Martvili Canyon

An orange boat lazily drifts across a still river of mesmerizing emerald-green waters. Rugged cliffs rise high above, lined by a dense cluster of thin, moss-covered trees, as curtains of water cascade elegantly into a pool below. A mysterious and magical sight, like a scene straight out of Tolkien’s vivid imagination, this is Martvili Canyon.

THE HISTORY OF MARTVILI CANYON

Martvili Canyon is located in Inchkhuri, a village in Martvili district within the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region of western Georgia. Divided into one small town named Martvili and 20 villages, Martvili district combines a unique natural environment with a series of historical Georgian monuments.

Martvili Canyon emerged during the Mesozoic Era, about 252 to 66 million years ago. Over millennia, the flow of the Abasha River formed a narrow 2.4 kilometers long gorge stretching 40 meters wide. A collapsed limestone cave within the gorge created the canyon, several bridges and waterfalls.

Years earlier, Martvili Canyon served as a bath place for the Dadiani family, a local noble family. Later, it became neglected, was littered and suffered from illegal fishing and poaching.

In 2013, the Georgian government granted Martvili Canyon the status of the natural monument and 2 years later a tourism development initiative was launched. The site was cleaned up and efforts were made to protect the local flora and fauna. Populations of fish and otter were restored and birds introduced.

The tourist infrastructure was also improved. Walking trails, bridges, a visitor center, boat shelter and other modern infrastructure has been built, and boating tour facilities upgraded. The natural monument was leased to a company run by residents to promote local conservation efforts. These efforts paid off and Martvili Canyon is today a popular Georgian tourist destination.

EXPLORING MARTVILI CANYON

Each year, many locals and tourists alike come to Martvili Canyon to soak up its incredible natural scenery. The main highlight of Martvili Canyon is boating to the splendid waterfalls along the Abasha River while taking in the beautiful views. The canyon is surrounded by a lush green forest that is reflected in the river’s crystal-clear waters, strengthening its emerald-green color.

The canyon is divided into 2 parts: Upper and Lower. Visitors can ride a boat along the canyon from the Upper part that leads to a waterfall whose clear waters fall from steep, cliffs draped with hanging ivy branches that resemble festive lights.

Visitors can experience the contrast between the tranquil river and the dynamic waterfalls. At the beginning, Martvili Canyon is a quiet gorge with rocky moss-covered walls, where the flow of the river is so slow it seems as if time has stood still. In the middle of the canyon, a large 12m high waterfall suddenly appears, from which tons of waterfall every second.

After a tranquil journey through the picturesque canyon, you’ll be excited to see the beautiful waterfalls and hear the dramatic sound they make. Because of the high humidity and climate of the terrain, the canyon walls are covered with moss. There are also lianas that grow along the entire length of the canyon, small waterfalls and streams. A truly wondrous sight!

Around the waterfalls are several viewpoints from which you can take excellent photographs. Visitors can walk along the 700m long stone-paved circular hiking trail starting from the visitors’ center and passing through Dadiani’s historic walkway. There are two bridges, three viewing platforms, and a 30-step historic staircase built from limestone.

At the lower part of the canyon, the water creates a natural pool where visitors can have a swim. Even on the hottest day, the waters here are cool, making it a popular spot among locals who come to escape the summer heat. Tourists can also enjoy some great diving and explore the beautiful underwater world. There are many more tourist activities for visitors to Martvili and nearby areas to enjoy, including off-road adventures or biking in Svaneti, as well as horse riding in Mestia.

Inflatable boats, life jackets and helmets are provided at the pier. That said, boating the Martvili Canyon is a pleasant, easy trip, and the equipment is just a safety precaution. The length of the river boating route is 300m one way, and the trip takes about 30 minutes, including stops for photos. Children under the age of 5 years are not allowed on the boats.

Among the trees on the shore are wooden tables and chairs where you can have a picnic while enjoying the beauty of the surrounding Georgian nature. The canyon is open every day except Mondays.

NEARBY ATTRACTIONS

Beyond Martvili Canyon, the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region offers an array of Georgia attractions to enjoy within its respective provinces of Samegrelo and Zemo Svaneti.

SAMEGRELO

A premium trekking destination, Samegrelo is famous for its historical sites, caves, mineral springs and coastal marshes. To the north, the Egrisi Mountains offer numerous rocky peaks, gorges, waterfalls, and some of the most scenic lakes in Georgia. Still, within Martvili District, visitors can explore:

Abasha River

The Abasha River Natural Monument is located near Rachkha Village in the southwestern part of the Abasha River, at an elevation of 895m above sea level. The monument consists of 2 small waterfalls situated on the right side of the main waterfall. The walls of the waterfall are made up of limestone and surrounded by lush forest. In several spots, the waterfall drop creates a rainbow.

The distance from Rachkha Village to the Abasha River Natural Monument is 3.5km and takes about 1 hour to reach on a hiking trail. To go to Rachkha Village, you will need to first get to Balda Village (11.5km), which takes about 0.5 hours’ drive by car.

Jortsku Cave

The Jortsku Cave Natural Monument consists of a two-storied 276m long cave with a 5m wide entrance. The main hall of the cave has stalactites, stalagmites and 4m thick clay walls. The cave has interesting remains of flora and fauna, including the bones of bear, lynx and other animals.

The Jortsku Cave Natural Monument is located 5.5km from Balda Village and you can reach it on a 1.5-hour hike on a marked trail. It takes about 20 minutes to get to Balda Village (8.9km) from Martvili town.

Toba Waterfall & Arsen Okrojanashvili Cave

The Toba Waterfall & Arsen Okrojanashvili Cave Natural Monument within Toba valley in the northeastern part of the Abasha River.

The natural monument is a complex that consists of a cave and a waterfall. The cave is 1,300m long with many halls inside, the most remarkable being Nana, Nona, Saloon, Tbiani and University 50. Stalagmites in one of the halls rise up to 7m high. It is possible to explore the interior of the cave by inflatable boat.

The Toba Waterfall & Arsen Okrojanashvili Cave Natural Monument is located 5.6km from Balda Village and you can reach it on a 1-hour hike on a marked trail. The distance from Martvili town to Balda Village is 9.4 km.

Ochkhomuri Waterfall

Ochkhomuri Waterfall Natural Monument is a 120m high waterfall, formed at an elevation of 469m above sea level on the Migaria limestone massif, at the source of the Ochkhomuri River.

At first, the waterfall flows from the slope of the southern exposure, then in the middle, it turns into the southeastern exposure. The last part then flows from the southern exposure. Along the way, the waterfall creates small pools upon contact with the ground.

From a distance, the waterfall looks like a solid column, but the excessive humidity around it quickly gives way to unique flora and fauna. Here you will find an abundance of rare, native species, with a significant presence of tall box trees.

Ochkhomuri Waterfall is located 3.2km from Kurzu Village and you can reach it on a 0.5-hour hike on a marked trail. It takes about 30 minutes to get to Kurzu Village (25.3km) from Martvili town.

Oniore Waterfall & Toba Cave

Oniore Waterfall & First Natural Monument of Toba Cave is located in the northeastern part of the Toba Valley, at an elevation of 680m above sea level.

The complex is a combination of a limestone cave and waterfall situated on the right tributary of the Abasha River. The 15m long river flowing through the cave creates the 67m high Oniore Waterfall, which then drops from the Toba Cave, creating a spectacular sight.

The width of the cave tunnel is 12-15 meters. The underground waterfall is located about 70m from the cave entrance, where the height of the ceiling is 30m.

Oniore Waterfall & First Natural Monument of Toba Cave is located 6.1km from Balda Village and you can reach it on a 1.5-hour hike on a marked trail. It takes about 20 minutes to get to Balda Village (9.4km) from Martvili town.

Motena Cave

The Motena Cave Natural Monument is located near Balda Village on the northwestern part of the slope, at an elevation of 437m above sea level.

The monument consists of a two-story cave situated on the left side of the Abasha River. The cave has 2 halls and is partly collapsed. The last hall features many stalagmites, stalactites and cave curtains, as well as 10 steps.

A stone-and-mortar wall inside the cave forms part of a historical building that served as a fortress during the Middle Ages. Today, spiders and other insects are the main inhabitants of the cave.

Balda Canyon

Nestled on limestone rocks, Balda Canyon Natural Monument is located within the Abasha Valley in the southern part of the Abasha River massif. It is found in Meore Balda Village, near the 17th century Balda Monastery, at an elevation of 295m above sea level. The canyon is 1.4km long, 5-10m wide and 30m deep. It takes about 20 minutes to get to Meore Balda Village (11.4km) from Martvili town.

Martvili Monastery

Also known as the Martvili-Chkondidi Cathedral, Martvili Monastery is a medieval Georgian monastic complex. Nestled atop the highest hill in the area, the monastery was strategically important to Samegrelo in medieval times.

In ancient Georgia, the hill on which Martvili Monastery stands today was a sacred site and pagan cultural center. It once hosted a large ancient oak tree, which was worshipped as an idol of prosperity and fertility. Infants were previously sacrificed here as well. After the local population was converted to Christianity, the tree was cut down.

During the late 7th century, a church was built on the roots of the cut tree and named in honor of Saint Andrew who had preached Christianity, converting the pagan population throughout Samegrelo.

The present-day church was built during the 10th century by King Giorgi II, following invasions that destroyed the original church. Inside the church are preserved frescoes dating from the 14th to the 17th centuries.

Martvili Monastery is also an important site for the evolution of Georgia’s written language. In 1050, Georgian calligrapher Ioane Mesvete rewrote the “Martvili Gospels” while living at the monastery. Mesvete wrote in the Nuskhuri script, but also used the Mrgvlovani script to decorate the letters.

Georgia’s written language has evolved to produce 3 alphabets – Mrgvlovani (also Asomtavruli), Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli – all of which are still in use to this day.

The first alphabet was Mrgvlovani from which Nuskhuri was derived, followed by Mkhedruli. The 3 alphabets coexist because of their varying social and cultural functions, which reflect Georgian identity and diversity. Their ongoing use culturally also provides communities with a feeling of continuity.

The Mrgvlovani and Nuskhuri alphabets are practiced and taught informally, mainly by the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church community. For instance, the alphabets appear in texts used by worshippers including hymns and psalms, as well as on inscriptions of church items such as icons.

Traditional craftsmen – goldsmiths, sculptors, embroiderers and icon-painters – who create church items are also practitioners and transmitters of the alphabets, along with certain theological schools, tertiary institutions, historians, scholars and linguists.

The Georgian educational system is solely based on the Mkhedruli alphabet. Taught in both primary and high school, Mkhedruli is also informally transmitted in the home from older to younger generations. The Mrgvlovani and Nuskhuri alphabets are also taught in Georgian schools, but only at a basic level.

All three Georgian alphabets are included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, under the designation of the “Living culture of three writing systems of the Georgian alphabet.”

ZEMO SVANETI

With its stunning mountain scenery and medieval architecture, Svaneti is a magnet for Georgian tourism. So if you are planning a trip to Martvili your smartest move would be to pay a visit to this stunning area as well. Avid trekkers can hike up spectacular glaciers and ski in gorgeous resorts, while history buffs explore fascinating museums, among other great attractions.

Ushguli-Chazhashi Museum Reserve

One of Georgia’s most beautiful historic regions, Svaneti’s landscape is dominated by mountains separated by deep gorges and covered in thick forest. The lower altitudes have alpine meadows and grasslands, while the higher elevations boast beautiful snow-capped peaks and glaciers.

Preserved by its long isolation, the Upper Svaneti province serves as an exceptional example of mountain landscape with well-preserved medieval villages and unique watchtower-houses, religious architecture and medieval arts.

Ushguli is a historic settlement in Svaneti that comprises of four tiny villages: Chazhashi, Zhibiani, Chvibiani and Murkmeli. Throughout Ushguli you will see the Svan Towers – watchtower-houses that date from prehistoric Georgia. The watchtower-houses were used for both residential and defensive purposes against marauding invaders who plagued the region.

As the center of the Ushguli settlement, Chazhashi has over 200 well-preserved medieval Svan Towers, churches and castles. These include Tamar’s Castle, which features the 10th century St. George church, and the Savior, another church that dates between the 11th and 12th centuries.

Thanks to its stunning natural scenery and fascinating architectural monuments, Upper Svaneti has earned its place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list under the designation of the “Ushguli-Chazhashi Museum-Reserve.”

Mestia Museums

Mestia has 2 museums worth visiting. The Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography has exhibits of important historical Svan and Georgian artifacts. The Mikheil Khergiani House Museum showcases the personal belongings of Mikheil Khergiani, the famous Georgian mountaineer.

Lamaria Church

Lamaria Church is located in Zhibiani village, set against the backdrop of Mount Shkhara. Also known as Ushguli Church of the Mother of God, Lamaria was constructed between the 9th and 10th centuries. Its interiors feature beautiful frescoes, and a collection of icons, crosses, manuscripts and church utensils.

Churches of Kala

Kala settlement has 2 churches worth visiting. The 11th-century Nakipari Church of St. George has frescoed facades with unique sculptures. Lagurka Church is famous for its beautiful 12th-century frescos and collection of crosses, icons, manuscripts and church utensils.

Adishi Village

Adishi village has a number of Svan Towers and 4 churches with beautiful frescoes and engraved artwork. The churches are: the Church of the Deliverer (10th to 11th centuries), two 12th century churches of St. George, and the 12th century Church of the Archangel.

Transfiguration Cathedral in Laghami

Situated in the oldest part of Mestia, the Transfiguration Church of Laghami is a 2-story cathedral. Its first and second floors were built in the 9th century, and the 13th to 14th centuries respectively. The church facades are painted and inside is a 13th century engraved icon of Christ.

Ienashi Church

Constructed in Latali village during the 10th century, Ienashi is a Georgian Orthodox Church. Built using decorated stonework, the church interiors are adorned with frescoes. The church boasts amazing artistry, including a 12th-century Byzantine enamel cross.

Hiking Trails

With the abundance of hiking opportunities offering stunning views along the way, trekkers are sure to enjoy their visit to Svaneti. The 4-day hike from Mestia to Ushguli is one of Georgia’s famous multi-day treks. Other popular hikes lead to Chalaadi Glacier, Shkhara Glacier and the Koruldi Lakes.

THE BEST TIME TO VISIT MARTVILI CANYON

Although the tourism season at Martvili Canyon lasts all year round, the best time to visit Martvili Canyon is in the summer months, between April and October. The warmer months are your best bet as boat tours are not available in snowy and rainy weather.

April ushers in nice, sultry weather that is perfect for exploring Martvili Canyon. As the snow begins to melt in spring, the Abasha River rises to 6 meters. This causes the waterfall to drop from the cliffs with even more power, crashing with thunder.

By summer, the water level is lower, the rivers are smaller and the rocks are covered with grass. Because this is the peak Georgia tourism season, Martvili Canyon is filled with locals and tourists. If you visit during the low season, you can enjoy some solitude.

HOW TO GET TO MARTVILI CANYON

While there are several Martvili hotels and guest houses close to Martvili Canyon, most tourists make a day trip from Kutaisi, the largest and closest city to the canyon.

For flights landing at Kutaisi airport, you can hire a car and drive 1.5 hours to Martvili Canyon (50km). That said, driving in Georgia can be challenging if you don’t speak the Georgian language or understand the Georgian alphabet. The most convenient option would be to get to Martvili Canyon via private transfer.

FINAL WORDS AND TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS

One of Georgia’s most unique natural wonders, Martvili Canyon is a picturesque landmark of fairytale canyons, beautiful waterfalls and hidden rocks. No visit to Georgia is complete without a detour to enjoy the incredible beauty of Martvili Canyon.

There’s always accommodation available in Martvili hotels but do book ahead with our travel agency if you’d like to stay in the better options. We can also arrange rental cars and/or Georgia tour packages with private transfers to and from Kutaisi airport.

Alternatively, create your own custom vacation package that includes the places you’d like to visit and things you’d like to do in Martvili. Craving some scenic nature? Order your custom tour to Martvili today and be mesmerized by the natural wonder that is Martvili Canyon!

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