One of Georgia’s highest and most remote mountain areas, the historic region of Tusheti is often considered the Holy Grail of Georgia travel. “If you haven’t been to Tusheti, you haven’t been to Georgia,” as one woman in the village of Diklo put it to me.
Tusheti is always discussed with a Biblical reverence. Mere mention of the name in the company of experienced travellers provokes expressions of awe and wonder. Since moving to Georgia, I’ve been told time and time again that I simply must visit Tusheti.
Tusheti, they told me, is Georgia’s final frontier.
In reality, most tourists don’t make it to Tusheti – and most Georgians never get a chance to go either. For this reason, I consider myself very lucky that I did get an opportunity to visit Tusheti this summer as part of an agritourism project with Elkana and the FAO.
I didn’t go everywhere, but I did visit seven villages (Omalo, Diklo, Shenako, Jvarboseli, Dartlo, Kvavlo and Dano), and more importantly I got to speak to many locals through an interpreter and learn about things that are normally off-limits to tourists. My Tusheti experience was quite unique in this respect.
Visiting Tushet is a once in a lifetime experience. But it’s not the kind of place you can just pop to for a weekend or tag onto your Georgia itinerary if you have a few spare days. Tusheti requires some forward-planning, especially to get there by road – a notoriously dangerous journey that I must say definitely lived up to expectations.
Many people use the old cliche ‘a place locked in time’ when describing Tusheti. This is true in some sense, but in other respects, Tusheti is changing. A lot of what you read online or in guidebooks no longer matches up with reality.
I decided to write this Tusheti Travel Guide to offer you honest, accurate and common-sense advice about the region. Organised into FAQ and travel tips, it hopefully contains everything you need to know to plan a successful trip.
If there’s something I’ve missed or you have additional questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help out.
Please note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you). Learn more.
Note: I was invited to visit Tusheti as part of an agritourism project with Elkana and the FAO.
A brief introduction to Tusheti
Tusheti is located in the Greater Caucasus mountains in Georgia’s far north-east, around 200 kilometres from Tbilisi.
The name ‘Tusheti’ refers to two entities: Primarily, it is a historic region where the Tushetians (or Tushebi in Georgian) live. Since 2003, it also refers to the Tusheti Protected Areas, a 113,000-hectare area that includes Tusheti National Park, the Tusheti Protected Landscape, and the Tusheti Strict Nature Reserve.
Tusheti borders on Chechnya and Dagestan to the north and east, and Georgia’s historic Pshavi and Khevsureti regions to the west. It is part of Kakheti region, but it feels a very long way from Alazani Valley wine country – and from the rest of the country for that matter.
All of Tusheti’s 48 villages are extremely isolated. The area is accessible by one lonely unpaved road – built in 1981 and virtually unchanged since then – that is only open for four or five months of the year. The village of Bochorna (2,345 metres above sea level) is considered the highest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe. Omalo sits at an elevation of 1,880 metres, comparable to Stepantsminda (Kazbegi) which sits at 1,740 metres.
You might be wondering how people first came to live in such a secluded place. This being the Caucasus, there is of course an interesting origin story for that! As the legend goes, a pregnant woman stood at the top of the Borbalo Pass on the western edge of present-day Tusheti Park and gave birth to three sons, each of whom rolled down into a different valley. People from Pshavi, Khevsureti and Tusheti trace their ancestry back to the three brothers.
According to archaeological records, Tusheti has been inhabited since at least the Bronze Age, with the more-accessible settlements of Lower Omalo and Shenako likely to be the original villages. Some historians point to the popularity of Vainakh surnames among Tushetian families as evidence of a common connection with Chechen and Ingush peoples.
Constant contact with different ethnic groups from the North Caucasus – both through conflict but also through trade – has given Tusheti a very peculiar blend of religious customs and traditions, with Pagan and Animist, Islamic and Orthodox Christian influences visible.
In the past, Tusheti was a place of refuge for the outcast and the oppressed, particularly those fleeing from other regions due to religious persecution or fear of Christianisation. This backstory helps to explain why Tushetians sometimes approach outsiders with caution. Traditionally newcomers were separated and observed from afar for a period of up to one year before they could integrate with the rest of the village. Today, guests (especially foreigners) are considered a sign of good luck and welcomed warmly by most families.
Tusheti was heavily impacted by state policy during the Soviet period. In the 1940s, families were encouraged to move away from high mountain villages and resettle in the lowlands of Kakheti. By the 1950s, people were being forcibly removed to Alvani, where the majority of families still spend their winters today. Homes and high mountain pastures were abandoned.
In the late 1960s and 70s, restrictions were loosened and families were allowed to travel back to the mountains to celebrate religious festivals. In 1981, the road was built along with a library, medical centre and telegraph station in Omalo (you can still see these buildings today). A cable car was planned to connect Lower Omalo with the opposite valley, but it was never finished.
In the 1990s after the collapse of the USSR, Tusheti was pushed to the wayside and state-sponsored services, including a new electricity network in Omalo, were shut down. People were forced to leave again, this time out of necessity.
The Tusheti Protected Areas were established in 2003, and since then, various initiatives including the reconstruction of key historical monuments has helped bring locals and tourists back to the area. Infrastructure is still very limited, but tourism carries the promise of sustainable income for locals – and a reason to invest in other developments, including marked hiking trails and heritage restoration.
Interesting facts about Tusheti
- The Tusheti Protected Areas covers a total of 113,660.2 hectares and is divided into three categories: National Park, Protected Landscape, and Strict Nature Reserve.
- The Areas’ elevation ranges from 900-4,500 metres above sea level. The highest peak, Mount Tebulo, reaches 4,493 metres.
- There are three main rivers in Tusheti, all of them named ‘Alazani’. This was done on purpose to confuse enemy invaders!
- There are at least 13 marked trails in Tusheti, ranging from single-day loops to 6-day thru hikes.
- There are 48 villages in Tusheti, each divided into ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ parts. The village of Bochorna is considered the highest settlement in Europe. It sits at 2,345 metres above sea level and has just one full-time resident, Irakli Khvedaguridze.
- Tusheti once had 5,000 permanent inhabitants but today, the population is much smaller and mostly transient. The majority of families leave Tusheti in October to spend their winters in the lowlands, mostly in the village of Alvani.
- Most people speak a Tushetian dialect of Georgian. Some speak Bats, the unique and endangered language of the Tsova Tush people. English is widely spoken by young people in particular, including guides and grandkids who help out at the guesthouses during summer.
- Most people in Tusheti do not identify as Orthodox Christian. Instead, they have a unique belief system that incorporates elements of Animism and Paganism. There are several Orthodox churches in Tusheti, but most people worship at shrines called Khati.
- Sheep farming is the main industry in Tusheti. Every year, there is a mass migration between Tusheti and the lower pastures in Kakheti, the transhumance, which takes place in May and October.
- Tusheti is famous for its wool handicrafts including felt. During the Soviet era, Tushetian wool was used to make soldiers’ uniforms. Today, most guesthouses sell handmade wool gifts – be sure to carry some extra cash for souvenirs.
Tips about Tushetian culture (faux pas & common mistakes)
Part of being a responsible traveller in Tusheti means understanding and respecting local customs. There are particular behaviour codes that all guests should observe, particularly around gender segregation.
Avoid approaching a shrine or sacred area if you’re a woman
According to Tushetian custom, men and women operate in two different realms. Male and female sheep graze separately, and women (and dogs) are forbidden from setting foot in some areas.
Tushetian shrines called Khati can be seen dotted across the landscape. There are separate shrines for men and women, with men’s Khati located mostly in and around the villages. Women of a certain age are prohibited from approaching these sites (technically it’s OK for young girls and post-menopausal women, but tourists are advised to avoid the area all together). This rule also applies to church ruins and some other not-so-obvious landmarks.
As I learned, some villages also have roads and paths where women shouldn’t pass. I don’t think this is as common, but before wandering off, you should ask your guide/host if there are any areas you should avoid.
Traditionally, men and women sit separately at the table too. This doesn’t apply to groups of tourists – you are free to sit wherever you want – but if you find yourself in a family home, you should follow cue. On one occasion I was invited to sit with the men for lunch while the women of the house ate in the kitchen. I was grateful for the invitation, but it was not exactly a comfortable experience.
Don’t bring pork products into Tusheti
There is no pork on the menu in Tusheti. Many Tushetians will happily eat pork when they’re in the lowlands, but in the mountains, pigs and pork are considered taboo.
This has to do with the mountains being ‘pure’ and the lowlands, by contrast, being impure. Please respect this tradition and do not bring any pork products (e.g. jerky) into the area.
Avoid riding a horse through a village
In the past this signified an enemy invasion, and some people still consider it rude or a sign of bad luck if someone crosses through a village by horse without stopping. This rule isn’t strictly enforced, but it’s a good idea to dismount your horse and lead it through the village by foot.
There is no hard and fast rule about the dress code, but as with all rural areas in Georgia (particularly in the mountains) I strongly recommend erring on the side of conservative. Mostly this is out of respect. If you’re a woman, it will also go a long way to helping you avoid unwanted attention.
Women should avoid very short shorts and wear long, loose pants instead. Leave your tank tops, midriffs and tops with plunging necklines packed away. Long pants are not mandatory for men as they are in some other communities (including in Pankisi Valley), but again, I recommend you take cue from the locals and wear trousers instead of shorts.
Is Tusheti safe?
Safety in Tusheti is a complicated equation. There is a police station in Omalo, but there are no hospitals or medical services in the region. There is just one licensed doctor in Tusheti, Irakli Khvedaguridze, who famously stays in his village of Borchorna throughout the winter.
Helicopter evacuations are available, but you don’t want to get yourself into the situation where you need one. (As a side note, if you notice helicopters flying overhead, it’s probably just the border police changing shift.)
Here are a couple of key concerns and things to watch out for.
Road safety in Tusheti
Road safety in Tusheti is not something you should take lightly. As with the rest of Georgia, this is my biggest personal concern and something you should be mindful of at all times.
There is no such thing as a ‘safe way to get to Tusheti’ – the best you can do is take steps to mitigate your risk. This means choosing a knowledgeable driver, avoiding travel during bad weather (especially in the days after heavy rain when the area is prone to mudslides), avoiding road travel after dark, and never getting into a car with someone who has been drinking. This also applies to the roads between villages, some of which are just as dangerous as the Abano Pass.
The road up to Tusheti is lined with memorials to people (mostly young men) who lost their lives on the pass. Most accidents, I’m told, involve alcohol. You need to be very cautious about who you travel with. This is one of the reasons I don’t recommend hitchhiking in Tusheti.
You can find more specific tips for Tusheti transport later in this guide.
Tusheti’s close proximity to the Russian border is a red flag for many people, especially given the events of early 2022. Some of the border areas are patrolled by Georgian police, but the majority of the border zone is high mountain peaks that are virtually impenetrable.
Personally I felt completely safe when travelling close to the border. This is never a concern for me in Georgia.
When you’re in Tusheti, you should always carry your passport with you.
Staying safe when hiking in Tusheti
Many of Tusheti’s shorter marked trails are suitable for beginners, but multi-day hikes are really only suitable for experienced hikers. Many go through remote mountain passes and oftentimes you will be without shelter, fresh water – or in case of emergency, help. Make sure you’re prepared.
Many people choose to go horse riding in Tusheti. Helmets and safety gear probably won’t be provided, so take this into account.
If you plan on doing any adventure activities in Tusheti, make sure you have a good travel insurance policy that will cover you for medical evacuation. All travellers should have insurance for Tusheti.
Dogs in Tusheti
Mountain dogs accompany flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and guard them from wolves when they’re out to pasture. These dogs are responsible for protecting the animals, and they are trained to be ruthless.
Mountain dogs in Georgia are terrifying. You are less likely to encounter dogs in populated areas (I didn’t see any in the villages, in fact), but if you’re out hiking, you will surely cross paths with at least a few. There are a couple of known spots in Tusheti where the dogs are particularly ferocious.
If you find yourself cornered by a dog, yell out and hopefully there will be a shepherd in the area to call the dog off. It’s a good idea to ask locals and other travellers about dogs so that you’re aware of any potential problems before you set off.
Personal safety in Tusheti
Take the same common-sense approach to personal safety in Tusheti as you would anywhere else in Georgia. Guesthouses are generally very safe, but it’s still a good idea to keep your valuables secure.
Avoid walking around the village alone at night, and lock your door when you sleep. Women should dress conservatively (covered shoulders and knees) to show respect and avoid unwanted attention.
Alcohol in Tusheti
As mentioned, most traffic accidents in Tusheti involve alcohol. We encountered a drunk driver in Tusheti – fortunately he was driving a horse and not a car. He had toppled off his saddle and had his foot caught in a stirrup. Our drivers cut him free and probably saved his life.
There is a fine line between friendly toasting at a supra and ‘unwanted hospitality’. If you feel pressured into drinking, never be afraid to politely decline.
When is the best time to visit Tusheti?
The road to Tusheti is only open for a short window of time, roughly from the first week of June until late September/early October. Outside of these months, the high mountains are inaccessible – there is simply too much snow and ice.
Here is a brief run-down of the different months in Tusheti. Note that temperatures and conditions can vary dramatically between villages due to the difference in elevation. During your trip, I recommend using Yr.no and Mountain Forecast to check temperatures and weather events.
June in Tusheti (start of the season)
The Abano Pass is normally cleared for vehicles by the last week of May or early June. In the weeks prior, the transhumance sees Tush shepherds and thousands of sheep make their way up via narrow tracks etched into the mountain face.
I visited Tusheti in late June. Most years it is still quite wet and chilly at the start of the month, then it tends to warm up and become drier towards the end of June. It was still a bit rainy and unseasonably cold during my visit.
There are pros and cons to visiting Tusheti early in the season: On the one hand, you can see beautiful cascading waterfalls that are dried up or much less dramatic in summer; but on the other hand, some backroads are inaccessible due to high river levels. We saw an array of beautiful wildflowers in June, including burnt orchids, rhododendrons and pasqueflowers.
It’s a fair bit quieter at this time of year, so you’re less likely to encounter big groups of other tourists. On the downside, some guesthouses and shops might not have opened for the season, meaning less choice when it comes to accommodation.
July/August in Tusheti (high season)
July and August is ‘peak season’ in Tusheti, when most people choose to travel. This means it’s busier on the roads and trails, and potentially more challenging to find a guesthouse.
Because it’s warmer and drier, this is definitely the best time of year for hiking. Temperatures rise to the low 30s in Omalo, while it remains temperate in the higher villages. Nights are still quite chilly throughout summer, so you’ll always need to bring a jacket.
Several important Tushetian festivals take place during the summer months (see below).
September in Tusheti (end of the season)
Autumn in Tusheti looks very beautiful, especially the start of the season when the leaves change colour. It remains relatively warm and dry into September (often referred to as the ‘fourth month of summer’ in Georgia), thus it’s still a good time for hiking.
Temperatures drop down to the low teens during the day and single digits at night by the end of September. The weather gets progressively cooler into October, with the first snow falling at the start of the month.
Festivals in Tusheti
There are several major cultural festivals in Tusheti and the lowland villages that you might like to plan your trip around.
Tushetian Cheese Festival (2023 dates TBC)
Usually staged at the end of May in the town of Akhmeta in the Alazani Valley, this festival celebrates Tusheti’s Guda cheese traditions. Cheesemakers from around the region gather to showcase their products. There is also live music and folk dance performances.
Zezvaoba (May 28)
Held annually on the last Sunday in May, Zezvaoba takes place in the village of Alvani. It honours Tushetian war hero Zezva Gaprindaul, who led his troops to victory in the 1659 Bakhtrioni uprising. The festival includes markets and a doghi horse race.
Atnigenoba (August 2)
Also known as Tushetoba, Atnigenoba designates the beginning of the autumn harvest and is celebrated 100 calendar days after Orthodox Easter. This is the biggest festival in Tusheti, taking place across all villages. It involves brewing Tushetian beer, various animal sacrifices, and ritual feasting.
How many days should you spend in Tusheti?
I recommend spending a minimum of 2 full days (3 nights) in Tusheti. Anything less than that and you will feel rushed. The drive up to Tusheti is long and quite exhausting, and you definitely need a bit of time to recover.
Budget more time if you plan on hiking, 4-5 full days depending on your chosen trail/s. The weather can be unpredictable in the mountains so it’s always a good idea to have a buffer day or two up your sleeve in case the rain blows in.
How to get to Tusheti from Tbilisi
The Tusheti road (officially the Pshaveli-Abano-Omalo road) starts from the lowlands of Kakheti and finishes in the village of Omalo inside Tusheti National Park.
Constructed in the 1980s and basically unchanged since then aside from some minor repairs, the road is rough and unsealed. It traverses numerous tight switch-backs (some of which require reversing the car), passes over multiple cascading waterfalls, and is bordered by a mountain face that is constantly shedding slate rock and debris. For much of the journey, the road has a steep drop-off on one side, and it’s so narrow there is barely enough room for other cars to pass.
The distance from Tbilisi to Omalo is approximately 190 kilometres or 118 miles.
The average travel time from Tbilisi to Tusheti is 7-8 hours, including 2-2.5 hours to get to Kvemo Alvani via the Gombori Pass, plus another 4.5-5 hours to reach Omalo.
There are two options for getting to Tusheti: 1) Hire a private driver to pick you up from Tbilisi and take you to your guesthouse in Tusheti; or 2) Make your own way to Alvani or Telavi in Kakheti using public transport then take a shared 4WD taxi from there.
See my Tusheti Transport Guide for full instructions, road safety tips, and places to stop along the way.
Can you drive your own car to Tusheti?
I only recommend driving yourself to Tusheti if you have extensive experience both with driving in Georgia and with navigating mountain roads. There is no phone reception for much of the journey, so if something breaks, you need to know how to fix it yourself.
You cannot drive to Tusheti in a sedan. The road requires a 4WD with high clearance, either a Delica, a Jeep or similar.
Most rental car agencies prohibit driving on this road.
How to get around Tusheti
There is no public transport in Tusheti. If you are visiting without your own car/driver (and you don’t plan to hike from village to village), then you will need to organise taxi transfers through your guesthouses.
You might be able to hitchhike on some roads – but I don’t necessarily recommend getting into a car with an unfamiliar driver. The roads around Tusheti between the villages are just as perilous as the road up (in some cases, even more nail-biting) so remember to keep road safety front of mind.
Where to stay in Tusheti
The most common type of accommodation in Tusheti is family guesthouses. There are a couple of hotels in Upper Omalo.
Guesthouses are priced at around 80-120 GEL per person per night, including breakfast but with lunch/dinner as an optional add-ons (normally 20-30 GEL per person per meal). Towels and linens are provided. There is no heating, so make sure you bring something warm to sleep in (though in my experience, guesthouses supply thick blankets).
The children and grandchildren of the family spend their summer holidays in Tusheti helping out at the guesthouse, so you’ll find there’s always someone around who speaks English.
There are enough rooms in most villages that you don’t have to worry about missing out. Remember that some guesthouses don’t open until late June or early July. Tour companies often book out the bigger guesthouses the year before, so it’s a good idea to reserve your accommodation as far in advance as possible, especially if you’re travelling in July/August. Options are more limited in small villages so you definitely need to plan ahead.
A lot of guesthouses aren’t listed on Booking.com and require a phone call or a Facebook message to book.
Where to stay in Omalo
Upper Omalo is the most developed and ‘touristy’ spot in Tusheti. Lower Omalo is a bit quieter but slightly less picturesque compared with Upper Omalo.
Overall, Omalo is a great place to stay, both because of its accessibility (it’s the first major settlement you come to when arriving from Tbilisi), and for its close proximity to hiking trails.
Guest House Aluda
This is where I stayed in Lower Omalo. Aluda is a big, comfortable guesthouse with ensuite bathrooms for every room, a lovely back veranda and a cosy dining room downstairs. The food is great (particularly the khinkali) and the host is very helpful.
More information here.
This popular hotel in Lower Omalo has rooms for couples and families, all with shared bathrooms. The cafe here serves home-cooked meals to both guests and walk-ins. Transport and horse trekking can be arranged.
Guest House Shina
Located in Upper Omalo, Guest House Shina offers double, triple and quad rooms, all with ensuite bathrooms. The food here is highly regarded, and host Natia can help you with organising transport and other logistics.
This upscale hotel in Upper Omalo bares some resemblance to Rooms Kazbegi. Suites are beautifully decorated with antique carpets, and the common areas have big windows and wood-burning fireplaces.
This building was constructed as a boarding school in the 1980s but never completed. Part of the reason for that is its location on the edge of Tsasne, a sacred forest where women are not permitted.
Where to stay in Dartlo
Of the villages I visited in Tusheti, Dartlo was definitely my favourite. The reconstructed towers and high mountain backdrop make it extremely picturesque. There are plenty of things to see in the village itself, which makes it ideal for travellers who don’t have a car.
Qeto’s Guest House
This is where I stayed in Dartlo. The house is a new wooden building with guest rooms and shared bathrooms on the upper level, a lovely upper veranda, and best of all a cute front garden with picture-perfect views of Old Dartlo. The generous meals and Aludi (Tush beer) served here are both delicious.
More information & bookings here.
This idyllic stone house in Old Dartlo is part hotel, part art retreat. If you’re not staying here, it’s still worth dropping by to meet Salome and sit in the garden with a pot of Tushetian tea.
More information & bookings here.
Guesthouse Tushetian Tower
For a chance to sleep inside a clan tower, this unique hotel occupies a reconstructed tower and adjoining stone house. Bicycle hire is available.
Where to stay in Shenako
Shenako is the only village in Tusheti that’s on the electricity grid (more on electricity in the next section). It’s also very beautiful but more pastoral than Dartlo.
We had a phenomenal meal at this family cafe in Shenako. The owners have their own vegetable gardens and produce their own honey. The house has a beautiful setting overlooking the valley and offers several guest rooms as well as horse riding expeditions and other activities.
More information & bookings here.
Located inside a traditional wooden house, this family-run guesthouse and especially its host, Mrs. Daro, also receives high praise for its home cooking. Rooms are simple but cosy, with wood panelling and shared bathrooms.
Is there electricity in Tusheti?
Yes, there is electricity in Tusheti, but it is not reliable. That’s because villages are off the grid and rely solely on solar power and petrol generators. The only exception is Shenako, which has electricity thanks to its hydropower plant. In the 1980s, an electricity grid was installed in Omalo, but it is no longer in use.
Because of the low wattage, guesthouses only permit you to charge cameras, phones and laptops. Using hairdryers, electric razors and other electronics is prohibited.
Guesthouse bedrooms and bathrooms do not have power outlets. There are only a few outlets located in common areas, which are shared between guests. If it’s a full house, you’ll need to be strategic with your charging. If possible, bring a powerbank and an adaptor plug that will allow you to charge multiple devices at once.
Most guesthouses have hot water, but it’s more likely to be lukewarm than actually hot. It’s best to shower during the day rather than at night when it’s cold outside.
On cloudy and rainy days, there might not be any electricity at all. This was the case for us when we stayed in Omalo.
Is there WiFi in Tusheti?
Update for summer 2023: Over the winter, internet infrastructure in Tusheti sustained some damage and as a result, WiFi is slower in Omalo than normal. Some guesthouses have switched from Magti to Silknet.
Yes, there is 4G coverage and phone reception in most villages in Tusheti, including in Omalo, Dartlo, Shenako and Diklo. I was surprised at just how good the coverage was! I had full 4G coverage for most of the trip – strong enough to do video calls with my husband. In some places the internet was better than our WIFI in Kutaisi.
Coverage is spotty on the drive up to Tusheti but once you arrive, the connection is fairly stable. The only village where I couldn’t get online was Jvarboseli – but the guesthouse where I was staying still had good WIFI. Every guesthouse has free WIFI for guests.
I highly recommend buying a Georgian SIM card and picking up an unlimited 4G package before you arrive in Tusheti. Magti is definitely the best provider for this region – Beeline does not cover Tusheti.
A few weeks after my visit, Georgia approved Starlink services. Once this comes into effect, coverage in Tusheti and other remote mountain areas will be even better.
Are there ATMs in Tusheti?
There are no ATM machines or banks in Tusheti. The closest ATM is in Kvemo Alvani.
None of the guesthouses accept card payment, so it’s essential to bring enough cash (Georgian lari) with you to cover your accommodation, food and transport expenses. Make sure you check the price of meals in advance, and account for incendiary purchases such as drinks and souvenirs.
It’s a good idea to carry some 10 and 20 GEL bills for small purchases.
Are there shops & pharmacies in Tusheti?
No, there are no grocery stores or pharmacies in Tusheti. There are a handful of small corner stores, but prices tend to be very high due to the price of transporting goods up the mountain.
There is a bakery in Lower Omalo but at the time of my visit, it was closed.
It’s essential to bring everything you need with you. Don’t count on being able to buy anything when you’re up there.
Is there an entry fee for Tusheti National Park?
No, there is no entry fee for the Protected Areas. You do not need to register to enter the park either. Some areas including Diklo Castle require a permit – see the next section for more details.
In 2018, CENN and Czech Development Aid launched a pilot program to encourage visitors to make a voluntary donation when entering the park. The suggested amount was 10-20 GEL, which would be more like 20-30 GEL today.
If you do want to make a donation, you can do so at the Visitors Centre. Alternatively, you can support them by purchasing a trail map or buying a souvenir from the small shop.
How much to budget for Tusheti: Example travel costs
- Accommodation (local guesthouse): 100 GEL per night
- Lunch or dinner (local guesthouse): 25-30 GEL per person per meal
- Glass of Tushetian beer or cup of Tushetian tea: 3-5 GEL
- Trail map: 7 GEL
- Souvenirs (knitted socks): 50-100 GEL
What to pack for Tusheti
- Your passport: Make sure you carry it with you at all times, including when you’re hiking. It’s a good idea to pop it in a ziplock bag to protect it from rain and dirt.
- Power adaptor with multiple USB slots + USB cords: Great for charging multiple devices at guesthouses where there are very few electricity sockets.
- Powerbank: For keeping your mobile phone battery up during the day. Essential if you’re hiking.
- Light, loose clothing: For day wear, go for clothes that cover your skin and offer some sun protection. Essential for trekking as you might pass through tall foliage.
- Waterproof gear & a backpack cover: Essential if you plan on hiking.
- Good walking shoes: Sturdy, enclosed shoes that can handle mud.
- Sandals/thongs: It’s a good idea to bring an extra pair of shoes you can easily kick off and on around the guesthouse.
- Warm night clothes: None of the guesthouses have heating, so be sure to bring something warm to wear at night.
- Quick-dry clothing: None of the guesthouses have tumble dryers. Quick-dry clothes are ideal, particularly if you’re hiking.
- Extra socks: You can never have too many!
- Sunscreen & bug spray: There are mosquitoes in Tusheti during summer.
Hiking in Tusheti
I’m not much of a hiker, but even I think it would be a waste to come all the way to Tusheti and not do at least one short trek. The landscape is incredible, and as picturesque as driving around is, the only way to fully appreciate Tusheti is by getting out on foot.
There are more than a dozen marked hiking trails in Tusheti, ranging from short loop hikes that take you to lakes or towers, to longer village-to-village hikes, multi-day mountain summits, and thru-hikes that connect Tusheti with its neighbouring regions.
Longer and more challenging hikes such as the 5-day hike from Omalo to Shatili (Khevsureti) obviously require advance planning and proper gear. But there are plenty of routes that don’t require a tent or any special equipment and can be organised on the fly.
My favourite experience in Tusheti was the short trek (around 7 km) from Dartlo to the upper villages of Kvavlo and Dano.
Trail maps & markings
Caucasus Trekking is the best online resource for hiking in Tusheti. If you’re just hiking for leisure, I suggest picking up a trail map from the Tusheti Protected Areas’ Visitors Centre. It costs 7 GEL and describes all 13 of the major trails, along with a detailed map.
Trails in Tusheti are marked with the same standard yellow signs and white-and-red painted trail markers that you find across Georgia.
Most hikes do not require any special permit, but it’s always a good idea to check first by asking Giorgi Bakuridze or one of the other staff members at the Visitors Centre. You might need a permit for routes that go close to the border area.
Starting from 2022, it’s now obligatory to obtain a permit to visit Diklo Castle and Lower Diklo due to its close proximity to the border. We were stopped by border control officers in Diklo and told as much.
Camping in Tusheti
Wild camping is technically allowed in Tusheti and necessary when hiking in remote areas. Take care not to pitch your tent near a shrine or sacred place.
In the populated centre of Tusheti (around Omalo and Dartlo), you should stick to marked campsites. Many guesthouses also give you the option to pitch a tent in their yard and use the facilities onsite.
According to the Tusheti Protected Areas administration, you can only make a fire at a marked campsite.
Other things to see & do in Tusheti
The landscape is obviously a highlight, but Tusheti has lots to offer in terms of history and culture as well.
The reconstructed Keselo tower complex is located in the Chagma Valley and dominates the scene in Upper Omalo. The best views of the fortress are from this point. There is a sacred hill nearby, so women should take care not to cross the marked boundary.
Keselo was destroyed in the early 14th century when Tusheti was invaded by Tamerlane. Beneath the complex, a 120-metre tunnel (now sealed off) connected the castle with a water source.
Dartlo is a fortified village in the Pirikiti Valley that dates back to the 17th century. In my opinion, this is the most picturesque place in Tusheti and a must-visit. Amongst the reconstructed stone houses and towers you can also find petroglyphs, the ruins of an old church, and a reconstructed Sabcheo court. See my guide to visiting Dartlo for more things to see and do.
Other architectural complexes of note are located in Tsaro and Chontio villages.
Located in the far north-eastern corner of Tusheti a few hundred metres from the Dagestani border, Diklo is an extremely picturesque alpine village. It has a different feel to Dartlo and is another must-see in my books.
Be sure to visit Masho Bebia, one of the few people who stays in Diklo through the winter. She has a little shop connected to her wooden house where she sells hand-knitted socks and hats. See the location here.
Tusheti’s stone towers were mostly constructed in the 16th-17th centuries as a response to raids launched by Dagestanis and Chechens. Ironically, the towers conform to a Dagestani design and were built by masters specially brought in from across the border.
The towers are made of local slate stone called sipikva using a dry-build technique without mortar, and are topped with a pyramid-shaped stone roof.
Clan towers were used both as housing and for defensive purposes. During raids, women, children and animals sought shelter on the lower of the five levels, while the men used the upper levels to launch stones or fire guns at the enemy.
You can see towers strewn across the landscape in Tusheti, including in most villages. The majority are damaged, but in Dartlo several towers have been reconstructed so you can get an idea of their original form.
Aside from the clan towers, Tusheti boasts some amazing vernacular architecture, including low houses built from the same slate stone and wooden houses built in the Kakhetian style with big open verandas. The ornate wooden balconies are not typical Tushetian style but were crafted by masters from Racha.
There are only a few churches in Tusheti, including the beautiful St. George’s Church in Shenako, which was consecrated in 1843. Despite Orthodoxy never really catching on, the church is still considered an active place of worship.
Salotsavi & Khati shrines
Salotsavi (meaning ‘place of prayer’) is the general term used to refer to Tusheti’s shrines and other sacred places. Khati shrines, small stone ‘houses’ with a door opening, can be found in every village, sometimes topped with a pair of goat’s horns, as is the case in Dano. As mentioned, women are not permitted to approach men’s shrines and vice versa.
Khati are used on a daily basis for offerings. I observed this ritual in the village of Jvarboseli: The men of the house carried trays of khachapuri and distilled alcohol to the shrine and over the course of about 45 minutes, gave off three loud chants.
Sabcheo traditional courts
A Sabcheo is a traditional 16th/17th century court where village elders would meet to settle disputes. The most severe punishment for a transgression was being banished from the community.
In Dartlo, the reconstructed Sabcheo sits on a small plateau overlooking the river. It consists of a ring of 12 stone seats where the jurors and judge would confer.
Rock art & petroglyphs
The Tusheti Rock Art Trail maps out various prehistoric petroglyphs and stone etchings. Maps and information boards can be found at the start of every village.
Horse riding & mountain biking in Tusheti
Tusheti is criss-crossed by rough shepherds’ trails that are mostly car-free and perfect for mountain and dirt biking. There is no bike rental service that I know of in Tusheti – BYO bike and gear.
Horse riding is another popular activity. Many guesthouses including Mirgvela in Omalo and Gometsari in Jvarboseli offer horses for hire. They also have horse guides that can accompany you. Saddles are provided, but there are no helmets. I only recommend horse riding in Tusheti if you’re an experienced rider.
Where to eat in Tusheti
There are very few restaurants or cafes as such in Tusheti. Instead, all guesthouses offer meals for an additional cost. It’s normal to eat breakfast and dinner at your accommodation.
If you’re camping, there are a couple of small cafes in Omalo (attached to guesthouses) that cater to walk-ins. You should always give the guesthouse a couple of days’ notice so they have time to prepare.
Special Tushetian foods & drinks to try
Tushetian cuisine is very heavy on fresh vegetables and herbs. Most dishes are vegetarian-friendly – salads, foraged mushrooms, peppers stuffed with fragrant rice, various pickled and pan-fried greens – while small amounts of grilled or boiled meat (lamb or beef) are served separately. Dairy products also feature prominently on the table: cheese, kaymak, and freshly churned butter.
Aside from the delicious array of fried and sauteed vegetables (for which I can’t remember the names), there are a couple of special Tushetian dishes you should try.
Tusheti’s most famous food export, Gudis kveli, is a salty hard cheese. It takes its name from the sheep’s skin, a guda, that it’s matured in. Thick slices of Guda are served with every meal, including breakfast.
Khavitsi (Tushetian fondue)
Khavitsi (AKA Datkhuri) is Tusheti’s answer to cheese fondue. It’s made by melting cheese curds with butter until a luxurious, rich cheesy goo is formed. Served hot in the frypan, you eat it by dipping in torn pieces of bread.
Kotori (Tushetian khachapuri)
Kotori is the local Tushetian version of khachapuri: A simple wheat dough stuffed with cheese curds and formed into a thin, round disk, fried, and finished with a brush of clarified butter on top. It’s a bit smaller and more oily than an Imeretian khachapuri, for example.
Georgia’s iconic ‘soup dumplings’ trace their origins back to the mountains, with Tushetian khinkali being one of the original, most-coveted versions of the dish. There are a couple of things that set Tusheti khinkali apart: The dough is thicker and the filling is simplified, just lamb or beef meat with a pinch of caraway and no other added spices or herbs.
Aludi (Tushetian beer)
Tushetian beer (Aludi) is a fermented drink that reminds me of kombucha in its taste and slight effervescence. It’s brewed from mountain barley and wild hops and has a very light, pleasantly earthy taste. Despite the name, the actual alcohol content is negligible.
Aludi is traditionally prepared for festivals and has a strong ritualistic importance. Some guesthouses (including Qeto’s in Dartlo) serve it by the glass.
Most guesthouses don’t serve wine or beer – but they do serve liquor, either chacha or specialty spirits flavoured with herbs such as tarragon.
Kondaris chai & other herbal teas
Tusheti’s signature herbal tea is made from the tiny purple kondari flowers. You can see this wild plant growing all over the hills. I’ve heard it referred to as both wild thyme and summer savory.
Other varieties of herbal tea are made with mint and various flowers, leaves and herbs. When I stayed in Tusheti, kondaris chai was always served with breakfast. This unique Georgian beverage is only found in the highlands.
Can you drink the tap water?
Yes, it is safe to drink both tap and spring water in Tusheti. Most of the water comes from high mountain springs or glacier melt and is naturally filtered.
If you’re embarking on a multi-day hike, be sure to research the water situation first. Not all routes have springs so you might have to carry drinking water with you or invest in a steripen.
While I’m on the topic: Water security is a big issue in Tusheti, particularly in Omalo where there is no natural water source. Tourism places immense pressure on the water supply. Please do business owners a favour and be mindful of your water consumption – take short showers and reuse your bath towels.
What to buy in Tusheti
Tusheti is famous for its high-quality sheep’s wool and handicrafts made from yarn and felt. In Soviet times, Tusheti supplied the wool to make uniforms for the Soviet Army. The wool processing industry collapsed in the 1990s, and today there is just one factory spinning wool for the entire community. See this post about visiting Dito’s Wool Factory in Zemo Alvani.
Almost every guesthouse in Tusheti has a small ‘shop’ where you can buy souvenirs handmade by the owners and their friends over winter. There is also a small gift boutique inside Tusheti Protected Areas’ Visitors Centre.
Popular products include thick knitted socks, beanies and woolly accessories, felted wall hangings, slippers and hats. The most coveted Tusheti souvenir is a nabadi – a long, durable felt cloak used by local shepherds for warmth, both when out in the field and when resting (the cloak is big enough to wrap around oneself like a sleeping bag).
More resources for Tusheti
Tusheti National Park: The national park service is my first stop for information about road conditions, festivals, and other happenings in Tusheti. They are very responsive on Facebook.
Magdalena Konik Photography: Polish photographer Magdalena Konik spends time in Tusheti every season and knows the area intimately. Her photography is spectacular, and she shares terrific updates on her Facebook page. She co-runs ISARI, offering photography and adventure expeditions to Tusheti.
AqTushetii: Headquartered in Lower Omalo, AqTushetii is a festival and artist residency program that aims to promote cultural preservation in Tusheti through collaboration with international creatives. Every year they run an artist residency program plus workshops in ceramics, carpet-making, photography and more.
Mon Caucase: Natia Ruadze specialises in Tusheti and is a font of information about the area, its people and customs. Through Mon Caucase, she hosts private and small group tours, primarily in French.
Elkana: Elkana is a coalition of farmers working to improve outcomes for agriculturalists in Georgia through bio farming and tourism development. Their network of members extends to Tusheti, where they support numerous small guesthouses, restaurants and food producers.
Elkana and the FAO made my first trip to Tusheti possible – I would like to thank them again for the opportunity!
Are you planning to visit Tusheti? Do you have any questions or extra tips to add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
More mountain inspiration for Georgia
- How to get to Tusheti from Tbilisi
- Things to do in Dartlo, my favourite village in Tusheti
- How to decide which mountain region to visit in Georgia
- Guide to Kazbegi, an easy mountain getaway from Tbilisi
- Guide to Racha, an alternative mountain destination in Georgia
- Glamping in Upper Adjara, the mountain region near Batumi