Hidden in the north Caucasus region in the far south east of Russia, Dargavs, Chechnya and Dagestan, officially the Republic of Ingushetia, the Chechen Republic and the Republic of Dagestan which translates to ‘Land of the Mountains’, shares with its Caucasian neighbours the towering mountains of the Greater Caucasus, rushing Caucasian rivers, and mountaintop villages clinging onto spectacularly sheer cliffs.
But in an already diverse region, most commonly known for its tumultuous past of Russian flashpoints, these three autonomous regions are a wonderland of ethnic and cultural diversity offering breathtaking scenic beauty.
We take you beyond the stereotypes of media mis-hype as travellers venture to one of the last places that has not been over crowded by tourists. Trek amid soaring peaks, enjoy white-water rafting, as well as the chance to learn about mythology and fascinating cultures and history dating back as far as 12500 BC. Join us on this off the beaten path experience as we explore this misunderstood region and delve into its cultural brilliance.
Welcome to Russia! Upon arrival to Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia, you will be met at the airport by your local guide and set off your city tour.
Your first stop will be a visit to an impressive Sunni mosque, built more than 100 years ago. Continue on to Shtyba Square which houses the magnificent palaces of Alexander Avenue. It is an incredible street dotted with pre-revolutionary palaces. That old world charm and character, has been well preserved. Enjoy a welcome dinner this evening. (D)
2 nights at Hotel Alexandrovsky or similar
Enjoy breakfast in your hotel this morning before setting off to the village of Verkhny Fiagdon. The drive is approx one hour along an unsealed dirt road. On arrival, you will transfer to Canyon Kadargavan.
Kadargavan Canyon is a natural miracle and a favourite place for pilgrims. Here, the River Fiagdon has cut a narrow 30-metre fissure into the limestone making it an incredible natural phenomena.
Continuing on, visit the Dzivgis Rock Fortress dating back to the 13th-16th centuries. It is one of the most extraordinary and interesting historical monuments of North Ossetia. Formed by the natural grooves of Mount Kariuhoh, the legend implies, Dzivgis Fortress became unassailable in the 16th century for the Persian Shah Abba, by preventing him from reaching the Kurtat gorge from the South Caucasus.
Enjoy a break for lunch in a local restaurant before transferring to the City of the Dead (approx 30 mins). Hunkered into the Dargavs Gorge, the ancient necropolis, is home to a bygone cemetery of almost 100 stone crypts, where those who lived in the valley, buried their loved ones along with their belongings in a tomb like state. The 17km valley is shrouded in mythology and legends with stories of those who ventured to the city, saying to never have returned. Legend has it, that in the 18th century, a plague swept through the region and these tombs were built as quarantine houses where the ill were to wait until they passed. Inside each stone crypt, there is a well which is said to have been used to tell if a person had made it to heaven.
Visit the ancient castle of Kurt and Taga. Situated on the Khakun mountain in the village of Wallgsih, the building is considered to be an ancestral home for many Ossetians.
Return to Vladikavkaz where you have the opportunity to participate in a master-class where you will prepare and cook Ossetian pies at the local restaurant. Ossetian pies serve as a culinary landmark of Ossetia. (B,L,D)
This morning you will transfer to Gronzy.
After lunch, it is time to explore Grozny – the capital city of the Chechen Republic, Russia. The city lies on the Sunzha River which is a river in North Ossetia and a tributary of the Terek River. Walk along the quay of the Sunzha, visit the Church of the Archangel Michael as well as a visit to the Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. It is one of the largest mosques in Russia and is officially known as ‘The Heart of Chechnya’. The mosque is named after Akhmad Kadyrov, the mufti of the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and the first president of the Republic of Chechnya. Located on the picturesque bank of the Sunzha River in the middle of a huge park, the mosque is part of an Islamic architectural complex, which in addition to the mosque, consists of the Russian Islamic University, Kunta-Haji, and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Republic of Chechnya. The mosque was built based on the classical Ottoman style. The central hall of the mosque is covered with a huge dome and the height of the four minarets is 62 metres making them some of the highest minarets in southern Russia. The exterior and interior walls of the mosque are made of marble, travertine, while the interior is decorated in white marble and has a capacity for more than ten thousand people.
Continue on for a visit to the Grozny City Tower – a five-star skyscraper hotel and business centre complex located near Grozny Central Mosque. You will make your way to the 32nd floor viewing floor which is the highest viewpoint in the city and offers a vantage point to see the city and beyond. Nearby, there is a smaller sized Hanging Garden of Babylon which is the Grozny Flower Garden. Every September the park has a display of over 150,000 flower to honour and celebrate Chechen Women’s Day.
Then it is onward for an excursion to the National Museum of the Chechen Republic, the Memorial complex ‘Walk of Fame’, a visit to the Akhmad Kadyrov Museum and the football stadium ‘Akhmad Arena’. At the end of your afternoon of culture, history, art and sport, it is time for dinner at a local restaurant named ‘Day Kherch,’ where they have on offer a selection of national dishes. Transfer back to your hotel for the evening. (B,L,D)
4 nights Grozny City Hotel or similar
After breakfast, it is time to set off on what will be a rather unique and memorable experience – rafting the mountains rivers in the settlement of Itum-Kali. En route, there will be learning and discovery along the way with visits to one of the longest canyons of the region being Argunsky Canyon. Then it is onward to the mountain spring of Ushkalovsky Towers.
Visit the castle of the Middle Ages “Phakoch” and the local history museum named Huseina Isaeva. Make your way to the site where you will kick off your rafting experience along the mountain river in the settlement of Itum-Kali. The river weaves through steep canyons below, showcasing breathtaking scenery as you paddle. Nearby on the bank of the river there is small original café where you can taste a traditional Shashlyisk – skewered meat marinated overnight in a high-acidity marinade like vinegar, dry wine or sour fruit/vegetable juice with the addition of onions, herbs and spices. Shashlik is usually cooked on a grill called a Mangal and is known for being very delicious!
Mid afternoon, it is time to make your way back to Grozny – but not before one last stop. On the way you will stop at Nikhailovsky Waterfall famous for its natural beauty. Upon arrival to the hotel, in Grozny you will have free time to relax before you make your way to dinner. (B,L,D)
After breakfast at your hotel, depart for your adventures to the mountains of ‘Nashkha’ which is the historic original homeland of all Chechen people.
On the way, meet the ‘Stoned troops’- a natural phenomena of stoned columns. Today, it is all about the beauty of mother nature and seeing the magnificent countryside as you pass by deserted settlements, beautiful lakes, wild nature, and picturesque mountains. Lunch today will be a picnic near the lake with another chance to try the very popular local dish of Shashlyk. After a leisurely lunch, return to Grozny.
Upon arrival to your hotel, you will have free time to relax before you make your way to dinner in a local café. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, it is time to visit the highest waterfall in Chechneya – Nohchi-Keloi. Then you have time to explore the local market to pick up some last minute gifts or mementos to take home as a reminder of your travels. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, you will depart for a day of local sightseeing. Head to the town of Argun where you will pay a visit to ‘The Heart of Mother’ Mosque named after Aimani Khagyrova, who commissioned its construction from the mayor of Konya. The mosque is designed with a set of 62-metre (203 ft)-tall minarets and is based on the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul. The beautiful colours and amazing architecture are sure to be something that you will remember.
Continue to the settlement of Old Khutor for the chance to visit one of the largest and newest mosque’s in all of Europe, named after the head of the Chechnyan Republic. From Shali, you will pass through the picturesque Vedensky Canyon as you make your way to Zelimkhan Monument; a Chechen and Ingush hero, who is viewed today as a version of a Chechen Robin Hood. Zelimkhan was an abrek, a raider of the Cossacks and Russian colonists. He stole to feed the many starving Chechens, due to the Cossacks that had taken up residence on what the Chechens perceived to be their extremely fertile land. Without control of these fertile lands, the Chechens became impoverished. To solve this problem, abreks, such as Zelimkhan and his Ingush comrade-in-arms, Sulom-Beck Sagopshinski, raided targets such as the Cossacks, Russian banks, Vladikavkaz mint, and the Czar’s post which was transported on the Georgian military highway, in order to restore justice and help the poor.
Your next stop will be at Lake Kezenoyam – the deepest lake in the Caucasus Mountains region. It is situated at an altitude of 1870 m above sea level and fills an area of 2.4 square kilometres. The maximum depth of the lake is 74 m. In winter the surface of the lake freezes and in summer the water temperature is around 5 °C. The lake water has a year-round supply of oxygen in which plankton survives as well as Salmo Ezenami, a rare species of trout that are native only to the lake. Their population is threatened with extinction due to the introduction of European Chubs (type of carp), which consume the fry of the Salmo Ezenami.
Lunch will be at a local restaurant and then it is time to stretch your legs for a walk around part of the lake and a boat ride which will provide you with a different perspective of the beauty within this amazing region.
Enjoy some free time before dinner. (B,L,D)
Overnight Hotel Kezenoy-am or similar
Following breakfast, check out of your hotel as you continue your drive to the Botlikh region. Traditional Islam, tinged with ancient folk customs, holds sway in this region. It is also the area where in 1999, the Russian forces clashed with Chechen and Dagestani rebels. Enjoy an excursion to Tobot waterfall where the wild water seems to poor from inside the cliffs. Continuing on, explore Old Kahib village, which teeters on the crest of a rock massif. it’s location was a strategic one which offered reliable protection from raids by possible enemies. The remains of the village date back to the 8-10th centuries. The village is punctuated by well-preserved large battle towers, where the village locals took refuge in danger. Continue on to Gunib where you spend the night. (B,L,D)
2 nights at Hotel Orlinoe Gnezdo or similar
After breakfast depart you will visit Gunib viewpoint – this is a chance to have a photo stop and take in the surrounding area. Look out for the monument of Rasul Gamzatov. Gunib was historically important as a natural fortress during the Caucasian War of the 19th century. Imam Shamil, leader of the Chechen and Daghestani tribes, made his last stand against the Russians at Gunib, where he gave himself up to the Russian commander, Prince Alexander Baryatinsky, on August 25, 1859. And today you are going to learn more about the stories and history that make Gunib. Then it is onward to walk across Tzar meadow and visit the local history museum.
After lunch at local café, you will drive to Saltinsky waterfall, a one hour drive from Gunib and a real wonder of nature. It is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Russia and is stunning in any weather. When it rains, it impresses with its cascading falls, whilst in sunny weather it surprises with its rainbow of colours. Return to Gunib for your overnight. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, it is time to depart for your next stop. Continuing to Kubachi Village, the drive will take around 4 hours and winds through a spectacularly scenic route.
It is time to put on your walking shoes and set off on foot to get acquainted with the old villages and the beautiful architecture of Amuzgo and Kala Koreish. This 3 hour return walk from Kubachi will provide a chance to learn about this area and how it was the first Muslim settlement in the Caucasus region.
Lunch will be served at a local guest house– Kubachi Settlement.
Upon arrival, you will check into your home for the evening where you can relax and enjoy the mountain serenity. Tonight, there the opportunity to be part of a local dance class – come along and learn some new moves or just enjoy watching!
Overnight at a local guesthouse or similar
After breakfast, transfer to the ancient city Derbent – located on the Caspian Sea, north of the Azerbaijani border. It is the southernmost city in Russia, and it is the second-most important city of Dagestan. Derbent occupies the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century B.C. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms. In the 19th century, the city passed from Iranian into Russian hands by the 1813 Treaty of Gulistan.
Enjoy a lunch at a local restaurant to sample the Dagestan cuisine. After lunch, it is time to depart for some sightseeing of the local area.
Your first stop will be the 5,000 year old citadel, ancient city and fortress site that UNESCO made part of the their world heritage list in 2003. Have the chance to see why this gem is protected when you pay a visit and get up close to this remarkable area of significance.
Accompanied by your guide, you will walk along the Citadel Naryn-Kala and hear about the fascinating history of this marvel. Next stop is a visit to the most ancient mosque of Europe, the Juma Mosque. Then it is onward to Peter House, Church of the Intercession, Synagogue Kele-Numaz, Kahn’s Baths, Museum of World Culture and Religion History and the final stop to enjoy a masterclass of carpet making.
After a full day of sightseeing, you will have worked up an appetite for a Caucasus feast, tonight dinner will be a local restaurant and your guide will help you decipher the local picks. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, it is time to enjoy a tour of the old city. Makhachkala is the capital city of the Republic of Dagestan. It is located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea and is home to the Makhachkala Grand Mosque, one of Russia’s largest. Founded as a fortress of the Russian Empire in 1844 and given city status thirteen years later, the city bore the name of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great until 1921.
Today you will visit the Museum of Fine arts, the Local history museum and The Centre of Ethnic Culture. After your morning arts, history and cultural touring it is time to enjoy a leisurely lunch.
Your afternoon and evening will be at leisure. (B,L)
After breakfast, you will head off for the very beautiful Sulaksky Canyon. The two hour drive will take you past some scenic vistas – sit back, relax and enjoy this drive through Dagestan country.
Visit Dagestan Nature Reserve – an area of sand dunes and ridges on the northwest coast of the Caspian Sea. The reserve, a winter home for migratory birds, is the richest nature reserve in Russia in terms of the number of species – over 300 species have been recorded in the reserve, its buffer zones and subordinate reserves. The reserve is part of several “Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas”. The Sarykum sand dune is the highest sand dune in Europe, at 262m (860 ft). Have your camera ready there is sure to be wildlife and birdlife sightings you will want to capture.
After a morning of being out and about in nature you will have worked up an appetite – lunch today will be at the Oak Forest or Trout Farm (may change seasonally).
After lunch, you will return to Makhachkala. Upon arrival, head out for dinner at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, it is time to explore the ‘Oriental Bazaar’ and pick up some last minute gifts or moments to take home as a reminder of your travels. After lunch transfer to the airport for your flight. (B)
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**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.