Vashlovani National Park
Vashlovani Protected Area is located in the southeastern part of Georgia, Kakheti Region. The name Vashlovani means apple-tree garden. Almost next to the Azerbaijani border, Protected Area was established in 1935 comprising Nature Reserve, National Park, and 3 Natural Monuments: Takhti-Tepa, Eagle Gorge, Mud Volcanoes, and Kakliskure Alazani floodplain forest. The total area amounts to 35,292 ha. from 100 to 800 meters above sea level and is characterized by a dry, arid climate caused by the complete absence of freshwater reservoirs and minimal annual precipitation, also due to the influence of the Shirak steppe located within its limits. In summer, it is very hot, the temperature staying at the level of +40C and more. Winters are harsh and the temperature often drops to -25C.
The National Park has an awesome blend of natural zones: pristine nature, desert, semi-desert, steppe, forest-steppe, deciduous forests, arid sparse forests, volcanoes, sedimentary rocks (badlands), plain plateaus, cliffs-of-the-canyons known in the area as the "Sharp Walls" and even karst caves, all in all creating an impression that you are on safari to Africa!
Flora of the ecozone is quite rich and diverse, featuring 660 species of plants, 40 of which are endemic to Caucasus, namely: pistachio, floodplain oaks (Quercuspedunculata), two small bays (Juma and Mijna), tan, ash-trees (Fraxinus excelsior), caragana, thistles, maple, cherry, pear, fig, wild pomegranate (Punicagranatum), walnut trees (Juglansregia), honeysuckle, buckthorn, peonies, 7 species of orchids, jasmine, wild grape (Vitissylvestris), Maiko Peony (Paeoniamaiko), Georgian iris (Iris ibericaHoffm.), Eichlertulip (Tulipaeichleri Regel), Georgian barberry (Berberisiberica), regional bellflower (Campanula kachetica), steppe peony (Paeoniatenuifolia L.), Georgian wild pear (PyrusgeorgicaKuthath), regional sainfoin (OnobrychiskacheticaBoiss. et Buhse), Sakhokia wild pear (PyrussachokianaKuth.); 13 species of woody plants form the “Red List”: Pedunculate oak (QuercuspedunculifloraC.Koch), Euphrates Poplar (PopuluseuphraticaOliv.), Georgian maple (Acer ibericum M. Bieb. Ex Willd.), Demetrii wild pear (Pyrusdemetrii), Black juniper (JuniperusfoetidissimaWilld.), Walnut (Juglansregia ), Sakhikia wild pear (PyrussachokianaKutath.), Georgian oak (Quercetaiberica), Wild pistachio (PistaciamuticaFisch&Mey ), Fruitful juniper (Juniperuspolicarpos); vine ancestors: Quince (Cydoniaoblonga Mill.), drum bread (Tritium ferrigineum), Wild vine (Vitissilvestris G. Gmel.), cherry (Cerarussilvestris), wild apple (Malusorientalis) and others.
The park’s name itself is associated with the fruit garden, as in Georgian, the word “vashli” means an apple.
- The blooming period of endemic plants (Georgian iris, Eichlertulip, Steppe Peony) is April - second half of May
- Ripening period of mastic tree fruit and color changing of the leaves of Eurasian Smoketree is September-November.
Within the park, fauna is represented by: 62 species of mammals: Eurasian lynxes, wolves, brown bears, red foxes, golden jackals, Caucasian leopard, Jungle cats, boars, porcupines; bats-including: Mehely’s Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophusmehelyi), PamsyMyotis (Myotisemarginatus), Lesser Horseshoe Bat (RhinolopushipposiderosBechtein.); 135-birds: Imperial eagles, Marsh harriers, vultures, buzzards, black gyps, francolin, bustard, partridges, swallows, rare black stork, pheasants; water birds: wild ducks, cormorants, white-tailed eagle, herons, teals, ospreys, red ducks; 30-reptiles: Beber skink, Mediterranen turtle, snake-eyed skink, snakes, Asian boa constrictor, Blotched snake, toad, grass snake, viper; 20-fish in Alazani: Caucasian chub, sander, catfish, carp, barbell, river goby, shemaya, sea mollusks; 4 amphibian species, 700 species of insects, most of them being butterflies-109 species; Endemic animals: common toad (Bufobufo), Radde’s shrew (Sorexraddei), gree toad (Bufoviridis), wood frog (Ranaridibunda), Iran-Anatolian endemic-Transcaucasian hamster (Mesocricetusbrandti), common tree frog (Hylaarborea), Caucasian region snake-eyed skink (Ablephoruspannonicus), gobi (Barbusmursa), etc. Animals form the “Red List” include 4 species of reptiles, 20 species of birds, and 10 species of mammals: Brown bear (Ursusarctos), gazelle (Gazellasubgutturosasubgutturosa), Mediterranean turtle (Testudograeca), pond (Emys orbicularis), Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetusfulva), vulture (Aegypiusmonachus), little bustard (Tetraxtetrax Linnaeus, 1758), peregrine (Falco peregrinus);
Vashlovani Protected Area is remarkable not just for natural ecosystems of exceptional beauty, but also for historical and archaeological sites of national importance and natural monuments:
- Takhti-Tepa Volcanoes-an astounding creation of nature, which amazes with its large scale. The total area of this wonder is 9.7 ha. Height varies from 20 cm to 1.5 m. The diameter of the largest mud cater is 3,5-4 m. Here, at an altitude of 620 meters above sea level, near Mount Dali, there are round mud craters boiling and bubbling continuously. Blue clay, oil, gas, and springs of different sizes eject from the depths of the cracked earth. The mud erupted by volcanoes has healing properties. Nature around is unusual, there are a lot of big stones covered with grass and deep ravines mixed with plains. The Takhti-Tepa volcanoes are often referred to as a miracle that teleports you to another planet.
- The Eagle Gorge (Artsivis Kheoba)- a unique complex consisting of two sites: the first one is a limestone rocky canyon and another one-an extensive forest area with Khornabuji Castle in the middle, built in the 5th century. More than 60 bird species live here, including the nesting rare species of black stork, Colchis pheasants, vultures, and other birds. There are special observation decks for bird-watching, from where it is possible to observe nests of eagles and other rare/extinct plants, which cannot be seen anywhere else in Georgia.
- Kaklis Kure (the Oreshnikovy Bay on the Alazani River)-vegetation-rich forest zone on the peninsula, formed by the Alazani River. The total area amounts to 200 hectares. This is the only place where wild walnut, giant ash, oak, and elm trees grow naturally on the territory of Georgia.
- The Alesilebi-aka The Pointed Rocks are often called Georgian Mars and considered to be Vashlovani's signature card. The clay walls of these cliffs rise high up to 59-70 m. looking as if chiseled by the wind and black vultures soar above. These ridges are called Pantishira and Datviskhevi. Old caves here used to be watch spots for the coming enemy troops, thus contributing to the protection of the area. There is a good observation deck hanging over an abyss, called Usakhelo or Nameless. From this place begins the difficult descent to the very bottom of the basin (about 8 kilometers) of Mizhnis Kure. A good SUV and an experienced driver are needed before embarking the journey down. However, in case of high humidity, this road can become almost impassable even for the strongest SUVs.
- Khornabuji Fortress - also called the Fortress of Queen Tamara, is a medieval fortress town located in Eastern Georgia, 3 kilometers north of Dedoplistskaro, in the region of Kakheti, 800 meters above sea level. The name Khornabuji translates from the Persian language as a sunny mountain. Erected originally at the end of the 1st millennium BC. the fortress served as the only fortification controlling the valleys of rivers Iori and Alazani. The remaining ruined walls of the fortress stand on the majestic Tsiv-Gombori Range, offering stunning panoramic views of the Eastern Kavkasioni and Alazani Valley.
- The Tezbiteli Temple-erected on the limestone rock of St. Ilya (St. Elias) in the 6th century, at an altitude of 45 meters. After the October Revolution (1917-1918) in Russia, when the Tsars were killed and Soviets came to power, the temple was destroyed and restored to its former glory almost 100 years later, at the beginning of the 21st century. From the top, one can enjoy landscapes of Shirak and Tariban valleys, Kotsakhuri Range and Lake Kochebi.
- The Black Mountain Monastery- the remains of the monastery date back to the 4-5th centuries. Only the foundation and fragments of the floor have survived, which is 500 m from the highway to the ruins. If it’s clear weather Kavkasioni Range can be admired from here.
The National Reserve of Vashlovani is a real paradise for nature and adventure lovers. It’s a unique place of scientific and touristic significance. The best time to visit Vashlovani Park is in spring and autumn. You can organize here one- and two-day hiking trips, ride a horse, boat along the Alazani River, do jeep, cycling, safari, photo, geological, cultural, and educational tours, or rent camping equipment in the information center. Tourist infrastructure is well-developed, trails are marked and arranged. There are special areas for camping, picnic, bungalows. Sites for setting up a fire are also allocated.
- Enjoy tours throughout the year, active season lasts from May to November
- The best period for birdwatching is spring (April) and autumn (October, November)
- The best period for sport fishing is April-July
For registration, booking of the tourist shelter or other services contact/visit Vashlovani Protected Areas Administrative and Visitors Center. The exhibition and presentation hall is designed in an administrative building, where visitors have the opportunity to become familiar with the specifics of protected areas, existing tariffs, safety rules, and choose any desired travel route.
- When visiting boundary territories: Kaklis Kure, Takhti-Tepa, and Mijniskure, it is necessary to register at the Visitor Center of Vashlovani Protected Areas (#5 Baratashvili street, in Dedoplistskaro) and have a copy of your ID with you, to obtain an entry permit.
- Covering the above-mentioned territories is possible only by off-road vehicle 4x4 WD.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Vashlovani Protected Areas visitor center is located at 5 Baratashvili St., in Dedoplistskaro.
Coordinates: X - 592183 Y - 4590704
Distance: From Tbilisi to Dedoplistskaro - 130km (2 hr. by car)
Vashlovani Park has a network of hiking trails totaling 7, with different levels of difficulty:
Route 1: Artsivi (Eagle) Canyon/7-8 km 1 day, automobile-integrated with a pedestrian, average difficult
The trail starts at the entrance of Artsivi (Eagle) Canyon, where visitors will receive useful information on the protected areas. From here you go alongside limestone cliffs and reach the basis of the rocks, where it is possible to see rare endemic plant species Campanula Kakhetica. Afterward, the trail runs toward the viewpoints on the western slopes of the gorge, where you can enjoy watching flying griffon vultures against the backdrop of hanging cliffs. It is possible to visit the remains of the medieval city-fortress of Khornabuji. To reach the 5th-century fortress you must pass through the narrow forest road, which resembles a natural tunnel during summer. Visitors can have food at the picnic area set up below the fortress and then take cars toward St. Elias Mountain. The pedestrian route starts while climbing the mountain, which leads toward St. Elias Church, built of limestone at an altitude of 45 meters above sea level. To the east from the church, you can see Lake Kochebi and Shiraki valley, while to the South you can observe Taribana Valley and Kotsakhura mountain range.
Route 2: Pantishira and Datviskhevi /12 km 1 day, automobile-integrated with a pedestrian, moderately difficult
The narrow valley of Pantishira is also called the City of Swallows, due to numerous swallow's nests. The trip starts in Dedoplistskaro, goes through the Pantishara Gorge and Bear Canyon (Datviskhevi), where you will discover shells of million-year-old mollusks and petrified bones of an ancient southern elephant-mammoth. You also get plenty of opportunities to observe birds of prey.
Route 3: Mud volcanoes Takhti -Tepa and Kilakupra /110 km 1 day, auto trail, moderately difficult
This is the area with about two dozen active volcanoes, divided into two zones: landscaped one-which reminds of the planet Mars and the wild zone. You will find craters puffing and towering above the ground, dried-up stream beds descending into the ravine, the rampant bottom of the ancient ocean, and cracked surface of mud layers. The muds here are regarded to have special healing properties.
Route 4: The Kaklis Kure (Alasni Floodplain) /150 km 1 day, auto trail, moderately difficult
The journey goes through Kakliskure-a gulf of the river Alazani. Visit a picturesque forest, where you can find the walnut trees, giant elms, oaks and ash trees. The way back passes through the villages of Kvemo-Kedi, Arkhiloskalo, and Zemo-Kedi. In April-May, all the area is covered with blooming peonies.
Route 5: Mijniskure-Black Mountain /220 km 2 days, automobile-integrated with pedestrian, difficult
The road goes through the valleys of Pantishira and Natlistskali, along the mountain ridge and up to the forested slopes, gradually descending to the Alazan floodplain. On one side of the road, the semiarid desert can be seen, while on the other you observe green forest landscape. The last stage is Imeda Valley-where Colchis pheasant inhabits. From here you can walk to the ruins of the old monastery.
Route 6: Mijniskure-Recreational Fishing /160 km 2 days, auto trail, difficult
The trip is designed for fishing enthusiasts. There are about 20 species of fish in Alazani River including Caucasian herring, carp, barbel (Barbus), and catfish. Fishing rods and riffles are permitted in the Mijniskure Gulf. The maximum daily catch is 20 kg.
Route 7: Bugha Square - Black Mountain /200 km 2 days, automobile-integrated with a pedestrian, moderately difficult
The route starts in Dedoplistskaro, runs along the valley of Pantishira, through Alesilebi Badlands and captures different landscape zones of Vashlovani. The snow-capped Caucasus Mountains can be seen from the semi-desert.
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3-DAY VASHLOVANI NATIONAL PARK SAFARI