One of Georgia’s main tourist attractions is the incredibly beautiful Gergeti Trinity Church in Kazbegi. The 14th-century monastery is perched right on the edge of a hill towering above the town of Stepantsminda in northern Georgia. Although the church itself is an awe-inspiring sight, the surrounding Caucasus Mountains are equally an incredible attraction and offer some of the best hiking in Georgia.
There are a few good day hikes around Stepantsminda which offer splendid views of the mountains as well as the famous Kazbegi church.
Part of the adventure of visiting the Gergeti Trinity Church is hiking up to it from Stepantsminda town. A winding trail takes you gradually around the base of the hill and up to the church complex. However, if like me, you enjoy chasing epic views, you can also continue hiking on to the Gergeti Glacier at the base of Mount Kazbek, the third highest peak in the country. It turned out to be one of my favourite days of my trip to Georgia.
If you’re planning on visiting Kazbegi and enjoy the idea of hiking in the stunning Caucasus Mountains, then this guide to hiking in Kazbegi will help you get the most out of your trip.
When to visit Kazbegi
You can technically visit Kazbegi all year round. The Georgian Military Highway from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda is kept clear of snow even in the middle of winter. The Caucasus Mountains in Georgia are full of hiking trails in summer and ski lines in winter.
In winter most people head to Gudauri, which is a popular ski resort, just south of Stepantsminda. However, you can still visit the Gergeti Trinity Church, although it’s mostly confined to off-road vehicles.
In the winter months from November to February, you’ll find it difficult to do much hiking in Kazbegi with a high chance of snowfall and ice covering the trails. I visited around mid-November for a few days and I was extremely lucky with the weather. The first snow had already fallen, blanketing much of the area in white and the trails were icy. However, I had clear blue skies and the scenery was absolutely stunning with very few tourists around at all. I would recommend good quality hiking boots and hiking poles, if you’re planning on hiking in Kazbegi at that time of year though.
The most popular time to visit Kazbegi is in summer from June to August. The fields are green, days are warm and it’s easy to navigate the trails. However, you’ll be contending with a lot more people as it gets quite crowded and the view is arguably not as beautiful with less snow around.
September to October would be the ideal time to visit Kazbegi. The incredible fall colours make the landscape in Georgia very picturesque and the cooler weather is perfect for hiking. It’s still too early for snow to fall and the crowds have started to fade by this time as well.
Read next: 12 Best Places to Visit in the Caucasus Region
How to get to Kazbegi
Kazbegi is a relatively easy place to reach from Tbilisi. The demand from locals and tourists means that there is frequent transport and the road is generally open all year round.
The road from Tbilisi to Kazbegi is known as the Georgian Military Highway, which is a spectacular, well-paved road that is an enjoyable few hours of driving. The route has always been an important link between Europe and Asia, running north of Tbilisi to the Russian border. It was originally improved for the movement of troops during hostile relationships with Russia but has since become just as important for trade and tourism purposes.
There are a few options for transport from Tbilisi to Kazbegi, which I’ll outline below.
From Tbilisi to Stepantsminda
In Tbilisi, you’ll need to get to the Didube Bus Station in the north of the city. From there you have the options of taking local marshrutkas or minibuses to Stepantsminda, as well as sedan taxis which can be shared or hired privately.
You can reach Didube by the metro system in Tbilisi. Once you get off the train, go down the stairs, turn right and you’ll be met with a chaotic crowd of people and vehicles. There is a sign indicating Kazbegi marshrutkas, but it’s often best to just wait until someone asks where you want to go and they’ll soon point you in the right direction.
There’s a designated timetable for the marshrutka departures to Kazbegi. They leave every hour in the morning from 8am until 1pm, while in the afternoon, they are less frequent with departures at 2.30pm and 3.30pm. After that, you’ll have to wait for the last run of evening departures at 5pm, 6pm and 7pm. It costs 10 GEL (AU$5) for a seat and the journey takes between 3-4 hours with one 10 minute break around halfway.
You also have the option of taking sedan taxis which can be shared with other people or hired privately. If shared, you can expect to pay around 20 GEL per person for a direct drop. If you want to stop along the way, the driver might ask for 25 GEL for each person. Some people find this option more comfortable than the marshrutkas. In high season, there’ll be many people to share with if you’re travelling alone and don’t want to pay for the whole vehicle.
The final option is the ‘sightseeing marshrutka’ which is mostly for tourists. These vans also leave from Didube bus station and are a good option if you’re planning on staying the night in Stepantsminda and have the time to explore the sights along the way to Kazbegi. These vans leave when full and cost 20 GEL (AU$10) per person. They make 20-minute stops at each of the Ananuri Fortress and Russian-Georgian Friendship Monument on the Georgian Military Highway. I chose this option and I’m glad I did. Although it’s double the price of a direct trip, the stops are worth your extra time and money.
From Stepantsminda to Gergeti Trinity Church
Once you’ve arrived in Stepantsminda, taxis are waiting to take people up to the Gergeti Trinity Church. If you’re in a hurry, then you can pay 15 GEL (AU$8) per person for a seat in an off-road taxi up to the church and back again with a brief wait at the church itself. However, I would recommend staying a night in Stepantsminda and hiking up to the church, which I explain below.
From Kazbegi to Tbilisi
To return from Kazbegi to Tbilisi, head back to the main street of Stepantsminda where the marshrutka originally dropped you. They have regular departures almost hourly heading back to Tbilisi. They cost 10 GEL (AU$5) per seat and will drop you at Didube Station.
How long to spend in Kazbegi
It is possible to travel to Kazbegi on a day trip from Tbilisi. If you decide to use public transport, you’ll have to leave on the first marshrutka from Didube Station, which will give you enough time to drive up to the church and return.
Another option if you’re short on time and prefer not to organise everything yourself is to join an organised Kazbegi tour van from Tbilisi. These tours stops along the way at a couple of popular spots and includes a drive up to the Gergeti Trinity Church before heading all the way back to Tbilisi. This is a good option if you prefer not to stay the night in Kazbegi.
If you have the time and don’t mind organising a few logistics yourself, it’s best to stay in Stepantsminda, the main town of the Kazbegi region, for at least one night. This allows you enough time to really appreciate the beautiful scenery and do some Kazbegi hiking. Here’s how you can spend your time and plan a Kazbegi itinerary:
With one night
With an overnight trip, you’ll be able to take things at a much slower pace. If you leave Tbilisi in the morning, you’ll be able to reach Stepantsminda by midday or early afternoon. Then you’ll have enough time to hike up to the Gergeti Trinity Church and back. You can stay for the night in town and then return the next day to Tbilisi at your leisure.
Alternatively, if you want to take one of the sightseeing marshrutkas that stop along the highway to Kazbegi, you’ll arrive a bit later in Stepantsminda. Then, you can stay the night and do your hike up to the church early the next morning, before returning to Tbilisi in the late afternoon.
With two nights
With the extra night, you can really enjoy the Kazbegi area and do some more hiking. If you arrive in Stepantsminda by early to mid-afternoon, you can spend the time enjoying the town at a leisurely pace. The next morning you can rise early and hike up to the Gergeti Trinity Church. Enjoy the church with very few visitors and, if you’re keen, then continue on to Gergeti Glacier (more on this below).
You can then either stay at the Altihut in the mountains for something really unique or just return to your accommodation in Stepantsminda for a second night. The next day you can return to Tbilisi by marshrutka whenever you feel like it.
If you have even more time, or just really like the place, then you could easily spend another night. This would give you a day to rent a bicycle from Stepantsminda and ride the 20km to Juta village, a settlement at 2200m (a slightly uphill ride there but easy and downhill on the way back!).
Alternatively, you can take a taxi to Juta and stay in a guesthouse there for something more remote. From Juta, you can tackle more hiking up to the Chaukhi Pass.
Where to stay in Stepantsminda
There are a number of good family-run guesthouses in Stepantsminda, the main town in Kazbegi. These are my favourite kind of accommodation in Georgia. They usually have a more homely feel and really showcase the amazing hospitality of Georgians. Many of these guesthouses in Stepantsminda are in a similar budget range from around 25 GEL up to 50 GEL per night. There are also mid-range hotels in Kazbegi for much more than that if you prefer a bit more comfort and luxury.
Belas Guesthouse | I stayed at this homely guesthouse on a family property. They offer a private room with an ensuite above their home and were extremely friendly. The view from the balcony on the top two rooms is beautiful and the rooms are spacious with your own gas cooker and kettle if you want to self cater. It’s across the river from the main town and closer to the start of the hiking trail to the Gergeti Trinity Church. From the marshrutka stand, it was about a 10-minute walk. Prices start from 29 GEL (AU$14) per night. Check availability here.
Archil and Nino Gigauri Guesthouse | This place is a popular option amongst budget travellers. It’s in the main town section on the same side of the river as the marshrutka stand making it close to transport. It’s a cosy place which has a homely feel and people rave about the friendly hosts. Prices start from 25 GEL (AU$12) per night. Check availability here.
Where to eat in Stepantsminda
There are a number of good restaurants in Stepantsminda and it’s not hard to find decent Georgian food and good glass of Saperavi. As I was there towards the very tail end of the season, much of the town was starting to slow down for winter. It was difficult to judge where the most popular places were, but from my experience I can recommend:
Stepantsminda Restaurant | I ate dinner at this restaurant which is conveniently located in the middle of town and just near the marshrutka stand. They have a standard Georgian menu and I had their kharcho soup (beef and rice soup) and mchadi (corn bread) and it was pretty good.
Cozy Corner Restaurant and Karaoke Bar | I also had dinner at this place down near the river. It’s apparently extremely popular in high season, but it was only me and another couple in there when I went in November! The food and wine was very good and I could imagine late nights on the karaoke would be popular in high tourist season.
Hiking to the Gergeti Trinity Church
If you’re wondering how to get to Gergeti Trinity Church in Kazbegi, then hiking is arguably the best way.
Hiking to Gergeti Trinity Church is a great half-day excursion for those with enough time to stay a night in Stepantsminda. It’s not just about saving some money on a taxi either, this short hike is quite beautiful and gives you a different perspective of the famous church.
Despite many people opting to hike up to the church, finding the right trail is not as straight forward as you might think. I recommend having Maps.Me downloaded for offline use first which has all the trails marked on it. It should take 45 minutes to one hour to reach the top where the church sits at 2170m.
Trail options and directions
There are a few trail options. You can technically follow a path to the right of the church that skirts through the winding paved road that the vehicles take. This is not ideal as you have to contend with all the traffic. Instead, you should take one of the trails that goes left of the church and takes you around the base of the hill and up in a more gradual way.
From the main town of Stepantsminda, you first have to cross the river to the other side of town. Once you cross the river, keep following the main road up through the village until it comes to a T-intersection at the end. Turn left and continue walking until you pass the last building which is a cafe.
From there, the road ends and a dirt track splits into two. You can take either one. The one on the left follows the river more closely and winds its way more gradually around the base of the hill before finally heading up to the church. Many people prefer this way because it’s more gradual.
The one on the right goes more steadily upwards to the ruins of a stone tower (you can see this tower as I looked back in the image above). You’ll pass the tower and follow the path around the base of the church before finally heading up to it.
When I began my hike in mid-November, it was extremely cold in the morning shadows of the mountains. The trails were completely covered in snow and ice. I took the path to the right and it was certainly slippery and difficult to traverse the steep section at the start, but with my boots and poles I managed.
I reached the church and there was just a couple of other people there. It really depends on the season but it was very quiet in November. I explored the church for an hour, before continuing on to follow the trail up to the Gergeti Glacier (continue reading below!).
Otherwise, you can simply head back the same way you came up after looking around the monastery complex. Or, you can try to hitch a ride down with a taxi or driver that have brought other people up to the church, if you’re tired.
Hiking to the Gergeti Trinity Church is definitely one of the best things to do in Kazbegi. Even if you’re not a keen hiker, it’s certainly doable and most people of all levels of fitness can make it if they take their time. In warmer months, you don’t even need to worry too much about proper hiking footwear as the trail is worn and mostly dirt. However, be careful in winter when ice and snow is common and makes it quite slippery.
Hiking to the Gergeti Glacier
From the Gergeti Trinity Church, you can continue hiking up to Gergeti Glacier and towards Mount Kazbek. If you look in the direction of the paved road where the vehicles come from, you’ll see a large parking lot. Behind that is where the mountains continue to climb up and beyond towards Mount Kazbek. This is where the fun begins.
From the large paved carpark, there’s a short steep hill immediately behind it that you need to climb. There’s a relatively skinny, worn trail that you should be able to see, although when I was there in mid-November it was covered in snow.
Still, it’s pretty straight forward, you simply need to continue following the ridge up and up and up as it climbs higher towards Mount Kazbek. Naturally, the views get better and better as you climb higher. After the first hour, you’ll look back to spectacular views of the church down below against the backdrop of the mountains. After another while, you’ll lose sight of the church altogether and be surrounded just by the Caucasus’ peaks.
The trail was slightly covered in snow but still visible as I continued. I eventually came to a plateau which was covered completely in snow. There were some small rock formations but they were submerged in white powder. A quick check on Maps.Me and I realised that I’d made it to Sabertse Pass at 3000m.
From there, I could see the mighty Mount Kazbek and the long tail of the Gergeti Glacier. I could also see Altihut, a mountain lodge, which was just below and across what is usually a running stream in summer. The trail was completely covered in snow from that point onwards and I decided not to risk it on my own. So I decided to turn around and head back down.
I met a couple of European climbers on the way up who had horses in tow carrying their gear. They were planning an ascent of Mount Kazbek and had full camping gear assuming that the huts were not operating for the winter.
If you’re visiting in the warmer months, then it’s possible to reach the base of the Gergeti Glacier. This is further beyond Altihut and towards Bethlemi Hut at 3650m, which is where many climbers stay the night before attempting a climb. It does require a bit of walking on the glacier and it’s best to use some caution depending on the weather conditions at the time. If you’re going to continue onto the base of the glacier, you really need to leave Stepantsminda as early as possible in order to make it back within daylight hours.
The trail is the same on the way back to the carpark of the Gergeti Trinity Church and then the same way again down to Stepantsminda.
Distances and time for hiking in Kazbegi
From the time I left my accommodation in the morning, climbed up to the Gergeti Trinity Church and then onto Sabertse Pass and returned to my guesthouse, 7.5 hours had passed and I’d covered 13km and ascended 1250m.
If you were to continue from Sabertse Pass to the base of the glacier and back, it would add another two hours of hiking onto the time. This differs depending on your fitness level, but I generally walk at a fast pace.
Even if you don’t have the time or energy to make it all the way to the pass or glacier, you can still hike up from the church carpark as far as you like. The views looking back down at the church are certainly worth it.
If you’re hiking in warmer months and you have plenty of time in Kazbegi, then I would recommend considering staying the night in Altihut at 3000m at the base of the glacier. It’s well set out and is like a perfect mountain retreat, with a restaurant, bar, free Wi-Fi and comfortable dorms. The thought of the sunset, sunrise and night sky views from that hut makes me want to book a flight and head straight back!
SAFETY NOTE: Make sure that you check the weather and trail conditions before hiking in Kazbegi. It’s not recommended to attempt the hike to the glacier if bad weather is expected. Although, there are both the Altihut and Bethlemi Hut towards the upper end of the trail if you need to take shelter for a while or even for the night.
Exploring more of Georgia and the Caucasus?
You might want to read some of my other posts on Georgia and the Caucasus:
- A Guide to the Mestia to Ushguli Trek, Georgia
- How to Plan a Day Trip to Vardzia in Georgia
- 11 Free Things to Do in Tbilisi, Georgia
- What You Need to Know Before You Go to Georgia
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