There is not much to see in South Ossetia from the point of monuments. And it is difficult to get there as there is no a straightforward procedure to get an entry permit from the authorities. The mountains are beautiful nevertheless, as they are in the regions to the west and east (Racha and Kazbegi Region). It is a relatively safe place because of the heavy presence of the Red Army and security forces.
South Ossetia was an autonomous region of the Georgian SSR under the Soviet Union. In 1989, amid rising nationalist sentiment throughout the Soviet Union, the government of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region passed a resolution to merge with the North Ossetian ASSR, in Russia, but the Georgian SSR government promptly overturned this resolution. In 1991, the president of Georgia declared that Russian would no longer be an administrative language of the new country, and that Georgian would thus be the sole administrative language. Alarmed Ossetes pressed for official status for Ossetian and either greater regional autonomy or full secession from the Georgian Republic to join with North Ossetia, in Russia. Nationalist tensions escalated on both sides until violent conflict broke out between the formerly neighbourly ethnicities, resulting in a full-scale war between Ossetian separatists and the Georgian government.
Under Russian pressure, the Georgian government agreed to a ceasefire, policed by Russian peacekeepers. In August 2008, the army of Georgia launched a military offensive into South Ossetia in order to regain Georgian control. Several South Ossetians and Russian peacekeepers were killed and Russia immediately got involved into the conflict. Russian forces started a fully-fledged military offensive and defeated the Georgian forces within days. The Russian backed South Ossetian government took over the administrative control. The war was brought to an end by a ceasefire agreement, calling on both sides to withdraw to the positions they held before the conflict. The government of Russia now recognizes South Ossetia as an independent country, angering Georgia and its western allies but causing celebration among the Ossetians. The Russian government has spent years in trying to merge the region with Russia, but has come up with no success due to Georgian refusal - a topic that continues between the two countries up till this date.
And just so you sound sophisticated: a person is an Ossete (oh-SEET), the ethnicity and the language are Ossetian (oh-SEH-tee-ahn), and the land is Ossetia (oh-SEH-tee-ah).That in Russian of course. In their own language the country is called Iriston , (ee-ree-ston) the person is Iret (ee-RE-t) and the language Irun (ee-roon).
The people of South Ossetia can speak Ossetian, Russian and Georgian. However most people will refuse to talk in Georgian and may act hostile towards you if you do, due to the conflict between South Ossetia and Georgia that has been ongoing since the early 90's and experienced a highly publicized war in 2008. Likewise, bitterness, fear and hatred against Georgians remain high. If you can't speak Ossetian, Russian is what you should stick to.
English is basically non-existent.
South Ossetia is accessible ONLY FROM RUSSIA. Small buses leave frequently all day from the bus station in Vladikavkaz to the capital Tskhinval . Private or shared taxis leave on request any time. In the afternoon the prices drop as the Ossete drivers want to return back to Tskhinval in the evening and not spend the night in Vladikavkaz. You can negotiate and pay €35 (RUB1,500) for the 4 hours ride. Normally it's RUB2,000.
The distance is 176km on paved road but the passport control on the Russian side is very formal and takes time. Then you have to wait at Roki tunnel, the traffic light which changes roughly every 30 minutes but sometimes more.
Then the tricky point is the Ossetian border post after the tunnel where the officers most likely will have no idea that you have an approval to enter the country.
They will start calling the supervisors who also will not know and they will call the Consular Section and they will give a call back. In the meantime the officers will continue playing cards and from time to time they will answer some phone calls spelling your name in their communication. Then another incoming call will come and they will ask you "where you will stay"? Say hotel “Alan” and wait to see the results. After that you go to the desk and they write your name in a book. And that’s it. You are allowed to visit South Ossetia. The trip from the border post of Verkhniy Rok to Tskhinval is 70 km or approximately one hour. Suggestion: DON’T ARRIVE IN WEEKENDS and not late in the afternoon when the offices are closed. All these phone calls may not be possible after hours and you can find yourself sent back to Russia for the weekend .
If you are not a Russia citizen, in order to travel to South Ossetia you must receive permission from the Foreign Ministry of South Ossetia. If you do not get this permission you will be denied entry to South Ossetia. Contact the consular section of the Ministry of Foreigner affairs in South Ossetia by e -mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. You must secure a multiple entry visa to Russia prior to this. Allow plenty of time and insist in the end if your visit has approved to give the reply also in Russian.
The former Railway station became a well organized Bus station. There are buses to every place in South Ossetia (and Vladikavkaz) but not always to the desired frequency. Leningor is connected only twice a week with bus even if it is only 78 km away in mostly paved road. In many cases you have to deal with the taxi drivers who wait outside.
By far the easiest places to visit are Tskhinval and Leningor. Tskhinval A quite provincial city with only a couple of places to visit. The old cathedral of the 9th century near by the river The central square with various soviet buildings and the square in front of the railway (bus) station. You can explore the local market and walk the streets spotting old architecture.
Leningor (Akhalgori in Georgian) A town to the east of Tskhinval (90 minutes by taxi) where mainly live ethnic Georgians. You will notice the difference in the goods sold in the shops coming mostly from Georgia than from Russia . Even you can spot a couple of cars with Georgian plate numbers , meaning that under certain conditions some people (not foreigners though) enter from Georgia to the eastern part of South Ossetia. The town has two 18th century castles of the local Georgian nobility (one is restaurant) a church , and a couple of old houses with wooden balconies. If you have your own transportation you can drive up the valley exploring other parts of Leningor
Day 1 Drive in the morning from Vladikavkaz to Tsskhinval stopping on the way to various scenic spots. In the afternoon Visit on foot the church in Tshkinval and the squares. Day 2. Day tour to Leningor with side trips to the valeys . Visit the castle and the town and the upper valey. Return to Tskhinval for overnight. Day 3. day tour to Kvaisa to explore the western mountains of South Ossetia.Return to Tskhinval for overnight. Day 4 Departure to Vladikavkaz
Ossetian food is delicious, a Caucasian cuisine similar to, but significantly different from Georgian cuisine. Be sure to feast on Ossetian pie, a dish similar to khachapuri, but with meat and mushrooms instead of cheese.
In Leningor and other areas you may attract the attention of the police when you take pictures as the tourists are not yet a common sight. Stay calm and don't take pictures of sensitive areas. Leaving South Ossetia and re-entering Russia the FSB at the border has been ordered to interrogate (politely though) the foreigners in a separate room after the passport control. Don't panic and merely answer their questions. If one day the foreigners become too many they might change policy.
While the war and conflict has just recently ended, the situation is far from over and medical supply is not always going to be reliable and efficient. Heating, electricity, plumbing are basically commodities owing to years of failing infrastructure damaged by years of warfare. Likewise, the health care system is dilapidated - be sure to bring the necessary medical equipment and only buy bottled water.