Svaneti

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Svaneti is a region in the north of Georgia, in the Caucasus mountains near the border with Russia.

Hitching through Svaneti is an ordeal! Start early; 0500 is a good time. Though you'll probably move more quickly, ensure that you have two days to get anywhere, as there is little traffic and a portion of the road is in bad state. There are two ways to get into Svaneti, the western approach beginning in Zugdidi and the eastern approach most likely beginning in Kutaisi. The western approach into the higher elevations of Svaneti is the more traveled by cars. It is supposedly the better cared-for road (even though you wouldn't believe it when you ride on it).

File:Roadsignsvaneti.jpg
Have a nice trip!

The two most visited cities in Svaneti are Mestia and Ushguli. Because more traffic climbs up from the west, Mestia will be reached first. Then another climb even higher into the mountains will take you to Ushguli, called the highest permanent settlement in Europe.

The Western Approach

This road travels through Zugdidi, Jvari, Khaishi, Dizi, and a slew of small villages before you get to the administrative capital of Upper Svaneti region, Mestia.

Most traffic out of Zugdidi is only going as far as Jvari. From there, there are very few private cars onward, and you can wait hours without seeing anything but a marshrutka. Villages are mainly kept supplied by these marshrutkas, so there is little truck traffic.

The road between Zugdidi and Mestia is a new, well-paved road. The road north of Mestia is much more rough.

The Eastern Approach

First: the eastern approach is absolutelly challenging to hitchhike!!! There are places where you can be stuck for days!!! Most Jeep safaris go from Zugdidi - Mestia - Ushguli - Lentekhi. If you want to hitchhike whole Svaneti, do it the same way. Almost nobody goes the other way round.

There are several eastern approaches to the Svaneti road. There is a road from the south that originates in Kutaisi and then travels through Tskaltubo and Tsageri. Another road starts in Kutaisi, travels through Lajanurhesi, and then joins with the road going on to Lentekhi. The third approach is from the Racha region, east of Svaneti. It travels through Ambrolauri, onto Lajanurhesi and then up to Lentekhi. The Svaneti road then travels through the cities of Lentekhi, Ushguli, Jpari, Zhabeshi, etc.

If you want to go to Mestia from the east, there are two steps to do:

This is by far the hardest part in Svaneti. There are several mountain passes on this approach. These include Zagaro Pass and Ughviri Pass (2700 meters). Both can be snowed in late into the season so check conditions or be prepared to walk. There are for sure no marshrutkas between Lentekhi and Ushguli. The road is a seasonal road for summer driving only, means that there is almost no "real traffic" but a few foreigners do this road as a special challenge with their jeeps.

seee waited in Ushguli towards Lentekhi in August 2011 one complete day without seeing a car. The next day he walked more than 10 kilometers, until a Polish jeep picked him up. Bear in mind that the road leads approx. 45 km through absolute wilderness and some villages along this length marked on various maps are already abandoned.

Kundrt waited in Lentekhi maybe half an hour when really old little lorry appeared. The driver didn't go all the way to Ushguli but took him for 10-15 km and explained it will be faster to walk up over one pass, keeping in sight electric transmission line. It's half-day hike and the view from the pass is breathtaking. You will come down to the road a few kilometres west of Ushguli.

The road is as bad as Lentekhi - Ushguli, but there is much more traffic. Many hiking tourists hike from Mestia to Ushguli and go back to Mestia by jeep. Keep in mind that this is a highly comercialised touristic area, and finding someone to give you a lift for free might be a challenge. The other way round it works better, as many jeeps go back empty.

Sleeping

Unlike the rest of Georgia, where locals will happily let you sleep in their homes for free if you just ask, Svaneti is highly commercialized and prices for homestays are higher than even in the capital (15–20 lari/night). Camping is possible anywhere outside villages, but in the winter you should camp only with special gear for cold weather.