POST-SOVIET WOE AND CULTURAL KALEIDOSCOPES
AZERBAIJAN – DAGESTAN – Kalmykia – Astrakhan – Kazakhstan
This tour is offered on a regular monthly basis from March through May and again from September through November. Let us know your desired departure month by clicking on the learn-more button below: we will match your preferences with the next relevant scheduled group departure. If you are still unsure about your desired departure date, then simply tell us a period or a season of the year and we will provide you a range of scheduled group departures: just pick up yours!
Our scheduled group departures don't suit your plans? If you are travelling with more than 4 friends, you can set your own departure date: we will arrange a bespoke tour just for you for the same price per person advertised below. If you are travelling solo or with less than four companions, we will then organise a slightly more expensive tailored tour according to your time schedule and specific geographical preferences.
DAY 1/2/3 - Azerbaijan: Absheron
Our guide will meet you at Baku International Airport and drive you to our hotel of choice (exact hotel name and address will be communicated well in advance per email).
Introductory briefing about the region, the route and the set of rules to observe while travelling in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
In the company of a local expert, we will enjoy a comprehensive Soviet Architecture tour of the city, which will include both early examples of Soviet constructivism and neoclassicism and later modernist and internationalist buildings, as well as a selected compendium of Soviet memorials and pre-Soviet architectural wonders.
We'll also go truly off the beaten path by visiting the hinterland norther districts, the so-called mikrorayons, a real-life compendium of Soviet urbanist theories and practices.
We suggest to order your own copy of the Architectural Guide Baku edited by DOM Publishers, as a perfect introduction to the tuff-and-concrete shapes of the city.
We'll then devote two days to the surreal badlands and the odd sights of the Absheron Peninsula: burning rocks, fire temples, secret Islands, melancholic Soviet resorts, semi-abandoned dystopian towns, rickety oil drills, post-apocalyptic badlands, fishing villages and ancient mosques.
Dinners and overnights in Baku.
DAY 4 - Azerbaijan: Xinaliq
In the morning we'll leave Baku and head north along the Caspian coast.
Besides the routine stops food and photography, we'll break the drive at the holy mountain of Besh Barmag, a five-peaked rock cliff rising abruptly from the desert steppes of northeastern Azerbaijan, and in the bustling and multi-ethnic frontier town of Quba.
Just outside Quba we’ll also visit the curious community of Krasnaya Sloboda, the last place in the country inhabited by a Jewish majority and - by extension - the very last Shtetlekh (pre-Holocaust Jewish-majority urban localities) in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
After a kosher lunch in Krasnaya Sloboda we'll head to the mountains of Greater Caucasus.
A scenic drive across green pastures and whitewater streams will eventually lead us to Xinaliq, a remote mountain hamlet surrounded by breathtaking sceneries.
The village of Xinaliq is inhabited by an historically isolated population said to be one of the oldest distinct ethnicities in the Caucasus; the mountain area itself, comprising even more remote villages, is, instead, mainly inhabited by the Lezgins, a Sunni muslim ethnic group with its roots in the neighbouring republic of Dagestan.
Dinner and overnight in Xinaliq.
DAY 5 - Dagestan: Derbent
Today we’ll descend from the Azerbaijani mountains back to the Caspian coast and cross the border bridge over the Samur River on to Dagestan, arguably the most ethnically diverse republic in the whole former Soviet Union.
We’ll then head to Derbent, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and home to Dagestan’s only UNESCO world heritage site.
We’ll devote the entire day to Derbent and its many sights (Old Citadel, Naryn Kala Fortress, Friday Mosque, Armenian Church, Lenin Statue, Park of Soviet Military Glory, Central Bazaar) and then hit the city beach for a shashlyk dinner with romantic views on the Caspian Sea.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Derbent.
DAY 6 - Dagestan: Makhachkala
We’ll take the coastal road to Makhachkala and visit the archetypical Soviet port town of Kaspiysk along the way.
Here we’ll be able to admire two truly mesmerising Soviet-era sights: the abandoned Dagdizel Plant №8 (a torpedo factory emerging from the Caspian waters like a dystopian manmade island coming straight out of Kevin Reynolds’ Waterworld) and the photogenic rusty remnants of an original Soviet ekranoplan (a larger-than-life ground-effect vehicle used to travel across the Caspian Sea).
We’ll then make a detour to Buynaksk, Dagestan’s former capital, and stop at the Sulak Canyon, the deepest gorge in the Russian Federation.
Makhachkala Soviet and post-Soviet sightseeing: Lenin's Square, Central Bazaar, City Beach, Grand Mosque, Drama Theater, National Museum, WWII Memorial, socialist mosaics and a vast array of architectonically striking Soviet-era buildings.
Dinner and overnight in Makhachkala.
DAY 7 - Dagestan: Kizlyar
In the early morning hours we’ll visit Sary-Kum, the largest sand dune in the former Soviet Union, and admire a Dagestani sunrise in all its romantic glory.
We’ll then head for the woebegone fishing town of Sulak and from there we’ll travel further north to the almost legendary Chechen Island, a godforsaken sandy islet of windswept hamlets and fading Soviet glories.
We’ll spend a few hours on the island touring its highly photogenic urban and cultural landscapes of neglected buildings and nostalgic elders, before transferring back to the Dagestani mainland and heading for the rarely visited and slightly dodgy town of Kizlyar.
Dinner and overnight in Kizlyar.
DAY 8 - Kalmykia: Lagan
In the morning we'll indulge in a quick Soviet-centred sightseeing around Kizlyar and then take a detour west to Terekli-Mekteb, a derelict steppe settlement functioning as the political and cultural “capital” of the Nogai people, a formerly nomadic Turkic-speaking ethnic group inhabiting the inhospitable barrens of Northern Dagestan.
After having enjoyed a culture-focussed tour around Terekli-Mekteb we’ll move on to Lagan (formerly Kaspiysky), a medium-sized Kalmyk town surrounded by the avifauna-rich wetlands bordering the shallow shores of the Caspian Sea.
En route to Lagan we’ll stop in Kochubey and Artesian: far-off Soviet outposts of unpaved dusty roads, post-socialist decay and heartbreaking humanity.
In the early afternoon we’ll then reach Lagan, locally dubbed as the Venice of the Steppes for the many navigable canals crisscrossing the surrounding area, but in reality, yet another sleepy Soviet backwater of semi-abandoned concrete blocks and lonely white stupas: way more photogenic the Venice itself!
After a short tour around the invariably Soviet downtown, we’ll be met by local boatmen, who will take us on a tour across the fish-thriving marshes and lagoons notoriously knowns as favourite hunting grounds for caviar poachers.
Dinner and overnight in Lagan.
DAY 9 - Southern Russia: Volga Delta
We'll leave Lagan early in the morning and head for the Volga Delta National Park, a protected area covering more than 27000 km² of idyllic wetlands and crumbling settlements.
We’ll spend the entire day in the park visiting traditional fishing hamlets, hunting for gloomy Soviet remnants and indulging in romantic boat trips across wild landscapes of lotus flowers, water lilies and swishing reeds.
In the late afternoon we’ll then transfer to the splendid city of Astrakhan, the last stop of our journey.
Dinner and overnight in Astrakhan.
DAY 10/11 - USSR: Soviet Train
Full day devoted to Astrakhan, the pearl of the Volga Delta, a marvellous city with plenty of Soviet and pre-Soviet history to showcase.
In addition to the mandatory Soviet and Tsarist sights (Lenin Statue, WWII Memorial, White Kremlin, Old Embankment), our tour around Astrakhan will also include more mundane and arguably also more interesting spots such as smelly fish markets, ancient Tatar mosques and highly photogenic backstreets of rickety wooden houses, fluttering clotheslines and playing kids.
In the late afternoon we’ll then board a glorious Soviet train for a two-night journey to Aktau, a Soviet-planned remote town squeezed between the Caspian waters and the forlorn badlands of Western Kazakhstan.
A ride on a Soviet-era train in Kazakhstan is an adventure of its own: we'll travel in the company of local merchants, commuters, farmers and holiday-goers and at the end of the trip you'll feel like you've known each other for ages.
Each carriage is like a big family moving on rusty tracks: we'll share food, stories, vodka and laughs, while the barren landscapes of Western Kazakhstan will roll past out of the window.
Meals and overnights on the train.
DAY 12 - Kazakhstan: Aktau
We’ll arrive in Aktau around 8am and transfer immediately to our hotel for a well-deserved lavish breakfast and a bit of rest.
Around lunchtime we’ll take a Soviet-themed stroll around town and then hit the city beach for a relaxing afternoon on the seaside.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Aktau.
DAY 13 - Kazakhstan: Ustyurt Plateau
In the morning we will set onto a 4x4 adventure across the barren badlands of Ustyurt Plateau.
We'll tour the western part of the plateau: otherworldly natural sights (such as the bizarre chalky rock formation at Boszhira) and post-Soviet urban melancholia (such as the rather dull city of Zhanaozen).
We'll then reach the underground mosque-cum-mausoleum of Beket-Ata, where we'll enjoy a traditional Kazakh lunch and observe the mystic rituals of pious pilgrims.
In the afternoon we'll head back towards Aktau for a refreshing beer in one of the many bars overlooking the Caspian Sea.
Dinner and overnight in Aktau.
DAY 14 - Kazakhstan: Fort Shevchenko and the Caspian Shores
We'll spend the day touring the many wonders scattered along the Caspian shoreline.
First we'll stop at the Koshkar-Ata necropolis, a holy muslim graveyard with impressive monumental tombs and pretty little mausoleums dating back to pre-Soviet times.
We'll then continue our journey heading to Aqshuqyr, a pleasant seaside village, where we'll have the chance to plunge in the fresh waters of the Caspian Sea.
After a traditional seafood lunch near the beach we'll drive north towards Fort Shevchenko, a Tsarist and later Soviet military-base town built on the western tip of desertic peninsula stretching out into the Caspian Sea.
For desolation lovers and melancholic souls we'll also pay a visit to the remote port town of Bautino and the nearby abandoned village of Kanga, before eventually heading back towards Aktau for the night.
Dinner and overnight in Aktau.
DAY 15 - Flight back home or transfer to further destinations
After enjoying a last Kazakh-style breakfast together we'll take care of your transfer to the airport/train station of choice.
For those flying out: transfer to Aktau International Airport for your flight back home.
For those wishing to take the train/bus to reach further destinations: transfer to the local train/bus station.
End of the tour.
4 to 9 participants: 2890 € per person
The price includes: double/twin room accommodation (breakfast included; single supplement: 18 euro/night), private transport in the region, first-class train tickets, entrance fees to the attractions listed in the itinerary, guiding and translation service.
The price does not include: international flights and any other flight not explicitly included in the tour price and itinerary, meals, drinks and tips, transport to and from the airport of arrival/departure (35 euros/ride), visas if required, entrance fees to attractions not listed in the itinerary, insurance.
The route of this tour has been carefully designed after several research trips in the region. It is, however, always possible to slightly modify the itinerary according to the needs and the suggestions of the participants. Our motto is flexibility.