Altai

Altai is unique. Altai is magnificent. Altai is where you will lose your breath because of the beauty of the natural landmarks and will feel the sacred unity with nature and the earth in the places of power. Some call this region Siberian Switzerland of Russia as the landscapes here are spectacular indeed. Numerous rivers, lakes, caves, and, of course, the mountains will welcome you and amaze you with their magnificence. 

What to see/do in Altay 

The Altai Mountains are a place where the natural powers and sacred energies collide and overlap. People come here for different reasons. However, be it a desire to experience new emotions, plunge into the local culture, or take a spiritual journey, one may find here lots of interesting things to see and do. Have a look at all the options below. Isn’t it enough to spend an unforgettable vacation?

Drive an off-road truck for a few thousand miles
Take a look at stone mushrooms in the valley of the Chulyshman River
See Siberian Sakura trees in blossom
Listen to throat singing
Take part in a real imperial hunt
Catch taimen in the pristine waters of the mountain rivers

Some Facts

Altai is a marvelous and at the same time mysterious location. Taking a tour to this region, you will learn many interesting things about nature, history, and culture there. Here are just a few of them:
In Mongolian, the word “Altai” means “Gold Mountains”. The region is really rich in gold, but the name could also mean that this land is actually rich in all natural resources.
Altai is not all about the mountains. It’s also the land of waters. There are more than 20,000 tributaries, which make up more than 60,000 kilometers of waterways in total.
The Chuysky Trakt is a route of almost 1000 km long that goes through Altai. With all the mountain views, passes, and lakes, it’s said to be one of the most beautiful highways in the world!
Traveling around Altai, you will see numerous kurgans or stone babas. The indigenous people believe these standing stones to be sort of antennas receiving cosmic energy.
The secret ingredients of the natural Altai herbal tea are ground barley grains, melted butter, milk, and herbs. This may sound not so tasty to you, but you must try it for sure as it’s said to have a healing power.
Antlers of the deer living in the Altai Mountains are a valuable product widely used in medicine. The substance extracted from them is good for keeping a human body strong and young.

Did You Know That…?

Altai is a historical area, so it’s no wonder that it’s in the focus of many archaeologists. Among the most important archaeological findings, there are 5 fragments of the body of a human species now called the Denisovan. The remains seem to date back about 80 thousand years. The studies have shown that the Denisovans were dark-skinned, dark-haired, and dark-eyed. Another finding from this region is a mummy of a woman who lived there about 25 centuries ago. She is known now as the Siberian Ice Maiden or the Princess of Ukok. The remains were preserved very well thanks to the thick ice they were covered with. The locals believe that all the severe rainfalls, earthquakes, and floods that followed the excavations happened because the woman was a priestess and so this was her terrible curse.

A Bit of Geography

Being one of the most interesting destinations in Siberia, the region called Altai is in the very center of Asia. Actually, in Russia, there are two regions referred to as Altai. The official name of the first one is Altai Krai. It’s a rather wide region with the city of Barnaul as the administrative center. The other one is the Altai Republic, with the town of Gorno-Altaysk as the capital. This region lies southeast of Altai Krai. Although it’s smaller in area and less populated, it is more interesting for tourists as this is exactly where the Altai Mountains are and where we want to take you to.
The mountains covering the better area of the republic and the river valleys comprising the rest are the most fascinating part about nature here. It’s also pretty green here – the quarter of the region is covered with forests. The Altai Mountains are situated at the intersection of Kazakh steppes, Mongolian semi-deserts, and the Siberian taiga, and continue further into China. The highest peak here is Mount Belukha, which is slightly higher than 4,500 meters. This also is the highest mount in the whole Siberia. It’s believed to be a gateway to the mythical and mysterious kingdom of Shambhala.

There are three major cities serving as starting points for tourists who wish to visit Altai:

  • Gorno-Altaysk. It’s 3100 km from Moscow, and it will take you a bit more than 4 hours to fly to the local airport. The flights are not regular, which means the tickets are more expensive. However, this city is the closest one to the mountains, and this may compensate for a high flight cost.
  • Barnaul. It’s 2900 km from Moscow. A flight from Barnaul to the Altai Mountains lasts about 4 hours too. The planes fly more often, and the tickets are more affordable, but the city is farther from the final destination – Altai.
  • Novosibirsk. It’s the administrative center of Novosibirsk Oblast, which is located north of Altai Krai, 2800 km away from Moscow. There are many flights operating regularly between Novosibirsk airport and airports of other major Russian cities. The flights are cheap, but the road from Novosibirsk to the Altai Mountains by car or bus will take you much more than from the other two cities. 

Traveling Around Altai

Once you have taken a flight and then a car or bus drive to the Altay Mountains, moving around will get more difficult. Are you willing to get into the wild to uncover all the secrets of Altai? If so, you need to prepare for the difficulties with traveling through the region. The truth is you’d better find a tour guide and use transportation services or a rented vehicle (off-road one preferred).
Some places are impossible to reach even by car, so you will also need to prepare to walk a lot (maybe even for a few days!). Some travel agencies offer helicopter tours that will allow tourists to see the incredible scenery of the Altai Mountains from above. You may also be offered to ride a horse or use a boat to reach the attractions that are inaccessible by foot. 

Living in Altai

If you want to experience something exciting, gain unforgettable impressions, and see all the unique wonders of Altai, you will enjoy the living options here. In the areas that are more remote from the civilized community, there are traditional campgrounds as well as yurt camps. An Altai trekking tour where you will be living in a tent or a yurt at night and explore the wild regions during the day can be a real adventure. It will allow you to be closer to beautiful nature and will make you go out of your comfort zone in order to learn and see something new.
Types of accommodation in Altai vary depending on the tour you choose. For those who want to feel close to nature and live with comfort at the same time, there is some good news. The most popular places, such as the area around Lake Teletskoye, can offer you hotels and guesthouses with comfortable rooms and all the amenities included.

A Bit About Climate

The weather in Novosibirsk, Barnaul, Gorno-Altaysk, and the areas surrounding them is mostly typical of Siberia, with warm, quite short summers and cold, pretty long winters. You can visit Altai all year round, but the most comfortable season is definitely when it’s warm enough – that is, from May to October. It’s a nice time for hiking, rafting, sitting near the fire under the open sky, and then going to a tent to sleep. In winter, there are fewer entertainment options but still enough to have fun. Winter activities include snowmobile riding, husky sledding, skiing, mountain climbing, and even swimming in lakes (for the bravest tourists).

A bit about locals

Altai is a land of miracles and magic. It is known as a sacred place closely associated with shamanism and Buddhism. Most inhabitants of the territory today are Russians, but there also are many indigenous people living in local villages, and some of them are real shamans. Tourists who are willing to understand what their destiny is, find love, or get a healing come to Altai in order to meet the local shamans, healers, and witch doctors.
The indigenous Altaians belong to the nomadic Turkic group. They had been sleeping in yurts and moving around quite frequently. The land they had been inhabiting historically was great for hunting and animal husbandry. That’s where their traditional cuisine characterized by the abundance of meat dishes comes from. You should definitely try it when you’re there. The way of life in some settlements in the Altai Republic hasn’t been changing for centuries. You can order a tour around the local villages to get to know all the interesting traditions and rituals and see how people live in this wonderful mountainous area with your own eyes.