Popular trail in the proximity of Mestia exploring the valley of Mestiachala river.
Another popular trail in the proximity of Mestia - this one is exploring the valley of Mestiachala river. Nature in the proximity of the glacier is really nice, but the rest of the trail just follows a dirt road. A few years ago, it didn´t matter since there was very little traffic. But since the start of the building of Mestiachala HPP, the valley turned into one large construction site. Therefore, it´s no more worth it to hike to the glacier all the way from Mestia, there are more exciting ways to get tired in Svaneti.
Duration: 2-3 hours
The time listed here is relevant for the walk from the bridge to the glacier and back since I assume you won´t hike all the way from Mestia. If you decide to do it, the whole hike takes some 5-6 hours.
Difficulty: Easy / Moderate
Since I assume that you won´t hike all the way to the bridge, the difficulty is Easy. Otherwise, it would be Moderate because of the distance.
From Zugdidi: Marshrutkas to Mestia leave from Zugdidi train station every day. The first one departs around 6:30 a.m, after the arrival of the night train from Tbilisi, but there should be several others before noon. The last one usually departs at 14:30. The trip takes about 3-4 hours (1-hour break included) and the price is usually 20 GEL per person.
From Tbilisi: In my opinion, the best option is the night train to Zugdidi and marshrutka from there. Train departs from Tbilisi at 21:45 and reaches Zugdidi at 6:05 am. Price of the ticket is 30 GEL, tickets for sleeper berths can be bought in advance at biletebi.ge website (the official web is railway.ge, but that never worked for me).
If you want to save time, you could also consider a 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 65 GEL it´s quite a bargain. On the downside, they ocassionally 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).
The last option is the direct marshrutka - it departs at 6:00 from the area in front of Railway Station, come at least 30 minutes earlier to catch a spot. The price is 30 GEL, so it´s quite cheap, but I can´t recommned it since this uncomfortable journey takes grueling 9-10 hours.
From Kutaisi: The most reliable way to get to Mestia is the use the service of Georgian bus (they have a stand at the airport) - the price is 40 GEL per person. You ask also ask some taxi drivers loitering at the arrivals hall, they may be willing to give you even a better price.
From Batumi: 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.
How to leave Mestia:
Marshrutkas to Zugdidi depart every day in the morning. There are usually a few more during the day, depending on the demand.
In a high season there should also be daily marshrutkas to Tbilisi and Batumi, departing in the morning). For actual timetables and booking of tickets,
please visit Bus Office near the new gate leading to Seti Square.
Taxi to the bridge
You can greatly shorten the trip if you hire a taxi to drive you 10 km deep into Mestiachala valley to the suspension bridge, where the dirt road ends.
This section is a bit dull (at least by Svaneti standards). Also, because of recent construction works on the Mestiachala HPP, there is quite heavy traffic, so taking a taxi is actually a pretty good idea.
However, Mestia taxi drivers are already quite spoiled by tourists and usually charge 40-50 GEL for this ride.
But if you ask them to wait for you and take you back, you shouldnt pay much more.
Bike to the bridge
Another alternative is renting a bike in Mestia and riding it to the bridge. Compared to taxi, this is more time-consuming, but also cheaper and much more fun (not speaking of the higher flexibility). Don´t forget to ask a lock at the rental agency and leave the bike locked close to the bridge - it´s better to cover the final stretch of the trail on foot.
Description of the route
The original trail starts at the Mestia main square and follows the main road to the east, over the bridge. There is nowhere to get lost, just follow the road. Walk by the airport, pass a few more houses and barns. On the left, you can also "admire" the construction of the new hydropower plant.
After two hours of walking, you will come to the bridge over Mestiachala river, the place where the hike starts for the majority of tourists. The valley here splits into two. The main river flows from the one to the right - this valley leads to the Russian border and is therefore not accessible. To get to the Chalaadi glacier you need to cross the bridge and head into valley on the left. nature here is really nice, you are surrounded by mountains on all sides. This is also the farthest place you can reach by taxi.
Cross the bridge - right behind it lies military border post. There is a decent chance that soldiers will ask you for passports. Then turn to the right and climb a bit, path here is well marked.
Next section of trail leads through beautiful pine forest. After some 15 minutes path comes to a river again and goes through a forest of young willows. Soon you will come to the edge of a moraine and from here its not far to the actual glacier - you will see it right in front of you. The whole walk from the last bridge to the glacier takes some 40 minutes.
Don´t come too close to the glacier as rocks falling there could be quite dangerous, they had already wounded and even killed several people. To return to Mestia, use the same route you arrived.
Those nice photos of Chalaadi glacier and Mestiachala are published with courtesy of Marcin Chalupka. More of his photos can be found
and on his personal website.