About Imereti and Racha
Imereti is the most populous region of Georgia– although you wouldn’t know it from this route, which sticks to villages and fields far from the population centers. Still, in this section you should expect to meet many curious people along the way, especially as hiking isn’t common.
Imereti’s geography is incredibly diverse, spanning humid subtropics, fertile farmland, alpine pastures, limestone cliffs, and thick forests.
Traditionally Imereti is an agricultural region, well-known for its grapes– and more recently, excellent local wineries, which have led to the revival of several endemic Georgian varietals. It’s also the source of several famous Georgian dishes, perhaps most notably the imeruli khatchapuri, Georgia’s classic bread with cheese inside.
Within Georgia, Racha is known for its slower pace– which we hope hikers embrace, if the steep climb from Lower Racha into Upper Racha doesn’t do the job for them!
Racha is often seen as Georgia’s true mountain paradise, a popular local summer destination where large swathes of wilderness have been mostly untouched by tourism development. That’s starting to change a bit now, but not to a degree that affects the sweeping views and solitude. A large part of the region is a proposed national park, which is currently in the early stages of establishment.
Racha is known for its cooler summer temperatures, beautiful autumn colors, and striking views of the 5000m peaks just across the Russian border. If you’re hiking northbound on the Transcaucasian Trail, this is the first section where you get really up close and personal with the Greater Caucasus.
Racha is also famous for several local dishes that are ideal hiking fuel. The ubiquitous lobio and lobiani– the former a richly spiced bean stew traditionally served with mchadi (cornbread); the latter a hiker’s powerhouse of bread with beans baked inside– are Rachan specialties, but only in Racha will you find Rachuli lobiani, with smoked ham added. Racha is also the home of Skmeruli, a rich chicken stew with huge amounts of garlic and butter, and Kvanchkhara, a varietal of Georgian semi-sweet red wine that has become emblematic of Racha. Like we said… plenty of reasons to slow down.
When to Hike
Recommended: May – October.
Like other high parts of the Caucasus, snow can linger at higher elevations until June and start falling as early as October. However, the comparatively lower elevation of this hike (max: 2300m) makes it a good shoulder-season option when the higher passes are not yet open or when snow is starting to fall at higher elevations. Do keep in mind that the higher-elevation parts of this route are also on some very steep slopes, so they should be approached with extreme caution in the event of snow.
Spring tends to arrive in April/May. From May until July the hillsides are an explosion of wildflowers and you get striking views of the snow-capped Greater Caucasus, making it a particularly dramatic time to hike the route. Water from seasonal springs is also more abundant during this time, reducing the need for long water carries. But by the same coin, you’re more likely to encounter early-summer thunderstorms and muddy conditions.
From July to August, the hillsides start to dry out, and you will likely encounter villagers making hay. By the second half of July, many of the seasonal water sources will already be dry. Plan accordingly– you may need to be prepared for a long water carry and dry camping. High summer can be very hot during the middle of the day, especially at lower elevations.
The autumn colors, cooler temperatures, and slightly more stable weather make September to October another particularly good time to visit. Racha is known for its autumn colors and the lush, deciduous forest that covers large sections of this route is dramatic in fall, as are the views on the already snow-bound Greater Caucasus. Again, keep in mind that many smaller water sources that are flowing in early summer will be dry.
The months of November to April usually see the higher parts of this landscape covered in snow. Winter hiking is likely to be possible on the lower parts of the route, but of course dependent on the amount of accumulated snowfall at any given time, which can vary from year to year. The upper sections of the route near Shkmeri are becoming known for ski touring, with several good potential routes around depending on conditions.
Getting To & From The Trailheads
Most of the journey can be made on the most ubiquitous form of public transport, marshrutkas (minibuses). You can also take a taxi or hitchhike. If the taxi does not have a meter, it is advisable to negotiate a price before departure.
The southern endpoint is accessible along the main road that goes from Tbilisi to Chiatura/Sachkhere/Oni. To arrive here, you can get on any marshrutka from Tbilisi heading to one of those three destinations. You’ll find marshrutkas to Chiatura and Sachkhere at Didube Station, typically 12-15 GEL. More tips on navigating Didube here. You can simply ask the driver to stop at the designated point, hop out, and start walking. To leave here, your best bet is to arrange a ride in advance or hitchhike, which should be easy given that it’s a two-lane but well-trafficked road.
Drbo and Speti, two villages that serve as another access point along the route, are a 20-minute drive from Sachkhere. To reach Drbo/Speti from Sachkhere, you can catch a marshrutka, hire a taxi, or hitchhike along the road.
Oni, the northern endpoint, is a popular destination. To get to Oni from Tbilisi, you can get a marshrutka. There are 1 or 2 daily marshrutka vans from Tbilisi to Oni, departing from Didube. The schedule varies from season to season, but there is normally a morning van at around 8.30am and/or an afternoon van between 2-3pm. Get there early to make sure you get a seat. The fare is usually around 30 GEL. To leave Oni, there is a marshrutka station in the center of town, near the bridge. Ask there or at a guesthouse for times and destinations.
Where To Stay
Wild camping will be necessary along this route. As in most places in Georgia and the Caucasus, wild camping is largely tolerated, though you may be visited by inquisitive locals if you set up your tent in a conspicuous location.
There is no indoor accommodation available along the trail, although there are a few guesthouses in Sachkhere (a 20-min drive from Drbo/Speti).
There are several guesthouses in Oni. Hotel Family Gallery has been particularly highly recommended by many hikers.
Gas canisters for camping stoves are unavailable to buy in the region. You will need to bring gas canisters with you from Tbilisi or Mestia, or else use a multi-fuel or alcohol-burning stove.
You should stock up on all necessary supplies in advance. There is only one small shop on the route, located in Drbo right by the bridge that leads over the river to Speti, which has only very basic supplies. If starting in the north, Oni has several small markets with a basic selection, but no bigger supermarket. If starting in the south, you will need to bring all of your supplies with you from Tbilisi or elsewhere.
Health & Communication
The nearest hospitals are in Oni, Sackhere, and Ambrolauri, with bigger hospitals in Tbilisi and Kutaisi.
The only pharmacies along the route are at the northern endpoint in Oni.
Several parts of this section have cellphone service, but there is a notable long stretch without service from the outer edge of Drbo until you reach the cliffs near Skmeri. We tend to find that Magti has better coverage in rural Georgia. Subscribing to a data plan in advance is recommended if internet connectivity is needed, especially since guesthouses don’t exist along this route and even when you do find wifi at a guesthouse, signal quality is highly variable.
Extending Your Stay: Nearby Areas Worth Visiting
To the west, the nearby manganese mining town of Chiatura is notable for its limestone cliffs and stomach-churning cable car system, which was used to ferry miners back and forth during the Soviet period, as well as a brand new cable car system opened in 2022. Check out this blog post by Wander-Lush for excellent tips on visiting Chiatura, including visiting the old cable car stations, the cliffside Mgvimemi convent, local museums, and some of the area’s best Soviet mosaics.
Thanks to an intrepid group of local climbers, the area around Chiatura is also one of the best-developed rock climbing areas in Georgia, with bolted routes available in nearby Sveri, Katskhi, and Navardzeti, as well as a few in Chiatura itself. In Sveri, there is a climbers’ camp where you can stay, rent climbing equipment, and try Georgia’s first via ferrata.
Sachkhere is not known as a tourist destination, but it does have a few draws, including some particularly nice Soviet mosaics, the recently restored Modinakhe Castle, and the nearby Dzudzuana Cave, where some of the earliest evidence of Paleolithic fiber technology has been found.
To the north, the area around Oni has several excellent options you can use to extend your hike. Some popular options are Udziro (Bottomless) Lake and day hikes around the villages of Chiora and Ghebi. From Ghebi, the TCT is working on improving the 3-day trail to Zeskho in lower Svaneti. This route is still a challenging backcountry bushwhack, but it is doable if you’re up for the challenge; contact us for more information if you want to attempt it.
In Oni and nearby Ambrolauri, there are several sights worth a stop, including some excellent local wineries and the distinctive Oni Synagogue. We also recommend Wander-Lush’s tips for the area, which are excellent.
Partners & Sponsors
This section of the Transcaucasian Trail was developed between 2021–2022 with the generous support of the U.S. Forest Service International Programs and individual donors to the Transcaucasian Trail Association.
To become a TCTA member and support more trail development projects like this one, join here.