Everyone considering going to Georgia for such reasons as backpacking or hiking or mountain climbing, please be advised!
The wave of crimes in which the tourists are the victims is rising in Georgia. There were at least 4 cases in the region of Becho village in Svaneti during the last two months. Very alarming is the reaction of the Georgian police. Tourism is the only source of income for the whole region (Svaneti do not produce anything except the tourist service). Nevertheless, local police neither investigate crimes, nor inform the new visitors about danger. The information of crimes is concealed by police, and that provokes the new, more serious crimes.
Preparing to climb Mount Ushba our team got into that accident in late September 2021. We were totally robbed right at the base of Ushba route, while sleeping in the Base Camp. The thieves got everything - climbing gear, clothing, cameras, documents, leaving a group almost naked. The total impact of the rubbery exceeds 30.000 Euro. Local authorities said they are sorry -it was all the government support for the victims. The reaction of the Georgian police was totally surprising - they have literally refused to act. The excuse for them (as the police officially state) was that the tourists provoked the locals by leaving their stuff unprotected outside of the tents (but the most valuable things like cameras, money and laptops were taken from the car). Also the police apply to the fact that such an accident happened in the area for the first time - which was a lie as we found a couple of days later. We were the forth group robbed in the area during the summer season 2021 (also we have got info about two more incidents in which the thieves were spooked by tourists). This could be only the tip of the iceberg as we got info from the open sources and related forums, not from the officials.The conclusion of our story is quite alarming. The Georgian police service revived and reformed by Michael Saakashvili in 2005 was quite effective for the 10 consequent years facilitating the development of the convenient tourist infrastructure. But at the moment, this police structure got corrupted and is getting back to its primary pre-reforming condition — which was a totally useless and corrupted structure.
Such a state of things is absolutely unacceptable and dangerous. Tourism in the country could work only on one main and uncompromising condition of the personal safety of every tourist coming to Georgia.The situation we recently discovered in Georgia in the summer 2021 makes the overview very different from the previous years. Now it becomes dangerous to travel in Svaneti, where the tourists are not protected by the government structures anymore.With a lot of pain, as I really love Georgia, I have to declare the following: until all the crimes against the tourists in Georgia are efficiently investigated and the criminals found and punished, the tourism in Georgia should be reduced to minimum or totally banned.
On the South slopes of the Main Caucasus, between two high mountain ranges, lays one of the most authentic and fascinating countries of the world - Svanetia. Protected from enemies and foreign influence by its geographical location, Svanetia until nowadays keeps the atmosphere and traditions of the medieval times, welcomes its guests heartily and leave none of them indifferent.
If you have visited Georgia 10 years ago, then compare it to the same country of today, it would be difficult to believe it is the same country. 10 years ago going from Tbilisi as far as Mestia - the capital town in Svanetia would take you into the world of medieval times with both its romantics and physical dangers.
But today everything is changing. Due to the personal interest and protection of the Georgian President Svanetia is very quickly becoming the most promising and fast developing mountain resort ideally fit for all the kinds of mountain activities - skiing, snowboarding, climbing, trekking, mountain biking, etc. Despite all the development Svanetia is still saving its originality and its authentic charm, attracting people by its natural and human treasury. As for the mountain climbing Svanetia has as much various possibilities as no one region in Caucasus has.
The history of that small country located on the South slopes of the Main Caucasian Mountain Range roots in the very ancient times. In VII-VIIIth centuries while on the slopes if North Caucasus only wild bears and goats
were roaming, and vast expanses of north plains were trampled by fierce tribes of Huns, in that time the South side of the Main Caucasian Range where the up-to-date Svanetia is located, the art and religion were developing, and the independent country with a sound name of Free Svanetia was prospering. Today, in every Svanetian hamlet, even in the most tiny and abandoned, the first thing which the person who is in Svanetia for the first time sees - is plenty of the most ancient towers, churches, half-ruined castles and many evidences of the famous past of Svanetia.
But quite few people can say that they indeed saw real Svanetia, not the postcard print. Remote location of Svanetia, bad roads, lack of regular transport connection with the central regions of Georgia, all that is not favorable for tourism developing but absolutely great for conservation of culture and old traditions of Svanetia. People in Svanetia live the same way as their ancestors live long ago - high in the mountains, in ascetic way, ploughing the meagre mountain fields in the summer and hunting during the winter season... Svanetian people have one peculiarity which makes them very special from all the people who live in mountains - normally, mountain people do not climb the mountains higher than is supposed by their practical needs. For Svanetians, climbing mountains is much more important than hunting for food or looking for the new pastures. Climbing mountain tops is deep in the soul of Svanetian people, who are tightly connected with the mountains and who love them from the bottom of their heart...
Most of the climbing objects as legendary as Ushba, Shkhara, Tetnuld are much more accessible from Svanetia as from nowhere else. In the reasonable future Svanetia can become something like Caucasian Chamonix perfect location for those who admire mountains.
Although Svanetia remains one of the most remote locations in Georgia, distance from Tbilisi is about 490 km, visiting that beautiful country becomes more and more convenient: the new highway Zugdidi - Mestia is to be finished in several months - that makes the road from Tbilisi much more comfortable and faster. Now average time from Tbilisi to Mestia ranges between 8 - 10 hours if you go by car but the chance of traffic delay is very high because of the road works.
The regular buses depart from Tbilisi from bus station in Tbilisi early in the morning (5 a.m.) Taxi service is also available but costy.
The regular air transportation connects Mestia with Tbilisi and Zugdidi, due to the reconstructed and improved airport in Mestia now it is possible to use new aircraft for carrying people to Svanetia. But flights need good weather and quite often are cancelled in the last minute, so ground transportation is still more reliable.
At the moment there is no limitation for trekking, climbing mountains
or going around Svanetia for sightseeing - everywhere you will meet friendly people ready to help and drink with you. There are some formalities connected with the proximity of Russian border - in case you go close to it (especially if you climb the mountains in the Main Caucasus - which is the border line) - you have to register in border guard station - that is not complicated procedure and takes just few minutes.
What you really should be aware of is total absence of any kind of rescue service. The nearest helicopter station is in Kutaisi and in case of need helicopter help can come very late. At the moment AlexClimb (UshbaGuides) company been the only professional guiding company working in Svanetia, voluntary provides all kinds of mountain rescue service, but we are very limited in sources to cover all the needs of the area. Hopefully the situation will change soon together with total developing of Svanetia and improvements of Georgian economy but now if something happens you should rely on your own capacities.
For the most of emergency cases contact the police: (from local phone) 022
AlexClimb (UshbaGuides): Georgian +995 595 93 7838 or Russian phone +7 926 233 3300
No limitations for camping
www.flypgs.com Pegasus Airlines - the flight operator for Svanetia in Georgia
Svanetia About Svanetia on Wikipedia
AlexClimb (UshbaGuides) web site Information on the organized commercial tours treks and climbs in Svanetia