Looking for a hiking trail in Georgia? Visit Tusheti National Park. Atsunta-Shatili Trail is Georgias one of the most popular hiking destination. It is 74 km long and takes 4-5 days to finish. On the trail you will see gorgeous traditional Tusheti villages, cross 3500 m high Atsutna mountain pass and enjoy being in real wild nature.
Tusheti is really remote area high up in the mountains, nature is pristine and genuine, not ruined by the the tourists. Local people – Tushs – are extra hospitable and sincere, you may found yourself unexpectedly sitting and drinking wine or cha cha (grape spirit) with them.
For me this hiking trail is especially memorable: it was my first of many long distance hikes.
This trail will take you through 5 Tushetian villages, you will follow the old shepherd’s path over the mountain pass.
If you have time, I really reccommend to to 1 day detour in the beginning of the trail. Visit Shenako and Diklo villages and Old Diklo fortress ruins. Roundtour is 11 km long and takes around 5 hours. You can leave your bags in Omalo village.
Although you can reach Dartlo village via Shenako, I do not reccommend doing Omalo-Shenako-Dartlo shortcut. It is dangerous as the trail is not marked and there are thousands of sheeps guarded by unfriendly Caucasian shepherd dogs (there can be up to 10 dogs together).
OMALO-SHATILI HIKING TRAIL
- Location: Georgia, Tusheti National Park.
- Lenght: 74 km.
- Duration: 4-5 days.
- When to go: from June to August. Roads are opened and maintained from May till October.
- Start point: Omalo village in Tusheti region.
- End point: Shatili village in Khevsureti region.
- Overnight stay: in tent.
- Supply points: Omalo village, Dartlo village, Shatili village.
- Trail marking: none, you have to rely on your GPS or on the map.
- Highlights: Medieval defence towers, churches, sacred areas, Alazani river, Atsunta mountain pass, pristine nature, mountain crystals, sheep herds, panoramic views, alpine meadows
GOOD TO KNOW:
- 🛒 There are no shops in Tusheti! 🛒 But you can buy home cooked meals from most of the guesthouses. There is a little bakery in Upper Omalo village where you can buy fresh bread (puri). You can also buy some hiking food (canned food) and cooking gas from Hostel Tishe in Lower Omalo village.
- 📜 Buy the hiking map from Tbilisi 📜 I reccommend Geoland map shop, they have really good choice of Georgian trekking maps.
- 🛂 Bring your passport! 🛂 As you will be hiking in the border area, you will need to register yourself. You can do it near Grevi village at the border guards’ building. Fill in a registration form there and repeat it in Muco village near Shatili.
- 🏞 Be prepared for the lack of hiking infratsructure 🏞 The trail is not marked, so make sure you have enough batteries for your GPS or power banks for your smart phone to follow GPX track. There are no designated camp spots. In the mountains it may be hard to find a flat place to put your tent, so I do not reccommend doing this trail quicker than 4 days. Be aware that there are no public trash cans on the way.
- Mainly Russian is spoken by the locals, but some of them can speak a little English.
- ⛪ Respect shrines and holy places ⛪ In some parts, it is traditionally prohibited for women to enter sacred places and tombs. Some of these places are marked with bounds but some are not. Please don’t tent is such places, it would be great assault for locals.
- 🍖 Do not bring pork to Tusheti 🍖 Respect local beliefs and leave it at home. When I asked about the background of this rule then one local man told me that long time ago Tushetians believed that their god appeared as a wild boar, so you wouldn’t want to eat a meat of a god. Or would you? It can also be influence from Muslims.
- 💧⚡ The weather can change fast ⚡💧 so be prepared properly, even on short hikes (bring your warm clothes and rain clothes).
- 🚶♂️🐎 You can hire a guide and a horse 🚶♂️🐎 (to carry your gear) from Tusheti National Park’s Visitor Centre which is situated before the Lower Omalo village. Or talk with some guesthouse owner.
- 🐕 Be aware of Caucasian Shepherd dogs! 🐕 Especially when they are near the sheep herd. They might attack you! It is better to move with bigger group and stay together. Locals told me that when dog is approaching, you should get a stone from the ground (or pretend picking it) and aim the dog with it. It is also good idea to carry a stick and shout on attacking dog. I reccommend to avoid sheep herds with big circle and when dogs are approaching you, just stand still like a post, look down and hold your hands around you. You have to do this although your instincts tell you to run. This helped me out!
- 💧 No need to carry big drinking water supply 💧 You will cross many drinking water sources (mountain streams and springs) along the way.
Dusty road to Tusheti takes you high up to the mountains. According to the BBC, it is one of the worlds most dangerous roads, so it is an experience in itself. Amazing, breathtaking views are guaranteed. You will also cross 2850 m high Abano Pass.
This road is open only from May to October, as the summer season is short. During winter it is closed because of heavy snowfalls. Road can also be closed due to heavy rainfalls or landslides. So sometimes it might be tricky to get there.
how to get to start point – OMALO VILLAGE?
From Tbilisi you first need to get to Zemo Alvani village, which is at the foot of Greater Caucasus mountain ridge. This is the last big village where you can buy the food from the shop before heading up to the mountains. There are no shops in Tusheti! So be prepared.
To get to Alvani you need to take a minibus (marshutka) from Ortachala bus station in Tbilisi. It is 2 hours drive and will cost you around 7 GEL, bus departs around 9:00 in the morning.
As there is no public transportation to Omalo, you need to hire a driver from Alvani village. When it is a season, they wait in front of the shops here. 4×4 jeep hire costs 200-300 GEL (2017 year), this sum will be divided between passengers, so maybe you can find someone else to join you. Be there before the noon.
Road from Alvani village to Omalo is only 80 km long, but it will take great amount of time: 4-5 hours. I strongly reccommend to use services of local drivers as the road itself is quite dangerous and unpaved + weather can change quickly. Once I started travelling when the sun was shining, but then thick white fog sneaked in and the visibility was only 2-3 meters ahead.
Don’t forget to get out of the car and enjoy the highest point on the way – 2850 meters high Abano pass.
How to get back FROM SHATILI to Tbilisi?
From Shatili you can take a minibus to Tbilisi or hire a taxi. Buses go to Tbilisi twice a week. Last information that I read, said that bus departs from Shatili only on Thursdays and Sundays. With bus it is 5-6 hours ride.
Taxi can cost around 300 GEL (in 2017). If you want to order one, then ask assistance from the guesthouses or from local people.
On the way to Tbilisi you will cross 2676 m high Dtavis Jari pass, ask the driver to stop there. If you take a local bus, they will stop. Plus bus driver will make small breaks on the way at little shops, where you can buy some food or water.
⛺ MY HIKING REPORT⛺
I completed Omala-Shatili trail in 2015. It took me 4 days. I was hiking with my German friend Greta, her two friends and with two guys (one Spanish and other German piano player) that decided to join us. We had a local guide called Gocha and two horses – to carry our gear. I decided to carry my own gear.
Unfortunately our guide didn’t speak any Russian nor English so we didn’t get precious info about surroundings.
If you need, then before the hike you can visit Tusheti National Park’s Visitors Centre to ask some information and hire a guide or horses. They have hiking maps, but those are primitive and can not be used for navigation.
Visitor Centre is opened every day and there is a small exhibiton about Tusheti inside + you can enjoy home cooked meal or Turkish coffee in cafeteria. You can also refill your bottles (ask for it) and if necessary stay a night in designated camping area (for a little cost).
1st Day Omalo village-Girevi village 14,1 km “Gorgeous villages and tent horrors”
We started our hike from Tusheti center – Omalo village. Actually there are two separate villages – Lower Omalo (Kvemo Omalo) and Upper Omalo (Zemo Omalo). In old times one was used during the winter time and the other during summer. So locals had two houses.
On the first day you will pass by five villages – Omalo, Dartlo, Chesho, Pharsma and Girevi. In Upper Omalo you should definetely visit Keselo Fortress: medieval defence towers that are thousands of years old. They were reconstructed with the help of foreign voulnteers.
From Omalo to Dartlo we followed a dusty car road. On the way to Dartlo you can use some short cuts thorugh the forest. On the way you will pass by Ghele meadow, the meeting place of the elders of local communities.
Every Tushetian village has it own face. Houses are built in Tushetian style: massive dark buildings built with thin shale stones layed on top of each other. Roofs are traditionally also made from same stilt stones. Nowadays houses are decorated with handicraft lacy wooden balconies.
Certainly there are one or more fortification towers in the villages, which age reaches thousands of years. These towers are far seen and, with good luck, you can also peek inside.
Omalo and Pharsma villages are located on the mountain side, while Dartlo and Girevi are located in the valley near the river.
Girevi village is last inhabited village in the Pirikita Alazani valley. So you can either stay in the guesthouse or tent at the meadow. Me and German guy decided to stay in a tent, others stayed in the guesthouse to use last chance to stay in cozy beds and enjoy plentiful meal. I prepared food on a alcohol stove.
At night the wind rose and heavy rain started, the tent was flapping so strong in the wind, that I had the feeling that it will fly away every moment. Dark night was lightened by lightning. I had the feeling that the tent is going to be immediately struct by it. I was ready to take my things and escape the tent every moment.
Finally this storm ended and we could fell asleep.
2nd Day Girevi village-Kvakhidi valley 14,1 km “Good bye civilization & border control”
On the second hiking day, we went from Girevi village to border control building. As the hiking trail is really close to Russian border, you need to fill in registration form in order to get permit to hike there.
When yesterday we were following mainly car road, today we started following narrow foot path, which leaded us from the river valley to the side of the mountain. “Good bye civilisation”, I said, as Girevi village dissappeared from my sight and pristine nature came in.
The trail mostly traverses through alpine meadows high above the river, but from time to time it descends also into the river gorge.
There were two or free streams or rivers that we had to cross on the way, some of them you can cross with the help of the wooden bridge. We crossed deeper streams with the help of horses, so our feet didn’t get wet.
We spent our second night at the Kvakhidi meadow near the river in the tents.
Kvakhidi camp is at 2400 m.
3rd Day Kvakhidi valley-Khidotani ridge 15 km “Dried river bed, wet feet, difficult ascent, fog & sunshine”
On the third day, we knew that it is going to be most demanding and amazing part of hike. We looked forward crossing 3500 m high Atsunta pass, a natural border between Tusheti and Khevsureti region.
On the way we had to cross rivers or streams multiple times, sometimes by wooden foot bridge (shaky and handmade), other times by just walking through and at deeper parts we used the help of horses.
What was also special this day was that we could walk in the middle of dried riverbed.
Ascend to the Atsunta mountain pass is challenging: from mountain meadows you will ascend 1000 meters on steep narrow road. This ascend is 1 km long.
When we started our journey, it was sunshine but when we got higher thick white fog, moisture and strong wind sneaked in. Shale stones got really slippery. As I said, weather can change very quickly.
As it was my first mountain hike, this ascend was the hardest from my experience, but luckily I have good stamina, so for extra motivation I put my iPod on and moved on.
We expected to see scenic and breathtaking views from the pass, but when we finally had climbed up, fog was covering everything. At least I had a feeling of accomplishment.
And then came my favourite part. Descends have always been easier for me, I felt like mountain goat while running down the slope. I even got ahead of our guide. Then, few minutes later, fog dissappeared, sun came out and finally I got those great views.
We spent our night near little stream and enjoyed panoramic views of high mountains. You can see 4500 m high Mt. Tebulo, the highest mountain of Tusheti.
4th Day Khidotani ridge- Shatili village 19,5 km “River, mountain cristals and fortress villages”
We started our day with steep descend down to Konichala valley, then we followed narrow trail near the river or on the slopes of the mountain. When we arrived to the first village named Konichala, we found one little boy standing and selling real mountain crystals. 1 crystal costed 1 GEL (25 euro cents). I bought two crystals and later on my dream came true: I found a mountain crystal all by myself.
Near Muco village you need to register again in the border control building.
After this you can make a break to visit Muco medievil fortress on the slopes of steep mountain. The legend says that somewhere around Muco village’s holy icon, a big treasure is hidden and only a person, chosen by divine powers, can find it.
3 hours later, we finally reached our hike’s destination: Shatili village. It is medieval fortress-settlement with around 60 defence towers, that are all connected with secret tunnels or bridges. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There were two guetshouse towers, I decided to sleep in one of them.
On the last day I felt that I had hurted my right knee, it still hurts sometimes. I regret not using the hiking poles. So if you want to prevent too much strain on your knees, use hiking poles.
Have you visited Tusheti or done this trail? Did you like it? If you have any questions, please write me in comments and I try to answer them 😉