Tusheti, unlike the increasingly popular regions of Georgia such as Svaneti, Kakheti, or the Black Sea coast, remains relatively undiscovered. It’s a wild, remote place with limited tourist infrastructure but breathtaking landscapes, untamed nature, and genuine hospitality from the locals. It’s a picturesque land that only a few tourists venture into. Are you planning to visit Tusheti Georgia? Here’s some useful information for you.
Tusheti Georgia – Where Is It?
You can boldly use the term “beyond the seven mountains” when describing Tusheti. Tusheti is located amid the high mountains, nestled between the Russian regions of Chechnya and Dagestan, separated by the seven ridges of the Eastern Caucasus from the Georgian plains of Kakheti. The Tusheti National Park is a fragment of land situated at the junction of the borders of these three entities. Yes, I should say “two entities” because administratively, Chechnya and Dagestan are part of Russia, but in Georgia, no one refers to them that way. The word “Russia” is used in conjunction with the worst epithets. It’s essential to remember that Russia still occupies the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The largest village and “capital” of Tusheti is Omalo. This settlement is scattered on a plateau at an altitude of 1880 meters above sea level. situated as picturesque as can be, as if taken from a fairy tale. A river winds its way at the foot of the plateau, while the snow-capped peaks of four-thousanders touch the sky. Horses graze freely on extensive, often unfenced pastures, and gravel and dirt roads weave between scattered houses. No asphalt or concrete in sight!
Tusheti Georgia – How to Get There?
The quickest way, of course, is by plane. From Poland, there are direct flights to the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi operated by LOT Polish Airlines. Low-cost airlines also operate flights to Kutaisi, but from there, you’ll have to travel 370 km to Omalo. From Tbilisi, it’s less than 200 km. Don’t be deceived into thinking that’s not many kilometers. To get from Tbilisi to Omalo by car, you should allow about 6 hours of travel! Keep reading, and you’ll find out why.
You can check flight prices to Tbilisi here – enter your departure and arrival locations in the comparison tool:
I used the direct flight from Warsaw with LOT Polish Airlines and also the flight from Warsaw with Turkish Airlines, with a layover in Istanbul. This is also a very good option, especially if you have more time. In that case, you can take advantage of the free tour of Istanbul organized by the airline. (I’ll write about that in another article).
Of course, you can also reach Tusheti by land from Poland. Given the current situation with the war in Ukraine, the shortest route from Poland to Georgia goes through Istanbul. If you have plenty of time and the right vehicle, you can embark on such an adventure.
Cash and SIM Card in Georgia
At Tbilisi airport, be sure to withdraw some cash. Tusheti is at the end of the world. There are no ATMs there, and you can’t pay by card – cash only!; and buy a local SIM card. The cost of unlimited internet access and calls is not high (about $15 for 30 days). Make sure the operator you choose has coverage in Tusheti – it’s not that obvious! I should also note that e-SIMs do not work in Tusheti (at least not in the summer of 2023).
Do You Speak Georgian?
The Georgian language is unlike any other. Its alphabet consists of rows of seemingly indescribable patterns. You can learn basic polite phrases “by ear.” With Georgians, you can easily communicate in Russian and English, depending on the age group. Older people don’t know English but speak Russian practically fluently – a relic of the old administrative affiliation. Younger people speak English well but are also fluent in Russian – it’s not as straightforward as it seems.
From Tbilisi to Omalo – How to Get There?
As I mentioned earlier, it’s less than 200 km from Tbilisi to Omalo. You’ll be surprised when you enter this route into Google Maps and see the travel time – 6 hours…!
In Tuscheti, you won’t find the popular “marshrutkas,” which are common throughout Georgia.
Abano Pass – The World’s Most Dangerous Road
All of this is because on this route, you have to cover about 80 km of a difficult, off-road mountain road. Completely wild, with no safety measures. You must pass through Abano Pass, which is located at nearly 3000 meters above sea level, and then, of course, descend from it. This is the highest drivable pass in the Caucasus.
Driving on this road, you’ll encounter rushing streams, rocky inclines, potholes, and deep mud. You can only traverse this road for about three months a year – theoretically from June to September. However, even in the summer, it can be closed. Especially after heavy rainfall when water completely erodes this narrow and extremely winding road.
Not without reason, the only road to the Tusheti region is considered one of the world’s most dangerous roads. As you drive, you’ll frequently spot small memorials, plaques, and lit candles at the sites of fatal accidents. And the dates are very recent…
Important when driving the Abano Pass road
If you’re considering renting a car, it must be a reliable 4×4 model, and you must be an experienced off-road driver. There’s no room for jokes here, seriously! Never attempt this road after dark or in uncertain weather conditions. You must also remember to carry enough fuel – there are no gas stations in Tusheti.
The vast majority of tourists heading to Tusheti opt for renting a car with a local driver. Legends circulate about the driving style of local drivers. However these are the people who traverse the Abano Pass dozens of times a month and know this road like the back of their hand. The most popular car model here is the Mitsubishi Delica. As it may not make a big impression at first, it performs remarkably well, accommodates all your luggage and essential supplies.
If you’re looking for contacts for a local driver in Omalo who knows the route well and can arrange transportation from the airport to Tusheti, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll share Gel’s contact information – our local contact in Omalo.
Omalo, Tusheti – Where to Stay?
If it’s not your first time in Georgia, you probably know that someone will offer you accommodation almost everywhere. This happens at airports, train stations, and popular tourist attractions. In Omalo, it’s a bit different because there is no central bus station or “downtown.” However, you can inquire about accommodation with your driver or any other person you encounter. You can also visit the Visitors Center or even the police station. In fact, you can knock on a chosen house and ask about lodging or the possibility of pitching a tent.
In Omalo, many hosts rent rooms in their homes to tourists. The price for accommodation in 2023 ranges from 40 to 80 GEL per night. You can also find tents and sleeping bags. They usually cost about 10 GEL each. Campsites are also available at this price. There are even quite large guesthouses and hotels whose offers can be found on Booking.com. Just remember that even if you book something through Booking, you still have to pay in cash on-site.
I can recommend the place where we stayed in Omalo. It’s a new guesthouse that wasn’t entirely finished yet, but it has very nice rooms, delicious food, and that location! It’s completely in the middle of nowhere. However, it’s right by a beautiful viewpoint where you can observe bezoar goats. Keep in mind that from the “center” of Lower Omalo to this place, it’s about a 40-minute walk through the mountains and forest.
What to eat in Omalo?
Most hosts who offer accommodation also provide meals. In Omalo, there are no restaurants or bars. But if you enter the only local shop or guesthouse, the host won’t let you go hungry. In a moment, they’ll prepare chinkali dumplings, khachapuri bread. Probabely they’re just making a one-pot dish with vegetables and lamb, and you can eat to your heart’s content.
Prices in Omalo are slightly higher than in other regions of Georgia. This is because all products have to be brought here via the only road, through the pass.
Omalo, Tusheti – What to See?
Tusheti is famous for its enchanting landscapes, pristine nature, and unique cultural heritage. Here are some of the top attractions and activities you can enjoy in and around Omalo.
Hiking and Sightseeing in Tusheti Georgia
Tusheti is all about hiking. If you love mountains and trails where you won’t literally meet anyone, you’re in the right place. Recently, entirely new trails have been marked between the time-forgotten villages of Tusheti. We were positively surprised by the fresh markings and new signs that make navigation easier.
In addition to several hiking trails, there are also roads, of course, dirt or forest roads, that you can traverse with a 4×4 vehicle or on horseback.
Our base was Omalo, from where you can organize one-day hiking / car / horseback trips to the places mentioned below.
Omalo – Keselo Fortress
You can already see the dark, almost black tower of the old Keselo fortress from afar. Located in Upper Omalo, on top of a hill. It was built in the early 13th century and originally had 13 towers. While access to Tusheti from the Georgian side is defended by the formidable Abano Pass, it’s more accessible from the Dagestan side. Hence, the need to build a fortress to protect the inhabitants from attacks from the northeast.
Today, you can see the ruins of the fortress, with only one tower remaining. From this place, you can enjoy magnificent views of the surroundings.
Dartlo and Dano
Dartlo is about 15 km by road (or a little shorter, 12 km, via a forest trail) from Omalo. This settlement at the foot of the three-thousand-meter Kvavlo peak looks amazing. Before crossing the Alazani River, we take many photos of the dark, medieval towers and houses. We delve between houses built of slate, find traces of a cemetery, stop by the ruins of a church. Sit down at one of the farms and order a glass of local beer. Receive a barely fermented drink with a strange taste, but everything cold is very welcome on this hot day.
We climb a bit higher towards Dano. Dano is a settlement consisting of just a few houses. We find a water source, fill our bottles, and… learn that women are not welcome here. Or rather, they are prohibited from being here as it is considered a sacred place… So, we return to Diklo and walk back to Omalo. We hope to hitch a ride along the way (everyone here gives each other rides, and they always stop), but unfortunately, no one was driving that afternoon…
Shenako and Diklo
Diklo is a settlement located near the border with Dagestan (Russia). Or rather, on the border of the so-called neutral territory between Georgia and Russia. Therefore, it’s essential to approach the border guard post in Omalo and obtain a permit before going to these areas. It’s a formality. They will record our passport details, give us the appropriate cards, chat with the border guards about which names are popular in Poland and which in Georgia. And then we can go to Diklo.
We met people on the trail who didn’t have such permits because they didn’t even know they needed them. I’m not sure what the practical consequences are for not having them – perhaps a fine? In any case, you always need to have your passport with you to show it in case of border guard checks.
From Omalo to Diklo, it’s about 11 km by road (demanding, even for a 4×4) or 8 km on foot via a mountain trail. Both routes are challenging because you have to cross the Alazani River gorge. This means first a steep descent into the valley, crossing the river. And then a laborious ascent to Shenako, and then to Diklo.
The silence in the mountain village of Shenako (2070 m above sea level) was almost unnatural. This village has only four permanent residents… The only thing we heard was the faint singing coming from afar. In the 19th-century small church on top of the hill, women practiced two-voice psalms. Angelic voices!
To get to the ruins of Diklo fortress, you need to climb a bit. But from the top of the steep cliff, you’ll have a beautiful view of the gorge. The fortress was turned into ruins in the 19th century during Dagestani raids.
Oreti Lake – Horseback Excursion
You can’t reach the beautifully located Oreti Lake by car. You need to tackle a demanding but incredibly scenic mountain trail, which is about 15 km from Omalo. If you go on foot, it’s worth considering staying by the lake and returning the next day. However, you can also cover this route on horseback. It’s a fantastic full-day trip for people with at least basic riding skills and good physical condition. You can feel the notorious wind in your hair, the freedom, and the wildness of nature. Honestly? I felt like I was in a movie during this expedition!
Brave Tushetian horses
Tushetian horses, small but incredibly sturdy and agile, have lived in these areas for hundreds of years. Twice a year, large herds of horses cover over 250 kilometers to change the increasingly dry and hot steppes for green pastures in May. Tusheti is their summer home. And in the fall, before the first snow on Abano Pass, they return to the moist and warm winter land of the steppes.
Steppe horses have an admixture of eastern noble breeds. They are incredibly brave, energetic, and resilient to harsh conditions. They have a gentle character and patience. These are animals you can trust. They know the way perfectly and know which route to take.
On the way to Lake Oreti, there are some steep sections where you have to dismount and walk ahead – so proper hiking boots are essential. You can attach backpacks with water and provisions to the saddles. And as for the saddles, these Caucasian ones are exceptionally comfortable. I had never seen such before.
Oreti Lake and Caucasian Rhododendrons
Oreti Lake is located incredibly picturesque not only due to the views of mountain ranges but also because of something that will delight all enthusiasts of wild vegetation. The slopes covered with rhododendrons are something special! Dark leaves harmonize with light green meadows and the turquoise water of the lake. At the end of June and the beginning of July, when these wonderful plants bloom, the slopes are covered with a cream-white carpet. Even though we were there in mid-July and saw the end of the flowering, the whole area still made a huge impression on me.
Caucasian rhododendrons are low, with large, white flowers with a yellow center. Due to their beauty, they are also called the Caucasian rose.
My Dream Travels
Tusheti ranked very high on my dream travel list. I even stated that the Caucasus is more beautiful than the Alps! If you’ve already visited this wild region, be sure to share your impressions in the comments under this post.
In the “Dream Travels” category on this blog, you can read about:
- The journey on the Glacier Express from St. Moritz to Chur
- The Bernina Express ride from Chur to Tirano
- The Jungfrau Pass and trekking at the foot of the North Face of the Eiger
- Trekking along the base of the Matterhorn
- Visiting the Greek Meteora
- A week-long trek along the Stubaier Hochenweg trail in the Stubai Alps
- The Most Beautiful Place in Cyprus – trekking on the cliffs of Cape Aspro
- Lofoten – the most beautiful place in Europe and a week-long road trip through the nooks and crannies of the Lofoten Islands
- Oman – 10 places you must see in this country
- Little Fatra – Great Trail
Unexpected Lower Silesia – the most mysterious region in Poland
If, like me, you love Lower Silesia, be sure to check out guides to the less obvious places in my region. While I’m not on dream trips, I explore its nooks and crannies and share them in my regularly updated e-books. You can buy them here: