The Georgian Adventure - Hike to Chalaadi Glacier

Our third, and last hike in Svaneti. There are so many more places to hike and explore around Georgia, it was a hard decision to prematurely leave Svaneti.

From our guesthouse, it is 5km to the bridge at the start of the Chalaadi Glacier trek. It is possible to start the trek from our guesthouse, but we chose to be dropped off at the bridge because the 5km trek didn't seem particularly exciting. Half of this road was busy with construction for a hydro power plant (!!), and muddy from heavy vehicles traversing in and out.

The entire trek was an easy 4 hours hike, return. Needless to say, it was another pretty trail. All of the treks we have embarked on: the trek off Mezari, The Cross halfway to the Koruldi Lakes, and the Chalaadi Glacier are all fascinating in their own, unique beauty. Mezari was more alpine forest, The Cross picturesque with its rolling hills filled with wildflowers; and the Chalaadi Glacier... well, you'll see.

Start of trek towards Chalaadi Glacier.

Rushing river on one side, and a mossy forest on the other.

Towards the end of the hike - the Chalaadi Glacier. The were small, loose stones as we trekked upwards towards the white patch ("this must be the glacier", we thought...)

What we thought were small hills, we found out later after scaling them, are in fact the actual goddamn glacier! Mindblown!

THAT. Is the Glacier. We didn't realise it, until we scoured the place and went to the mouth of the glacier where the melting ice and snow have formed a fast moving river.

Only a wide angle lens could show the extent of its majestic beauty, but this was taken on a phone. I have deposited the DSLR safely before climbing to the mouth of the glacier, hehe. 

I got nervous and freaked out when Vinnie went really close to the gap under the glacier. Even as we took photos, loose stones and chunks of ice tumbled from the "hill" and splashed into the river. It gave me a chill, and that wasn't from the cold. 

(1-2 months after this trek, a Georgian trek group we followed on Facebook posted a death of a hiker on this very site - due to a large rock that had dislodged and killed him on the spot....RIP, fellow adventurer)

We spent a good 30-40 minutes just admiring the site before leaving the glacier. Our good host/driver even had some cherries waiting for us in the car when we finished the trek, it was a great end to an exquisite hike. 

The Georgian Adventure - Hike To The Cross (Koruldi Lakes)

After our scare on Mezari with insufficient food and water, this time we came prepared. We asked for packed lunch from our guesthouse (they only packed us, each, a kachapuri, an apple, a whole cucumber and a whole tomato..... we took the kachapuri and apple).

This trail starts from Mestia, so marshrutkas and non-English speaking drivers are unnecessary :) From the town centre to the start of trail took 10-15 minutes, with us taking a wrong route and doubling back.

This hike was rated "Difficult", with steep gradients averaging 11-12%. To me, the most challenging part was getting a solid footing on the loose stones. At particularly slippy areas, I had to get down on all fours otherwise I would fall splat on my face! This was while ascending - can you imagine the terrors of going DOWN the slippery slope?!

This is another beautiful trail in Georgia (all of them are, really!), and still very different from Mazeri. In Mazeri, the highlights were the alpine forest, here we have vast rolling hills, and quaint wooded forest complete with stiles - scenes straight out of children's storybook. The day itself was pleasant for hiking - cloudy, with drizzles of rain.

The Cross is a halfway point to the Koruldi Lakes. Total hiking time to the Koruldi lakes is estimated 7-8 hours. Most opt to camp in Koruldi Lakes for a night and head back the next day.

We met this Ukrainian couple who are set to camp for the hike to Koruldi Lakes. 

The hike took us 3.5 hours one way (done leisurely as we went off-trail to photograph, should be faster for some) to reach The Cross. 

Panorama at The Cross. The base of the actual Cross is taller than my head! I had wanted to do a pole pose on it, hehe but couldn't even reach the pole. Here, you get a great bird's eye view of Mestia town. At this point, it started pouring heavily. We sought shelter under a viewpoint structure -with a stray dog that followed us up the hike. We shared our kachapuri with the dog (it seemed to enjoy the bread). It got colder from the rain, and we decided to start our dreaded descend - which took another 3.5 hours, for a total of 7 hours hiking time. This being our longest hike in Georgia. 

The Georgian Adventure - Mazeri & Ushba Waterfall Hike

Can anywhere else be prettier than the stunning Mazeri?!


From Mestia town, we hired a marshrutka - comes with a driver who barely speaks a word of English. No problem, we thought. We only needed to send the "Mazeri" message across. The drive is approximately 30-40 minutes and we were charged 100 GEL (~USD42) for a return trip. It's a fair rate as it includes waiting time for us to finish hiking.

(In all our marshrutka rides, we did not attempt to bargain. All of them priced the rides accordingly, and thus far, we've not met any crooks who overcharge us. Let's hope Georgia retains its honest tourism!)

On the way out, we realized a huge mistake on our part: we were hardly prepared for the hike! We expected to purchase some chocolate bars and drinking water from nearby Mazeri town, but as we approached the start of the trek, we realized the nearest village is going to be another 15-20 minutes drive. We got annoyed at ourselves, it was getting late, and we are missing precious time we could be outdoors. 

We gestured to our driver that we needed water, and he signalled back that he can bring us to a nearby water source where we can fill our bottles. We came to a little water well, and our driver proceeded to fill up his bottle. I took a sip, and just couldn't swallow, so I spat it out. It's fizzy, and tasted a lot like sparkling water - something I cannot stomach. "Borjomi!", he exclaimed proudly, naming one of Georgia's biggest drinking water regions. 

Frustrated, we tried to relay to him that we needed to head to town to stock up. We called Davit, a Georgian who we have been consulting for hiking advice, to translate our needs. Davit informed us that there is a military outpost 30-40 minutes into the hike where we can fill up our bottles with mountain spring water. What a relief!

On the drive from Mazeri, towards the Ushba Glacier hike. We were already wowed by the view from the car - beautiful alpine forest, complete with snow capped mountains.

Every turn unveils a jaw-dropping sight. Tall alpine forests towered over us, only to be dwarfed by mammoth snow-capped mountains. Rumbling streams rushed past us and the thundering of waterfalls could be heard from a distance.

The trail continues on to the Ushba Glacier, which requires a full day hike. We'd started out late, with insufficient water and food. We have to give the Glacier a miss, but the waterfalls halfway into the trail more than make up for it.

30 minutes into the hike, we found the military outpost. Here we gratefully refilled our water supplies (crisp, fresh mountain spring water) and politely refused an invitation for cha-cha (Georgian vodka) from the militants on duty, hehe.

Another 10-15 minutes hike later, we diverged from the main trail and trekked towards the waterfalls.

We spent a good 15-20 minutes just snapping photos, and basking in the view. I am still in awe of such view! I fear my photos do not do justice to the beauty of this place. The intensity of the panaroma is diluted on a 2-dimensional photo.

It started drizzling, and we decided to move before the rain gets worse. Cameras + water = not a good combination!

Good thing we left when we did: 

An ominous-looking cloud that poured heavily 5 minutes after this shot was taken.

The Georgian Adventure - Ushguli, Svaneti

Svaneti is a region north of Georgia, forming part of the Caucasus range. It is easily one of the most beautiful places I've been. We spent 5 days just in this region, exploring and hiking different trails each day. 

This remote area is home to majestic mountain ranges of over 4000 meters high, ruins of old defense towers, rolling valleys and flower-speckled fields. Due to its location, access is confined to warmer seasons. In the old days, treasures are hidden here for safe keeping, due to its difficult access.

Getting to Mestia, the largest town in Svaneti, wasn't very straightforward. From Tbilisi, we took an overnight sleeper train to Zugdidi - a first for me on a sleeper train!

The train looks old, but we were given clean sheets for the "bunk" and pillow. It is tight squeeze for V, but serves me fine, hehe. There's a door on every sleeper unit for privacy. Slept through the night, and woke up to stretches of green valleys!

Out of focus, but you get the idea.

From Zugdidi, we took a marshrutka (a shared taxi/minivan) onwards to Mestia. The marshrutka was filled to the brim with 12 travellers, plus luggages. Our bags had to be stowed on the roof of the marshrutka, which got me nervous.

The driver sped on the road, and 10 minutes into the drive, the rear doors opened suddenly and several luggages fell onto the road. Our vehicle screeched to a stop, bags were reloaded and we continued the journey as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.

Still, views were gorgeous as we approach Mestia.

It was 10am once we arrived Mestia. That's 8 hours on the train, and 4 hours on the road. Our hosts picked us up and we settled into our guesthouse.

Georgian hospitality is a thing of legend. We were served nothing short of a feast at every meal in guesthouses. I do wonder, what happens to the leftovers? We could only manage to finish half of this!

Kachapuri, chicken salad, bread, tomato and cucumber slices, cheeses, fish stew, apples, banana cake and plum juice!

At Mestia town centre, several marshrutkas stood idle with its destination written on cardboard propped on dashboards. It takes 2.5 hours to Ushguli, and costs 150 GEL total. English is not commonly spoken, especially further away from the city. As it will be difficult to communicate with the driver, it may be worth to hire an English-speaking guide. 

I love fruits stalls. How can you resist taking photos of this myriad of colours??

2.5 hours of bumpy, potholed winding roads and driving over streams...

That white block with brown specks is a little glacier!

Our hike towards Shkara Glacier -

We did not finish the hike, as we only have 3-4 hours daylight left, even during the long summer days.

Old defense tower with Mount Shkara in the background.

Small village Ushguli.

Mount Shkara.

Wild flowers - aren't they just so pretty!

Ushguli was just the tip of the glacier, next we ventured to Mazeri, a jaw-droppingly gorgeous alpine forest mountain. 

The Georgian Adventure - Hike to Chalaadi Glacier

Our third, and last hike in Svaneti. There are so many more places to hike and explore around Georgia, it was a hard decision to premature...