Altai Republic Travel Guide - Known by Locals as Russia's Switzerland

Written by 56th Parallel
©Anton Agarkov

Welcome to the majestic Altai Republic, a land of snow-capped mountains, fascinating nomadic tribes and heart-stopping wilderness adventures. One of the most beautiful and pristine regions in all of Russia, the borders of this wild and untamed domain touch the semi-deserts of Mongolia and the vast Kazakh plains, blessing Altai with one of the most varied climates in Siberia.

Still well off the mainstream travel radar, Altai supports a growing, community-based eco-tourism industry. A veritable paradise for hikers, climbers, rafters and nature photography enthusiasts, Altai’s major drawcard outside of its breathtaking scenery and chance to encounter rare wildlife, is the remarkably intact ancient culture of its various indigenous tribes, a few of whom still live a traditional, semi-nomadic lifestyle and practice shamanic religious beliefs.  

The World Heritage listed Golden Mountains of Altai are a refuge for some of the world’s rarest animal species. In rugged beauty of these stunning ranges, one can hike for days on end in complete solitude. Go fishing in the pristine tributaries of the Katun and Chemal Rivers, explore vast underground cave complexes and ancient archaeological sites, or get your fix of winter sports action in one of the region’s burgeoning ski resorts. After decades of obscurity, this tremendous region is finally beginning to open up to a new breed of adventure traveller.

Finding practical information on Altai isn’t always easy, so we’ve put together this Altai republic Travel Guide to help you plan everything from where to go, what to do and when to visit, right down to the practicalities of travelling, trekking and touring in the remote, rarely-visited area.

We’ll also provide you with a brief snapshot of the lifestyles and customs of the ethnic Altaians who call the region home, and what you can expect from the local culture and cuisine.

Why Travel to the Altai Republic?

The Altai Republic spans some 92,500sqm, straddling the junction of the Russian Siberian taiga, the steppes of Kazakhstan and the semi-deserts of Mongolia.

A quarter of Altai is covered in forest, while its rivers, consisting of 20,000 tributaries, wind their way through mountain valleys and gorges northward to the Arctic Ocean. An immense region with an incredible amount to offer, seeing even a fraction of the Altai would take years of hardcore travel! In fact, much of the Altai Republic is still virtually inaccessible to the ordinary tourist.

Thankfully, we’ve come up with an authoritative list of Altai’s most extraordinary destinations and must-dos, and why they should be on any adventure traveller’s bucket list.

Travel Destinations Worth Exploring in the Altai Republic

The Golden Mountains of Altai

Spanning a staggering total of 1,611,457 hectares, Altai’s mighty mountain range encompasses the Altai and Katun Natural Reserves, Lake Teletskoye and Belukha Mountain.

The Golden Mountains are is a UNESCO World Heritage site, forming the major mountain range in Western Siberia and the source of its greatest rivers – the Ob and the Irtysh. The region harbours the most diverse vegetation and microclimatic zones in central Siberia, from steppe to dense mixed forest and high alpine vegetation. The dramatic Altai ranges are home to nearly 700 animal species, including the mountain ram, reindeer and the critically endangered snow leopard. Stunning Mount Belukha is the highest peak in Siberia at a cloud-piercing 4,506m.

Lake Teletskoye, Altai

Part of the Golden Mountains region, stunning Lake Teletskoye is revered by the local people as Altyn Kol (the Golden Lake). The largest lake in Altai, it is 78km long and 5km wide where it lies between the mountain ridges of Korbu and Al-tyntu. Many locals believe no visitor has truly experienced the true beauty of Altai until they have seen the holy lake with their own eyes.

Watching the sublime scenery pass by on a boat trip is truly marvellous, but the region has even more to see on land, with numerous day and overnight hikes to explore. Climbing to the top of Tilant Tuu observation hill rewards with breathtaking views of almost the entire lake, while a day trek to the remote meeting place of Teletskoye and the Tretya River ends in series of cascading miniature waterfalls. The lakeside village of Belyo is home to friendly indigenous inhabitants and is renowned as the warmest place in western Siberia. 

Katun River, Altai

Fed by the glaciers at the top of Mt Belukha, the Katun River races through a series of valleys and gorges in the Altai mountain range, before meeting the Biya River at Lake Teletskoye. The two rivers join to form the mighty Ob. Flowing all the way to the Arctic Ocean, the 3,650km long Ob is the world’s seventh longest river. The Katun holds an important place in the spirituality and culture of the Altaians.

Katun and its tributaries, like the Chuya River, are among Russia’s best whitewater rafting destinations, with heart-pumpingly quick rapids and wave trains plunging into tranquil, glassy pools, all surrounded by Altai’s tremendous forest and mountain scenery.

Chuysky Trakt

The Chuysky Trakt (also known as the Chuya Highway) is the main highway in the Republic of Altai, connecting Russia to the Mongolian border. This long, lonely road begins in Novosibirsk and traverses along almost the entire length of the Altai mountain range, extending 962km in total. Completely paved, the Chuysky Trakt is unquestionably the most scenically stunning road in Siberia. Many experienced overland travellers consider Chuysky to be among the most beautiful asphalt roads in the world.

Karakol Valley

This stunning valley is one of the highlights of the Golden Mountain region. With a glacial river running through its herb and wildflower covered meadows, stands of spruce and fir trees sprout from the steep slopes, while snow covered peaks loom large in the distance. The area is home to a handful of small indigenous villages, and tourism in the valley, a designated National Park, is carefully managed by the local people. A small ski base operates in winter, while spring and summer is prime hiking and camping season. The Karakol is an important archaeological site, with many ancient burial grounds and shamanic rock paintings having been found in the valley’s foothills.

Katu-Yaryk Pass

The Altai region lays claim to some of the most spectacular high altitude roads in the world. Altai’s main highway, the Chuysky Trakt is the most famous, but unlike the Chuysky, the road to Katu-Yaryk Pass is neither wide or comfortably paved. Zig-zagging its way to 1,188m altitude, Katu-Yaryk is nothing but loose, slippery gravel all the way. Precariously narrow, with steep sections reaching 35% gradients, there are no safety barriers in sight. It’s common for larger vehicles to hang a wheel over the precipice as they navigate a sinuous series of hairpin bends and blind corners. Only for 4WDs and serious off-road motorcycles, the heart-stirring, larger-than-life landscapes are just rewarded for conquering this challenging, occasionally terrifying route. The road passes through the thick taiga forests and alpine lakes of the Ulagan Plateau before the view opens out to reveal breathtaking scenes of the Chulyshman valley’s emerald green meadows and waterfalls.

Saylyugemsky National Park

Situated at a crossroads in the Altai mountains, where the borders of Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia meet, Saylyugemsky is where the mountains, the steppe, the forest and the desert converge. Due to its remoteness, Saylyugemsky is a critical habitat for one of the most endangered animals in the world – the snow leopard. The hiking trails within this little-visited are challenging, but the rewards are truly extraordinary – breathtaking views over surreal high altitude desert landscapes, rivers and prairies, ice caps and glacial valleys. 

Ukok Plateau

Mysterious and still largely unexplored, this is the most remote and isolated part of the Altai Mountains. The Plateau lies at the heart of the Eurasian continent, almost equidistant to the four oceans of the world. Home to rare animals such as argali sheep, black stork, steppe eagle, and that most elusive of all predators, the snow leopard, while few outsiders have set foot on the Ukok Plateau, others have lived here for generations. Scattered among Ukok’s cosmically silent grasslands are the yurt camps of the Altai Kazakh and Telengit nomads. Even before them, Scythian tribes made their mark here, leaving burial mounds, rock carvings and stone sculptures littered throughout the region. One of the most important archaeological finds in Russia was the 5th-century mummy, the ‘Siberian Ice Maiden’, unearthed here in 1983 and now housed in the Republican National Museum in Gorno-Altaisk. 

Chemal, Altai Republic

Chemal (population 4,000) is the capital of Chemalsky district. The region has the most developed tourist infrastructure of anywhere in Altai, with health resorts taking up prime spots on the banks of the Chemal and Katun rivers, a smattering of hotels, hostels and campsites. Much of the tourism in Chemal revolves around the Varota Sartikpayev Gorge, home of the old Chemal Hydroelectric Power Station. Bungee jumping is offered off the bridge above the hydro dam. Rafting and ziplining are also popular in summer.

If you’ve come to Altai for peace and isolation, escape the tourist crowds of Chemal town and explore Chemalysky’s outlying villages, bucolic, rural paradises where shamanism is still central to the people’s beliefs and spiritual practices.

Barnaul, Altai Republic

The administrative capital of the Altai Republic is Gorno-Altaisk in central Altai. Being home to the Republic’s only major airport (handling direct flights from Moscow), many visitors pass through Gorno-Altaisk but few stay for long – it’s serviceable enough but has little to hold the traveller’s interest. More appealing is Barnaul (a larger city than Gorno-Altaisk in fact, with a population of 600,000). Many travellers arriving in Altai by train from Moscow or Novosibirsk jump off in Barnaul. The city is a decent place to acclimatise for a day or two. The 18th-century city has a couple of good museums on Altaian art and culture, and a decent variety of food and accommodation options, making it a pleasant base for a day or two before heading north towards the Altai Mountains. 

What to Do in Altai

Hiking and Trekking

The Altai Mountains are sacred ground for passionate hikers, taking trekkers deep into one of the world’s last untouched wilderness regions. The scenery here is some of the most captivating on earth – evergreen forests, creeks and waterfalls, rivers rushing through narrow gorges, mirror-surfaced lakes and snow-capped peaks. To truly appreciate Altai’s incredibly varied landscapes and increase your chances of spotting wildlife such as argali mountain sheep, ibex, musk deer and lynx, you’ll want to trek for several days, camping close to water sources along the way.

Trekking tourism is relatively new to Altai – trails aren’t always well marked (if at all) and good maps are hard to come by. Going with a tour or accompanied by a local guide is strongly recommended.

Horse Riding

The horse is an integral part of the culture of many of Altai’s indigenous people. Nomads learn to ride horses as soon as they learn to walk. Altai’s horsemen are famed far and wide, and Altai breed horses legendary for their strength and reliability, so it’s no surprise that there are many who believe the best way to experience the region’s wilderness is on horseback. A multi-day horse riding trek will pass by crystalline rivers cutting through lush alpine meadows, dense forests, wide open plains, wind-swept high steppe and dramatic mountain passes.  Horse riding safaris provide a unique opportunity to interact with local cultures and experience an extraordinarily diverse array of landscapes.

Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking in Altai

The Altai Republic is Russia’s ultimate whitewater rafting and kayaking wonderland. The Katun River and its tributaries, like the Chuya River, alternately gush through wide valleys and squeeze their way through narrow canyons, creating the perfect conditions for whitewater adventuring. The Katun has rapids of all grades, allowing amateurs to enjoy short sessions in the gentler sections, as well as offering challenging, multi-day expeditions for extreme rafting enthusiasts. The annual Chuya Rally, which first kicked off in 1989, was the world’s first international rafting competition. Every year around June, the quiet, rural Chibit region in Altai becomes one of the world’s adventure capitals, as the competition attracts top rafters from around the globe.  

Skiing and Winter Sports

With perfect winter conditions for skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing, the rapidly expanding settlement of Belokurikha, practically unknown until the end of the Soviet era, has become one of Siberia’s premier winter sports destinations. As an added bonus, unlike gloomy weather you might associate with Siberia throughout most of the year, Belokurikha enjoys sunshine roughly 260 days a year.

Today there are around 20 resorts and hotels in the picturesque Belokurikha River Valley, as well as a growing number of health spa, restaurants and nightlife venues.

A variety of trails are on offer for beginners through to hardcore enthusiasts. On every visitor’s must-do list is the climb to the peak of Mount Tserkovka. A 25-minute cable car ride takes you to the summit, and from the top it’s an adrenaline pumping ski all the way down the 2,600m long slope – the longest run in the area by far.

The two other main slopes are Katun, which is split into two parts with two cable lifts in operation. At the top of Katun is another lift that ferries skiers up to Severny, a narrower, faster and much more challenging trail.

Cultural Immersion

For generations, the inhabitants of the Altai Republic lived in almost complete isolation, continuing to practice their semi-nomadic lifestyles, cultural traditions and religious customs with little influence from the outside world.

While the republic today is also home to many people of ethnic Russian ancestry, over a third of the population are indigenous speakers of the Altaian language.

Altaians have traditionally practiced native religions based on shamanism, as well as Buddhism and Burkhanism or Ak Jang (“White Faith”), a newer religious movement that began to flourish among Altaians communities beginning in the early 1900s.

Burkanists belong to family clans that revere their own totem plants and animals. The Burkanists pray to a variety of spirits, including legendary figures from traditional oral epics, which are recounted to this day in lengthy and complex performances by masterful throat singers.

Like Burkanism, Altai shamanism survives largely through oral tradition. Without written prayers and canonical texts outlining principles, declarations, rules and commandments, religious practices and beliefs are passed on through oral teachings, visual symbolism, ritual and ceremony.

Many indigenous Altaian settlements and nomadic camps can be found in the fertile valleys near the Katun River and its tributaries. In recent years, certain villages have begun to open their doors to respectful, responsible tourism on their lands. Tours focusing on cultural immersion often visit villages, providing foreign guests with an intimate insight into the lifestyles and customs of today’s Altaians. You may be given the chance to sample home-cooked Altai cuisine, witness a traditional throat singing performance and even meet with a village shaman.

At certain times of the year, travellers with an interest in traditional nomadic culture can arrange to spend up to week travelling with the nomadic Telengites. With only 2,400 remaining, they are one of the smallest indigenous groups in Russia.

Altai also harbours a small community of ethnic Russian Old Believers in the Uymon valley, near Lake Multinsky. Uymon village was founded by the Old Believers 300 years ago as a place where they could continue to practice as Orthodox Christians without persecution from the Russian Imperials, and later the Soviets. The village’s Museum of the Old Believers is dedicated to preserving the stories of these proud and resilient survivors.

Photography in Altai

The Altai Mountains have a kind of wild beauty that seems almost impossible to comprehend. Mighty mountain ranges piercing through the clouds, tumbling gorges, verdant valleys crisscrossed by glacier-fed streams and alpine forests shrouded in mist.

Altai is full of landscapes so extraordinary they seem like scenes from a fantasy, a mythical otherworld. And with so few outsiders visiting this region, they may as well be. For landscape photographers, Altai is a lost paradise, a dreamscape where few have pointed their lenses before. Take a roadtrip along the Chusky Trakt and Katu-Yaryk Pass and the photo opportunities from the high altitude viewpoints are staggering.

For those with an interest in photographing people and ethnic cultures, we highly recommend visiting Altai with a local guide during one of the major festivals on the Altai calendar. Check out our chapter on Festivals and Events in Altai. The El Oyin Festival in July in particular is a huge affair, welcoming visitors from around the world to watch and join in with the local communities as they sing, dance and participate in time-honoured games and sports. A few even arrive from distant village on horseback, dressed in their finest traditional garb.  

The People of Altai – Culture and Cuisine

The one million square mile Altai-Sayan Ecoregion (designated by the World Wildlife Fund, and including small areas of China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia) is home to 5 million people, speaking 40 languages. The indigenous population are known collectively as the Altaians, descendants of the Turkic tribes with ancient cultural links to the Mongols.

Among the Altaians are various clans or tribes, with their own unique traditions and cultural practices. Some of the main groups are the Tubalar, Chelkans and Kumandin of Northern Altai, and the Altai-Kizhi, Teleut, Teles and Telengit of Southern Altai. Each tribe speaks its own dialect of the Altai language. 

Today, indigenous Altaians make up about 34% of the Altai Republics total population of 206,000. Around 57% of the population are ethnic Russians, while the other major ethnic group, the Kazakhs, account for just over 6% of the population.

While at one time, most Altai people lived nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyles, relying on horses and the building of mobile yurts to move around the mountainous terrain, today many Altaians prefer to live in spacious ails (six-sided conical huts) within permanent rural settlements. Many indigenous Altaian villages can be found in the fertile valleys near the Katun River and its tributaries. with attached summer kitchens used for drying cheese, meat and preparing drinks such as chegan (a lightly fizzy yoghurt-based drink) and a mild, milky alcoholic spirit known as archaka.

Altai Kaichi and Throat Singing                 

Among the most famous ancestral traditions known among the Altai is throat singing. The style of throat singing or ‘overtone singing’, (as it sounds as though the vocalist is singing two notes in separate frequencies at the same time) performed in Altai is unique to certain cultures in Siberia and Mongolia.

Storytellers, known as kaichi, perform folk stories and heroic epics, passed down by the generations, through the medium of throat singing. Sometimes they are accompanied by music on the tapsure, a two-stringed instrument. If you are lucky enough to spend time with friendly Altaian community, do not miss the chance to folk

Altai Cuisine

As a historically nomadic, herding culture, Altai cuisine is based largely on meat and milk. Yaks, as well as cattle, goat and horse provide the primary sources of meat and dairy. Other foods, such as pine nuts, mushrooms and honey, are foraged from the woods in season.

Milk is used to make drinks such as chegen (a lightly fizzy yoghurt-based drink) and a mild, milky alcoholic spirit known as archaka).

Cheese, called kurut is made from chegen. Smoked over wood on an open fire, kurut is a very hard cheese with a strong and salty flavour and can last for very long time.  

Another staple is kocho, or Altai barley soup. This soup is made from a meat broth of lam, horse or beef on the bone. Altai cuisine tends to be simple but hearty, using few spices and seasonings. For kocho, usually only salt and dried wild onion are added to the broth for extra flavour, followed by barley grains, which give the soup its thick and creamy texture, perfect for warming the stomach in the winter months.

Festivals and Events in Altai

The Altai are primarily a cattle-herding people, so unsurprisingly, some of their most important national holidays are closely tied to the farming calendar. The Altaians also celebrate a number of religious holidays. Traditionally, the Altai people held strong beliefs in shamanism, and followed animistic beliefs which perceive that all of nature – animals, plants, rocks, rivers and mountains – are alive and interconnected, and that every season and natural phenomenon posses a spirit. Religious events among the Altai are usually connected to the worship of these spirits.

Two of the most significant events on the Altai calendar are tazhyl byur and saary byur, transitory times between the seasons when nomadic tribes would shift from one pasture to another.

In June, the appearance of a full moon symbolises the start of summer and the tazhtl byur (green leaves) festival, a time to give thanks to the season’s blessings and the emergence of new pastures for their grazing cattle herds.

Other festivals are devoted to autumn and the riches foraged from the taiga forests, while chagan bayram (‘White Holiday”), held in February is celebrated as the beginning of the New Year according to the lunar calendar.

Religious festivals tend to be family and community affairs, and each community. Since the Altai Republic has become more open and accessible to outsiders, a number of traditional festivals have evolved into more extravagant events, often involving large gatherings from different communities and a welcoming attitude to visitors.

Maralnik Blossom Festival

By mid-spring, the last of the snow has melted in the Altai mountain range, and the region’s lush valleys and verdant meadows explode with springtime colour. The mountain foothills turn into a huge flower glade carpeted with blazing purple rhododendron (called maralnik by the locals). The blooming season is the main event of spring and a time of joy and festivities for the Altai. The purple blossoms, numbering in their millions are a marvellous sight, attracting travellers far and wide – the sort of the Siberian equivalent of Japan’s cherry blossom festival! 

Altai tour travel Russia
©Olga Sazhina

El Oyin Festival

Held over three days, El Oyin is Altai’s national festival and a celebration of the Altaian people’s nomadic culture. events are held around Altai, but most of the action takes place in a picturesque valley near the village of Elo in central Altai’s Ongudaysky District.

The valley becomes an enchanting open-air stage, with music, dancing and theatrical performances by epic storytellers and master of throat singing. The event has grown over the years, with foreign visitors among a contingent of at least 20,000 spectators, regaled with costume parades, yurt building competitions, horse racing, rodeo wrangling, wrestling and archery contests.

The atmosphere is joyous and proud and gives outsiders a rare opportunity to interact with people from various Altaian communities. Participants come from all across Altai, dressed in traditional ceremonial garb. By keeping their historical customs and traditions alive through an annual celebration, El Oyin helps to ensure Altaian identity remains strong in the hearts and minds of the next generations.

When to Go to Altai, Russia

The Altai Republic has three main climatic zones – warm and humid continental, subarctic and cold semi-arid, making it essentially a year-round destination. Gorno-Altaisk and Barnual both fall into the continental client, and while they’re still quite chilly in the winter months, they are warm, pleasant and sunny (is a little rainier) during the summer.

Being located far from the oceans, the lands of the Altai Ranges heat up considerably in summer and cool rapidly in winter, making late spring and summer the ideal season for mountain trekking and camping.

Summer (between June and August) is peak whitewater rafting season in Altai. The ski season usual opens at the start of December and extends until the end of March.

Transport in Altai – Getting There and Around

How to Get to Altai

At a crossroads of the ancient world, Novosibirsk is Russia’s third largest city and a central hub of the famous Trans-Siberian Railroad. The city is a major road, rail and air transport hub, lying about 350km from the Altai border. Because Novosibirsk is easily accessible from the rest of Russia, it serves as a common jumping off point for travellers heading into the Altai Republic. Unlike the sparsely populated Altai Republic, Novosibirsk is booming, bustling and dynamic city of some 1,612, 900 people, it’s Russia’s third largest city after Moscow and St Petersburg.

By Plane:

Direct Flights to Altai

There are a handful of convenient options for reaching the Altai Mountains by air. From Moscow, you can take a direct flight to Gorno-Altaisk, the capital of the Altai Republic. S7 Airlines runs about two flights a week (check the schedule for seasonal changes to the timetable) with a flight time of about 4 hours and 4 minutes.

Flights also operate several times a week from Moscow to Barnaul (just over 4 hours flight time). Larger, livelier and more developed that Gorno-Altaisk, Barnaul is somewhat more popular as a first introduction to Altai and is a good starting point for adventures in the Altai Mountain region.

Flights to Altai via Novosibirsk

Although not part of the Altai Republic, lying 447km from the Altai capital of Gorno-Altaisk, Novosibirsk is one the most popular jumping-off points for trips into Altai. As the largest city in Siberia, Novosibirsk is well serviced by air, with daily flights to and from all the major Russian cities and some international flights from Frankfurts, Hannover, Beijing, Seoul and Tel Aviv. The largest local airport is Tolmachovo Airport, located 20km west of the city centre by taxi, hotel shuttle bus or private transfer.

 By Train:

Moscow to Barnaul

It’s possible to travel by train from Moscow all the way to Barnaul. There are no rail services in Altai south of Barnaul, so if you’re heading elsewhere in Altai, once you reach Barnual train staion, the only option is to travel by road from there.

The train journey from Moscow to Barnaul spans almost 3,000km and takes 2.5 days to reach its destination.

To Barnaul or Biysk via the Trans-Siberian Railway and Novosibirsk

You can also reach the Altai region travelling part of the way on the historic Trans-Siberian Railway. This is a rather more comfortable way to reach Altai by rail, and of course the Trans-Siberian is an incredible overland travel experience in itself.

You can board the Trans-Siberian at Moscow or another stop along the western part of the railway. To continue on to Altai, you’ll be taking the Trans-Siberian as far as Novosibirsk (a 2-day journey from Moscow). From Novosibirsk’s Main Station, you can catch a train on the 601H Route south into Altai. Expect to reach Barnaul (228km from Novosibirsk) in just under 10 hours. From Barnaul, the railway continues south to its final destination, Biysk (roughly another 5 hours from Barnaul).

By Bus:

From Novosibirsk or Barnaul, the cheapest way to get into Gorno-Altaysk is by bus. There are around 4 to 5 trips per day from Novosibirsk, while buses depart from Baurnal roughly every 2 hours

Getting Around in Altai

Going from north to south, Gorno-Altaisk, Biysk, Barnaul and Chemal are the only significantly populated towns in the Altai Republic. In these towns you’ll find taxis and marshrutka (mini-buses shared with other passengers that travel along a fixed route) to take you to various places in and around town.

A system of marshrutkas and buses are the regular means of transporting people between the major towns. Traffic is light, but distances are long and reaching more remote, wilderness areas require a private driver.

Sleeping and Eating in Altai

Accommodation

With tourism still very much a developing industry in Altai, in many parts of the region, accommodation standards are still fairly basic. In larger towns like Gorno-Altaisk, Barnaul and Chemal, tourism is increasingly making an impact on the local economy. New hotels and resorts are springing up year after year, although the market still caters mainly to domestic Russian tourists. Cheap, comfortable lodgings can easily be found in the cities, but don’t expect much in the way of luxury accommodation.

One exception is the ski resort regions such as Belokurikha. With ambitions to compete with the best winter sports destinations in Russia, Belokurikha is now home to several eco-resorts and hotels of a fine international standard.

Campsites in Altai

Hiking and other outdoor activities in the Altai Mountains are by far the region’s biggest drawcards. To accommodate tourists on multi-day, outdoor expeditions, a number of private campsites, rest bases and simple guesthouses have sprung up, particularly in the northern part of the Altai Mountains, where the warmer climate attracts the largest numbers of hikers and trekking groups.

Trekking tour groups will arrange your accommodation in campsites in advance, although independent travellers with their own tents and supplies can simply show up, and usually find a place.

Campsites are mainly concentrated around:

  • The northern shores of Lake Teletskoye (close to Artybash village)
  • Several sites along the Katun River, easily accessible from the Chuysky Highway which runs parallel to the river
  • Continuing south along the Katun to the Chemal tributary, a collection of riverside campsites are concentrated mainly in and around Chemal village

Food and eating out in Altai

In the cities and smaller towns, most tourists will find themselves frequenting the local Cafes. These eateries are cheap and generally quite good, serving mainly classic Russian and Altaian dishes. 

You’ll find a decent variety of restaurants in larger cities and tourist hotspots like Chemal. Don’t expect a great deal of international fare on offer, although European, Mongolian and other Central Asian cuisines enjoy relative popularity.

Altai cuisine is typically heavy on meat and dairy products. Some popular dishes you’re likely to come across in cafes and restaurants include:

  • Byyr (tishtigen byyr)– barbecued meat (usually mutton liver), prepared shashlik-style on wooden skewers and cooked vertically beside an open fire
  • Kerzen – another style of barbecue using large, diced pieces of mutton meat
  • Miun – Meat cooked on the bone on an open fire until is soft and tender, served in a broth with carrots and onions
  • Boorsok – these “Altai doughnuts” are baked on an open fire and often served with warm honey
  • Kyryt – a type of cottage cheese which is smoked on an open fire. Kyryt can survive long periods without any special storage and was traditionally a favourite source of nutrition to take on long trips.

On a roadtrip along Altai’s main Chuysky Trakt, your driver will stop at small roadside shops and rest stops along the highway where you can purchase basic food items and other essentials.

As a foreigner visiting Altai to embark on multi-day hiking, rafting or horse riding expedition the mountains, arranging your travel through a specialist tour company is strongly advised, as they will organise all the food and provisions you’ll need on your trip. Hikers in the Altai Mountains must otherwise be completely self-sufficient when it comes to food, equipment and other essential supplies.

Tours in Altai          

International tourism is still young in the Altai Republic. Even compared to other areas in Siberia, Altai is still very much a frontier destination, although a few places, like Chemal, and ski resort areas like Belokurikha have seen significant development in recent years. Still, most of this vast, mountainous region consists of wilderness and small, isolated settlements, making getting around as a traveller challenging.

Most visitors to the Altai Republic arrive on pre-arranged tours, either in groups or with a private tour guide and driver. If you’re planning on a multi-day hiking or rafting expedition anywhere in Altai, a guide should be considered essential. We hope you enjoyed this Altai Republic Travel Guide.

56th Parallel will soon be running small group tours to the Altai Republic. Private tours that cater to your interests can be arranged at any time, on request.

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56th Parallel is a travel company specialising in providing packaged tours and travel services in Russia.

Our goal is to redefine travel to Russia, focusing on creating the most rewarding experiences, which help travellers unfolds the soul of this exciting destination.

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