A trip to Georgia (country) is not all about culture, wine, and khachapuri. This country also a great destination when it comes to hiking. Not far from the capital Tbilisi you will find Stepantsminda, one of the most beautiful outdoor areas in Georgia. The highlight of Stepantsminda is the Gergeti Trinity Church. The location of this church is stunning: perched on top of a hill with mountains in the background. To get there, you can either take a taxi or hike up the mountain yourself. I chose the latter, even though I am not a hiker at all. The hike was tough, but worth every drop of sweat. In this blog post, I am sharing 7 practical tips for Stepantsminda as well as the hike to the Gergeti Trinity Church.
Wait, isn’t it Kazbegi?
Before we start the blog post, let’s talk about the name of this city. Many travelers call the city Kazbegi. I also did this, until I took a look at the history of the city. From 1925 onwards, this mountain town was called Kazbegi, but in 2006 the city changed this back to its original name. Stepantsminda comes from an orthodox monk Stephan who once had a hermitage in this area. In practice you can use both names, everyone will understand you. But it is always good to know the local history.
What to expect from the hike ?
- Duration: the entire hike will take 3 hours ( 1,5 hours up, 1,5 hours down) + time to see the church and enjoy the views.
- Elevation: about 500 meters. Stepantsminda is located at an altitude of 1740 meters, the church is at an altitude of 2170 meters.
- Level: this is a great hike for beginners. It is more of a brisk walk than a hike.
7 practical tips for Stepantsminda & Gergeti Trinity Church hike
Tip 1: bring a sweater
The drive to Stepantsminda is mostly winding mountain roads. The higher you go, the colder it gets. I visited Georgia in July, which is the warmest month in Stepantsminda (together with August). In the morning I left Tbilisi (35 degrees Celsius) and in the afternoon I arrived in Stepantsminda (18 degrees Celsius). During the hike to the Gergeti church, the temperature dropped even further. So be prepared and bring warmer clothes.
Tip 2: stay overnight
Traveling by marshrutka from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda takes 3,5 hours (price is 10 GEL). If you are really pressed for time, you can do it all as a day trip and return to Tbilisi at the end of the day. The first marshrutka to Stepantsminda leaves at 7:00 am and the last marshrutka back to Tbilisi leaves at 5:30 pm. Still, I don’t recommend doing this. Firstly, you will be stuck in a marshrutka for a total of six hours, and secondly, the mountain town offers plenty of outdoor activities to keep you entertained for a day or two.
Tip 3: stick to the easy trail on the left
There are three trails to the Gergeti Trinity Church. Unfortunately, many tourists often (unknowingly) take the difficult trail. Emily from Wander-Lush wrote a great blog post about finding the easy trail. Make sure to read her article to be fully prepared, but to summarize the most important tip: always go left.
A few practical tips to find the start of the easy trail:
- Cross the bridge, turn left and walk towards the Red Stone Guesthouse. You will see a T-junction with a blue sign of Guesthouse Blue Caps. Go left (so not the direction of the guesthouse).
- When you arrive at the base of the hill, you will see two trail options. Path number 1 (on the right) is the difficult trail. It is shorter, but it is steep. Path number 2 (on the left) runs along the water and around the stone watchtower. This one is not steep at all. I took path no. 2 (= the easy trail) and I really enjoyed the walk. There also seems to be a third path that runs through the forest.
Tip 4: wear proper shoes (for the hike)
Don’t expect neat hiking trails. The path often consists of loose gravel. On the way down, you can easily slip away so be careful. The last part of the route (near the church) goes through an open meadow and is quite steep. I highly recommend wearing a pair of sneakers for the hike and to leave your sandals or flipflops at the hotel.
Tip 5: ladies, bring a scarf (for the church)
Don’t forget, the church is a religious place. This means that you have to dress appropriately. Men can only enter if they are wearing long pants. There are skirts are available for women at the entrance. Women should also cover their hair, so bring a scarf. It is not allowed to take pictures in the church.
Tip 6: think of the church as a nice bonus
I have to say, the hike is more beautiful than the church itself. The imposing green mountains and snow-covered peaks are truly magical. But the church? I didn’t think it was super interesting. Georgia has other more beautiful churches, like the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi. This is not to say that you shouldn’t take a look inside the church. Definitely walk in, but don’t expect too much. You do the hike for the mountain views, the church is a nice bonus.
Tip 7: bring snacks
Apart from the church, you will not find anything else on the hill. There are no cafes or restaurants. So bring a cookie or sandwich with you in case you get hungry. I recommend walking around the church and checking out the different viewpoints. Behind the church (past the cross) you have a beautiful view over the valley. A great place to eat a sandwich!
I took the same trail down, but you can also go with the trail past the cross (though it looked quite steep).
Other hike options in and near Stepantsminda:
- St. Elias church: the same type of light hike as the Gergeti Trinity Church.
- Gergeti glacier: a 9-hour hike.
- Chaukhi valley: a 3-hour hike (starting point: Juta).
- Truso valley: a 5-hour hike.
Are you a hiker? Would you like to hike in and around Stepantsminda?