Natural Wonders of Georgia.
Martvili Canyon is one of the many wonders created by nature in Georgia. Once the bathing place of the noble Dadiani family, its turquoise waters surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and waterfalls has fascinated visitors for centuries. I had spotted this enchanting place during my research for the trip and even changed our itinerary in order to visit this special destination near Kutaisi. It very much reminded me of the mesmerising beauty of the remote Sandankyo gorge we had visited during our travels in Japan a few years before, a highlight of that trip.
Before visiting Martvili Canyon we had already explored a limestone cave and dinosaur footprints at Sataplia Nature Reserve, followed by a refreshing swim in a secret waterfall nearby. It had been hard to tear away the boys from the crystal clear waters of the waterfall but I was adamant we had to make the gorge before closing time.
Opening and Tour Times
Martvili Canyon may only be accessed by a guided boat tour and the opening and tour times are restricted to 10-18:00, with the last boats departing at 16:30! On Mondays the gorge is closed. It is a popular spot so choose your visiting time carefully perhaps early or towards the end of the day as we did.
Entry Only With a Ticket
Once we had parked our car we wandered to the entrance of the gorge, past stalls selling souvenirs, local products, (including honey of course), food and cool drinks. Visitors not wanting to go for the fun boat ride through the gorge may still enter the grounds to wander the stone paths and admire its beauty, however they still have to pay a smaller fee. There also is a longer route around the closed off area of the gorge that is free of charge but with limited views. We did not get a chance to discover this path but you might be able to get a glance into the canyon from one of the bridges.
Tickets for the Boat Ride
Anyone going for a boat ride should purchase a ticket at the entrance. Adults are charged 15GEL plus 13 more for the boat ride. Please note that infants and children of very young age might not be allowed on the boats due to safety regulations. Everyone is required to wear a life vest (different sizes are available), although these smelled of sweat and a bit musty, probably due to the fact that they are never dried properly and used day after day. Expect queues for the boat rides during peak visiting hours, the destination is on the tourist routes and well advertised so do not expect to be alone.
Paddling Through the Gorge
It paid to arrive just before closing time, we were among the last to board a boat and had one completely to ourselves. The boys enjoyed taking hold of the paddles and our guide seemed rather impressed by their kayaking skills. Although perhaps in their enthusiastic paddling they were too fast for my photos as it turned out afterwards, a large number of them turned out to be blurred.
Paddling deeper into the canyon, we were immersed in its true beauty! The cliffs around us were seemingly reaching for the sky, the lush canopy of the leaves created mesmerising light effects in the low afternoon sun. The sun’s rays reaching the turquoise, milky water made the water glow. Enchanted by the sight we passed other boats until we reached a narrow passage, filled with large boulder blocking our way. We were sad to turn around and return to the boat station, but we still had the small walking route ahead to enjoy a different part of the gorge.
The Oputskhole, a Famous Swimming Spot
We followed the walking trail parallel to the river’s edge for a short distance away from the boats, before the water rushed down a waterfall into the depths of the gorge below. Martvili Gorge looks entirely different when viewed from above but equally alluring. The path was quite crowded and slippery from the water spray, we dread to think how busy it can get during other times of the day. At the end of the walk way we arrived at the famous spot, the Oputskhole. This special place was used by the noble Dadiani family for swimming and picnics, and it is said that the last queen of Samegrelo (the surrounding area) bathed there.
Local Wild Swimming Spot Nearby
It might be a disappointment for many, to find that although a swim in the clear water might be rather tempting, especially during the stifling summer months, it is sadly forbidden! However, do not despair, those in the know can head to a local swimming hole, further upriver near the bridge and weir upstream. Here we took the second dip that day. The wild swimming spot is largely a secret known only to locals but the cars parked along the roadside, the happy voices and splashes reaching through the cluster of trees are hard to overhear and ignore for those that venture in that direction. We had spotted them returning from our earlier swim, luckily most tourist have their boat ride and do not venture further up the road that runs parallel to the river gorge.
Fun Place, even for Younger Kids
We spent a good hour among locals at the swimming spot, Jerome had fun diving into the cool waters, while I enjoyed watching the people. The water was very calm and clear and had spots perfectly safe for even young kids to go for a paddle. I could well imagine bringing a picnic and spending hours underneath the trees, with a dip in the river whenever we fancy…
Worth a Visit From Kutaisi
Martvili Canyon was certainly worth the drive from Kutaisi (or why not stay in the area) and we highly recommend taking the boat ride to anyone who really wants to enjoy its beauty. Not far from Martvili Canyon lies another hidden gem, Okatse Canyon. I would have loved to visit this natural wonder as well, although I have to admit that the hair raising walkway at the top of the cliffs might have proven a difficulty for anyone in the family who may get a bit anxious at times with heights. It is another sight on our list of places we have to visit when we return to Georgia.