Ever heard of Dagestan ? I’m sure you did : It’s near the infamous Chechnya, on the east side of the North Caucasus, the MMA fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov comes from there and Alexandre Dumas traveled the region in the 19th century!
Welcome to the most heterogeneous corner of the Russian Federation, home to 30+ ethnic groups and even more languages. Off the beaten track travels to the land of mountains (“Dâg” = mountain, “Stan” = country) in this corner of Russia, that is Caucasian above all.
Whether you only have a few days to get an idea of what Dagestan has to offer, or several weeks to visit this mountainous region, here are some itinerary ideas.
Last updated : 14/03/2023
Dagestan has stunning auls, fortified villages hanging on the top of the mountains, but also very welcoming people like you rarely meet.
If you need one tip while travelling there is that one : take your time. Prefer to share a plate of Khinkal with locals rather than trying to see as much as possible in little time. “Dagestanis” have an incredible sense of hospitality.
Basics to know
Visa : Dagestan is part of the Russian Federation, you need a russian visa.
Language(s) : Russian is the common language. But you have the choice between +40 other languages.
Depending on the district (rayon – район) where you are, the locals can speak a very different language from one village to another. Do not hesitate to ask for their “nationality” to realize the enormous diversity in the Republic.
The north is predominantly Avar, it is the largest ethnic group in Dagestan, followed by the Dargins, Kumyks, Lezgins etc. Some other minorities like the Rutuls have their own district (район), the Rutulsky Rayon (Рутульский район). Pay attention and listen to this melting pot of languages. It’s fascinating!
When to visit : Prefer spring and early summer. In winter the roads can be blocked by snow. Summer can be very hot and dry, & mountains more yellow than green.
How to get to Dagestan : By plane or train (the link might not work in your country without a VPN & you can’t pay with a foreign card right now due to the 2022 sanctions) from Moscow, and by marshrutka (mini collective bus) from Grozny or Baku.
Is it safe ? Western governments and ethnic Russians will tell you no. But I say yes. The chances of you bumping into a crazy Islamist with an explosives belt are much slimmer than 15 years ago.
There is no such thing as zero risk, just like in Europe. If you are uncomfortable seeing guns and men in uniforms, Makhachkala is not the place for you.
There are wolves, jackals and other bears in the Caucasus mountains.
Solo female traveler : Dagestan is predominantly Muslim, some people are quite conservative. Play the religious card: Don’t let anyone do what would be inappropriate with a local woman or the husband card.
You might hear the joke “you are going to be kidnapped miss!” and babushkas will probably offer you to meet their unmarried sons!
My personal opinion: I felt a thousand times safer and respected by men in Dagestan than in Georgia, for example.
On the map at the top of this page you will find all of the following places pinned. There are of course many other gorgeous auls, where I have not been yet, or that I do not know yet. Yes, Dagestan is quite big.
I have also mentionned the name in cyrillic. I highly advice you to use Yandex map instead of Google map while in Dagestan or anywhere in Russia for that matter.
If you only have a few days to spend in Dagestan and /or are on your way to Chechnya/other republics in the North Caucasus, here is a list of the must-see places to get a feel for what Dagestan has to offer.
And if you really only have a couple of days in the area and no time to make any detour through the mountains, then stop to Derbent and the Sulaksky Canyon, those are the places you really don’t want to miss and are “easily accessible”.
For travelers with have more time, there is even more to see than the places mentioned above.
Sea, mountains, waterfalls, gorges, canyon, desert and friendly locals. You now have it all for a good overview of Dagestan and the North Caucasus.
A whole month or more
Do you want to visit Dagestan deeper, hike in the mountains of the Greater Caucasus, learn more about its inhabitants and their culture? Dagestan is so diverse that you can spend weeks there without getting bored ! Have a look at the map on top of this page, I have noted many more places to visit .
The sites marked in red on the map are not all easily accessible.
Villages located between the Samur river and the borders with Azerbaijan & Georgia may require a border zone permit.
There are a lot of auls, inhabited or abandoned villages. Those mentioned above are “the most popular”, for Dagestan’s tourism. Meaning that, unless you go there in July during the locals’ holidays, the chances of meeting another tourist, even a Russian one, are quite small.
Dagestanis without distinction of ethnic groups are hospitable people and very welcoming towards foreigners. Even towards ethnic Russians, who however think quite the opposite. They know the bad and crazy reputation of their region outside its borders and will want to show you the best of Dagestan and themselves.
I stopped counting how many times people were extremely generous to me : invitations for lunch and sleep at their family homes, food offered by my drivers (yes I was hitchhiking), refusal of my money in small roadside cafes. Always hand on the heart. Dagestan is for me one of the most welcoming region in Russia, maybe even number #1 !
Let me know on the comments if this guide has been helpful and please feel free to suggest others great places to visit in Dagestan !