Overland from Astrakhan to Baku along the Western Caspian Sea with Roger Williams


Join our veteran Trip Leader Roger Williams for a rare cultural odyssey from the Northern Caucasus to the shores of the Caspian, the world’s largest inland body of water. As we explore the cultures of the Western Caspian, we’ll discover a Silk Road atmosphere, craggy mountain scenery, a multitude of World Heritage sites—and few other travelers! Highlights include Astrakhan, where the Volga River meets the Caspian (and famed for centuries for its caviar), and Elista, capital of the Kalmykia Republic, where we find a Buddhist culture with ancient ties to Mongolia. Contouring through the mountainous Dagestan Republic, we visit Kubachi (4,921’), a legendary mountain town of traditional artisans, and Derbent, once the southernmost outpost of Imperial Russia. We finish in Azerbaijan, birthplace of Zoroastrianism, whose capital, Baku, is home to the fortress-like Ateshgah Fire Temple.  Along the way, we’ll meet a distinct array of ethnic groups, each with their own languages, feast on Kalmyk lamb, watch a Lezginka Caucasian dance, taste Derbent’s famous cognacs, and enjoy comfortable overnights in hotels and inns.

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-3, Oct 24-26, 2019
Moscow, Russia

Moscow is a cosmopolitan city full of art and history. Our explorations include Red Square, home to the towering Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Alexander Garden, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with its eternal flame, and we’ll stroll through the traditional neighborhoods of Moscow.

Days 4-7, Oct 27-30, 2019
Astrakhan / Elista

Fly to Astrakhan, set on the Volga River north of the Caspian Sea. One of our excursions brings us to Sarai Batu (Saraj Batu), the ruins of a medieval city along the Volga that was attacked by the Mongols under Batu Khan, Genghis Khan’s son and successor, and which later became the capital of the Golden Horde. Heading to Elista, the capital of the Kalmykia Republic, we visit the Golden Abode of Buddha Shakyamuni, the Old Hurul Buddhist temple, Kalmykia Folklore Museum, with its memorabilia of Kalmyk history, and the Museum of Oirat Nomadic Culture. On one afternoon, we visit a nearby sheep farm, where we are hosted for a special Kalmyk feast.

Days 8-11, Oct 31-Nov 3, 2019
Makhachkala / Kubachi / Derbent

In Makhachkala, the capital city of the Republic of Dagestan, we visit the monument to Rasul Ghamzatov, the best known poet in the Avar language, the Avar Music and Drama Theater, and the bazaar, and we’ll stroll along the shores of the Caspian Sea. While here we attend a performance at the Dagestan State Puppet Theatre. High up in the Caucasus Mountains is the village of Kubachi, with its traditional stone towers and craftsmen working in silver, wood, and stone. We continue to Derbent, the oldest city in the Caucasus, dating from the time of the Achaemenid Empire of the 6th BC. Our explorations include the World Heritage Site of Naryn Kala, and the Old Town of Magala, and we'll watch a performance of Lezginka Caucasian dance, with its lively body movements and elaborate costumes.

Days 12-14, Nov 4- 6, 2019
Azerbaijan Border Crossing / Baku

We cross the border into Azerbaijan. In Baku, the ancient yet cosmopolitan Azeri capital, we stroll  cobbled back streets, with stops at the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and the Maiden's Tower (both World Heritage sites), along with old bath houses, mosques, and caravanserais. At Surakhani, we visit the fortress-like Ateshgah Fire Temple, where a natural eternal flame became a sacred place for Zoroastrians. Fly home on Day 14.



Discover Moscow's towering Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral
Visit Sarai Batu, once a Mongol capital on the Volga River
Explore Elista, with its ancient Buddhist culture
Meet the traditional artisans of Kubachi, a Caucasus mountain village
Walk the cobbled streets of the Old Town in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan


Length: 14 days
Cost From: $8995  
Arrive: Moscow, Russia
Depart: Baku, Azerbaijan
Lodging: 13 nights hotels
Meals: All meals included (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Cultural Adventures
Trip Level:

Overland travel with walking tours, cultural explorations