Homestay with local families
Type of tour
12 days / 11 nights
Arrive in Moscow for a meet and greet with your guide. Transfer to the hotel, where we’ll spend a restful night before the long journey to Yamal in the morning.
Transfer to the airport for a flight to the town of Salekhard (2h 30min). With a population of around 43,000, Salekhard is the administrative centre of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region.
Here we board an all-terrain vehicle for a drive for up to six hours over the frozen surface of the River Ob to Yar-Sale village on the Yamal Peninsula. The river is the only way to access the village – either by boat in summer or by driving the ice in winter.
Yar-Sale was the first trading post built on the Yamal Peninsula by the Russians in 1927. Before that, there were only nomadic Nenets and no settlements at all. These days, over 50 per cent of Yamal’s Nenets are still nomadic, and most have relatives in small villages like Yar-Sale who live
sedentary lives and provide accommodation to nomadic relatives during rare village visits.
At Yar-Sale, we’ll spend the night in either a local Nenets guesthouse or a small private hotel.
Travel through the vast tundra in wooden box sledges attached to the back of a snowmobile to an encampment of nomadic Nenets reindeer herders. Unlike many nomadic tribes in Russia and the world-over, the Nenets are have largely retained their traditional way of life and are famed for having longest nomadic migration routes in the world.
They wear clothing made of reindeer fur, sewn using reindeer sinew as thread, and live in conical tents made of reindeer fur and known as chums. Across a single year, the Nenets may migrate up to 2,000km, transporting their chums and all their possessions on home-made, wooden sledges, accompanied by herds of reindeer up to 10,000 strong.
The Yamal Nenets speak a language completely unrelated to Russian and practice an animistic religion based on deep reverence for nature, paying tribute to the spirits that inhabit the natural world through reindeer sacrifices and shamanistic rituals.
For the next 5 days, you’ll be living with the nomads, eating and sleeping in their Chums (tepees). There will be no fixed itinerary for these days. Instead, this is a uniquely immersive experience, where guests observe and take part in the daily lives of the nomads.
Assisted by the expert Nenets, your tasks could include herding reindeer and lassoing the animals using rawhide lassoes. As one of the few sources of available food, reindeer are butchered at the camp as needed. The meat is divided up and eaten (usually raw) and the Nenets are also partial to drinking reindeer blood (partaking in this practice is optional!)
You’ll also have the chance to involve yourself in the preparations for making a new campsite, sledding into the forest to cut trees for firewood, collecting ice or snow for water, helping to build new sledges, sewing fur clothing and other activities essential for survival. It’s not all work
though. There will be plenty of time for relaxation and be socialising with your hosts and other members of the community.
* Duration of the camp stay can be extended to seven days upon request.
After saying farewell to our hosts in the Nenets campsite, we make the return journey to Yar
Sale, again travelling by a snowmobile-driven sledge. Back at Yar Sale, we’ll spend the night in a local Nenets guest house.
Today, we’re back on board the all-terrain vehicle for the return drive along the solid ice of the Ob River. On our return to Salekhard, we’ll be put up in a comfortable hotel in town for the night.
Today we’ll enjoy a free day in Salekhard, a town founded by Russian settlers in 1595 after the conquest of Siberia. Highly recommended is the Shemanovskiy Yamal-Nenets District museum, which focuses on Yamal’s regional culture and natural history, including a fascinating exhibition
on mammoth remains discovered in the region. Visit the 16th-century fortress of Obdursk, the first Russian settlement built in the area, and wander the market square where the nomads come to sell meat, fish and furs.
We can also arrange a day trip to the abandoned village of Polyarniy in the Polar Ural Mountains. *this is a free day, which we save in case of bad weather and delayed with a transfer from Yar-Sale.
On our final day, we fly back to Moscow from Salekhard, ready for your departure back home or on to your next adventure.
Activities and experiences according to the tour program
*Russian visa can be arranged by 56th Parallel for an additional cost (for Australian citizens only). Apply for comprehensive visa service here.
International flights, Russian tourist visa, travel insurance, individual clothing and equipment, tips.
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