South Ossetia Travel; My Personal Experience on How to Get There
If you’ve found this blog post via Google, then you’re probably another lunatic like me who is trying to visit EVERYWHERE! And by everywhere, I mean every country in the world (197 countries in the world officially), PLUS those kind-of ‘half countries’. Thankfully, I have finished my journey to every country in the world now, but since then I’ve also been chasing those half countries. And my travel to South Ossetia was part of that.
But anyway, you probably just want info on how to travel to South Ossetia, and is it safe to travel to South Ossetia, rather than hear about how I ended up there. So I’ll try to blog about all the details too, and then you can humour me while I share my experiences too!
Table of contents
- South Ossetia Travel; My Personal Experience on How to Get There
- What is South Ossetia? Is South Ossetia Part of Russia? Georgia?
- Where is South Ossetia?
- How to get to South Ossetia? Getting a South Ossetia Visa
- Is it safe to travel to South Ossetia?
- Is South Ossetia a country?
- My personal experience traveling to South Ossetia
- Final thoughts on South Ossetia Travel
I had just finished my 197th and FINAL country, Norway, and it was time for some new adventures. I began embarking on climbing the seven summits, whilst also visiting all the Observer States within the United Nations, and the place that are trying to be recognised as countries, but aren’t. That includes places like nearby Abkhazia, or Somaliland in northern Somalia, and also South Ossetia.
I had taken my mum to Abkhazia recently. And it was super simple. Just enter from Georgia, no probs. But to travel to South Ossetia, whilst similarly placed, wedged between Russia and Georgia, is a considerably more difficult prospect. And a lot more expensive too.
What is South Ossetia? Is South Ossetia Part of Russia? Georgia?
First of all, what is South Ossetia? Well, it’s officially known as the Republic of South Ossetia. It’s not a country, but it is a de facto state.
This is where it gets complicated. Officially, according to the United Nationals, South Ossetia is very much considered part of Georgia. However, within South Ossetia, they see themselves as an independent nation. And they have very close relations with Russia. To the extent that you CAN NOT enter South Ossetia from Georgia (despite officially being the same country!), and you MUST ENTER from Russia.
Tensions still exist between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia. And there was an official war as recently as 2008. This included the alleged ethnic cleansing of Georgians in South Ossetia, between the initial flare-up in 1992 and the most recent war in 2008. With many reports stating up to 200,000 people displaced. So it’s a pretty hot topic in the Caucasus region.
- South Ossetia is not a country
- Russia provides everything for South Ossetia
- South Ossetia is OFFICIALLY part of Georgia (but in practical sense, it may as well not be).
- South Ossetia sees itself as an independent country
- There are almost no ‘Georgians’ in South Ossetia, it’s mostly Russian-blooded people there
- Tellingly, South Ossetia uses the Russian ruble as their currency
Where is South Ossetia?
South Ossetia is wedged between Georgia and Russia, near Azerbaijan and eastern Turkey.
The capital of South Ossetia is Tskhinvali, and the population of the ‘country’ is just 60,000 people.
How to get to South Ossetia? Getting a South Ossetia Visa
Good question! Most people visiting these more obscure travel destinations see both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as a double-target. They both border Russia and Georgia. But really South Ossetia takes a lot more work.
First of all, please note you MUST ENTER SOUTH OSSETIA BY RUSSIA ONLY. There is no way to fly in. You have to overland via Russia.
This means you need a multi-entry Russian visa. Because technically you will leave Russia to South Ossetia (remember, Russia is the only country that recognises as an independent country!), and then you’ll have to return to Russia to continue your life. So you need to get stamped out of Russia, and then enter into South Ossetia (they don’t stamp your passport as that would ban your future entry to Georgia), then when you’re down, back to the border once more and get out of South Ossetia and stamped back into Russia.
So Step 1 to visit South Ossetia? Get a Russian double-entry or multi-entry visa.
Once you have your Russian paperwork sorted, you need to sort out your South Ossetia visa/permit. Officially, you can do this through the correct channels by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Generally you need an invitation these days. So , they’ll most likely forward you on to private fixers: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, who will sort that out for you (but you’ll need to book a tour with them for that of course!).
These guys will organise all your permits and meet you at the border. As part of their price, they’ll include a 2/3/4/5 day tour depending on what you’re after. Prices start at a chunky 600 Euro for 1 person for 3 days.
Sort out your paperwork for South Ossetia using the emails Above.
So now you’ve got all our paperwork sorted, you just need to physically get there! You need to get to Vladikavkaz in Russia. There is an airport there, but actually I flew to Nalchik and took a bus to Vladikavkaz from there.
Once in Vladikavkaz, there are regular taxis/buses doing the 3-hour journey to the capital Tskhinvali. I stayed in the Planeta Lux hotel in Vladikavkaz, it was fine.
If you use the guys I listed above though, they organised a taxi for me from Vladikavkaz to Tskhinvali, with the guy himself meeting me at the border and hopping in the car with me. All good.
Get to Vladikavkaz, Russia. And then onto Tskhinvali from there, either by public transport or through a car that your contact sorts for you.
Is it safe to travel to South Ossetia?
It’s not as safe as Switzerland, that’s true. But equally, it’s not like travel to Libya! Don’t talk about politics, and try to avoid the police and any shakedowns. But the risk of violent crime etc? Almost non-existent.
Is South Ossetia a country?
As I said above, no South Ossetia is not a country. Not officially anyway, they’re only recongised by Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Nauru and Syria. Quite a selection.
South Ossetians DO however have their own passport. But they generally travel also with a Russian (note, not a Georgian) passport.
My personal experience traveling to South Ossetia
I was with my best buddy, Anthony from ManVsClock, and I had been trying and failing to get my permit to visit South Ossetia through the official channels. I didn’t want to spend the 1200 euro on the both of us entering the ‘country’ for 3 days. But after a month of failure, I bit the bullet and used the guys from tibilov@list. It took about 6 weeks for our permission to be granted.
We had been climbing Mount Elbrus (Europe’s Highest mountain) in Russia the week before, so we were in the region and we had already got our multi-entry visa for Russia a month previously in London. That was an extortionate $300 or so!
3 DAY TOUR
Our tour was just 3 days, and it included transfers from Vladikavkaz in Russia to Tskhinvali and back again to Vladikavkaz. It also included all our transport in South Ossetia, including a day tour to the beautiful mountains and a city tour of the capital. In addition, all visas/permits were included as were
the hotels, food, and a guide throughout.
Via email, we organised to meet at a spot in Vladikavkaz and after a bit of confusion, Anthony and I hopped in their 50 year old car and began the journey south to the border. If you’ve never been in the Causcusus region, it’s BEAUTIFUL. Lush green mountains, waterfalls, rolling hills, it’s gorgeous. So the drive is nice, and they stopped at a few viewpoints for us.
Soon we reached the border, and it’s quite intense there. It probably took about 2 hours of questions, paperwork, and delays there. Thankfully our guy took care of most of it. And suddenly the $1200 we spent felt like money well invested! We were, without doubt, the only non-Russians there that day.
After clearing the border, we drove the last 90 minutes to Tskhinvali where we checked into our hotel. Kind of average, old Soviet-style hotel. Air conditioning and hot water. No problems.
We were taken out for food in a snazzy town centre restaurant, and our guide settled the bill. We had a tour of the city and back for dinner, then we were left to our own devices. Which meant the pub for us!
It felt very safe, and although lots of people were staring at the 2 random foreigners, people were friendly. It’s no problem to go exploring. To stop and eat and drink wherever you want. We had a great evening.
The next day was a full day in the mountains. Old churches, villages, viewpoints, hikes and mountains. South Ossetia really is quite breathtaking. There were stages at which I thought the old piece-of-crap car we were in wouldn’t make it through the mountain passes, but alas, it did! That evening, back to the local pub scene for us.
The next day, we were left to our own devices. So we simply spent time exploring Tskhinvali further. I love being in places like this. And I was delighted to not have to be stuck to our guide. It was nice to be free. Around mid-afternoon, our transfer left for the border, where the local team managed our border crossing, and that night we were back in Vladikavkaz. We spent one more night there, and flew to Moscow the next day.
One thing to note though, Vegetarian or Vegan options in South Ossetia are AWFUL! Bring some snacks! These guys do not understand people who don’t eat meat.
Final thoughts on South Ossetia Travel
Tricky to get to. Not cheap. But a privilege to be able to travel to South Ossetia. It’s one of those places that you know you’re fortunate to have access to. It was worth the effort, and the cost, to be able to experience a little pocket of the world that few people even know exists. I may well run a tour here one day. It’s pretty epic.
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