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Dagestan (Russian: Респу́блика Дагеста́н; Avar: Магӏарухъ Жумхӏурият) is the most culturally diverse republic in the Caucasus, and at the Caspian Gates between Persia and Europe has been of historic significance since antiquity. Plagued by a decade of conflict since the turn of the century, Dagestan has been a safe and attractive travel destination off the beaten path for several years. Sandy beaches along the Caspian coast and the rural wilderness of the majestic Caucasian mountains await in this region not yet overrun by mass tourism.

An abandoned temple high in the Caucasus mountains

It is a republic of the Russian Federation in the North Caucasus bordering Chechnya and Georgia to the west, Stavropol Krai and Kalmykia to the north, the Caspian Sea to the east, and Azerbaijan to the south.

Cities[edit]

  • 1 Makhachkala — capital and largest city, a fast-growing multi-ethnic metropolis on the shores of the Caspian Sea
  • 2 Buynaksk — in central Dagestan in the foothills of the Greater Caucasus Mountains
  • 3 Derbent — walled city and WV-Unesco-icon-small.svg UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Caspian in southern Dagestan; one of the most impressive historical sites in Russia
  • 4 Izberbash — a popular beach resort
  • 5 Kaspiysk — known for its naval base that is home to hovercraft and ekranoplans, and Caspian Sea Monster
  • 6 Khasavyurt — a relatively large city (for the region) near the border with Chechnya
  • 7 Kizlyar — famous for its grape vodka, cognac, and traditional blacksmithing guild

Towns and villages[edit]

A rather striking goat near Izberbash
  • 8 Akhty — a majestically set mountain aul with more tourist facilities than any other
  • 9 Gimri — a small mountain village in the eastern (and therefore easiest to get to) section of Dagestan's mountainous region, with more history on view than in most villages.
The landscape around Gunib
  • 10 Gunib — mountain town with a historic fortress and lake
  • 11 Kubachi — famous for its Kubachi ware style Persian pottery
  • 12 Tindi — a small picturesque aul with a historic minaret in the mountains of southwestern Dagestan, surrounded by 4,000 m tall peaks and glaciers

Other destinations[edit]

The mountain aul of Chokh
  • 1 Kizlyar Bay Dagestan Nature Reserve on Wikipedia — a marshy bay of the Caspian Sea, a bird watcher's paradise, part of the Dagestansky Nature Reserve
The Sulak Canyon
  • 2 Sulak Canyon – Spectacular canyon, the deepest in Europe and among the deepest in the world, and suitable for rafting. It is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Caucasus, and the top natural attraction in Dagestan. The canyon is 53 km long, and its depth reaches 1920 m (in comparison, that is 120 m deeper than the Grand Canyon and 620 m deeper than the Tara River Canyon. In depth it is only second to the Cotahuasi and Colca canyons in Peru. The 3 Chirkey Dam Chirkey Dam on Wikipedia with a height of 232.5 m is the tallest arch dam in the Russian Federation, holding back a 42 km² lake upstream from the canyon.
  • 4 Karadakhskaya Tesnina — deep gorge with steep cliffs and half a dozen waterfalls along the way, the gorge itself is about 5 km long but continues with a trekking path all the way to Gunib.

Understand[edit]

Dagestan shares with its Caucasian neighbours the towering mountains of the Greater Caucasus, rushing Caucasian rivers, and spectacularly situated stone auls, mountaintop villages. But in an already diverse region, Dagestan is a wonderland of ethnic and cultural diversity. About 35 separate ethnolinguistic groups live in this Slovakia-sized republic and the region contains an amazing 12 language families. For all this cultural diversity, Dagestanis are fairly united in their Islamic religion — virtually all non-Russian ethnic groups are Muslim. This is probably true since almost 32,000 people have left in a mass exit from Dagestan since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Many of those people were the Mountain Jews, Juhuro, who spoke Persian or one of its dialects.

History[edit]

Little is known about current day Dagestan before the 6th century, when the Sassanian Empire conquered the region after 100 years of war, and it came under Persian influence. To protect the new additions from nomadic raids, the Persian Shah started ambitious construction projects to set up fortifications around Derbent. These closed off the narrow passage between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasian mountains. The name Derbent is derived from Persian Darband which means gateway, a reference to the historic role of the settlement. Many ethnic Persians relocated to Derbent and its surroundings, which contributed to its multicultural identity early on.

Dagestan passed from Persian to Arab rule after the Muslim conquest of Persia, a period of 150 years of continuous wars and turmoil between Arabs and Persians starting in 643. Derbent and the neighbouring territories were occupied by Arab armies, and changed hands 5 times over the course of a century. Derbent was further fortified, and the iconic seven iron gates were added in 730.

In the 16th century the Persians reconsolidated their rule over Dagestan which lasted intermittently until the 19th century. During Persian rule, mountainous communities gained a considerable degree of autonomy. Many were organised around auls, fortified mountain villages typically built out of stone, some with medieval towers for additional defensive capabilities. Auls can be found everywhere in the Dagestani Caucasus, often at relatively high altitude, hidden at the end of canyons, usually on the faces of ridges and cliffs. They were often constructed on south flanks to take advantage of the sun in winter, and be sheltered from northern winds. When Russia fought to conquer the Caucasus in the 19th century, auls proved to be effective defences. Although many smaller auls were abandoned and their ruins have become attractions of their own (such as Kakhib's ruins), larger settlements have grown around others and evolved in towns such as Gunib and Gimri.

Tensions between Persia and Imperial Russia rose throughout the late 18th century, with attempts to capture territory from either side. The Russians managed to capture Derbent in 1796 after an exhausting military campaign known as the Persian Expedition of 1796, but were driven back again by the Persians. The power balance changed after the Russo-Persian War between 1804 and 1813, and military control switched from Persia to Imperial Russia. Following Russia's victory in 1813, the Persians were forced to give up southern Dagestan and its principal city, Derbent, alongside other territories in the Caucasus. The Persians were not able to challenge the Russian military power, and in 1828 the Treaty of Turkmenchay consolidated Russian control over Dagestan. The Dagestani peoples did not welcome the change of government, and the Russian government became increasingly unpopular because of high taxation, forced expropriation of estates, and the construction of Russian fortresses (such as Makhachkala) to entrench the Russian forces. Coordinated uprisings started soon after the Treaty of Turkmenchay was signed, and culminated in the Caucasian War which raged until 1864. In the Caucasian War, highlanders united under the command of Muslim religious leaders such as Imam Shamil (1834 - 1859) and challenged the Russian occupation. Dagestan and Chechnya also profited from the distractions offered by the Russo-Turkish War (1877 - 1878) to fight back against the Russians.

Continued discontent with Russian rule and fuelled by ideological and religious differences, Dagestan declared independence from Russia in 1917 and formed an independent state together with Ingushetia and Chechnya. The United Mountain Dwellers of the North Caucasus was recognised by the major world powers, and its capital installed at Buynaksk. The republic was short-lived however, and after a short occupation by the Ottomans, the Bolsheviks achieved victory over the territory and declared the Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1921. It was integrated into the Soviet Union as a full member republic. The Soviet era marked a period of political stability and peace in the North Caucasus, and industrialisation brought prosperity to the Dagestani people. The Soviets undertook large scale infrastructure work, many of which survive today: hydroelectric dams and power plants, wind turbines, irrigation canals, sea ports, etc. Kaspiysk became an important naval base for the Soviet Navy, and Derbent a popular holiday resort.

When the Soviet Union peacefully dissolved in the early 1990s, the North Caucasus socialist republics chose to join Russia as the Soviet Union's formal successor state, and form the Russian Federation as an autonomous republic rather than declare sovereignty. The collapse of Soviet society and structures plunged Dagestan into poverty. Income disparity rose sharply while life expectancy and quality of life plummeted. The miserable economic situation proved fertile conditions for extremism, and throughout the 1990s religious and ideological differences turned into violence and civil war in Dagestan. This culminated in the 1999 invasion of Dagestan by extremist Islamic militias from neighbouring Chechnya. The Russian federal security services fought back against the extremists with varying degree of success, and the civil war continued until 2014 when extremist fighters left Chechnya and Dagestan to join forces with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Peace has since returned to Dagestan.

Today, Dagestan enjoys a stable government and has so far managed to prevent the conflict from flaring up again with help of federal security forces. Agriculture and crafts, and the petrochemical industry remain important to the economy, but tourism has also contributed substantially to economic growth in the past 5 years.

Climate[edit]

Travelers must be prepared when exploring the Dagestani mountains in winter!

The climate of Dagestan is highly variable with terrain and elevation. During the summer months it tends to be hot and dry along the Caspian coast and cooler in the mountains. In winter, temperatures are mild around the Caspian Sea but very harsh in the mountains with sub zero temperatures, snow, and ice. Some of the largest glaciers in the Caucasus can be found in southern Dagestan. The average temperature in winter is around zero, and reaches a comfortable 26°C in July.

Get in[edit]

Lake Kezenoy

Makhachkala will almost certainly be your first destination, whether by plane from Moscow, or by train via Rostov-on-Don through Mineralnye Vody.

By plane[edit]

The only international airport in Dagestan is BSicon FLUG.svg 1 Uytash Airport Uytash Airport on Wikipedia (MCX IATA), some 20 km south-east of the capital Makhachkala. It has scheduled flights to/from Moscow (Sheremetyevo, Vnukovo and Domodedovo), Krasnodar, Novy Urengoy, Rostov-on-Don, Saint-Petersburg, Surgut, Aktau, Mineralnye Vody, and Kazan. There are also seasonal tourist charter flights to/from Antalya, Dubai, and both Jeddah and Medina during the Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia).

To get from the airport to either of the nearby cities, Makhachkala and Kaspiysk, a taxi is the best option. Beware of the eager taxi drivers awaiting tourists at the Arrivals terminal: they tend to overcharge for the journey. Using the Yandex taxi app, a one-way trip from the airport to the Makhachakala city centre is about 500 руб. Without the Yandex app, you may be charged 800-1000 руб for the same journey.

There is also an airfield, link={ 2 Kakhachakala-1 Aerodrome just north of Makhachkala, but it doesn't serve scheduled international flights.

Get around[edit]

Although the country's territory is substantial, about the size of Slovakia, almost all tourist attractions in Dagestan are within the central Makhachkala - Khasavyurt - Tindi - Derbent tetragon. The areas closer to the Georgian/Azerbaijan border, or north of Khasavyurt are of comparably little interest to the traveler — the only notable exception perhaps being Kizlyar for those interested in the alcoholic beverages produced there, and the Akhty fortress.

Gimri and Gunib are sizable towns that offer accommodation and amenities of use to travelers, from where the surroundings can be explored. Nearly all tourist attractions in central Dagestan can be reached from either town in a day trip, assuming own transportation (for some points of interest this may require off-road vehicles).

Railway infrastructure is only present along the coast line and connects Makhachkala with the coastal cities and beach resorts. There are regular services between Makhachkala and Derbent at 700 руб for a ticket (3 trains daily), and also between Makhachkala and Khasavyurt at 800 руб (1 train daily).

Marshrutkas are the most widespread public transportation between towns and cities in Dagestan, and the only available public transport option in the mountainous inland. Marshrutkas are typically minibuses operated by private drivers, and there is no standardised vehicle (although GAZelles seem to be particularly popular in the capital). Although the routes are signposted, and marshrutkas share designated bus stops, the services have irregular time tables. Particularly on less-frequented routes, marshrutkas tend to depart when they have reached a certain level of occupancy, a decision made at the discretion of the driver. Many marshrutkas offer passenger seats next to the driver, so if you speak Russian, it's a fantastic opportunity to strike a conversation and get a free guided sightseeing tour!

Coach services operate between the major cities and link bus stations together. These are usually (but not always) close to city centres and therefore tourist attractions. Coach services are more expensive than marshrutkas but point-to-point links between cities, they don't stop along the way and are therefore significantly faster.

A road in the Dagestani Caucasus mountains

Private vehicles are by far the fastest way to get around, and rental services are available in major cities. The condition of the road network is variable, and venturing off the main roads into the mountains requires an off-road vehicle. It is highly recommended to insure the rental vehicle for accidental damage, because traffic accidents occur frequently in Dagestan (and those who don't know the local driving style are particularly at risk). Insurance also covers liability for cosmetic damage resulting from ricochetting stones.

Talk[edit]

Within the seven language families of the Dagestanian language grouping (unrelated except by geography) alone there are about 30 languages, many of them considered among the most difficult in the world to master. Fortunately, everyone, regardless of nationality, understands the lingua franca, Russian. The indigenous Avarski language, spoken by the Avar, is the second lingua franca of the region. Azeri is also widely used in the southeast Caspian region around Derbent; those who speak Turkish may be able to make themselves understood in this area. However, English is spoken by almost nobody, even in Makhachkala. Getting around is nearly impossible without at least understanding some basic Russian.

Because English is rarely heard anywhere in Dagestan, the language immediately attracts attention on the street. In cities such as Makhachkala and Derbent this will be met with curiosity from locals who only rarely encounter tourists, however in the mountain wilderness near the border with Chechnya this attention could be unwanted. See the Stay safe section for more details.

The Avar Theater in Makhachkala

The five indigenous literary languages (and therefore the most rewarding to study) are the aforementioned Avarski, as well as Lak, Dargwa, Lezgian, and Tabasaran. Avar is the most widespread, and there is an Avar Theater in Makhachkala devoted to performances of works in the language.

See[edit]

Fortress gate in the Old City of Derbent

Derbent has Dagestan's main attraction in its ancient walled city, a WV-Unesco-icon-small.svg UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the single most important historical attraction in all of the Caucasus.

The mountains of southern and southwestern Dagestan, the high peaks of the Greater Caucasus, should be a principal attraction. Mountains topped with auls, small villages filled with stone houses and home to famed chivalric mountain tribes are as fascinating culturally as they are beautiful.

If you'd like to catch a glimpse of Dagestani culture and beauty, check online for a copy of the late Sergei Bodrov's haunting film, Prisoner of the Mountains (Кавказский пленник), which was shot in a Dagestani mountain aul, hiring the villagers as extras.

Culture and history[edit]

  • 1 Khunzakhskaya Krepost (Хунзахская крепость). Ancient fortress near Khunzakh.
  • 2 Akhoulgo Historical Complex (Мемориальный комплекс общей памяти и общей судьбы "Ахульго"), улица Имама Газимагомеда 1/1, +7 8 988 645 1608. M-F 08:00-17:00. Brand new reconstruction of a historical watchtower featuring a museum and observation platform with a magnificent view over the surrounding hills. Opened in 2017, it should be on everyone's itinerary.
  • 3 Datuna Church (Датунский храм Хв.). Georgian Orthodox church built in the 9th century, it was hidden in the mountains 300 m upstream of a narrow gorge to keep it hidden from the invading Mongol army in the 12th century. It is exceptionally well preserved and one of the oldest surviving religious buildings in Dagestan. There is no road to it, so hiking shoes are a must! Free.
  • 4 Gamzat Tsadasa Memorial Literature Museum (Музей имени Гамзата Цадаса), Tsada 7. Literature museum dedicated to Gamzat Tsadasa, one of the great poets of the Avar language.
  • 5 Towers of Goor. 24/7. Historic towers built into the mountain flank, offering fantastic views. A trek of intermediate difficulty. Requires an off-road vehicle to get there, but otherwise highly recommended. Kakhib is not far away, so can be combined for a day trip. The nearest city, Gunib, is ca. 2.5 hours away. Free.
The ruins of old Kakhib
  • 6 Kakhib. Ruins of a 18th century aul, some 2.5 hours from Gunib, and best explored with a guide. Kakhib's towers are built into the sides of steep cliffs, and the perfect destination for a hiking day. The towers of Goor are also close by. Free.
  • 7 Centre of Traditional National Culture, Shkolnaya St., 2A, Madzhalis 368590, +7 963 799-66-57. Interactive museum with demonstrations and exhibitions on embroidery and traditional Kaytag arts. The collection includes household items, arts, crafts, music instruments, traditional clothes, photographs, books, and so on. At the end of the guided tour it's possible to dress up in traditional clothing for a photo shoot.
  • 8 Khunzakh Museum of History and Local Lore (Хунзахский историко-краеведческий музей), Хунзахская улица, 22, Khunzakh 368260, +7 988 697 6716. Tu-Sa 09:00-17:00. One of the largest museums in Dagestan since 1975. It features exhibits reflecting the nature, history and life of the region, military and labour traditions of the highlanders, and the role of the Khunzakh people in the Caucasian, Civil and Second World War. The museum also has a significant collection of ceramics, silver and wood products, rare weapons, manuscripts, household items and tools of the mountaineers. It is housed in a 19th century building that is an architectural monument in itself. adults 50 руб, children 30 руб.

Nature[edit]

The Sarykum Sand Dune
  • 9 Irganayskoye Reservoir — mountain lake with turquoise waters, a serene and peaceful atmosphere, not yet overrun by tourists
  • 10 Sarykum Sand Dune Sarykum on Wikipedia — One of the largest sand dunes in Eurasia, part of the Sarykumskye Barchany dune area and the Dagestansky Nature Reserve. The dune reaches a height of 262 m, with the sand being an erosion product from nearby sandstone mountains and formed into a dune by the exceptional wind conditions.
  • 11 Tobot Waterfall — majestic waterfall surrounded by pristine nature. Near Khunzakh.
  • 12 Samur Federal Reserve — National park at the border with Azerbaijan, the park spans the entire delta of the Samur river with a unique fauna and flora. It has the only subtropical liana forest in the Russian Federation.
  • 13 Aeolian City — On the southern slope of the Karasyrt ridge, wind and water erosion shaped the rocks into spectacular geological shapes, such as towers, pillars, arches, mushrooms, etc. A popular landmark and excursion for geologists.
The Kuzhnik Natural Bridge
  • 14 Kuzhnik Natural Bridge — Spectacular rock arch over the Reka Khanagchay river canyon.
  • 15 Salta River canyon and waterfall — Waterfall in a deep canyon, perfect for canyoning tours.

Industrial heritage[edit]

  • 16 Chirkey Hydroelectric Power Plant (Чиркейская ГЭС). The largest hydroelectric power plant in the North Caucasus, open to organised excursions. Chirkey Dam (Q117578) on Wikidata Chirkey Dam on Wikipedia
  • 17 Dubki Wind Farm. A test station for wind turbines where the first high power wind turbine prototypes designed and wired to the electricity grid of the Soviet Union are preserved. Dubki (Q4169243) on Wikidata Dubki, Republic of Dagestan on Wikipedia

Do[edit]

Adventure sports[edit]

Dagestan has some of the best canyons for rafting in the world, with rivers of all difficulty levels. Since 1988, all rafting competitions in the Soviet Union and later in the Russian Federation have been held in Dagestan. Rafting is nowadays one of the most popular sports in the region. The 15 km long section on the Kora-Koisu River is the most popular among tourists because it offers convenient embarkation and disembarkation (other sections have steeper cliffs). The summer season from May to September is the most popular for rafting on the Kora-Koisu River.

The 1 Chindirchero ski resort, Акушинский район, село Гинта, 8(928)580-87-87, 09:00-17:00 daily. is 100 km inland from the Caspian Sea. Opened in 2017, the modern facilities offer winter sports fun from December until February (snow conditions permitting). It is aimed at families and beginners, with only easy and intermediate difficulty ski runs. The closest town is 13 Ginta Ginta, Republic of Dagestan on Wikipedia where accommodation is available, although Chindirchero is most popular for day trips. There is equipment rental available for alpine skiing, snowboarding, and snowkiting.

Name Tel. Altitude Sym CableCar.png / Sym SkiLift.png / Sym DragLift.png Sym Skil-L.png / Sym Ski-M.png / Sym Ski-S.png
Chindirchero 8(928)580-87-87 1925-2437 m 7 Lifts: 0 / 1 / 6 10 km Pistes: 7 / 3 / 0

Particularly popular at the Caspian Sea is kitesurfing because of the nearly constant wind conditions, suitable waves, and clean sandy beaches.

Mountains near Bashlykent, Mekegi, and Izberbash (Mount Pushkin-Tau) are perfect for paragliding and hang-gliding, enjoying favourable wind conditions and good slopes for take-off.

Buy[edit]

Carpets for sale in Derbent's walled city
  • Famed Dagestani rugs
  • Beluga caviar
  • Traditional swords and daggers of the various ethnic groups
  • Traditional hats and costumes
  • Cognac and other spirits locally produced in Kizlyar

Eat[edit]

Dagestan is renown for its delicious local dishes: hinkal (a tasty pasta/dough-like entity served with garlic sauce and some kind of meat, usually young, boiled lamb), chudu (a quesadilla-like thin dough with special meats, cheeses or vegetables inside), and shashlik (roast shishkabab, usually lamb meat).

Dagestani rivers supply an abundance of fresh water fish, of which trout is the most popular. Most of the trout served in restaurants is farmed rather than caught, and the 1 Miatli Trout Farm offers guided tours. You can even catch your own trout if you bring a fishing rod.

There are countless cafes serving Dagestani and Russian foods. A few, newer Chinese and Japanese restaurants have opened, but the food lacks authenticity and flavour. Western foods are likewise a scarcity, and there are no Western food chains anywhere in Dagestan. And don't be fooled by the many advertisements for 'pizza' — even by typical Russian standards, the pizzas lack the most basic ingredients of pizza: sauce, cheeses, etc. The closest you'll come to finding a real steak will be at the new El Gusto Cafe close the centre of Makhachkala, a delightful restaurant where you can find a few other Western dishes satisfactorily prepared.

Drink[edit]

Kurag mountain aul

Kizlyarka, grape vodka matured in barrels made from Caucasian oaks, or try the locally produced cognac made in Kizlyar.

Sleep[edit]

The best developed lodging facilities (still pretty basic) are in Makhachkala and Derbent, but you should be able to find guesthouse with little difficulty in any town or village. The Dagestani peoples still retain their legendary chivalric hospitality, and will go out of their ways to find you a place to stay.

Learn[edit]

  • 1 Dagestan State University (Дагестанский государственный университет). Founded in 1931, it is the principal institute of higher education in the republic. Dagestan State University (Q4153935) on Wikidata Dagestan State University on Wikipedia
  • 2 Dagestan Scientific Research Institute of Agriculture. Specialised in agriculture, fishery, and forestry. Dagestan Scientific Research Institute of Agriculture Named After F.G. Kysriev (Q52844768) on Wikidata
  • 3 Dagestan Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Дагестанский федеральный исследовательский центр РАН). Since 1945 this has been the Dagestani division of the Soviet, and later Russian Academy of Sciences. Dagestan Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Q4153937) on Wikidata
  • 4 Dagestan State Pedagogical University (Дагестанский государственный педагогический университет). Prestigious university, received the Honorary Diploma of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR in 1967 for excellence in its field. Dagestan State Pedagogical University (Q4153934) on Wikidata
  • 5 Institute of Physics. Theoretical and applied nuclear and physics research. Institute of Physics. HI Amirkhanova (Q30274445) on Wikidata
  • 6 Dagestan State Agricultural Academy (Дагестанский государственный аграрный университет). Agricultural sciences. Dagestan State Agricultural Academy (Q4153922) on Wikidata
  • 7 Dagestan State Institute of National Economy. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and departure from a centralised economy planned in Moscow, the State Institute of National Economy has been in charge of economic growth in the republic since 1991. Dagestan State Institute of National Economy (Q30257624) on Wikidata
  • Dagestan State Technical University — located in Makhachkala
  • Dagestan State Medical Academy, Makhachkala (formerly known as Dagestan State Medical Institute). Caters local and international students, mainly from southeast countries.

Work[edit]

At 11%, unemployment rates are sky high in Dagestan, and the third highest in the entire Federation after the other Northern Caucasian republics Chechnya and Ingushetia. Work opportunities are limited, except in the rapidly developing tourism industry where there has been an acute lack of English speaking staff.

Stay safe[edit]

Travel Warning WARNING: Most of Dagestan is safe for travel, but desolate areas near the Chechen border should be approached with caution as isolated cells of Islamic separatists may still exist out of reach of law enforcement in the vast and inaccessible mountains of the Caucasus.
(Information last updated Aug 2020)

As perhaps the most multi-ethnic and multi-cultural republic in the Russian Federation, Dagestan has had its share of violence in the late 1990s. It became internationally infamous as a hotspot of Islamic terrorism, extremism, corruption, crime, and instability. The security situation was a result of Islamic extremists in neighbouring Chechnya, which sporadically spilled over into Dagestan, Ingushetia, and other republics in the Caucasus in their attempts to establish an Islamic state in the region and implement Sharia law. Unlike in Chechnya, Islamic extremists struggled to establish a foothold in Dagestan, however. When some 3,000 Islamic fighters launched an invasion of Dagestan at the end of the 1990s, instead of being received as 'liberators', they met fierce resistance of the Dagestanis who did not welcome the invading extremists. With the help of Federal forces, the invaders were beaten back to Chechnya within a few weeks, and responded by launching guerilla attacks over the next decade. The conflict grew in complexity, with Chechen insurgents fighting a war of attrition with Dagestani law enforcement and Federal security forces. As time passed, the Salafist extremists became increasingly isolated as they also attacked the moderate Sufi Muslims in Dagestani communities for their difference in interpretation of the religion. Attacks against police stations and Russian officials were regular events throughout Dagestan until 2013.

This changed with the rise of ISIS in the Middle East, and after being unable to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the Caucasus after trying 15 years, many extremist cells relocated to Iraq or Syria to continue the fight. The Dagestani and Federal governments filled the vacuum by ramping up law enforcement efforts and rounding up remaining extremists cells. The strategy has been successful, and terrorist attacks have become a rare event in Dagestan since 2015. If/when they do take place, they are mostly aimed at government officials or police stations in the capital, and never target tourists or ordinary civilians. After the demise of ISIS, the Federal government has systematically repatriated surviving fighters and convicted them of terrorism activities which carry long prison sentences in the Russian Federation. The strategy was successful to keep radical extremists off the streets, and in combination with a change of leadership in Chechnya, has allowed peace to return to Dagestan since 2016-2017.

With that in mind, most of Dagestan is now a safe travel destination for foreign tourists. All of the major cities, including the entire Caspian Sea coastline (Makhachkala, Izberbash, Derbent, Kaspiysk) are very safe for travel. The situation is more nuanced in the mountainous regions where the terrain makes effective law enforcement difficult. The inaccessible mountains are an ideal hiding place for terrorist cells. Nonetheless there have been no reported terrorist attacks for many years. The Dagestani people are already culturally diverse, and are curious about tourists with foreign cultures visiting their country. They also understand the economic opportunities offered by tourism.

Crime levels are very low in the rural villages and towns, but slightly higher in the major cities. Theft and pickpocketing are common in the tourist areas and at beaches, although violent robberies are rare. When traveling inland, expect security checkpoints and random searches, so carry a copy of identity documents at all times. Security forces are generally helpful, but corruption is sky high in Dagestan, so bribes are occasionally expected to 'grease the gears' and speed up your passage. Officers will likely only speak Russian, so a short written summary of your travel itinerary in Russian will be helpful if you don't speak Russian. A local guide may make life considerably easier. It helps to have the phone number of your hotel or host family at hand.

Stay healthy[edit]

The Akhtyn mineral springs, some 5 km south-west of Akhty, are a popular destination for health tourism. The water originates from a depth of 1400-1700 m and is slightly alkaline. Temperatures between 38°C and 68°C, depending on seasonal changes, have made baths and mud baths around the natural hot springs popular since the Soviet era.

Respect[edit]

Ramadan

Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.

  • 13 April – 12 May 2021 (1442 AH)
  • 2 April – 1 May 2022 (1443 AH)
  • 23 March – 20 April 2023 (1444 AH)
  • 11 March – 9 April 2024 (1445 AH)
  • 1 March – 29 March 2025 (1446 AH)

If you're planning to travel to Dagestan during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.

As with the rest of the North Caucasus, Dagestan is a conservative and highly religious place. By applying a bit of common courtesy, you should have no problems getting around.

The civil war is still fresh in memory, and 25 years of political turmoil in the region has left the population divided. The security situation is a sensitive subject and should be avoided. The Dagestani peoples have a strong identity and resisted the 1999 Chechen invasion of their country, and do not want to be associated with any kind of extremism or terrorism. Likewise the extremists that left Dagestan to join ISIS in the Middle East is an extremely sensitive subject, and many Dagestani have been indirectly involved.

The role of the Russian federal security forces is another sensitive subject which has divided opinions. In larger cities, people are generally more supportive of the Russian military because terrorist attacks used to target government and security facilities in large cities. In the mountains, on the other hand, the Russian military has a poor reputation because of their strategies to end the civil war, which included blockades of entire towns and mass arrests. Depending on whom you ask, the Russians can be considered a peacekeeping or foreign occupation force.

Soviet era naval base in the Caspian Sea, 3 km off the Kaspiysk coast, miserably rusting away since the dissolution of the Soviet Union

Finally, the Soviet era is a sensitive subject among the older Dagestani. To the traveller, it may appear as if much of the Soviet legacy consists of ugly concrete housing blocks, but those who lived in Dagestan when it was part of the Soviet Union remember it for its investments in infrastructure, education, healthcare, and perhaps most important of all: safety and security. The effect of the Soviet Union divides young and older generations in Dagestan. Soviet monuments (such as Lenin statues) and rusting infrastructure are a daily reminder of the Soviet days that many older Dagestani remember melancholically.

Connect[edit]

Mobile[edit]

In Dagestan there are four GSM operators (MTS, Beeline, Megafon, Dagestanskaya Sotovaya Svyaz') and two 3G-UMTS operators (Megafon, Beeline), 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 Dagestani and other North-Caucasian peoples, then you should consider buying a local SIM card instead of going on roaming. If you buy a SIM card from a shop you'll need your passport for identification. It only takes five minutes to do the paperwork and it will cost less than US$10.

Embassies and consulates[edit]

There are no embassies or consular services in Dagestan. Most embassies and consulates are 1900 km away in Moscow.

Go next[edit]

Just across the border with Georgia is the breathtakingly gorgeous region of Tusheti, but the border is for all intents and purposes closed, so the route to Georgia becomes extremely long and indirect via plane.

The border with Azerbaijan is open, but it is reputedly a very bad experience. However, Northeastern Azerbaijan is a wonderful place for treks in forest covered mountains.

The most obvious next destination would be Chechnya, with its shared culture, proximity, and similarly beautiful mountainous landscapes.


This region travel guide to Dagestan is an outline and may need more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. If there are Cities and Other destinations listed, they may not all be at usable status or there may not be a valid regional structure and a "Get in" section describing all of the typical ways to get here. Please plunge forward and help it grow!