Getting around in Northern Russia is not an easy task, with air and rail services often unavailable. As for the roads, most of them go off in their own direction. A cruise is probably the most trouble-free option if you want to get acquainted with the harsh North. Lenta.ru reviews five exciting excursions on offer this season.
The Northern waterways are navigable for only part of the year. Even when the rivers are not frozen over, the barren landscapes look intimidating and the ruthless cold makes hats and scarves a must. The best time to appreciate a northern cruise is late May and the navigation season generally runs until September.
From Norilsk to Krasnoyarsk in 10 Days
One of the most popular tours begins in the recent city of Norilsk, where you can join a sightseeing trip and visit the Museum of History of the Norilsk Industrial District. The very next day you will set out for Dudinka, the northernmost and coldest city on earth, with winter temperatures regularly dropping to -57C (-71F). Explore the Dudinka sights and don’t forget the Taymyr Regional Studies Museum – the northernmost state-run museum in Russia boasting the 45,000-year-old body of Zhenia, a baby mammoth. The cruise departs from the Dudinka river port on day 3, arriving in Igarka late at night. During the journey along the Kureyka River, the boat will cross the Polar Circle and stop at the city of Turukhansk, founded in 1607.
The next two days sees the boat head for Yeniseysk, passing by Verkhneimbatsk, Bakhta, Vorogovo and Yartsevo. A real open-air museum, Yeniseysk has retained 94 structures of architectural and historic interest, mostly of them civil buildings. You can also look around the city’s exhibition hall and several private museums. Next, you will take a coach to Krasnoyarsk, where you will visit the St. Nicholas steam engine and the Krasnoyarsk Dam. On day 9, take in the scenery in the Stolby Nature Sanctuary and go for a cable car ride in the Bobrovy Log Fun Park.
The 10-day cruise costs upwards of $1,070, including transfers, full board, first-class cabin, double- or triple-room hotel accommodation (there is a surcharge for single rooms), excursions and insurance coverage.
Across the Putorana Plateau
A cruise from Krasnoyarsk to Norilsk will take you to the breath-taking Putorana Plateau.
Following an exciting day in Krasnoyarsk and the Stolby Nature Sanctuary, on day 2 you will navigate the toughest 4 kilometers of the Yenisei River near Kazachnskoye Village where the rocky Yenisei Ridge traverses the river bed. After overcoming the Kazachinskoye Rapids, the boat continues to Yeniseysk, followed by Yartsevo, Turukhansk, Igarka and Dudinka.
The highlight of the cruise is the stunning Putorana Plateau, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with dozens of waterfalls, mountain lakes and tall flat-top ridges interspersed with deep wide canyons. Feast your eyes on Lama Lake, also known as the Baikal of Taymyr, and spend a night in a tourist camp.
The next day you will admire the weeping rocks – a 15-metre-tall natural wall rising above the river measuring 20m deep. The rocks take their name from the multiple brooks and the small waterfall cascading down their surface. After a walk and a spot for dinner, you can relax in the Russian bathhouse, or ‘banya’. You will revel in the beauties of the plateau for one more day before finally heading to Norilsk, where you will spend the final day of your trip.
The tour costs upwards of $1,330 but you will have to pay an additional $153 for single-room accommodation and transfers.
Exploring the Krasnoyarsk Krai Rivers
“Yenisei’s Beautiful Rivers” is one of the longer cruises in the Russian North and begins from Krasnoyarsk. Forget coaches - throughout the whole 12-day tour, you will only be travelling on the water!
On day 1, following a visit to the Krasnoyarsk Dam and Divnogorsk, you can enjoy a tour of the Shumikha and Biryusa river bays and the caves carved in the banks. Adorned with rich dripstones, many of the caves may have been home to prehistoric man, on the evidence of Stone and Iron Age relics found on this site.
The boat will continue to the Yezagash, Derbina and Sisim rivers before anchoring in the Balakhtenka tourist village, where you can, weather-permitting, go berry and mushroom picking. Guests will spend the night in wooden cabins furnished with hand-made furniture.
Sailing along the Ubey River on day 2, you will see the site where the Pallas Iron meteorite was found in 1749 and major historical gold mines. Another landmark situated on Ubey bank is the Kazan Distillery which functioned from the mid-19th century until the 1920s. The plant belonged to Lydia Yarilova, employed up to 20 workers, and used to produce over 1 million litres of vodka annually.
On day 4 tourists return to Krasnoyarsk and visit the Stolby Nature Sanctuary and the Bobrovy Log Fun Park.
A three-day rafting adventure on the Manya River starts on day 5. Traditionally used for timber rafting, the river is full of islands, meanders, boulders, rifts and shallows. On day 8 you will arrive in Yeniseysk, having crossed the joining of the Angara and Yenisei rivers. After a sightseeing itinerary, you will take a trip to Krasnoyarsk, coming to the final destination in the middle of day 10.
The trip costs upwards of $810 and single-room accommodation and transfers are charged extra.
Discover the Arctic
The longest cruise, named “Pearls of the Russian Arctic”, lasts for 16 days. It starts from Murmansk where you will board an icebreaker destined for the Novaya Zemlya. On the first day of the trip you will be joining a tour of the ship, followed by a safety drill and a test alert.
The icebreaker arrives on the west coast of Severny Island, Novaya Zemlya, on day 3. You will take a helicopter to visit the spectacular Inostrantsev Gulf, which cuts deep into the coastline.
The ship will then head for Vize Island, named after the Russian oceanographer who calculated its coordinates 18 years before its actual discovery. You will see one of the few polar stations still operating on the Kara Sea islands.
On day 6 the icebreaker will sail to the vast Arctic archipelago, last visited by a tourist ship in 1998.
The cruise will then proceed to the Sedov Archipelago and Golomyannyi Island, where two families of polar explorers have lived and worked for over 16 years.
On day 8, the icebreaker will sail to the Laptev Sea through the Krasnoyarmyy Strait – expect polar bear sightings! You will make a stop on the Baranov Cape, Bolshevik Island, to see the most modern Russian polar station Prima.
After returning to the Kara Sea through the Shokalsky Strait, you will land on Bely Island, accommodating several polar stations, then head for Vaygach Island with ruined shacks of the Vaygach GULAG labour camp, where prisoners used to mine zinc and copper ore. You will also be introduced to the traditional lifestyle of the indigenous Nenets.
On the penultimate day of the tour, you will sail through the narrow Yugorsky Strait into the Barents Sea – the route taken by Willem Barentsz’s expedition in 1594. The cruise finally finishes in Murmansk.
The Arctic adventure will cost you above of $4,280.
Look for Bargains at the Yeniseysk Fair
Another fun event-driven cruise takes you to the bustling Yeniseysk Fair. Departing from Krasnoyarsk, the boat travels to the confluence of the Angara and Yenisei rivers and overcomes the Kazachnskoye Rapids, arriving in Yeniseysk late at night. On day 2, you can join a sightseeing tour, visit several museums and the local exhibition hall.
On day 3 you will attend the fair which during its heyday used to attract merchants from Moscow and St. Petersburg, Novgorod and Vologda and Kazan. Today, the fair is emerging as a tourist destination. You will be able to enjoy the small vessel Yeniseysk Regatta, visit folk villages and sample local food and beverages. The fair culminates in a concert and firework display.
Finally, you will take a coach from Yeniseysk to Krasnoyarsk, stopping for a picnic in the fresh air. The tour is a bargain at $290.
Author: Timur Yusupov