Kabardino-Balkaria is the geographical center of the Caucasus, and one of the most touristic regions.
The republic is roughly divided into two parts – the highland part, home to the Turkic-speaking Balkars, and the lowlands, home to Kabardians - the subethnic group of Circassians. In the 19th century part of the lowlands was occupied by the Cossacks.
Tourists go to Kabardino-Balkaria for the sake of the mountains.
The highest peak of the Caucasus and the whole Europe Mount Elbrus (5642 metres) is located here, attracting downhill skiers in the winter and mountaineers in the summer. The Elbrus region has various other gems: glaciers, waterfalls, lakes, mineral water springs, and scenic peaks.

The local landscape makes it possible to do easy hikes, and the tourist infrastructure has been up and running since the Soviet times: hotels, restaurants, chairlifts, off-road transport for backcountry insertion into the nearby ravines, and gear rental.
The Bezengi Wall is the second important landmark in Kabardino-Balkaria.
In the times of the USSR a top-class mountaineering training camp was located here. It is still remarkable: a city of mountaineers at the foot of a two-kilometer wall of stone and ice, with a bathhouse, cafes, tourist gear shops, and a kindergarten to keep an eye on children while their parents are off to the summits. The wall is 12 km long and has ten peaks, five of which are over 5000 m high. The Bezengi Glacier, one of the largest in the Caucasus, is extending from the wall almost to the camp.
The republic has a few other riveting gorges. Tourism wasn’t developing here until recently, but that’s more of an advantage, as the locals haven’t yet started seeing travelers as a source of income instead of guests to be honored.
The Chegem Gorge is noteworthy for its waterfalls of the same name, which is a typical post-Soviet attraction with a market of woolen produce, herbal teas, and pies. From the waterfalls you can go up in the mountains to Eltyubyu village with its paradrome, where you can paraglide among fabulous mountain landscapes. An astounding complex of medieval Balkarian family tombs can be found close to Eltyubyu. Medieval tombs are one of the most noteworthy elements of architecture in the Caucasus, and moving from west to east: Balkaria – Ossetia – Ingushetia – Chechnya you can see how the architecture of tombs is gradually transforming. Eltyubyu has already got guesthouses and cafes, so you can stay overnight and take your time to soak up the vibe of the place.

If you’re up for hardcore mountain trekking, you should go to Bashil tourist base where the road ends. That’s where you can start climbing the Kestanty Plateau with its renowned ‘stone mushrooms’ and magnificent views of the Bezengi Wall. The tourist base is rustic at its worst, with dingy post-Soviet interiors and plated beds, but that’s the only option available.

On the west of Kabardino-Balkaria in the Cherek Balkarsky river valley the ruins of Upper Balkaria, one of the largest medieval settlements of the region, are scattered. A few itineraries for extreme 4x4jeepingstart from there. You can go even higher in the mountains, to Ushtulu glade. A hotel has been opened there recently, and a hiking itinerary of 2-3 days to the Iraf gorge in North Ossetia starts there.
Historically Kabarda had been the most progressive region in the area until it was conquered by Russia. In the 19th century it already reached the stage of advanced feudalism, whereas other Adygs were still practicing tribalism. Alongside Western European countries the Kabarda society was on the threshold of the bourgeois revolution:
“The knightly Kabarda sets trends and tastes for all the belligerent Adyg communities from Sunzha to the Black Sea…”

“<...> the art of Kabardians to ride a horse, carry weapons, their bearing, their manners were so extraordinary and astonishing that the Ingush, Ossetians, and Chechens sent their children to Kabarda to learn. The saying “He dresses and rides a horse like a Kabardian” sounded like the utmost praise to them<...>”

(I.D. Popko “Terek Cossacks from ancient times”).
The development, however, was inhibited by the war with the Russian Empire that couldn’t have been won. Fortunately, the accomplishments of the medieval Kabardian culture have been largely preserved: a distinct breed of horses, mat-weaving from cattail, embroidery in gold, and dexterity in using the sabre and the dagger.
On our tours we arrange meetings with the bearers of these traditions to witness their mastery, delve into the people’s history, traditional culture, and its prospects in the context of centralized power in present-day Russia and globalization.
useful information
The capital of Kabardino-Balkaria Nalchik receives a few daily flights from Moscow and Saint Petersburg. If you’re starting from other Russian cities, you can fly to MineralnyeVody and get to Nalchik on a shuttle bus in a couple of hours.

Every two days there is a train from Moscow. Buses run only from the nearby regions. So flying is the most convenient way of getting to Kabardino-Balkaria.
The Kabardino-Balkaria Republic is part of Russia, so a Russian visa would be enough. If you want to go trekking in the mountains in the territories adjoining the state border, you will need to get a permit. If you have bought our tour, getting a permit is our concern.
Caucasus Explorer magazine

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