Tusheti is such a remote region in Georgia but doesn’t stop travelers from going through the nerve-wracking Abano Pass and tourism in the region is steadily growing each year. We recently visited Tusheti and surviving driving through the Abano Pass feels like a challenge we passed to be able to witness the beauty of Tusheti.
And what better way to experience the beauty of the region than to go on a three-day excursion on their Omalo Loop. The Omalo Loop wasn’t necessarily a demanding trail to hike on, but we did face some challenges. Those challenges however far outweigh the magic of the experience.
We planned our itinerary just so we can spend three days in Tusheti hiking through the Omalo Loop. Most people start their trek at Omalo, Tusheti’s main and biggest town but we decided start to start our trek at Shenako, our driver’s hometown. The first day of our trek was hiking from Shenako to Diklo and spending our night at a guest house there.
Our second day of hiking was following the mountain path from Diklo to Dartlo and spending the night at a guesthouse there as well. On the third and last day, we traced our way back to Shenako and meet our driver.
The mountainous region of Tusheti may pale in comparison to the other Caucasus regions in Georgia because of its lower altitude and flatter terrain but the sights as we walked along the valley still left me breathless.
Day 1 of Omalo Loop: Omalo to Diklo
Rich and I started early on day one of our three-day excursion through the Omalo Loop. We arrived early at Omalo on a relatively chill day so we decided to head straight to Diklo right then and there. We decided to go with our driver at his hometown at Shenako and start our trek there.
This way we’ll save a lot of time and since our driver will be the same one to bring us back to Telavi, we decided to leave some of our things with him. He agreed to meet us back at Omalo to pick us up at the end of our hike.
The town of Shenako itself is quite beautiful and rustic. The village is made of ancient-looking houses with balconies and stone roofs. And there’s a big church that’s very easy to spot. It feels like I’ve traveled back through time. We had the option to go on a detour to visit the Shenako Fort, also known as the Love Fortress, but we opt to go on ahead.
The trek to Diklo from Shanako wasn’t all that difficult. I would outright and say that it’s probably the easiest leg of the entire hike. It’s a great day hike for beginners to take and the trip to the town of Diklo was very scenic.
We made good time and completed the entire 3000-meter in just under two hours. We reached a fork on the road with an easy to spot signpost. We could either take the path through the wider, dustier jeep road marked as yellow for roughly 3km or the scenic route through the forested trail which is twice the distance.
It was already running late even though we cut half the distance of traveling to Diklo from Omalo by starting at Shenako. We were warned about aggressive dogs in the area and we were not too keen to be out after sunset so we took the less scenic route.
We steadily followed the path to Diklo and passed by what seems like a shrine. I read online that outdoor shrines are a common sight throughout the Tusheti region but women aren’t allowed near them so we quickly moved on.
We finally arrived at Diklo at around 5 pm and it only to took us around two hours. If we started at Omalo, we’d still be hiking for an hour or an hour and a half so we definitely saved some time.
Diklo is the nearest village to the Georgian-Russian border and has a popular ruined fortress just on its outskirts which we visited. The walk up and back down the Diklo fortress took us about 50 minutes. The sights of the village of Diklo and the valleys were beautiful up there. There was no one else around so it felt like we have the world to ourselves.
For most people, the fortress is the last destination on their trek before heading back down to Omalo. We saw people taking horses on the trail from Omalo to Diklo and back. But we were determined to go all the way to Dartlo before heading back so we stayed at a guest house in Diklo to spend the night and continue our trek the next morning on our second day.
There were a couple of guest houses in Diklo we could spend the night. We chose to stay at Dzveli Calavani Guest House because it started to rain when we arrived and it’s the nearest to the gate. So we run-up to the guesthouse and quickly paid for a room.
Our host spoke Russian and doesn’t know any English at all but luckily she accommodated us and gave us a room for 60 laris each which include 2 meals, a hot shower, and a bed. It’s well worth the price. Oh, she also taught us to say ‘very good’ in Russian! The guesthouse also seems to be quite frequented by the locals, especially during breakfast and dinners so that’s a bonus.
The bathroom was very clean and the room cozy. We settled in our room for a while before exploring the town. No one seems to know any English when we walked around. We did say hello to some people and they politely greeted back. Local children were playing as well. All seems peaceful.
We encountered several tourists like us who took the trek from Omalo on horseback and some in vehicles. They had some coffee at the restaurant (our guesthouse) and went on their way back to Omalo.
We watched the beautiful sunset over the mountains and the sunrise the next morning just as much so. Oh, and BeeLine has no signal in Diklo reminding me how secluded the town is from the rest of Georgia and the world.
Day 2 of Omalo Loop: Diklo to Dartlo
We woke up at 8 AM the next morning and had a huge breakfast just like dinner the night before. We have a massive selection of bread, cheese, cucumber and tomato salad, and so much more. There were a lot of khachapuris as well, so we packed what was left for lunch. We were planning on stopping at a small town called Chigho for lunch but I have a feeling we’ll need this. The trail on the second day to Dartlo is much longer.
The visible trail to Dartlo starts 10 minutes from Diklo. There’s a yellow marker on the start of the trail that says it takes 6 hours to reach Dartlo. Past the marker up ahead we ascend a steep hill. I know that Diklo sits at the highest lying village in Tusheti but we were so high up.
It was a steady uphill battle and I was questioning if I conquer this but I eventually did. The steep trail uphill was out in the open so I was very thankful that we entered a forested area after. The shade made the temperature cooler which I greatly appreciate.
The path was marked all the way up with waymarkers but it disappeared when we got to the top of the hill. We were lost, essentially. Luckily enough, we encountered a shepherd up the hill who was nice enough to redirect us to the path. The trail looked like it veered off to the right but it passed by the shepherd’s sheep pen a little way ahead.
From that point, the trail was heading downhill. Rich told me to go ahead because I was better navigating my way downhill and I do like going on downward hikes but they’re not very good to my knees. I think 40 minutes had passed but it seemed like we were going downhill in forever.
We reached what seemed like a rainforest after. It was really pretty. The trail here was the easiest part of the hike. There were only gradual ups and downs then flat areas. The marsh mud we encountered proved to be a challenge though. I was lucky enough that my Merrell shoes were waterproof so my feet didn’t get wet.
At the end of the rainforest, the path started going up a steep hill again. At this point, we’ve been walking for 3.5 to 4 hours and I was already half crying. My bag feels heavier and heavier with each step we take. It didn’t help that I was on my period and felt like there was gushing with every step. Add on to me feeling off balance and I was positively exhausted.
Rich, bless him, stayed behind me despite my efforts to send him ahead. He said that it’s better that I set the pace because if he goes on ahead, I’ll try to catch up which will only make me even more exhausted. He even offered to carry my bag but I refused. He was already carrying his own. His constant motivation through my whimpers was a big help.
I feel myself swaying as though I might fall. The path was steep and I was in pain but Rich keeps a constant eye on me. He said to go slow but steady and I did. I pushed through. There was no one on the trail. We encountered no one except the shepherd up the mountain. Rich just keeps encouraging me to go slow but steady because going back now would just be as hard.
This reminds me of our Nepal trek where my Langtang family kept encouraging me to go at my own pace as well.
We kept walking up the steep hill until the path curves and we were finally at the ridges of a mountain. The views here were spectacular. We must have taken the mountain path because we were told most of Tusheti was reachable by car and this definitely isn’t most of Tusheti.
We took a break and ate our packed lunch to give us much needed energy to make it through. We passed through more ridges, more uphill and downhill paths until we saw Chigho Village at the distance. It took us 5 hours to reach this point.
The marker said that it’ll take 3.5 hours to reach Chigho but it’s already been five! I don’t think we were that slow during the first hill and we went downhill faster.
We reached another big hill. We went slower going up but Rich could probably go on faster because his legs were longer. But I do appreciate him looking out for me. We were planning on having our lunch at Chigho but we obviously went hungry before reaching the village.
I was smiling when we saw the village at the distance. That means we’re near the halfway mark! We’ve managed to go on for 8km and now refilling our water on the stream and moving forward.
Then we’ve had our first encounter with territorial sheepdogs. We were warned about how aggressive they could be and there were currently two of them barking at me. Rich was filling my water bottle at the stream so he wasn’t at the crossfire. I was stuck there and getting a bit scared but I stood my ground.
I have a walking stick I picked up during the grueling hike uphill but I don’t want to make any moves lest they think I’m a threat and attack. I saw Rich inching closer towards me and that’s when and moved sidewards. The dogs eventually stopped barking and we managed to walk around them. At this point, the dogs know we’re not a threat so we moved on.
Chigho was a smaller town than I anticipated and there weren’t a lot of people staying here. Maybe because it was a less popular stop but I did saw one guest house with a horse outside.
They probably saw how exhausted I am because they offered to get a ride to Dartlo along the available tire tracks. I keen to take the ride but I was more determined to finish the entire 16km hike plus Rich would’ve walked on anyway and I can’t abandon him. I thought that we were over the hard part so I decided to carry on ahead.
From there on, we were walking on the dirt road for vehicles. The windy road began with a steep descend downhill then some ascents but everything was doable for me. The dirt road was scenic but out in the open, so remember to put on sunscreen. Needless to say, we covered the last 8km in less than 2.5 hours.
We’ve finished the trek from Diklo to Dartlo in 8 hours including the breaks and our quick lunch.
I was so happy when we finally saw Dartlo at the distance in what seems like forever. It looked so pretty from where I was standing with its traditional medieval houses and towers. It looked so lovely but compared to the other villages, Dartlo has a lot of tourists visiting with their cars.
We made our way closer to the village and we encountered even more sheepdogs…this was scarier because the dogs came closer than the previous ones. There was a German cyclist who got stuck with us when the dogs started barking and were using us as a shield. Rich, unfortunately, was the frontman.
The dogs sniffed at us and we stayed so still until they let us pass. After that scary experience, we entered fairyland. All we had to do was cross the bridge and we have arrived. Dartlo was so beautiful with its lovely traditional stone buildings overlooking the valleys.
In Dartlo, we didn’t book any guesthouses so we had to walk around asking locals if there were any rooms available. They pointed at us at Shankli Guesthouse run by a woman named Natella. We paid 55 lari to stay the night and she led us to a big sharing room and since Rich and I were the only guests for the night, we had the room to ourselves.
The guesthouse was in a really good spot in town. Natella has a garden overlooking the mountains and it was really pretty. The 55 lari we paid included dinner and breakfast and the meals were just as huge as the ones in Diklo and were really delicious. Natella also cooked delicious blueberry and raspberry jams.
Natella was a great host. She even made hot showers for us including clean towels. I took a quick bath because I read somewhere that it’s best to conserve water in Tusheti. Her guesthouse was my favorite one we stayed at during our three-day hike.
After 8 hours of walking the difficult mountain path from Diklo to Dartlo, we were reasonably exhausted so we just chilled the whole time in the guesthouse. I wished that we could’ve stayed longer for another day and explore Dartlo further or hike to another nearby town. But tomorrow is another long hike back to Omalo and we need our rest.
Day 3 of Omalo Loop: Dartlo to Omalo
Going back to Omalo, we followed the dirt road for vehicles the entire hike. On the way back we encountered a lot of hikers like us on their way Dartlo and even tourists on horseback going to and fro from Dartlo. This is was quite a common route we were on but the valley views were still fantastic.
This time, we decided to take our time and enjoy the route. Rich said, what’s the rush? We have all day to enjoy. We even made a 10-minute detour to one of the viewpoints. The views from there fo the mountains and the valleys were stunning. It was such a chill day compared to yesterday.
We eventually reached Omalo without any fuss and arrived at upper Omalo first nearby the Kesselo fortress up the hill. I had to climb with my bags which were a challenge but reaching the fortress was worth it. The views up there of Omalo and the mountains are once again stunning.
Going back down the hill to lower Omalo where we decided to stay gave me a sigh of relief. We stayed at Hotel Tishe in lower and it was so lovely. We were given a cozy room and clean rooms and the meals we had were delicious.
I absolutely loved their khinkali. The meals weren’t included in the pay for our stay there. They charged us 25 lari for dinner and 15 lari for breakfast but it was well worth it. The entire hotel was great from the food to the staff. We even have homemade wine here.
We didn’t drink at all during the entire hike even most of the place in the villages we passed offered drinks. So ending the three-day hike at a great hotel and having homemade wine is a great way to go.