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
The reality of Chechnya today :
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).
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.
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
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 …
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).
Between Itum – Kale & Sharoy
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.
Here are a few places I’d have loved to check out :
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 :
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 …
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 !
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 !