Chechnya : the ultimate travel itinerary

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If there’s one place in the North Caucasus foreigners heard about it’s the Republic of Chechnya. Most people know it for negatives reasons : the wars in the 90’s and early 2000’s. It is wrongly still portrayed as unstable and dangerous.

The Chechen Republic is a fascinating corner of the Russian Caucasus with unique customs, loads of history, and breathtaking mountains. I have solo travelled there for a few weeks, always felt safe and very welcomed.

In this post you will find travel itinerary suggestions. I chose to split and order the places of interests by areas to make it easily understandable. Chechnya is big and has plenty of gorges, high mountains and forests.

Last updated : 24/11/2022

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The reality of Chechnya today :

  • Chechnya is not a war zone anymore. The war is long finished, Grozny has been rebuilt and loads of investments have been made by the central Russian government.
  • There’s a strong police presence in Chechnya : Security checkpoints, lots of men in uniforms and many carrying AK47 etc. If you aren’t comfortable with all that, Chechnya is probably not a destination for you. But keep in mind that these measures have been taken by the Chechen government to ensure order & peace in the Republic. And it works.

If you have already travelled to other republics of the North Caucasus especially coming from Dagestan or Ingushetia you might be very surprised how good the infrastructres are compare to its neighbours. You will feel like in complete other country when reaching Grozny.

Chechnya is a conservative place and has strong traditional values, but people are extremely hospitable. You might be invited to a home or a café after randomly meeting people in the street. It’s consider rude to say no, so I recommend you to be flexible on your schedule and accept their invitation, you won’t regret it !

Chechens are educated and young people aren’t shy to speak english even if they aren’t fluent (you might be surprised!). Even older ones will find a way to communicate with you : either through a translation app on the phone or a video call to their relatives living abroad (naming USA or Belgium for example).

Tchétchénie

On the map above, at the top of the page you will find all the locations of the following places. I strongly recommend you to use Yandex map (Russian google) intead of Google maps or anything else you’re using. Maps.me works pretty good too.

The names can be spelled in a different way from Cyrilic to Latin scripts, that’s why you will find the names in their original forms to make it easier to search on whatever maps you use.

I have also mentionned if a border zone permit is necessary or not. There’s unfortunetely for us no general map (at least that I’m aware of) to show exactly where the border zone and the military posts are, but I’ve tried my best to pin the one I know in red on the map above.

Grozny

Грозный – You will most probably arrive in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya at first. By train from Moscow or marshrutka from neighboring republics. It has been almost fully rebuilt since the last war and there’s no obvious traces left in the center of the city.

The main attraction is the very obvious Ottoman style Akhmat Kadyrov mosque, also known as Heart of Chechnya. Next to it you will see the Sunja river, this name might ring a bell and bring excitment to the fans of litterature !
There are plenty of good restaurants and cafés on Putina Prospekt where you can easily meet friendly young Chechens. You can pay a visit to the national museum and get lost in the alleys of the huge Berkat market.

There’s also a viewpoint platform on top of the “Business center” tower in “Grozny city” (often referred to as a Russian-Dubai, but on a much smaller scale obviously) a complex of brand new towers hosting banks, offices and fancy hotels. Great view of the city from the 29th floor, pictures are allowed but only in specific directions and not towards Kadyrov’s house …

On the way to Kezenoy – Am lake

  • Outside of Grozny , on your way to the lake Kezenoy – Am you will cross Shali (Шали), a small town hosting the largest mosque in Russia. Never got why they made it there but it is, and it’s brand new. If you sleep in the also newly built hotel in front of it, ask for a room with a view on the mosque !
  • With a short detour to the village of Makhkety (Махкеты), you can visit a private house-museum. The owner, Khazuev Sheikhi built the two storeys stone house with a tower in a classic Vainakh style. There’s a guesthouse next to the museum where you can spend a night.
  • Vedeno (Ведено) is nowadays a large spread village that has been for over 10 years the head quarter of Imam Shamyl back in the 19th century. People considered this aul (local name for village) the capital the Caucasian Imamat. The battle of Vedeno in 1859 was one of the last fought by Shamyl and its Murids before losing the war against the Russian Empire that lasted for decades.
  • Another village for those interested about the conquest of the Caucasus : Kharachoy (Харачой). Located a bit further Vedeno, it was the village of the Chechen “Robin Hood”, the Abrek Zelimkhan Kharachoevsky. He was the symbol of the fight against Russian colonialism in the late 19th century, robbed the banks etc and gave money to the poors.
  • Kezenoy – Am (Кезенойам), the largest lake in the North Caucasus. If there’s one place you should go in Chechnya, it’s this one. It’s located at 1869 m above sea level deep in the Chechen mountains. Its name is translated as blue lake and you can easily guess why. Roughly a 3 hours drive from Grozny, you’ll see breathtaking views from the serpentine road up to the lake. A must see gem, the place is truly stunning !
  • Khoy (Хой), an abandoned village next to Kezenoy – Am. One of the battle tower has been rebuilt with the old pagan symbols as well as the mosque and many houses. Some families wanted to come back and live in the village again.

Down the Sharo – Argun gorge

Шаро-Аргун – The road goes along the Sharo – Argun river and this area was highly populated until the deportation of the Chechens in 1944.
The entrance to the gorge is close to the village of Day all the way to Sharoi. It had lots of fortification and Vainakh towers all along.
If you keep going down towards Dagestan and Georgia from Sharoi, the roads are leading to Kakheti aka the Pankissi valley.

If you know a bit the recent history of the Pankissi valley you will easily understand why the area south east after Sharoy is winthin the border zone. You need a permit. But as far as I now you do not need a permit to travel the loop road from Shatoy to Itum Kale through Day & Sharoy.

Keep in mind that there are control posts on the road, technically there is no problem for you to go through but if the soldier thinks you’re suspicious or whatever, he won’t let you keep going …

  • Shatoy (Шатой) : at the junction of the roads towards Itum – Kale and the Sharo – Argun gorge, the village of Shatoy used to have defensive towers as it was the entrance to the gorge. You can still find the ruins of one nearby.
  • Day (Дай) : You speak some Russian and wonder why this village has a Russian name ? I did.
    Most of Chechen villages name come from the names of those who lived there, so Day is coming from the Day family/clan and isn’t related to the verbe “to give” in Russian. They are some pretty waterfalls to check out around there.
  • Sharoy (Шарой) : This village is one of the oldest inhabited place in Chechnya, it used to be back in the days an adminitrative center of the area and played an important economic and political role. It is nowadays quite small but you can find a tower complex that has been partly restaured like some defensive towers and the mosque.

There are also some weird round rock formations near the village. Locals call them “dinosaur eggs”. Are they ? Apparently not, but some of these round rocks are about a meter large !

I highly recommend you to check out this area in Chechnya. There are already not many foreign tourists travelling down the road to Itum – Kale but the Sharo – Argun gorge’s road is completely off the radar. I’ve met amazingly hospitable people along the way and the mountain views are breathtaking.

Down the Argun gorge

Река Аргун – In my opinion this is one of the easiest road to travel to and see what Chechnya is really about : authentic villages and absolutely gorgeous mountains. Get away from Grozny, hop on a marshrutka to Shatoy or Itum – Kale, or even hitchhike this road, you won’t regret it !

Most of the Argun gorge is part of the Argun reserve to protect historical and natural sights. Made in the late 80’s, it covers the districts of Itum – Kale & Sharoy, parts of the Urus – Martan one (around Galanchozh), Shatoy and Vedeno (Kezenoy -am, Khoy).

  • Nikhaloi waterfalls (Нихалоевские водопады) : Easily accessible from the main road, there’s an entrance fee to pay right next to the hotel. A path full of stairs up and down through the forest leads to the waterfall. Make sure to visit it in late spring and summer when there’s plenty of water.
  • The Ushkaloi twin towers (Ушкалойские башни) : Located right accross the river along the main road, you can’t miss them. These two watchtowers date back to the 11th century and are about 12 meters high. Back in the days they were part of the guarding system down the Argun gorge.
  • Itum – Kale (Итум-Кале), the last village : You can’t keep travelling down the road south, at the end of the village you can see the military post guarding the entrance of the border zone. You will need a border zone permit to go further, to Tsoy Pede for example.

    You can visit the Pkhakoch (Замок Пхакоч) castle. Located at the entrance of the Tazbichi gorge, the complex tower has been restored and is now a museum.
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Between Itum – Kale & Sharoy

  • Veduchi (Ведучи) : Did you know you could go skying in Chechnya ? Veduchi is the new Caucasus ski resort. Easy slopes, lifts, hotel etc. They invested A LOT of money overthere, this is part of the sport tourism plan of the local government.
  • Tazbichi (Тазбичи) is located next to Itum – Kale. It has 5 battle towers dating from the 10th to 12th century. It has been restaured few years ago.

Nashkha

Нашха – Spelled Nashkhoy (Нашхой) in Russian, it’s one of the historical region of Chechnya. It was inhabited until the deportation (and massacre of these villages population) in 1944. They are plenty of natural sights and ruins of historical villages to visit.
When I was in Itum – Kale I thought I needed a border zone permit to visit this area, but I figured out later than no, it is not required. Although you will need you own vehicule.

There are is full of ancient villages and ruins to explore. Here’s a map of the used to be villages and the lake.

Nashkha region

Here are a few places I’d have loved to check out :

  • Lake Galanchokh (Галанчожское озеро), a pretty mountain lake full of legends !
  • Khaybakh (Хайбах) : a village only a few kilometers away from the Lake Galanchozh. One defensive tower, the mosque etc has been rebuilt. This village holds a special places in Chechens hearts, as the population has been litteraly massacred during the 1944 deportation. Learn more about it here.
  • Kamenaya Arka (Каменная арка) is is a stone arche as it name states it. A natural arche about 20 meters high right on the road to lake Galanchokh.
  • Nikaroy (Никарой) : this village is meant to be one of the best preserved tower complex in Chechnya

Malkhista / Maista

Малхиста & Майста – Malkhista and/or Maista (I never managed to figure out if these two names are refering to the same place or split the area in two) is considered to be one of the oldest region of Chechnya and the historical birthplace of Chechens. Also considered by locals to be the most beautiful corner of the republic, you’ll find there rough terrains, jaw dropping mountain views, loads of ancient towers and ruins of medieval villages. Unfortunetely for us, it’s within the border zone, foreigners need a permit.

I have tried twice to obtain it and my application got denied every time. I even asked the FSB why excatly it got rejected while my permits in Dagestan and Ingushetia among others have been approved. They honeslty gave me some bullshit nonsense answers that foreigners are simply not allowed around there … Is that true or only true for me ? I don’t know, but I’ve seen report dating around 2015 of foreigners visiting Tsoy Pede. Anyway, it’s free to give it a shot & apply for a Chechen border zone permit. Here’s my full guide to apply on your own.

If you make it there, please send me reports so I can update this guide for other travelers !

In the meantime, here are a couple of places I wanted to see :

  • Tsoy Pede (Цой Педе), one of the three largest necropolis in the North Caucasus. There are about 40 cripts dating back to the 14th century, before the conversion of Chechens to Islam (they did between the 16th and 19th century) so these cripts have pagan symbols carved on the stones.
  • Ikal – Chu fortress (Икалчу), is a 14th century fortress complex, and one tower is meant to be still standing properly nowadays. The gorge was quite heavily fortified back in the day, and this is one of them.

Extra ressources

Looking for even more Vainakh towers and historical places to check out ? I recommend you to have a look these three websites, some are partly translated in English, but the most interesting places are mentioned in Russian. Translate the page but you should probably search for the names on your map with the cyrilic names, and even with that, you might not find them because the spelling is slightly different …

  • Visit Chechnya seemed to be a ministry of tourism website, they have plenty of places and history mentionned.
  • Russia.travel, many places seemed copy/paste from the website above but they also have extra ones.
  • Open Kavkaz , they have a proper legit map of the places they mention, which is very useful !

There you have it all (almost) to plan an awesome trip to the Chechen Republic ! Chechnya deserves more than a couple of days spent in Grozny, I highly recommend you to go explore the mountains and experience the amazing Chechen hospitality !

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Let me know in the comment section if you have anything to add to this guide & don’t hesitate to report your trip if you end up going after reading this post !

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