Extinct volcanic plateaus, piercing canyons, several lakes, and ancient petroglyphs, make up surreal landscapes of Tsalka municipality. And to inspire your travels to this almost hidden gem of the country, I compiled some of the most astonishing sights for you to see in Tsalka and its neighboring towns.
Understanding Tsalka Municipality
However, before we go into details of the Tsalka travel guide, it’s important to understand the area’s culture and history.
Bordering Armenia and Turkey, this southern region of Georgia is the most diverse area in terms of population and nature. Ethnic minorities of Greeks, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Georgians, and Russians make up the population here. The Georgian ethnic group consists of eco-migrants from Adjara and Svaneti regions, giving a visitor the possibility to experience the cultures of all these groups in one place.
With harsh weather climate, lack of infrastructure, limited public transportation, and social institutions, the majority of villages of the area seem almost abandoned by the rest of the country. Population decreases each year, while youngsters flock to the capital and stay there.
Cold winters and relatively long warm seasons are typical to this area, with the average temperature being 16 C in July and -4.8 C in January. However, in even higher elevation villages, summers are short and cool, while winters are very cold and long. Therefore, the best time to visit Tsalka and its neighboring regions in June and July.
The main income source for most families is agriculture. The soil here is rich in nutrients, especially nitrogen, making lands here very fertile. The primary activity of farmers here is potato growing, followed by grains such as wheat, barley, beans, oats, corn, and peas. Livestock and bee-keeping are also sources of income for some families.
How to travel from Tbilisi to Tsalka
The best way to travel from Tbilisi to Tsalka would be to rent a car as the public transportation within the municipality and its neighboring villages and towns is limited or non-existent. Getting around on your own using marshrutkas to see the sights would be very hard.
If you don’t want or can’t drive, you can rent a car and hire a driver at Gotrip.com.
For those adventurous souls, there are daily marshrutkas from Tbilisi to Tsalka leaving from Navtlughi Bus Station. The first bus leaves at 8 a.m and the second at 11 a.m. Afterward, it leaves every hour. The ticket costs 8 GEL one way. Remember though, that the schedule can change seasonally or by demand, so it’s better to check when they leave beforehand.
What to see and do in Tsalka Municipality
Tsalka municipality is one of the unique areas in Georgia in terms of a plethora of cultural heritage consisting of megalithic structures, archeological sites, and churches. As reported by the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, there are more than 600 monuments of cultural heritage registered in Tsalka.
Dashbashi Canyon, sometimes referred to as Tsalka Canyon, has gained popularity in recent years because of its gorgeous yet small cascading waterfall. Located in the entrance of Tsalka town at 1,230-1,550m above sea level, the canyon is part of Algeti National Park. Carved by the Ktsia (also referred to as Khrami) river in volcanic lavas, the canyon has its distinguished ecosystem different from the typical landscape of Tsalka.
At the start of the trail to Dashbashi Canyon, there’s another small trail leading to St. George Church nestled on the top of a small hill overlooking the village of Dashbashi and piercing canyon. The noteworthy here are the ancient gravestones with carvings telling who’s buried here.
This is the largest water reservoir by surface in Georgia covering around 33,7 sq. km. Constructed in 1946 for a dam to produce electricity, the Soviet-government sunk several Greek and Georgian uninhabited villages. Scholars believe that the reservoir hides some of the most important cultural heritage sites of prehistoric Georgia, which hasn’t been studied yet.
When the water level drops in the months of February and March, the residents of Tsalka see remains of a small church that emerges from the reservoir.
During winter, the surface of the reservoir is covered with ice, making it a spectacular landscape to see.
39.1% of the Tsalka population are Muslims, mainly eco-migrants from Adjara, the western region of the country at the Black Sea. When they moved here around 20 years ago, they bought a residential house and turned into this beautiful mosque. Five Pillars of Islam inspired the design, symbols, and colors of the religious site.
According to locals who showed us around, there are at least 10 other mosques in the municipality. However, this one sees around 2,000 people every Friday for their big prayers.
Located around 20 minutes drive from Tsalka, the lake has no perpetual tributary but subsists from rain. The lake is beautiful during all seasons with its open spaces, white flowers, water lilies, and mountains on the backdrop makes a wonderful scenery.
Berta Karst Spring
The natural monument of karst spring water streaming from volcanic beds flows in a stone pool right next to the centuries-old church. What makes these places special is the trout living in the stone pool that can follow the stream and move to the river but they never do. Therefore, believers think the fish is sacred.
Nowadays, the sight is on the territory of the monastery and a frequent destination for religious tourism in the Kvemo Kartli region.
Chilchili River Canyon near Beshtasheni
The Chilchili river flowing through Beshtasheni and Smadlo villages forms a 400 meters-long and about 20 meters deep canyon at 1,575 m above sea level. The area is covered with artificial forest and features a natural spring at the entrance of the gorge that can be used for camping.
Petroglyphs are prehistoric images carved on ceilings and walls of caves, stones, or cliffs. And Tsalka is home to such ancient drawings that are referred to as Trialeti Petroglyphs found near the village Gantiadi.
Geometric carvings on unevenly smooth andesite-basalt rocks showcase mainly the local fauna: roe deer, camels, lions, red deer, birds, and fish. Apart from fauna, you can also see a drawing of a hunter with arrows and bows. The petroglyphs date back to different periods – from the Mesolithic to Bronze-Iron Eras.
Such images are scattered all across the rocks within the territory, so spend a good amount of time if you wish to see most of them.
What today is the territory of Tsalka, used to be part of great trade routes back in the day. And a small village of Sakdrioni hides an ancient caravanserai constructed of undressed stones. Unfortunately, only fragments of its walls remain today, but it should have been a massive building with halls and a large fireplace.
Off-road and hiking trails in Tsalka district
Trails in Tsalka cover not only its territory but also villages of neighboring municipalities. Some routes are marked, however, they might be outdated. Sadly, the infrastructure of these marked trails have limited signs and lack camping and shelter areas. Personally, I haven’t tried any of those trails, but I am still including them for your information.
- Type: hiking, motor trial
- Length: 19,9 km
- Duration: 7 hours
- Sights: Manglisi Sioni Cathedral and Kldekari fortress
The trail starts from Manglisi Sioni Cathedral, one of the prominent monuments of Georgian architecture, and continues to the village Arkhoti passing through pastures. The trail then goes into a broadleaf forest, where the pathway replaces the road and runs manly along the river gorge. The route also crosses the river at several spots. After leaving the forest, the trail merges with an unpaved motor road, goes through fields, and Choliani village before continuing to Kldekari fortress.
- Type: off-road tour/cycling trail
- Length: 32 km
- Duration: 1:30hrs
- Sights: Tsalka, Nardevani cyclopean fortress and Virgin Mary church, Berta monastery, Avranlo fortress and churches
The route starts from the center of Tsalka and goes to Nardevani village. The primary part of the trail runs along the paved highway connecting Tsalka with Akhalkalaki. At Nardevani the path makes a sharp turn to the north and goes to the Nardevani cyclopean fortress. From here it continues to Berta village and its monastery. Afterward, the route runs to Avranlo village as the final stop, but you’ll explore a few cultural monuments along the way, including one of the best-preserved cyclopean fortresses, with a number of caves and churches within the territory of the citadel.
Where to eat in Tsalka
The town of Tsalka isn’t spoiled with many restaurants and cafes. There are only two I ate at and can recommend with decent and tasty food.
Restaurant Pontia serves tasty Greek cuisine. Make sure to try their Moussaka, Greek-Georgian dishes such as boiled potatoes with local asparagus and Khachapuri, fried fish, and salads.
Restaurant Daisi caters typical Georgian cuisine. Their vegetable and meat meals are tasty, as well as cheese, Khachapuri, and Lobiani.
Where to stay in Tsalka
CouCou Hostel – perfect for backpackers. Rooms come with a river view, shared bathroom, and lounge. Full Irish/British and vegetarian breakfast available upon request.
Guesthouse Maia – located in Dashbashi village, the guesthouse features a pool, garden, BBQ, shared lounge, and moderately priced rooms. Breakfast is optional for an additional cost.
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Georgia travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Georgia, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Find budget-friendly deals on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking and Agoda, or find a cool apartment on Airbnb and get $34 off on your first stay (my invite expires in 30 days after you sign up! )
– Pre-book a private car transfer from Tbilisi Airport to your hotel
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road