There was a time when, just as every Muslim must make a pilgrimage to Mecca, every nomadic Nenets reindeer herder from the Russian Arctic had to make a pilgrimage to Vaygach Island off the coast of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. To this day the place remains littered with idols and sacrificial sites which the local reindeer herders consider sacred. We invite guests to experience the extraordinarily rich and well-preserved culture of the nomadic Nenets reindeer herders, as well as visiting many of the most important idols and sacrificial sites on Vaygach. Guests will visit the remains of gulag concentration camps and have a good chance of seeing polar bears.

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Nenets reindeer and sledge, Korovinskaya Guba, Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Arctic Russia

Nenets reindeer and sledge, Korovinskaya Guba, Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Arctic Russia

Our guests on Vaygach will do a week long trek through the island’s interior, visiting several of the main idols and sacred sites. You have a good chance of seeing polar bears, with which the island is infested, walrus, and other arctic fauna. Guests will also visit sacred sites on small offshore islands, visit gulag concentration camps both on Vaygach and on the mainland, and stay at a camp of nomadic Nenets reindeer herders.

There is only one way to access Vaygach: take the weekly flight from Arkhangelsk to Amderma, a mostly abandoned town on the Arctic coast with only about 600 residents remaining. Polar bears can occasionally be seen on the streets of Amderma. From there we will travel by transport tank (vezdekhod) along the coast until we reach the point where the Yugorskiy Straits can most easily be traversed. We will cross by motorboat to Varnek, a tiny wooden village with a population of 80 and the only settlement on Vaygach.

As with all our trips to regions where polar bears are likely to be encountered, guests will be accompanied by experienced, armed rangers.

This is one of the most strictly patrolled closed areas in Russia. Permits are checked upon arrival in Amderma, with harsh consequences for anyone found without one. When you book your trip, we will, therefore, send you a list of documents and personal details required for the permit application. Please be sure they are accurate and complete, and that you send them to us no later than two months before the trip start date.

We can organise trips to Vaygach Island in July and August when the weather is good and the straits separating it from the mainland are not frozen.

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Sample Itinerary: (days of the week are not flexible):

Friday

Leave Moscow by train at 10:05 am. Travel all day.

Saturday

Arrive in Archangelsk at 06:26 in the morning and fly to Amderma, arriving at 13:15. Take a motorboat along the coast, stopping at an abandoned gulag concentration camp along the way. Cross the straits and sail north up Vaygach’s west coast to the point where we will disembark.

Amderma village, Nenets Autonomous Okrug

Amderma village, Nenets Autonomous Okrug

Sunday – Saturday

7-day circular trek through Vaygach’s interior, visiting Nenets sacred sites, waterfalls, enormous bird colonies and hopefully spotting polar bears. We will cover around 6km a day, which is more than it sounds in swampy tundra conditions. We will stay overnight in tents or hunters’ cabins.

Dogs vs polar bears

Dogs vs. polar bears

Sunday

Visit Nenets sacred sites on some of Vaygach’s small offshore islands.

Nenets man next to idol on Vaygach Island, Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Arctic Russia

Nenets man next to idol on Vaygach Island, Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Arctic Russia

Monday

Return to Amderma by boat then travel to a nomad camp by Soviet transport tank.

Soviet transport tanks (vezdekhody) on the Yugorskiy Peninsula, Nenets Autonomous Okrug

Soviet transport tanks (vezdekhody)on the Yugorskiy Peninsula, Nenets Autonomous Okrug

Tuesday – Thursday

Live at the nomad camp. There will be no fixed programme. Guests will merely observe and partake in the daily lives of the nomads. This could involve herding reindeer, moving camp, slaughtering reindeer, making new sledges, sewing fur clothing, cutting down trees for firewood, collecting water, etc.

Nenets reindeer herd on the Yugorskiy Peninsula, Arctic Russia

Nenets reindeer herd on the Yugorskiy Peninsula, Arctic Russia

Friday

Return to Amderma. Overnight in hotel.

Saturday
Fly to Archangelsk. Take the evening train to Moscow.

Sunday
Arrive in Moscow at 16:43.

Prices:

WITH ENGLISH LANGUAGE INTERPRETER ACCOMPANYING YOU ALL THE WAY FROM MOSCOW

NUMBER IN GROUP TOTAL COST
1 550,000 Russian rubles
2 750,000 Russian rubles
3 950,000 Russian rubles
4 1,150,000 Russian rubles
5 1,350,000 Russian rubles

WITHOUT INTERPRETER. RUSSIAN-SPEAKING GUIDES WILL MEET YOU UPON ARRIVAL IN AMDERMA

NUMBER IN GROUP TOTAL COST
1 475,000 Russian rubles
2 675,000 Russian rubles
3 875,000 Russian rubles
4 1,075,000 Russian rubles
5 1,275,000 Russian rubles
6 1,475,000 Russian rubles

Prices include all transport, accommodation and food (apart from in Moscow), local guides (2 guides for 4 visitors or 3 for 6 visitors), special permits for entry into the region, letter of invitation for the Russian visa.

Prices do not include transport to or from Russia, accommodation in Moscow, food in Moscow, insurance, clothing, equipment or medical kits.

Prices are based on transport Moscow – Archangel – Moscow in the common carriage of the train (54 beds in an open-plan carriage).

Optional extras:

*Beds in a private 4-bed compartment cost 2500 rubles extra per bed one way. You’ll need to book all four beds in order not to share with strangers.

Flying instead of taking the train costs 7500 rubles extra per person one way, including for your interpreter. You will have to spend a night in an Archangel hotel before flying on to Amderma, so it does not save much time.

Due to the fact that Vaygach is within an area closed to all outsiders, foreign or Russian, I need to apply for a special permit for you which takes two months to obtain. You must, therefore, have your Russian visa ready and book your tour a minimum of 2.5 months before your planned departure date.

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