You’ve visited the stunning mountains of Northern Azerbaijan and now dream to cross the border into Russia and explore unknown Dagestan ?
Here is a guide to help you cross the Samur border between Dagestan in Russia and Azerbaijan or vice versa with tips on transportation and safety.
Last updated : 06/11/2022
Before crossing either side of the Samur border
Getting a Russian visa
Unless you are from one of these lucky countries who get a free golden pass to the Russian Federation, you might want to check out my guide here.
Getting an Azeri visa
It’s easier than ever to visit little known Azerbaijan nowadays. Apply online for your evisa and receive it in your mailbox within a few working days.
Make sure to print it out, when crossing the border they stamp on it as well as on the passport.
Ask your hotel receptionnist to print it out for you, or go to the nearest mall, they usually have places called “kserokopia”, or even any computer shop, people in Dagestan will gladly help you.
The border crossings for foreigner nationals
Back in the Soviet times there were dozens of border crossing points along the Samur river beween the Dagestan ASSR and the Azerbaijan SSR. Nowadays 4 exists and we, third countries nationals are only allowed to cross through 3 of them :
Crossing the border
From Baku, Azerbaijan
At the central bus station you can find buses to the border for about 5 manats, shared taxis for 15 manats per person or even a private one for 60 manats (30€).
You can book your seat the day before for early buses or shared taxis and know your departure time.
The buses to the border have a sign in cyrilic СДК, SDK in latin letters, meaning Samur Derbentsky Kanal, named after the water canal right next to the Yarag Kazmalyar and Samur border crossing.
From Quba, Northern Azerbaijan
At the central bus station, you will easily find a shared taxi to the Samur border. If you’re too late in the afternoon you might have to pay for the full taxi by yourself though.
You are not allowed to walk through the buffer zone between the two countries. You either take a marshrutka for 150 rubles or hitch a ride (like I did). After the Russian immigration office you are within the border zone of the Russian Federation and cannot walk from the customs to the exit of the border unless you have a border zone permit.
Just hop back on the previous marshrutka (they wait for they passengers but in case, don’t leave any of your belongings in it) to the gate of the logistic terminal from where you either find another marshrutka, shared taxi or hitch a ride to Derbent or elsewhere.
From the Southern bus station (Yuzhnaya Avtostantsiya) you can find either a marshrutka (early morning) or a shared taxi to the border.
Prices are about 200 rubles for a shared taxi and 1000 for a private one.
Same as coming from the Azeri border, you will need another ride through the buffer zone.
Same as coming from Derbent, marshrutkas and shared taxis are leaving from the southern bus station of the city. It’s about 300 rubles for a shared taxi to the border.
Direct marshrutka from Dagestan to Baku
There are apparently direct marshrutkas from Makhachkala to Baku – if you find it – I’d recommend you to look for it the day before at the southern bus station and book your seat. If marshrutkas there are, expect them to leave early morning between 6 to 9am.
Believe it or not, the easiest way so far to get from the North Caucasus to Azerbaijan seems to be from the Chechen capital, Grozny. Behind Grozny giant Berkat market you will find the busy central station. Ask for a marshrutka to Baku and some friendly Chechens will show you where to find it. Book your seat the day before and expect to be leaving the next day at 9am.
Note aside : if you do this, you will miss Dagestan’s insane hospitality and the stunning mountains of Northern Azerbaijan. Your lose.
My personal hitchhiking experience
Hitchhiking from and to either side of the border was very easy. Okay, obvioustly being a solo female backpacker helps a lot, I won’t lie.
The best spot to hitch toward the south of Dagestan and the border is at the junction of Ulitsa Salmana and the Makhachkala Derbenta daroga, south of Derbent. From there you can easily find a ride to Sovietskoe or Gaptsakh and then another one to the border.
The other way around, you can easily find a ride to Derbent and even further north.
If you wish to go straight to Baku from the border, I wouldn’t recommend you to accept a ride to Quba. You will most likely get dropped off at an incovenient junction and waste time walking to find a new suitable spot (I got a bit stuck).
The Baku – Makhachkala train
Unless you really wish to travel by train, it’s not the best mode of transportation to go from Azerbaijan to Russia or vice versa in my opinion. The train is slow and the lanscapes not the most scenic (flat most of the way).
If you do it anyway, make sure to book a bed on the left side of the train from Baku and right side of it from Dagestan, so you might catch a glimpse of far away snowy capped mountains. It’s kind of hastle free though. Once you’re in the train, you can go all the way to Moscow. It stops in Derbent and Makhachkala. Book it directly on the official RZD website (might not work without a VPN and it is not possible to buy a ticket with a Visa or Mastercard right now due to the sanctions). Make sure you got your train ticket and azeri evisa printed out.
Potential hastles on the Russian side
If you are leaving Russia it is unlikely to be questionned for long but keep in mind that Dagestan is one of the most corrupted and poorest region of Russia. If there are issues with your visa, passport or whatever else, the FSB will come to deal with you, not some low rank policemen who are most likely to annoy you for a bribe.
Entering Russia through Dagestan is another story. You might get questionned for quite a while, especially if you have been to Central Asia, South Asia (Pakistan & Afghanistan) or certain Middle Eastern countries. Answer politely and trustfully (except if you’re heading to Grozny or Nazran – lie about it, it will save you time).
All (LOL) my encounters with the FSB have been professionnal, polite and friendly I’d say. No worries to have.
If you get ripped off by a taxi driver, it will be in Azerbaijan, definitely not in Dagestan.
Money & safety
I have not seen any ATMs on either side of the Yarag – Samur border (would be useless in Russia anyway because Visa & Mastercard don’t work anymore due to the sanctions). You will not have any issue to pay in Russian roubles at the Azeri border for a shared taxi, but they will probably won’t accept your Azeri manats on the Russian side.
It’s easy to get Russian rubles in an exchange currency office in Baku – And maybe ask the men changing money at the Derbent market right here, you can’t miss them, they have a pile a cash in their hands.
If men in uniforms carrying AK47 makes you feel uncomfortable and even scare you, then Dagestan is probably not a destination for you. But keep in mind they are there for safety purposes. I’ve always felt safe anywhere I’ve been in Dagestan – cities & mountains villages – nor I’ve heard of any foreigner tourists getting hurt.
If Dagestan was dangerous for foreigners, it would simply be off limits, meaning no overland border crossing from Azerbaijan, no Moscow – Makhachkala train and no border zone permit granted to hang out in far away friendly Rutul villages in the very south of the republic .
There you have it all. A complete guide on crossing the border between Russia and Azerbaijan. Leave a comment if you have any questions & feel free to share your own travel experience !