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Georgia (Country) > Svaneti
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Svaneti is a region in the north of Georgia bordering Russia.

Hitching through Svaneti is an ordeal! Start early. Give yourself a lot of time because even with a ride the road conditions make the drive a long and bumpy one. 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).

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, the highest permanent village 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.

Zugdidi is a large town by Georgian standards. When heading into Svaneti you will need to walk north out of town, past the mashrudtka station that is west of the city square and near the medieval-looking tower. After walking the gauntlet of taxi and mashrudtka drivers you need to keep walking for another kilometer or so through a residential area. The road will dead-end and you will turn left and walk on and over an overpass until you see the road sign for Mestia (136 km) pointing you to the right (north again). This is the road that travels all the way through Svaneti and back down to Kutaisi. Once you start walking north on this road, any place to begin hitching is as good as the next.

The traffic that travels this road makes it a little difficult to catch a ride. Many of the cars are stuffed with people because going between cities and villages in Svaneti is a whole day's outing. As with most places in Georgia, a little knowledge of Russian or Georgian is helpful, but not necessary. If breaking the ride up into segments is necessary, the larger towns on the road are Jvari, Khaishi and Mestia. Many of the locals are likely chipping in money for petrol, so if you are traveling free then make sure to clear up any expectations for gas money in the beginning.

The road between Zugdidi and Khaishi is mostly paved with numerous rough sections. The road north of Khaishi is much more rough with some sections still being constructed. Even with the road in such poor condition, all kinds of vehicles still make the trip. Cars, SUVs, vans, lumber trucks and marshrudtkas all slowly crawl along. The traffic gets naturally thinner as you climb higher into the mountains.

The Eastern Approach

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.

There are also several mountain passes on this approach. These include Zagaro Pass and Ughviri Pass (1700 meters). Both can be snowed in late into the season so check conditions or be prepared to walk. According to locals there are no mashrudtkas taking the eastern approach up into Svaneti.