fot. Waszlowani team 2019

Georgian savanna

Georgia

1070 

The Vashlovani National Park is a uniqu place on the natural map of Europe. It’s a badland-type area, a mix of savanna, desert and semi-desert steppe, with canyons, cliffs, flood plains and unique vegetation. It’s home to many wild animals, including over a hundred species of birds and many larger animals, such as antelopes and… leopards. During days, together with our horses, we ride through diverse landscape of the park and spend evenings raiseing glasses of chacha and wine to Georgian toasts.

  • Days overall
    9 days
    Days in saddle
    6
  • Group size
    10
    Available
  • Standard
    wildlands and nature (mostly camping, in sleeping bags, improvised showers)
    Luggage
    no limit kg
    Food
    local cuisine, vegetarian available
  • Skills
    walk, trot, canter

The landscape of the Vashlovani National Park in South-Eastern Georgia strongly resembles African savannas and semi-deserts. The Caucasus mountains often appear at the horizon, but Vashlovani is relatively flat, with diverse landscape, open land as well as cliffy canyons aand small mountains. Most areas of this national park are uninhabited by humans, have rarely or never been settled by humans. They remain wild, with large parts of them being protected areas, nature reserves and breeding and nesting grounds.
The only spots with access to any infrastructure are shepherds’ huts, eight Park Ranger’s stations and one Border Police post, as the park is located at the Georgia’s border zone with Azerbaijan. Some of the outer layers of the park become seasonal, Winter pastures for thousands of animals and temporary homes to shepherds tending to herds of sheep, cows and, of course, horses. In mid-Spring shepherds leave Vashlovani and drive their herds to Summer pastures in Tusheti. The park becomes nearly completely uninhabited by humans, apart from a handful of Park Rangers and Georgian Border Police.
Vashlovani in Spring, with the life-giving water of the Alazani river, becomes a green, blooming, busy place with wild life of all sorts, sizes and shapes. It also becomes… a fantastic place for horse riding. In Summer the area becomes too hot for humans and domesticated animals. The park buzzes with half-hidden life through the hottest season, when temperatures often reach and go over 40 degrees Celsius. Until late Summer the park will be drying out to become a beautiful  savanna in Autumn. In October shepherds will be back with their flocks and so are we. They will stay in Vashlovani through Winter and part of Spring until they go to mountain pastures again and we are going to ride and visit them.

We ride our trails through Vashlovani in both Spring and Autumn. Depending on the season much of the park’s landscape changes a lot, often transforming vegetation, entire areas, surrounding, scenery and landscape. Both seasons are great to ride and depending on the time of the year you will experience a very different Vashlovani National Park.

The trail is quite diverse in terms of both landscape and riding pace and style. The view between our brave horses’ ears shifts and changes while we ride deeper into Vashlovani. Sometimes the group rides slowly through winding canyonons and dry seasonal riverbeds just to reach open, large swaths of flat lands. There we can canter/gallop just a few meters from the state border line between Georgia and Azerbaijan. Then we will climb hills to amaze at unusual panoramas of seemingly empty areas and follow Alazani river, the source of water for all life in the national park. The only spots where people stay are shepheding huts, Park Ranger’s posts and a Border Police post. Otherwise we ride through Georgian Badlands.

We spend 6 days exploring this beautiful region on local Tushetian horses, a relatively small-framed, brave, tough and smart saddle horses that have been with Tushi highlanders since… forever. Their perfect balance, easy temper, endurance and experience makes them great horses for a diverse trail while they still enjoy racing on long, dusty trails in Vashlovani.

Our Georgian team consists of highlanders, some of them nearly literally raised in the saddle. Their love for horses and andventures combined with experience in trail riding and famous Georgian hospitality makes them the best people for the adventure ahead. During the Vashlovani trail riders are assisted by a 4×4 car and additional team to transport all luggage and camp equipment, set up camps, provide meals and drinks, water for cooking and washing and assist.

During our journey on horses we spend all nights camping at Park Rangers’ sites, mostly in tents, with – ocassionally – available, simple bungalows. At some Ranger stations basic, simple toilets and showers might be available, although it depends on the spot and current conditions. The team will set up improvised shower tents and provide camping shower bags with water.

What is included in this tour?Items that are included in the cost of tour price.
  • 2 nights at a hotel in Tbilisi Tbilisi
  • 1 night at a hostel on the outskirts of Vashlovani
  • 5 nights tenting in Vashlovani (or some nights in bungalows – if accessible), tents provided
  • Transfers to and from Tbilisi airport (on first and last days of the tour)
  • Transport from Tbilisi to Vashlovani and back
  • Breakfasts at a hotel in Tbilisi
  • All meals in Vashlovani (brakfasts, lunches “to go”, dinners)
  • Horsemen and guides during the entire ride in Vashlovani
  • English-speaking pilot during the entire tour
  • Horse with full tack and equipment
  • Tourist insurance covering high-risk sports
  • 4×4 car support in Vashlovani
What is not included in this tour?Items that are not included in the cost of tour price.
  • Flight tickets to and from Georgia
  • In Tbilisi: two dinners – on the first and last nights
  • Two meals during transfers from Tbilisi to Vashlovani and back=
  • Minor personal expenses (souvenirs, additional snacks, admission tickets, etc.)
  • Optional: single room supplement (where available)
  1. Day 1 Welcome to Georgia

    All riders are picked up from the airport (in Tbilisi) or a bus stop in Tbilisi (for flight arrivals to Kutaisi) and taken directly to the hotel. Due to different arrival hours no group activities are planned on that day until evening. Riders are free to roam Tbilisi in their spare time. Around 8 PM we will gather all riders and go together for a welcome dinner in a restaurant.

  2. Day 2 Outskirts of Vashlovani

    After breakfast at the hotel the group leaves Tbilisi by cars and heads towards the South-Eastern part of Georgia. The drive will take about 4 hours. We will stop for lunch in a local restaurand and head to the Park Rangers’ and Border Police stations to complete paperwork required for entering the park. In the afternoon we will settle in a local guesthouse/hostel. In the evening we will have dinner together and spend the night at the guesthouse.

  3. Day 3 Black Mountain

    After breakfast we pack everything and head to a small village in the Eldari Valley wher our journey starts. We meet our horses, guides will match them with riders and we start our journey through Vashlovani. The path we are taking leads towards the Black Mountain and will soon become more and more picturesque. After a while we will ride out to fields where Georgians fought battles with Persian armies in the 16th and 17th century. From fields we turn to hills where we can enjoy first panoramic views of Vashlovani with sights towards Alazani valley and to Azerbaijan’s territory. We will pass several natural spring sources discovered by shepherds and named after them. At the end of the day we will reach historical ruins of a a 15th century monastery. It is said that Georgian queen Ketevan lived there before being she was held hostahe by the shah Abbas the Great of the Persian Safavid Empire. We set up our camp at Park Rangers’ station, tend to our horses and have our first trail dinner together. We spend the night tenting (or bungalows – if available).

  4. Day 4 Across Alazani Valley

    In the morning we have breakfast, pack our camp and ride out. We head to a Park Rangers’ station in the northern part of Mijnis Kure, an absolutely picturesque, eroded mountain range. Most of our trail here runs along the Alazani river also marking the official border line between Georgia and Azerbaijan. The valley around Alazani river is covered with tree groves and changes into a naturally formed canyon, being home to more than 700 species of plants, animals and predatory birds. Reaching our destination we will ride through open badlands that some compare to African savanna, while others say the area resembles Colorado or Southern Dakota. Camping at Park Rangers’ station in Mijnis Kure, in tents or bungalows.

  5. Day 5 Canyons

    Today we ride through a system of canyons and overlooking cliffs and climbs to one of the most beautiful spots in the whole Vashlovani Park. It is a unique place for bird watching, well-know amongs ornithologists., We will see many smaller birds there, but also bigger predator species, such as hawks or vultures, often show up. Smaller animals such as foxes, rabbits or jackals can also be spotted there. At the end of the day the group reaches Voliers station where we set camp, enjoy our dinner and spend the night in tents or Rangers’ buildings.

     

  6. Day 6 Leopards' hunting grounds

    After lazy breakfast it’s time to ride and there are some really interesting places ahead of us today. Much of our trail today circles scenic protected areas. Riding along a ridge covered with xerophytic vegetation on one side we will have a great view to Vashlovani Strict Nature Reserve, cut from the rest of the area by steep slopes. Protected areas, split with a network of deep gorges, are covered with endemic, arid forests and unique flora. They are also home, breeding and hunting grounds for rare animals, including… leopards. In the evening we will arrive to another Park Rangers’ post, in Pantishara canyon, overlooking the protected area. We set camp and spend the night in tents or Ranger’s buildings.

  7. Day 7 Winter pastures

    After breakfast we pack our camp, saddle up and take a small dirt road into the wilderness of Vashlovani. At first our trail goes up and down, through hills and canyons. A bit later we will ride out to fields where shepherds drive their herds for Winter. It’s one of great spots for fast gallops! In Spring these areas are lush green while in Autumn they turn golden and riders can pick wild pomegranates straight from shrubs. At the end of the day we will reach our last Rangers’ station on the trail. We set our last camp in Vashlovani, eat, drink and enjoy the evening. Night in tents or Rangers’ bungalows.

  8. Day 8 Last look at Vashlovani

    In the morning we saddle up our horses one last time. It’s time to leave amazing Vashlovani, but… a few hours in the saddle still ahead of us! We ride out and head to Eldari Valley. In the early afternoon we will arrive to the edge of the park, where we dismount, thank our horses and say goodbyes. We leave the area by cars and head back to Tbilisi. After checking in the hotel, refreshing and resting a bit we will go together for a farewell dinner in Georgia’s capital city.

  9. Day 9 Farewell to Georgia

    The group leaves Georgia. All riders are taken to the airport in Tbilisi or to a bus stop (Kutaisi airport flights).

The guide might modify the route according to weather conditions and group's riding skills.
fot. Waszlowani team 2019
fot. Waszlowani team 2019
fot. Waszlowani team 2019

In Tbilisi, the group stays at a European standard family hotel, in double and triple rooms. Before entering the park we stay at a local hostel, quite new and relatively comfy. During the proper ride in Vashlovani we spend all nights at Park Rangers’ stations, camping and tenting. In some of them small bungalows might be available, although it depends in a number of factors. If available – we will spend a night or two inside them. In general we camp and tent in 2-person tents, so a sleeping bag is essential. At camp sites we usually have access to running water, although not always hot, and electricity. Upon request, for those who’d like an additional, single-person tents, these can be rented on the spot (around 200 GEL for 5 days).

During the entire tour we provide nearly all meals, with an exception for the last dinner in Tbilisi and two meals while travelling between Tbilisi and Vashlovani. All other meals are provided by our team, during the proper horse ride a cook prepares meals for the group. For daily parts of the trail riders are provided with to-go meals that we eat during lunch breaks on the way.

Most meals are traditional dishes, typical Georgian cuisine and shepherd food: mainly vegetables, mutton and local cheese of various sorts. Drinks – apart from crystal clear water – are herbal infusions, wine, and chacha (local moonshine). In Tbilisi, regular restaurants are common, serving all kinds of dishes.

 

Equipment

We use typical Caucasian saddles. They are quite different from the classical-English and Western-style saddles and very comfortable for both horses and riders. Steel saddle bows are set on wooden benches. This construction is covered with a build-in pad and a moderately soft “pillow” made of leather. The pillow is kept in place by a strap, usually made of leather, which serves as a girth at the same time. Tail docks are commonly used.

Stirrup leathers in Georgia are quite short – Georgians practice a distinctive seat: legs in the front, knees high. Stirrups are quite simple and wide, allowing trekking shoes to fit inside well. Bridles are also simple, made the usual way. We use bits.

Caucasian / Georgian moutain saddles often raise interest. Fairly unknown in the West these saddles are very comfortable for long and steep rides. Pommels and cantles are quite high to stabilize riders in mountainous terrain and the pillow seat absorbs bumps very well. This non-standard construction is also quite practical when it comes to attaching larger quantities of luggage.

What you should take with you

The trail leads through vastly uninhabited national park and nature reserve, but all our belongings and equipment are transported by an assisting 4×4 car. While in saddles we take only what we need for the day plus documents, as the entire park is a border zone. We provide small saddlebags for everything you might need during the day.

  • passport
  • cash, USD or EUR
  • electronic devices, e.g. camera
  • sleeping bag
  • a handy backpack or hip bag (for documents, phone, etc.)
  • a canteen or other water containers (or simply: an empty plastic bottle to refill)
  • flashlight; head flashlights are quite handy
  • sunscreen
  • insect repellent
  • head cover against the sun
  • trekking shoes, better suited for this environment compared to classical jodhpur/riding boots
  • raincoat / waterproof jacket
  • flip-flops for showering
Date Trip Status Price Spots  
26 April 2024 - 4 May 2024
Available
1070 
1
9 May 2024 - 17 May 2024
Available
1070 
7
12 October 2024 - 20 October 2024
Available
1070 
7
24 October 2024 - 1 November 2024
Available
1070 
8