"Mestia--Svaneti Region" Mestia by terrycowan

Mestia Travel Guide: 26 reviews and 87 photos

Svaneti is the most remote region of Georgia--hard to reach, but well worth the effort. Mestia is the capital of the province and the only town of any size. Deep in theCaucasus Mountains, Svaneti is noted for the unique 12-Century stone towers that dot the hillsides. These 5-6 story towers were originally built as defense against invaders, fueding clans and rockslides. Today, most are still owned by the same families who built them 900 years ago. The scenery in Svaneti is unlike any other.

Traveling to Svaneti presents some difficulties, and should not be attempted without proper planning. There is basically one road into the province. The impossibly narrow, twisting road follows the raging Enguri River further and further into the mountains. It is snowbound much of the year, and constant maintenance is required the rest of the year to move rockslides and repair where the road is sluffing off into the river valley. Although Ladas and Marshrutkas can drive as far as Mestia, a 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommend. The drive from Zugdidi to Mestia takes 5 hours. Ushguli, at the end of the road, is another 3 1/2 hours past Mestia.

There is a helicopter which flies several times a week from Tbilisi to Mestia. This may not be as good an option for the visitor as it first seems. It seems that preference is given to Svanetians on the helicopter, so seating is not assured.

Also, while Mestia is at the heart of the region, is home to a number of towers, as well as an excellent museum, it is not the most scenic part of the region. If you are taking the trouble to see Svaneti, you should venture on past Mestia to Ushguli. A car and driver would have to be hired in Mestia for the trip anyway. Also, there are no hotels or cafes, even in Mestia. The only option is homestays. Then there is the language barrier. To most Svans, Georgia is their second language. They speak the Svan dialect among themselves. Finding someone who speaks anything else, save perhaps Russian, would be difficult.

Finally, there is still (apparently) a problem with some good-natured banditry of tourists. Those venturing in the region alone could fall prey to this sort of thing. I heard of an American who was robbed shortly before I arrived.

The solution, while perhaps a budget-buster for some, is to arrange a tour. Tour agencies out of Tbilisi will arrange for a car, driver and guide, as well as homestays in Mestia and Ushguli, and all meals. Significantly, they also provide an accompanying jeep with 3 commandos, armed with submachine guns--just in case. I was surprised to see them, but was assured it was standard procedure for tourists in Svaneti to prevent robbery. Caucasus Travel is one of the agencies that has much experience in Svaneti tourism.

  • Last visit to Mestia: Jun 2006
  • Intro Written Jul 10, 2006
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Reviews (9)

Comments (5)

  • prleprle's Profile Photo
    Aug 29, 2007 at 11:30 AM

    Amazing! I really enjoyed all your Georgian pages.. hope that you will build more one day. Great places.. and great job!

  • victorwkf's Profile Photo
    Sep 10, 2006 at 3:10 AM

    Mestia is a remote but beautiful place! Hope to be able to visit georgia one day :)

  • ellielou's Profile Photo
    Aug 19, 2006 at 3:04 PM

    how I wish I had the time and the money to make it up there...thanks for building these pages!

  • josephescu's Profile Photo
    Aug 12, 2006 at 4:15 PM

    excellent indeed! can't wait to see it with my own eyes

  • mikarov99's Profile Photo
    Jul 31, 2006 at 1:51 AM

    Nice page of Svaneti, is my dream go here. i consider go in three years to visit georgia. And visit here but need wait for it :(

terrycowan

“"It's great to be at home in a region, even this one." Flannery O'Connor”

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