The Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia (Карачаево-Черкесия in Russian) located in the center of the North Caucasus Caucasus is a paradise for hikers !
It is named after its two main ethnic groups : the Karachay and Tcherkess 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 : 05/03/2023
You must have a border zone permit to hike in Karachay-Cherkessia around Dombai, Akhryz and anywhere outside the villages in the border zone area. There are military posts on the hiking trails and warning signs. The border with Georgia is sensitive, make sure you have your permit and don’t play with the rules by trying to avoid these check posts.
Click to see my complete Border Zone Permit guide
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 Tcherkesk 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 Ostrovok.ru, 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.
Karachay-Cherkessia is about 1400 kilometers from Moscow. There are daily two and a half hours flights to Mineralnye Vody (95 kilometers from Tcherkesk) and Stravropol (140 kilometers from Tcherchesk), from where you can take a bus to Tcherkesk.
There isn’t any direct train from Moscow to Tcherkesk, you will have to change at Nevinnomiskaia. You can book on the official RZD website though it might not work without a VPN depending on your location and it is not possible to book right now with a Visa or Mastercard due to the sanctions.
Marshrutkas (local mini bus) are available a bit everywhere in the republic and to reach the neighboring big cities. Hitchhiking works pretty well too.
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 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 :
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 !