Hidden deep within the stunning landscapes of Georgia’s semi-desert is a geological marvel: rolling, colorful hills nicknamed Rainbow Mountains or Colorful Mountains in Georgian. Often overlooked by mainstream tourists, the Rainbow Mountains are now gaining popularity among visitors.
Therefore, if you seek a slightly off-the-beaten day trip from Tbilisi without too many crowds, the Mravaltskaro Rainbow Mountains should be on your list.
This post provides detailed information on how to visit Rainbow Mountains independently or join a group tour, several ways to get there, and other places to visit in Georgia close to these colorful mountains.
Where are the Rainbow Mountains in Georgia?
Rainbow Mountains in Georgia are located in a semi-desert area spanning Kvemo Kartli and Kakheti regions near Mravaltskaro Reservoir. Therefore, many locals call this area the Colorful Mountains of Mravaltskaro.
Situated at around 500-550 meters above sea level, Rainbow Mountains combine extensive hills, plains, and steep-sloped individual highlands with sparse vegetation.
Rustic reds, dark yellows, light greys, and greens interweave. The name – Rainbow Mountains – comes from the different-colored sedimentary rocks spread in this dry area. Millions of years of mineral deposits and erosion have created these distinctively colored, striped mountains.
While it might not be as grand and stunning as Peru’s or China’s similar Rainbow Mountains, it is still worth a visit to see this natural gem just about two hours drive from Tbilisi.
The best time to visit the Rainbow Mountains
The area of the Rainbow Mountains is beautiful in all seasons. However, since it is in semi-desert, summers here are pretty hot and frequented by various reptiles. It’s an open space without any trees or shade.
Late spring is the best time to visit the Rainbow Mountains because colors are more vivid, while the landscape is covered with lush green of newly grown grass. Temperatures are also milder at this time of the year.
Early autumn is another excellent time to visit the Colorful Mountains when the heat decreases and the landscape turns to autumn colors. Driving through Udabno at this time of year offers stunning vistas of the semi-desert climate.
Winters here are pretty cold and gloomy, and not the best time to see the vivid colors. However, I’ve seen pictures where grey sky and fog add a mysterious charm to the Rainbow Mountains.
We visited the Mravaltskaro Colorful Mountains at the end of April. The weather was partly sunny and cloudy, ideal for enjoying our time there without sunburn.
How to get to Rainbow Mountains from Tbilisi
Located in Gardabani Municipality in Kvemo Kartli, there are a few ways to get to the Rainbow Mountains in Georgia. This section includes how to travel independently, with a group, and the best road.
Unfortunately, there is no direct public transport from Tbilisi to the Colorful Mountains of Mravaltskaro. Occasional marshrutkas depart for the nearby Lemshveniera village. However, I don’t recommend taking this route as it is time-consuming and involves a much longer hike to the mountains.
An alternative way to get closer to these mountains with public transport is to go from Tbilisi to Udabno village (the word ‘udabno’ means desert in Georgian) and then hire a taxi. While hiking from Udabno to Mravaltskaro Reservoir could be possible, I still do not recommend doing it for safety reasons.
The best way to get from Tbilisi to the Rainbow Mountains is to drive (rent a car at LocalRent) or join an organized tour.
Self-driving from Tbilisi to the Mravaltskaro Colorful Mountains
There are two roads from Tbilisi to the Rainbow Mountains, so read this part of the post very carefully.
Option 1: via Udabno
The best way to get from Tbilisi to the Rainbow Mountains in Mravaltskaro is to follow the Kakheti highway towards the Sagarejo. When you see the sign of the David Gareji monastery complex, turn and follow the road that goes through Udabno village. The journey is around 100-110km one way.
Until the village of Udabno, the road is paved and smooth. The dirt road starts afterward, requiring a 4WD car to tackle the terrain. Once you pass through the village, don’t continue on the შ172 highway; instead, you must turn right and follow the dirt road (somewhere here) for about 14 km until you reach the Mravaltskaro Reservoir.
Important: The dirt road on Google Maps is slightly visible. However, the navigation button doesn’t show it at all. Therefore, I advise downloading the Maps.me app that shows the exact turn from Udabno village you need to follow and full navigation.
Once at the Mravaltskaro Reservoir, you must hike around 2-4 kilometers to reach the different peaks of the Rainbow Mountains, marked as Red Mountains on Google Maps.
Option 2: via Rustavi
Another way to get to the Rainbow Mountains from Tbilisi is via Rustavi.
Putting the Red Mountains pin on Google Maps navigates you through Rustavi-Jabndara or the Tbilisi-Gachiani-Rustavi highways. The distance with these options is between 51 to 59 km one way.
We took this road with the Suzuki SX4 crossover, a 4WD car, passing Lemshveniera village. The road is paved and smooth in many parts, but in others, it’s unpaved and has many potholes, making the drive slower and the overall journey more than indicated by Google Maps.
Navigating the dirt road is slightly tricky here as there are no signs, and you must carefully follow the maps turned into satellite mode. Once you see the Colorful Mountains afar, follow the dirt road until you can park and start the walk. We drove until we saw this building and parked behind it next to this small pond.
Despite this, the beauty of taking this road is that you travel to the unknown parts of Georgia that rarely see any tourists, and you get to the Rainbow Mountains directly, minimizing the hiking time.
Important: the road doesn’t take you to the exact pin; it brings you closer to the whole Rainbow Mountains range. If you park next to the pond, you’ll have around 10 minutes of effortless walking to enjoy this natural wonder without hiking all the way to the pin and Mravaltskaro Reservoir.
Join an organized Rainbow Mountains tour
To avoid the hustle of driving the car and navigating through unknown and dirt road terrain, you can join an organized tour year-round.
The tour combines a visit to the Rainbow Mountains via Mravaltskaro Reservoir and the David Gareji and Natlismtsemeli monastery complexes. After the active full day, they stop at Oasis Club cafe (see below) in Udabno village for lunch (not included in the tour price) and then to a complimentary wine tasting at the KTW factory on the way to Tbilisi.
→ Check availability here and book your spot.
Get a private transfer to the Rainbow Mountains
If you do not like driving or participating in organized tours, there’s a great alternative – GoTrip’s private transfer service. Surprisingly affordable, it’s become my go-to choice for intercity travel. Picture it as the Uber of long-distance transportation, with a team of professional drivers prioritizing safety.
One standout feature that I absolutely love is the ability to craft a personalized travel itinerary with stops at your desired locations, all without incurring extra costs. Your chosen itinerary’s price is the final cost, no matter how many places you visit. Moreover, you can ask your friendly driver to make brief stops at picturesque spots for photos or short breaks.
Should you wish to make the most of full-day tours exploring the surrounding areas, I’ve compiled an itinerary covering destinations like Mravaltskaro Reservoir, Udabno, and the David Gareji Monastery, which you can check out here. But don’t worry; you can easily remove those stops if you only have your heart set on visiting the Rainbow Mountains.
What to bring when visiting Rainbow Mountains in Georgia
When planning a trip to the Rainbow Mountains, there are a few things to consider, pack, and bring with you.
Shoes: No matter which road you take, you’ll be walking on a dirt road, so prioritize your comfort and safety by wearing sturdy, closed-toe shoes appropriate for potentially muddy and vertical terrain. I wore my Timberland boots.
Sun protection: Remember that this is a semi-desert territory; therefore, the temperatures can be a minimum of 30C (86F) from May until September. Appropriate sun protection includes a hat (as you can see, I wore my fedora hat), sunglasses, and sunscreen. We visited the Colorful Mountains of Mravaltskaro in late April, and while half of the day was cloudy, we still got a bit of a sunburn.
Water: No water source near the Rainbow Mountains exists, so bring enough water.
Other clothes: Because the weather can be unpredictable sometimes, be prepared in advance and check the forecast a day before or even in the morning. I usually use Yr.no or Meteoblue.
Also, when visiting Orthodox monasteries and churches, dress modestly. Women must cover their heads with a scarf and wear skirts (or shawls wrapped around the pants). Men should wear pants and the usual T-shirts, no tank tops.
Motion sickness: If you are not used to navigating off-road and get motion sickness, pack your pills just in case.
Alternative Rainbow Mountains in David Gareji
On my recent visit to David Gareji, I noticed an alternative Rainbow Mountains below the monastery complex. They are easier to get to, but they seem smaller, less colorful, and too crowded with visitors to the Gareji monastery complex.
Therefore, I still recommend visiting the ones near the Maravaltskaro Reservoir for a better and unique experience.
Other things to do close to Rainbow Mountains
Stop for lunch at Oasis Club
The famous Oasis Club cafe is a go-to stop for lunch or dinner if you are visiting the Davit Gareji monastery complex or any other church nearby.
Opened more than ten years ago by a Polish family, Oasis Club offers a cafe and overnight accommodation.
Their seasonal menu, written on a blackboard, features appetizers, main courses, and desserts. No matter the time of your visit, you’ll have a pretty tasty meal prepared from locally sourced ingredients. Oasis Club combines European standards and techniques with Georgian culinary traditions.
They bring you freshly baked tone bread with Svanetian salt and Kakhetian sunflower oil as an appetizer before you wait for your meal.
On our visit in spring, we absolutely loved the long-cooked goat with mashed potatoes, fried Sulguni cheese with potato chips, and beetroot salad with spinach.
In autumn, their menu reflects the season with hearty home-cooked stews and soups. We’ve had their beef stew, which resembled a goulash but was done in a Georgian style. For dessert, we also tried pancakes with a thin orange sauce that was quite delicious.
And if you want to support locals, they also sell a few local products, such as honey, Georgian tea, and Kakhetian sunflower oil.
Admire the David Gareji Monastery complex
The David Gareji Monastery Complex is an important cultural and spiritual place in Georgia’s rocky terrain, featuring ancient cave monasteries and hermit cells intricately carved into the dramatic cliffsides.
The monastery dates back to the 6th century and is a unique place to observe medieval Georgian Orthodox architecture. The panoramic vistas of the surrounding nature are spectacular, and so is the view of the David Gareji monastery complex from above the hill.
Venture further to discover Sabereebi caves
Gareji’s Sabereebi are rock-cut monastery caves further from the David Gareji Monastery. They used to be part of this massive religious cave complex back in the day, and because getting to these caves is slightly more challenging, rarely do any tourists venture out this far.
As you might know, the beautiful cave fresco decorations that made David Gareji so famous are now inaccessible; visiting Sabereebi caves is a great alternative to seeing this marvelous ancient cave art.
David Garejeli was also the founder of the Sabereebi complex in the 6th century, which is similar to the David Gareji area. Back then, the Sabereebi area had 11 churches; however, only a few frescos have survived, making them one of the oldest frescos in Georgia.
It is an impressive monastery complex with its architectural styles and beautiful frescos that somewhat resemble similar monastery churches in Cappadocia.
Sadly, not much research has been done on these rock-cut churches, and no preservation works have been underway either, so they are vulnerable to weather conditions and neglective treatment from local shepherds.
While you can find the pins on Google Maps and self-drive a car, WT Georgia occasionally organizes a Sabereebi day trip from Tbilisi to Sabereebi. You can enquire and book. If you mention Red Fedora, you’ll also get 10% off.
Most roads are off-road, so you need a 4WD and good skills to navigate the terrain if you decide to DIY your trip. Also, note that the caves’ area is frequented by shepherds with aggressive dogs. You can shout for help as the shepherd will be somewhere near to call off the dogs.
Visit Natlismtsemeli Monastery
Natlismtsemeli Monastery, or Saint John Monastery, is perched atop the rocky hills overlooking the Udabno village. This charming church boasts a humble yet beautiful sight. Its historic significance and picturesque setting make it a must-visit place if you are in the area.
Inside, you’ll see ancient frescoes that have withstood the time, dating back to the 12th century. Created by Luciane, a student of David Gareji at the end of the 7th century, the monastery complex consists of multiple cave temples and a central church.
The church’s tranquil atmosphere and stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape are an excellent stopover for your Rainbow Mountains trip.
A humble request: If you intend to take a little side trip to the Natlismtsemeli Monastery, I would greatly appreciate it if you brought along some pet food for the delightful local cats and dogs. Despite ongoing efforts to provide for them, their needs are not always fully met. Therefore, if you are exploring the monastery, a small pet food donation will significantly impact their well-being. Your kindness is sincerely appreciated!
Escape to the Jandari Lake
Jandari Lake, a natural border between Georgia and Azerbaijan, is another beautiful stop to your trip.
The lake is an important water source for both countries as it irrigates the fields of Azerbaijan (Kazakh region) and the lands of Georgia’s Gardabani municipality.
Jandari Lake is similar to Paliastom Lake in Poti, Georgia, in terms of its ichthyofauna diversity and is one of the most critical facilities for fishing.
In the 1960s, an ichthyologist, Otar Burchuladze, recorded 21 species and subspecies of fish in the lake.
The lake is also a sanctuary for wildlife and a paradise for birdwatchers. About 20,000 waterfowl use it for migration and breeding.
The beauty of Jandari Lake lies in its untouched natural spectacle. Here, you can spot various bird species, stroll along the shoreline, enjoy a serene picnic, or even try fishing.
My Favorite Travel Resources
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.
🚫 Get compensation for up to 700$ with Airhelp if your flight was canceled or delayed within the last 3 years.
🚗 Rent a car at Local Rent for affordable prices and convenient service.
❣ Pre-book a private car transfer with GoTrip from Tbilisi Airport to your hotel or any other city across Georgia.
💻 Get a VPN from Surfshark to protect your devices from hackers when using public Wi-Fi when traveling.
📱 Install the Airalo app, which provides local eSIMs for a more affordable internet connection when traveling. Get 3 USD with code: BAIA2592.
🍷 For some of the best, expat-designed wine tours check out Eat!ThisTours. Get a 5% discount with code RFD5.
🏨 Find budget-friendly deals on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking.com.
🩺 Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, covering COVID.
☀ Book in advance some of the best city walks, cultural experiences, and day tours to maximize your stay and experience here.