The Chalaadi glacier hike in Svaneti, Georgia
The Chalaadi glacier is located in the mountains of eastern Georgia. The region of Svaneti is home to the largest glaciers in the Caucasus mountain range and the Chalaadi glacier is just one of them.
The Chalaadi glacier is on the slopes of mount Ushba. It’s a valley glacier and its glacial tongue is about 6 kilometers long. The glacier is very important and feeds the Chalaadi river that merges with the Mestiachala river further down.
Why hike to the Chalaadi glacier?
The Chalaadi glacier is one of the most easy to reach glaciers in all of Georgia. Most travellers to Svaneti will stay at least one or two nights in Mestia, the regional capital. Chalaadi glacier happens to be only 12 kilometers from town. It is a short drive to the start of the trail and you can reach the foot of the glacier in less than an hour.
The Chalaadi glacier hike is not at all difficult. While there are plenty of other, more spectacular hikes and glaciers in this area, they would require more time and effort. The Chalaadi glacier is a short day trip from Mestia that is perfect for families with children or those that prefer an easygoing hike.
My experience on the Chalaadi glacier hike
The day I planned my Chalaadi glacier hike in Mestia it was a cloudy and rainy day. The whole morning it was pouring outside. Not the best weather to go hiking, but I decided to go anyway.
I even found a couple of other people in the hostel that wanted to go as well so we could share a taxi to the start of the trail. The taxi drove us all the way to the end of the road where there was a suspension bridge. This is where the hike started.
After crossing the bridge we entered a lush and green pine forest. It was spring and there were lots of different flowers in bloom. Despite the rain this was a beautiful walk.
After 2 kilometers I left the forest behind me. The trail got a bit trickier because of all the stones and rocks as I was now walking over the glacier moraine. I continued climbing over the rocks and boulders for another kilometer or so, but finally stopped.
The trail markers got less clear and because of the rain it was somewhat slippery. It also started to get much colder so I was pretty close to the foot of the glacier. Although it was a bit misty and cloudy, I was still impressed by the sight of the huge glacier in front of me.
At the same time, it was scary to see how much smaller the glacier has become. At one point the glacier extended all the way into the forest and it is receding by hundreds of meters per year. It is only a matter of time before it has completely disappeared.
The Chalaadi glacier hike without a guide
You can do the Chalaadi glacier hike on a tour, but it is also very easy to arrange it yourself without a guide. Below I will describe how to do the Chalaadi glacier hike on your own.
Step 1: Getting to the trailhead
10 kilometers, altitude 1400 meters
The first step is to get to the trailhead of the Chalaadi glacier hike. The trailhead is about 10 kilometers from Mestia and starts at a bridge over the Mestiachala river. The bridge is the furthest any motor transport can go.
It is possible to start your hike in Mestia itself and walk the 10 kilometers to the bridge. It isn’t the most scenic hike though as you follow a main traffic road. When I was there I saw some construction work going on as well. I am sure it will be long, dull and dusty.
Therefore, I would recommend going by your own car if possible or taking a taxi. You can ask the driver to wait for you or agree on a time that he will pick you up again to bring you back to Mestia. It is important to negotiate and try to find some other people to share the costs. In my case I paid 50 GEL and the taxi waited for our return.
It is also possible to rent a bike in Mestia. I would have preferred this option if it wasn’t raining. It is cheaper than a taxi and gives you a bit more flexibility. The 10 kilometer road from Mestia to the bridge is relatively flat and easy to manage on a good bicycle.
Step 2: Marked trail through the forest
2 kilometers, 30 – 45 minutes, altitude 1600 meters
After you cross the bridge over the Mestiachala river you enter the forest. This is where the marked trail to the Chalaadi glacier starts. The first part of the trail is a gradual climb uphill through the forest.
I really loved this part as you can smell the fresh air and pine trees. In spring there are lots of flowers as well. Soon you will hear and see the roaring Chalaadi river next to you. It took me about 45 minutes to reach the end of the forest. That said, I am a slow hiker so others could probably do this in 30 minutes.
Step 3: The glaciers moraine
1 kilometer, 30 minutes, altitude 1800 meters
As you leave the forest behind you, you will enter the glacier’s moraine and see the foot of the glacier right in front of you. Now the trail becomes a bit more tricky with lots of stones and boulders. However, if you have sturdy shoes it shouldn’t be too much of a problem and the trail is still easy to follow.
Basically you can go as far as you like. Personally I did not hike all the way to the glacier. Because of the rain, the stones and boulders started to get slippery. After about 1 kilometer I decided to turn back, being satisfied by the impressive views.
In good weather it is possible to get closer to the glacier, but in Mestia they also told me to be careful. Due to climate change and the glacier melting the area has become unstable. You shouldn’t get too close to the glacier and you should watch out for falling rocks.
Other Glacial Hikes in Svaneti
Shkara glacier: you can visit the Shkhara glacier from the village of Ushguli. Personally I found the Skhara glacier hike even more beautiful than the Chalaadi glacier hike. It is a 16 kilometer roundtrip, but the trail is relatively easy. You will follow the valley floor and only at the end there is a gradual climb up. You can shorten the hike by taking a jeep that takes you into the valley. In that case you need to hike about 2 kilometers to reach the foot of the glacier.
Adishi glacier: you can visit the Adishi glacier from the village of Adishi. To reach the glacier from Adishi it is a 12 kilometer roundtrip. Most people visit Adishi on the very popular 4 day trek from Mestia to Ushguli.
Ushba glacier: you can visit the Ushba glacier from the village of Mazeri. This 22 kilometer hike is considered difficicult with steep parts and an elevation gain of more than a 1000 meters. A taxi from Mestia to Mazeri costs about 70 – 80 Lari.
Laila glacier: the Laila glacier is one of the most difficult to reach glaciers. It’s a 2 to 3 day trek that starts in the village of Tviberi. A taxi from Mestia to Tviberi costs around 100 GEL.
Chalaadi glacier hike travel tips
What to bring
The Chalaadi glacier hike is an easygoing day trip from Mestia and there is no need for special equipment. Just bring a day pack with everything you need on a day hike. Below are some things to think about for the Chalaadi glacier hike in particular.
Snacks and food: There is no restaurant along the trail to the Chalaadi glacier so bring some snacks and food for a picnic lunch on the way.
Water bottle with filter: If you are going on a hike it is always important to bring enough water. There is no need to add to the plastic waste problem so bring your own water bottle with a water filter or steri pen. It is easy to refill your bottle on the way with water from the river.
Sturdy shoes: Once you enter the glacier’s moraine there will be lots of rocks and boulders. There is no need for professional hiking boots, but you will definitely appreciate wearing sturdy shoes. For sure leave your slippers or sandals at home.
Warm clothes: Even if it is warm and sunny in Mestia, it will be chilly and windy once you get close to the Chalaadi glacier. Therefore bring some warm clothes. It is best to wear layers so you can start with a t-shirt at the beginning of the trail and then add layers of clothing once it starts to get cold.
Passport: The Chalaadi glacier is not far from the border with Russia and there are border patrols in the area. Therefore bring your passport so you can identify yourself. I didn’t see any border patrols when I did the hike, but in Mestia they told me to bring my passport just in case.
Where to sleep
There is no accomodation at the Chalaadi glacier. The nearest town is Mestia where you have plenty of choice. As tourism is increasing there has been an explosion of new hotels and guesthouses.
After several visits to Mestia, my best experience is still with Nino Ratiani guesthouse. Mostly because of the great food and delicious breakfast buffet. It is very popular and often fully booked though and that was the only reason that I didn’t stay there again on subsequent visits.
What and where to eat
There are no places to eat along the way so bring some snacks and food with you for a picnic lunch. There is a small grocery shop in Mestia as well as a bakery. The bakery has traditional Khachapuri (bread with cheese) that makes for a delicious lunch.
Like accomodation there are lots of places to eat in Mestia so you can treat yourself on a filling Georgian dinner once you return from the Chalaadi glacier hike.
My favourite place to eat in Mestia is Sunseti cafe. It is always busy with both tourists and locals and the food is great. I can recommend their lobio (bean stew in a clay pot) for vegetarians and khinkali. It’s also a great place to try Svan specialities such as Kubdari (flatbread stuffed with minced lamb meat) and Chvistari (cornbread with cheese).
When to go
The hiking season in Svaneti runs from June till October. This is also the best time to do the Chalaadi glacier hike. At other times there might be snow on the trail. Because of the shades of the forest, snow usually stays on the trail till May. The first snowfall will be somewhere in November.
How to reach Mestia
To reach Mestia, one should first get to Zugdidi. From Zugdidi there are minivans going to Mestia.
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