For most international travellers, the Chechen Republic (Russian: Чече́нская Респу́блика, Chechenskaya Respublika, Chechen: Нохчийн Республика, Noxçiyn Respublika), a republic in the North Caucasus region of Russia, is a remarkably unknown place. While infamous for its turbulent past, little is known about the region's recent developments or about the stunning mountainous landscapes, picturesque lakes and friendly people that define this part of the Northern Caucasus. Although most foreign governments still consider the political situation too dangerous for travel purposes of any kind, large Russian investments have improved infrastructure and urban development considerably. Those who make the journey to Grozny will find a capital reborn, where signs of the war are few and shiny new residences and shopping malls give away little about the struggling local economy, dependance on federal funding and fragile peace. Chechnya still has a way to go when it comes to inviting tourism in significant numbers, but it is preparing. Chechnya borders Dagestan to the north and east, Georgia to the south, Ingushetia to the west and Stavropol Krai to the northwest.
With the political situation having stabilised, tourists are once again beginning to trickle into the region. Chechen culture is very different from that of the rest of Russia, and even Russians from other regions often feel as if they are in a different country when they visit Chechnya. If you decide to come, you can expect to be treated as an honoured guest, as Chechen culture places a strong emphasis on traditional Islamic hospitality.
Chechnya can be divided into two main parts:
- Lowlands - with the national capital city of Grozny
- Highlands where the main natural and heritage attractions are
- 1 Grozny — the Chechen capital, a shining city like a mini Dubai with 5 star hotels, wide avenues, impressive mosques and superb condominiums.
- 2 Argun — An impressive modern (rebuilt) city on the main highway
- 3 Gudermes — An oil town in eastern Chechnya, with the same impressive reconstruction and high class buildings
- 4 Shali — Second largest city by population
- 5 Urus-Martan
- 6 Vedeno — A village in southeastern Chechnya near the Vedeno Gorge, hub of Imam Shamil's war against Russian invaders in the early 19th century. Also the birthplace of the notoriously brutal Shamil Basaev; widely considered one of the most dangerous areas of Chechnya
Outside Grozny high, in the mountains, there are some interesting places to visit with good infrastructure:
- 1 Shatoi - small township not far from Grozny
- 2 Itum-kale - stone township 20 km outside from Shatoi
- 3 Sharoi - old citadel-town
- 4 Veduchi Ski Resort
The Chechen Republic is a small autonomous region within the Russian Federation. It is situated in the Caucasian Mountains and Lowlands.
The Northern Caucasus has acted as a buffer zone for many empires, from the Persians to Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans and Russians. Nominally part of Russia since the early 19th century, fiercely independent Chechnya has been in a near constant state of rebellion ever since the approach of Russian power. At times throughout the history of this conflict, including the 21st century, Chechen rebellion has spread to neighbouring regions and threatened the spectre of a multi-ethnic Muslim rebellion across the entire northern Caucasus. What is most important for the traveller is that the anti-Russian violence as well as the Russian military response have been spectacularly brutal, purposely victimizing whoever is most vulnerable: the everyday Russian Federation citizens (Russian and Chechen alike) unfortunate enough to live here and outsiders who are foolish enough to walk into this danger zone. The region is also desperately poor.
One of the most traumatic episodes of violence took place following the Second World War, when Stalin accused Chechens of collaborating with the Nazis and mass deported the entire ethnic Chechen populace to the cold steppe of northern Kazakhstan. Provisions were not made to ensure that the deported Chechens had a good chance of surviving the deportation. Survivors were later allowed to return under Khrushchev. In one of the most horrific events of the 21st century, the radical Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev ordered his commandos to take hostage a primary school in Beslan, North Ossetia, in 2004, ending the incident with a shocking massacre of innocent schoolchildren, and the incident remains very much an open wound in the Russian national consciousness.
Chechnya is a land of extraordinary beauty, full of majestic mountains with lush vegetation and auls (mountaintop villages) rising above the tree lines; rapid rivers have cut spectacular gorges throughout the region. Chechen culture is distinctly romantic and chivalric. It is at once steeped in Islamic Sufi mysticism and in the macho codes of hardy mountain tribes. The Chechens have a distinct culture of Caucasian music and dance. The Chechens traditionally follow a strict code of honour and hospitality to accepted guests; unyielding hostility and violence towards enemies.
The present situation is taking an improvement, though on a light scale. Chechnya is led by President Ramzan Kadyrov, who inherited his position from his father and rules like a king. The government is allowing foreign companies to develop Chechnya's rich and previously neglected oil resources, which have brought wealth to the region. Yet most of the money falls in the hands of only a few people. While Grozny is full of new construction and a rising middle-class, much of the region remains poor. Corruption is much more widespread in Chechnya than in some of its neighbours. In exchange for giving up their struggle for independence, the Russian government has given the local Chechen government considerable autonomy, and Sharia law has been implemented in Chechnya, though it is not enforced on non-Muslim visitors, and is still considerably less strict than in Saudi Arabia.
Chechnya's airport is finally open again for the first time since the start of the war. Planes to Grozny (GRV IATA) leave 3 times a week from Moscow's Vnukovo and Domodedovo airports. Estimated flying time is 2 hours and 30 minutes. In November 2016 there was only one international regular service to/from Bishkek,Now there is ongoing service From Sharjah to Grozny by Air Arabia.
A train leaves from/to Moscow once every 2 days. This train is under heavy security by the Russian military so expect long delays and possibly other hassles. Caution must be exercised when travelling by rail in Chechnya due to potential terrorist attacks.
A daily bus leaves from and to Nazran in equally unstable Ingushetia, with at least one of these continuing on to Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia. Small buses leave from and to many Caucasian, south-Russian cities.
Most of the sites of Grozny are reachable by foot, and there are minibuses within the city.
- Mountain lakes of Kezenoi-Am (largest lake in Chechnya), Galanchozh-Am (cup-lake), impressive lake Kebosoy
- Sernovodskoye resort - spa resort in Chechnya
- Tsoy-Peda - ruined aul (highland town)
- Monumental Islamic architecture, the most famous of which is the Heart of Chechnya in the capital Grozny, but with other equally impressive mosques scattered around the republic as well.
Chechnya is famous for its traditional swords and daggers. Foreign retail businesses have been banned from operating in Chechnya by the Chechen government, so the retail sector is helmed exclusively by Russian chains and small local buisnesses.
Due to the economic consequences of the war, things in Chechnya are relatively cheap. However, do not expect to find everything you are looking for. There's not much to find in Chechnya except for carpets and daggers. Supplies are also somewhat limited.
There are a number of restaurants and cafés in the centre of Grozny around Mechetnaya Square (formerly Minutka Square) and Prospekt Putina (formerly prospekt pobedi). There is a reasonable selection, with Chechen traditional, shashlik (grill), burger and pan-asian restaurants. There are other restaurants and cafes throughout the city, mainly limited to shashlik or Chechen traditional.
Although Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation, there are no nightclubs, strip clubs, bars or discos in Chechnya, even underground ones. Alcohol can be legally sold only from 08:00 to 10:00 in an extremely limited number of stores (usually large supermarkets, such as the “Lenta” hypermarket), and the rest of the time the sale is de facto prohibited. Alcohol is sold only to non-locals and people who don't look like Muslims. You may be asked to show your passport.
But don't worry, there are many trendy coffee shops and tea houses in the cities, as well as cafes and restaurants where soft drinks are plentiful.
The residents of Chechnya themselves often go to the Stavropol Krai (to the north of the republic) to drink alcoholic beverages and for entertainment, or to neighboring Dagestan and Ingushetia, where anti-alcohol laws are not so strict.
More and more hotels appear. There is a wide range of accommodation from hostels to spa resorts. The flagship is the 5-star Grozny City, near the Presidential Palace, which has English-speaking staff. Visitors should be aware about lack of service quality.
- 1 Sernovodsk-Kavkazskiy Resort (Курорт "Серноводск - Кавказский"), Курорт "Серноводск - Кавказский" 4, 366701 Sernovodsk. Check-in: 10:00 - 18:00, check-out: 12:00. Spa resort since 1893. The main building is modern, and all equipment is new.
- 2 Holiday Park Kezenoy-Am. Resort on Kezenoy-Am lake
Although the security situation in Chechnya has improved significantly since the early 2010s, especially in Grozny and other cities, the governments of many foreign countries, including the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Japan, the USA and the others, “strongly warn their citizens not to travel to Chechnya under any circumstances”. They report that there have been many cases when their citizens, as well as Russian citizens from other regions of Russia, have been abducted by rebels, sometimes by ordinary residents who sympathize with the rebels and handed over to them. Starting from the beginning of the 1990s and up to the end of the 2000s, a lot of foreigners and citizens themselves disappeared, were abducted for ransom and blackmail, killed. Nevertheless, do not be so afraid. rebel attacks are extremely rare now, but sometimes there are shootings, attacks on police and military posts, suicide bombings, hostage-taking. There are very few rebels left, and they are hiding deep in the mountains and dense forests.
Now the entire territory of Chechnya is completely open to foreigners, but when entering this republic, all cars and their passengers pass police posts. Do not be afraid if there are military or FSB (Federal Security Service) officers in these posts. If you, being a foreigner enter Chechnya by car or bus from neighboring regions (for example, from Dagestan, Ingushetia or Stavropol Krai), they will definitely ask about the purpose of the trip. If they hear the desired answer “tourism”, then they calmly skip it. Sometimes they may ask where you will stay and how many days you will stay. Local police and FSB officers are particularly suspicious of foreigners from Muslim-majority countries and, in general, of all foreigners (regardless of citizenship) who have an Islamic name and/or surname. Because they are afraid that you might have come here to join the militants hiding in the mountains and forests. All vehicles will be searched for suspicious and prohibited items (drugs, explosives, large amounts of money, alcohol, a large number of cigarettes, they can rummage through your phone in search of suspicious activity or the presence of pornography). The same order of entry at the airports of Chechnya.
Be prepared that you, as a foreigner, will be under the covert surveillance of FSB agents and informants. A lot of law enforcement officers are dressed in civilian clothes and control the situation on the streets and in other public places.
It is strongly recommended to go on an excursion to the mountains only with a trusted guide and not to walk on goat trails without guides and go alone deep into the forests, as there are still surviving rebels hiding there. The rebels also hide in deep mountain gorges, in caves, in small valleys closed from all sides by mountains.
If you still feel determined to experience the beauty of Chechnya despite the accompanying dangers, then be sure to look into specialist travel insurance, as normal insurance does not cover travel to areas that are advised against by Western governments.
The civil war may be over in Chechnya, but the area is far from secure and basic necessities are often relatively scarce. It would be wise for one to assume that some necessities may not be available, so bring everything you need before visiting the region.
Working plumbing, heat, and electricity are valuable commodities in parts of Chechnya due to a failing infrastructure that is the result of years of conflict. Sanitise all water or bring bottled water.
The most important term to know is Nokhchalla (Нохчалла). This is the written code of honour and life of the Chechen people. This term also relates to all Vainakh groups (Ingush and Kistin people). This term regulates and raises all aspects of society from the meaning of life to household arrangements. For instance, holding hands in the street is not permitted, even between married couples, and men are always expected to walk ahead of their wives. Unmarried men and women are not allowed to dine alone as a pair, and must always be accompanied by a relative when going on dates. Men are also expected to give up their seats for women in public transport, regardless of their ages.
Chechnya is a highly conservative and strongly patriarchal Sunni Muslim region. The most obvious things to avoid are public drunkenness, photographing people without their consent, and engaging in negative talk about religion. Unmarried women are forbidden from walking around the streets without a male guardian, and while this rule does not apply to non-Muslim visitors, young women may receive some extra attention from the locals for doing so.
Chechen locals are generally very hospitable and are generally curious about those who visit their place. It's not uncommon to be showered with excessive hospitality, and you may even be invited to come to someone's home. Do not turn down such an opportunity as it would be seen as offensive.
For your own safety, avoid getting into anything political. This especially includes passing comments about Ramzan Kadyrov and the Chechen government in general. It has been widely reported that the authorities have been publicly shaming government critics.
In Chechnya there are two Russian federal GSM operators (Beeline, Megafon) and they often have offers that give you a SIM card for free or at least very cheap. If you are planning to stay a while and to keep in touch with locals, you should consider buying a local SIM card instead of going on roaming. To buy a SIM card from a shop you'll need your passport for identification.