Kamchatka DiscoveryStyle: ActiveIn depth encounters on foot
Duration: 12 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers
Most nationals will require a visa to visit Russia. To obtain a visa you will need a visa authorisation letter and service voucher – we will provide these for you. In order to do this we will require your full passport information, and details of arrival and exit into and from Russia as well as details of the city in which you intend to lodge your Russian visa application, no later than 30 days before departure.
Regulations do frequently change though, so we advise that you check the current requirements with your nearest embassy.
There are currently no taxes payable when leaving Russia by air.
Health and Immunisations
As with travel to most parts of Asia, we strongly recommend that you contact your doctor’s surgery or a specialist travel clinic for up-to-date information, advice and the necessary vaccinations. For a visit of less than one month, almost certainly you will be advised to have immunisations against the following: Diphtheria and Tetanus, Hepatitis A and B, Polio and Typhoid.
- What should my travel insurance policy cover?
- medical and health cover for an injury or sudden illness abroad
- 24 hour emergency service and assistance
- personal liability cover in case you’re sued for causing injury or damaging property
- lost and stolen possessions cover
- cancellation and curtailment (cutting short your trip) cover
- Extra cover for activities that are commonly excluded from standard policies, such as certain sports
The policy should cover the whole time that you are away.
Your policy may also have:
- personal accident cover
- legal expenses cover
Common travel insurance policy exclusions
Always check the conditions and exclusions of your policy:
- most policies will not cover drink or drug-related incidents
You must take reasonable care of your possessions or your policy will not cover you.
The local currency is the ruble. For current exchange rates visit www.xe.com. Our advice is to travel with US dollars cash. Notes should be new or in a good condition.
Where currency can be exchanged
Exchange facilities are available in Anadyr and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Outside of these cities you will not be able to change money.
Credit cards and travellers cheques
As a general rule we advise against taking travellers’ cheques as these will be difficult, if not impossible to change. The use of credit cards is limited to the top hotels and restaurants in major towns and cities.
Best time to go
Our tours in Siberia only operate in the high summer months of June to August – outside of these times it is simply too cold to operate our trips. Even in summer the temperature can be cold – it rarely gets above 10 degrees Celsius in Chukotka, even in July.
The official language is Russian. However many of Siberia’s ethnic groups have languages of their own. Few people are likely to speak English, with the exception of your guide and others involved in the tourist industry.
Siberia’s ethnic populations traditionally held complex beliefs based around shamanism and the power of nature. During Soviet times efforts were made to eradicate such beliefs, but this was never entirely successful and following the break-up of the Soviet Union traditional culture is making a cautious resurgence in parts of Siberia.
Food and drink
On our tours in Siberia you will be accompanied by a cook. Lunch would usually be some sort of picnic, while dinners will be of a normal Russian / European style. You can expect to taste some local delicacies – food made from seals, walrus and reindeer is relatively common in this area, as well as local mushrooms and berries.
If you have any special dietary requirements you must notify us at the time of booking. While we will make every effort to cater for you, we cannot guarantee that this will be possible.
Our tours in Siberia use a variety of modes of transport. Small motorboats are used for marine excursions, while land transport is made in specially designed 6 wheel trucks or caterpillar type vehicles.
Flights in Chukotka are made with Russian made propeller aircraft carrying around 56 passengers.
Travelling in the destinations that we visit requires a good deal of understanding that often standards simply won’t be as they are at home. While we aim to make your trip as comfortable as possible, please be aware that we are often visiting remote or less developed regions that may have little infrastructure. This is particularly true in Siberia – outside of the towns, and even in some of them, there is very little provision for tourism. While we aim to make your trip run as smoothly as possible there may be times when we need to ask for your patience while we rectify any problems.
What to take with you
First Aid Kit
The first thing on your list should be a first aid kit. Whilst there is no undue cause for alarm, travellers are best advised to travel well-prepared: adequately immunized, with sufficient supplies of prescription drugs, along with a medical kit.
It can be quite cold in Siberia in the summer. You will need to bring at least one fleece or jumper, along with a waterproof/ windproof jacket. A warm hat and gloves are also recommended.
You will need to bring a 3 season sleeping bag on our trips in Siberia, as well as a sleeping mat for our Kamchatka tour.
Footwear is a main priority on this tour. Comfortable walking shoes/boots are recommended, as well as an additional pair of shoes to change into should your boots get wet.
Your luggage should not exceed 20kgs (44lbs). One large rucksack, and one small hand luggage rucksack is acceptable. We advise you to travel with a rucksack or soft bag rather than a suitcase.
Suncream/sunblock is a must. When out on tour, it is important to have suncream with you, as there will not be any services nearby in which to provide it.
Insect repellent, including a bite spray will be useful to have. You should also bring a torch / flashlight.
If you will be using a camera which needs film, it is recommended that a supply is taken with you, as it is unlikely to be available locally. For those with digital cameras, we would advise you to take a spare battery.
Our Chukotka tour does not require any special degree of fitness, although you will enjoy it more if you are moderately fit. For our trip to Kamchatka you should ensure that you are reasonably fit as this is quite an active tour including some trekking on volcanoes.
Cultural and environmental guidelines
You may come across beggars while on tour. Every traveller has different perspectives on this and ultimately the choice is up to you. Many sources recommend that you watch to see if local people give, and then follow their lead with genuine beggars. We do not recommend giving money, sweets, pens etc to children as this can encourage a begging mentality and can lead to children choosing to beg rather than go to school.
You will be spending time in some of the most pristine environments on earth on our tours in Siberia. It is important to ensure that they stay this way. Please make sure that you take any rubbish back to the lodges and camps with you where they can be properly disposed of – this includes cigarette butts as well.
Please do not buy any products made from endangered species – this is not sustainable and hastens the species’ decline.
You should always ask permission before taking anyone's photograph and respect their decision if they say no. In more remote areas women and older people often do not want to be photographed. Some people may also ask for some money – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot - in return for a photo. Taking photos of military installations, state buildings, and airports can lead to problems with local authorities. If you are unsure about whether it is acceptable to take a photo, please ask your tour leader or guide.
If your local guide has been helpful then you could think about tipping. This amount can obviously be left to you. When tipping a driver, a guide or hotel staff a few dollars will always be gratefully received.
Foreign Office Advice
We constantly monitor the advice posted by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). In particular we will always advise clients of any travel warnings. At present there are no warnings against travel to the regions of Russia that we visit. Please feel free to contact us should you have any specific concerns or would like to know in detail what measures are being taken to ensure visits remain trouble free and without incident.
It should be noted that this information applies to British citizens. Other nationals are asked to check the current position of their respective government.
Public Holidays in Russia:
7 Jan New Year's Day
23 Feb Defender of the Fatherland Day
8 Mar Women’s Day
1 May International Worker’s Day
9 May Victory Day
12 Jun Russia Day
4 Nov Unity Day
Dates are for guidance only and may vary year to year
Generally electrical supply is 220-240V AC (50 Hz) and uses European two circular pin style plugs.
The Shaman’s Coat
A History of the Peoples of Siberia
IMPORTANT NOTES – PLEASE READ
Please note that the information provided is correct at the time of writing but may change. It is intended as a guide only. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health visit www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk or contact your local healthcare provider.
In addition we strongly advise you to check the information and any travel advice provided by your government. For British citizens you should visit the Foreign Office website www.fco.gov.uk.
Furthermore, you should be aware that any travel warnings or advisories may affect the validity of your travel insurance. Therefore, at the time of booking your tour it is essential you check any restrictions on cover with your insurance provider.
Issue Date – 04/09/09
For possible changes to this dossier please visit www.undiscovered-destinations.com or call +44 (0)191 296 2674
Siberia is vast, covering a twelfth of the world’s land mass and stretching from the Ural Mountains in the west to within spiting distance of Alaska. To fly across it from Moscow takes nine hours – Siberia is simply enormous. Associated in the minds of most people with frozen wastes and exile, Siberia has over history been home to a fascinating array of indigenous groups, most of them almost entirely unknown by the outside world but with sometimes sophisticated societies and cultures. Groups such as the Buryat are still a sizeable minority within modern Russia today, while others like the Ainu no longer survive, having left Russian shores for Japan. With belief systems revolving around the power of shamans and the natural world, Siberia’s indigenous people inhabited a very different world, both physically and culturally, from their conquerors, and remnants of that can still be seen today, providing a fascinating glimpse of a past world. While some traditions are starting to disappear, others are still adhered to, as Russia’s different ethnic groups begin once more to celebrate their culture. Siberia is a land that offers real opportunities for the experienced traveller – it is Russia’s last frontier, where one can meet some of the least understood and visited people in the world, and witness customs that have long died out elsewhere. To travel here is to push the boundaries of travel itself and visit places seldom seen by other travellers – Siberia is one of the most exciting destinations on our planet.
Russian colonization of Siberia began in the late 16th century, when a renegade explorer named Yermak Timofeyevich crossed the Urals with a band of men to probe the lands ruled by the remnants of Genghis Khan’s descendants. Coming up against Khan Khuchum of Sibir, a powerful Moslem state, Yermak was eventually defeated but not before the Tsar, Ivan the Terrible, had got an inkling of the riches to be found in the previously unexplored lands to the east. For this was a land rich in the currency of the day – furs – and great wealth could be had from venturing further into Siberia. Siberia became Russia’s wild west, with bands of Cossacks penetrating ever further to subjugate local rulers and force them to pay tribute to the Tsars of Muscovy.
Along the way, vastly different groups were encountered. The numerous Sakha, living around present day Yakutsk possessed vast herds of horses, and their folk tales suggested descent from Central Asia, while the Yupik on the far eastern coast hunted seals and walrus. Some societies were powerful – the state of Tuva, for example, was not formally incorporated into Russia until the mid twentieth century, while others proved no match for Russian weapons.
By the late 17th century however Siberia had been largely explored, its native people subjugated to foreign rule. Officials were sent out from Russia to govern these remote outposts, and built forts to contain garrisons, with settled communities of Russian immigrants building up around them. These new Russian communities were made up of a number of different groups – peasants seeking an escape from serfdom, Old Believers, fugitives and exiles. Often the position of power occupied by the local authorities was abused and there are many accounts of Russian governors enslaving local people and exacting impossibly high tributes from them, ruining local economies. Many peoples were unable to stand up to the onslaught of western diseases, their lack of built up immunity wreaking devastating consequences on sometimes already small numbers of people. And sometimes they fought back, on occasions proving a formidable force for the Russian soldiers.
In 1697, the Cossack commander Atlasov took a group of soldiers to conquer one of the last frontiers left, Kamchatka. At that time it was populated by three main ethnic groups – the Yukagir, the Koryak and the Itelmen. Initial resistance was overcome and Atlasov returned to his base with huge numbers of furs. A subsequent mission saw the local resistance far more organized, with Cossack forces massacred by the Kamchatkans. The early years of the 18th century saw a mass rebellion that was to last some time before the native groups were subjugated.
The discovery of the Bering Straits, and a route to America, brought increased attention to the region with fur traders flocking to Kamchatka. This was to prove devastating for both the wildlife, and for the local Kamchatkans. Their population was decimated through warfare and disease and by all accounts they were treated terribly by Russian colonists. By 1800 the Yukagir had been driven to extinction on Kamchatka, although they continue to live today in other parts of Siberia.
At the very edge of Siberia live the Chukchi, who were renowned at this time for their skills as warriors, and were often more than a match for the Cossacks that arrived to bring them under the Russian yoke. In the 1730s and 1740s however, successful campaigns killed many of their warriors and captured their women, although they failed to quell any resistance. The nomadic Chukchi simply disappeared, confounding efforts to make them pay tribute, and continuing to wage a guerilla campaign. In 1747 the Chukchi inflicted a decisive victory on the Cossack troops, and after continued problems, the authorities were losing patience. Chukotka was not paying its way – it had become a drain on the Russian purse with no tangible benefits, and the Chukchi came to a truce agreement with Russia in which they paid only nominal tribute and were left to govern their own affairs.
Russian settlement of Siberia continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, with the Trans-Siberian railway making an enormous difference in access to the interior. With increased settlement came increased erosion of traditional beliefs and ways of living, but it was not until Soviet times that the state made a full scale assault on cultures that it regarded as primitive. A concerted effort was made to settle nomadic peoples, to collectivise reindeer herds, and to destroy the traditional role of shaman that was so important to groups such as the Evenk and the Tuvans. Soviet ideology meant that groups that owned large herds were categorized as kulaks, to be persecuted and exterminated where possible. Old traditions were seen as a hindrance to the attainment of the perfect Soviet society, in which everyone shook off traditions that had been in place for centuries in order to attain ‘enlightenment’, whether they wanted it or not. Many shamans disappeared into the gulag or were simply taken away and shot in a shameful effort to stamp out indigenous culture that continues to have ramifications today.
But despite the Soviet’s best efforts, their rule did not manage to eliminate the complicated network of traditional beliefs and customs that were so important to people like the Chukchi and the Koryak. Certainly they no longer live as they once did – the modern world leave few people untouched – but it is still possible to go and see Chukchi men going off to hunt walrus, and it is still possible to meet reindeer herders deep in the forests of this mythical land. To enter into their world is to step into the realm of magic, where nature is the all defining force and governs days to day life as it has done for centuries. Siberia has never really been on the ‘tourist map’ nor is it likely to be for some time, but it is now possible to explore a world that few of even knew existed. This is one of the final frontiers of travel, a privileged journey to a world where the concept of tourism doesn’t really exist. There are few more interesting places to visit.