The Atsunta Pass trek, we believe, is the greatest trek in Georgia. We don’t say this without reason. The trek passes through the most breathtaking mountainscape of the Caucasus mountains.
The grasslands, for which the trek is famous, are perfectly landscaped. Wildflowers grow almost on every inch of these grasslands.
Charming villages and ruins of ancient fortresses decorate the entire remote trail. These are just not heritage, but history many centuries old.
The thrill of climbing the high Atsunta pass is pure adventure. Not many treks in Europe give you the high of a pass crossing as much as the Atsunta Pass. The changes in the landscape during the pass crossing are stunning.
Most people have not heard of Georgia, but when we get there we are taken aback at our own ignorance. Georgia in itself is worth visiting. The history, tradition and culture are extremely rich. Tbilisi, the capital is modern and yet holds on to its roots. Theater, music and the arts are thriving. There is a lot of heritage to see and discover. The food is delicious and wonderful. Georgians are extremely warm and friendly. And as a bonus, everything is pocket friendly.
What to watch out for
The remote villages on the trek
The villages on this trek are not just villages. They are living, breathing archeological sites. They are centuries old — many of them nestled within the ruins of old fortresses and towers. With the astounding grasslands around them, the villages themselves are a sight on the trek.
Don’t miss staying at Dartlo and Girevi for anything. And especially visit the towering ruins over Dartlo, Kavavlo.
The villages of Mutso and Shatili on the other side of the Atsunta Pass are startling too. The ancient village of Mutso is a heritage site. Millions have been spent on its restoration. On the other hand, the fortress of Shatili is a landmark in all of Georgia — such is its history and beauty. Don’t miss out on these two villages either.
The grasslands of Georgia
This trek is known for its grasslands. And it does not disappoint. It is hard to find such perfectly landscaped grasslands. They stretch out far and wide and on a good day, sun rays light up the grasslands in a grand way. This is when you see the grasslands in all their splendour, with wildflowers and glowing beds of grass!
Look out especially for the trek from Girevi to Atsunta Base Camp. It is a very long day and thank heavens it is. It is a perfect showcase of the grasslands.
After you cross the Atsunta pass, the Khidotani meadows can make anyone weak in the knees. It is laid out over a ridge top, something rare to see.
The Atsunta Pass crossing
This pass crossing is as thrilling as any Himalayan pass crossing. Right from the base of the climb, where you see the pass as a tiny speck, to finally reaching and crossing over the pass is exhilarating! Not many treks in Europe have such a spectacular pass crossing. The landscape changes dramatically with every meter. Within a few hundred feet you leave the grasslands behind and enter the stone and shale. It is almost too dramatic.
For more details about the trail, check the detailed itinerary.
Day 1: Drive from Tbilisi (400m) to Omalo (1,889m) via Alvani (450m).
Pick up from Freedom Square, Tbilisi at 9 am. Make sure you arrive in Tbilisi atleast 2 days before the start of your trek.
Cost of SUV (About GEL 400 per SUV) will be shared equally amongst trekkers. Stay will be arranged in a guest house at Omalo.
Drive distance: 182 km.
Drive duration: 7-8 hours.
Route: Google maps link
Day 2: Trek from Omalo (1,889m) to Dartlo (1,825m)
A day of gentle climb followed by a long descent. Stay will be arranged in 3-person tents.
Trek distance: 12.5 km; 675m ↑ & 725 m ↓
Trek duration: 4½ hours
Day 3: Trek from Dartlo (1,825m) to Girevi (2,073m)
A long but easy day of trekking along flat motorable roads except a small ascent to Girevi. Stay will be arranged in 3-person tents.
Trek distance: 15 km; 200m ↑ & 325m ↓
Trek duration: 5-6 hours
Day 4: Girevi (2,073m) to Atsunta Base Camp (2,789m)
The longest day of the trek, with ascents of different gradients, punctuated by sections of flat trail. Stay will be arranged in 3-person tents.
Trek distance: 21 km; 1,225m ↑ & 500m ↓
Trek duration: 10-11 hours
Day 5 (September 10): Atsunta Base Camp (2,789m) to Khidotani (2,654m) via Atsunta Pass (3,507m)
Pass crossing day – A steep climb to the highest point of the trek followed by a rewarding walk along the meadows. Stay will be arranged in 3-person tents.
Trek distance: 11.1 km; 750m ↑ & 900m ↓
Trek duration: 7 hours
Day 6 (Tentative Schedule 1): Khidotani (2,654m) to Mutso (1,548m) followed by drive to Shatili (1,419m)
Trek from Khidotani to Mutso
Trek distance: 7.5 km; 75m ↑ & 1175m ↓
Trek duration: 3 hours
Followed by a drive from Mutso to Shatili
Drive distance: 12 km
Drive duration: 1 hour
Route: Google Maps Link
Day 6 (Tentative Schedule 2): Khidotani (2,654m) to Shatili (1,419m)
Trek from Khidotani to Shatili (1419m)
Trek distance: 19.5 km; 375m ↑ & 1,500m ↓
Trek duration: 7 hours
Day 7: Drive from Shatili (1,419m) to Tbilisi (400m)
Drive distance: 146 km.
Drive duration: 4½ to 5 hours
Route: Google maps link
Day 8: Buffer day
This is an additional day to account for bad weather. The Atsunta Pass trail is susceptible to heavy rain, which could delay your return from the trek. The charges are additional for this day. You will be charged only if you use the buffer day.
The charges are €75 (approx. GEL 240) if we utilise the buffer day.
You will have to pay this in cash to your Trek Leader on the last day of the trek. We accept both, Euros and GEL. Keep this cash in hand.
Important points to note:
– Reach Tbilisi two days before Day 1 of the trek. This will give you enough rest and some buffer time, in case you have issues with your baggage / travel.
– If you would like to offload your backpack onto a horse, it will cost you approximately €92 for the entire duration of the trek. You can opt for this after you sign up for the trek.
– Cost of transport from Tbilisi to Omalo and back to Tbilisi from Shatili/Mutso is not included in the trek fee. Approximate cost will be GEL 800 per SUV (4-6 seater), to be shared equally amongst the trekkers.
– Keep your original govt. approved ID card with you always. There are several check posts on the trek.
– We suggest you carry around GEL 800 with you on the trek. This will cover the travel from and back to Tbilisi, the buffer day (if utilised) and any other expenditure you may incur at cafes.
Day 1: Getting to Omalo
Today is the start of your big trek to Atsunta pass. It starts with first getting to Omalo, the base of your trek.
Omalo is in the heart of the Tusheti National Park — which means you are getting to the most picturesque region of Georgia on the first day of your trek.
In Georgia there are several mountain regions. But out of the many, three of them bowl people over for their beauty. Tusheti, Khevsureti and Svaneti. On this trek you are going to start in Tusheti and end up in Khevsureti, which means you cover two of the three most beautiful regions of Georgia.
Getting to Omalo is a whole day’s drive (about 7-8 hours), a good part of it over non-existent 72 km dirt track between Alvani and Omalo — but the jaw dropping sceneries make up for every discomfort you face. You also cross the famous Abano Pass on the way, the highest motorable pass in Georgia.
Tbilisi to Alvani (110 km)
Your first task is to get to Central Bus Station in Tbilisi. From Freedom Square, take the metro to Isani Metro Station (GEL 0.50), get off, cross the road, get to the intersection on the other side (facing the hill) and take a bus from there. Use Google Maps to see which bus goes to the Central Bus Station. We used No 71. It is hardly 7-8 mins to the Central Bus Station.
From Central Bus Station, take the mini bus to Alvani. It leaves at 9.10 am. Get there an hour earlier because that’s the only bus that plies to Alvani. It gets crowded with trekkers to Omalo and even local folk. The bus has only 18 seats. Among the 18, 3 members will have to sit on the aisle in a makeshift chair attached to the main seat (no back rest). You could be one of them if you don’t get there early enough.
Alvani to Omalo (72 km)
The road to Alvani heads out in the direction of the airport, crossing it, before turning right roughly about 12.5 km after the airport.
In about 45 minutes the road touches the foothills of the Caucasian mountains. The road gently meanders through the beautiful folds of the foothills before getting to Alvani in about 3 hours.
There are numerous SUVs waiting for passengers of the Alvani bus. Your bus driver usually helps you by hooking you up with drivers of the SUVs. It costs GEL 200 per SUV to Omalo. SUVs usually accommodate between 4 and 6 passengers, so the cost can be shared.
It is a 72 km dirt track to Omalo. The initial stretch navigates through forests. Two hours of a roller coaster ride later, the road suddenly bursts out into meadows.
The sight leaves your senses stunned. Rolling lush green meadows with snow patches sweep the landscape. It is an endless gaze of green until the horizon where hills in the distance meet.
The SUVs continue to climb through the meadows in a series of switchbacks, crossing the Abano Pass at 2,850 meters in the next half hour. The road stays a dirt track but is no longer the bone-jarring ride.
Across the pass, the road descends quickly, entering a cluster of silver birch trees before finally descending towards the Akhieti River. About 15 minutes from the river look out for your first sight of an old Georgian village, Khiso, on your right.
From Khiso, it is another 40 minute climb to Omalo, entering the meadows again.
Omalo, from a distance is stunning with its pretty houses stretched out over the meadows. It gets prettier as you get closer.
Day 2: Omalo to Dartlo
- 12.5 km. 4½ hrs
- What to expect: Initial climb of 4.5 km to Ghele, followed by a gentle 7 km descent on a motorable road.
- GPS Coordinates of Omalo: 42°22’14.50″N, 45°38’0.71″E
- GPS Coordinates of Dartlo: 42°26’18.91″N, 45°34’57.33″E
Dartlo is a world heritage village. So getting there is exciting. On the way, look out for the clearing of Kue just few hundred meters below Upper Omalo. Ghele the highest point of the days trek is another spectacular open clearing with wildflowers growing everywhere. The stretch between Kue and Ghele runs through very old Caucasian Pines.
Omalo to Ghele (4.5 km)
Take the trail to the left of Tishe Hostel. It quickly climbs past the last houses of lower Omalo.
Hug the big wooden fenced building to the left until you get to the motorable road to Dartlo. Cut across the road and trudge along the foot trail that runs past the sign post.
The trail climbs steeply towards Upper Omalo while the motorable road to Dartlo climbs through a series of switchbacks on your right. The foot trail approaches the first guest houses of Upper Omalo from behind.
At Upper Omalo you’ll find a big square in the centre of the village. Look for a water tap on the left of the square to fill drinking water. Fill up here because the next water source is only after the big climb to Ghele.
From the square continue on the motorable road to Dartlo. The road climbs out of the last houses of Upper Omalo within minutes.
In five minutes the motorable road tops up and begins to descend. Look for a foot trail that veers off the road to your left just after the sign post. Take the trail and continue along as it cuts through the motorable road a few times before bottoming out in the exquisite clearing of Kue.
Kue is a clearing that stuns you even before you get there. From higher up on the trail the big clearing is lined with pine trees on all sides, and in the middle a lush green patch invites horses and cows. Take a breather here. You’ll need to catch your breath for the next one hour is a big climb to Ghele, 3 km away.
Take the trail that cuts through the clearing directly ahead of you with the pine trees to your right. A sign board at the bottom of Kue points you in the right direction. The trail climbs out of the clearing, enters a cluster of pine trees, veers left and regains the altitude of Upper Omalo in about half an hour.
As you climb, look out for the scenery on your left. You’ll soon see the impressive towers of Omalo standing tall on the ridges. They stand out against the emptiness of the valley behind them.
After a last glimpse of the towers, the trail turns right and enters another cluster of Caucasian pines. The fresh scent of these pines keeps you company through the climb! The trail veers left and then forges straight ahead before popping out on the motorable road to Dartlo.
This leaves the big climb behind you. The rest of the trail, around one kilometre long, ascends gently along the motorable road, until it turns right and opens up at the clearing of Ghele.
Ghele is another visual delight. Ghele is pass and a junction of sorts. It is from here that you see mountains from other side of the range for the first time. The Pirikita range climbs sharply from Ghele, with the early hills forming undulating meadows on your left. Below and to your right, lovely wildflowers grow in gay abandon! Trails to the village of Dikolo start straight ahead, cutting across the wildflowers.
Ghele to Dartlo (7 km)
Resume your trek on the motorable road to your left. The road gradually descends all the way to the river and Dartlo.
About a kilometer down the road from Ghele is a water spot on the left — the only one after Upper Omalo. The water is clear, cool and refreshing. Fill your bottles because you still have about an hour and a half’s descent to Dartlo.
An hour from the water source, a big stream cuts across the road, which you can easily cross over. The stream signals your first views of the ancient Dartlo village. In fact you catch your first glimpse of Dartlo, perched atop a large pasture, just at the bend before the stream.
Half an hour later, spot a bridge over the Alazani river. This is your entrance to Dartlo.
To enter Dartlo, do not continue on the road. Take the foot trail just past the board that lays out the Tushetian visitors rules and regulations. Then cross the second wooden bridge just below the outer tower of Dartlo.
Dartlo is an ancient Tushetian village more than 6 centuries old. The houses of Dartlo are from that period. Walking through Dartlo, you not only get a glimpse of true Georgian culture, but you step back in time — a history unknown to modern mankind.
For campers, there are flat grounds just next to the river. For food, you could head to the many guest houses at Dartlo. They double up as eateries. There is also a public water tap at the foot of Dartlo not too far away from the towers.
In the evening, climb up to Kavavlo, the impressive towers and ruins that watch over Dartlo. Kavavlo is a good 200 m (700 ft) above Dartlo, nearly an hour’s climb. The climb is heady as it initially meanders through wild thickets, and later over impressive views of the entire Dartlo region. There’s a cafe and a water spot at Kavavlo.
The route to Kavavlo starts at the foot of Dartlo, just opposite the public tap. Climb up to the top of the village, gain access to the main shepherds’ trail as it traverses above Dartlo. You’ll find the familiar white and red markings signalling the trail. Follow the markings until Kavavlo.
Day 3: Dartlo to Girevi
- 15 km. Approx 5-6 hrs.
- What to expect: Flattish walk on a motorable road, except for a slight climb outside Girevi.
- GPS Coordinates of Girevi: 42°29’55.36″N, 45°28’53.47″E
Today’s trek is almost totally on the road until the last stretch to Girevi. It is the easiest day on the trek with no ascents or descents. You gain barely 200 m (700 ft) the entire day. Spend the day soaking in the scenery and the culture of Georgia.
Dartlo to Cheso
Start by walking past the campsites of Dartlo onto the motorable road to Girevi. Outside Dartlo, the road takes a turn to give you a superb view of the Alazani river gently swerving over grassy banks.
Further ahead, the road passes small shepherds’ settlements on the other bank. The shepherds usually go about their work nonchalantly as you pass by. The absence of women in such settlements is interesting.
As you trek further, the impressive Pirikita range towers to your left, giving you grand views of its green folds.
An hour and fifteen minutes later the road turns right exposing a long beautiful curve. Nestled over a small flattish mound is a solitary shepherds’ hut. The setting is beautifully picturesque!
As the road completes the “C”, it turns sharply to the right. You reach a big stream gushing over the road. You have no option but to ford the stream on foot. Take off your boots and feel the cool waters run through your toes. The stream is just about shin-deep.
Half an hour after you’ve crossed the stream, the road again curves to the right, giving you the first views of Cheso village. Like other ancient villages on the trail, Cheso is a marvel to look at from a distance.
As you approach Cheso, there is another gushing stream over the road that needs fording. You could avoid it by climbing up to the village and crossing over a wooden bridge. This way, you get to visit the village too, a welcome break with enough cafes to take a quick bite.
Cheso to Pharsma
There are multiple paths that lead out of the village back to the road. After a quick break, take any of them and continue trekking.
Impressive towers rise from the ridge above Cheso. The road from Cheso curves left getting to the bottom of the ridge on which the towers stand.
As the road circumvents the end of the ridge above Cheso, the scenery takes on a new form. The valley opens up. The steep flanks of the Pirikita range give way to gentler drops. You see more snow patches on the other bank, which soon turns meadowy.
It is no surprise that there are more shepherds’ huts and flocks of sheep on the other side of the river. It is another hour to Pharsma, and the picture-perfect scenery stays with you all along.
Fifteen minutes before Pharsma, look out for another set of magnificent towers on the other side of the river.
The Pharsma you see close to the trail is just two cafes spread out over meadows — a good spot to rest and refill your water bottle. A third Cafe Beso is high up on the hillside next to an ancient building.
The real Pharsma village is much above the road, nestled among the ancient ruins. You can’t see the village from the road. However, as the road continues towards Girevi, look back to catch a sight of the Pharsma village. Some trekkers do take a detour and climb up the village, but it is mostly unnecessary. The villages of Dartlo and Girevi give trekkers a similar experience.
Pharsma to Girevi
A kilometer outside Pharsma, the motorable road abruptly ends just as you catch your first glimpse of Girevi. From afar, Girevi looks warm and inviting, snuggled in the lap of a vast meadow.
From the end of the road, the foot trail traverses the very edge of the river. While the stony path weaves in and out just above the river, it doesn’t pose any risk. The section doesn’t last more than 200 meters.
After this, the trail climbs quickly into the meadows of Girevi. There are flat camping grounds between the two culverts that run parallel to the Girevi village. If you are not camping, continue to the village until you find a familiar yellow sign post that signals the start of the village.
There are a bunch of guest houses on either side of the culvert. The real Girevi village is behind the guest houses.
Girevi is a shepherds’ settlement, so expect to see cows and sheep grazing about. The villagers also grow their greens in their backyards.
We must warn you, Girevi is notorious for its dogs that often bark and growl at visitors. Be careful around the dogs. Always carry a hiking pole with you. Shoo away any dog that gets uncomfortably close with a gesture of picking up a stone.
In the evening, climb to the top of Girevi and get on the trail to Atsunta Pass. Walk towards the towers and then look back towards Girevi. This gives you a perfect picture of Girevi and how wonderfully it is landscaped.
Day 4: Girevi to Atsunta Base Camp
- 21 km. Appx 10-11 hrs
- What to expect: Gradually ascending trail, with some short sharp climbs in between. A long climb towards the end.
- GPS Coordinates of Atsunta Base Camp: 42°30’55.70″N, 45°17’34.64″E
You cover a long distance today, almost 21 km. The distance is worth it though, because it puts you in a good position for the pass climb the next day.
In Girevi, climb up to the last guest house, Kerigo. The trail to Atsunta Base Camp starts to the left of the guest house and heads towards the ridge just above the towers of Girevi.
Across the ridge you can clearly see the valley split into two. Your trail follows the valley to the right.
Twenty minutes later, as you round the corner of another ridge, the valley to the right opens up. In the far distance you can see the ruins of Chontio.
The trail stays about 200 m (800 ft) above the river, maintaining a steady height as it rounds a big curve.
The scenery that opens up when you see the ruins of Chontio is magnificent. The high altitude Georgian meadows are in full view. Added to this, the trail is lined with wildflowers.
It takes slightly more than an hour to get to the ruins of Chontio. About ten minutes before the ruins, the trail banks a sharp left, crosses a stream and takes a steep path across a landslide section.
The landslide section is small, but navigate it carefully. Find firm footmarks on the trail to cross safely.
The ruins make a good spot to take a breather as you soak in the aura of the ancient structures.
Past the ruins, about 5.5 km out of Girevi, look out for a shepherds’ hut standing on a flattish mound. Spot a few trails that go down to the river from the hut. At the river bed is a small flat camping ground. It is a good spot to get to if in case you want to reduce the distance of the day. So instead of staying earlier at Girevi you could camp at this spot. You can also consider camping beside the shepherds’ hut: it has terrific views, has a source of water and the reassuring presence of the shepherds. Just keep a watchful on the dogs.
About forty minutes from here, all the while trekking through beautiful grasslands, the trail reaches a big stream tumbling across the trail. There isn’t any option but to ford the stream here.
Fifteen minutes past this point, the valley narrows, the view changes almost suddenly to a closed valley. Another half hour later the trail drops down to the river bed for the first time on the trek.
Soon after this descent, you have a long switchback climb to the top of the ridge, gaining the 500-600 feet that you’ve lost. As you climb, you reach the end of a ridge. Rounding the ridge gives you the first views of the Kvakhidistkali meadows and also the split valley in front.
From your high point it is a longish descent right to the meadows. From above you’ll clearly see two shepherds’ huts and a few toilet tents on the meadows.
From the ridge, get down to the river again, cross a small wooden bridge and step into the Kvakhidistkali meadows. It is a lovely flattish meadow with gently sloping ledges rising from the far end of the meadows.
The shepherds have set up a shop where you can buy food, soft drinks and few knick knacks. There is also a good water source in the middle of the meadows where shepherds have set up a pipe. The shepherd’s hut also doubles up as a border check post where a staff from the security forces will ask to see your passport and your trekking pass.
The Kvakhidistkali meadows make for a good camping spot. You can set up your tent in the many ledges around the meadows or camp right in the meadows. Most trekkers end their day here.
However, our advice would be to camp 6 km further ahead on a ridge close to the base of the Atsunta pass. This gives you a big distance advantage. You put in significantly less effort to cross the pass the next day. The shortened distance also allows you to enjoy the next day’s trail more.
If you are making your way to the Atsunta Base Camp, trace back your steps to the wooden bridge, cross over and rejoin the main trail that goes towards Atsunta pass.
The trail runs along the river bed parallel to the Kvakhidistkali meadows before climbing onto the grasslands above the river.
Once on the grasslands it is a delight to walk through the undulating landscape. The lovely grasslands stretch long towards the end of the valley with wildflowers growing everywhere.
In an hour, at the end of the grasslands, the valley begins to narrow. The trail drops down to the river bed and continues on the river bed for sometime. You’ll find sub-trails heading off from the river into the grasslands, but stay on the river bed until you spot a small shepherd’s hut on your right.
Two minutes further, there is a mark on a rock which shows an arrow towards Shatili. You will have to cross a stream here.
Expect waist deep water in the stream around July, fording it may not be easy. Later in the season, you’ll find calf-deep water.
Most trekkers ford the stream on their own, but you can also arrange for a horse from the Kvakhidistkali meadows. It helps if you are in a group and a horse is accompanying you. On the other hand you can team up with a bigger team crossing the stream.
In a while you have to cross the stream in the culvert too. Across the culvert there is a smallish camp site. Avoid this and continue your climb on the meadows.
A twenty minute steep climb through the meadows will you bring you to another campsite on top of a ridge. This is your camp spot of the day. It is a terrific spot with lovely views of the valley behind you. Up ahead stares at you the trail to Atsunta pass. You are nestled in a large amphitheater setting.
Day 5: Atsunta Base Camp to Khidotani via Atsunta Pass
- 11.1 km. Appx 7 hrs
- What to expect: Stiff climb to the pass. A sharp descent to the grasslands followed by a gentle undulating walk over the meadows.
- GPS Coordinates of Atsunta Pass: 42°31’43.43″N, 45°16’26.26″E
- GPS Coordinates of Khidotani: 42°32’51.80″N, 45°13’5.09″E
This is the day of the big pass day. There is a lot of height to gain and an impressive altitude to lose as well.
Which is why your Atsunta Base Camp makes sense. The head start is great for the pass push.
Starting out of the Atsunta Base Camp, the trail leads you to the base of the Atsunta pass through a series of ledges. The ledges make good rest point for the trail is no longer gentle walks through the grasslands but gain altitude rapidly with every step.
Aim for the first ledge which is 20 minutes out of the Atsunta Base Camp. A clear stream runs closeby — which also makes a good spot to fill your bottles.
From the first ledge aim for the second ledge from where you’ll get your first views to the Atsunta Pass. The pass is perched high up on the mountain side to your right — the trail to the pass clearly visible. Looking back the views are spectacular, as much are the views in front.
From the second ledge a swift switchback climb tops up at your third ledge which also serves as the base of your big climb to the pass.
There is a tiny stream at the foot of the big climb to the pass, where, if you are patient enough you can fill your bottles. There isn’t any other water source until you descend off the pass on the other side.
At the spot you are already at 10,200 feet. There is another 1,300 feet of climb left to the pass. You have climbed approximately a 1,000 feet from your Atsunta Base Camp.
The climb to the pass starts with a traverse to the right, losing sight of the pass, climbs rapidly over many small switchbacks, followed by another long traverse to the left that brings back the view of the pass. From here it is another 500 feet to the pass.
In between the traverses you lose all green cover and the climb is entirely over brown earth and shale.
The final push to the pass is hard on the lungs but mentally easier as the pass is visible all the time.
The pass at 3,530 m (11,575 feet) is a cold windy place, with the wind blowing a blizzard. It is a tiny pass barely 10 meters in length and a few meters wide — which also forms the wind tunnel. The view of the Khidotani range on the other side is stunning.
A huge wide canvas of green opens up on the other side. The contrast between the brown of the pass and the greens on the other side is startling.
The trail that descends from the pass is clearly visible as it rapidly loses altitude in very short switchbacks, bottoms out as it touches the grasslands, makes a long traverse across the bottom of the pass heads towards the Khidotani meadows before disappearing into it.
The moment you step off the pass, the wind dies out. It is almost like a button has been switched off — though the wind is back sometimes when you get to the exposed parts of the climb down from the pass.
It takes less than an hour to descend down to the greens and to also to your first water source. Filling up, continue your traverse along the flanks of the Khidotani range heading towards the top of the Khidotani meadows. The traverses passes through some lovely sections of Rhododendrons and wildflowers.
The traverse initially descends and gently climbs again before popping out on the Khidotani meadows.
The meadows sprawl out over the top of the Khidotani range — which makes it a sight for the eyes. It is involuntary but most trekkers will spend a lot of time trekking this section, easily one of the best moments of the trek.
Cutting diagonally across the meadows, the trail heads towards the behind of the last hill top of the Khidotani range. On the other side you see another side of yet another splendid valley. Deep down the valley spot the village of Ardoti which is also a last road head from Mutso, where your trek ends.
The traverse on the other side again brings you round to the side facing the Atsunta pass. Forty minutes and a short descent later the trails stops short at border check post of the Khidotani meadows. At the border check post you need to show your passport and your trek pass again.
The border check post is also a lovely spot to end the days trek, on top of the meadows. You can camp anywhere around the checkpost — there are plenty of camping spots everywhere. Around the camping area the views are terrific.
A water spot is available not too far from the check post towards the hill side. You can also get water from a pipe from inside the checkpost.
Day 6: Khidotani to Mutso/Shatili onward to Tbilisi
- 7.5 km or 19.5 km
- What to expect: Steep descent to the river followed by gentle walk to Mutso/Shatili on a motorable road
- GPS Coordinates of Shatili: 42°39’28.37″N, 45° 9’28.24″E
The last day of the trek is a big descent to Mutso followed by a long walk to Shatili.
Past the bench outside the Khidotani check post the trail quickly gets into the treeline. Once inside the treeline, the trail dives right into undergrowth and thick tree cover.
The descent to the river is sharp, steep and over multiple switchbacks. It is a long descent for almost 840 meters (2,760 feet), which can be quite gruelling on the knees and toes.
All along the descent the forest cover changes rapidly, first through silver birch and then through a mixed forest, finally ending at a sparse forest just above the river.
It takes about an hour and a half to descend to the river. Once down, follow the trail until it gets into the river bed ten minutes later.
On the river bed the trail continues for a bit until you have to ford the river in two places. Villagers have kept loose logs of silver birch to cross over, but they can be precarious. It is better to get down n all fours on the logs to cross the river. The river below gushes.
Once on the other side continue on the trail getting to Khonischala village in another ten minutes. Just before the village there is a foot wooden bridge to cross the river. You are back on the left bank of the river.
At the Khonischala village the trail merges with a motorable dirt road that starts out of the village. There is a guest house and some shops to buy food at the village.
Follow the road as it climbs steeply out of the village. Over the climb, the road descends rapidly in the next few minutes to another foot over bridge across the river. The river here tumbles over a gorge in a furious roar.
Across the bridge, carry on the road as you catch your first sight of the Mutso towers. They are impressive against the skyline.
It takes another half hour to the final checkpost, which is also a road junction for the road from the Ardoti village. The Andaki river meets the Khoniskhali river at this spot too.
At the checkpost, you’ll be asked for your passport and the trek pass for one last time. The process will take a bit of time because the guards need to enter your details in their records. So expect to spend around 15 mins or so here. If the group size is more then it could take longer.
The Mutso village is a ten mins walk further on. Just before the village, a stream cuts across the road. A campsite just prior to the stream is on the left of the road, just above the river.
The Mutso village isn’t much, but a collection of 4-5 houses, most of which double up as restaurants. You can talk to the eateries here who can get you a taxi for GEL 100 to Shatili. Usually no taxis ply here, so they need to be called all the way from Shatili.
The real Mutso village is up in the ruins about 150 meters above the village. There is a clear trail that starts from the road to the ruins. Keep aside an hour or two to visit the ruins of Mutso, now a heritage site restored.
Continuing on the trek, tt is better to continue walking as the road gets into a lovely deep valley lined by tall cliffs all along to Anatori 10 kms away. The trail along the Andaki river is a flattish walk with the scenery making very interesting changes every now and then. There is rarely a dull moment.
About 3.5 km into the road, there is a lovely camping ground beside the road. Further on look out for an interesting rural Georgian farming settlement roughly one hour into the walk.
About a kilometer and a half before Anatori the road crosses a flat iron bridge to again get to the left of the river. As soon as you cross the river warm winds from the valley catch you head on.
Anatori is not a village or a settlement. It is just a sharp curve on the road. At the turning there is a signpost and a tourist information board about the history of the tombs of Anatori.
The tombs are just behind the sign post, so spend about ten minutes reading up and looking at a very historical sight. You can still see the bones inside the tombs. This is also the closest you’ll get to the Russian border on the trek which is less than a kilometer away, down the river.
Keep your eyes peeled, you’ll spot several border security guards manning the hills higher up on the other side of the river.
Continue on the road to Shatili which takes another half hour to forty minutes to get there. After a long while you are going to be walking upstream along the Arghuni river.
The fortress of Shatili is impressive from a distance. As you draw closer, the guest houses of Shatili get into view.
At Shatili there are plenty of guest houses to choose from. For more guest houses, cross the foot overbridge and continue along the road, past the fortress. These guest houses are usually not visible when you first view Shatili giving you the impression that your choices are few.
The Shatili fortress is a heritage site and the reason for people to come far and wide to visit. This ancient archeological heritage needs time for exploration, so again, keep an hour for this. Shatili is breathtaking in its beauty — which is why it is in photographs of Georgia everywhere.
How to get a visa to Georgia
For E-Visa, fill out your Visa application electronically
Send these documents along with a scanned copy of your passport & photograph to your travel agent or you can do it online. The e-visa will cost around $20.
You will need:
- Photocopy of the bio-data pages of the passport and all the used pages.
- Two recent photographs (3 x 4 cm)
- Confirmed onward/return flight tickets
- Personal bank statement of last six months
- Personal Income Tax Return (ITR) copy.
- Onward Visa.
- Proof of accommodation arrangements
- Receipt certifying payment for consideration of visa issuance.
- Travel Insurance valid in Georgia.
- Covering Letter from the applicant explaining the purpose of the visit.
Important Note 1:
– Your passport must have been issued within the last 10 years.
– Your passport must have at least three months of validity beyond the date of visa.
– Must have at least 2 blank pages.
Important Note 2:
– If you have a valid and used USA or Schengen visa, you don’t need a separate visa for Georgia.
For Stamp Visa, apart from the above steps, make a profile on the following page:
Book an appointment and submit the above mentioned documents along with your passport. The cost for stamp visa is around Rs. 2,752.
– From our experience, it takes around a week for your Georgian visa to come through. Apply for the visa well in advance.
– Georgia warmly welcomes tourists and doesn’t usually deny visas. They might give you a visa with a tight expiry date, but they usually approve it.
– We advise you to have a minimum of Rs. 1,00,000 in your bank account when applying for the visa.
Training yourself for the Atsunta Pass trek
Although the trail on the trek is well marked and almost straight forward, do not mistake it for an easy trek. You cover a distance of almost 80 km in 5 days. That, coupled with a highest altitude of 3,530 m makes the trek quite challenging.
You can tell that the trek requires a great amount of cardiovascular endurance as well as functional strength training.
Start by jogging everyday to build your cardiovascular endurance. Download a running app or a set a running plan. Couch to 5k (C25K) is a great app to help guide your daily runs in a planned manner.
Here’s a fitness routine that works:
In case you’re just starting with a regular fitness routine, phase out your distance targets in the following manner –
– Target completing 5 km in 40 minutes when you begin.
– Gradually increase your pace by running 4 times a week and bring it down to 5 km in 35 mins.
– If you are 45 years or above, try to cover 5km in less than 40 minutes.
If you prefer cycling over running, then try to cover 22 km in 60 minutes.
Strength training is equally important to complete this trek comfortably. Work on your glutes, calves and knees. Additionally, work on strengthening your core.
Try these exercises for strength:
– Squats (Mix it up with sumo squats)
– Lunges (Forward, backward and lateral lunges)
Things you need for the Atsunta Pass trek
- Proof of accommodation for all days aside from the trek days
- Digital copy of personal bank statement
- Digital copy of Income Tax Returns (ITR)
- Travel insurance. Average cost: Approx. €26 for a 30-day insurance by Religare & €60 for a 10-day insurance by World Nomads.
- World of Hikes medical form signed by a doctor
- World of Hikes – Disclaimer, signed by you
- Sufficient cash — it’s advisable to carry at least GEL 800 for the trek alone. To enter Georgia have at least 1000 Euros either in cash or card. You can be asked about how much cash you are carrying at the immigration.
- Physical & Digital copies of your passport picture.
- Trekking shoes
- Backpack (After packing, should not be more than 7 kg)
- Fleece jacket
- Padded jacket (or Down jacket)
- Trek pants – what you wear plus 1 more
- Quick dry T-shirts – what you wear plus 2 more
- Rain jacket or Poncho
- Sun cap with flaps
- Woolen head cap which covers your ears
- Socks (2 cotton, 1 woollen)
- Headlamp/LED Torch
- Trekking pole
- Toilet/Tissue paper
- Lunch box, spoon and mug
- Two 1 litre water bottles/2 ltr Hydration Pack.
- Plastic cover (to keep clothes dry)
NOTE: Do not carry any disposables apart from your toilet roll.
You will need a lot more clothes for the entire trip to Georgia. Do not carry these clothes or gear on the trek. Have a left luggage bag and keep them at Tbilisi. Left luggage locker costs 45 Lari for 7 days.
Click here to download a KML file of the trail.
A note on the weather in Georgia
The unique geographical location of Georgia at the border of Europe and Asia, has blessed it with a variety of climatic conditions – ranging from dry & moderately humid subtropical climate in the plains to bitterly cold winters at the higher altitudes. However, the ideal time to trek in Georgia is summer, which sets in towards the end of May or beginning of June.
The snow in Greater Caucasus mountains starts melting in the summers, making the stunning passes accessible on foot. This, coupled with the lush green meadows nurtured by bountiful rain, makes sure you are in for a visual treat! At the same time, it is bound to leave trekkers confused about layering up for the trek.
Layering up for the Atsunta Pass trek
Temperatures are known to drop to low single digits during the night, especially at higher campsites. We recommend carrying 3 layers of clothing for the trek- Quick-dry T-shirts, Fleece jacket & Padded/Down jacket besides Thermals.
Safety on the Atsunta Pass trek
At World of Hikes, we pay utmost importance to safety of trekkers. While we do our bit to ensure a trekker’s life is safe, we also expect any trekker who is enrolling with us to know what could go wrong, and if it does, how to tackle it.
What are the risks on the The Great Atsunta Pass Trek of Georgia?
We rate the Atsunta Pass trek as Moderate-Difficult. There are no technical difficulties or tricky sections. The only risk we see is that of Acute Mountain Sickness.
What World Of Hikes does to ensure your safety
Our philosophy is simple. We ingrain safety aspects in the people we work with, in the processes that we follow, and in the equipment we carry. All our trek leaders are trained repeatedly on safety issues and protocols. Most issues are resolved with their intervention.
Right from the time you decide to register for the trek till the last day of the trek, these safety procedures will be running in the background. We have listed a few of them below:
1. Fitness criteria before registration
Over years of organising high altitude treks, we have found that most issues affect those who are unfit and unprepared for the trek. So we have an eligibility criteria for the Atsunta Pass trek. Anyone who wants to register has to meet the fitness requirements, with the ideal BMI.
2. Breaking down the trek into five days to ensure acclimatisation
The Atsunta Pass trek is not a very difficult one. Yet, it does gain a good deal of altitude, which poses risks of altitude sickness.
So we have broken up the trek into five days, giving you enough time to acclimatise.
This reduces chances of altitude sickness by a good number.
3. Monitoring health on a trek
On The Atsunta Pass trek, your Trek Leader will be monitoring two aspects thrice a day.
- Oxygen Saturation
- Pulse Rate
Your Blood Pressure levels will be checked at the beginning of your trek.
This will help us ensure that your body is acclimatising as required.
Every trekker will be issued a Health Card at the beginning of the trek. The Health Card is issued to track the trekker’s daily health. It also contains details of what symptoms one should look out for and what action should be taken during emergencies. These Health Cards will be collected at the end of the trek.
4. High Altitude Medical Kit
Your trek leader will be carrying a full-fledged high altitude medical kit. This will include basic medicines and specific medicines catering to altitude sickness – Diamox, Dexamethasone and Nifedipine. Your Trek Leader will also be carrying a portable oxygen cylinder throughout the trek.
5. High Altitude Trek Equipment
To ensure safe trekking on snowy terrain (if present), World of Hikes will provide you with micro-spikes to attach to your shoes. This will give you good traction on hard snow. To avoid snow from entering your shoes, World Of Hikes will provide you with gaiters that you can put on over your shoes.
All our sleeping bags and tents are custom-made for high altitude. If it is cold outside, it will be around 10 degrees warmer inside the tent. Our sleeping bags withstand temperatures up to -10 degree Celsius.
6. Helping you stay well nourished on the trek
You need to drink a minimum of 4 litres of water every day during the trek to ensure that you’re well hydrated. De-hydration on a trek can make you lose energy very quickly and intensify the effects of AMS. Your trek leader will brief you about the amount of water that you need to carry with you at the start of each day as well as water sources on the trail.
We provide trekkers with nutritious meals to ensure that they are energized to complete the trail each day. Apart from this, snacks or packed lunch is provided wherever the trail before a meal break is likely to be long. Make sure that you do not skip any meal as this can lead to serious health emergencies on high altitudes.
What you compulsorily need to know if you’re going on the Great Atsunta Pass trek of Georgia
Acute Mountain Sickness:
At above 10,000 ft the chances of being hit by Acute Mountain Sickness can be quite high.
The Atsunta Pass itself, is the highest point on the trek. Trekkers tend to develop symptoms of altitude sickness at the Atsunta Base Camp, if at all. Therefore, you need to take utmost care.
Do not proceed to Atsunta Pass if you have symptoms of altitude sickness. Inform your trek leader about your condition.
This risk can be avoided by going on a course of Diamox. Even while on Diamox, the risk of AMS still prevails. While AMS can be treated with rest and medicines for the most part, the symptoms must be recognised before it can go to advanced stages – High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).
HAPE and HACE are critical conditions that can be fatal within hours. And they can occur without AMS preceding them. So it’s doubly important to recognise any symptoms and nip them in the bud.
What to do if you have symptoms of AMS?
If you feel any symptoms of AMS on the trek, you must report to the Trek Leader immediately. Do not wait till the end of the day’s trek. Do not try to handle it yourself either. Our Trek Leaders are well-trained and experienced to handle any cases and they will be the decision makers in any such cases.
Exit points on the Atsunta Pass trek:
The safest point on a trek where a trekker can descend to and rest is considered an Exit Point. On this trek, the starting and ending camps, Omalo and Shatili are the closest road heads and therefore, easy exit points. They can be reached in two days from the farthest point of the trek.
Why you should personally know about the risks and precautions of high altitude treks
If ever you find yourself alone at high altitude, either while trekking independently or with another organisation, there are some life -saving steps you can take. Firstly, you should be able to recognise symptoms of altitude sickness. So acquaint yourself with the symptoms.
Secondly, there might be instances when you have to administer medicines to yourself or to a fellow trekker. There are three life-saving medicines that we suggest you always carry on you – Diamox, Dexamethasone and Nifedipine.
If you are trekking with World of hikes, do not administer these to anyone without consulting your Trek Leader. If you are trekking independently then you need to know when exactly to administer these medicines and in what dosage.
Also ensure that you are well hydrated throughout the trek and do not skip any meal.
We cannot stress enough on how important it is for you to communicate any symptom to your Trek Leader. Only then your trek leader will be able to take steps at the right time.
For more detailed information about Acute Mountain Sickness, download and study this AMS manual.
How to reach Omalo from Tbilisi using public transport
Tbilisi International Airport → Freedom Square Metro Station → Isani metro station → Central Bus Stand, Tbilisi → Alvani → Omalo
- Journey distance: 182 km
- Route: Google maps link
From the Tbilisi International Airport, board a bus headed to Freedom square. It’ll take you around 45 to 60 mins. From the Freedom Square Metro Station, board a metro towards Isani. A short distance from Isani Metro Station, you’ll find buses headed to Central Bus stand of Tbilisi.
A marshrutka (18 seater mini bus) leaves for Alvani (110 km; 3 hours) from the Central Bus Stand at 9.10 am. This is the only bus service to Alvani the entire day, it tends to get crowded. Make sure you reach Central Bus Stand at least an hour in advance to get a seat.
From Alvani, the onward journey to Lower Omalo (72 km; 4½ to 5 hours) has to be completed in private SUVs, which usually wait at the Alvani bus stand. Hiring a SUV (4-6 seater) costs about GEL 200. You can cut down on your expenditure by sharing the SUV with other people heading to Omalo.
How to get to Tbilisi from Shatili by public transport
Shatili → Datvisjvari Pass → Tbilisi
- Journey distance: 146 km
- Route: Google maps link
Shatili is a scantily populated village at the end of the trek. There are only two ways to reach Tbilisi from Shatili – Bus and SUV.
- Every Thursday and Sunday, a bus leaves to Tbilisi at 9.00 am. The charge per ticket is GEL 25.
- Alternatively, you can board an SUV that leaves every morning at 10 am. If you have other trekkers travelling to Tbilisi, hiring the entire SUV is an affordable option. The cost of the SUV for the journey is GEL 350-400.
Be prepared for a long 4½ hour journey on bumpy roads. You even cross the Datvisjvari Pass at 2,681m along the way.
Additional information about public transport in Georgia
In case, you wish to cancel your trek, please login to your account and cancel your trek.
Cancellation requests will not be taken over phone or email.
These are the cancellation charges:
50 Days before the start of the trek - Refund with a 5% deduction
50-20 days before the start of the trek - Refund with a 25% deduction
20 days before the start of the trek - Refund with a 50% deduction
If a trek is called off at the last moment due to a natural calamity/unforeseen circumstances (like rains, earthquake, landslides, strike, bandh, etc), World of Hikes will issue a trek voucher for the full amount. The voucher can be redeemed for the same trek or another trek in the next one year.
Anyone with a BMI higher than 29 cannot register for the trek.
We recommend that you work on your cardiovascular strength.
Workout at least 5 times a week.
You should be able to cover 5 km in under 35 mins before the start of the trek.
We will get in touch with you and guide you to the required fitness.
Flight and Visa Policy
Once you register and sign up for the trek, your slot is confirmed, but your participation will have a "Pending" status.
The Participation status will change to "Approved" once you upload proof of your booked flight ticket and visa onto your dashboard.
You have time for approval until 20 days before the start of the trek.
Please consult the airline's applicable terms and conditions and conditions of carriage for complete information including applicable cancellation terms. World of Hikes is not responsible for changes in air itineraries or flight times and does not provide advice or alerts regarding air travel tickets, flight status or delays.
All trekkers will be picked up at Tbilisi at 9 am on Day 1. This transport is organised in collaboration with a ground team at Tbilisi. The transport fare is not included in the trek fee. You will have to pay this in cash to the leader of your group.
World of Hikes only arranges the vehicle and is not responsible for any issues during transport.
Green Trails Policy
We have a strong Green Trails policy at World of Hikes. We do not allow any disposables on the trek, except for toilet rolls (No wet wipes.) Every trekker will be issued an Eco Bag to bring back his / her own litter and dispose of it safely at the end of the trek. All trekkers will follow trail and camp etiquette as instructed by the Trek Leader.
World of Hikes reserves the right to terminate your trek if you're found flouting the rules set by the organisation.
No Smoking and Drinking Policy
Smoking and drinking are strictly prohibited on any World of Hikes trek. These are deterrent to your health at high altitude. Anyone found smoking or drinking while on the trek (right from Omalo to back to Shatili) will be asked to end their trek and turn around to the base camp.
If you would like to sample the local wine, save it for after your trek, when you're back at Tbilisi.
How long does the Georgia Visa take to come through?
The visa usually gets approved within a week after you send your application. It could vary slightly depending on your address. Apply for it well in advance.
Is it likely that my visa is going to get declined?
From our experience, not too likely. Georgia warmly welcomes tourists and doesn't usually deny visas. They might give you a visa with a tight expiry date, but they usually approve it.
Is there an option to leave extra luggage behind? If yes, where?
Yes, there is a left luggage option in Tbilisi at Freedom Square. This is an automated public locker provided by https://smartcase.ge/. Their locker sizes are large enough to hold a 55 Litre backpack. They charge by the duration. Expect charges around GEL 40 for 6 days.
What kind of food will you be served?
The food served on the Atsunta Pass trek will be vegetarian and nutritious. If we're camping within a village, the food served will be the lovely Georgian cuisine. You will have a budget of GEL 20 per meal at the guest house, which World of Hikes will sponsor. If you order food beyond the budget, you will have to bear the expense.
Breakfast will be served at the camp -- expect something fast and nutritious.
In case, you wish to cancel your trek, please login to your account and cancel your trek.
Cancellation requests will not be taken over phone or email.
These are the cancellation charges:
50 Days before the start of the trek – Refund with a 5% deduction
50-20 days before the start of the trek – Refund with a 25% deduction
20 days before the start of the trek – Refund with a 50% deduction
If a trek is called off at the last moment due to a natural calamity/unforeseen circumstances (like rains, earthquake, landslides, strike, bandh, etc), World of Hikes will issue a trek voucher for the full amount. The voucher can be redeemed for the same trek or another trek in the next one year.
Your trek fee includes:
- Accommodation – Stay is included from Day 1 to Day 6 (Omalo to Shatili). You will be staying in a guest house at Omalo and in 3-person tents on the rest of the days.
- Meals – All meals from dinner at Omalo on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 7 are included. We’ll provide simple, nutritious vegetarian food on all days of the trek.
- Camping charges – All trekking permits and forest camping charges are included.
- Trekking equipment – High-quality tents, sleeping bags, ice axes, ropes, microspikes, gaiters etc. as required.
- Safety equipment – First aid, medical kit, oxygen cylinders, stretchers etc.
Your trek fee does not include:
- Transport to and from the base camps – We will arrange transport for trekkers from Tbilisi to Omalo and back to Tbilisi from Shatili/Mutso. This expense is not included in the trek fee. Approximate cost will be GEL 800 per SUV (4-6 seater) one way, to be shared equally amongst the trekkers.
- Food during transit before and after the trek
- Backpack offloading charges – If you would like to offload your backpack onto a horse, it will cost you approximately €92 for the entire duration of the trek. You can opt for this after you sign up for the trek. Suitcases/strollers will not be allowed.
- Visa charges
- Anything apart from inclusions
An insight into Georgian Culture
Georgia is a Eurasian country, which means it sits right between Europe and Asia. It shares its border with Russia in the North, Azerbaijan in the Southeast, Armenia in the South and Turkey in the Southwest. Being at the crossroads of eastern and western civilisation, the country is a happy mix of eastern and western influences. It is seen in their architecture, culture and food.
Tbilisi, the capital
Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, is a charming blend of modern and classical. On one hand, there are orthodox churches and monasteries, reflecting the country’s overwhelming Eastern Orthodox Christian population. On the other hand, there are casinos and clubs mushrooming across the city, signifying a fairly active nightlife.
The buildings you see, especially in Tbilisi’s old town, seem to be from old Soviet time. Yet, the moment you walk in, you see that interiors are entirely modern! All of these old buildings seems to have their interiors renovated, with their crumbling exteriors dating back to Russian imperial times. Old Tbilisi has narrow, cobbled streets that wind around the town, with stray cats flitting in and about.
On the trail to Atsunta Pass
In the mountains, the houses are simple stone houses. You find homes with fruit trees growing out of them. The sight of them fill you with warmth. On the trail, ancient ruins of stone towers and shrines are many, a remnant of an era gone by. They add to the charm of this trek.
The people of Georgia are extremely hospitable, polite and friendly. They will often go out of their way to help you – even if you don’t share the language. There is also an abiding sense of integrity. They even get offended if you entertain the idea of them cheating you!
They are also extremely rooted – the people have a strong sense of belonging to Georgia and they take pride in their unique culture. They celebrate it! In the city, you will find multiple events centered around art, theatre, dance and music. You will see some of the music and dance on the streets. Our founders caught a folk performance (incidentally from the mountain folk of Tusheti, the region we trek in!) in the airport!
On the trail, the mountain folk are quite like the ones you find in the Himalayas. The locals love to host, feed you, regale with their stories of their life and culture.
Most people speak Georgian, Russian in some places and very basic English. The owners of guest houses you stay at will converse with you in this basic English.
Georgian cuisine has a healthy mix of vegetables and meat. Which means, there are a fair number of vegetarian dishes along with non-vegetarian dishes on the menu. Options for vegans, however, are difficult to find.
Expect bread and cheese with every meal, or cheese-filled breads or steamed dumplings with vegetables, meat and cheese. There are multiple varieties of cheese in their cuisine.
Eating together seems to be the norm. Food often comes in sharing plates and every serving is for at least 3-4 people. The portions are quite large. So come to Georgia with a healthy appetite!
The price of food seems to be quite standard, with very little difference between the regular and higher end restaurants. Say, if a meal costs you GEL 7 at a regular restaurant, the same dish will cost you about GEL 8 lari at a higher end restaurant. Expect the prices of food go higher up in the mountains.
Here are some special Georgian dishes you must try:
- Khachapuri (Cheese-stuffed bread)**Recommended
- Khinkali (Also called Totori in the Tusheti region) (Georgian Dumplings)**Recommended
- Matsoni (Yogurt)
- Lobiani (Bean-stuffed bread)
- Chvishtari (Cheese corn bread)
- Badrijani Nigvzit Roasted Eggplant (badrijani)
- Lobio (Bean Soup)
- Qababi (Kebabs) Grilled minced meat
- Mtsvadi (Shashlik, meat skewers) Fire-roasted chunks of pork, salted.
- Satsivi – Poultry (chicken or turkey) served with a thinned paste of walnut, garlic and herbs.
- Mashed potatoes and lots of cheese!
- Puri/Tonis Puri (Georgian Flatbread)
Of course, Georgia is famous for its wine! We recommend sampling some after your trek.
Also, we loved gorging on the locally grown fruits. They grow in abundance and cost lesser than normal food. Try the cherries, peaches and plums that thrive in trekking season.
– Most of the country follows a standard pricing. You can bargain only for your transport.
– There seems to be no culture of tipping. So you can just pay what you have been charged.
– Don’t try to pet the dogs in the mountains. The shepherd dogs are not friendly. They are trained to guard their flock and will attack you if they see you as a threat. The best thing to do when you find these dogs on trail is to wait for their owner/shepherd to come around, so you can go ahead.
Currency and costs in Georgia
The official currency of Georgia is the Georgian Lari, denoted by GEL. One Lari is split into 100 Tetri.
The exchange rate for one Euro is around GEL 3.2. You’ll find the official exchange rate for foreign currencies on the National Bank of Georgia website.
Laris and Tetri are available as both banknotes and coins. We suggest you carry both forms of currency. Coins are easy for local transport and small shops. Here are the available denominations.
Coins: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 Tetri and 1 and 2 Lari
Banknote: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 Lari
Cash or credit/debit card?
We recommend carrying both cash and card. In cities like Tbilisi, you can easily swipe your credit/debit cards in stores and restaurants. But once you leave Tbilisi, you can only use cash.
The best thing to do is to carry a Forex Card. You can apply for one from your bank before you leave your hometown.
- Forex cards allow you to carry any foreign currency, and are pin protected just like your credit/debit card.
- You can use them at any shops that accept Visa/ Mastercards, and also to withdraw cash at ATMs.
- The advantage over debit/credit cards is that you don’t have to pay the 2- 5% transaction fee that is charged when you use your international debit/ credit card.
- It can also be reloaded online at any time.
A note on ATMs
There are several ATMs in Tbilisi. Withdrawal charges are very minimal. But Tbilisi will be your last access to an ATM. There are no more once you start your journey to Omalo.
If you plan to travel out of the city, make sure to carry enough loose cash with you. We advise you to carry a minimum of GEL 800 on your Atsunta Pass trek.
If you’re trekking on your own, carry at least GEL 1,300 for transport and food.
Best places to exchange currency
When you land at Tbilisi airport, you find Currency Exchange Kiosks. Exchange your currency here. There are also many Currency exchange booths within the city — one almost every 500 metres or so. Outside the city, you are not likely to find currency exchange booths.
Based on currency rankings, the most popular exchange rate is for USD to GEL. This is followed by Euro, Turkish Lira, Pound, Sterling, and Russian Ruble. These are the most widely accepted currencies in Georgian exchange booths. Compare the exchange rates in a few booths, you may get a better deal in some than in others.
– For exchanges, you will require to show your passport. Keep it with you always.
– A few establishments accept Euros or US Dollars directly. But it’s always best to deal with GEL. It’s easier too, to avoid confusion over exchange rates.
Rough costs to expect in Georgia
Travel from Airport to Tbilisi:
The cheapest and easiest way to reach Tbilisi from the airport is taking an airport bus. This costs only 50 Tetri. And it’s quite a comfortable ride.
The airport is located about 17 km from Old Tbilisi. Taxis are quite expensive, charging you between GEL 300 and 350.
Local transport is very affordable in Georgia. The most easily available public transport are the yellow minibuses called Marshrutkas that run on dedicated routes. These stop at any point if you wave your hand. On average, they cost 50 Tetri per person.
You can also take the metro, though you might have to walk a little from the station to your final destination. You will need a travel card – Metromoney – to use the metro.
The best thing to do is get a Metromoney card at the airport, at the Bank of Georgia booth. The card is multi-user friendly — more than one person can use the same card. It costs only GEL 2, and you can top it up anywhere easily. This card can be used for both Metro rides and paying Marshrutkas too!
Transport to and from Atsunta Pass Trek:
The trek begins in the village of Omalo and ends at Shatili. The transport cost from Tbilisi to Omalo and from Shatili to Tbilisi are not included in your trek fee.
On the first day of the trek, we arrange SUVs from Freedom Square to Omalo. This will cost about GEL 400 per SUV. The trek ends at Mutso/Shatili. The vehicle from here to Tbilisi will cost GEL 350-400.
If you’re trekking on your own, here are costs to expect:
- The metro from Freedom square to Isani metro station – GEL 0.50
- A bus from Isani metro station to Central Bus Stand – GEL 0.50
- A marshrutkas bus (18 seater) from Central Bus Stand to Alvani – GEL 10
- An SUV from Alvani to Omalo – GEL 200 (You could share this fare with other trekkers)’
For returning to Tbilisi from Shatili, you can get a vehicle for about GEL 300- 350.
For more details on the transport, look up the Travel and Visa section on this page.
Within the city
You find good hostels in most Georgian cities and villages. These cost you approximately GEL 20-50 per head per night for a neat dorm room. You can find some good deals which include breakfast as well.
Airbnb’s are very popular in cities like Tbilisi. You can find a quaint, charming Georgian home for about GEL 80-120 . If you’re travelling as a group of 3 or more, this may work out to be more cost effective as well!
On the trail from Omalo to Shatili
Trekkers stay in guesthouses in the first three villages – Omalo, Dartlo, and Girevi. These guest houses charge around GEL 30-50 per person per night. They charge you separately for food — a wholesome meal complete with cheese and beverages will cost around GEL 20-30. You can opt for a smaller meal, that will cost GEL 15. (These costs are included in your trek price, if you’re trekking with us).
Georgian cuisine is rich and delicious. All meals you order in restaurants are wholesome and cover a wide palate. A full breakfast will cost GEL 15, complete with fruits and beverages. Lunches and dinners cost around GEL 20-30.
It’s easy to find affordable street food too, and we recommend that you do! A delicious local cheese-stuffed bread, called Khachapuri, will cost you just GEL 1! And it’s pretty filling.
If you’d like to cook on your own, hit the local markets for fresh and affordable produce. Freshly baked bread costs GEL 1-2. A variety of fresh fruits — apricots, plums, apples, peaches – are available for GEL 2-5 per kg. Cheese (GEL 2.3 -3 per 100 grams) and Milk (GEL 4 per litre) are also easily available.
Cost of food
Here are a list of basic food items you can buy if you are living in an Airbnb and cooking your meals by yourself.
|Item Name||Quantity||Price in GEL|
|Boneless chicken||500 gr (1 lb.)||GEL 5.55|
|Whole fat milk||1 liter (1 qt.)||GEL 3.59|
|Eggs||Large (12)||GEL 4.70|
|Tomatoes||1 kg (2 lb.)||GEL 3.15|
|Local Cheese||500 gr (16 oz.)||GEL 7|
|Apples||1kg (2 lb.)||GEL 2.40|
|Potatoes||1 kg (2 lb.)||GEL 1.41|
|Red wine||1 bottle||GEL 18|
|Bread||2 people, 1 day||GEL 1.09|
Note: All prices are approximations.
SIM Card and Network costs:
Get your SIM cards right at the airport. The most widely used telecom service is Magti, which costs GEL 20. This covers local phone calls, and a 3 GB internet connection which is sufficient to cover basic net needs like maps and communication.
Check the section on Connectivity and Contacts for more information on SIM cards.
You can’t leave Georgia without shopping for souvenirs! You can finish all your shopping for just GEL 5-10 if you bargain well. Good clothes cost anywhere between GEL 30-50.
If you need guides or horses, Omalo is a good place to find them. Here, the rates for horses are GEL 50 per day. Guides charge GEL 100 per day.
From Omalo to Shatili the charges include the total number of trekking days plus two days for their return. You don’t have to pay extra charges for their food, stay or tents.
How to stay connected in Georgia
The easiest way to stay connected with your friends and family while in Georgia is to buy a local SIM card. There are several SIM card options to choose from – Beeline, Geocell and Magti.
How to buy a SIM Card in Georgia?
Buying a SIM card in Georgia is very easy. Walk into any of the mobile phone stores and you should be out with a local SIM card and a local telephone number in 15 minutes.
All you’re required to do is:
– Show a valid passport
– Fill a form
– Pay the required amount
Multiple SIM cards can be bought with the same passport. SIM cards can also be bought at the exit at Tbilisi International Airport.
We recommend using the Magti SIM card. It costs GEL 15. With this, you can make unlimited local calls, and use up to 5 GB data. This is enough to use Google Maps, and do some trek research, it will last you about 2 weeks.
Note: This will not be enough if you wish to watch videos or use social media. You can recharge the card with GEL 5 in order to increase your data limit. For further data and call plans, visit https://www.magticom.ge/en/private/mobile/packages
The good thing about Magti SIM cards is that they’re are available at several mobile stores throughout the city of Tbilisi. So you can always walk into a store to recharge your cards.
You could purchase a Global Pre Paid SIM card from Matrix. This SIM allows free incoming calls from about 80 countries, and 1 GB data per day, this costs about 40 Euros for 28 days. For more details, visit this page.
Whom should you get in touch for assistance? (or in an emergency)
For any assistance before, during or after the trek, get in touch with us on
World Of Hikes +91-80-468-01269
Also at the same time make sure to keep all the important contact details handy.
They include your
- Trek Leader
- Fellow trekkers
- Any other contacts shared by World of Hikes team, and
- Local embassy
Tip: Don’t just save them on your phone, but also have it written down on a card and keep it in your wallet.
Important note for Indian citizens travelling to Georgia
There is no Indian Embassy at Georgia. The nearest Embassy is at Yerevan, Armenia. Make sure to keep these details handy
Embassy OF India, Yerevan [Armenia]
- Address: Embassy of India Yerevan, 50/2, India Street, Yerevan- 0015, Armenia.
- Working hours: 0900 to 1730 hours (Monday to Friday)
- Telephone Numbers: +374-10-539173 / 539174 / 539175
- Fax Numbers: 00-374-10-533984
- Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
- Website: http://www.indianembassy.am
- Emergency Contact No. (Non-office hours & emergency situations only): +374 550 091 18
What are the accommodation options in Georgia like?
Finding a place to stay in Georgia is easy. Georgians place a lot of importance on hospitality. From backpacker hostels to cosy BnBs to budget guesthouses to luxury hotels, there are options to suit every traveller.
Trekkers hiking the mountain trails will find guesthouses in the villages or can choose to camp as well.
A note about finding a place to stay in Tbilisi
Tbilisi is a big city and finding a neighbourhood to base yourself can be quite a task. But there is no cause for worry. The city has an extensive public transport systems. So, moving around the city shouldn’t be a problem irrespective of where you set yourself for a few days.
Should I make a reservation in advance or can I turn up and find a place?
It is advisable to make a reservation for the first night after arrival in Tbilisi. After the long tiring journey to Tbilisi, dragging your luggage and looking for a place to cannot be an enjoyable process. Therefore, book a place in advance, ride to your hotel or hostel and drop your bags. Afterwards, you can walk around the city and you can find another place which suits you better.
In other cities and towns you that you plan to visit, you can just turn up and have your pick from the lot.
While on the trek, you can just turn up and look for a guest house. If you’re camping, arrive at your destination for the day well before sundown to give yourself time to set up camp.
From the airport to Tbilisi
Most travellers to Georgia first fly to Tbilisi before heading to the countryside. The airport lies 18 km to the east of the city. The transport options from the airport to the city though, are limited. You can either take a bus or hire a taxi to drop you at your hotel, hostel or BnB.
There is also a train line, but the there are only two trains a day – at 7.55 am and 4.55 pm
Should I board a bus to the city or hire a car?
We recommend taking the bus. Buses are available just outside the arrival section at the airport and there is one every 30 mins. There is one leaving airport every half an hour so irrespective of the time you arrive, you won’t have to wait too
A ticket costs GEL 0.5 and and takes about half and hour before you reach the city. Good enough time to enjoy the ride, watch the local life and may be practice a bit of Georgian with your co-passengers (Gamardschoba! means Hello! and Gmadlob is Thank you.)
Hiring a taxi on the other hand will set you back by GEL 30-35
Which neighbourhood should I stay in at Tbilisi?
The best neighbourhoods to place yourself would be the ones around Freedom square or somewhere close by. Tbilisi Old Town, Avlabari, Rustavali, Vera, Marjanishivli are all within 20-25 minutes (some a lot lesser) of walking distance from Freedom square.
One more advantage of staying near Freedom Square is the ease of access to the metro line to Isani. Isani Metro station is a short walk away from Tbilisi central bus stand where you’ll find your buses to Omalo. Check the ‘Travel to and from the trek’ section for details
There are plenty of hostels around Freedom square where you can find a dorm bed for 20-40 GEL. Hostelworld.com is the best place to search for such hostels.
For those who prefer hotels, you’ll find plenty of those too. Right from budget to boutique to upmarket luxury. Booking.com is as good a place as any to find one that fits the bill.
Bed and Breakfasts
At World of Hikes, we have a certain fondness for Bed & Breakfasts (BnBs). What we like about them the most is being able to connect with the local hosts. As most of the time you’ll be staying at an extra room in someone’s home, you get an intimate peek into the local way of life. At the same time you get to form strong bond with the locals. An opportunity that does not arise often at hotels. It is definitely much more homely enviroment than hotel or a hostel.
AirBnB is the go-to place to check out some cool and quirky accommodation options. You’ll get some fantastic bed-and-breakfast choices between GEL 80-120
Did you know?
– The world’s four deepest caves are all in Georgia, including two that are the only known caves on earth deeper than 2,000 m: Krubera Cave at -2,197 m (-7,208 ft; reached in 2012) and Veryovkina Cave at -2,212 (-7,257 ft; reached in 2018).
We will open up dates shortly.