The small town of Dedoplistskaro, Georgia, doesn’t get mentioned too often when you ask about the highlights of Caucasus, however, I am here to tell you: write it down in your Georgia itinerary and underline it. Twice. (In hot pink, preferably.)
If you like trekking among ruins, gorges and marvelous views of snowy Caucasus peaks, this place’s got you covered.
Dedoplistskaro is located in the east of Georgia and it is also the eastern tip of the Kakheti region, famous for its wine. If you are heading to Kakheti, why don’t you stop by to do some hiking at the same time?
I have spent more than a week hanging around, discovering the must-see things in Dedoplistskaro and while I haven’t seen everything by any chance, I’d like to give you a few tips on the surroundings and feed your inspiration engine with some trekking fuel.
These are three hikes you can take when in Dedoplistskaro – two of them super easy and one requires several days (and, surprisingly, some paperwork. But you won’t regret it, I promise).
Hike to Khornabuji fortress
The Khornabuji castle (also known as Tamaris Tsikhe, Tamar’s castle, although it is older than this legendary queen) is built at a strategically crucial spot, watching over two valleys, Iori and Alazani. In human language, that means it has a great view from the top!
The first evidence of a settlement nearby reaches all the way to the third millennium BC and was mentioned by the Greek historian Strabo. (Don’t think I wasn’t trying to find out what exactly he said, but I miserably failed.) Anyhow, the first evidence of an actual fortress here comes from the 5th century.
It is extremely easy to walk to the Khornabuji castle from the downtown of Dedoplistskaro – there are actually marks signaling the way. Start at the church in the village center – nearby, you can check out a tourist information board with a map and some tips – and take to the north from there. Walk straight until you leave the village behind, then walk some more. You will cross the railway at some point and enter a small forest. The way is wide enough for a car to pass, however, it can get muddy as hell in rainy weather.
Read more: Hiking in Svaneti, Georgia
Shortly before the fortress, there is a turn to the left – I highly recommend you to take the detour because there is a viewpoint with a great view of the castle, the plains, surrounding hills and on a clear day, also the striking Caucasus range.
There is a ruin of a restaurant (or something), but it is not suitable to camp within as it is full of bricks and concrete falling apart. There is a cozy fireplace with a table that you can use for a picnic and also a flat spot to set up your tent, however, it got pretty windy at night. Depending on your equipment, you might want to opt for a different camping spot in the valley.
From the viewpoint, you have to return to the main trail and continue for about 10 – 15 minutes to reach the fortress. It is perched on top of a massive rock but below, there is a wide, flat area of green grass, perfect and comfy for camping. There is also a building that looks like a small restaurant or maybe a tourist information office, but there is no sign and it was closed at the time of our visit. In rainy weather and low season, you might want to opt for camping at the terrace which flaunts a solid roof.
To climb Khornabuji itself (very worth it), head to the left, following the arrow. (Only a blind person, a.k.a. me, would miss it.) At the entrance, there is a nice small room where we almost spent the night, but in the end, we wanted to enjoy the morning view from the viewpoint so we went back.
The fortress is on a steep hill and the ascent can be a little tricky, but you are obviously wearing good hiking boots with an awesome grip so you won’t hurt yourself.
Exploring Khornabuji was an exciting adventure because you have to climb over the rocks and pass some narrow spots to go up. The ruins are overgrown with old trees and we didn’t meet any other tourists so the whole place was shrouded in a mysterious, fairy-tale atmosphere, bathing in the golden light of an October sunset.
How to get to Khornabuji
Start in the downtown of Dedoplistskaro, at the church (right next to the school). Head to the north, taking the Vakhtang Gorgasali street, and go straight. You will connect to the Tskaro street, then Tamar street and finally Shota Rustaveli street which will take you out of the village, cross the railway and connect with the trail. (Or just follow the GPS – the Khornabuji fortress has a point in the MapsMe app.)
You can get here by car, but the road can be muddy in rainy weather. (What a surprise, I know.)
If you follow the road further from the fortress, you can walk all the way to the village of Karaghaji.
about 4 – 5 km from the village to the fortress, a tiny bit more with the detour to the viewpoint.
Hiking to Eagle gorge (Artsivis Kheoba)
The Eagle gorge was similarly deserted when we visited and we enjoyed yet another romantic sunset sitting on the rocks and watching the panorama. The autumn colors, the limestone formations with trees growing at a 90 degrees angle and the mist slowly spreading over the valley as the evening got colder (F said it was smoke from the stoves, but shush) created a somewhat melancholic atmosphere combined with the howling of jackals hidden in the valley just as the sun disappeared.
How to get to Eagle gorge
From the downtown of Dedoplistskaro, walk in the direction of the Border Police (Lermontov street). Connect with the Lenin street, then Cholokashvili street and walk towards the north. Leaving the village, you will see a small stone building (not sure what it is meant for but I thought it would be great to spend the night unless you have a better option). Pass around it and continue walking up the hill. You can see the gorge from above and all the surrounding mountains and the village from the top.
We didn’t go deep into the gorge because it was after dark, however, if I would go back, I would certainly love to explore more. Apparently, there are a few waterfalls and even some archaeological find to be seen.
About 3 easy km from the village
Trekking in Vashlovani Natural Reserve
Vashlovani is the place for you if you love walking for days without meeting anyone, aren’t scared of carrying a lot of water on your back and wish to get closer to the wilderness. (And wildlife. The wolfs are just around the corner, ya know.)
Vashlovani is home to a small, but growing population of gazelles, but also wolfs, bears, jackals, spiders, and snakes. It is an ornithologist’s paradise too. Personally, it is my favorite place in Georgia – it is stunningly beautiful, but not crowded with tourists. It possesses a great natural richness but is not advertised too heavily.
Read more: Hiking the Lycian way in Turkey
Don’t expect anything like Svaneti at Vashlovani, I am talking about the real remote here. There is not even a shop in Kasristskali (well, they say there is, but it was closed and it didn’t look like a shop), although there is a drinkable water source.
From Kasristskali, it is possible to walk or drive on the Vashlovani trails and admire its natural treasures.
Before heading to Vashlovani, be sure to stop by the Visitors Center in Dedoplistskaro and get a permit. (And a map.) You will also need the approval of the Border Police as the natural park sits right at the border with Azerbaijan.
How to get to Vashlovani National Park
Although both Khornabuji and Artsivis Kheoba belong to the Vashlovani protected areas, to get deep into the so-called “Georgian Africa” and admire its dry steppes, strange limestone formations, and endemic flora, you need to get your well-shaped hiker’s butt to Kasristskali, about 50 km from Dedoplistskaro.
While most of the people recommend renting a car to visit Vashlovani (and it is a sound decision), it is definitely possible to hike there without a vehicle (or on a bike, for that matter).
I don’t know about marshrutkas going to Kasristskali (there might be some though) and if you don’t want to pay for a taxi, you can hitchhike. Some people say it is impossible, but that is not accurate – there just isn’t all that much traffic going to Kasristskali, so it might take a while. It is easy (as usually in Georgia) to hitchhike to the roundabout where most people turn to Zemo Kvedi, but you will need to take the shattered road to the east.
Once in Kasristskali, follow the arrows leading to the tourist trail. I wrote a whole, long-ass guide detailing all you need to do to walk to Vashlovani, including the best route I would recommend you to take and you can find it here:
About 50 km on the bumpy road from Dedoplistskaro to Kasristskali (180 km from Tbilisi)
Best hiking trails in Dedoplistskaro, Georgia
In this article, I have tried to give you an idea of the hiking routes in Dedoplistskaro; the three options I have presented you with are fairly easy to walk, especially Khornabuji and Eagle gorge since they are directly accessible on foot from the town of Dedoplistskaro.
Trekking to Vashlovani requires a bit more preparations because of its remoteness and the necessary paperwork, but with enough time, it is not impossible as the terrain there is mostly flat.
If you love wild nature and are hoping to encounter faraway places on your trip to Georgia, Vashlovani will certainly satisfy your thirst for adventure.
Have you visited Dedoplistskaro? Do you have more tips on hiking trails I haven’t explored? I’d be happy to hear about them in the comments!
Help me spread the word about this amazing natural reserve by sharing this article with your friends on your favorite social media channels, whatever that may be.
Planning your trip to Georgia?
I’ve got you covered. Sort of. Here are my articles about the country of Georgia:
I am constantly working on new posts, but if you have more specific questions, feel free to reach out in the comments!