Who ever thought about traveling to Siberia? When I heard I could visit the Altai Mountains in Siberia I got excited straight away, but I confess I too thought Siberia was all about freezing temperatures and snow. In this article about traveling in Russia I will show you the beauty of the Altai Mountains and tell you what it is like to go on a road trip in the Altai region.
Many years ago when I was planning my second trip around the world I looked into taking the Trans Siberia Express from Moscow to Beijing through Mongolia, but for several reasons it never happened. The closest I have been to Central Asia is Iran and Kashmir, India. On this trip to Siberia I suddenly found myself surrounded by the borders of China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. I guess I made it to the middle of nowhere and I felt very happy about it.
In this blog about my Siberia travel adventure I will tell you all about my experiences on my road trip to Altai Mountains, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Russia. A Siberia holiday is not a standard trip, but definitely something to consider if you are into adventure travel.
Siberia Travel Tips
These are my Siberia travel tips after my Altai Mountains road trip at the end of August 2018.
1. Getting to the Altai Mountains, Siberia
Traveling off the beaten track also has its disadvantages because making my way to Siberia was not the most smooth journey. I think in general if you take a trip to Russia you will underestimate its size. By far the biggest country on earth and so immense vast that traveling by car for more than 1,000 kilometers is normal.
I flew into Moscow first and spent the night at a random airport hotel, then the next morning I flew onwards to Barnaul, a pretty big city in Southern Siberia where my road trip into the Altai Mountains started. I had never heard of Barnaul, but no wonder. It is not a touristy place at all and just about 400 kilometers from the Kazakhstan border, while the Chinese and the Mongolian border are only 700 kilometers away either.
First things first when I arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow: buying a Russia sim card.
The flight from Moscow to Siberia was another 4 hours and 5 time zones away from Europe. In Barnaul I got picked up by a very lovely family who took care of me, showed me a little of the city, invited me to their house and arranged a hotel for me somewhere close by. It was only the next morning that I got into a car and drove towards the Altai Mountains. In total the drive to the base camp where we would be camping and rafting for the next 2 nights was about 10 hours. A long trip of 51 hours after I left home finally brought me to the Altai Mountains base camp.
Who says the life of a professional travel blogger is always fun!? But hey I was in Siberia, there are not many travelers that ever made it out here!
Interesting fact about the housing in Barnaul: an upscale apartment in the city cost about $150,000, but most people live in apartment blocks were apartments can be bought for around $20,000. The family I visited bought one of those 2 years ago.
2. Communicate with Russians
It is a common thing to say for Western people that Russians are unfriendly. Not the family I met though! These people were super lovely and although communicating was very hard, we bonded straight away. Russians literally don’t speak a word English. If you are lucky they know how to say thank you, but much more than that is utopia. I felt like I was in China, because reading the Russian alphabet is impossible too. I found out pretty quickly that traveling in Russia was a challenge! :)
To communicate I used a translator app. You literally just speak to your phone and the translation pops up straight away. If you travel to Russia, download one!
Also in Russia it is not common to say hi to a stranger. If someone passes you, don’t expect them to say hi. In the west we feel like that is common thing to do and show your friendliness. Not here in Russia. Different people, different culture, different values! But as soon as you say something people will be very friendly. All the Russians I met in the Altai region, where super friendly.
3. Altai Siberia
We mostly all know Siberia for its extremely cold weather and learning from locals about their lives with extreme temperatures was super interesting. In summers it can get as hot as 40 degrees and in winters as cold as minus 40 degrees. That is 80 degrees difference, incredible! Asking if they had AC and heaters they replied: most people have none of them. How can you live without a heater in -40 degrees celsius, I wondered! Houses in remote areas do have fireplaces though. Life up in the Altai Mountains also continues in winter, but at a slower pace. In summer people work hard to get through the winter. This is somehow their life circle.
4. Temperatures on my Siberia trip
The most asked question after I came back this week from my Siberia travel adventure was about the temperatures. Because it was the end of summer temperatures during the day were super chill and between 25 to 30 degrees, but as soon as there was a cloud in front of the sun it felt like temperatures dropped with 15 degrees straight away. During the night it already got below 10 degrees and according to locals within a couple weeks time the first snowfall of winter 2019 would arrive.
5. Back to basic
Because this was an ultimate adventure travel trip facilities were basic. Toilets in the camp and along the road in the Siberian Mountains are like holes in the ground and showers don’t exist. If you want to wash yourself you can take a dip in the river. Although this water is super fresh and nice, taking a bath was a challenge. The water was around 4 degrees! As soon as I put my feet in the water for longer than 10 seconds I could feel the cramps in my calfs. Damn it this was adventure travel to the max!
6. Villages Altai region
To me the remote villages looked exactly like I imagined them. Colorful wooden houses spread across the green country side all on a big plot. Most people are farmers in the Altai region and live a pretty simple life. People are happy with what they have here and are mostly self sustainable. Locals don’t look like typical Russians here, but more like Asians and were all super friendly. Visiting Altai Mountains did not feel like Russia, more like Asia to be honest.
7. Living standards Altai Region
A Western or someone from Moscow would probably say that the people living in the Altai Mountains are poor, but locals don’t see it like that. They live a simple life, but are pretty happy about it. Of course they wish the infrastructure off the main road would be better but apart from that they have their cows, their horses, there is electricity, most of the time a phone signal and they live in an incredible beautiful and peaceful place on earth. The Altai Mountains are simply gorgeous!
8. Prices in Altai Mountains
In general people earn about €300 per month so yes If you compare it to our salaries people are poor. Supermarkets basically sell all the products you will get back home as well, but prices are very cheap. After traveling in Siberia I could actually add this place to my list of best places to backpack in the world. 1L gas costs for example €0,50 and a 0,5L beer can be found for €0,30 already. As you can see a Siberia holiday does not have to be expensive.
Accommodation options are not for the grab but when you find places to sleep they won’t break the bank. Accommodations is mostly almost budget and very basic out here, but you won’t pay more than $15 for a cosy little wooden house, sometimes with private fireplace.
Check out this place for example, basic, but also super cheap and in an amazing location: Tydtuyaryk Camp and sleep in a traditional Yurt.
9. Marijuana in Siberia
Funny fact and something you will for sure notice when you visit Siberia is that the Cannabis plant grows everywhere. Yes the same one, that also is highly illegal in Russia. Be aware that smoking weed in Russia is not allowed, but it is hard to close your eyes for all the marijuana around. Here in the Altai region it grows like weed on the side of the street. Even for a Dutch person that was remarkable to see.
10. Camping in Altai Mountains
Although I am not sure about the official regulations I am pretty sure no one out there will say anything when you go camping in the wild. Literally everywhere you feel like you could potentially set up your camp. I saw several cars parked along to the river with a tent next to it. Waking up endless mountain views is probably one of the reasons that make a trip to Siberia so amazing.
Things to do and places to see in Altai Mountains, Siberia
11. Road trip in the Altai Region
Probably the best thing about visiting Siberia is a road trip to the Altai Mountains. As soon as you drive into the Altai region, amazing landscapes will unfold. Green hills, snowcapped mountains, forests, meandering rivers, fresh air and peaceful remote villages. Driving through the Altai mountains is one of the best things to do when you visit Siberia.
The main road leading towards the Mongolian border is very good, but as soon as you turn left or right, roads are unpaved and in a terrible state. A road trip in the Altai region is fantastic but challenging at the same time.
12. Rafting in Siberia
Another really popular thing to do in Siberia is rafting and this was one of the main reasons I came all the way down here. Every year they organize the White Water of Siberia Forum which is held on the Katun River in the Altai Mountains. Teams from all over Russia and abroad are competing in the raging rivers of Siberia.
Rafting in Siberia is hot and in a such wild and rough landscape it is no wonder that the rafting here is world class. If you consider a trip to Siberia try to squeeze in a rafting trip and if you happen to be here around end of August then come and see the White Water Siberia Forum competitions yourself. It is a great event and seeing these professional rafters conquering the extremely wild river is a fantastic happening.
13. Ancient rock carvings Altai Siberia
Along the road towards Mongolia there can be found thousands of ancient rock carvings. Some of them dating back to almost 10,000 years ago according to archeologists. I liked seeing them, but at the same time I am not good with things like this. Realizing they are carved into the rocks so many years ago is fascinating, but that is about it to me. No need to see 100 hundred of them.
Cool fact: there were also carvings of a rhino, which means they must have lived here many many years ago! Interesting thing to know about Siberia.
The remoteness of this beautiful place on earth also makes it one of the healthiest environments. There is hardly any pollution and rivers are a healthy source of life. Fishing is a great thing to do, so definitely bring your fishing rod on your trip to Siberia.
15. Hiking in the Altai Mountains
Obviously with so many amazing mountain peaks around hiking is absolutely breathtaking. Hiking trails are endless and reaching the summit of one of the peaks around is one of the most rewarding things to do in the Altai Mountains.
16. Viewpoint Mountain Pass Katu-Yaryk
One of the most amazing places to visit in Siberia is the viewpoint high above the Chulyshman River, the Katu-Yaryk mountain pass. From up here you have the most amazing views over the deep canyon below. Simply spectacular! I wish time would have allowed me to stay here overnight. Watch the sunset, make a bonfire, smoke some local weed, watch shooting stars and wake up for sunrise right on this amazing spot! Down below there is a camp to stay overnight, check it out: Katu-Yaryk.
Am I making you excited about a trip to Siberia already?
17. Uchar Waterfall
Considered as one of the most remote tourists spots in Russia is the Uchar Waterfall. Created only about 100 years ago by a landslide that changed the course of the river, now massive boulders form a 160 meter high waterfall. The translation of Uchar actually means inaccessible.
To get to Uchar Waterfall we stayed overnight on the banks of the Chulyshman River at Turbaza Ust Chul’chi. A simple place, but oh so gorgeous with the surrounding mountains. In the morning we took the boat across the river and started our 9 kilometer hike up to the waterfall. The path slowly inclines to the foot of the waterfall on a winding path following the river through the gorge.
18. Karasu River and Stone Mushrooms
Close to the Uchar Waterfall also along the Chulyshman River in the Karasu Valley you will find strange rock formations also called stone mushrooms. Massive boulders that sit on top of a smaller pile of rocks and sand.
19. Lake Teletskoye
Unfortunately due to time restrictions I never made it up here. The Katu-Yaryk Mountain pass, the Uchar waterfalls and the stone mushrooms are all nearby, but the largest lake in the Altai region is one of the best places to visit in Siberia. Boat trips on the lake are a popular thing to do in Altai and I am sure it is worth to go if you visit Siberia.
My trip to Altai, Siberia
Horse back riding, glacier trekking and mountain climbing are just a handful other things to do in Altai and on top of that there are endless lakes, waterfalls and nature reserves waiting for you. If you decide to travel to Siberia and are a nature freak I am sure you will have a blast. Adventure is waiting for you in the Altai Region.
I hope my Siberia travel tips for the Altai region were helpful for you and I made you excited to travel to Siberia. Please Pin this article on Pinterest or share the link on social media for me. It is a small thing for you to do but can make a big difference for me.
If you have any more questions about traveling to Altai Siberia, please leave me a comment.