South Ossetia: The Ultimate Travel Guide

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

What is South Ossetia?

South Ossetia, officially the Republic of South Ossetia – the State of Alania, is an unrecognized country in the South Caucasus. It is internationally recognized as part of Georgia.

South Ossetia is definitely the least-visited out of all the ex-Soviet unrecognized countries. With only one road in and out of the country, leading deep into the Caucasus mountains, South Ossetia is literally the most off-the-beaten-path destination you can find!

Where is South Ossetia?

South Ossetia is a very remote part of the old Soviet Union. It is located in the heart of the Caucasus Mountains, at the juncture of Asia and Europe.

Its precise location is the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range and the foothills' part of the Kartalin Valley.

South Ossetia is a very mountainous region with more than 89% of the unrecognized country lying over 1,000m or 3,281 ft above sea level. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range forms the northern border of South Ossetia with Russia.

The main roads through the mountain range into Russian territory lead through the Roki Tunnel, between South and North Ossetia and the Darial Gorge.

The Roki Tunnel was vital for the Russian military in the 2008 South Ossetia war because it is the only direct route through the Caucasus Mountains.

South Ossetia covers an area of about 3,900 km2 (1,506 sq mi), separated by the mountains from the more populous North Ossetia (Russia) and extending southwards almost to the Mtkvari river in Georgia.

Is South Ossetia safe?

Since the end of the war in 2008, there has been no open conflict in South Ossetia. The borders are securely guarded by the Russian military and no threat of violence is on the horizon.

Inside the country, it is generally safe and tourists who visit the region have few problems to report.

Why is South Ossetia not in the U.N?

In the case of South Ossetia, the international community considers it to be a part of Georgia and not an independent state.

The international community generally sees Russian action in South Ossetia to be illegitimate and therefore recognizes Georgia’s right to sovereignty over the region.

In reality however, the unrecognized country functions as an independent state and not as part of Georgia.

A sovereign state can exist without being recognised by other sovereign states. However, unrecognised states (countries) will often find it hard to exercise full treaty-making powers and engage in diplomatic relations with other sovereign states.

In this regard, South Ossetia, like other unrecognized countries, has been unable to join international organizations such as the United Nations.

How do I enter South Ossetia?

South Ossetia is probably the least visited of the four ex-Soviet unrecognized countries (‘frozen conflict zones’). It can only be entered through one road that cuts through the Caucasus mountains.

Do I need a visa to enter South Ossetia?

This question demands a two part answer. Firstly, because South Ossetia can only be entered through Russia, travellers must determine if they require to enter a visa to enter Russia.

In addition, those who do need a visa to enter Russia, will need to obtain a multiple entry visa. This is because entering South Ossetia is an official exit out of the Russian Federation.

In order to exit South Ossetia at the end of your tour, travellers need to enter Russia for a second time - therefore a double entry visa is required.

Citizens of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and EU member states require a visa to visit Russia and will have to obtain one before entering South Ossetia.

In addition, all citizens (excluding citizens of Russia, Abkhazia, Artsakh and Transnistria) must inform the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Ossetia of their travel plans to the region in order to receive an entrance permit.

What currency do they use in South Ossetia?

Although not part of Russia, the official currency of South Ossetia is the Russian Ruble.

Is South Ossetia a country?

South Ossetia is an Unrecognized Country, technically partially recognized.

As with all Unrecognized Countries, the nature of their status revolves around the fact that few or no other countries recognize their sovereignty over their claimed territory. This could be for any number of reasons.

South Ossetia does in fact have sovereignty over its borders, a government, a legal system, and its own military. In addition, it does have recognition as a sovereign state from; Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Syria.

How did South Ossetia gain independence?

South Ossetia declared independence from the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1991. The Georgian government responded by abolishing South Ossetia's autonomy and trying to re-establish its control over the region by force.

The crisis escalation led to the 1991–92 South Ossetia War. Georgian fighting against South Ossetia occurred on two other occasions, in 2004 and 2008.

The latter conflict led to the Russo–Georgian War, during which Ossetian and Russian forces gained full de facto control of the territory of the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast.

Who are the Ossetians?

The Ossetians are believed to originate from the Alans, an Iranian tribe. In the 8th century a consolidated Alan kingdom, referred to in sources of the period as Alania, emerged in the northern Caucasus Mountains.

Around 1239–1277 Alania fell to the Mongols and later to others, that massacred much of the Alanian population.

The survivors among the Alans retreated into the mountains of the central Caucasus and gradually started migration to the south.

In 1299, Gori was captured by the Alan tribesmen fleeing the Mongol conquest of their original homeland in the North Caucasus.

The Georgian king George V recovered the town in 1320, pushing the Alans back over the Caucasus mountains.

What language is spoken in South Ossetia?

Similar to the Russian region of North Ossetia, the primary language of South Ossetia is Ossetian.

Although, the Russian language is also prevalent as a second language amongst a large percentage of the population.

Are foreign embassies present in South Ossetia?

Because of its unrecognized status, very few foreign missions exist in South Ossetia.

However, should tourists need consular assistance, foreign embassies can easily be visited in neighboring Russia.

Russia is the only recognized country to have a diplomatic mission in the territory of South Ossetia. In addition, the unrecognized countries of Abkhazia and Transnistria maintain an embassy and a representative office in the territory respectively.

Nicaragua and Venezuela both maintain non-resident embassies for South Ossetia in Moscow.

Will travelling to South Ossetia affect future travel plans?

Other than travel plans to Georgia, which travel to South Ossetia may pose a problem (possibly), no other countries bar entrance or have caused any major issues to travellers who have visited South Ossetia.

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