They say that good things come in small packages. This is definitely the case with Ingushetia! Despite being Russia’s smallest state, Ingushetia is well-worth a visit for its beautiful mountain landscapes, ancient towers, and unique cultural traditions. Keep reading for everything you need to know about visiting this hidden gem of the North Caucasus!
1. How do I get there?
Even though you may have never heard of Ingushetia, that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to get to. Actually, you may find yourself overwhelmed at the number of ways you can travel there!
A. Plane – There are daily direct flights from Moscow to Magas’s IGT airport (Ingushetia), the North Caucasus’ newest airport. Another nearby option is the OGZ airport in Beslan/Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia), just a 20-minute drive from Ingushetia’s capital. The Grozny airport (Chechnya) is just 1 hr. from the Ingushetia border as a third option. Of course flying into another regional airport and traveling through the region works as well, such as MCX in Dagestan or MRV in Stavropol Krai. There are also weekly international flights from Istanbul, Turkey, to Grozny (GRV) and Beslan (OGZ), as well as other occasional destinations (Dubai, etc.).
B. Car/Public Transport/Taxi – Ingushetia is not only accessible via neighboring republics, but also from neighboring countries, i.e. Georgia! If you are traveling by car/bus from Armenia/Georgia through the Caucasus Mountains into Russia, the capital of Ingushetia is less than one hr. from the Georgia border. If you have a border pass and want to visit Ingushetia’s tower complexes in the mountains, this checkpoint is literally just 10-15 minutes from the Georgia/Russia border.
Public transport runs daily to Nazran/Magas, the joint capital cities of Ingushetia, from the following cities in the Caucasus: Vladikavkaz, Nalchik, Pyatigorsk, and Grozny. If you have your own car, then of course you can take major highways to Ingushetia from Chechnya to the east, or from Kabardino-Balkaria/North Ossetia from the North. And of course taking a taxi from pretty much anywhere can get you to Ingushetia.
C. Train – Last, but definitely not least, is the infamous Russian overnight train as a travel option. Trains run twice a week from Moscow to Nazran (with stops along the way, including in Mineralni Vodi at the edge of the region). There are also daily trains to neighboring North Ossetia (Beslan/Vladikavkaz), that one can also take (from Mineralni Vodi or Moscow), and jump in a taxi for the short remainder of the drive to Ingushetia.
2. What are the best places to stay?
Because Ingushetia is such a small republic, lodging options actually are very limited within the republic. Here are our recommendations:
A. Magas – This city stakes claim to being the world’s “newest” capital city, with construction only beginning in 1994 (Nazran was the former capital). Magas is shiny and new and accordingly, has several nice hotels for you to choose from: the 4-star Artis Plaza Hotel, and the 3-star Business Hotel. Both are on the main strip of Magas and within walking distance of all the main sights of this quaint new city.
B. Nazran – While no longer the capital of Ingushetia, Nazran remains the heartbeat of the region, with more than 1/3 of the republic’s population living here (100,000+). You’ll find more economic lodging options here, with the 2-star Assa Hotel and its fantastic views of the looming Caucasus Mountain range, as well as a hostel for those wanting an authentic Ingush hostel experience (no English!), at Beyni Guest House.
C. Border Zone Lodging – We’ll address HOW to visit Ingushetia’s border zone in point #8, so make sure to read to the end. That being said, there are two main options for accommodations in Ingushetia’s border zone, i.e. its mountains:
- Armkhi Resort – This is a 2/3-star resort hotel complex, where most international travelers stay on their visit to Ingushetia’s mountains. Armkhi also has houses for rent for larger parties, as an option. This hotel is just a 25-minute drive from the border zone entry point on the North Ossetia/Vladikavkaz side. Instagram handle @armkhi
- Legends of the Mountains Hostel (Legendi Gor) – If you’re traveling with a local friend or guide, or on more of a budget, the Legendi Gor hostel is a great, local option to overnight in. Right in the middle of the mountains, this hostel is known as the home of Russia’s Basejumping Club, because of its location directly across from the huge Tsei-Loam rock face, from which these extreme athletes jump from every year. This hostel provides simple rooms with two bunks, WiFi, and authentic Ingush food year-round, with a remote location that can’t be beat. This is your best option to see locals spontaneously dancing the Lezginka late at night! Instagram handle @legendi_gor.
3. Top cities to visit?
As already mentioned, Ingushetia is a very small republic, with only around 300,000 residents. There are officially only 5 cities in the entire republic (!), with the rest of the population living in small towns and villages. With most of the highlights of Ingushetia being in the mountains, we recommend you limit your time in the main cities of Magas and Nazran, to 2 days max (often 1 day can suffice), and then head to the mountains to see the towers. If you do have a local friend from one of Ingushetia’s smaller cities or towns/villages, then definitely take the time to visit their family in their home, to experience Ingushetia’s famous hospitality, one of its most charming qualities.
This is the big advantage of the cities, that you’ll interact more with the local population, as the mountains are more sparsely populated.
4. Best local foods to try?
As with every Caucasus nationality, the Ingush have their own national dishes that are staples of everyday life. And as you’ll find all over the Caucasus, the Ingush love carbs! 🙂 Here are three must-try local foods:
A. Chapilgush – This is the Ingush version of flat bread with cottage cheese filling. No meal in Ingushetia is complete without a steaming plate of chapilgush in front of you. 🙂 You’ll love the first couple servings of this buttery dish but by serving #5 or #6 will wonder if you have any room in your stomach left!
B. Hingalsh – While this dish looks similar to chapilgush with its flat bread form, the secret is in the filling with hingalsh…..pumpkin! This is truly unique among Caucasus dishes, and can be a nice, sweet reprieve from the heavier cheese- or potato-filled alternatives.
C. Shashlik – Of course, no matter where you travel in the North Caucasus, you have to try the national food of the region, shashlik, or shish kabobs. Because the Ingush are a conservative Muslim people, you won’t find any pork shashlik here, so go all in on lamb kabobs! Chicken kabobs are also very tasty.
Aside from shashlik, one way that Ingush (and Chechen) meat dishes differ from other Caucasus nationalities, is in how they are boiled in large cauldrons over an open flame, until very tender and pull right off the bone. Definitely give this a try if given the chance!
5. Best Hole-In-The-Wall Restaurants
In keeping with the national cuisine theme, there are several hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are well worth your time to seek out:
– Magas – Cafe Obankhoy – This small restaurant is not frequented by tourists because of not being on the main strip of Magas, but has a very authentic Ingush interior, with great food to boot. Instagram handle @cafe__obankhoy
– Nazran and Karabulak (neighboring city) – Iztmivekov – This local restaurant chain, named after an Ingush poet’s most famous work, also has an authentic cultural feel and serves fantastic local dishes. Instagram handle @iztmivekov
– The Mountains/Border Zone – As previously mentioned, the food at the hostel Legendi Gor always hits the spot. With visitors being at a higher elevation and often tired from a day of hiking and driving on mountain roads, everything tastes a little better at Legendi Gor. Instagram handle @legendi_gor
6. Top 3 “Must-See” sites
Naturally in Ingushetia, the top sites are in some way connected to the famous towers. That being said, each location offers its own unique experience, so make sure to check them all out!
A. The National Memorial and Deportation Museum in Nazran – This memorial is a walk through the history of the Ingush nation, since becoming a part of Russia in the 18th century. It’s fascinating in that most of the history is practically unknown in the Western world.
There is an especially sobering part of the Memorial dedicated to the deportation of the Ingush nation to Siberia/Kazakhstan in 1944 during World War II. The Memorial is very well-kept and educational if accompanied by a local guide. There is an optional museum to visit with any original pictures and artifacts from the deportation period in the 1940s and 1950s.
B. The Tower of Agreement in Magas – The centerpiece of Magas is a gigantic, 100-meter high tower, overlooking the surrounding area. There is an extremely well-done “open-air” national museum on the first floor, that replicates what Ingush family and tower life were like in previous centuries. If you have the fortitude, take the 30-story walk to the top of the tower, on a gradual incline, with paintings of Ingush historical legends on each floor. The top level is worth the hike, as you walk over a clear glass floor around the outside of the tower, and look out across Magas, the surrounding countryside, and the towering mountains not too far away.
C. Egikal, Erzi, and Vovnushki Tower Complexes in the Mountains – As was previously stated (and can’t be said enough!), the towers in the mountains are the gem of Ingushetia. Seeing these towers should definitely be the focus of your trip here. There are over 125 tower “complexes” in the Ingushetia Mountains, each specific to an Ingush family/clan. It really is an injustice to pick and choose between the different towers, but if we had to pick three, we recommend you visit the following:
-Erzi – This is the largest complex of towers in the Djeirakh Valley, not far from the Armkhi Hotel/Resort, and relatively close to the North Ossetia entrance to the border zone. On a clear day, the views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains are stunning, including into Georgia, complete with a great view down into one of the villages in this mountain valley.
-Egikal – Egikal was the former “capital” of the tower region, and as you can see, is a large, sprawling “city” of towers, under the prominent Tsei-Loam Cliffs. You could easily spend over half a day wandering through Egikal, including seeing some of the preserved necropolis’s, i.e. burial crypts, of this former city. On a foggy day, Egikal’s beauty can’t be beat!
-Vovnushki – This is the most famous and perhaps photogenic of Ingushetia’s towers. Vovnushki was a Finalist in Russia’s 2014 contest “7 Natural Wonders of Russia”, and once you visit it, you’ll understand why. Two sets of towers are built onto cliffs, protruding straight up and across a small abyss from each other. The towers are very difficult to climb up to, let alone build into the side of these hills! The surrounding area is beautiful to capture on your camera. You’ll be in awe of the ingenuity and creativity of those who build these towers.
The nice thing about the Ingush mountains is the area is not very large, relatively speaking, and you can cover a lot of ground and see a lot of other tower complexes in one day. However much time you spend here, we can promise you won’t regret it!
7. Top 2 Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations
While Ingushetia’s Mountains are full of surprises (i.e. towers!) around every corner, there are two locations we highly recommend you prioritize if you get the chance:
A. Assa Gorge – This is the breathtaking, narrow mountain gorge that you drive through on your way in/out of the border zone from the rural, Ingushetia side (i.e. not the North Ossetia entrance near the Georgia border). For much of this gorge, you drive along the scenic Assa River, and the further into the mountains you drive, the steeper the cliffs rise along this road. Several points along the drive reveal incredible rock formations. There is also a waterfall just a 20-minute hike off the road (where a bridge crosses the river). No matter what the season, the Assa Gorge is beautiful to drive through; take your time and enjoy the natural beauty of this remote part of Ingushetia.
B. Table Mountain – Although not the highest point in Ingushetia, Table Mountain is probably the most popular hiking destination for locals, and for good reason. After a steep 4-6 hours of hiking, you’ll come upon Myat-Seli, an ancient pagan Ingush temple. On a clear day, Mt. Kazbek in neighboring Georgia is visible just across the border. You may come across a herd of yak on your hike, who have been re-introduced to their native home in the Caucasus. The final goal of this hike is the long, flat plateau of Table Mountain, elevation 10,000 feet (3,100 meters). This was the ancient meeting place of Ingush elders, where they would discuss and make important decisions for their nation.
The views in all directions are well-worth the hike, as you can see Vladikavkaz below, as well as the rest of the Caucasus Range. Table Mountain’s unique flat top is visible from Nazran/Magas, and the starting point for the hike is just a 30-minute drive from the Ossetia entrance to the border zone.
8. What places do you need a special permit for, to see landmarks in the border zone?
For those of you not familiar with the “border zone”, there are two very important points to make in regards to Ingushetia. ONE, the border zone is the part of Russia’s border with neighboring countries (specifically in the mountains) that is heavily guarded and travelers are allowed in but only with special permission. You CANNOT go to the border zone in Ingushetia WITHOUT a special permit, that is acquired in advance from Ingushetia’s Security Services. This permit typically should be applied for at least 60 days in advance, in coordination with a tour agency or guide. We can help you receive one of these permits. DO NOT attempt to travel into the border zone without this special permit, even if a local friend encourages you that they’ll handle it for you; you will have serious problems!
TWO, you MUST visit Ingushetia’s border zone. 🙂 This is where the most beautiful parts of Ingushetia reside, i.e. the towers. There are two entrances to the border zone, from the rural part of SE Ingushetia (about 2 hrs. from Nazran/Magas), and from North Ossetia, close to the border with Georgia (20 minutes from Vladikavkaz).
9. What are specific things about Ingush culture, dress, traditions, religion, etc., that travelers should know?
This final travel tip is a key point to having an enjoyable experience in Ingushetia! The Ingush are a conservative Muslim people, and hence, this is visible and reflected in their society. Both men and women dress very modestly, and very much appreciate it when guests in the region do the same. Here are some clothing tips for when you visit Ingushetia:
-Men – No shorts, i.e. pants only. Please cover any tattoos if possible. No sleeveless shirts.
-Women – No low-cut shirts or short skirts. Try to wear knee-length or long skirts/dresses, preferably loose-fitting, as opposed to pants. A simple head scarf is not required but can also be worn.
The Ingush are very hospitable and often go out of their way to make guests feel welcome. When tourists dress in a way that shows respect for their traditions, this brings great honor to local people. When the opposite happens, it brings dishonor and someone may even say something to you about it.
Public displays of affection between couples is also frowned upon, so do your best to keep this in your hotel room. 🙂
We are confident that your trip to Ingushetia will be unforgettable. It’s truly an off-the-beaten-path destination, and a lot different from what many tourists are used to seeing when visiting foreign countries. If you would like help in visiting Ingushetia, please contact us to start the conversation. Regardless, good luck and happy travels!
Audio version of this blog with a local Ingush guide:
Podcast Interviews about the History, Culture, and Traditions of Ingushetia