The North Caucasus is one of the most fascinating region in the world (at least to me). Home to dozens of ethnic groups, an authentic hospitality and a rich cultural heritage are making the Russian side of the Caucasus the perfect off the beaten track destination for adventurous travellers !
From unique architectures to jawdropping mountain views, the North Caucasus offers endless tourist attractions. Discover this fascinating corner of Russia with this list of 10 best places to visit in the Russian Caucasus.
Last updated : 02/07/2023
Located at 2 560 meters, this Dagestani aul (аул = fortified village) is Russia’s southern most village and also the highest settlement in the Caucasus and in Europe ! Home to some 800 ethnic Lezgin people, this village is located next to Shalbuzdag, the highest peak in Dagestan, which is according to local beliefs a holy mountain.
This authentic aul has jawdropping surroundings, making it totally worth the bumpy drive from Derbent.
Gamsutl’ is a picturesque fortified Avar village built on top of a mountain is surrounded by high cliffs and perilous slopes, making it difficult to access for enemies back in the days. It is believed to be one of the oldest settlement in Dagestan.
They are different stories as why it has been abandonned : plagues, forced collectivization by the Soviets, or people simply left for a better and easier life in towns. The aul’s last remaining resident passed away in 2015.
Gamsutl’ is easily accessible from Chokh, a neaby inhabited village. You can hike up from the foothill in just an hour and a half through the ancient path.
Lake Kezenoy-Am, Chechnya
Kezenoy-Am is the largest and deepest lake in the North Caucasus, located at 1869 meters above sea level in the Chechen mountains and partly on the territory of Dagestan. Its name is translated as blue lake and you can easily guess why.
It’s roughly a 3 hours drive from the Chechen’s capital Grozny, with breathtaking views from the serpentine road up to the lake. A must see gem, hidden high in the gorgeous mountains of Chechnya.
The Vainakh towers, Ingushetia
The Vainakh towers architecture is a medieval type of architecture found in Chechnya and Ingushetia, but also in north-eastern Georgia like Svaneti.
They were used for defensive or domestic purposes. In the domestic towers, upper stories were actual homes and the lower levels for livestock and grain storage. These towers were traditionally built in a maximum of one year period. The defensive towers were narrower than domestic ones and served as watchtowers and fortified shelters during enemies raids.
A master builder was leading a group of assistant builders. These Vainakh architects were famous and travelled across the region including to Svaneti and Tusheti in Georgia. You can hear about these men in local tales and songs.
The Vanaikh towers are found all across Ingush mountains. They are nowadays mostly abandonned as their inhabitants have been forced out and deported to Central Asia during Soviet times, but these unique stone towers are well worth the struggle (permit needed) to get there !
Dargavs, North Ossetia – Alania
The necropolis of Dargavs in North Ossetia – Alania, also called the “City of the Dead” has almost 100 crypts, making it the largest one in the region.
Each of them is containing the remains of several generations of local residents. The first burial is said be from the 16th century. Back in the days they were used as burial sites but in times of plagues they could serve as quarantine sites. Relatives would bring food to the sick ones until they either died or got better to come out.
Many legends and tales are told about the place.
Elbrus, Kabardino – Balkaria
Mount Elbrus with its 5 642 meters is the Europe’s highest peak. This dormant volcano located in Kabardino – Balkaria republic at the border with Georgia, offers breathtatking views for the adventurers and experienced mountaineers willing to climb it !
Senty Church, Karachay – Cherkessia
Also called Sentinsky temple, this church is the oldest one in the Russian Federation, dating back to 965. The date of its construction is written in ancient Greek, as a Christian mission in the North Caucasus have been lead by Nicholas Mystikos, the greek Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Back in medieval times, this part of Karachay – Cherkessia was in the Kingdom of Alania, the anscestors of today’s Ossetians who were Pagans until the arrivals of these missionaries.
Overlooking the valley of the Teberda river, the 1000 years old church survived the Tatar – Mongol invasion, the Islamization of the majority of the Caucasian tribes, the Russo-Turkish war, the Caucasian War and even the ban of all religions in the Soviet Union.
Plateau Bermamyt, Karachay – Cherkessia
Plateau Bermamyt is perhaps the best viewing platform to see the spectacular snow-capped summit of the Elbrus and amazing panoramic views of the surroundings.
This plateau rising at 2592 meters above sea level is quite unsual for the region : strange landforms, asymetrical slopes, sculpted canyons, stone pillars … Difficult to access but worth the bumpy ride, you will find intact nature and see Mount Elbrus from a unique point of view away from the “crowd” !
Bolshoy Thach, Adygea
The Bolshoy Thach nature park is spreading on 3 700 acres and has been added on the UNESCO list in 1999 with the Western Caucasus Nature Reserve.
The mount Bolshoy Thach, also spelled Tkhatch that gave it name to the park is a giant picturesque looking castle. It’s surrounded by the lush valleys and mountains of southern Adygea, at the border of the Krasnodar Krai, right in the middle of what used to be Circassia.
Kardyvach lake, Krasnodar Krai
Kardyvach is considered to be one of the most beautiful lake in the Caucasus. This pristine mountain lake located at 1 838 meters above the sea level is only 44 kilometers hike from the resort town of Krasnaya Polyana near Sochi.
Surrounded by high peaks and waterfalls, Kardyvach is only easily accessible a few months per year and its water temperature doesn’t go above 12°C. Up for a refreshing swim ?
Obviously, there are plenty of other stunning places to visit all across the Russian North Caucasus. I had to shorten this list and chose according to not only my opinion but local’s and Russian traveler’s opinion.
The North Caucasus is an unpopular destination among foreign tourists mostly because of its bad reputation and also it is fairly unknown. If you enjoy travelling to off the beaten track destinations, I strongly recommend you to check out this part of Russia !
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