Many parts of the Russian Arctic can be reached by long south-north river boat journeys that are just as epic as the country’s better known east-west train journeys, but take you through much more isolated areas. Depending on the river and the starting point, journeys can take from 3 – 17 days in one direction to reach the Arctic.
We can purchase and deliver tickets for passenger boats that run from southern Siberia to the Arctic, and obtain the necessary border zone permits, on the following Siberian rivers:
1. THE OB.
Route: Omsk – Tobolsk – Khanty-Mansiysk – Berezovo – Salekhard (Yamal Nenets Autonomous Region).
Omsk and Tobolsk both have train stations on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Khanti-Mansiysk is accessible by bus from Tyumen, which has a train station. After Khanti-Mansiysk you are beyond the road network. As well as the major stops listed on the route above, the boat also stops at plenty of isolated indigenous villages in between them.
At Salekhard, the only city in the world located exactly on the Arctic Circle, you can either visit the nomadic Nenets reindeer herders or swap boats and continue further north into the Arctic to villages like Noviy Port and Antipayuta. We can get tickets for this too.
2. THE YENISEY.
Route: Krasnoyarsk – Yenisyeysk – Bor – Verishagino – Igarka – Dudinka (Taymyr).
Krasnoyarsk has a train station on the Trans-Siberian Railway and Yenisyeysk is accessible by bus from Krasnoyarsk. After this you are beyond the road network. Once you get about three of four days north of Krasnoyarsk on this route, some of the villages are EXTREMELY isolated. In 2013 we organised a bespoke trip to one of them for a linguist studying the indigenous Ket language. The village’s population totalled 50 people, of whom nobody had an official job. They were all hunters and fishermen, there were only wooden houses. There was no electricity, heating, running water, school, doctor or shop.
Once you get to Dudinka you can easily transfer to Norilsk to begin a trip on the Putorana Plateau.
3. THE NORTHERN LENA:
Route: Yakutsk – Zhigansk – Tiksi.
Yakutsk has no train station, but is accessible by shared taxi from Tynda, Aldan and Tommot stations further south. As soon as you leave Yakutsk on the boat, you are beyond the road network. You will then continue north, stopping at timeless log-cabin villages of the Yakut and Evenki indigenous people who live by hunting, fishing, and horse and reindeer herding.
4. THE SOUTHERN LENA
Route: Ust-Kut – Lensk – Olekminsk – Yakutsk.
Ust Kut has a railway station. After that you are beyond the road network until you reach Yakutsk. Boats on the first section of this route from Ust-Kut to Lensk do not actually sell tickets. They depart regularly nut are mostly for goods and vehicles. However, if you speak Russian it is easy to convince captains to give you a space on board. Once at Lensk you change for a regular passenger boat to Yakutsk, for which we can buy tickets in advance. You will pass the magnificent Lena Pillars UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as many beautiful indigenous villages nestled amid the taiga forest on the river banks. As tickets are not sold in advance for this trip, having an interpreter / guide with you for this trip is recommended, which we can provide.
5. THE KOLYMA.
There are no passenger boats on this river, but there are plenty of boats transporting goods from Magadan Province to northern Yakutia and Chukotka. Seymchan, the starting point, is 600km by road north of Magadan or 1800km by road east of Yakutsk. No public transport runs to Seymchan from anywhere else. The boats do not run to a schedule. You just have to turn up and convince the captain of a boat to take you.
This is the most beautiful of all the rivers listed on this page, and passes through the most isolated and least travelled areas. However, as there is no timetable or passenger service, guests will need a Russian-speaking interpreter with them, a very flexible schedule and plenty of time.
Please contact us to organise any of the trips listed above.