Beyond Moscow into extreme adventure

Russia's most popular destinations beyond her two "capitals"

Russia's most popular destinations beyond her two "capitals"

Which of Russia's "extreme" destinations attract the most foreign tourists?

I'd say Lake Baikal and the Kamchatka Penninsula (see map). I'd put the Altai Mountains and Tuva in second place, followed by the far north of Russia and Mt Elbrus, the tallest mountain in Europe.

The Trans-Siberian railway is also popular because it provides foreigners with an understanding of Russia's vastness. Closer to Moscow, there are many villages - such as Myshkin and Ustie - that have preserved their ancient way of life and can act as a portal back into the 18th and 19th centuries. We find that the best travel packages combine nature with ethnography.

How do you guarantee safety on such trips?

Unfortunately, there are no standardised government requirements for safety. This depends on the company you are travelling with, and you should make sure in advance that safety will be taken seriously. If the tour operator doesn't ask for your medical information (eg, blood type) in advance, it could be a bad sign.

At our company, we require that a medical professional be present on all trips. When it's a destination from which a person can be evacuated to a modern hospital within two hours, we limit ourselves to a nurse. For more faraway places, we always have a doctor on hand.

We always communicate with the nearest emergency services available.

We also require that all of our clients are covered by medical insurance from a major company that is represented in the area we are travelling to.

It's impossible to completely guarantee one's safety, but we come very close. As long as basic precautionary procedures are followed, you shouldn't be overly concerned.

How should visitors prepare for going to the places you mention?

I wouldn't say that any special training is required if you travel with a licensed company, but keep in mind that it's called "active" tourism for a reason.

Wherever you go, be sure to take plenty of insect repellant. Some areas require special inoculations, although usually that's not a problem in Russia.

It's important to find a balance between taking only what you need and not counting on buying basic products on the spot. It's not a problem to find batteries, soap and other necessities in major cities, but you won't find them in, say, the Putoran Mountains. That said, every extra item you take is more weight on your back. Good shoes and waterproof equipment are a must.

Also be sure to consult your tourist operator about how much cash you should take, or you could end up arriving in a place where your ATM card is completely useless.

What are the biggest misconceptions foreigners hold about travelling in Russia?

Everyone knows about bears, balalaikas and our funny fur hats. What often surprises foreigners most - especially in Russia's provinces - is that life doesn't differ much from wherever they are from. They come expecting to see a completely new world, and, apart from natural wonders, it doesn't turn out to be much different from what they're used to. Many of our guests don't come expecting to find welcoming and kind-hearted people or familiar brand names in supermarkets.

I've also found that many tourists are shocked by the differences in standards of living between different Russian cities, and especially the countryside. Russia, in that sense, has many more contrasts than most developed countries.

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