Last Updated July, 2021
This summer we are spending most of the time trekking in the Caucasus Mountains, particularly in Svaneti. And what can I say? I am in awe. Even the most popular hikes such as a hike to Chalaadi Glacier, Koruuldi Lakes, and a hike to Ushguli brought up already so many positive emotions.
While my memories are still fresh, I would love to share about our hiking trip to Chalaadi Glacier and give you some tips for the best experience.
Chalaadi Glacier is one of the most famous (and super popular) hikes in Mestia. Yet, some people still either skip it or if they go, they just spend too much time on the wrong thing – walking on a dusty road to get to the trailhead.
I want to tell you how we got to experience this hike and hopefully, my tips will help you maximize your time and enjoy this trail as much as we did.
A Few Words About Chalaadi Glacier Hike in Svaneti
Chalaadi glacier, located just 12 km from Mestia, is a glacial tongue about 6 kilometers long that begins on the slopes of the Ushba and Chatini massif. It descends along the gorge of the Chalaadi River into the gorge of the Mestiachala River.
Climbers who ascend to Ushba and Chatini summit walk on the Chalaadi glacier first. But anyone else can reach the glacier’s foot taking a trail to the lower part of it, which is easy to reach from Mestia.
As a matter of fact, Chalaadi is one of the most easily accessible glaciers in Georgia and the entire Caucasus range. If you happen to be in Mestia and you have never seen a glacier, start with Chalaadi. The rest of the glaciers are slightly more difficult to reach. But even if you saw other glaciers, still don’t miss this one too.
I personally have seen glaciers a few times in my life – in the US and Europe. But I’ve never seen it this close with such an opportunity even to walk on it. (No, you don’t want to walk on the glacier on your own because it is unsafe!)
Chalaadi glacier impresses from first sight. It amazes with its scale and huge thickness of the ice.
From under the perennial snow from the ice cave, the freezing Chalaadi River, a tributary of the Mestiachala River, breaks out. Streams run from the glacier as it slowly melts and stones on top of it often crumble and roll down. It is very dangerous to stand at the foot of a glacier but incredibly interesting to stand nearby and watch how the glacier lives its own life.
The first part of the hike to Chalaadi goes through a very beautiful mixed forest followed by a rocky path. When the forest ends, the trail goes to the bank of the Chalaadi River, which flows out from under the glacier. The last part of the path consists of walking on large moraine stones. You’ll need to be careful walking there – the stones are mobile, so it is better to move along them in good shoes.
How to Get to Chalaadi Glacier Trailhead From Mestia
The starting point of the hiking trail is 9-10 km (depending on where exactly you are) from Mestia, at the suspension bridge over the Mestiachala River (exact coordinates here). There are different ways how to get to the trailhead and they are: by car, on foot walking from Mestia, by taxi or shared taxi, or on a tour. Let’s talk about each of them.
By Car – Saves a Lot of Time
No matter where we travel in Georgia, we always rent a car as I believe this is the best way to see this country. So this time, we came to Mestia from Tbilisi by car too turning it into one long road trip.
The reason I wanted to come by car was that I planned to see many landmarks on the way and that I knew having our own car would save us a lot of time (and money) in Svaneti, including on those days when we went hiking. And it really did.
First, more and more roads are built in Svaneti. Getting from one village to another, reaching other trailheads and a cable car is much easier these days than it used to be in the past. Second, local drivers charge a quite unreasonable amount of money for short distances that are easily accessible by car today. So having even a small sedan car with us really helped to save hours of time on a hike to Chalaadi glacier.
If you have your own rental car too, you can drive all the way to the suspension bridge via an unpaved road that becomes unpaved approximately here. Those who sell tours and local taxi drivers who are interested to give a ride will tell that the stretch of the road between Mestia and suspension bridge (the trailhead) is in a bad condition and that you cannot reach it by anything else than 4WD or walk on foot.
We didn’t think it was the case. In fact, our host in the Sakhli Laghamshi guesthouse suggested that we drive the entire distance in our small car. So we did. And the road was really just fine. Yes, we were driving 10km/hour but it was still much better than walking next to cars and dust.
And here is where the trail starts:
By Taxi – Saves Time But More Expensive
If you don’t have your own car, another efficient option is to go with a local taxi driver. Just out of curiosity I asked drivers around when in Mestia and they said the price was 60 lari ($19 based on the exchange rate at that time) one way for a taxi ride. It is somewhat expensive as for a taxi to charge that much and drive less than 10 km. But it is definitely worth it.
You can find a driver in the center of Mestia on the main Zugdidi Jvari street.
On a Tour – Great If That’s What You Prefer
Going on a hike to Chalaadi Glacier for some people can be more comfortable with someone who knows the surroundings. If you feel that’s your type of adventure, hire a guide to go on a private or group tour.
Hiring a guide is possible in Mestia on spot (also ask your host about it) or in advance online.
When we were on the trail, on the way back we saw two large groups of tourists. I immediately recognized a Russian-speaking guide who offers tours through Instagram and I often see her promotional ads in my feed. So I guess that’s another popular way of finding a guide who, by the way, will be not only guiding you to the glacier but will be also telling interesting stories.
However, in my humble opinion, if you are a hiker who has been on many hikes in other places, do this trek on your own. You do not need a guide. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. There is zero chance of meeting any wild animals. A walk on a path is suitable for both physically prepared tourists and families with children. A significant part of the path is well-trodden and only a small part of it consists of stones. In some areas, a path is flooded with streams that is easy to walk around.
By Walk – Just Don’t do It
If you are thinking to walk to the beginning of the Chalaadi glacier trail, I seriously want to discourage you from it.
Since recently, the area around the suspension bridge has turned into a continuous construction site. A dirt road that connects Mestia with this site (where you can drive or come by taxi) is dusty and tiring to walk. Parts of the road have gravel shoveled to the side which blocks the view of the river. So you basically have to walk almost 8 km on a dusty road under the open sun, sharing it with cars that frequently pass nearby.
Things to Know Before You Go Hiking to Chalaadi Glacier
1) It is cold and windy near the Chalaadi glacier. Even if the sun is shining outside and the thermometer shows that summer is in full swing, take a jacket or a long sleeve shirt with you. Just in case. Especially if you plan to stay there for quite some time to have a picnic. Or take one million photos as we did, haha.
We hiked on a hot (for that area) day when the temperature was 27C degrees. Once we exited the forest and stepped on a rocky path, gusts of cold wind emanating from the glacier felt as if someone had opened the freezer. A mix of warm and cold air enveloped us in its grasp. I was fine wearing leggings and a shirt. But if we stayed there longer, this would not be enough.
2) The route starts at an altitude of 1,400m and ends at 1,920m above sea level, so you need to walk up the trail with an elevation of around 500 meters.
3) The best time to visit Chalaadi Glacier is from June to the end of October.
4) Do not go to the glacier in the rain, it is easy to slip on the rocks.
5) The route is easy enough, no need to have special skills or equipment. However, you should wear comfortable shoes. Slippers or sandals are a bad idea.
6) When I was searching for information about this hike, no one ever mentioned a word about horseflies. But they can be pretty aggressive in that area in summer and early fall. Another time when I encountered them in Georgia was in another region Racha. When we went on a hike to the Buba glacier from Shovi, horseflies there were even worse. They bit me on my legs and arms and it produced a severe allergic reaction.
That experience makes me want to say – wear long pants that cover your legs, preferably in pale colors. Also, do not apply any perfumed cosmetics not to attract horseflies. However, there are no horseflies near the glacier. They breed mainly in grassy areas closer to the water.
What Not to Forget to Bring With You
– A bottle – behind the bridge there is a spring and a small trickle of drinking water that you can fill in a bottle. See photo above.
– Picaridin – the most effective repellant to ward off horseflies. It will be very helpful if you are sensitive to insect bites. After Racha, I am now carrying it in my backpack every time I go on a hike in the Caucasus. And it helps.
– Hydrocortisone cream – for that case if you got bitten and itching and swelling are bad.
– A hat & sunglasses – two-thirds of a trail goes through the forest and shade but the rest is under the open sky. If you plan to have lunch near the glacier on a sunny day, you may need sunglasses and possibly a hat.
– Long sleeve shirt -if you think you might be cold.
Other Hikes in the Area
If you feel this hike is not enough, there is another trail near the suspension bridge to the Lekhziri glacier. You can see it on maps.me and it starts on the side of the parking area.
The trail is heavily overgrown with grass, and when you leave the forest zone, it becomes completely invisible. There are also no markings. I guess the reason for that is a border control with Russia that starts not far from it. You must at least get a permit from the police (takes 5 minutes) to be able to hike to the glacier.
Final Word – Is Chalaadi Glacier Worth the Visit?
Yes. Definitely. Chalaadi glacier is one of the glaciers that is the easiest to reach. To be able to see other glaciers, you need to join longer, usually 2-3 days hikes.
Challadi glacier is visually impressive and has an incredible landscape even before you reach the final point. If you are visiting Mestia and even if you don’t have a car, it is worth planning your itinerary in that way where you can see the glacier.
If you would like to see more of the glacier, you can also watch my insta reel. It provides a closer look.