4×4 itinerary from Vashlovani National Park to David Gareja

The ultimate travel guide to visit Vashlovani National park in Georgia

Located in the south-eastern corner of Georgia, Vashlovani National Park holds some of the most stunning scenery in Georgia: from dried-up canyons, arid steppes to tall grasses, the park looks like the African savannah! It has a semi-arid climate and is home to more than a hundred species of birds and mammals such as gazelles, lynxes, bears, etc. A scenic route runs along the border with Azerbaijan from Vashlovani to David Gareja monastery. In this article, we give you some precious tips and practical information to organize your road trip in Vashlovani National Park and beyond.

  • If you are planning a trip to Georgia by van, 4×4, motorbike or bicycle, our book EXPLORE GEORGIA will be very useful.
  • If you want to rent a car in Georgia or find a local guide, you will find our recommendations in this article.
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Hello! We're Olivia & Victor, authors of the OunTravela guides.

Over the years, our passion for adventure has led us to create original travel guides sold in over 70 countries worldwide. Our mission is to spread a travel philosophy based on adventure, freedom, improvisation and exploration. Our guides inspire travelers to explore the world's forgotten paths, encountering wilderness and civilizations.
We hope you find this article, based on our own experience, useful.
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Why you should visit Vashlovani National Park?

Separated from Alazani Valley by the Gombori mountain range, the southern part of the Kakheti region is much wilder and is a paradise for travellers looking for adventure! Located in the easternmost part of Georgia along the border with Azerbaijan, Vashlovani National Park holds some of the most stunning scenery in Georgia. This nature reserve, notable for its arid, semi-desert landscape and rich biodiversity, extends over an area of 250 km2. Following a rocky dirt trail, you will find massive, jagged canyons, vast savannahs with pistachio trees strewn throughout, and arid steppes where gazelles graze peacefully. The protected area is home to a great diversity of wildlife. Just 20 years ago, hyenas and Caucasian leopards lived in the park. For nature and adventure lovers, there is no missing this amazing park!

canyon des rivières oubliées à côté de bokonbaevo le long du lac Issyk Kul, à découvrir dans le livre Explore Kirghizistan

Things to know before going to Vashlovani National Park

When is the best time to visit Vashlovani National Park?

Vashlovani Park can be visited all year round. Due to the arid climate of the region, it is very hot in summer (July-August), so the best time to go is in spring and autumn. Please note that the tracks can be quite challenging if it is raining, as the soil transforms into sticky, slippery clay. In case of rain, a 4×4 is mandatory.

How long should I spend in the park?

We recommend spending at least 2 days in Vashlovani Park. This will allow you to enjoy the sceneries in the morning and evening, when the lights are at their best. You can also plan to hike or horse ride in the park. Then if you want to drive until David Gareja along the border, count at least 2 or 3 more days.

Where to sleep and eat in the park?

Dedoplistiskaro is the last place where you can buy supplies before you visit Vashlovani National Park. Make sure you remember to stock up on food, water and fuel there. Camping is allowed in the park. It is a great experience to enjoy the morning light and to spot wildlife.

If you do not want to camp in the park, you should know that bungalows are available for sleeping in. However, you will have to reserve this accommodation in advance when you request your permit. The price for a two-person bungalow is 40 GEL, and a three-person bungalow is 50 GEL (each one has a private bathroom).

What type of vehicle is recommended to visit Vashlovani?

An off-road vehicle is recommended (4×4 with high ground clearance) especially in case of rain, when the tracks become muddy and slippery. In dry weather, an SUV with all-terrain tyres may be enough. You should know that motorcycles and trucks have been prohibited in Vashlovani National Park for a few years now.

Order your Vashlovani border permit at Dedoplistskaro

The border area with Azerbaijan is subject to strict regulations regarding the circulation of people, especially foreigners. A border permit is required for Vashlovani National Park, Chachuna reserve and Iori plateau (Routes 7, 8 and 9 of our guidebook Explore Georgia).  Also note that a special authorisation is required for Vashlovani National Park and Chachuna Managed Reserve.

    • The authorisations for Vashlovani National Park and Chachuna Reserve are issued at the Vashlovani Visitor Centre in Dedoplistskaro. You must present your passport and vehicle papers. If you are renting a vehicle, check that the rental agency has provided you with these documents.
      • Admission: 5 GEL per person
      • Vehicle: 5 GEL per vehicle
      • Night wild camping: 5 GEL per person per night
      • Night in a bungalow: double room 40 GEL per night, triple room 50 GEL per night
    • For Routes 7 (Vashlovani National Park) and 8 (Chachuna Managed Reserve), you can get your border permit issued by the border police in Dedoplistskaro after having obtained the authorisations at the Vashlovani Visitor Centre. However, if you also want to travel on Route 9 (Iori plateau), it gets a little complicated: the border permit can only be requested from the Tbilisi border police, 12 Simon Kandelaki Street. We therefore advise you to apply directly there for the border permits for Routes 7, 8 and 9.

Please note that at every checkpoint, the guards will check your border permit, your authorisation, the papers for your car, and your passport. If any of these documents is missing, you will not be able to enter the park.

While you wait for your permits, you can take a walk to Eagle Canyon, which is close to the town. From the parking area , a short 20-minute walk will lead you to a viewpoint over the canyon, whose walls are dotted with the nests of many birds of prey. You can also walk to Khornabuji Castle, which is perched on a rocky hill.

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5-day trip from Vashlovani to David Gareja

The following points are highlights of a 5-day itinerary from Vashlovani Park to the David Gareja Monastery along the Azeri border. For details of this itinerary, see Routes 6, 7, 8 and 9 of our Explore Georgia guidebook. We spent ten days exploring the region, and have compiled the best of this trip on high resolution satellite maps with all the camping spots and viewpoints. You’ll also find historical information on the region’s cave monasteries, and explanations of the region’s landscapes, fauna and flora. For those who prefer, we provide GPS tracks and a foldable tourist map of the country. 

Inside Vashlovani National Park

There are basically two interesting routes within the Vashlovani Park, the first route through Usakhelo to Mijniskure. Then a track that passes through Alisebi and Pantishara, it’s on this second route that you might be lucky enough to see gazelles.

Usakhelo Viewpoint – Mijniskure post

A dirt track leads to an observation deck, called Usakhelo. It was built above an outcrop, offering a panoramic view out over the badlands. From here, you can see the trail that plunges into the middle of this stunning landscape. It disappears into a narrow, winding canyon before emerging onto an open plain that leads to the ranger post of Mijniskure. The portion of the trail that crosses the canyon can be quite challenging if it is raining, as the soil transforms into sticky, slippery clay. The camp of Mijniskure is located next to a meander of the Alazani River, which forms a natural border with Azerbaijan. The panoramic views are beautiful, especially in autumn, when the trees lining the river are adorned with gold. There are also bungalows (which need to be reserved) and wild camping spots at the camp of Mijniskure. A well is available to refill containers with drinking water.

Gazelles steppes – Alisebi badlands – Pantishara Gorge

On these vast steppes, you might get the chance to see the famous goitered gazelles that live in the park.

Then, the route reaches Alisebi badlands. It is hard to know which country you are in when you get there. Iran? Kenya? Or maybe even the Moon? Sculpted by the wind and eroded by the rain for millions of years, this landscape of clay has formed some unusual shapes, including steep cliffs, canyons, ridges, chasms and pyramid-shaped pillars. Once an ocean floor, today this area is the territory of griffon vultures, who glide silently above the dramatic cliffs.

After the expansive Alisebi badlands, the valley narrows into a canyon with cliffs on either side. Pantishara Canyon continues to the tributary of “Bear Gorge”, and then on to the ranger cabins.

Road trip in Georgia in Vashlovani National Park
Plan your trip to Vashlovani National Park in Georgia
Georgia road trip in Vashlovani national park

Less than a century ago, herds of gazelles grazed peacefully in the plains and foothills of the South Caucasus. As a result of poaching and intensive farming in the surrounding valleys, the species almost completely disappeared in the 1960s. Since 2013, the Georgian government and the NGO WWF started a programme to reintroduce the goitered gazelle into the park. There are 20 or so gazelles in the park today. 

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Exploring Chachuna Reserve

A dirt road runs alongside the border with Azerbaijan, with breathtaking panoramic views in Chachuna Managed Reserve. From barren steppes to lush forests on the banks of the Iori River, the reserve is overflowing with stunning scenery that will make you feel as if you are travelling on another continent, or even another planet. This massive wild area is a sanctuary for many species. Flocks of birds fly over the forests that run alongside the river, while wolves and jackals howl at night. We didn’t have any significant difficulties with this trail when we used it, but the conditions can quickly deteriorate in bad weather.

Discovering the Mud Volcanoes

A few kilometers after Dali Mta reservoir, there are two different spots where you can find mud volcanoes: Takhti-Tepha and Kilakupra. Approximately one hundred mud volcanoes are scattered all over the ground. The diameter of the craters ranges from a few centimetres for the smallest to several metres for the biggest ones. Contrary to what you might think, the mixture of mud that erupts from the craters is not hot. Gas emissions travelling through the viscous mud are the reason for the large bubbles that form on the surface. The colour palette (light grey, dark grey, brown, blue, black, etc.) is a sight to behold. It is like a natural painting constantly moving in fascinating ways. Please keep your distance from the craters so as not to damage this site. Your footprints will stay visible for several weeks.

Crossing the Iori Plateau and Sabereebi monastery

Interspersed with thousand-year-old cave monasteries and badlands, this itinerary will delight both history buffs and those who love wide open spaces. The route winds through the arid, semi-desert landscape of the Iori Plateau along the border with Azerbaijan. The route crosses the Iori River, which is lined with floodplain forests and shaded wild camping spots. The ridges that rise above the Iori Plateau were carved out during the 6th century to create hermitages for monks to live in. Take the time to explore these abandoned cave monasteries, which are covered in frescoes from long ago. Here and there, erosion has exposed the sedimentary rock beneath the earth, giving the landscape a ruin-like appearance with its multi-coloured hills.

between David Gareja and Vashlovani park, you must visit the Chachuna and Iori reserve
Georgia road trip : don't miss the mud volcanoes
Georgia road trip in Vashlovani national park

Udabno

Udabno is the first village you will find on this route. After the fall of the USSR, it was abandoned and many houses fell into ruin. Today, a few families have reclaimed the area. A Polish family runs a hostel and a little restaurant.

David Gareja monastery

The David Gareja monastery cave complex is made up of a dozen or so independent monasteries on the border with Azerbaijan in a vast, arid valley. The most well known is Lavra Monastery. This incredible historical site, more than 1,400 years old, is made up of a cave section and several stone buildings, including fortifications and a small church. 100 km south of Tbilisi, it is one of the region’s main tourist destinations. Since 2019, following a dispute between Georgia and Azerbaijan, part of the complex, including Udabno Monastery, has been closed to tourists. But the monastery is still worth a visit!

Rainbow mountains

Made up of many layers of clay and coloured sandstone, the hills present a beautiful, natural multicoloured scene; hence the name “rainbow”. This semi-desert landscape can be accessed using a dirt track. The hills are reflected in a small pool of water where families come to picnic in the summer. Many herds of animals also come to drink here.

cave monastery along the Azerbaijan border: David Gareja near Udabno
Georgia road trip : don't miss the mud volcanoes
Georgia road trip in Vashlovani national park

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If you have any questions, please feel free to join our facebook discussion group dedicated to exploring Georgia. You will also be able to share your experience of the country and/or discover the photos of other travellers. If you liked this article, help us and share it with your friends!
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découvrir le lac issyk kul hors des sentiers battus, la perle du Kirghizistan
découvrir le lac issyk kul hors des sentiers battus, la perle du Kirghizistan
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