My Arctic Russia adventure was very short and conducted by a very reliable and efficient tour company called Nordic Travel. They have a variety of summer and winter tour programs (heritage, cultural, short trips etc) all across Russia and Konstantin, the owner and one of the guides is a friendly knowledgeable guy who speaks good English too. Their official website is easy to use and it is in English as well as Russian. Most of the tours are pretty reasonably priced except for the Aurora Borealis, North Pole expedition, and other adventure trips to remote locations like the Yamal and Chukchi Peninsula, Sakhalin and Kuril Islands. But these places, owing to their far-off geographical location and harsh weather conditions are for adventure lovers, seeking pristine untouched spots on earth.
Destination Arctic Russia details
For ten nights and nine days, all-inclusive Karelia winter tour was priced at 2000 USD in 2012. This price is for a single traveler and the cost gets lower on the higher number of guests. Apart from using the services of a tour company like the Nordic Travel, Arctic Russia adventures can be easily DIY (Do It Yourself) trips too. Opt for destinations like Karelia or Murmansk, which are easy to access and have tourism infrastructure. Be aware that traveling to many regions of Arctic Russia is strictly controlled and can be accessed either by a registered guide, special permits, or both. I have personally used a good company to visit the Yamal Peninsula and would highly recommend Yamal Peninsula Travel for their services.
Travel tips for Murmansk
The first and foremost thing to do on your Aurora Borealis hunt is to check the Aurora predictions for that year. Sweden, Norway, and Canada apart from North Western Russia also lie on the Aurora belt and is easier on the pocket than the Scandinavian countries. It is also suitable those wishing for extreme endurance tests and adventure. The port city of Murmansk is the most popular jumping-off base, though one can also start from Kandalaksha or Petrozavodsk and move up north. All these cities are easily connected with Moscow and St Petersburg by train and flight. Murmansk is also very popular among skiers and has some good accommodation and dining options. There are quite a lot of family-run bistros as well as supermarkets and convenience stores all across the city. Hiring a guide from your hostel/hotel is the best way to go about exploring the surrounding areas, though keep in mind that an English speaker will be hard to come by. Arranging transportation to Lovozero or nearby villages for Aurora watch through the hotel makes sense too. Lenin Ice Breaker visit can easily be done on your own as there is an official English speaking guiding service available for foreign tourists.
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Things to remember on your Aurora Borealis hunt
Unless you are super lucky, Aurora Borealis viewing needs teamwork and/or a lot of patience. This spectacular natural phenomenon is not easy to photograph or predict and a minimum two members team makes things more systematic. The watch requires constant vigil and is best done in turns with the expert help of locals. Stay away from the city as bright lights diffuse the beauty of Aurora and make it hard to view. Remote areas mean freezing temperature and thermal layering is required to withstand the famous Arctic cold. I personally suggest layered clothing along with thermal underwear and ski socks to battle the freezing cold which often dips below -35 degrees Celsius. Proper snowshoes, snow cleats (for easy walking on ice), gloves, and sunglasses are mandatory too along with a heavy slathering of sunscreen. A daily dose of multivitamins, vitamin C, and cod liver oil tablets help keep head colds and sniffles at bay and hearty Russian soups work wonders.
Other wonderful winter destinations in Russia
A couple of other interesting options for intrepid travelers visiting Russia in winter are the Golden Ring tour (Suzdal, Vladimir, Novogorod etc are splendid in winter) and the St Petersburg city tour. It is fairy tale pretty in winter and brings alive the beauty of Russian epics. The extreme adventure lovers can opt for the Yakutsk or Yamal Peninsula for a Nenets tour. Both Yakutsk ( Oymyakon village in that area records lowest terrestrial temperature outside Antarctica) and Yamal Peninsula require extreme physical fitness as temperatures often dip to -50 degrees Celsius in winter. However, these are once in a lifetime adventures and guarantee experiences to one of the most remote areas on earth.
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The Nenets tour of Arctic Russia
Nenets are nomadic reindeer herding settlers who still live in reindeer skin chums (tents) and revolve their existence around their pastoral animals. In fact, Nenets’ favorite meal is reindeer meat and blood, eaten and drunk raw from a freshly killed reindeer carcass. They also have interesting reindeer races and a host of indigenous activities. So if experiencing life at one of its rawest forms (literally) is what you want, then try being a real nomad living in chums with a Nenet family and participating in their daily activities like ice fishing and reindeer herding. All tours to Yamal peninsula and Yakutia require special permits and have to be done through a licensed agent before your arrival into Russia as sometimes these permits take months.
A bit of Russia travel facts
There are direct flights to Moscow and St Petersburg from New Delhi by Aeroflot and Emirates, Qatar etc fly there too. Russian tourist visa for Indians is usually for 15 days and requires an invitation from Russia. This can be easily bought online or every travel agent or hotel/hostel owner would give you one free of cost if you book a tour through them. Russia is well connected by trains and tickets can be easily booked online. Russian currency is Ruble and there are plenty of money exchangers, ATMs, banks (to change Traveler’s Cheques) spread all across the Russian cities. In the remote areas, this facility will not exist so taking extra cash or booking all exclusive tour makes sense. Russia is an all year round destination and winters are filled with sports, operas, and pristine white beauty. Winter months are usually from October end to the end of March end and summers are beautiful during June, July, and August. Autumn colours of Russia are very beautiful and can be enjoyed best from September to early October. Rich, diverse, mysterious and intriguing explore Russia this year and lose yourself in true beauty.
Disclaimer: A huge thank you to Nordic Travel for making my Aurora Borealis dream come true. Though all the opinion is strictly mine, the photos of this series are copyrighted to Nordic Travel. Reproduction of this work is permitted only after approval from Nordic Travel.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE