However, that also meant that the offer of accommodation was very limited. The situation changed only in the past few years and nowadays, the village boasts at least 4 guesthouses. Only one of them can be booked online but even if it´s full, there are enough alternatives.
Shorena's guesthouse - added to Booking.com only in june 2019, but looking at the photos, I am almost sure this is the place where I stayed few years ago. This very pleasant homestay lies at the northern edge of the village, right by the trail descending from the Zuruldi massif. The family running it was really lovely and the food was good and plentiful. During my visit, their beds were somewhat saggy but I heard that this was also fixed in the meantine so now can be this guesthouse strongly recommended.