Mestia is the regional capital of Svaneti. It is also the main centre of tourism for the region. It is a relatively small town of around 2.600 inhabitants, but it is the main service centre for the Svaneti region and as such has many of the characteristics of larger cities. It is a very tourist-friendly town, in part due to several major construction activities including a new road (a twisty but well-maintained mountain road), a renovated town centre with a number of new buildings, and a new airport. There has also been a lot of investment in other infrastructure, such as a new district court, giving Mestia the feeling of a city rather than the rural towns it is. This has made traveling to Mestia much easier, but the main street has lost part of its former character. This said, exploring the streets just behind the main street immediately brings you to very rural areas with cows, pigs and chickens everywhere.
The town is very easy to navigate. It is made up of three villages following the Mulkhra River, with a single main street lying through the entire town. Most guest houses, hotels and restaurants are along this main street.
- Tourist Information Centre, Seti Square (the main square in Mestia). Part of the country-wide network of tourist information centres. Provides information on activities in Mestia including high-quality hiking maps.
- Mountain Tourist Centre of Svaneti, Pereulok Stalina No. 7 (200 m from the main square in Mestia).
- In the summertime a plane flown by the Georgian military will give you a ride between Kutaisi and Mestia. The plane only operates on "perfect" days. This is a very fun experience! The cost is free to the locals, or ~$15 USD for foreigners. It will take off from a grassy field in Mestia, and land in Kutaisi in less than an hour! This will reduce travel time to the capital by about 6-8 hours! The plane flies on Saturdays and leaves Kutaisi at 9:00. (This is a 2010 info and possibly no longer valid).
- During 2014 and continuing to 2015 there are heavily subsidized flights from Tbilisi to Mestia for 65 GEL one way from Natakhtari Airfield. Flights from Natakhtari to Mestia and back are operated by air company Serviceair, by air plane LET 410-UVP. Flights are on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. From Natakhtari to Mestia at 11:00 and from Mestia to Natakhtari at 13:00. The registration time is one hour before the flight. Flight duration is one hour. Price includes free transfer from Tbilisi (metro station Rustaveli, near fountain at 9:20 pickup) and back — from Natakhtari to Tbilisi also. Reservations are available at Vanilla Sky agency, ☎ +995 32 242 7427, +995 599 65 90 99 (Mob), e-mail: email@example.com. . Its office moved from the old city centre to further toward the suburbs at 5 Vazha-Pshavela Avenue, Tbilisi, close to Metro Medical University station.
- Important: There is a high demand for tickets so reserve tickets long in advance. For example, by the end of July 2015 the only tickets from Mestia to Tbilisi were for the end of August. To make a reservation from Mestia to Tbilisi, call the Mestia airport: 598510895. If no tickets are available, ask to be on the waiting list. From June 2015 on flight times were 10:00 and 12:00 respectively.
Note: Flights are dependent on weather conditions in the mountains between Mestia and Tbilisi. As the weather changes quickly, it is difficult to plan a flight to or from Mestia with absolute certainty and it might be a good idea to have a plan B in case the flights are cancelled.
There is also an option to fly to Mestia from Tbilisi by helicopter. The duration of the flight is 1.5 hours. There are a few companies organizing these flights. Unfortunately, these organizations suspended flights for the fall of 2014 due to various reasons, however, there are chances the flights will be started again in early 2015.
From Tbilisi, take the 21:10 night train reaching Zugdidi at 6:25. From outside Zugdidi station, take a marshrutka to Mestia. Marshrutka ticket price: 15 Lari (Georgian) / 20 Lari (foreigners). Duration: about 4 hours + an unpredictable waiting time in Zugdidi (up to 7 or 8 hours) if you don't arrive with the overnight train.
Trains can be full (especially private cabins), so book several days in advance.
- From Tbilisi marshrutki (mini buses) go every day from the "Vagzali" bus station. Number of seats 16, ticket price 30 Lari per person. Departure time: 5:00. Duration 8-10 hours (depending on the weather conditions).
- From Zugdidi marshrutki to Mestia wait in front of the train station. The price is currently 20 Lari (March 2015). Note that these marshrutki will only go if there are enough passengers. Therefore expect some hours of waiting in the worst case. Duration: 4 hours. An alternative is a shared minivan (also called marshrutka by the locals). They start at a fixed time in the Gulua street at the crossing with the Dutu Megreli street. (Go from the train station to the main road (Rustaveli street), turn left and follow it towards the city, just before the bridge turn left and go in the Gulua street about 200 meters, there should be a sign on the right side at a kiosk.)
From Mestia, one marshrutka leaves towards Zugdidi everyday at 5:00. Sometimes (but only sometimes!), other marshrutkas leave at 6:00, 7:00M, and even 8:00 during the high season (but probably not later than that). Later, you need to use a private taxi. Travel time is 2 - 2.5 hours.
As of August 2015, it appears that the only public option to leave Mestia to Zugdidi or Tbilisi is at 08:00 a.m. daily (according to several guesthouses and the tourism office). Seats can be reserved by your guesthouse, price to Zugdidi is 20 Lari. The bus stops at the train station in Zugdidi, connections to Poti, Batumi and other cities are available.
A new highway from Zugdidi to Mestia has been opened and the trip has become relatively safe and comfortable by public or private transport. The view on the way is amazing. The usual driving time is about 2 hours, although it can be longer in winter following snow falls, or when the road is covered with ice. Whatever the season, it is not advised to drive yourself unless you are used to such mountain roads. Drive with high attention if you are not an experienced driver.
Mestia – Tbilisi can be driven in about 6.5 hrs.
The city is small enough to be covered by foot.
- Svaneti Historical-Ethnographic Museum. Astonishingly extensive museum which has one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts in Georgian on display. Recently renovated, the museum is now equipped with modern display cases and has extensive written descriptions of exhibits in English. Admission is 5 Lari.
- House and Museum of the world-famous alpinist Mikhail Khergiani. Part of the tour includes going inside the Svan tower which Khergiani used as his training gym. Admission free.
- Ski lift (8km of Mestia. It's possible to walk there following uphill asphalt road, altitude difference is 400m. Or get a taxi for 30 GEL, including 2 hrs of waiting time and a ride back). Year round, 10:30–18:00. It leads to the top of a mountain and offers splendid view. There is a restaurant on top. 5 GEL return.
- Stone defensive towers. A typical fortified dwelling consisted of a tower, an adjacent house and some other household structures encircled by a defensive wall.
- Churches of 10th–14th centuries, including Mazhari, Trongsa and some others.
- Mineral springs.
- Mountain Ushba is a main attraction, in a good weather conditions you can see it above. You can also get to its base (3.5-4 hrs one way).
- Walk to the Mountain Ushba glacier, takes around 6 hours, starting from a beautiful mountain village Mazeri.
- Trip to the cross and Koruldi lakes: The path is very easy to find and follow. From the main square go 500m east and follow the road which is forking uphill (just before the bank). Trip time is approx. 2 hours one-way, be concentrated on the way back to avoid detours. You can also continue to the Koruldi lakes (2 hours more with some very steep hills to climb). No map needed for this route.
- Walk to Chalati Glacier: walk to the airport and follow the road. After approx. 2h30min you reach a bridge. There's no border post anymore (as mentioned in the LP guide book), but a cafe offers refreshments. From the bridge it's a good 1 hour more to the glacier. No entrance fee, no map needed for this route.
There are two ski resorts close to Mestia.
(This information applies to the winter season 15/16 and will change next season.) At this time, Tetnuldi resort is still under construction. Only one of three projected lifts is in operation and there is only one very easy slope finished. Usage of the lift is free. At the lift, there is no ski rental, so if you need ski, you need to rent in Mestia. There is a government bus from Mestia central square at 11 am, which is also free, it returns when the lift closes, around 5 pm.
This ski resort features a single lift and also a single slope (there is a short beginners lift as well). The slope is more difficult than Tetnuldi's. The ski pass is 5 GEL for locals and between 20 and 25 GEL for foreigners, so you should ask a local, e.g. your taxi driver, to purchase the pass for you. Ski rental is available at the lift, though the skis are quite old and better ones can be had in Mestia. To take a taxi to Hatsvali is 40 GEL at most for a return journey. The driver will take you there, go home and arrive again at a prearranged time. The cheaper way is to walk in the right direction and hitchhike, especially if you are without skis.
There are Liberty bank branch, two ATMs and one currency exchange office (with just marginally worse rates than elsewhere in Georgia).
- Beautiful works of Folk art can be bought at the Mountain Tourist Centre.
- There is a small market for fruit, vegetables, drinks and necessity products, as well as a number of shops.
Mestia has several restaurants and cafés in town.
Of course, as anywhere in Georgia, marvelous Georgian wine and chacha!
- Hostel Seti, Seti squ. 7 (Right in the center, next to the tourist information center and a restaurant). It's newly built. Have air conditioning in the hall and heater in the room. The room is large. €10 for a dorm bed.
- Hotel "Mestia", Zurab Devdariani, 577721211, 590721211.
- Muradi Chartolani's Guesthouse, Ushba St. 2, ☎ +995 55 56 19 74, e-mail: Transfer-Mestia@mail.ru. Guesthouse with TV, garden. $10-20.
- Nest Hostel Mestia, Kakhiani st. 16, ☎ +995 595 41 44 43, +995 555 52 55 77, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Centrally located with balcony overlooking river mountains and 'Svan' towers holding the sky over Mestia. Friendly, English speaking and very helpful staff. €9-11.
- Nino Ratiani's Guesthouse, 1 Queen Tamari Street Akhalsheni, ☎ +995 99 18 35 55, +995 90 52 78 18, e-mail: email@example.com. Guesthouse with private and single rooms, free wifi internet, hot water and wonderful Georgian meals. Very comfortable beds. New building with additional guest-rooms. Calling ahead for vacancy is advisable during summer. Putting up a tent may be possible for 5GEL per person. Warm and friendly owners who speak English. Additional services and airport pick ups, meal requests, cooking lessons, etc. can be arranged. 80 GEL for two persons including two very extensive meals per day (April 2014). $20-25 per person (including three meals).
- Nino Tstulukiani's Guesthouse, Guladi Japarise Street no 8, ☎ +595 58 98 39, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Nice family run guesthouse with spacious rooms, shared sitting room and bathroom with hot water. The owner is an excellent cook. Currently (summer 2011) the family is building a hotel, located next to the guesthouse. GEL 30 per person (includes dinner and breakfast).
- Roza Guetshouse, 17 Vittorio Sella Str. (About 200 meters on the left just when entering Mestia.), ☎ +995 599641455, +995 598309919, e-mail: email@example.com. Very nice guest house above Mestia. Free Wi-Fi, hot water, nicely warmed in winter, and delicious Georgian food. Also, the view from the living room may be one of the most beautiful views on Mestia. Booking possible on booking.com, or by email. From 15 to 40 Lari per person (depending on season and options).
Several people rent rooms in their houses as well:
- House of Elguji Jorjoliani
- House of Ketevan Gabliani (Tel. +995 599-56-93-58)
- House of Malkhaza Argviliani (Tel. +995 599-25-90-80)
- House of Irma Khergiani (Tel. +995 598-97-72-38)
- Shalva Kvitsiani's Ushba Homestay, ☎ +995 599 73 95 21. Guesthouse with private rooms, hot water and meals in picturesque village Becho. Convenient for a trek or climbing expedition to Ushba.
- Irine's Guesthouse (Turn off the Zugdidi-Mestia highway at Becho, then follow the main road in Becho for 2.5 km; the guesthouse is on the left.), ☎ +995 591 810 242. Irine Japaridze operates a friendly, welcoming guest house in Becho, open year-round, which is located near a roaring river, in a beautiful yard with a garden and fruit trees. There are great views of Ushba, one of the tallest mountains in the Caucasus, and you can walk to a nearby spring which has naturally carbonated water. The food is outstanding, cooked in the flavorful Svan style, and much of it comes fresh from the garden. Becho is a peaceful and quiet village even during the peak of the tourist season. The rooms are comfortable and there is hot water. Day trips to Mestia, Ushguli, and other areas in Svaneti are easy, and Irine can arrange transportation. Bring warm clothes: the bathroom is in another building, and nights in Svaneti can be chilly. GEL 40 per person, including breakfast and dinner, add GEL 5 if you want lunch. Pitch your tent in the yard and use the bathroom/shower for GEL 15 per person, add meals for GEL 5 per meal.
- Guesthouse Svaneti Peak-Mazeri (owners pick-up from the main road), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Great location under Mt. Ushba, with gardens and meadows around, home-made natural traditional food. Horse-riding tours, trekking to waterfalls and Ushba glacier, and mountain river fishing are available. Families, backpackers and climbers are all welcome.
Not much Wi-Fi access, but several cafés, restaurants and guesthouses offer free and decent Wi-Fi.
Geocell and Beeline both have quite decent signal in the area.
- Mazeri - Svaneti mountain village, surrounded by a stunningly beautiful landscapes and huge waterfalls. The starting point for a several exciting Svaneti trekking routes, including Mount Ushba glacier trek.
- Mestia is also the embarkation point for a trip to Ushguli, the highest altitude inhabited point in Europe. There is another small Ethnographic Museum there, containing 12th century religious artwork.
- To get a more authentic experience, also consider visiting nearby villages such as Lenjeri (many Svan towers), Latali (old and beautiful churches), and Becho (mountain hiking).