An up-to-date and common-sense guide on how to get to Mestia from Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi or Zugdidi in 2023.
Zugdidi is the closest ‘big city’ to Mestia and is the best place to find transportation to the mountains. There are other options for travelling to Mestia from Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi, either direct or with a transfer.
In this guide, I’ll explain exactly how to travel from Tbilisi to Svaneti and from Kutaisi, Batumi or Zugdidi to Mestia by plane, marshrutka, shared transfer or private transfer.
I’ll also discuss road safety, self-driving, places to stop along the way, and other important things to consider.
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- For private transfers in Georgia: GoTrip.ge. Find a professional, English-speaking driver. Prices are locked in when you book & you can stop wherever you want.
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- For tailored advice: Book a call with me! My Georgia Travel Consultation service is perfect if you need feedback on your itinerary or personalised travel tips.
Important things to know about transport in Svaneti
- There are several roads that lead to Mestia. The main route is the Zugdidi-Jvari-Mestia-Lasdili Highway, which starts from Zugdidi and follows the Patara Enguri River.
- The road to Mestia is fully sealed and suitable for sedans. In winter, you need snow tyres and preferably a 4WD. The road is windy in places and quite demanding – and for this reason, I recommend going with an experienced driver.
- The road is technically open year-round, though it does close for short periods in winter due to snowfall and avalanche risk. There are two ski resorts in Svaneti so they do try to keep the road clear throughout the winter season.
- Svaneti is a seasonal travel destination so in terms of ‘public transport’, there are far fewer direct connections outside of summer. Pre-planning is required if you are visiting in spring/autumn/winter.
- Zugdidi has the highest frequency of transfers and is the overall best departure point for travelling to Mestia.
- The night train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi was suspended in 2020 and has not yet resumed. There is no overnight train to Zugdidi any more.
- In addition, as of summer 2023, the night bus to Zugdidi has been suspended due to roadworks on the main east-west highway (the highway is closed to traffic between 9pm-6am, with cars rerouted through Sachkhere).
Mestia travel times & distances by road
- Zugdidi to Mestia → 135 km (84 miles); minimum 3-4 hours
- Kutaisi to Mestia → 220 km (137 miles); minimum 5-6 hours
- Batumi to Mestia → 260 km (162 miles); minimum 6-7 hours
- Tbilisi to Mestia → 465 km (289 miles); minimum 8-9 hours
Should you drive your own car to Svaneti?
While it’s possible to self-drive to Svaneti, I don’t recommend it unless you are a very experienced driver.
Weather conditions in the mountains change fast. Landslides occur every year, and often the road gets damaged by heavy rain. Although the road to Mestia is sealed, it’s still challenging in parts. And you have other drivers to contend with!
If you do decide to drive to Mestia, I recommend contacting the Geo Road hotline on +995 322 31 30 76 to check conditions before you depart.
I do not recommend driving to Ushguli from Mestia (most rental companies prohibit it) or on any back roads around Svaneti unless you are familiar with the area and confident with driving off-road.
How to get from Zugdidi to Mestia
Most travellers will find themselves transiting through Zugdidi to reach Mestia. In low and shoulder season when there are no direct vans from Tbilisi/Kutaisi/Batumi, you must change in Zugdidi.
Because of the long travel distance and tiring nature of the trip, it’s actually a very good idea to break up the journey by spending a night in Zugdidi. It’s a great little city with a few notable landmarks (including the Dadiani Palace and Botanical Garden), quirky sights such as the UAZ graveyard, and a terrific food scene.
Consult my Zugdidi City Guide for more information.
There are two options available:
- Direct marshrutka – approx. 40 GEL; 4 hours
- Shared taxi – approx. 45-50 GEL; 3-3.5 hours
Marshrutka from Zugdidi to Mestia
In previous years, marshrutka vans departed Zugdidi in the early morning from outside the train station. Now that the night train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi has been suspended (more in the next section), vans seem to depart in the mid-morning instead (after 10am) plus again in the afternoon when the day train from Tbilisi pulls into Zugdidi.
In the morning, drivers depart from the small bus stand near Zugdidi market – located here. To get there from the centre, pass by the main market, cross the river, and take the first right along the riverside. You will see a sign saying ‘Mestia’ and a bunch of idling vans. There is a public toilet nearby, and food/water is available from the market.
Here is a picture of the vans waiting in the carpark:
In the afternoon, drivers wait near the railway station to meet disembarking passengers. Once you alight the train, cross the tracks and head left, walking all the way to the end of the platform. Go down the few steps to the street, and you should see at least one van waiting there.
Here is a picture of a Mestia van waiting for train passengers outside the railway station:
There is no set schedule for the vans that I’m aware of. Rather, drivers depart once the van is full.
There should be at least one van in the morning plus one van in the afternoon between late spring and autumn. I saw Mestia vans waiting at the station when I last travelled in December.
The first van is likely to leave between 10am and 11am, and the second van at around 2.30/3pm.
In deep winter when there is snow and ice on the road (roughly January to March), drivers might switch to a Delica van OR there might be no shared transfer at all.
I recommend arriving as early as possible to get a seat. It might also be an option to have your guesthouse call the driver the day before to save you a seat.
The fare is approximately 40 GEL and travel time to Mestia is around 4 hours. (In the off season the fare might be higher, up to 60 GEL, but in summer it could be as low as 30 GEL.)
The driver makes at least one rest stop along the way, usually near the dam. In Mestia, all vans terminate on the main square – located here.
Shared taxi from Zugdidi to Mestia
Shared taxis are also available from Zugdidi. Drivers normally wait around the bus stand or opposite the railway station – located nearby here.
In summer, it should be easy to find a taxi driver just by asking around. You’re more likely to find a driver in the morning or mid-afternoon, around the time the train pulls in. It’s possible that your guesthouse in Zugdidi might be able to organise a car for you.
Expect to pay approximately 45-50 GEL per seat for a shared taxi, or 180-200 GEL for the whole car. Travel time is slightly faster, around 3-3.5 hours. Note that if it’s a shared taxi, you will have to wait for the other seats to fill up before you depart.
How to get from Tbilisi to Svaneti
Tbilisi to Mestia is a long and gruelling journey by road. I don’t recommend trying to cover the whole distance in a day – if possible, break it up into stages by stopping over in either Zugdidi, Kutaisi or Martvili (see more suggestions later in the next section). A popular option is to take the train or a coach bus to Zugdidi first.
If you’re short on time and you need to travel directly to Svaneti, then I highly recommend choosing an experienced private driver rather than taking a marshrutka. Apart from being unsafe for such a long distance and challenging drive, the vans are quite uncomfortable.
You might be able to fly to Mestia from Natakhtari Airport. This is by far the fastest option, but it has its pitfalls.
There are five options available:
- Direct marshrutka – approx. 50 GEL; 9-10 hours
- Train + marshrutka/taxi via Zugdidi – approx. 55 GEL; 9-10 hours
- Bus + marshrutka/taxi via Zugdidi – approx. 65 GEL; 9-10 hours
- Private transfer – approx. 550 GEL; 7.5 hours
- Flight – approx. 90 GEL; >1 hour
Direct marshrutka from Tbilisi to Mestia
Marshrutka vans depart for Mestia from various points around Tbilisi, including from the car park outside Central Railway Station (Station Square). There is a sign that says ‘Mestia – 7am’ right in front of the entrance to the station.
In summer 2022, I saw a Mestia van collecting passengers and waiting to depart at around 9am. The schedule is flexible and outside of summer, this van might not be running at all.
The morning van from Samgori is more reliable. It is scheduled to depart at 7am from Navtlughi Intercity Bus Terminal near the Samgori Metro – see the location here on Google Maps.
The bus area is a bit tricky to find. First, exit the Samgori Metro Station in the direction of Ketevan Dedofali Avenue. You should see this avtosadguri ‘bus station’ sign pointing the way:
Once you’re above ground, walk out to main avenue and turn right. Walk a few more steps and you will come to a small waiting area with marshrutka vans parked out front (not the first large carpark, but the second smaller one) with the blue sign:
There is a cash desk on the right where you can purchase your tickets:
The fare to Mestia is approximately 50 GEL and travel time averages 9-10 hours, including several rest stops along the way.
Make sure you arrive early to secure a seat. You can reach the English-speaking driver on +995 595 700 892.
Train + marshrutka via Zugdidi
Unfortunately the popular night train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi was discontinued in 2020 and has not started up again. For now, there is just one train departing Tbilisi in the morning (around 8.30am) and arriving in Zugdidi just after 2pm.
During the season, you will definitely be able to find a marshrutka van or shared taxi to take you to Mestia on the same day. Drivers wait outside the railway station with ‘Mestia’ signs on their dashboards – ask around, and you will find someone (or, more likely, they will find you first!).
Another option is to spend an afternoon and evening in Zugdidi and continue on to Mestia the following morning, taking a van from the market carpark instead, as described above.
Journey time is 5.75 hours. Be aware that this is an older train. Seats are not very comfortable, and there are no power outlets and no WIFI. I recommend travelling in first class if you can (28 GEL).
See more tips in my Tbilisi Zugdidi Train Travel Guide.
Night bus + marshrutka via Zugdidi
Note: As of summer 2023, the night bus service is suspended due to roadworks on the Rikoti Pass. There is no Zugdidi night bus at present.
Rail is definitely the best way to travel to Zugdidi, but if you prefer to go by road, you have the option to take an overnight bus or a marshrutka van instead.
OmniBus operates an overnight coach bus from Ortachala Station in Tbilisi to Zugdidi, leaving at midnight and arriving at 6am. The fare is 25 GEL and tickets can be reserved online.
I do not usually recommend travelling by road at night, but I have travelled with this company before and in my experience, the driver was quite good. The decision is yours.
If you have room in your itinerary to spend a night in Zugdidi and continue on to Mestia the next morning, they also have a midday coach from Tbilisi that arrives at 6pm.
Alternatively, marshrutka vans to Zugdidi depart from Didube Bus Station throughout the day, roughly between 9am and 7pm. The fare is approximately 25 GEL, and travel time is 5-6 hours. Never travel by marshrutka van after dark.
In the morning, it might be possible to find a shared taxi to Zugdidi from Didube station. Travel time will be slightly shorter, and it should cost around 70 GEL per seat.
When you arrive in Zugdidi, continue to Mestia using one of the options described above.
Private transfer from Tbilisi to Mestia
Private transfer is the easiest (and safest) option if you want to go directly to Mestia from Tbilisi by road. GoTrip.ge is my preferred service for transfers – drivers and cars are vetted for safety, it is a 24/7, flexible door-to-door service, and best of all you can make as many stops as you want along the way.
A direct transfer booked through GoTrip starts from 550 GEL per car. If you have four people, it does work out to be quite affordable. Travel time is around 7.5 hours with no stops. When you book online, the price is locked in and won’t change.
Alternatively, you can build a day trip itinerary and do some sightseeing along the way. For example this itinerary I created with stops in Zugdidi and Enguri costs about the same as a direct transfer.
Flights from Tbilisi to Svaneti (Mestia Airport)
Flights from Tbilisi to Mestia are available through Vanilla Sky, a small Georgian airline that operates various domestic routes including to Batumi and Racha. Prop planes to Mestia Airport run throughout the year with a reduced schedule in winter.
Vanilla Sky is the only operator on the market and is notorious for two reasons: Firstly, their online booking system is a nightmare and it can be difficult to find and purchase tickets. In summer, tickets sell out extremely quickly.
Secondly, flights often get cancelled at short notice. If you do decide to fly, always have a backup plan in case things go wrong on the day.
Prices start from 90 GEL per adult. Schedules and ticket announcements are normally made on the Vanilla Sky Facebook page. Note that planes take off from Natakhtari Airfield, 30 minutes north of Tbilisi near Mtskheta. Vanilla Sky offers a free shuttle from the city centre.
How to get from Kutaisi to Mestia
Kutaisi is also a convenient departure point for Svaneti as the distance by road is shorter and there are more budget-friendly transport options.
There are three options available:
- Direct marshrutka or marshrutka via Zugdidi – 40-70 GEL; 7-8 hours
- Shared transfer with Budget Georgia – 80 GEL; 7 hours
- Private transfer – approx. 420 GEL; 5 hours
Additionally there is at least one flight per week from Kutaisi to Mestia with Vanilla Sky.
Marshrutka from Kutaisi to Mestia
According to the timetable, there is one direct marshrutka van to Mestia departing every morning at 10am from Kutaisi’s Central Bus Station – located here. The fare is approximately 40 GEL, and travel time is 5-5.5 hours.
Arrive at the station early to secure a place. If you want to call ahead, you can contact the driver, Zaza, on +995 599 70 34 33 or +995 599 74 63 60.
This direct van definitely runs in summer, but in the low season, you will likely have to change drivers in Zugdidi. Make sure you communicate with your first driver – be careful you don’t get charged twice.
Vans from Kutaisi to Zugdidi depart every hour or once full between 8am and 5pm from the same bus stop. The fare is approximately 10 GEL, and travel time is 2.5-3 hours.
Try to depart Kutaisi as early as possible. When you arrive in Zugdidi, your first driver will help you find a van to Mestia. Usually the driver will call ahead and tee-up the next leg of the journey for you.
Shared transfer with Budget Georgia
My preferred tour company in Kutaisi, Budget Georgia, runs affordable group transfers to Mestia throughout the year. This option is more reliable than a marshrutka van and a lot more comfortable. It’s also more affordable.
Transfers are available every day between May and October and on Saturdays only from November to April. The price is 80 GEL per person including hotel pick up. The journey time is 7 hours with a longer break for lunch.
If you’re flying in, there’s also an option to book a transfer from Kutaisi Airport to Mestia for the same price.
→ OR book direct through the Budget Georgia website and get 10% off your transfer when you mention Wander-Lush
Private transfer from Kutaisi to Mestia
If you prefer a private car, a direct transfer booked through GoTrip starts from 420 GEL per car. Travel time is around 4.5 hours with no stops, or you can build a day trip itinerary and do some sightseeing along the way.
How to get from Batumi to Mestia
Travel time to Mestia from Batumi is much the same as from Kutaisi, slightly longer if you’re travelling by marshrutka. Like with Kutaisi, there are more transport options from Batumi, making it a good departure point for Svaneti.
There are three options available:
- Marshrutka via Zugdidi – approx. 65 GEL; 6.5-7 hours
- Shared transfer with Budget Georgia – 80 GEL; 8.5 hours
- Private transfer – approx. 400 GEL; 5 hours
Marshrutka to Mestia from Batumi
There might be an early morning direct van to Batumi from Mestia, but the more convenient option is to change in Zugdidi.
Even if a van has ‘Mestia’ written on its dashboard, it might still drop you off in Zugdidi – this happened to me on my first trip. The first driver will always liaise with drivers in Zugdidi to make sure you get on the right van to Mestia.
Vans to Zugdidi/Mestia leave from the Intercity Bus Station in Batumi – located here – starting from around 8/9am. The fare is approximately 25 GEL, and travel time to Zugdidi is 2.5-3 hours.
Shared transfer with Budget Georgia
In summer, the cost is 80 GEL per person including hotel pick up (120 GEL in winter). Travel time is 8.5 hours, including a long break for lunch.
→ OR book direct through the Budget Georgia website and get 10% off your transfer when you mention Wander-Lush
Private transfer from Batumi to Mestia
A private transfer to Mestia from Batumi starts from 400 GEL per car when booked through GoTrip. Travel time is 5 hours direct, or you can use the GoTrip planner to create an itinerary with multiple stops along the way.
How to travel from Mestia to Ushguli
Ushguli is a must-visit in Svaneti, if only to visit the iconic Svan tower houses. This community of alpine villages is located east of Mestia, around 2 hours via a partially sealed mountain road.
The road to Ushguli has undergone significant improvements in the past couple of years. In 2017, I travelled there in a marshrutka van, and it was still a bit rough. Most years the road gets damaged over autumn/winter and is repaired in spring/summer.
You never really know what to expect, which is why I suggest going with a local driver who is familiar with conditions (rather than trying to drive yourself). Most car rental companies prohibit driving to Ushguli. GoTrip does not offer transfers to Ushguli either.
Delica cars, 4WDs and minivans are all available from the centre of Mestia. The easiest (and most affordable) option is to ask your guesthouse in Mestia to organise a shared transfer for you. This also helps prevent any miscommunication at the bus station.
A return trip should cost around 40-60 GEL per person depending on the season and demand, including 3 hours in Ushguli when the driver will wait for you.
How to travel from Ushguli to Mestia
If you’re doing the Mestia-Ushguli hike or you want to stay overnight in Ushguli, then you’ll likely need a one-way ticket back to Mestia. Do not buy your ticket in advance from the bus station in Mestia – strange things sometimes happen, and many travellers unfortunately get taken advantage of.
Instead, when you’re ready to leave, go to the main bridge in Ushguli (located here) and wait for a taxi or van to stop. This is where locals wait for transport, so it shouldn’t take too long. The price for a one-way trip is the same as a return trip: 40-60 GEL depending on the driver and the season.
A huge thank-you to traveller Michaela for this intel!
The return trip: Departing from Mestia
Mestia’s small bus station is right in the city centre – located here. Vans bound for Zugdidi and potentially for Batumi, Kutaisi and/or Tbilisi depart in the morning hours.
The Tbilisi marshrutka departs at 8am. In summer high season, direct vans to Batumi and Kutaisi also depart at 8am. There may or may not be additional vans in the afternoon – it all depends on demand.
Note that there are at least 4-5 other ‘bus stands’ in the same area, all selling tickets for the same destinations but sometimes for different prices. Many travellers face issues when trying to pre-purchase tickets in advance – the van never arrives, or there’s not enough seats, or they have to change in Zugdidi unexpectedly.
The best strategy is to check times the day before then arrive early (40-60 minutes early) to secure your seat. If possible, ask your guesthouse in Mestia to call the driver/bus station the day before you plan to travel. Tickets do sell out in peak summer and you don’t want to get stranded.
Fares and travel times are approximately the same. Again, the most convenient option is to first travel to Zugdidi and then organise your onward transport from there.
For a hassle-free alternative that eliminates having to deal with shady staff and drivers, book a shared transfer with Budget Georgia. This service is available for Kutaisi, Kutaisi Airport, and Batumi. During summer, they depart from Mestia in the late afternoon.
Book your return transfer from Mestia direct with Budget Georgia and save 10% when you mention Wander-Lush.
If you want to go directly to Tbilisi or continue to another destination in Georgia, I highly recommend organising a car through GoTrip.
Where to stop on the way to/from Svaneti
The part of Georgia between Kutaisi and the Black Sea coast is my favourite part of the country. There is SO MUCH to see in Western Georgia on the way to Svaneti – if you have the time.
Here are a couple of popular stopovers. For more ideas, see my guides to Guria and Samegrelo regions.
The world’s second-highest concrete arch dam, Enguri is located on the road between Zugdidi and Mestia. The hydro project supplies energy to both Georgia and Abkhazia.
Enguri has always been a popular place to break the journey to Mestia. Tours of the dam launched in 2021. If you want to take a 30-minute boat trip on the dam, contact David at Enguri Boat Tour.
Sisa Tura Ethno Village
Sisa Tura is a family run village that aims to give tourists a taste of Mingrelian culture and rural life. The three-acre complex has a collection of wooden oda houses, beautiful nature, and a kitchen that offers traditional meals.
Sisa Tura is open from late spring through to autumn. Advance bookings are essential – contact Marika on Facebook to organise your visit.
As mentioned, Zugdidi is a great small city with a few things to see and do, and some truly wonderful Mingrelian restaurants (Diaroni is my favourite). If you have time, I highly recommend spending a night here on the way to Svaneti.
Casa de Khasia is a cosy guesthouse with wonderful hosts. Find more things to do in and around Zugdidi in this guide.
Also in Samegrelo region at the foot of the mountains, Martvili is a great place for hiking, waterfalls and canyons. As well as the popular Martvili Canyon, there are plenty of alternative canyons and rivers to explore. Martvili Monastery is famous all over Georgia for its frescoes and very much worth a visit.
Martvili is a great place to relax in nature on the way up or down from Mestia. I recommend staying at Karma Hostel.
Where to stay in Mestia
Budget-friendly guesthouse: Manoni’s Guesthouse is one of the longest-running in Mestia, and the family really know how to treat their guests. Rooms are very comfortable, especially the private doubles with ensuite. Meals are served in a cosy dining room. They can organise anything and everything on your behalf, including shared vans to Ushguli.
Boutique hotel: Hotel Lahili is a 5-minute walk from the local museum, with modern and stylish rooms, comfortable common spaces and a generous breakfast.
Cabin: If you’re looking for something more secluded, Bude Mestia Cottages offer gorgeous self-contained A-frame cabins set in the forest 3km from the main square.
Where to stay in Zugdidi
Guesthouse: Casa de Khasia is a gorgeous boutique guesthouse that’s run by a local couple who are extremely active in advancing the rights of IDPs from Abkhazia and promoting Zugdidi as a tourist destination. Rooms are large and beautifully furnished, and the outdoor common spaces are delightful. Breakfast is included.
Are you planning to travel from Tbilisi to Svaneti some time soon? Do you have questions, or maybe an update for other travellers? Please leave any new information you have below – it’s much appreciated!