The Caucasus or Caucasia is a region located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, spanning Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and a part of Russia. It is one of the world’s most culturally diverse regions, with more than 50 ethnic groups.
The Caucasus is a historically significant region, yet it is unfamiliar to most. For visitors, the Caucasus offers a great variety of experiences that satisfy adventurers, culture seekers, and business opportunists alike. For many, however, the region is “off limits”, barred by a past wrought with danger.
The present-day Caucasus is welcoming, utterly genuine, and greets travelers with a much safer vibe. Eager to attract tourism, each region is focusing on developing its own reputation for hospitality based on their cultural, historical, and economic attributes.
The Caucasus is a beautiful region to travel to, offering its visitors a wide range of options. In this article, I want to share with you the different parts of the Caucasus and what make them worth visiting.
Travel to the Caucasus: Why Visit & Where to Go
Armenia is a country of primarily pro-western feelings (but Russian influence). It is the only country on this list that operates as a completely Democratic Republic.
Yerevan, the pink city, is perhaps the most well-developed city in Armenia, and the country’s capital. Yerevan gets its name from the unique stone color used to erect both old and new city-buildings. The area, like much of the country, projects a feeling of safety for travelers with its bustling activity, which does not cease at night.
Like the rest of the Caucasus, Armenia is characterized by mountains. It does not, however, have a coast like other republics in the region. Instead, water seekers may choose to visit Lake Sevan, which takes up 5% of the country’s area. A popular beach destination for locals, Lake Sevan will welcome travelers, but many may find the abandoned feel of nearby towns to be eerie.
Travel Tip: Armenia lacks tourists’ infrastructure once you leave major cities. Therefore, restaurants may be hard to come by on day trips or at historical sites.
Fun Fact: Mount Ararat represents the quintessential example of Armenian cultural identity, but is now in Turkish territory.
Azerbaijan ascended to noteworthy status after hosting the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest in its capital, Baku. The city, the largest on the Caspian Sea and in the Caucasus region, features ultramodern skyscrapers and a 12th century “inner city” steeped in history.
The world’s first oil well was drilled off Baku’s coast and thus, the city was responsible for more than half of the world’s oil supply by 1901. Today, the region is still known for huge energy resources and consequently a flourishing economy.
Those more interested in a wilderness experience can venture into the rugged mountains blanketing 60% of the country. Ilandagh mountain in Nakhchivan, iconic in its fang-like appearance, and Mount Kapaz near Ganja are ideal for both adventure seekers and history buffs.
Be sure to research your destination ahead of time, though. Some of the more picturesque hikes require a plane ride from the capital of Baku to access.
Lastly, if you’re going to travel to Azerbaijan, you cannot miss the more than 6,000 UNESCO-protected petroglyphs decorating several boulders on the Gobustan reservation. This impressive number of rock engravings were carved over a span of thousands of years. The area also features the remains of inhabited caves, settlements, and burials, all showing evidence of early human life in the region during the wet period that followed the last Ice Age.
Travel Tip: Travel to Azerbaijan in March to catch the Novruz Bayrami (Persian New Year) celebrations.
Fun Fact: Azerbaijan is home to more mud volcanoes than any other country in the world.
3. The Chechen Republic or Chechnya
Of all the states in the Caucasus, the Chechen Republic might be the most misunderstood. It’s often thought of as scary thanks to a cyclical history of conflict with Russia, and the turbulent history of the Chechen people. Things have drastically improved, however, and Chechnya is now building a visitor-friendly destination focused on economic growth and mountain culture that embraces sports and outdoor activities.
Grozny, the capital city, is slowly emerging as a Northern version of UAE’s Dubai. Its modern cityscape was built on centuries of civilization and refined by immense wealth funneled into the area via oil sales and investment from Russia. Despite it’s growing population and development, Grozny is clean and the people are polite, albeit shy at times.
Outside city boundaries, travelers are invited to enjoy the undisturbed nature of the Chechen mountains. Ancient ruins from area tribes and unique food and dance compete with an active outdoor lifestyle and a burgeoning love of mixed martial arts and boxing. Commercialized Chechnya tours barely exist, leaving room for the more authentic, self-guided experiences. I can highly recommend visiting mountain lake Kezenoy-am, the deepest lake in the Caucasus Mountains, and Galanchezh lake.
Travel Tips: Be mindful of Nokhchallah, the Chechen code of social conduct that guides the area’s indigenous inhabitants. Also, Chechnya is a conservative region with a predominantly Muslim population. Dressing and acting conservatively is therefore recommended. And although traveling to Chechnya is generally safe these days, I do recommend checking current travel advisories when you plan to go to this part of the Caucasus.
Fun Fact: Chechens seem to be courteous and somewhat shy. Often referred to as the Spartans of the Caucuses, they prefer the outdoor lifestyle and sports over shopping or nightlife.
Georgia is a former Soviet republic that has embraced pro-western sentiments much like Armenia. Unlike Armenia, though, Georgia is fiercely independent of Russia.
Georgia is the most popular country to visit when traveling to the Caucasus.
Georgia boasts a food and wine experience to rival France. Its capital city, Tbilisi, seamlessly blends 21st-century amenities with medieval, classical and 20th-century architecture. Tourists traveling to this Caucasus country can expect world-class art and history museums, high-energy dance clubs, and a wide range of restaurants.
If you love the outdoors you should explore Tusheti National Park, in one of the most remote parts of Georgia, for a unique mix of mountainous terrain and ancient stone towers.
Religious and historical travelers would do well to note the thousands of churches, monasteries, and mosques erected since the 4th century. In fact, Tbilisi is home to one of the newest Orthodox cathedrals in the world and one of the oldest still standing. They’re located less than 1.5km (1 mile) apart!
Finally, food lovers can revel in a diverse menu of meats, pastries, and vegetable dishes that impress every time. The wine accompanying many of the dishes is often grown in local vineyards that have perfected their craft over a period of 8,000 years.
Travel Tip: Getting to Tusheti National Park is an adventure that requires a 4-wheel drive, since the roads are bad. Snowy and hazardous conditions make Tusheti National Park inaccessible in winter.
Fun Fact: In Georgian culture, meals are traditionally followed by song.
Also Read: 10 Things Not to Miss When Visiting Georgia
Why Travel to the Caucasus?
The Caucasus offers something for everyone. History buffs, foodies, wine enthusiast, and nature lovers all have a home among the diverse cultures and rocky landscapes found here.
The Caucasus region is home to the Caucasus Mountains, including Europe’s highest mountain, Mount Elbrus, at 5,642 meters (18,510 ft). The Caucasus is where Eastern Europe and Western Asia meet. It’s a stunning region and traveling to the Caucasus is quickly becoming popular, for good reasons!
Combined Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan tours are offered to those wanting to travel the Caucasus region with ease, but independent travelers love the Caucasus as well.
Best Time to Visit the Caucasus?
The best time to visit the Caucasus, in general, is spring or fall. But, the Caucasus is a destination you can visit year round, depending on what you are looking for.
In spring the valleys are filled with wildflowers. In the fall rain is rare and the sky is blue most days, with warm temperatures. Plus, from September through October the wine-growing regions in Armenia and Georgia have their harvest season which come with lively celebrations.
In summer it can get quite hot (especially in August), which makes it a good time to head to the hills, to enjoy the coastline or to relax lakeside. Exploring the cities in August might not be the best time however, because of the heat.
Winter is perfect for winter sports lovers or those wanting to experience the lively atmosphere and beautifully lit up towns in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
But, no matter what time of year you decide to travel to the Caucasus, I am sure you will love it!
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