Tusheti is one of the remotest regions of Georgia. It is also one of the most spectacular areas. It is a protected area located in the heart of the mountains of the Great Caucasus, five hours from civilization by a mind-blowing highway that can only be travelled in a SUV from June to October when the snow has melted. It is considered one of the most dangerous roads in Europe and its risk is comparable to its beauty.
The road passes through thrilling landscapes, intact forests, precipices taking your breath away, and the mountain pass of Abano at 9500 feet tall. Its isolation has protected Tusheti from changes, and the ancestral traditions of its inhabitants are preserved until today and are almost untouched.
Tusheti occupies a 9 square meters area and it ranges from 5413 and 14740 feet tall. It serves as a northern border, separating Georgia from Dagestan and Chechnya. Little by little, it has become one of the favorite destinations for mountain lovers. However, it is not yet overcrowded and it offers routes for all tastes and physical conditions. Tusheti is known for its local breed horse.
The local horse is small but fast and is extremely tough. There are several places where equestrian excursions are organized during the day or several days at affordable prices. There are also some travel agencies in Tbilisi that organize SUV tours to the area.
This part of Georgia is divided into five areas composed of various peoples: Pirikiti, Gometsri, Tsovali, Chanchakhovani, and Chagmi. The most important settlement is Omalo, which is divided into the lower part and the upper part. Only a few hundred people live there, but it offers an appropriate range of accommodation with B&B, mountain hotels, and homestays available.
Another of the most visited places is Dartlo. There is a good network of shelters in local families throughout the Tusheti territory. So if you do not have tents, you don’t have to worry about it.
Typically, it is a pretty safe area and its people tend to be very hospitable. The only thing scary we can think of is coming across a shepherd dog because they are very territorial.
It is possible to get lost in this area. Some trails are badly marked and the maps are not too precise. Therefore, the first thing you have to do is go through the Visitor Service Office and you should clear up all doubts. In Tusheti, there are no shops or supermarkets, so if you plan to trek here for several days and explore the routes on your own, do not forget to bring supplies.
How to Get to Tusheti?
You can only get to Tusheti by SUV from the beginning of June until October when the snow has already melted. It takes about five hours to travel the 56 miles of high roads that separate Alvani from Omalo. There are SUVs every day leaving from the main intersection of Alvani heading towards Omalo for a price of 200-250 GEL (if you go alone, join a group so you can share the expenses).
Make sure that the driver knows every inch of the road. To get to Alvani, there are daily minibusses from Ortachala to Tbilisi station and also from Telavi. Unless you are an experienced driver, you should not drive to Tusheti. It is one of the most dangerous roads in Europe.
The distant Tusheti was always an area of refuge for people who did not want to be found, such as the exiles of blood feuds between families or fugitives from justice. In the fourth century, some pagan tribes from northern Kartli who resisted converting to Christianity also hid in these valleys.
The first historical evidence of Tusheti’s people dates from the time of the mythical King Parnavaz (3rd century B.C.) and the oldest written reference belongs to the Greek geographer Ptolemy a century later. The area remained uncorrupted to the doctrine of the cross until in the eighth century when the royal power began to preach the new doctrine by these summits.
Its inhabitants were always the first line of defense of northern Georgia. From the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, Tushetians became famous for their military heroic deeds against the Chechen and Dagestani Muslims. A local legend tells that in 1695, after having won the Battle of Bakhtrioni against the Persians, the king wanted to reward the Tushetians for their bravery.
A ranger called Zezva Gaprindauli asked him to thank them by giving them as much land as his horse could cover at a gallop in the Aloni valley. Tradition has it that the animal ran like the wind from the castle of Bakhtrioni to Tahtibogiri and then died exhausted. Tushetians still remember the equine hero with a mixture of gratitude and pride.
What to See in Tusheti?
Alpine forests, feudal villages lost among mountains, natural waterfalls, fast-moving rivers, and more. Tusheti is the Caucasus in its purest form and it is full of routes and open-air alternatives. You should stop by the Visitor Center in the Omalo village and prepare for the adventure.
This town, with only a few hundred inhabitants, is the most important center of the area, and it is usually the starting point of any excursion. There are a few small and very basic mountain hotels, B & B, and houses. The upper part of the town (Zemo Omalo) has a magnificent set of medieval towers (keseloebi).
Shenako, which has a small Orthodox church, is an hour and a half of walking down east. But what you can not miss is visiting the village of Dartlo. It is four hours of walking (9 miles) and its towers and fortress houses make you think that the time stopped here in the Middle Ages.
It is located in the heart of the community of Pirikiti and there is some other accommodation if you want to stay overnight. Camping is free throughout Tusheti.
Here we have some routes that we did on our own, although the tourist office will give you more alternatives and they can clear all your doubts about your chosen routes:
- Omalo-Dartlo: This is an uncomplicated route of about 9 miles. It goes through a dirt roadway while a Jeep occasionally passes through there. If you feel up to it and you have time, you can go back to Omalo, or you can stay and sleep in a Dartlo B & B. You can explore the abandoned town that is right on top in Dartlo. You can have a picnic by the river as well or lie down at the banks to take it easy just enjoy the waters in front of you.
- Dartlo-Parsma: you can continue the adventure from Dartlo. The road goes up to Parsma, passing through the village of Chesho. It’s a much wilder Tusheti out here. Chechnya is on the other side of the mountains. There is a dirt road and you will have to cross some streams. You should get maps of the area at the visitor station. If you get up early, you can get from Parsma to Alisgori on the same day by crossing the mountain (9842 feet) from north to south. But you should not do this unless you know how to orientate yourself well and you are a mountaineer with some experience. The trails are very badly signposted and it is sometimes confusing. We almost got lost and nightfall came quickly.
This is the biggest Tusheti festival and the best time to visit the area. It is celebrated one hundred days after Easter and it lasts two weeks. During that time, the locals go to their sanctuaries and they organize family meals. The sale of typical Tusheti carpets is very typical here.
People show a lot of affection and it is likely that if they see you, they invite you to the table with them. As in other mountain areas of the Greater Caucasus, the typical thing here is to drink beer. The final crowning glory of Atnigenoba is its famous horse race through the mountains.
Visitor Center of Tusheti
Address: lower part of the village of Omalo
Opening Hours: from June to October from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Phone: +995 5 77 10 18 92/ +995 5 77 90 72 72
They offer information on accommodation, transportation, and mountaineering routes. There is also a small museum opened in 2009 there. They rent mountain equipment (tents, binoculars), bicycles, and they will help you reserve accommodation, transport, or hire horses.
Caucasus Trekking Company
Phone: + 995 599 075 195 (From April to October)/ +33 617 12 15 61 (rest of the year)
They specialize in horse riding and hiking through Tusheti and Khevsureti. The business belongs to Audrey, a French woman who lives half the year in Tusheti, and Gia, a local who knows every inch of this land. They speak French and English. You have to book in advance. For more information: www.caucasus-trek.com
Accommodations In Omalo
Phone: +995 555 71 69 69 // +995 5 99 23 11 32
Facebook: Tusheti hotel
This is a wooden hotel with solar energy on the outskirts of Omalo. There are double rooms for individual use (50 GEL), double (60 GEL) and superior (70 GEL). Prices include breakfast and dinner. The bathrooms are shared.
Guesthouse Tushuri Koshki
Phone: +995 5 99 27 22 65
This guesthouse is located at the top of Omalo. This traditional architecture tower house offers three double rooms and one triple room with a private bathroom. It also has a dining room with a fireplace and a lounge. The place is simple but very cozy. Prices per person: 25 GEL (only accommodation), 40 GEL (with breakfast) and 50 GEL (half board).
Nazo Guest House
Phone: +995 5 57 63 63 50 (Natia)
Prices per person: 20 GEL (only accommodation), 40 GEL (half board), 50 GEL (full board)
This is an accommodation in the lower part of the village of Omalo in a typical Tushetian family house. It has solar energy and food in the area. There are three triple rooms and one single room available. Natia, the daughter, speaks quite acceptable English.
The house is quite simple and the toilets consist of a wooden hut in the garden with a small hole. It is not very comfortable but it is part of the experience.
Mirgvela Guest House
Phone: +995 5 77 61 36 84
Prices: 20-50 GEL (depending on the type of pension)
This accommodation is one of the best options in terms of quality-price balance. It is a wooden family hotel / B & B with a capacity of 30 people. It offers rooms of different types, with or without a private bathroom. Spectacular views. The hotel is about 3 miles from Omalo, at the fork to Dartlo. They organize horse riding and they have their own SUV. If you want to make a reservation, go to www.booking.com
Medium Price Lodging
Guest House Shina
Phone: +995 5 97 170707/+995 5 95 26 20 46
This is a B & B and mountain lodge that occupies a typical stone house that has been recently remodeled. The rooms are comfortable and they have their own private bathroom. It’s in the upper part of Omalo. There is a large living room with a fireplace perfect for relaxing after a day of walking on the first floor. The price of the double room varies from 100 to 140 GEL, depending on the type of room. For more information: www.shina.ge
Accommodation in Dartlo
This is a typical mountain house with rooms of different types, located at the entrance of the village. They open from June to September. From 25 to 50 GEL per person (depending on the type of room). You can make a reservation through Booking.
Accommodation in Khakhabo
Phone: +995 5 57 14 39 07
It belongs to Giorgi Bakuridze, the person in charge of the information point of the park. He speaks English perfectly and he knows every inch of the area. Nice views. Single, double, and triple rooms. Price: from 20 to 50 GEL (depending on the type of alimony).
Accommodation in Alisgori
Phone: +995 5 99 77 55 43
This is a wooden house on the banks of the Dinane Alasani River. It offers four double rooms and has its own museum, with typical Tusheti objects. Pati, the owner, always walks with a smile on her lips and she is a very good cook. Although she does not speak English, she is quickly understood. Comfortable rooms and spectacular views. Price per person: 20-50 GEL (depending on the type of room).