Tusheti - everything you need to know to visit the hidden hiking paradise in the Northern Caucasus
Key information at a glance
|Budget:||100 GEL/person to get there and back again, 120GEL/person/day for accomodation incl. breakfast and dinner|
|How long to stay:||min. 3 days; 5 if you are up for one of the longer hikes|
|Best time to travel:||June-September; it is dangerous to travel Tusheti in late autumn and early spring and impossible during winter|
|Top sights:||Road over the Abano pass; Zemo (upper) Omalo; Kesolo Fortress; Dartlo|
|How to get there:||Hiking, if you plan in several days; self-drive, if you have an appropriate car and the required driving skills; taxi|
What to do: Must sees in Tusheti
Drive over the Abano pass
The only way in and out of Tusheti is the infamous Abano pass. Infamous because it is a 70km long, unpaved road without any guardrails that has a long and sad history of fatal accidents. That being said, driving this pass on a marvellous, cloudless day, was one of the highlights of our entire trip through Georgia.
Once you gained some altitude, the views over the Northern Caucasus are simply stunning and make the drive itself a worthwhile adventure - if you take the necessary precautions. A good place to stop is the Abano Pass itself, which marks the highest point of the drive. It offers a great view from 2826 meters all the way to the Kakheti Plains.
Personally, we thought driving ourselves was an incredibly rewarding decision, but it depends very much on personal preference and your risk-taking ability. If you want to do this yourself, we highly recommend reading our in-depth guide to driving over the Abano Pass with your own car.
Alternatively, you can hire a taxi to get you to Omalo, the biggest village in Tusheti. It will cost around 30€ for a car or 25€ for a seat one way. Make sure to pick an appropriate taxi that has 4x4 and sufficient clearance. The drivers usually know the road by heart, but we still advise you to start early in the morning (8-9AM) to drive during the best light and when there is still little traffic. You will find taxis in Pshaveli, but it is probably easiest to ask the host at your accomodation to help you find one.
Explore the ancient village of Zemo Omalo
It isn’t too surprising that Upper Omalo (Zemo means “Upper”) is the part of Omalo that sits on the top of the hill, over Lower Omalo. It is definitely the more picturesque part of Omalo, given that most of the buildings still feature the characteristic, dark stone facades and the ancient Kesolo Fortress towers over the village.
Regardless of whether you are staying in Lower or Upper Omalo, getting to the upper village and the fortress is an easy walk and a perfect opportunity to calm down after the challenging drive over the pass. It is impossible to miss Kesolo, once you are in Upper Omalo. The Fortress has a few path through the towers and you have an excellent view from the top. Mind you, the Tushetians built their defence towers at the very edge of the cliff, so if you are suffering Vertigo, as I do, you might want to approach the edges carefully.
The towers could not be accessed when we were there, but two of them theoretically feature a museum. To be very honest, I am not sure whether I would have the stomach to climb into them (although they have been standing there for several hundred years).
Dive into Tusheti’s history visiting Dartlo
Dartlo is a beautiful, Tushetian village on top of the Didikhevi river. Similar to Omalo, it consists of a lower village and a fortress that sits quite a few meters on top of it. The village itself is not inhabited during the winter month - since 2014 its official census is 0. Nonetheless, there are a few guest houses and restaurants, which are a great place for hikers to catch their breaths while hiking the endless trails of Tusheti.
We highly recommend going there, for two reasons:
- All of the buildings are made from the dark stones that give the villages in Tusheti their typical, beautiful appearance
- The church of Dartlo is a Monument of National Importance. But don’t except a cathedral in the mountains - it has just enough stones left to not collapse at once. Accordion to Georgian officials, however, the church is about to be restored
There are two possibilities to get to Dartlo. Either, hiking 14km from Omalo, which will take you about 3.5 hours, or going there with your car or a taxi. The taxis that drive up to Omalo will offer further drives through the region and usually bring some additional petrol for that purpose. In case you take your own car, make sure to keep an eye on your petrol indicator. While obviously not being paved, the road to Dartlo is quite doable, especially given that you just drove the Abano Pass. Bear in mind though, that right before the village there is a river crossing.
Marvel at nature’s untouched beauty hiking the Northern Caucasus
If you are into hiking, Tusheti is for you. There is so many possibilities to explore the mountain ranges of the Northern Caucasus that we simply cannot name them all. There are blogs, however, that do. Let me just hint you at one possibility, that is fairly easy to do, yet immensely rewarding in terms of the views.
Half way between Omalo and Dartlo is a mountain ridge that can be easily accessed from the road. When you leave the forest for the second time and find yourself on a clearing with vast, green hills to your left, you are at the right spot. We just parked our car there and hiked straight to the ridge. It is pretty much impossible to miss the trail, as the ridge is always clearly visible in front of you. The ascent to it is quite steep, but the path itself goes in slopes and is very manageable. Once you are up, you can see Upper Omalo, Dartlo and many other villages as well as the higher peaks of the Caucasus. It is just stunning. We walked there for a bit, fully enjoying the majestic nature around us and returned when we had enough for that day.
Where to eat and drink: Basic, but authentic Georgian cusine
The possibilities to go out in Tusheti are very limited due to two reasons:
- Usually, you eat where you sleep. You might as well look for a different place to have dinner, but the guest houses are prepared and happy to provide you with a decent breakfast and dinner.
- Even more so during Covid, the possibilities to go out were reduced, as it just isn’t economic for the owners to keep the places open.
So we are down to two places we can reccomend to go out to:
- Wine Bar Odila Tusheti: Simple and lovely
- Café Samtsikhe: Right on top of the river with a beautiful view into the valley
Where to stay: Basic accomodation with Georgian hospitality
There are many guest houses in Lower and Upper Omalo as well as in Dartlo:
- Hotel Old Omalo: 85GEL/night
- Guest house Omalo: 85GEL/night
- Hotel Tusheti: 100GEL/night
- Guest House Shina: 120GEL/night
- GuestHouse Lasharai: 100GEL/night
- Guesthouse Sargiri: 100GEL/night
- Hotel Dartlo: 85GEL/night
- Hotel Kvavlo: 100GEL/night
3-Day Itinerary: Get a Good Measure of Tusheti
We considered the drive over the Abano Pass worth the entire trip to Tusheti already. Planning 3 days in Tusheti means that you spend only 1 full day there - if you rather need a few days to relax or want to spend more time exploring the region, head to the 5-Day Itinerary.
Day 1: Driving the Abano-Pass
Have an eye on the weather forecast, pick the best day of the week, and get on the road early. This will be one of the most remarkable adventures you have done so far. If you are planning to drive yourself, make sure to follow our detailed guide to self-driving over the Abano Pass.
After spending the morning in a car, the afternoon is ideal to get outside and move a bit. We recommend to hike to the ridge that separates the valleys in which Omalo and Dartlo are, respectively. Have a look at the Must-Sees in this article, where the path is described in detail!
Day 2: Explore the lost villages of Tusheti
Pack a few snacks and water for Day 2, because you will be hiking quite a bit. If a simple chocolate bar does the trick for you, the guest houses in Omalo usually offer plenty of them. First, head to the Kesolo Fortress in Upper Omalo and enjoy the view over the Caucasus and Omalo. If possible, have a look into the towers as well!
From the fortress, head north to the Omalo-Dartlo road (it is the only road to the north anyway :)). When you reach the first clearing after about 1 hour (or 4,5km), you will see a mini-village on the right. Make sure to keep right and north back into the forest. After another 2 hours (or 8km) you will pop-out of the forest again right in front of the Pirikita Alazani River. Cross it and head left to Dartlo.
Dartlo is an incredibly picturesque, old, Tushetian village. Replenish your energy in Café Samtsikhe or one of the guest houses. Next, climb up the hill to Dartlo’s old fortress. It’s quite a steep ascend, but definitely worth the views.
As it is often the case in Tusheti, there is only one way to get back to Omalo - taking the exact same way you came :)
Day 3: Head back to civilisation
Interestingly, the way back over the Abano Pass is not only just as beautiful as the other way round, it also offers quite a different view on the very same landscape. Be careful not to get careless, but do enjoy the drive to the fullest!
We recommend not to plan anything other than a good breakfast at your guest house in the morning before hitting the road - you want to be fully concentrated and avoid driving when it gets busy or dark.
5-Day Itinerary: Explore the Beautiful Northern Caucasus
Let’s be real, although we didn’t do this, a several-day hike through the Tusheti region is likely the best thing you can do up there. While the first and last day are pretty much the same as in the 3-Day Itinerary, the question is which trail to take for the 3 days in between.
As we are no experts on the matter, we recommend finding a good hiking guide, of which there are quite a few out there in the internet. Check for example The Omalo Loop Track, which also references a precise GPS path to follow and the required accommodations along the way.