Queen Tamar Bridge, Rkoni, Shida Kartli, Georgia

Visiting the Rkoni Monastery & Queen Tamar Bridge, Georgia

Visiting the Rkoni Monastery & Queen Tamar Bridge, Georgia was originally published in November 2021

Tucked into Georgia’s Shida Kartli Region, Rkoni is just a short trip from Gori and only two hours from Tbilisi, making it a great day trip option to get out into Georgian nature. However, the Rkoni area features a network of marked trails making multi-day hikes to other destinations a possibility. 

The fall foliage out here in the Rkoni area is supposed to be exceptional being tucked away in the forest along meandering paths, however, we were a bit late to the party, visiting in mid-November. As most of the golden leaves of autumn had already dropped for the season, we missed the vibrant colors- but it’s worth noting that the area is still gorgeous nonetheless, and much easier to reach than we originally anticipated given the fact that we found zero information on getting to Rkoni anywhere online. 

Despite having visited Georgia in the past, I never wrote a single post about the country (and not because I didn’t like it!), so I’m finally getting around to it with this article about getting to the Rkoni Monastery and Queen Tamar Bridge. 

How to get to Rkoni

Getting to Rkoni from Tbilisi

  • Marshrutka Tbilisi-Garikula: 3 GEL per seat 
  • Taxi Garikula-Rkoni: 50 GEL for entire car

One of my closest friends- Dan (as in Dan Flying Solo) and I visited Rkoni as a day trip from Tbilisi as we based ourselves out of the city. We were taking a shot into the dark on this one and hopped on the Tbilisi Metro to Didube Station, first wandering through the Didube Bazaar to the bustling lot of marshrutkas bound from Tbilisi. 

Before departing our apartment, we studied a map, looking for key villages and towns nearby. Once we arrived at Didube Station, we started asking passing drivers Rkoni? Metekhi? Chocheti? Kaspi? Pretty quickly we were directed to a marshrutka in a corner of Didube Station. 

It was apparent that our kind guide knew where we wanted to go as he yelled Chocheti! to the marshrutka driver. This garnered a nod and confirmation from the driver we’d be departing in about 10 minutes. 

Soon after we plopped down in two open seats in the back of the marshrutka the engine fired up and we were well on our way. Our first stop en route was in the town of Kaspi, where people filed off and on as we made it to the other end of town. We stopped to let people off as we passed each village, eventually reaching Chocheti. 

Marshrutka
Inside the marshrutka

We noted that there were still several other passengers on the marshrutka and decided to continue on it, seeing where it went. So on we went, arriving at a small bus stop in the village of Garikula where the last of the people got off. 

It was clear this was the last stop, so we stood up with our backpacks to get out when the driver recognized us and told us to stay on. He whipped the bus around and we remembered that the driver that directed us to the marshrutka in Tbilisi told him we wanted to go to Chocheti. 

After a few quick shouts of random things we knew in Georgian, the driver laughed, popped the doors open, accepted our 3 GEL payment (each), and let us out and we began our short few hundred-meter trek back to that final marshrutka stop in the village of Garikula. In total, the ride from Tbilisi to Garikula took about 1 hour 15 minutes. 

We popped into a small shop in Garikula, picking up some salty sulguni and bottles of Borjomi to snack on on our adventure. 

As we arrived at the bus stop in Garikula we quickly noted a couple of taxis sitting in the small lot. We approached one and asked about going to Rkoni and quickly responded with “50 GEL” for the roughly 16 km trip. We hopped in and shortly after Garikula we were bouncing down a rough dirt road, passing farmlands and small homes, arriving in Rkoni Village about 35 minutes later. 

The Rkoni Monastery and Queen Tamar Bridge are only a brief jaunt through the forest from the metal bridge passing over Tedzami River at the Rkoni Trailhead. 

Getting to Rkoni from Gori

  • Marshrutka Gori-Garikula: 3 GEL per seat 
  • Taxi Garikula-Rkoni: 50 GEL for entire car

Getting to Rkoni from Gori is a pretty straightforward process. Start by heading to the Gori Central Bus Station, located on the north side of Chavchavadze Avenue (across from the stadium) on the east side of the Combinati Bridge that crosses over the Greater Liakhvi River. 

Ask for a marshrutka bound for Kaspi or Garikula and hop in. This should cost 2 GEL. The marshrutka directly to Garikula will be easier, but you may find one departing to Kaspi quicker. 

If you do get on the Kaspi-bound marshrutka you’ll be dropped at the main bus station in Kaspi on Aghmashenebeli Street. There is a ticket office there where you can ask for the Garikula bound marshrutka, or simply just stand along the road and flag one down headed that direction (ask to double-check before your board, unless you can read the destination sign in the window written Georgian- გარიკულა). Note that you’ll need to pay an additional 1 GEL per seat for the second marshrutka. 

Van
Van that we hitched back from Rkoni in

Hitchhiking to Rkoni

As hitchhiking is quite common in Georgia, you can easily try your thumb to and from Rkoni, or even just a portion. We ended up hitching a ride on the way back from Rkoni to Garikula with some locals headed back to Akhalkalaki (a village about 1 km north of Garikula) in their old UAZ van. 

Note that between Garikula and Rkoni there isn’t lots of traffic as the road dead-ends in Rkoni Village, but the occasional car does go back and forth. 

Hiking to Rkoni Monastery & Queen Tamar Bridge

  • Distance: 3 km return
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Elevation gain/loss: 111 m+/111 m-
At the trailhead, with our dog friends that accompanied us

There is an obvious trailhead from Rkoni Village that starts from a bridge crossing over the Tedzami River. At the trailhead, you will find a signboard displaying various trekking route descriptions along with their distances from Rkoni to Rkoni Monastery and Queen Tamar Bridge, Kldekari Fortress and Choliani, Chkopiani, Gostibe, and Ateni, in both Georgian and English. 

One thing that makes the trek to the Rkoni Monastery so fascinating is the history behind it- you’ll be walking along an ancient pathway that would have connected the Shida Kartli Region of Georgia via Rkoni through the Trialeti Mountains to Ateni Gorge and beyond to Georgia’s southern kingdoms and eventually onto other destinations in the Middle East. It even saw the likes of Amir Timur passing through in 1400, pillaging the village of Rkoni. 

Rkoni Monastery trailhead, Shida Kartli, Georgia
Bridge over the Tedzami River

Start by walking across the bridge to the other side of the Tedzami River. Note that the entire walk takes place on a well-beaten path that is marked with yellow and white paint on various trees and rocks along the way. 

The trail meanders along the Tedzami Gorge, at one point climbing decently high above the river, offering nice views of the Rkoni Fortress high up on an outcrop on the opposite side of the river, before dropping down into the forest to eventually arrive at the Rkoni Monastery Complex. 

Tedzami Gorge, Shida Kartli, Georgia
Tedzami Gorge, Shida Kartli, Georgia

Note that for those that want to camp out here, there are perfect camping pitches in the forest that are impossible to miss. 

Basilica of Virgin Mary, refectory, and bell tower, Rkoni Monastery, Rkoni, Shida Kartli, Georgia
The Rkoni Monastery Complex

The Rkoni Monastery Complex 

The Rkoni Monastery Complex consists of several buildings including the Church of Virgin Mary, a gate, a chapel, a bell tower, the church of St. John Baptist, and the Queen Tamar Bridge. The buildings that comprise the Rkoni Complex date back to the 7th-18th centuries. 

Basilica of Virgin Mary and Refectory, and Church of St. John the Baptist, Rkoni Monastery, Rkoni, Shida Kartli, Georgia
The Basilica of the Virgin Mary and the refectory

Basilica of the Virgin Mary 

The Basilica of Virgin Mary, or Church of Assumption is the largest building of the Rkoni Complex, dating back to the 7th century, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Unfortunately, the Basilica of the Virgin Mary was locked up when we visited. 

The Basilica features impressive stonework, particularly on the refectory, located on the west-facing outer wall of the Basilica. Finally, on the southeast corner of the Basilica is a chapel that dates to the 13th century. 

Church of St. John the Baptist and the Chapel, Rkoni Monastery, Rkoni, Shida Kartli, Georgia
The Church of St. John the Baptist (and the chapel to the left)

Church of St. John the Baptist

Next to the basilica is the smaller Church of St. John the Baptist. The front door was open and we were able to enter to view the interior architecture. The construction of the Church of St. John the Baptist would have taken place in the 13th-14th centuries. The stonework on the entrance of the church is arguably more impressive than that on the basilica.

Church of St. John the Baptist, Rkoni Monastery, Rkoni, Shida Kartli, Georgia
Church of St. John the Baptist, Rkoni Monastery, Rkoni, Shida Kartli, Georgia

Inside the Church of St. John the Baptist

Rkoni Monastery Gate

A gate partially surrounds the Rkoni Monastery. The gate is thought to date back to the later half of the 8th century. 

Rkoni Bell Tower, Rkoni Monastery, Shida Kartli, Georgia
Rkoni Bell Tower

Rkoni Bell Tower

A two-story bell tower sits just northwest of the Basilica of the Virgin Mary, dating back to the 8th century. From the main trail, as you arrive at the Rkoni Monastery, you can walk inside the bell tower and down its stairs to view the remains of interior paintings. 

Queen Tamar Bridge, Rkoni, Shida Kartli, Georgia
Queen Tamar Bridge

Queen Tamar Bridge 

Another 200 m walk will bring the beautiful stone-arch Queen Tamar Bridge into view. Queen Tamar Bridge dates back to the 11-12th century. 

The Queen Tamar Bridge would have originally been built to connect Shida Kartli to the Trialeti Mountains and beyond. 

It’s believed that this area served as Queen Tamar’s summer residence, Queen Tamar being one of Georgia’s greatest rulers reigning from 1184 to 1213. 

Other Treks from Rkoni

Rkoni-Kldekari Fortress-Choliani

  • Distance: 14.5 km
  • Time: 6 hr 
  • Elevation gain/loss: 1288 m+/374 m-

For those looking for a longer day trek beyond Rkoni Monastery, the hike continuing on to Kldekari Fortress and Choliani is the perfect extension. The hike goes 8 km beyond Rkoni Monastery, ending in the village of Choliani.

Rkoni-Chkopiani

  • Distance: 12.5 km
  • Time: 4 hr 30 min
  • Elevation gain/loss: 633 m+/734 m-

From the village of Rkoni, this is a moderate trek that includes stops at churches and fortresses en route to Chkopiani. It passes the Chachubeti Church and Drisi Fortress.

Rkoni-Gostibe

  • Distance: 10.5 km
  • Time: 4 hr
  • Elevation gain/loss: 863 m+/389 m-

This moderate trek takes in the sites of Rkoni, heading east to the village of Gostibe. Highlights along the way include the Ivki Church of St. George and the desolate village of Chavchavi.

Rkoni-Ateni

  • Distance: 30 km
  • Time: 2 days
  • Elevation gain/loss: 2150 m+/2270 m-

The trek to Ateni from Rkoni takes two days for most trekkers, though those in great shape can complete it in one long day. The Rkoni-Ateni trek offers up some of the best views and sceneries that Shida Kartli and Kvemo Kartli Regions have to offer, ending at the Ateni Sioni Cathedral- an important Georgian historic site.

Rkoni Monastery, Rkoni, Shida Kartli, Georgia

Getting back to Tbilisi from Rkoni

After we arrived back at the Rkoni Trailhead we started walking the road back in the direction of Garikula anticipating that we may need to walk the entire 16 km back to Garikula in a drizzle that had begun. 

We weren’t sure if we’d be able to pull off our visit as a day trip, so we had packed a change of clothes in our packs knowing that we may need to crash someplace along the way- though we found that it wasn’t necessary in our case. 

After walking maybe two kilometers we heard a vehicle trundling up the road from Rkoni. A rusted old UAZ was headed in our direction that lurched to a stop as it approached us. The three men inside asked us where we were going as they opened the back door, billowing cigarette smoke outside and ushering us in. 

No joke, the “gas tank” inside the van, right behind our chainsmoking driver… but hey, it’s a free ride

It was a long bumpy ride, going off the main dirt road and onto rough jeep tracks, crossing rivers- along back passages to Garikula as one of the men pointed out various monasteries and fortresses perched high on valley walls. 

The men dumped us out in Garikula, waving goodbye as we walked the last few meters to the bus stop. As Garikula came into view, we noticed that the marshrutka was sitting there waiting. 

We opened the door and asked if it was bound for Tbilisi. The driver nodded and motioned us to sit down. After a few minutes, a couple of women hopped on, and we departed.  

It appeared the vehicle was having some problems as we approached Kaspi. The driver pulled to the side of the road and made a call- within a few minutes, another marshrutka appeared, and we all transferred over into it for the last few kilometers to Kaspi. The entire ride from Garikula to Kaspi cost 1 GEL. 

Upon arrival in Kaspi, we were directed to the kassa (ticket window) where we each paid 3 GEL, were given a receipt and got on to the Kaspi-Tbilisi marshrutka. 

About 1 hour later, we arrived back at Didube Bus Station on the north side of Tbilisi and caught the metro back to the city. 

Have any questions about visiting Rkoni Monastery & Queen Tamar Bridge?

Ask in the comments section below. 

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