I’ve been curious about visiting Transnistria for a while, and I know that some other more intrepid travellers are interested in this unusual destination too, so I decided to write this short guide about my experiences there, and what you can expect if you decide to brave the journey too.
For those who aren’t familiar with this tiny ‘nation’ – Transnistria (also known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic) is a partially-recognised, Soviet-leaning state located in between Moldova and Ukraine. Officially part of Moldova, its major city Tiraspol is classed as Moldova’s second city, but it considers itself an independent state and you have to cross a national border to enter. Politically, it doesn’t seem to have realised that the Soviet Union no longer exists – as you will quickly notice from the statues of Lenin and the hammer and sickle on the flag, and they have their own wing of the KGB.
A strange but interesting place.
So, how do you get there, and what should you expect when you arrive?
Well, there are multiple ways to travel to Transnistria and its capital Tiraspol. The main routes being either from nearby Odessa, Ukraine, or from Chisinau, Moldova. In our case we drove through Transnistria en route from Chisinau to Odessa, so it was definitely the most convenient time to visit.
What’s it like getting in to Transnistria?
When you approach this ‘country’ en route from Moldova, you start off by going through a couple of road blocks / ‘customs’ checks. We were stopped twice on the Moldova side by Moldovan authorities who mainly wanted to check our passports and car documents (keep them handy, they’ll be checked about ten times!) and have a quick look in the car. Nothing too scary. They also ask where you’re going (in our case Odessa), and they’re probably less authoritarian with you if they think you’re passing through rather than staying.
Then, 5-10 minutes later you hit the real border, which looks just like a regular land border. You stop, they come and look at passports, car documents and in your boot for illegal substances, and then they wave you on to the really fun part. I recommend you factor in around an hour for the overall border experience.
By the road here there are two cabin-style offices. In office one, if you’re driving like us, you’ll have to register your vehicle. This means they hand you a pair of identical forms to fill in twice. Don’t be an idiot like me and write the passenger’s name – they just want two copies of the driver’s details. You’ll have to fill in every possible detail of the car (you can write in English if necessary, although no one at the border really speaks English), then hand the forms back and wait 10+ minutes for them to finally stamp them and hand you the ‘Deklaratia’ to allow you in. They claim this process is for ‘insurance’ for the car, which will cost you ~400 Moldovan Leu (18 euro). Be sure to have Moldovan cash on you, as you will soon learn that cards are not your friend in Transnistria.
I strongly recommend you have around 1,000 Moldovan Leu on you in cash for a short visit to Transnistria. Trust me on this, and thank me later.
So, once you finally pay for your spurious ‘insurance’ and fill in all the forms, it’s time for office two. Thankfully this one doesn’t take too long, and they just look at passports again and ask a few questions, before handing you a second paper that entitles you to precisely 10 hours in their country (with a time on it to say when you have to leave again!). You might not think this is a very generous time limit, but I don’t reckon you’ll think that later on when you leave 😉
Then, finally, you can drive on into Transnistria. Be sure to keep all the documents and passports stashed safely.
The first place you hit if you come this way is the little city of Bender. We got confused and thought we’d reached Tiraspol, but it was not so. I don’t think there’s much to see here.
TomTom seems to have no idea that Transnistria even exists, so a real map or a pre-downloaded Google Map is a great idea.
It takes around another 10 minutes to reach Tiraspol. Then you’d better head to the main street ‘Strada 25 Octombrie’, where 90% of the sights are.
When you arrive
The currency of Transnistria is Transnistrian rubles. They DO NOT accept any other currency anywhere that I went. They also DO NOT accept cards of any kind. Oh, and the ATMs don’t accept foreign cards (none that I tried, at least). So, the moral of the story is, if you want to do anything in Tiraspol, especially eat or drink, be sure to bring at least 20 euro in cash (any major currency), and exchange it at the обмен валют.
What to see and do in Tiraspol?
Well, as I mentioned, almost all the ‘tourist’ sights in Tiraspol are located on this huge street, 25 Octombrie. Park up, and budget yourself maybe two hours to walk around.
Essentially, if you’re sad you didn’t get to see the Soviet Union, you can make up for it here. A giant statue of Lenin towers above everything, guarding the Supreme Soviet Parliament Building – although beware, you’re not allowed to take photos of this building. There’s also a large park, and a small beach beside the Dnistr river, where locals chill out in the summer. You can buy a cold Kvas from the stand there. Essentially, check out all the monuments and buildings along the main street, the park and the beach, and you’ll probably feel like you’ve had enough.
If you get hungry and want to stop to eat or drink, as I said there are a few kiosks for drinks and so on. If you want to drop in and eat at a sit-down place, unless you’re super adventurous and great at Russian, your best bet is the Moldovan chain Andy’s Pizza. There is a big one right on the main street, where you can choose from pizza, Italian and Moldovan-style foods with pictures of everything on the menu. It’s a bit more expensive than in Moldova, but not too bad.
For more recommendations see the Wikitravel page.
By this point we were more than happy to get on out of Transnistria and head on to Odessa. However I wouldn’t be a very reliable blogger if I didn’t tell you the end of our Tiraspol story. Just as we were leaving we stopped the car for two minutes to spend our last rubles on a drink, and were cornered by the police claiming we’d violated a traffic law. In fairness, we did pull in next to a sign that said not to turn right, but most probably anywhere else no one would have noticed. However we ended up being fined a made-up amount (we eventually paid 10 euro as it was all we had) and finally they let us go. Apparently these kind of bribery incidents and spurious ‘fines’ for foreigners used to be much more common and have been stamped out lately, but I can tell you for sure it does still happen, so be careful not to draw attention to the fact you’re foreign, or to do anything that could be construed as a misdemeanour that they can invent a fine for. In any case, keep a bit of hard cash stowed away in euro/dollar/leu, so that you can wriggle your way out just in case.
Then, it was definitely time to get the hell out of there. It’s another 15 minutes or so to the border with Ukraine, then freedom! The border to Ukraine is a standard border and takes ~30 minutes depending on the queue. They generally search cars quite thoroughly there, so be prepared for that. In our case they found a few bottles of wine (perfectly legit…!), although one was working its way open so we donated it to the border officer, and we hope he enjoyed it later on with his compatriots.
One final note: there is NO entry or exit stamp to Transnistria, as it’s not a recognised country. However, you won’t get an exit stamp for Moldova if you exit this way. Instead, they apparently recognise your Ukraine entry stamp as a Moldovan exit stamp.
— Would you consider visiting Tiraspol!? Let me know below!
*** Please note, the pictures in this post are copyrighted. If you’d like to use them, please just drop me an email and ask.