A travel guide to Karachay – Cherkessia

A travel guide to Karachay – Cherkessia

Sofia lakes in the Teberda National Park in Karachay - Cherkessia, North Caucasus

The Republic of Karachay – Cherkessia (Карачаево-Черкесия in Russian) located in the center of the North Caucasus is a paradise for hikers !

It is named after its two main ethnic groups : the Karachay and Cherkess people. The first ones are Turkic people living mostly in the mountains and the second are Circassians living in the lowlands. There are also Russians, Nogays and Abazas populating the republic.

The unity of the region is howerer troubled by inter ethnic tensions, separatist movements and other ethnopolitical events.

Popular among Russian tourists, КЧР (K-Tch-R) as it it often spelt in Russian is an off beaten track destination for foreigners : lots of hiking possibilities and plenty of history to discover !

Last updated : 06/02/2024

The Sofia lakes in Karachay-Cherkessia in the North Caucasus
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General informations

  • Capital : Cherkessk (Черкесск)
  • Population : Between 460 000 and 475 000 inhabitants depending on sources
  • Languages : Karachay, Cherkess and Russian
  • Visa : The Republic of Karachay – Cherkessia is part of the Russian Federation so you’ll need a russian visa if necessary depending your nationality.
  • Dress code : None but avoid wearing mini skirts and above knee shorts so you’ll be able to enter churches, mosques and not offend anyone.
  • Religions : Islam Sunni and Orthodox Christianity
  • Border : There’s no legal border zone crossing to Georgia. You’ll have to get through North Ossetia – Alania and cross at the Verkhny Lars border.

Deportation : The entire Karachay population has been deported in 1943 by the orders of Stalin. Accused of colaboration with the Nazis, they were sent to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyztan.

The autonomous Karachay oblast was wiped off the map and its territories split between the Georgian SSR and the Stavropol Krai. They were allowed to come back to their homeland in 1957 during Khrushchev and its politic of De-Stalinisation of the Soviet Union.

Where to sleep

There are dozens of hotels in Cherkessk itself, I recommend you the RUM hotel : newly open, the reception ladies are lovely, it’s located right in the center and about 10 minutes walk from the FSB office to pick up your border zone permit.

In the rest of Karachay – Cherkessia there are a lot of accomodation in Dombay and Arkhyz, you can easily book anything on Zenhotels, the best alternative to Booking.com in Russia.

During the high touristy seasons, many Russian tourists come to spent their family holidays to hike and ski in the region so it gets quite busy.

Transport

Karachay – Cherkessia is about 1400 kilometers from Moscow. There are daily two and a half hours flights to Mineralnye Vody (95 kilometers from the capital) and Stravropol (140 kilometers away), from where you can take a bus to Cherkessk.

There isn’t any direct train from Moscow to Cherkessk, you will have to change at Nevinnomiskaia. You can book on the official RZD website if you own a russian bank card or on Russiantrain.com with your foreign Visa/Mastercard.

Marshrutkas (local mini bus) are available a bit everywhere in the republic and to reach the neighboring big cities. Hitchhiking works pretty well too.

Safety

Karachay – Cherkessia is popular among Russian tourists for winter sports and summer hikes. Despite some tensions and attacks in the past, the region is relatively calm nowadays and attracks plently of local tourists. I have myself spent weeks solo travelling around and hiking in the mountains, I have never felt in any danger.

Must read & watch

Here are a few must read and watch to learn more about Karachay – Cherkessia people and history :

  • The Circassian genocide” by Walter Richmond
  • Let our fame be great” by Oliver Bullough
  • The circassians : A handbook by Amjad Jaimoukha
  • If by any chance you end up in Israel, I recommend you to visit The Circassian Heritage Center in Kvar Kama and discover the little Circassian diaspora of Israel
  • The movie Cherkess. The story covers the arrival of Circassian immigrants to the Ottoman Transjordan at the end of the XIXth century
  • 21” is a documentary by NART TV about the history of Circassians
  • The call is a short film about the Circassian genocide
  • The Punished people, by Alexandr Nekrich about the deportation of Caucasian people and Kabards included during World world II
  • The Nart Sagas, a book about the local mythology – Satanaya is coming from there !

There are probably many other books, movies, documentaries out there, if you know any great ones, especially about Karachay people, please feel free to share in the comment section !

Pine trees in the snowy mountains of Karachay-Cherkessia in the North Caucasus
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