For most international travellers, the Chechen Republic (Russian: Чече́нская Респу́блика, Chechenskaya Respublika, Chechen: Нохчийн Республика, Noxçiyn Respublika) 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 in recent years. 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 serious numbers, but it surely is getting ready for it.
Chechnya can be devided into two main parts:
- Lowlands - with the capital of region - city of Grozny
- Highlands where the main natural and heritage attractions are
- Grozny — the Chechen capital, a shining city like a mini Dubai with 5 star hotels, wide avenues, impressive mosques and superb condominiums. Some vestiges of the war are still seen, though
- Argun — An impressive modern (rebuilt) city on the main highway
- Gudermes — An oil town in eastern Chechnya, with the same impressive reconstruction and high class buildings
- Shali — Second largest city by population
- Vedeno — A village in southeastern Chechnya near the Vedeno Gorge, hub of Imam Shamil's rebellion against Tsarist incursions 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:
- Shatoi - small township not far from Grozny.
- Itum-kale - stone township 20km outside from Shatoi
- Sharoi - old citadel-town
- 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).
The Chechen Republic is a small autonomous region within the Russian Federation. It is situated in the Caucasian Mountains and Lowlands.
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 very recent times, 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, yes, outsiders who are foolish enough to walk into this danger zone. The region is desperately poor, plagued by enough problems already.
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 recent times, the radical Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev ordered his commandos to take hostage a primary school in Beslan, North Ossetia, ending the incident with a shocking massacre of innocent schoolchildren.
Chechnya was safe for travel during Soviet rule, but travellers, don't hold your breath. Wide-scale violence has become the norm of this tragic region.
On a lighter note, Chechnya is a country 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. All this could make Chechnya an intoxicating destination for the adventurous, but the present security situation should rule out this destination to all but the hardiest of travellers.
The present situation is taking an improvement, though on a light scale. The region is headed by the autocratic Kadyrov family. More recently, the government has allowed foreign companies to develop Chechnya's rich and previously neglected oil resources, which have brought wealth to the country. 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.
Chechnya's airport is finally open again for the first time since the start of the war. Planes to Grozny 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.
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.
Chechen and Russian are the two main languages spoken in Chechnya. Remember that the political situation is very tense — a foreigner speaking Chechen may attract unwanted attention from the authorities. English on the other hand is spoken by almost nobody, even in the capital.
Chechnya is famous for its traditional swords and daggers.
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, daggers, etc. Supplies are also somewhat limited.
Restaurants and cafés are slowly re-opening and new ones are being built.
There are no night clubs or discos in Chechnya. However, beer is sold on the street in Grozny. Common sense should be used when drinking alcohol, especially in danger zones. Alcohol may be legally sold only from 08.00 to 10.00 and prohibited at all other times.
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. Traveler should be aware about lack of service's 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 are modern developed, and all equipment is new.
- 2 Holiday Park Kezenoy-Am. Resort on Kezenoy-Am lake
Many foreign governments, including the UK, Canadian and US governments, strongly warn their citizens not to travel to Chechnya under any circumstances. They report that there have been many incidents of their citizens visiting there as well as Russian citizens being missing, killed, or kidnapped for ransom.
Some independent analysts suggest that there are no more than 2,000 separatist combatants still fighting, but by travelling to Chechnya you are taking a serious risk. Kidnappings and unexploded mines and munitions are widespread, while terrorist activity and shootings still occur on a lesser scale. Close contacts within the local population does not guarantee safety.
It is highly recommended to take guide tour in mountains and not walk on goats trails without guides because of risk of being blown up by land mines from the various Chechen wars.
If you still feel determined to experience the beauty of Chechnya despite the accompanying dangers, then you may want to consider visiting the Pankisi area of Georgia instead. The security situation there has stabilized enough for reasonably safe travel, it looks very similar to Chechnya, and it is full of Chechen refugees who may be much more approachable than those in Chechnya.
The civil war may be over in Chechnya, but the situation 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 there, so get 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. Be sure to sanitize all water or bring bottled water.
The most important term to know while discover for yourself Chechen culture is Nokhchalla (Нохчалла) - unwritten code of Honor, living and life of chechen people. Also, this term relates to all Vainakh group (Ingush, Kistin people). This term regulates and raises all aspects of human starting from meaning of life and finishing with household arrangement.
Remember that Chechnya is a strongly patriarchal Sunni Muslim society, so try to behave accordingly. Women travellers are advised to exercise particular caution, and should seriously consider bringing a male escort for their own protection.
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.