Georgia, Late October, 2019
I arrived in Kutaisi with a direct flight from Copenhagen (both cheap and only 4 hours of flying with WizzAir). Before Mestia, I spent three nights in a small village close to Batumi, where my boyfriend was volunteering at a bird migration hotspot for the NGO Batumi Raptor Count.
Going to Mestia from Batumi was fairly easy; we got on a ‘marshrutka‘ (fancy word for a bus.. 🙂 ), which would go through the city Zugdidi, and after a bus change (and a cup of coffee at the bus owners house, followed by several pit stops of collecting groceries), we drove for the mountains! We paid 12 GEL for the bus to Zugdidi, and 20 GEL from Zugdidi to Mestia (all pr. person).
We got on a bus in Batumi at 9 am and arrived in Mestia around 4 pm; I am sure it could be done faster, but it included a lunch stop by a beautiful blue lake halfway up the mountains and one other bathroom stop!
Traveling to the very touristy Mestia in the off-season was great; we didn’t book accommodation beforehand, but had looked up a few places and just went with the flow. Usually when you travel off-season you can get nice discounts on rooms and taxis.
We stayed at Nino Rathianis Guesthouse; a nice hotel with such friendly staff. Maria, who welcomed us, was answering all of our questions and had many suggestions for activities, hikes and also helped us to rent two bikes when all the bike rental places, which appeared on Google Maps, were closed!
Things to do around Mestia
Hike to the Koruldi lakes
Our first hike was in the end the most challenging. Due to my silly knee we had a taxi drive us from the hotel in the early morning up to a viewpoint known as ‘The Cross’ (it was pricey but necessary). After researching about the trail on another blog (credits to ‘Trekking in Caucasus‘), we figured that the first part up to the cross was the steepest section.
We were meant to take the taxi back to Mestia after hiking to the lakes, but decided to let the driver know that we would get back on our own.
Being early means you get fewer people on the trail. We had crisp air, sunshine and lots of mountain birds to watch as we slowly climbed the path to the lakes. After a couple of hours of climbing in the increasingly warm sun, we reached a grass field with five horses and some stone ornaments.
We had brought a lunch bag, which was prepared by the cook at our hotel (about 15 GEL pr. person). We decided to sit a bit above the lake to rest, not continuing higher up to the ridge. From here it was already breathtaking with the views, the wildlife and the silence.
Speaking of silence; it vanished as a group of tourists had been driven to a spot about a few hundred meters from us, where they let out their drone. I must say despite the beautiful photos you get from these, you spoil the tranquil experience for other people.
Despite the drone, cars driving by us and a hungry, (and thankfully) peaceful dog this was a very successful hike for us. I would say the hike can be done by anyone fit, has sturdy shoes and lots of water. There was a small stream from where you can refill your bottle, it is marked on the path if you download the hiking route from the Trekking in Caucasus Blog 🙂
As for the birdwatching, we got to enjoy a bearded vulture flying by us during the hike to the top! On the way down we were rewarded with a soaring black vulture, which we could enjoy for minutes before it vanished.
The Chalaadi Glacier hike
We were recommended by Maria from our Guesthouse to do the Chalaadi Glacier hike. We learned from my favorite Caucasus blog (link above) that the first 6 km are along a building site, and so we decided to hire bikes!
After we walked around town in despair trying to find an open bike rental shop, and found them all closed-down for the season. In the end we found a place just down the road towards the city center, that had exactly two mountain bikes that we could rent (see pic below). We paid about 30 GEL for both bikes for the day. Ask at your hotel, they might be able to help you find some bikes, especially if you visit in the low-season.
The ride was fairly easy; I could feel that the path was slowly getting steeper – Philip could not. It took us roughly 40 minutes, but we stopped along the way to take pictures and look for birds :). We locked our bikes by the bridge (see photo below), and continued the hike towards the glacier on foot!
From the bridge we slowly made our way up the mountain. You walk on a well-marked path along the stream. Follow the stream and you will reach the glacier – as the water comes from the melting ice atop Chalaadi!
I read that you should not try to touch the glacier (and therefore not hike all the way up), as boulders could fall and seriously injure people – or worse! We were told that tourists had been killed from falling rocks – so be careful if you decide to approach the glacier anyway!
We stopped by a sandy spot along the stream for lunch, and enjoyed the views of the snowy mountain tops and the warm sun. Overall, the hike was very easy, but I recommend renting bikes for the long stretch along the dull, urban environment, which includes the construction site and the airport.
Cultural experiences in Mestia
Mestia is home to a fairly new museum named the Ethnographic Museum. Here, a collection of items dating back to hundreds of years ago are displayed. The entrance is about 10 GEL for an adult, much less for a student if you bring your student card.
We were delighted by the old books and weapons collection especially. There was a display of photographs from about 100 years ago taken in the alpine villages, showing the villages’ traditional clothes and lifestyle. The museum took us about an hour to go through and could be the perfect activity on a rainy day in Mestia if you get unlucky with the hiking weather.
In Mestia you can also find a small cinema displaying the movie ‘Dede‘, which was shot in the villages around the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ushguli. We watched the movie before going to Ushguli and thought it was nice to see what it was like before seeing Ushguli for ourselves.
In the movie Dede, we follow the tragic life of a young woman, living a life with harsh traditions and long, unforgiving cold winters of Ushguli.
For the most updated descriptions of hiking routes, check out Caucasus Trekking, where experienced trekker Jozef posts detailed info about the region including hiking route descriptions, how to stay safe enroute and even hiking trails for the phone! On his Facebook page you can also read the latest comments from people, who are hiking in the region.
Happy hiking! And be careful out there on the peaks 🙂
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© All photos are my own unless stated and may not be used without permission.