This part of Russia is definitely not included in the most favored places to visit by travelers. Like its neighbor, the Republic of Chechnya, Dagestan has a bad reputation of safety related to their groups of Islamic extremists that were known to spread terrors across Russia. Many countries still advised their citizens to avoid going to Dagestan for any reasons after getting reports of missing persons and violence. But you should know that the region is not banned or completely closed because foreigners and visitors are always welcome. Unlike Chechnya that has been going under a lot of rebuilding and starting to look a lot like Dubai with high class buildings and wide avenues, Dagestan still sticks with the conservative side. It’s a loss not to try to visit this region, but before considering to go, have a look at these 6 things worth knowing before coming to Dagestan.
1. It is quite safe
When entering Makhachkala – the capital of Dagestan, you will meet some armed policemen guarding roadblocks to check on papers and the vehicles’ trunks. Don’t be afraid because this is nothing but a measure to keep the capital safe and at peace. Once you reach the downtown of Makhachkala, you will see that it is a very nice friendly place where people live normally. Also, there is no worry of running into pickpockets, bag snatchers, or conmen. The capital and other developed cities of Dagestan are conducive for tourism.
2. What to wear
Two things to keep in mind when you visit Dagestan are; one – this is a conservative republic, two – the predominant religion is Islam. Taking these things to note, you would want to pack clothes that fit their custom. More than half of the women in Makhachkala wear head scarves and dark skirts not shorter than knee-length. The number may be larger in other cities, especially the more it gets to the suburb. Bright colors, fancy dresses, and casual t-shirts would attract attentions in public and that’s probably the last thing you want while visiting Dagestan.
3. How to communicate
There are twelve languages spoken in Dagestan! Unfortunately English is not one of them. Russia is the lingua franca and if you know a bit of Turkish, it may help too. Learning Russian key phrases in daily conversation can take you places in Dagestan’s big cities. Don’t hesitate to ask around with your limited Russian because people there are friendly and willing to help. You may even get a lunch invitation from merely asking for a direction.
4. What to eat
Because Dagestan is an Islamic republic, they have limitations when it comes to things to consume. You won’t find pork, alcohol, and other non-halal food and drink. Dagestani local food, nonetheless, offers a lot of options and they are delicious! Try their lamb Shashlik, Avar Khinkal – yogurt dough served with boiled lamb meat and garlic sauce, Manty – very similar to dumplings but served with garlic butter, Chebureky – meat pie, fried eggplants, and Chudu. It won’t be difficult to find Dagestani or Russian local food around the town, but if you look for something more modern or Asian, for instance, you might get disappointed. But, hey, what is traveling without eating the local dishes, right?
5. Where to go
Dagestan is a beautiful old republic with breathtaking views. Everyone who visits this region should know what to expect because they won’t find big-city kind of entertainments. Hiking is the best thing to do and you should try to get up and close with the local culture. You can visit:
- the Grand Mosque in Makhachkala
- the Caspian Sea to see the sunset
- the Tsum Rynok traditional market to absorb the real experience of Dagestani local lifestyle
- Derbent, another big city in Dagestan with a UNESCO World Heritage fortress
- Gunib, to hike and see the wonderful view of Dagestan from the top
- Gamsuti, an abandoned village on the mountaintop
- Chokh, a picturesque village between Gamsuti and Gunib
What you have to note as a traveler and a visitor is that when you go to mountains, it is best to have some companions with you. Because, despite the improved safety, some isolated regions are still the safe havens to radical groups. So, stay cautious and safe.
6. Stay safe
In brief, Dagestan has changed a lot. It is no more the dangerous land of war. The capital and other big cities are safe to be visited and they still keep on working to make their republic good again and livable – not only for the locals but also visitors who want to understand their culture, custom, and appreciate the historical buildings and amazing views within the border. However, the travel warning is still stamped on Dagestan. Travelers should take note that there is no embassy or consulate in Dagestan. The closest cities with the officials are Moscow in Russia, Yerevan in Armenia, Baku in Azerbaijan, and Tbilisi in Georgia. Follow the custom, respect the way local do their things, never go to the mountains on your own, and you will be good while visiting Dagestan.
This republic in Russia may not be on most people’s bucket lists. But, Dagestan is definitely worth a visit if you want to taste some adventure in your life. It is a nice place for a getaway, but don’t stray too far. Consult your embassy before everything else and make sure you know what you are about to face. It is always interesting to see what a place that used to be a war land has to offer after the war has long gone and died down. The 6 things worth knowing before coming to Dagestan above hopefully can help to give you hints about what this ancient republic is all about today.