Because we want to focus more on travelling through Central Asia, we moved our starting point to Astrakhan in Russia. Back in the early days of the Central Asia Rally, we would kick off from Budapest, attempt to cross Ukraine with bad luck and would end up driving over to Georgia to cross the Caucasus Mountains into Russia’s volatile south and up towards Kazakhstan via the Caspian coastline. While that is certainly an adventure, it did mean that we spent the first few days driving long roads before even crossing into Central Asia. Now, for this reason, we picked Astrakhan as our starting point for the Central Asia Rally, but how you get there is entirely up to you!
Perhaps the easiest way to come to the starting line is to fly to Astrakhan with nothing more than a suitcase and then rent or buy a vehicle for the rally (which we can help you out with). This is perhaps the most sensible option for travelling, since you can save your energy for Central Asia and the get the most out of the rally. But since some drivers like to dive into adventure and take the long way round, here are some of the alternative routes into Central Asia.
Our own team starts in Budapest, and the most direct way to Astrakhan is through Ukraine. We had some problems in the first year with our Hungarian registration plates and had to take an alternative route, however with the right paperwork, going through Ukraine should be fine. You’ll need to take the car registration documents, driver’s license, vehicle registration plate with Roman characters, your country’s two-letter code bumper sticker and Green card insurance. Cars coming from the UK also will need headlamp converters. Ukraine is a good option for getting to Astrakhan because it’s the most direct and quickest route, also if you’re from the EU you won’t need a visa to travel. The downside is that some may not be comfortable driving through Ukraine with the current conflicts with Russia, but there are other options here.
Take the South Road into the Caucasus
If you want to avoid Ukraine, there are some other options. Going from Europe, say Hungary, you can drive down through the Balkans into Turkey and cross up into the Caucasus and then out to Russia either through Georgia via Kazbegi to Vladikavkaz or going through Azerbaijan and going up to Russia this way. This is certainly the most adventurous road. The Caucasus is one of the most exciting destinations for traveller’s looking for untouched landscapes and bad roads (which is why we began the Caucasian Challenge in the first place), but also the road through the volatile regions of south Russia is an adventure.
A boat to Sochi
If you want to bypass the Caucasus, you can always take the land ferry from Trabzon to Sochi and then onto Astrakhan. However, just like with the border crossings these things are always volatile and can change on a daily basis, so make sure that this is a viable option if you decide to take the boat to Sochi.
The long way north
If Turkey, Caucasus and Ukraine aren’t optimal for you, then you can always take the long way round. Go through Poland either via Belarus, although that would mean an extra visa, or through the Baltics and into Russia that way, which would mean a long drive down to Astrakhan, but could be a fun Soviet themed trip over to the ‘Stans, either way you’ll take quite a few interesting stories home with you!