Given the Sochi region’s troubled past, security has been one of the main focuses of Putin’s plan for the Sochi Olympics.
Be assured that massive amounts of money have been spent to ensure the safety of both guests and athletes. Check out our previous post for more background or read about our approach to event security here
If you intend to travel to Sochi, be sure to bring along our list of basic tips for traveling there and the rest of Russia:
BEFORE YOU GO
- Keep up on official travel warnings: The US, UK and many other countries update these regularly. Currently, Russia is considered a safe place to travel, but there are specific warnings for parts of the Caucusus. See, for example:
- Know the telephone number for your country’s embassy or consulate. Sochi itself only has only the Armenian Consulate. Find your country’s representation here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_diplomatic_missions_in_Russia
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
- Stay relaxed, but vigilant: Keep your eyes and ears open when out in public – rather than keeping them glued to your smart phone.
- Know where the exits are: this can save your life in an emergency.
- If you need help and have a phone:
- For emergencies call 112.
- Call the national call center on 8-800-550-86-42 to hire a taxi, get train schedules or directions for pretty much anything; they will also help with translations and contact emergency services.
- Food poisoning is one the most common problems for travelers in Russia, so the usual caveats apply: do not drink tap water and avoid kebab stands and street food, particularly the ones located at train stations. Most tourist hotels filter their water, but double-check with them before drinking it.
- Pharmacies (called “Aptekas”) are plentiful, and sell variations of most of the over-the-counter medicine you would find in Western countries.
- While hotel safes should be OK to use, avoid those available on trains.
- Foreign credit cards aren’t accepted in quite a few places, though this shouldn’t be an issue in Sochi. Taxis do not accept credit cards. ATMs are common if you need to take out cash.
- Carry your travel visa and passport with you at all times, particularly in Sochi, as police checks will happen regularly. Keep a business card from your hotel in your wallet to show taxis or officials where you’re staying.
- Public displays of homosexuality are not socially tolerated, even in central Moscow.
RESPONDING TO A TERRORIST BOMB ATTACK
It’s extremely unlikely to affect anyone in Sochi, but if you are at an event where a bombing takes place, remember these tips:
- You are more likely to get injured in a panicked stampede out of a stadium than by a bomb within the stadium.
- Get out of there as soon as you can, but be sure not to get caught in a mad rush to the exits.
- Use your judgment as to whether you should wait for the initial rush to pass or try to get out quickly.
- Watch out for the double-bomb technique, often used to maximize damage by setting off a second bomb against first responders or people crowding an exit.
- Avoid empty parked vehicles, which might contain another bomb.
GETTING TO SOCHI
Sochi is located on the Black Sea near the Russian-Georgian border. The city is not exactly on an international beaten path – and is not easy to get to.
- By air: Sochi has direct domestic flights from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saratov, Yakutsk, Ufa, Arkhangelsk and Krasnodar. Direct international flights are available from Istanbul, Yerevan and Tashkent. More direct international flights are expected to open up as the games approach. Be aware that many flights are already fully booked, so consider your options in advance.
- Russian airport security and processing are notoriously slow, so it’s a good idea to use online check-in services and be sure to arrive at Russian airports with plenty of time to spare.
- By train: There are numerous train services to Sochi. Information is available on the Russian Railway website, http://eng.rzd.ru/. A rail trip from Moscow takes between 24 and 30 hours. A faster line is supposed to open soon (taking 15 hours) but does not currently exist.
GETTING AROUND SOCHI
Count on plenty of transportation time between the city, your hotel and Olympic venues.
- Public transportation:
- Buses are currently the only public transport option and there are numerous routes across the city. By 2014, the authorities plan to provide English signs as well as English-speaking drivers.
- A new train system is currently under construction and should be ready by late 2013 or early 2014. The Sochi Light Metro will connect the city of Sochi to the “Coastal Cluster” (located in the Adler district, where many indoor event venues are withing walking distance of each other), Sochi International Airport (also in Adler) and the “Mountain Cluster” (located in Krasnaya Polyana, where alpine and other mountain events take place).
- Taxis: Have a local, such as a hotel receptionist, or the Call Center mentioned above, order a taxi for you. There are many unlicensed taxis, and even licensed drivers are unlikely to speak English.
- By foot: Most locations in the central area are easily reachable by foot. But Sochi is hilly.
- Bicycle: A city bike rental service is available, with dozens of pick-up and drop-off points. While the service is free, there is a RUR 3,000 (approx. US$90) deposit. Biking in Sochi is not for beginners: it’s hilly, there’s heavy traffic and currently a lot of construction and roadwork.