7 must-visit places in Karachay – Cherkessia

7 must-visit places in Karachay – Cherkessia

Plateau Bermamyt 2

Karachay – Cherkessia is a nature lover heaven with amazing hiking trails in the heart of the Great Caucasus.

I put together a list of the 7 best places to visit in Karachay – Cherkessia including details on how to get there and when a border zone permit is required.

Last updated 03/03/2024

Disclaimer : Some of the places mentionned below are the gateway to amazing mountain views but require training and good knowlege of the mountains. If you are not a very experienced hiker, please stay on the marked trails and choose according to your physical abilities. The mountains are no joke and the weather can be unpredictable in the Caucasus just like anywhere else in the world.

The first day I hiked around Dombay (litterally 1 hour walk from the town in the middle of July), the weather changed within half an hour, from big blue sky to pouring down rain and cold. I saw people on the trail wearing simple sneakers and no waterproof jackets … I mean, be smart.

View of the Elbruz from the Bermamyt plateau at sunrise in Karachay - Cherkessia in the Caucasus
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A detailed Karachay – Cherkessia travel guide
The border zone permit explained and how to get it for free

RUssia travel insurance

It’s mandatory to have an insurance to travel in Russia and apply for a russian visa (including the e-visa)

I recommend Attollo Assistance (24/7 assistance, medical expenses up to 35 000 €, repatriation)

1 – Teberda National Park

Тебердинский заповедник | The Teberda National Park or actually the Teberda Nature Reserve (it changed status in 2021) is a UNESCO biosphere reserve created in 1935 and covers 85 000 hectares of forests, meadows, alpines lakes, glaciers, and of course endemic flora and fauna.

It is said to be one of the most visited nature reserve in the whole Russia (maybe because the Dombay resort is right in the middle of it).

Named after the Teberda town, a Karachai village originally called Baitchoralany-Kiabak and the Teberda river crossing it, this Nature Reserve is to me one of the most accessible in the North Caucasus (much more accessible than the mountains of Kabardino – Balkaria for example).

There are plenty of easy trails from Teberda itself such as the Baduk lakes (located at about 2000 meters high, trail start south of the town along the main road) or the famous Dombay resort and the village of Arkhty.

The popular youtuber Eli from Russia recently made a beautiful video on Teberda.

How to get there : Daily marshrutka and bus from Cherkessk bus station.

Note : Because of its status, there is an entrance fee of 100 to 300₽ at the beginning of pretty much every marked trail around the Teberda Reserve. Why the difference of prices ? No clue. Some trails require an additional border zone permit to be hiked. The town of Teberda is far from the border of Abkhazia so no permit needed to roam the forest outside of town.

2 – Dombay

Домбай | Dombay or Dombai (not Dubai hey) is one of the most popular mountain resort in the North Caucasus and the N°1 in Karachay – Cherkessia. The village located at 1600 meters high is named after the nearby 4004 meters high mountain peak Dombay-Ulgen. One of the first soviet alpinist camp was created there in 1935 : the Alibek mountaineering camp.

Today it’s a rather grey and very soviet looking town, but they seemed to be fixing and building nicer hotels when I was there. I mean, you don’t go to Dombay for the resort itself but the mountains around (If you want a nice looking mountain resort in the Caucasus, Krasnaya Polyana is best). Tip : there’s this fun 1960’s flying saucer/UFO you can rent as a hotel room.

Alpine meadows, cristal clear mountain lakes, waterfalls and plenty of “easy marked” trails makes Dombay a great base to go hiking in the Teberda Nature Reserve.

Some nice day hikes recommandtions : the Sufrudzhinsky waterfall (last picture), the Alibesky waterfall, the Churchkhursky waterfall to the Turye lake (blue lake in the picture bellow – the most awful russian lady was working at the border control post the day I went).

How to get there : Daily marshrutka and bus from Cherkessk bus station.

Note : there’s only one proper supermarket in Dombay, Piaterochka, others are very small and expensive convenience stores. However, no worries, there are of course tones of little karachay cafés to eat Khychin and other russian restaurants.

Important : Dombay is located only 6 kilometers as the crow flies from the border of Abkhazia, so it is within the russian border zone. You do not need a border zone permit to be in the Dombay resort itself nor ski during the winter but you will need one to go hiking outside of the village’s limits.

Every trail I’ve hiked had either a guarding post where they checked people’s documents (permit + passport) or a massive blue sign (in english & russian) on the trails warning of the border zone and the mandatory permit. They won’t let you pass the posts without it and if the FSB finds you roaming around the mountains without one, you’re in huge troubles.

Also, you may needs to pay an entrance fee to the Teberba Nature Reserve at the beginning of every trail (unless you go super early) : Permit + passport + money.

3 – Akhyz

Архыз | Arkhyz is a rather widely spread village in the Bolshoy Zelenchuk valley, and is within the Teberba Nature Reserve. The village is a great base to explore the surrounding mountains with waterfalls, caves and stunning mountains : it’s a very popular destination among day hikers and multi day trekkers.

Arkhyz is not a resort town like Dombay, there’s only the main road, Ulitsa Lenina, that is paved, side roads are not. Also, there’re no proper supermarkets there (Zelenchukskaya for the nearest Piaterochka), only small convenient stores, one Sberbank ATM but plenty of cafés and accomodations for every budget.

There are no cable cars in Arkhyz itself, you must go to Lunnaya Polyana which is 10 kilometers away, where the ski fields are located.

Some hiking trails suggestions : The Dukka waterfall and lakes, the Sofia lakes (the most popular and picturesque hiking route in Arkhyz – about 20 kms one way), the Baritov waterfall, the Cossak waterfall …
Note : if you’re not a super experienced hiker, I think Dombay is better with much more accessible marked trails.

Worth to mention : the village before Arkhyz called Nizhny Arkhyz is home to an historical and architectural archaeological complex, also simply known as “the Alan settlement”, some say it’s located on the site of the capital of the ancient kingdom of Alania !

How to get there : Daily marshrutka from Cherkessk

4 – Plateau Bermamyt

Бермамыт | Plateau Bermamyt is perhaps the best viewing platform to see the highest mountain in Europe, mont Elbrus.

This plateau rising at 2592 meters above sea level is quite unsual for the region : strange landforms, asymetrical slopes, sculpted canyons, stone pillars … Difficult to access but worth the ride, you will find intact nature and see Mount Elbrus from a unique point of view away from the “crowd” !

There is no café, no real observation point, the place is free to visit and rather empty of tourists most of the time. Make sure to go on a clear day to be sure to spot the majestic Elbrus on the horizon.

How to get there : There is no public transport to reach Bermamyt, you must go on your own, with a taxi, rent a car or there are excursions being organised from Kislovodsk, about 70 kilometers away.

5 – Scenic route to Djili – Su

Джилы Суу | Djili-Su or Dzhily-Su is actually located in Kabardino – Balkaria but to get there you must drive one, if not the most scenic route in the North Caucasus through Karachay – Cherkessia with mind blowing views on the Elbrus !

Djili-Su means “hot waters” in the Karachay – Balkar languages, the area has 15 hot springs, waterfalls (the Sultan waterfall is 40 meters high, Karakaya-Su is 30 meters high, Emir is about 8 meters high etc), and strange rock formations such as the “castle valley” and “mushroom meadows” (marked trail).

There are some super nice hikes to do in the area : the Birjaly lakes (North and South Birjaly) and the Emmanuel meadow.

The attractions are quite far from each others and you can camp overnight there but make sure to take the right equipment, it can get cold at night even in the middle of summer.

How to get there : No public transport go to Djili-Su, you must organise your own transportation.

The asphalt road has been fixed in 2020, it goes through the village of Kichi-Balyk and the Nazran valley. There is an entrance fee of 100₽ to visit Djili-Su and a car park next to the entry “gate”.

6 – Sentinsky church

Сентинский храм | Also called Senty church, it’s one of the oldest church in Russia, dating back to 965. The date of its construction is written in ancient Greek, as a Christian mission in the North Caucasus was lead by Nicholas Mystikos, the greek Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

Back in medieval times, this part of Karachay – Cherkessia was in the Kingdom of Alania, the anscestors of today’s Ossetians who were Pagans until the arrivals of these missionaries. They build this church on top of a pagan temple.

After centuries of invasions, the church of Sentinsky is still standing but unfortunately in a very poor state and need restauration ASAP, but parts of 11th century frescoes can still be seen today.

How to get there : The church is located near the village of Nizhnyaya Teberda, about 30 kilometers from Teberda.
From Cherkessk take a marshrutka to Nizhnyaya Teberda, and walk half an hour to Sentinsky.

7 – Imerety lakes

Имеретинские озёра | The Imerety lakes are a group of alpine lakes located at about 2500 meters high within a mountain cirque along the Imeretinka river, in the Western Caucasus Reserve (UNESCO), at the border with the Krasnodar Krai.

There is a bit of a mess between the names given to the lakes before the Russian Revolution and the ones in the 1960’s and 1990’s expeditions. The biggest lake Bolshoye Imeretinskoye, also known as Silence lake, is 190 000 m² making it the biggest lake of the Western Caucasus Reserve (bigger than Kardyvach), there are also Busha lake named after Bush a 19th century russian botanist, Podnebesnoe lake, Tyoploye lake and some others.

The best time to visit the lakes are July, August and September, before and after that the area is covered by snow. A hike to the Imerety lakes takes at least 3 days, you can go on your own if you have enough mountain experiences but guided tours are organised every year.

Important : the lakes are located within the border zone, so a permit is mandatory, and you must buy a daily pass to the Western Caucasus Reserve (explain in my Krasnaya Polyana hiking guide here).

In 2022, I applied for a border zone permit to go hiking to the Imereti lakes but my application got denied, they told me I needed to get a border zone permit from the Krasnodar Krai which makes no sense because even though the lakes are right at the border with the Krai, they all are located, including the trail to get there, in Karachay – Cherkessia … By the time I reached the region, it was unfortunately too late for me to reapply.

How to get there : The trail starts at Psemyon village. You must write the Urkup and Mostovskoy districts on your border zone permit application.

The Sofia lake in the mountains of Karachay Cherkessia near Akhyz in the Teberda National Park
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