Mestia is a stunning mountain town in the Svaneti region of Georgia. It is the base for the popular 4-day hike to Ushguli but even non-hikers flood to this town for its beautiful views, cultural history and fresh mountain air.
Getting to Mestia from Tbilisi is not so easy, the roads in Georgia are far from perfect and, although in a constant state of improvement, still make the journey a long one. But if you’re prepared the journey is bearable and the views that await you are definitely worth the trip. Below is an overview of the different ways to travel between Tbilisi and Mestia by public transport. Of course, there is always the option to hire your own car but we only recommend doing so if you’re a confident driver.
How to reach Mestia by train
The most popular option for travelling from Tbilisi to Mestia is to take the overnight train to Zugdidi and then connect with a marshrutka (minivan) to Mestia. This option is a lot more comfortable and if you can sleep on the train it saves a lot of time.
The train to Zugdidi leaves Tbilisi at 21:45 and takes 8.5 hours. There are 3 different classes and it is necessary to buy tickets in advance, especially during peak season. Prices range from 8.5-35 GEL depending on the cabin you choose. The cheapest option is seats in an open compartment, middle range is a bed in a 4-berth cabin (21GEL) and the most expensive option is a bed in a 2-berth cabin.
There is also a train that leaves at 8.10am and takes almost 6 hours if you prefer to travel during the day. This train has seats only and a ticket costs 16 GEL.
You can easily buy train tickets online in English here. Or you can buy tickets in person at the main railway station in Tbilisi, you will need your passport.
Marshrutka Zugdidi to Mestia
The minivans align themselves with the train schedule and as soon as you exit the train you’ll hear yells of ‘Mestia, Mestia!’ The journey to Mestia takes around 3 hours but always be prepared for longer. Ours overheated at one point and we ended up taking about 4.5 hours. A ticket costs 20GEL per person.
There is also a marshrutka stand in the town so if you decide to spend some time in Zugdidi and want to go later you can just turn up at the stand and wait for the next one. There is no fixed schedule but they leave every hour or so until around 6pm in the summer months.
Tips for taking the train from Tbilisi to Mestia
- The trains seem to run reasonably punctually in Georgia so you can plan around these timings.
- In the sleeper cabins there will be either soft beds or a thin mattress to put on top of the vinyl seat. Disposable sheets are available if you ask the assistant in your cabin.
- There is air conditioning BUT only when the train is moving. This means that when you first board the train and at random intervals in the night (when the train stops for more than 10 minutes) the cabins become unbearably hot. Keep this in mind when travelling in the peak of summer.
- You don’t need to print off your tickets, just have them available on your phone along with your passport.
How to reach Mestia by marshrutka (minivan)
The simplest method of transport to Mestia is to take a marshrutka from Tbilisi. But be warned that minibuses are not very comfortable, prone to stops and breakdowns and often have no air-conditioning.
The journey takes around 8 hours and the minivans leave from Tbilisi train station early in the morning (6am). Make sure you take snacks and water and be prepared for a long, hot journey. Tickets cost 30 GEL.
In Mestia you will be dropped in the main square where there are plenty of ticket offices to book a return journey although it’s mostly fine to book on the day you want to travel. Minivans also travel from Mestia to Batumi, Kutaisi and Zugdidi if you don’t want to return all the way to Tbilisi.
How to reach Mestia by flight
For the shortest and most scenic route Vanilla Sky offer passenger flights every second day between Tbilisi and Mestia. These flights are a set price of 90 GEL one way.
Flights can be booked online but are often sold out several weeks in advance. There is also a Vanilla Sky office in Tbilisi which is a more reliable way to buy tickets but only works if you’ll be in the city a significant amount of time before your trip to Mestia.
Because of the size of the plane and the unpredictable weather in the mountains the flights are often cancelled so it’s not the most reliable form of transport. However, on a clear day the views must be absolutely stunning and the 1-hour flight is definitely preferable to the other transport options.
Where to stay in Mestia
Just about every second house in Mestia is a guesthouse these days and you will find plenty of options in varying prices ranges and standards. Many of them are also available to book online and booking in advance can be a good idea in peak season although you’ll always find something if you just turn up.
We opted for a nice midrange option slightly out of the town centre. Clean double rooms with private bathrooms, a large balcony area for hanging out and a delicious breakfast. Our hosts even stored our stuff for free while we were hiking. Check out more info here: Guest House Khergiani
When we arrived back in Mestia, Guest House Khergiani was booked out so they recommended us a place across the road which was just as nice, set in a beautiful garden and with delicious food. The rooms here were larger and lighter too. You can check out pictures and prices of LuSvan Guest House here.
Things to do in Mestia
If you’re heading to Mestia you’re most likely planning some hiking. The 4-day Mestia to Ushguli hike is very popular and we absolutely loved it! (full post to come)
But it is also worth having a day to wind down in Mestia after the hike and there are a couple of things to do.
The Svaneti Museum- This museum is a large collection of artefacts and culture history of the region. There is also some temporary exhibits, one of which was a really interesting photography exhibition while we were there. For some amazing views of the town and surrounding mountains head around to the left of the building and climb the stairs to the roof where there is a rooftop garden space.
The Mestia ski-lift – We were so excited to take this but it was closed for maintenance the week we were there. Keep walking past the museum and you will get to the bottom station where a ski-lift will take you to the top of one of the mountain ridges. You can take an easy walk along the top of the ridge to a view point. There is also a café and restaurant at the top. A return trip on the Mestia ski-lift costs 10 GEL during the summer.
Svaneti Towers – Some of these towers are still stable and families invite visitors to climb to the top for some stunning views. Just ask around in the town and you’ll be pointed in the right direction, or you can ask at the tourism office. They usually charge a small fee for entrance.
Have a Coffee – Because the ski-lift was closed we ended up chilling with an amazing coffee at Erti Kava Coffee Room. They get their coffee beans from one of our favourite cafes in Tbilisi and make a great range of coffees and cold beverages. They also have some outdoor benches and a great indoor chilling space with WiFi. We also enjoyed hanging out at Trattoria.