Georgia is full of unique destinations but if you want to get the most out of your time in Georgia, visiting Svaneti is a must. This region combines all of the best things this country has to offer - mesmerizing mountains, lakes, surreal architecture, and countless churches showcasing rich culture and history with picturesque scenery all around. But visiting Svaneti can get overwhelming with dozens of sights and limited time.
While simply being in Svaneti is an experience in itself with the highest points of the Caucasus Mountain Range and beautiful landscapes all around you, there are some sights that no one should miss while visiting this region, even if you’re short on time. So here are some of our favorites:
1. Visit Mestia
The best way to start off your trip is to visit the heart of the region, Mestia, located 1,500 meters above sea level with an abundance of cultural monuments. Mestia is home to one of the most important pieces of Georgian architectural history - the Svan Towers. Built between the 9th and 12th centuries, these two pillars have withstood countless dwellings and attacks over hundreds of years and are a must-see historical marvel. This medieval sight along with the entire Mestia, Ushguli, and Upper Svaneti has recently been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. No matter what season you visit Mestia in, the unforgettable sight of the tower villages among ranges of grand mountains will stay in your memory forever.
2. Check out the Koruldi Lakes
Also located in Mestia, the set of lakes surrounded by the Caucasus glaciers is bound to make an impression on any visitor. You can always get there by car but if you’re up for a challenge, we recommend hiking up to this beautiful spot. It takes about 4 hours to get there on foot from Mestia but you have to be prepared to walk in some mud and dirt as not the whole track is covered with a trail. But that is going to be totally worth it once you get to the alpine lake at the foot of Ushba. You may even find yourself wanting to continue your hike over to Koruldi Ridge.
3. Visit the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography
While in Mestia why not visit the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography? This is the best way to learn about a new culture especially when there’s so much to learn and see, as is the case with Georgia. This museum will take you all the way back to 3000 B.C. with archeological artifacts followed by medieval jewelry, weaponry, and pieces showcasing the lifestyle of Svans. The price for entering is only 10 GEL.
4. Ski on the slopes of Hatsvali and Tetnuldi
This activity might not be for everyone, as it requires some skiing skills but if you are lucky enough to visit Svaneti before May and know how to ski then you must not miss your chance to ski on the slopes of Hatsvali and Tetnuldi. Svaneti is known for its untouched slopes which is definitely worth doing if you love skiing.
Svaneti offers tracks for skiers of all levels. If you are an experienced skier check out Tetnuldi, the 10th highest peak in the Caucasus Mountain range with a recently opened ski resort. Tetnuldi has 3 lifts of 2700m, 3040m, and 3165m and you can enjoy the sight of Ushba twin peaks as you ski your way down. But don’t worry, if you are just learning how to ski properly. You should head over to Hatsvali instead which is right by Mestia. You can get there by car or by a six-chair ski lift. Hatsvali offers a ski resort where you can stay for a couple of days and enjoy the snowy mountains.
5. Go to the Egrisi Range and hike to the Toba lakes
This range of mountains is located in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti (Upper Svaneti) and is on the south slope of the Caucasus Mountains. This Range is a source of many rivers like Magana, Kasleti, Khobi, and others. To get to the Toba lakes you can hike from the beautiful campsite in Natipuru, 1880 meters above sea level. After staying at the Natipuru hut the only way to the lakes is on horseback or on foot. The first lake from the hut is located at 9 km and it’s Okhoje lake. The path will take around 8 hours but there is a lot of room for tents by the lake.
Next comes the Tobavarchkhili Lake or the Silver Lake and it will take 3-4 hours to get there from Okhoje. And lastly, you have to visit the final 3 lakes - Didgalish Toba, Kalalish Toba, and Tsakatskarish Toba. These 3 a very close to Tobavarchkhili and they’re going to wrap up the hike to the beautiful lakes among the grand mountains of Caucasus.
6. Try local food
No matter where you go in Georgia, one of the best things to do is try the local cuisine. Svaneti is no exception as every region of Georgia has its own extraordinary foods that you won’t find anywhere else. One of the Svan classics is the Tashmijabi, which is a dish made of mashed potatoes and stringy cheese. Another classic is Kubdari - a beef or beef-and-pork-filled bread loaf, seasoned with fresh white onions and the best Georgian seasoning - Svan salt. While you’re here though, you shouldn’t limit yourself to just Svan foods. Make sure you eat as much Georgian food as possible. These are just a few among countless other traditional foods which will give you a taste of the remarkable cuisine in Georgia.
7. Hike to glaciers of the Caucasus Range
Svaneti is full of unforgettable glaciers but one of our favorites is Chalaadi Glacier. It’s perfect for those who don’t want to embark on days-long camping trips and prefer a shorter route for a hike. It only takes about 5-6 hours to complete this hiking trail. But that doesn’t mean that this trail doesn’t offer breathtaking views that extend into a frozen zone.
We also recommend completing a hike from Ushguli to the Shkhara Glacier. Mount Shkhara is the highest point in Georgia and the third highest in all Caucasus. The dirt roads leading to this glacier are quite rocky, but the panoramic views of the destination are totally worth the struggle. On top of the destination, you’ll be surrounded by mountains and beautiful scenery all along your 2-3 hour journey to the Shkhara range. You can visit these glaciers and many other highlights along the way in Svaneti with our self-guided walking tours which are the best and the easiest option for exploring unknown mountains.
8. Visit the Lamaria Church
One of the most prominent features of Georgian culture and history is the beautiful churches spread all across the country. One such church is located in Svaneti and it’s the Ushguli Church of the Mother of God, as it’s also called the Lamaria Church. Lamaria is a name given by the Svans to Virgin Mary. This is a simple medieval Georgian orthodox church, with a projecting apse and an ambulatory, and is in a state of deterioration which is why it’s on the list of the Immovable Cultural Monuments of National Significance of Georgia.
This church dates all the way back to the 9th or 10th century and according to a local legend, this church was the scene of the murder of a local lord Puta Dadeshkeliani who wanted to rule over the free people of Ushguli. The villagers united to pull a cord attached to the trigger of a musket, and by doing so they split the responsibility for killing him equally among each other. This church and the history behind it represent the nature of the local population very well, as Ushguli has never had a ruler. This is also why you have to make sure you don’t miss this historical monument on your trip to Svaneti.