Trekking through the Svaneti region in Georgia’s north west is an enchanting experience. You feel like you are stepping into another world as you are suddenly surrounded by towering snow capped peaks piercing over 4000m into the sky. The Svaneti is the highest inhabited area of the Caucasus and its true isolation has greatly preserved its culture, traditions and untouched beauty.
Fortified homes and bulky watch towers punctuate villages, all of which were former homes of warriors and are still lived in today.
With such mystery and raw natural wilds, it is no wonder trekkers are lured to this pristine ancient land. So what do you need to know when planning to trek in the Svaneti Mountians?
When is the best time of year to trek?
Being so high in the mountains, the trekking season is limited to only a few months a year. The roads are snowed in during winter making the area inaccessible. Hiking seasons kicks off in the last week of May through to early October. June is rhododendron season where the mountains are blanketed in flowers. July is the peak wild flower season with the beauty of the area just screeching to levels of ridiculousness. June and July are also the busiest times to travel with accommodation being quite limited.
Where do I stay when I trek in the region?
On our Discover Georgia small group tour, we start in the larger town of Mestia before venturing on foot. Mestia offers basic local hotels with homely meals, perfect for fuelling your body. The hotels we use in Mestia have private bathrooms and showers and are family run.
When you reach the smaller villages, some of which are inaccessible by vehicle, you are staying in cosy wooden or stone guesthouses with local families where bathrooms and showers are shared and meals are eaten in a communal space with the local family. Hot water can be intermittent as can power.
What do I eat when I am at the guesthouses?
The food at the guesthouses is tradition Svan cuisine. Think your heavier potato dumpling type dishes, lots of cheese and stew like meals. Local distilled spirits are almost always offered! You certainly will not go hungry and despite the fact your hosts will likely not speak English, what better way to bond and create new friendships than over food.
What about food during the day when trekking?
Your host family will ensure you are well prepared with packed lunch boxes which consist of fruit juice, boiled eggs, sandwiches and fresh fruit. There are no shops along the way so if you require extra snacks, we suggest you bring some muesli bars with you. Blue Dinosaur bars are our preferred snack of choice when travelling! The mountain springs are so pure, filling up your drink bottle in waterfalls and streams is an experience in itself. There is the odd pop up bar every few days, but don’t expect anything but local beer here and home made spirits in some of the guesthouses. No Coke Zero, no Powerade, just beer in the mountains.
The watchtowers in the villages are INCREDIBLE! Can I go up one?
Most of the watchtowers are owned by the families living in the villages. Most are now filled with feed for their cattle, but in the village of Ushguli, a local museum dedicated to the history of the Svan culture and this remote region has been built inside one of the watchtowers! You can certainly go inside and climb up this one!
Will I see many other hikers in Svaneti?
Whilst travelling through Georgia is new and exciting to many, for Europeans of neighbouring countries, they have been aware of this gem for years (and just kept it to themselves – selfish I know.) July can be busy, but there will still be times where there are no other trekkers in sight – just you and nature. Around glaciers, high passes and at river crossings, this is where you tend to see others.
I am a horse rider, can I ride horses in the Svaneti?
On our small group tour, we only have hiking and the odd horse ride to cross a river if water levels are high. However, if you are keen to explore the region by horseback, we can certainly arrange this as a private tour. Horse riding experience is mandatory.
I am super active and want to do more walking and longer hiking options than what is available on your tour. Can you help me organise this?
Yes, of course – we can certainly tailor an extended trek for you and your party. We can cater for additional days trekking, higher altitude trekking, glacier trekking (within season) and for those with an unlimited budget, we can helicopter you into some even more remote reaches so you are truly alone with nature.
Is trekking on your Discover Georgia tour difficult? How fit do I need to be?
We class the trekking on this tour as ‘moderate’. For us, moderate means trekking for five to eight hours per day and as long as you have a regular level of fitness and are in good health, this should be manageable for you. Trekking through the Svaneti, being mountainous terrain, you can expect a lot of steady incline and declines. Sometimes it can be muddy making it slippery or on shale. There is also a fair bit of trail hiking through valleys. On day 6, we do have a challenging and long incline. Alternate arrangements can be made for those wishing to skip a day of hiking.
Is the trekking at altitude?
The highest pass we cross, is Chkhutnieri Pass (2,720m) which is at altitude. We hike to the top of this pass and stop for lunch before descending down the other side. Should symptoms of altitude sickness start to kick in, your guide is First Aid trained to be assist. Drinking constant sips of water can also assist as you are ascending.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.