Kabardino – Balkaria is a republic right in the middle of the North Caucasus and home to Europe’s highest peak mount Elbrus as well as 6 mountain peaks above 5000 meters. High mountains, waterfalls, City of the Dead, National Park, chemical lake … History, nature and mountains are everywhere !
I put together a list of the 8 best places to visit in Kabardino – Balkaria, which require no border zone permit, unless you wish to go hiking deep in the southern mountains.
1 – Nalchik
Нальчик – Nalchik is Kabardino – Balkaria’s capital city and most likely the place you will arrive at first. Since the Soviet times, the city is known for its saunatoriums, hot water and mud baths, dozens of mineral springs and many parks.
Some must-do and visit places in town are the “goat market” where wool goods are sold year-round, Malaya Kizilovka mountain where the Sosruko restaurant is located in a shape of a famous Nart mythology hero, the “1000 stairs” health path to nowhere and the national museum.
Nalchik can be reached by plane or train from Moscow and by marshrutkas from the neighboring republics and regions.
2 – Verkhnaya – Balkaria
Верхняя Балкария / Upper – Balkaria – Located in the Cherek valley, the old village Verkhnaya Balkaria was a Balkar settlement left abandonned in 1942 after all its inhabitants, men, women, and children of 8 villages got wrongly accused of Nazi collaboration. The NKVD carried out a punitive operation and killed everyone.
In 1944 the entire Balkar population got accused of collaboration with the Nazis and deported to Central Asia.
The ruins of Verkhnaya Balkaria are freely accessible. Just walk across the bridge pass the restaurant/hotel. There’s a old board explaning the history of the place, but it’s in russian only.
Daily buses go to Upper – Balkaria from Nalchik bus station N°2.
3 – Prielbrusye National Park
Приэльбрусье национальный парк – The Prielbrusye National Park is Kabardino – Balkaria’s only National Park. It covers 10 000 square kilometers around mount Elbrus in the Baksan valley, filled with high mountains, waterfalls, alpine lakes etc. A perfect place for mountains lovers and hikers !
From Tserkol village, which is the very end of the road, there are plenty of days hikes to do, for every level, however if you wander too far you might end up the border zone and therefore must have a permit to be hiking around.
Some hiking suggestions : Syltrankol lake, Shyranbashi-Su waterfall, Tserkol waterfall, the Adyl-Su gorge …
I definitely recommend to get a border zone permit (free), so you don’t end up disapppointed because you’re not allowed to hike wherever you want to.
There’s at least a daily bus from Nalchik bus station to Tserkol village during the high season, but it might be wise to book it ahead if you can.
4 – Mount Elbrus
Эльбрус – Mount Elbrus is 5 642 meters and Europe’s highest peak. The dormant twin peaks volcano is located at the very south of the Kabardino – Balkaria republic, right on the border with Georgia.
It offers breathtatking views for the adventurers and experienced mountaineers willing to climb it (permit and guide mandatory) but you can also get a great view of the Elbrus without going to the top. From Polyana Azau resort after the village of Tserkol, take the cable car to Gara-Bashi station located at the altitude of 3847 meters (no permit needed).
There’s at least a daily bus from Nalchik bus station to Tserkol during the high season, but it might be wise to book it ahead.
If you take the cable car to the last station (or even half way), take a windbreaker jacket at least, even in the summer. I wore mine, as well as a winter hat and gloves in the middle of July.
5 – Goluboye lakes
Озеро Голубое – Goluboye lakes or blue lakes is a group of 5 karst lakes located in the Cherek valley almost next to each other. Very popular among the local tourists coming to Kabardino – Balkaria, the most accessible lake is named Tserik-Kel, is right by the main road and is considered to be one of Russia’s deepest lake because no one never managed to get to the bottom of it. The water is so clear that you can see through dozens of meters.
You can walk around it for free, there are some local souvenir stalls. Diving tours can be organised too.
Daily buses go all the way to Upper-Balkaria from Nalchik bus station N°2.
6 – Fardyk – Keshene, the Balkar City of the Dead
Город Мёртвых Фардык-Кешене – Fardyk – Keshene also known as the Eltyubyu necropolis is the Balkar City of the Dead, one of the three largest and best preserved necropolis in the North Caucasus with Dargavs in North Ossetia and Tsoy – Pede in Chechnya.
The necropolis is located in the Chegem valley and considered by Balkar people to be the historical center of Balkaria. There are only 8 crypts well preserved which archeologists date between the 10th to 16th century, however most of the burials discovered were made according to muslim customs.
The Fardyk – Keshene complex is located south of Eltyubyu village. The border zone only start a few kilometers south down the road so no border zone permit is needed to visit the necropolis.
From Nalchik bus station N°2 take a bus to Bulungu (at least one per day). Eltyubyu is 5 kilometers before Bulungu, and the border zone post just after that.
7 – Gizhgit chemical lake
Озеро Гижгит, Былым & Былымское – Gizhgit lake, also called Bylym lake or Bylymskoe, is an artificial reservoir made during the Soviet Union and used as a dumping ground for the nearby Tyrnyauz factories producing metal such as molybdenum and tungsten.
Bylym is one of those unsual deep blue water lake Russia is reknown for. The lake and its surrounding mountains are splendid but for your own health, don’t even deep a toe in it. The whole periodic table of chemical elements is still in there even if it’s been years dumpings have stopped and there’s little fishes in the water.
The lake is located off the main road along the Baksan valley. Take any bus from Nalchik heading to Tyrnyauz or Tserkol and stop at the junction of the road/dirty path, then walk (up) the 5 kilometers to the lake. It’s becoming a popular tourit spot so 4wd might drive by, ask for a ride.
8 – The scenic route to Dzhily – Su
Джилы-Су – Dzhily – Su, also spelled Djili – Su, which means “hot waters” in Balkar, is a natural sight full of waterfalls and hot springs.
The road to Dzhily – Su from Kislvodsk is considered by many russian tourists to be one of the most scenic route in the North Caucasus as it’s on the north side of Mount Elbrus and therefore you’ve got breathtaking views on Europe’s highest peak.
Most of the route is within the Karachay – Cherkessia republic but Dzhily – Su is in Kabardino – Balkaria.
There is no public transportation to Dzhily – Su, you need to find your own way to get there.
For more inspirations and ideas of places to visit, have a look at my Kabardino – Balkaria itinerary suggestions.
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