Located in the northeastern part of Georgia, bordering the Russian provinces of Chechnya and Dagestan, Tusheti is one of the country’s most adventurous destinations. Although tourism is growing rapidly in the region (as well as throughout the country), you’ll find that you’re visiting a very authentic place.
Traveling to Tusheti is not easy; there is no public transport, and the road that leads to Omalo is considered the most dangerous in Europe. (The truth is, it’s a bit scary.) However, you’ll find a big reward in Tusheti: ancient villages, impressive medieval towers, crystalline lagoons, incredible hiking routes and lots of friendly people.
After a month traveling around Georgia, visiting several regions and completing lots of hikes, I have concluded that this is my favorite place in the country. The Caucasus Mountains may be more beautiful in other regions like Kazbegi or Svaneti, but they don’t have the wild nature of Tusheti, where you can hike along little-used paths, visit traditional villages and meet great people.
In this article, I’ll tell you about Tusheti’s most popular trekking routes. In addition, I’ll explain how you can complete the Omalo Loop Trek on your own.
THE BEST HIKING TRAILS IN TUSHETI:
The trek from Omalo to Diklo Fort
A good option for hikers looking for a relatively short and not-very-demanding trek. The trail from Omalo to Diklo Fort offers beautiful views of the region. Along the way, you’ll pass through the town of Shenako, which is decorated with beautiful balconies, stone roofs and an old church that dominates the landscape. From there, you’ll have the option of taking a small detour to visit Shenako Fort.
You can complete the hike to Diklo in 4 hours, but you’ll need all day to make the round trip, visit the forts, take a lunch break, etc.
The trail from Ghele to Parsma
The upper trail to Parma is a beautiful day hike that runs along the Pirikiti mountain range. You can combine this route with other popular hikes, such as the Omalo-Shatili Trek or the Omalo Loop. This path is quite different from others because it doesn’t pass through the valleys. It follows the ridge of the Pirikiti range until it reaches the village of Parsma.
The difficulty is moderate, but keep in mind that the path is quite long. You can complete it in about 8-9 hours. If you have a little more time, you can start from Omalo, but the distance will be too long for most hikers. The best thing you can do is obtain transport to Ghele and start the trek from there.
The trek to Lake Oreti
A little south of Omalo, Lake Oreti is a beautiful place with great views of the region. Though you can hike the route, most people get to the lake on horseback. If you are interested in this option, ask at your hostel and they’ll find a guide with horses.
If you decide to go hiking, remember that it’s an almost 30-kilometer round trip, with an elevation gain of 1.700 meters. It’s doable, but you must be in good shape.
The trail from Omalo to Shatili
This 4-to-5-day route will take you from Omalo, in Tusheti, to the remote village of Shatili, in Khevsureti. The difficulty is medium-high, as there are several high passes, including the 3,400-meter-high Atsunta Pass. If you attempt to complete this route in 4 days, the difficulty will be high due to the great distance. To complete this route, you’ll have to camp 2 nights in the wild, so don’t forget your camping gear.
In Girivi, you may have to fill out some forms for the border police. (You’ll be very close to the Russian border.) Remember to bring your passport or necessary documentation.
When you get to Shatili, keep in mind that finding public transport won’t be easy because Khevsureti is another off-the-beaten-path province. Don’t worry, though; ask around and you’ll find something.
The Omalo loop through the valleys of Tusheti
This trail offers a mix of interesting culture, medieval architecture and great landscapes. It’s definitely one of the best treks in Tusheti.
Advantages: You can complete it in 3 days. You don’t need to bring camping gear because you can sleep in the villages of Parsma, Verkhovani or Jvarboseli. The accommodation is in homestays, which is great because you can interact with the local people. The route passes through beautiful towns such as Dartlo and Chesho. You’ll have to cross the Nakaicho Pass, which offers one of the best views of the Tushetian mountains. Except for the Nakaicho Pass, the route is not very demanding.
Disadvantages: During the first and last days, the path runs along a dusty road most of the time.
Despite this disadvantage, the local people, the beautiful mountains of the region and the spectacular views from the Nakaicho Pass made this trail one of my favorites in Georgia.
Keep reading because I’m going to give you a lot of details on how to do the Tusheti Loop on your own!
How to complete the Omalo Loop Trek in Tusheti:
Distance: 57 kilometers
Duration: 3 days
Maximum height: 2,900 meters
Total elevation gain: 2,500 meters
Average day: 18 kilometers over 6-8 hours with an elevation gain of 1,000 meters
Budget: $30 / day
Day 1: Omalo – Dartlo – Parsma
Day 2: Parsma – Nakaicho – Jvarboseli
Day 3: Jvarboseli – Omalo
How many days does it take to complete the route?
Unless you plan to extend or change the original itinerary, most hikers complete this trail in 3 days. Completing the trail in fewer days would be quite difficult (unless you are a trail runner). Keep in mind that on the first day you’ll have to walk 23 kilometers, on the second day you’ll cross a high pass and on the third day you’ll hike an additional 22 kilometers.
Is it safe to hike independently, without guides?
The trail is well-marked for the most part. It follows several mountain roads, and in general finding your way is easy because the valleys mark the direction of the trail. In addition, you’ll meet other hikers, see cars on the road, pass through a few villages or near shepherds, etc. You should easily be able to find someone whom you can ask for directions from time to time.
Finding a physical map or book about this region can be quite difficult. Not much information about Tusheti is available online, either. The only exception is the Caucasus Trekking Website, which is fantastic.
Though the trail is not difficult to follow, I recommend that you bring a GPS device or GPS watch. I followed this route on my GPS watch and everything went very well . If you don’t have a GPS, you should download maps.me or Wikiloc on your smartphone.
Difficulty and danger
This is not a particularly demanding hike; therefore, the difficulty is medium. Just keep in mind that on the second day you will cross the almost 3,000-meter-high Nakaicho Pass.
As for danger, you’ll have to be careful with the dogs. This region is inhabited mainly by shepherds, and as you know, shepherds have a lot of dogs that take care of the livestock. These doggies take their work very seriously, so if you get too close to the flock, they can become quite aggressive.
Recommendations: When you see a flock, do not approach it. Keep hiking as far as you can from the livestock. If a dog comes towards you, don’t look into its eyes; just keep walking.
Most hikers have some encounters with dogs in Tusheti. However, if you are careful and follow these recommendations, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Is it possible to camp along the route?
Yes, you can camp in many places along the hike: in the forest, out of the villages or next to the guest houses (if you ask for permission). You will find streams and rivers every day, so you’ll be able to cook your own meals, wash yourself, etc.
Accommodation and facilities
The guest houses in this region are very basic but cozy. They offer a family atmosphere, homemade food and lots of friendly people. In Omalo, the guest houses charge about 50 laris for half-board and about 10 laris for a lunch box. Most services are a bit more expensive in the villages along the trek due to their remote location. The guest houses in Parsma, Verkhovani and Jvarboseli charge between 60 and 70 laris for half-board.
In Omalo there is a minimarket where you can buy cookies, soft drinks, beer, etc. Also, all the guest houses will offer you homemade wine and chacha at lunch and dinner (and even at breakfast). Be careful with the chacha … oh boy, that’s heavy stuff!
Budget for hiking in Tusheti
Your budget will depend on whether you stay at the homestays or camp. I recommend the former option because it allows you to interact with the local people.
In that case, calculate around 80 dollars for three nights in Omalo, Parsma and Verkhovani (or Jvarboseli). In addition, you’ll have to add the transport from Telavi or Alvani to Omalo, which will cost you about 20 dollars. The total, including accommodation, food and roundtrip transport, is 120 dollars.
Transportation within the trek
Except for the crossing over the Nakaicho Pass, you can reach almost any part of the trail by car. Unpaved roads connect Omalo to all the towns along the route.
There is no public transport, so if you want to shorten the route (for example, starting from Dartlo), you’ll need to hire a Jeep and negotiate a price with the driver.
Weather: When to visit Tusheti?
Unfortunately, access to this region is not open all year. Some parts of the dangerous road that connects Alvani and Omalo are covered with snow from October to June, making it impossible to access Tusheti. The few villagers who decide to stay in Tusheti remain isolated until the following year.
Although access to Omalo is usually open from June to October, I recommend that you ask before attempting travel because the snowfalls can start a few weeks earlier than expected.
The Omalo Trek, day by day:
FIRST STAGE: HOW TO GET TO OMALO
Omalo is the most populated town and main access in Tusheti. To get there, you’ll have to look for a Jeep and drive along a pretty dangerous road. This spectacular and terrifying road connects Kakheti and Tusheti through the 2,826-meter-high Abano Pass. The truth is, the ride itself is worth it. The views are spectacular, with huge ravines that will scare the crap out of you.
You can find transport to Omalo from two towns: Telavi and Alvani. In theory, you’ll have more chances to find transport in Telavi because more tourists are there. Therefore, you should have more options for putting together a group and hiring a 4×4. Alvani receives much fewer tourists, but almost all the inhabitants of Tusheti spend the winter there, have family there and visit the town very often. In other words, there is a lot of movement from Alvani to Omalo.
I decided to go to Alvani. I was the only tourist in town, yet despite that fact I found transport very quickly. A man who was driving to Omalo took me for the normal price: 50 laris.
If you are in a group with other tourists, expect to pay 50 laris each. A Jeep usually carries about 5 people and the trip costs 250 laris. If the driver takes 1 person more or 1 person less, they’ll still charge 50 laris per person.
To travel to either Telavi or Alvani, you’ll have to go to the Ortachala terminal in Tbilisi. The marshrutkas leaving for Telavi depart approximately every hour all day long. However, if you want to travel to Alvani, there is only one departure, at 9:00 a.m.
If you decide to go to Telavi, ask for transport to Tusheti as soon as you arrive at the Telavi terminal. If no transport is available to Omalo, go to the tourist office. They will gather other tourists in the same situation and try to find a Jeep.
If you decide to go to Alvani, the marshrutka driver will drop you off at the end of the town, where you’ll have more chances to find transport for Omalo.
Whatever you do, you’ll always find a solution. Just keep in mind that there is no regular service to Tusheti, so finding a Jeep could take you anywhere from 10 minutes to a whole day. It’s part of the adventure of traveling to Tusheti.
By the way, when you get to Omalo, you’ll notice that the town has two parts: Lower Omalo and Upper Omalo. The lower part of the town is bigger and has a more local character. The visitor center is also located there. Upper Omalo is quite small, but it’s full of guest houses. I stayed in Lower Omalo and I loved it.
SECOND STAGE: THE OMALO LOOP
Day 1: Omalo – Parsma
The first thing you’ll do is leave early and walk up for about 20 minutes to Upper Omalo. That’s where the original trail begins. The path gets into a pretty steep forest. A little farther on, after passing through the forest, the path descends along a huge valley.
Eventually, you will see Dartlo, a traditional village which is popular among day-trip visitors. After passing Dartlo, the path becomes quite flat until you reach Parsma. The landscapes are not spectacular, but the villages are really beautiful with those medieval towers watching everything from above.
In Parsma we stayed in Baso Guest House. The owner spoke Spanish because she had lived in Andalusia for many years, so we had easy, pleasant conversations.
The price: 60 laris for accommodation, dinner and breakfast + 10 laris for a lunch box.
Day 2: Parsma – Jvarboseli
Shortly after leaving Parsma, you’ll cross a bridge to the right and take the steep path towards the Nakaicho Pass. Without a doubt, this was the day with the most beautiful views. The pass offers a full panorama of the mountains around you. To reach the pass, you’ll have to gain 1,000 meters in elevation and then walk 1,100 meters down to Verkhovani.
Our plan was to stay overnight in Verkhovani. However, the town was empty because all its inhabitants had moved to Alvani, where they would spend the winter. We kept walking for about 15 minutes and got to the next town: Jvarboseli. There we stayed in Posholi Guest House. The owner didn’t speak any English, but she was very nice and at the end (with the help of Google Translate), we understood each other pretty well.
The price: 70 laris for accommodation, dinner and breakfast.
Day 3: Jvarboseli – Omalo
The trail runs along a dusty road for most of this day. The views were not amazing, although the last part of the trail was quite beautiful. The image of Upper Omalo, along with its medieval towers nestled on top of a sharp hill, was pretty epic.
The best part of the day came when we arrived at the hostel. I’d made a few good friends on this trek, so I spent the last night at their hostel: Nazo Guest House. The Nazo family treated us very well! We had dinner with the family, the grandma, the neighbor … we ate a lot, we drank wine and chacha like crazy, we chatted, we practiced Georgian and we laughed a lot! It was a very nice experience!
THIRD STAGE: LEAVING OMALO
Leaving Omalo is relatively easy. People are traveling to Alvani and other cities every day. Ask at your hostel and they should get you transport pretty quickly.
What gear do you need?
Because you’ll be staying in guest houses, you won’t need to bring camping gear on this trail. You’ll need to bring only a lightweight backpack, hiking clothing, hygiene products, a first aid kit and little else. Check out the following gear list:
– Trekking backpack
– Mountain boots
– Convertible pants
– Breathable T-shirt
– Down jacket
– Rain jacket
– Filtered water bottle
– GPS watch
Tips for traveling to Tusheti
– Bring all the money you need from Tbilisi because Tusheti has no ATMs.
– If you are traveling alone, try to find some hiking buddies in Omalo.
– Choose a lightweight backpack. You won’t need to bring many things.
– Remember to bring a GPS device or download a GPS app for your phone.
– Don’t drink too much chacha the day before you start the trek.
Have you enjoyed this guide to Travel and Hiking in Tusheti? Leave a comment!
Hi, I’m Miguel; Adventure traveler, scuba diver and hiking lover. I have been traveling the world for the last 7 years and I hope my experiences, photos and hiking routes inspire you to travel the world too.