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Special permits in different Caucasian Areas

Since we started to explore the Caucasus, we’ve visited almost every corner of each country. Of course, we were also interested in the most remote and less popular places, where we sometimes came face to face with restrictions. Be it a region affected by war or just an area with closed borders, you usually have to have special permits from local authorities to get in. It can be difficult to enter such areas, even if you have all of the “ingredients” and right connections. In this article we have summarised our experience of obtaining different permits.

By default, it’s difficult to get these permits as an independent traveller, especially if you are a foreigner. If you have the intention to visit these kind of areas, always keep in mind that the whole Caucasus is a very sensitive area, especially the border zones. So be patient with the rules, respect laws, and plan your trip in advance with a specialist in that area. All of the permits described below can be organized by Caucasus Explorer for special trips or as part of our tours.

Border zones of the North Caucasus

Huge territories surrounding the Russian border (we have a really long border!) are considered “border zones”. Foreigners can visit these areas only if they have speсial permits. Territories of the North Caucasus bordering with Abkhazia, Georgia, South Ossetia and Azerbaijan are not exceptions. That is why, if you are planning to visit the most spectacular mountains and landmarks of the North Caucasus which are close to the border, you must have a permit. If you take part in our tours, we will apply for you and do all of the work.

You cannot get one permit for all North Caucasus border zones. If you are planning to visit border zones in several areas of the Russian Federation – Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Krasnodarskiy Krai – you will have to get permits for each region of the Federation separately.

How do you get a border zone permit? You have to fill in this form and send it to the regional office of the Border Guard Service (everything must be in Russian!). You must also attach scans of your passport and your Russian visa to the email. The list of contacts of the offices can be found here.

Good news – the application and permit are free of charge. Bad news – it takes up to 60 days to get a border zone permit.

Kodori valley permit in Abkhazia

Kodori valley, Abkhazia

Kodori valley. Photo: Anastasia Ronzhina.

The Kodori Valley is a river valley in Abkhazia. The valley’s upper part is sparsely populated by Svans, and the only corner of post-1993 Abkhazia that is directly controlled by the central Georgian government. On August 12, 2008 Abkhazian forces gained control of the Upper Kodori Valley and established a zone of special control with permit entrance. For now it is the most remote, wild and spectacular area of Abkhazia.

It is impossible to organize a permit for entering this region by yourself without a local guide. The whole process involves 2 things: approval from the State Security Service (SGB), as well as a resident who lives/works in Kodori valley and can guide you through the entire visit. There are a few travel agents in Abkhazia whom we have partnered with, and who can organize a tour to Kodori valley for you.

Accreditation for the frontline of Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh frontline

Nagorno-Karabakh frontline. Photo: © Petr Kazakov/Ridus.ru

If you are a journalist or special correspondent, it is possible to visit the frontline of Nagorno-Karabakh. For accreditation at the Information Department of the Ministry, foreign journalists on a short stay in Nagorno Karabakh should submit the following documents:

  1. A letter signed and sealed by the head of the media organization, or editor-in-chief, certifying the journalist’s credentials; the purpose of the visit, the name/s of the journalist/s, the period of the stay in Nagorno Karabakh, and the list of meetings (if organization of meetings in different governmental circles is required, the letter should be sent 10 days before the supposed visit, to the following email: [email protected]) should be mentioned in the letter.
  2. A passport-size photo (digital one is also applicable)
  3.  Copy of ID-card / passport
  4.  Application form filled in

The accreditation of journalist entry visas is completed at the NKR MFA Information Department.
For more information visit the NK Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

Border zone in South Ossetia

We don’t have experience in getting this permit for the last few years. The last time we got it was in 2011 and it took 3 working days. Now, it will probably take longer. We recommend to apply at the same time that you apply for your entry permit to South Ossetia. This permit will be free of charge and it will allow you to visit the Kel Voulcanic Plateau, the valley of Ksan River, Ikorta church in the Tskhinval district, and Koz Lake near the town of Kvaisa.