While Russia‘s cities are not for the faint-hearted, intrepid travellers who seek wild, unique adventure will love the nation’s immense and spectacular wilderness to really get the adrenaline pumping. From snow-capped volcanoes to inland seas and dizzying mountain ranges, here’s where to get off the beaten track.
A string of 160-odd volcanoes (of which around 29 are still active), and the UNESCO-protected Valley of Geysers (a 6 kilometre (3.7 mile) stretch of geysers and hot springs) define the dramatic landscape and adventure to be found in the Kamchutka Peninsula, above the Arctic Circle. Even if you don’t get as far as on top of a mountain, there is still plenty of adventure closer to the region’s main hub, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Ensconced in hills and mountains (so much so the horizon can’t be seen from any part of the town), it offers tours, hikes and expeditions into the nearby wilderness, where it is highly likely you will stumble across a bear. As parts of the region, such as the Valley of Geysers, are only reachable by air, this is also the place to ask about heli-skiing.
Deep in the Siberian wilderness, a colossal lake implores the adventurous and lovers of the great outdoors to explore the surrounding wilds. Isolated and remote and around the size of Belgium, the nights here are flecked with stars, while the bright, clear days are perfect to discover the lake’s rugged beauty. Hiking trails line the lake, as well as cutting through the lake’s largest island, Olkhon Island, an intrepid destination of its own accord. A trip to the island in winter is one of Russia’s ultimate adventures, as hovercrafts and then cars and trucks are used to ferry passengers across the lake when it is partially, and then completely frozen.
Almost entirely inside of the Arctic Circle, the Kola Peninsula has a serene beauty and a wild appeal. Thanks to its northern location, summer days are endless, and the midnight sun shines bright during the warmer months. It’s also a good place to spot the Aurora Borealis. Geographically close to Scandinavia, the peninsula shares some of its indigenous people with its Nordic neighbours. The Sami are aboriginal people and traditional reindeer herders, whose native land is above the Arctic Circle, spanning Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The region was also home to a cluster of Gulags, particularly around Murmansk, back in Soviet times, some of which offer tours.
Where Mongolia and Kazakstan meet Russia, the mountain republic of Altai offers a wealth of adventure, where you can hike and trek in summer and ski in winter. Ancient burial grounds and petroglyphs are still scattered throughout, while breathtaking scenery and indigenous tribes still make up around 30% of the republic’s population, their traditional spiritual beliefs also enticing those who have a New Age bent to the region. Shamanism is a spiritual belief traditionally held by the locals, and over time faction strands have evolved, creating a diversity of alternative belief systems practised in the area.
Also known as the Sakha Republic, Yakutia lies in Russia’s Far East, where temperatures can drop to -50°C (-58°F) in the depths of winter. The wilds of this vast republic (just smaller than India) are home to a wealth of diamonds and natural resources, as well as stunning scenery. It is also home to the indigenous Yukuts, traditional semi-nomadic hunters and reindeer herders, a practice that some Yukuts still carry out today. The area of Yakutia just below the Arctic Circle is covered in tundra and so is prime reindeer grazing ground. Here is where you’ll find the continuing practice of the traditional Yukut lifestyle, which is the region’s main attraction. Heading south, towards central Russia, Yakutia is full of jaw-dropping landscapes and of dramatic vistas sweeping across endless rivers and craggy mountains.
Home to the perpetually snow capped Mt. Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe, the mighty Caucasus Mountain range is book-shelved by the Black and Caspian seas and crosses between Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Diverse in scenery as it is in culture, the Caucasus is home to scattered pockets of Islamic and Christian communities, and is home to over 50 ethnic groups who offer visitors warm hospitality. It is also home to breathtaking scenery, world class ski resorts and the Plate Hotel, one of the few remaining pre-fab Futuro houses from the 1960s, which cab be found in Dombay, an area popular for skiing and hiking.
Yamal, which translates to ‘the end of the land’ in the region’s indigenous language, gives an idea of how the Yamal Peninsula, in the Siberian North West, is pretty remote. Carpeted in thick snow, with temperatures dropping below -60℃ (-76°F) in winter if there is a breeze, it is isolated and desolate. Perhaps this isolation has aided the preservation of the region’s aboriginal people, the Nenents, one of the best preserved traditional cultures in Russia. Nomadic tribes-folk and reindeer herders as well, the Nenents also continue to herd reindeer despite the collectivisation of herding and farms during Soviet times, as well as oil and gas mining, and now climate change threatening their way of life. While tourists can independently travel throughout the area, roads are minimal and poorly kept, though there are several tour companies offering pointers.