Svaneti Georgia might just be my favorite place in my favorite country on the planet – so if you’re here, I’m pretty jealous of you because that probably means you’re considering traveling to Svaneti soon.
And, boy oh boy, are you in for a treat … Svaneti is an incredible destination that feels a bit like visiting Winterfell from Game of Thrones.
To help you plan your trip to Svaneti Georgia, this Ultimate Travel Guide is packed with all the information you need for your visit: including the best things to do in Svaneti, the best hotels in Mestia and Ushguli, how to get from Tbilisi to Svaneti, a short background on the history of Svaneti, and so so much more!
Why should you trust me to help plan your Svaneti trip?
Well, over the course of two trips in 2017 and late summer 2019, I’ve spent a couple weeks exploring Svaneti with writing this guide for you in mind. Plus, my blog is one of the top English-language Georgia travel blogs.
So let’s dive right into this Svaneti Georgia travel guide. To help you get around, here’s a handy Table of Contents (click to jump to different sections):
- 1 The Incredible History of Svaneti Georgia
- 2 10 Best Things to Do in Svaneti
- 2.1 1. Top Thing to Do in Svaneti: Go Trekking or Hiking
- 2.2 2. Most Unique Place to Visit in Svaneti: Ushguli
- 2.3 3. Top Thing to Do in Mestia: Explore the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography
- 2.4 4. Best Thing to Do in Winter: Go Skiing
- 2.5 5. Top Fun Thing to Do in Summer: Ascend the Hatsvali Lift to the Highest Restaurant in Georgia
- 2.6 6. Best Place to Visit on the Drive to Mestia: The Enguri Dam
- 2.7 7. Top Thing to Do for Families: Visit Margiani’s House Museum
- 2.8 8. Best Instagram Spot in Svaneti: The Tower of Love
- 2.9 9. Best Thing to Do in Mestia at Night: Watch a Traditional Georgian Musical Performance
- 2.10 10. Most Delicious Thing to Do in Svaneti: Enjoy The Local Cuisine
- 3 Where to Stay in Svaneti – Top Guesthouses and Hotels in Mestia and Ushguli
- 4 How to Organize Tours to Svaneti
- 5 FAQs about Travel to Svaneti, Georgia
[Disclosure: links to products or services may earn an affiliate commission for my blog – it helps keep me on the road!]
The Incredible History of Svaneti Georgia
Me looking out over the towers of Ushguli
Nobody knows precisely how long people have lived in Svaneti, but one thing is for sure:
Svaneti has been inhabited for a very, very long time.
There is evidence of Neolithic inhabitants going back to the Stone Age (12,000+ years ago!) at the archaeological sites of Lebikva and Lazga. The historical record for Svaneti becomes a bit more clear after the 3rd millennium B.C., meaning that archaeologists have a fairly clean record of the region’s culture going back almost 5,000 years.
During the Bronze and Middle Ages, Svaneti was a major metallurgical site governed by the Colchis, who supplied the rest of Georgia with the copper that was so critical to the development of the entire region.
Ancient weapons on display at the Svaneti Museum
Over the centuries, the Svan people developed a fierce warrior mentality, as the region’s strategic location meant it was a constant target of invaders. Svaneti was even one of the few regions that fended off the Mongols.
Svaneti is famous for its many stone towers, defensive structures built by those families who could afford it on top of their homes starting in the 9th century.
Modern Svaneti has been afflicted by a few tragic natural disasters which depressed its economy, but the recent rise of tourism to the region has dramatically improved the standard of living for the Svan (all of whom I spoke to are very eager to receive more visitors, after millennia of trying to keep them out).
The above short history of Svaneti is based primarily on the information I learned while visiting the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography – an excellent thing to do in Svaneti to learn more about the rich history of this region and the Svan culture.
10 Best Things to Do in Svaneti
If you’re planning a trip to the region, you’ll be spoiled for options when deciding what to do in Svaneti Georgia.
Enjoying the incredible juxtaposition of nature and history should be at the top of your list, but there’s something for everyone on this list of the 10 best things to do in Svaneti Georgia:
1. Top Thing to Do in Svaneti: Go Trekking or Hiking
A quick look around the many outdoor gear shops in Mestia makes one thing very clear:
Svaneti Georgia is a veritable mecca for hikers.
Whether it’s a quick day hike around Mestia, or a multi-day trek between Svaneti’s many mountain towns, hiking is undoubtedly one of the top attractions in Svaneti for tourists.
One of the best parts of hiking in Svaneti is that you can stay overnight at guesthouses in the villages, which means you don’t need to carry much food or heavy camping equipment (unless camping is your thing, of course!).
Need a guide for your treks in Svaneti? I highly recommend contacting Nata Japaridze ([email protected] or What’s App: +995 595206275).
Nata is THE expert on Svaneti hiking and a Grade-A bad**s. When she isn’t guiding hikes, she saving people’s lives as the first female Mountain Rescuer in the country of Georgia!
2. Most Unique Place to Visit in Svaneti: Ushguli
Ushguli looked incredible from my drone
Ushguli consists of four small villages tucked away in the mountains that together make up the highest permanent settlement in Europe – and, in my personal opinion, Ushguli is the single best place to visit in Svaneti Georgia.
You’ll either need to visit Ushguli as part of a trek or by hiring a 4×4 in Mestia to brave the 2 hour long bumpy ride along the single dirt road that winds for hours around mountain gorges.
Until ten years ago, that road was rife with bandits and thieves, making travel to Ushguli a mission for only the most daring. These days, the government has been slowly paving the now-safe road (as of my 2019 visit, only about the first third had been paved).
While many tourists just visit for a day trip, I highly suggest staying overnight in Usghuli to truly soak in this magical place!
3. Top Thing to Do in Mestia: Explore the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography
The Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography
To truly understand what makes this area so magical, you have to visit the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography in Mestia.
This small but well-designed museum features exhibitions showcasing artifacts that expose the incredible cultural history of the region. A visit only takes about 30 minutes, but is well worth it and is a great thing to do in Svaneti during rain or bad weather.
Visiting info for the Museum:
- Address: A. Ioseliani 7, Mestia
- Opening Hours: 10 AM – 6 PM (closed Mondays)
- Cost: 5 GEL (~$2)
4. Best Thing to Do in Winter: Go Skiing
Mestia in winter is a great ski destination
Most tourists to Svaneti visit during the warm summer months, but if you brave a trip to Svaneti during the winter, you’ll be rewarded with what might be one of the most underrated (and certainly one of the most affordable) ski destinations on the planet.
The ski season in Svaneti runs roughly from December to April, and you’ll find several ski slopes around Mestia: the Hatsvali/Mt Zuruldi resort just outside of town and the Tetnuldi resort about 8 km drive away.
5. Top Fun Thing to Do in Summer: Ascend the Hatsvali Lift to the Highest Restaurant in Georgia
The views of Svaneti from the lift are incredible in summer too!
The Hatsvali-Zuruldi ski lift in Mestia isn’t just for winter sport lovers though!
In fact, my guide told me that the lift actually sees far more usage during the summer months, when you can ride the lift to the top and enjoy a meal and the vistas of Restaurant Zuruldi, the highest restaurant in Georgia.
When I visited on a sunny day in summer of 2019, the top had a decidedly summer-party type atmosphere (the lift operators were even blasting party music!).
Lift tickets cost 15 GEL for Adults or 10 GEL for children (you can also hike to the top and ride the lift down for free).
6. Best Place to Visit on the Drive to Mestia: The Enguri Dam
The Enguri Dam from the air
Split between the border with the disputed territory of Abkhazia is the largest dam in Georgia: the stunningly gorgeous Enguri Dam makes for a great stopover to break up the long journey from Zugdidi up the mountain road to Mestia.
The Georgian government plans to turn the dam into a major tourist attraction, complete with a visitors’ center and Instagram-friendly glass pedestrian bridge. As of my most recent visit in 2019, however, the tourist facilities at the dam were still very basic.
7. Top Thing to Do for Families: Visit Margiani’s House Museum
Like Joffrey but less evil ?
See how Svan families traditionally lived inside this “house,” which is actually one of the stone watchtowers that make Svaneti feel a bit like a scene from Game of Thrones.
You can climb to the top of the watchtower for some special views (just be safe and don’t let your kids pull a Bran Stark please!). Oh, and you even take a picture on the “throne” traditionally reserved for the head of the Svan family.
Visiting Information for Margiani’s House Museum in Mestia:
- Address: Lanchvali Street
- Opening Hours: technically 10 AM – 6 PM (closed Mondays), but ask your hotel or guide to help you as reports online indicate opening hours can be sporadic.
8. Best Instagram Spot in Svaneti: The Tower of Love
The Tower of Love
There are a few local legends about how this lone picturesque tower got built. My guide told me that an ancient Svan woman spent so much time waiting for her lost lover here that her brothers built her this tower as shelter, though there are at least a few different legends explaining the tower’s history.
For 1 Lari, you can climb to the top and take a photo. Located on the road from Mestia to Usghuli, the Tower of Love makes for a nice quick photo stopover on your journey.
9. Best Thing to Do in Mestia at Night: Watch a Traditional Georgian Musical Performance
Georgian Singers at Cafe Laila in Mestia Svaneti
Come nightfall in Mestia, the town’s many cafes and restaurants come alive with traditional musical performances by local bands.
Keep an eye out on the restaurant signs in Mestia for specific details. Cafe Laila in the central main square hosts one of the most popular performances most nights starting around 8:30 PM.
10. Most Delicious Thing to Do in Svaneti: Enjoy The Local Cuisine
Chvishdari (a traditional Svan dish)
Georgia’s many regions are famed for their unique local cuisine, and Svaneti is no different.
Dishes you can try include Chvishdari, a cornbread and cheese dish pictured above, Tashmijabi, a gooey mashed-potato like creation, and Kubdari, a meat and cheese filled bread.
Wash it all down with some local homemade wine or cha cha (a strong Georgian spirit).
Oh, and Svaneti is especially famous for its Svanuri Marili – or Svanetian salt. Most restaurants will have it at the table, and street vendors sell packets of it that make for a great gift to bring home from your trip to Svaneti Georgia.
Where to Stay in Svaneti – Top Guesthouses and Hotels in Mestia and Ushguli
My cozy bed at Chalet Mestia Svaneti
Accommodation options are relatively affordable throughout Svaneti Georgia, and there is still a culture – leftover from the Silk Road – of family run guesthouses that accept walk-up travelers. This is especially true in Ushguli, and makes for an an interesting evening having dinner and copious homemade wine with a Svan family.
Still, Svaneti’s meteoric rise as a tourist destination means that it’s best to book hotels ahead – especially for stays in Mestia and Ushguli. So here’s a quick guide to some excellent accommodation options in Svaneti Georgia that you can safely lock in right now:
Top Hotels in Mestia, Svaneti Georgia
- Best Overall Hotel in Mestia: Guesthouse Mountain View – As the name suggestions, this hotel gets great reviews for it’s incredible views and clean if simple rooms. Even if you’re not staying here, it’s restaurant is a great place to eat or grab a beer and enjoy sunset. Please check the prices on Booking.com or Hotels Combined.
- Best Luxury Hotel in Mestia: Chalet Mestia – a well designed small hotel in the center of Mestia that’s about as high-end as things come here, Chalet Mestia offers comfortable rooms in a ski-lodge type atmosphere. I stayed here in 2019. Please check the prices on Booking.com or Hotels Combined.
- Best Hostel in Mestia: Nino’s Ratiani Guesthouse in Mestia – I stayed here in 2017 and can tell you that Nino’s is definitely the center of Svaneti’s trekking culture and a great place to meet other hikers and arrange trips. Private and shared rooms available at affordable rates. Please check the prices on Booking.com or Hotels Combined.
- Airbnbs in Mestia – Though there aren’t many true apartment rentals in Mestia (that’s probably for the best), many guesthouses can be booked through Airbnb. And if you have a new account, you can get up to $40 off your first booking with this link!
Top Guesthouses and Hotels in Ushguli
Travelers used to a higher standard should bear in mind that even the best hotels in Usghuli are pretty basic. But the rustic feel and traditional hospitality (most offer dinner and wine in the room price) is part of Ushguli’s charm.
- Best Overall Hotel in Ushguli – Hotel Koshki Ushguli – This is as close as it gets to Western-standard accommodation in Ushguli. Clean rooms with private bathrooms and an excellent location overlooking the main village. Please check the prices on Booking.com or Hotels Combined.
- Best Hostel/Budget Guesthouse in Ushguli – Caucasus Guesthouse – Popular with hikers and budget travelers, the rooms here are all basic but clean and affordable. Please check the prices on Booking.com or Hotels Combined.
- Best Hotel With a View in Ushguli – Panorama Guest House – I stayed here on my 2019 visit and, while basic, the Panorama hostel is run by a very wonderful Svan woman named Ekka and is a great budget place to stay (complete with a hearty dinner!). Please check the prices on Booking.com or Hotels Combined.
How to Organize Tours to Svaneti
Me enjoying my tour of Svaneti with JayWay
Does traveling to Svaneti Georgia sound incredible but a bit too complicated to organize yourself?
While Svaneti has traditionally been a destination for independent trekkers, increasingly it is drawing a wider variety of tourists. So if you prefer to have someone else handle the logistics for you, taking a tour to Svaneti can be a great way to explore it.
I traveled to Svaneti in summer 2019 as part of a sponsored trip with JayWay Travel, a unique tour operator with a specialty for semi-independent travel – which means they handle the logistics of your trip, but you travel in a private group with all the flexibility and choice of independent travel. Click here to check out JayWay’s Georgian itineraries.
Alternatively, if you prefer group tours, you can find a popular 4 day tour to Svaneti here.
FAQs about Travel to Svaneti, Georgia
Have questions about your trip to Svaneti?
Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about travel to Svaneti Georgia:
How Do I Get to Svaneti?
Option 1: Fly (if you’re lucky!) – The new, easiest way is via the cheap, government-subsidized flights now leaving a couple times a week from Tbilisi for Mestia. Book via email to Vanilla Sky. But be forewarned: they book up way in advance!
Option 2: Bus/Minivan (Marshrutka) – Alternatively, shared buses and minivans leave frequently each morning from Tbilisi for the grueling 8 hour journey to Mestia. Buses cost around 30 GEL. The journey is easier if done from Kutaisi, Batumi, or Zugdidi.
Option 3: Train + Marshrutka – Perhaps the most popular route from Tbilisi to Mestia is to take the overnight train to Zugdidi, then transfer for the 4 hour Marshtrutka ride to Mestia.
When is the Best Time to Visit Mestia, Ushguli, and Svaneti?
Me enjoying summer in Mestia
The summer months from about June to early September are the warmest and most popular time to visit Svaneti. It’s when the hiking trails will be open and when the nights will be warmest (though it still can get quite cold in summer!).
Alternatively, Svaneti is a growing winter sport destination. Ski season lasts from roughly December through April, and visiting in January or February means you’ll likely get to see the beauty of snow on Svaneti’s watchtowers!
Is Svaneti Safe to Visit?
Yes, Svaneti is generally safe for travel. The crime problems of a decade ago are gone and you’ll find that Svaneti is generally very safe on that front.
With that said, the roads in Svaneti (especially from Mestia to Ushguli) are a bit treacherous, and hikers and trekkers need to exercise caution and watch for avalanches, mudslides, and floods.
The bottom line is that Svaneti is very remote and so it is a good idea to get trip insurance for Georgia though. You can click here to compare policies on TravelInsurance.com.
What Should I Pack for My Trip?
Remember to pack a jacket and warm clothes even in the summer as it gets cold all year long at night!
You’ll also definitely want to bring sunscreen, insect repellent, rain gear, and good hiking shoes.
Also, be sure to check out my guide to finding the best travel backpacks for Europe.
Where Should I Travel Next in Georgia?
There are so many incredible places to visit in Georgia, so be sure to explore some of them after your trip to Svaneti.
I suggest checking out my complete Georgia Travel Itinerary for more info!
That’s it for this Ultimate Guide to Svaneti! Have a question? Scroll down and leave a comment!
And before you leave be sure to check out these helpful articles for planning your trip to Georgia:
- The Best Places to Visit in Georgia
- The Absolute Best Things to Do in Georgia
- Georgia Travel Itinerary and Country Guide
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