Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Georgia has three different types of regions: political, which align with the Georgian term მხარე mkhare and are what you generally see on a map of Georgia; historical, which are what most of you probably have heard and read about and include places such as Svaneti, Kakheti, and Kartli; and geographical, which closely aligns with Georgia’s historical regions. Separating these regions from each other is confusing since many of them overlap, which is where this encyclopedia is useful.
Regions of the Greater Caucasus Mountains:
Abkhazia: Abkahzia is a sub-tropical region located in Georgia’s northwest corner. The coastal portions of Abkhazia are relatively flat and arable. As you move towards the border with Russia, the terrain becomes more mountainous. The region is known for beaches, sanatoria, and tea and citrus plantations.
Gombori Ridge: The Gombori Ridge is an offshoot of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The ridge is located in Kakheti and is best known for the emerald-green Sabaduri Forest. The ridge is composed of steep, twisting hills covered in lush forests, similar to the Catskill Mountains in the United States. The tallest point is the Gombori Pass. The towns of Sighnaghi and Telavi are located on the Gombori’s northern slopes.
Lagodekhi: Lagodekhi is located in north-central Kakheti between Georgia, Russia, and Azerbaijan. Much like Tusheti, Lagodekhi is characterized by rugged mountainous topography, little human development, and extreme geographic isolation. Despite this, this region has some of Georgia's best hiking and trekking trails which take you up to the border with the Russian province of Dagestan.
Lechkhumi: Located in the central portion of the western half of the Greater Caucasus Range, Leckhumi is on the windward side of the range and is therefore the lushest and greenest part of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. Unlike Rach’a and Svaneti, the mountains of Lechkhumi are shorter, akin to the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe or the Cascade Mountains in North America.
Likhi Range: This is one of two ranges in Georgia which connect the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains. This ridge also divides the watersheds of the Black and Caspian Seas. Like the Gombori Ridge, the Likhi Range is composed of steep, winding hills covered in dense forests.
Khevsureti: Located in the most leeward area of Georgia’s portion of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, Khevsureti has mostly ground-level vegetation due to the rainshadow effect. Khevsureti is the least developed and populated portion of the Georgia due to the region’s extreme topography. The most notable sight is the village of Shatili.
Q’azbegi: Q’azbegi is located directly north of Tbilisi next to the border with Russia.
Q’azbegi’s central location in the Greater Caucasus Mountains makes it a hybrid of the lush forests of Lechkhumi and the barren mountains of Khevsureti and Tusheti. It’s most notable point is მყინვარწვერი mq’invarts’veri, or Mt. Q’azbeg, which is one of the tallest peaks in the Greater Caucasus Mountains.
Rach’a: Much like the Swiss and Italian Alps, Rach’a is home to lush Alpine forests, wide mountain valleys, and flowered meadows.
Saguramo Ridge: The Saguramo Ridge is more of an offshoot of the Gombori Ridge than it is an offshoot of any other mountain chain. Like the Likhi Range, the Saguramo Ridge connects the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The ridge is located immediately north of Tbilisi. Notable sights here include Jvari Monastery, which overlooks Mtskheta, and the Tbilisi National Park.
Samachablo: More commonly known as South Ossetia, Samachablo is located in north-central Georgia and is geographically similar to Q’azbegi.
Svaneti: Svaneti is predominantly composed of a long valley that follows the Enguri River from the town of Jvari on the Abkhaz-Georgia border to the village of Ushguli. Much like Lechkhumi and Racha, Svaneti is home to wide mountain valleys, Alpine forests and meadows, and small ancient villages. What makes Svaneti unique is that it is home to Georgia’s highest peaks--Ushba and Shkhara--along with Georgia’s largest glaciers. Popular sights are Mestia, Tetnuldi, and Ushguli.
Tusheti: Like Khevsureti, Tusheti is located in the leeward side of the Greater Caucasus Mountains and therefore has little flora due to both the rainshadow effect and the high altitude. Despite this, Tusheti is home to many medieval villages in somewhat close proximity to each other, such as Omalo and Dartlo. This makes Tusheti popular for trekking, horseback riding, and camping. Geographically, Tusheti is more of a plateau located on the roof of the Greater Caucasus Mountains.
Lesser Caucasus Mountains:
Guria Ridge: This is a small offshoot of the Meskheti Range. The Guria Ridge forms the southernmost boundary of the Colchis Lowland.
Javakheti Range: The Javakheti Range runs roughly from Paravani Lake and then south into Armenia, ending a little north of Gyumri. The ridge is relatively low-lying. Like the Samsari Ridge, the Javakheti Range was created by volcanism.
Meskheti Range: The Meskheti Range runs from the Black Sea in Adjara to Borjomi. The Meskheti Range is one of two main mountain ranges in the Lesser Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. Popular areas here include the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, Mtirala National Park, and Bakhmaro. The entire range is heavily forested.
Samsari Ridge: This is perhaps the most unique mountain chain in Georgia since it wasn’t created by orogeny (when the Earth’s crust is folded to create mountains, such as the Caucasus, Alps, Himalayas), but rather volcanism. This ridge runs roughly from Ninotsminda to the village of Gujareti. Popular sights here include Georgia’s largest natural lake--ფარავანის ტბა paravanis t'ba Paravani Lake, დიდი აბულის მთა didi abulis mta, and შავი მთა shavi mta. Along with having some of the most unique geography in the Caucasus, this ridge also has some of the Caucasus’ only megaliths--or prehistoric human stone settlements.
Trialeti Range: The Trialeti Range runs from Akhatsikhe to Tbilisi. It is characterized by low, steep, rocky mountains covered in low-level vegetation due to the rainshadow effect created by the Meskheti and Likhi Ranges. Prominent features of this range include Mtatsminda, the Teleti Ridge in Tbilisi, Bakuriani, and Algeti National Park.
Alazani Valley: This region is best compared to California’s Napa Valley. The Alazani Valley lies between the Gombori Ridge and the Greater Caucasus Mountains and is Georgia’s foremost wine-producing region. The area has a Mediteranean climate and is dotted with small farms, sheep pastures, and vineyards.
Colchis Lowland: The Colchis Lowland is the heart of ancient Georgian civilization since it was home to the Colchis Kingdom. This ancient civilization inspired the Ancient Greeks to write the myths of Jason and the Argonauts, King Aeetes, and “The Land of the Golden Fleece.” The Colchis Lowland has hot, humid summers with cold, wet winters. Much of it, particularly the area between the Rioni River and the Guria Ridge is swampland.
Iori Plateau: Named after the Iori River, the Iori Plateau lies in a part of Georgia that is surrounded by Azerbaijan on three sides. This region is the most arid part of Georgia, with the area around Vashlovani National Park resembling the Painted Desert in the US state of Arizona or the South Dakota Badlands. Vashlovani also has Georgia’s only mud-volcanoes. Other notable sights in the Iori Plateau include David Gareja Monastery complex.
Javakheti Plateau: This plateau is located on the Armenian Highlands and, much like Armenia, is largely barren of forests due to the high altitude and rain shadow effect. The Javakheti Plateau is dominated by the large canyon that the Mtkvari River forms as it flows from Borjomi into Turkey, which is over 700 meters/2300 ft deep. Notable points of interest are Vardzia, Khertvisi Fort, and Akhaltsikhe.
Kartli Plain: The Kartli Plain is the cultural heart of Georgia--everything from Uplistsikhe, Stalin's birthplace, and Mtskheta are located in or around the peripheries of the Kartli Plain. This large plain is surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides, making it possible to see the entire plain, despite it being around 110 km/68 mi long.
Samegrelo: Samegrelo is located in the northwestern corner of the Colchis Lowlands next to Abkhazia. As such, the topography and climate is similar to the Colchis Lowlands.