Frequently asked questions
Why travel with us?
- With us you will not just be accompanied by an interpreter. You will be accompanied by a guide-fixer-interpreter who has many years of experience in Arctic Russia. Our guides have a deep knowledge of the history and culture of the regions we visited. If staying with reindeer herding nomads, your guide will have a knowledge of their culture and religion similar to that of a professional anthropologist.
- We are the only company who has been working in the Russian Arctic for over a decade. We know the places where walrus colonies form year after year, and with them inevitably come polar bears. We have access to the remotest, most traditional and most migratory nomad camps, who migrate 2 – 5 times a week. We can always advise you on the best camps to visit if your priority is to join them on their migrations.In short, our knowledge and experience in the region allow us to provide the best possible experience for our clients. This is something that no other tour operators can boast.
- We have access to the biggest nomad camps with up to 11,000 reindeer. We can always get you out to a camp with at least 2,000 reindeer if visiting the Nenets or 1,500 reindeer if visiting the Dolgans.
- Nobody else has worked with as many different film crews in Arctic Russia as we have.
- We do not pass your booking on to another agency, for the simple reason that no other agencies can provide most of the trips on this site. We act like a local operator in all of the destinations advertised. By booking through us you are cutting out any and all middlemen and going direct to the operator, as well as getting a truly unique travel experience that very few other people have had.
- We pay nomads a very decent fee for hosting our guests and for helping them achieve their goals. We always pay them more than would be expected, so that they are well compensated for their hard work and enthusiastic to help our guests achieve their goals.
- We our always happy to tailor itineraries to our guests’ requirements or create something completely new. The set itineraries displayed on this site are really just a starting point for creating your own unique experience and can be altered as much as you want. Our tours are all bespoke, so you can choose your own dates and group size. We can run all our tours for just one person or for large groups, depending on the wishes of the client.
- All our guides are passionate about Arctic Russia. This means they understand what their guests want to see and will always seek out the most interesting places and experiences for them.
- We are run a British person who has lived in Russia for 15 years. This means he has both the Western and Russian mindset. The Russian mindset is useful for successfully working with locals. The Western mindset allows us to understand exactly what our clients need. The Russian threshold for risk is also somewhat lower than the Western one. We make sure all risks are minimised and safety precautions meeting the most stringent Western standards are observed on all our trips. This is extremely important in such a remote and potentially dangerous location, especially when visiting areas with polar bears.
Isn’t Arctic Russia too cold for travel in winter?
As they say in Siberia, “a northerner is not someone who does not feel the cold. It is someone who knows how to dress warm.” They also say, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” This is really true. With the right clothing it is possible to comfortably enjoy a full day outdoors in the most extreme temperatures. The Nenets reindeer herders, in their thick fur clothing, can comfortably sleep outdoors in -50°C. Obviously we do not expect any of our guests to try that. However, the point remains: The Russian Arctic’s winter temperatures are comfortable and enjoyable when you have the right clothing. Trousers, jackets and boots rated down to -45°C can be rented from us, as can sleeping bags rated down to -60°C. They will be delivered to you at the beginning of the trip and collected at the end. On trips at particularly cold times of year when you might be expected to spend long periods of time outdoors, we will also provide a set of traditional reindeer-fur clothing for you. If you wore this on top of the clothes you rented from us, you would be more in danger of overheating that getting cold!
We of course send a recommended clothing and equipment list to all guests during the booking process. Arctic Russian winters are extremely cold, but this is one of the main attractions! Our guests explore winter fairytale landscapes and learn from people who live in subzero temperatures for months on end. These people have thousands of years of experience living comfortably and successfully in this environment and will be looking after you 24/7. And of course, you always have a home, all-terrain vehicle or chum (reindeer-fur teepee) to warm up in if you ever get too cold.
Is Arctic Russia dangerous?
In a word – no. Much of Russia became quite dangerous during the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, that was mostly in big cities like Moscow and St Petersburg. Arctic Russia was much less affected. Either way, that era ended 20 years ago. Most expats who live in Russia find it safer than their European or American home city. Many Siberians have met few foreigners and treat them as something of a visiting celebrity. Everyone who visits Arctic Russia returns home with unforgettable memories of the kindness and hospitality of local people.
There are of course certain risks associated with any Arctic tour. In winter the main risk would be the cold, in summer polar bears. Year round there is the risk of getting ill or injured and being very far from the nearest hospital. We deal with these risks in the following three ways:
- The cold. We use our long experience to make sure our guests are clothed in the most appropriate clothing for the conditions. We also make sure that we are never too far away from somewhere we can warm up, be this a chum, a house or an all-terrain vehicle.
- Polar bears. When in areas with polar bears, we are always accompanied by armed, trained biologists who understand their behaviour. We try to approach them in the safest way, usually by motor boat on the water. If camping, we set up an electric fence and have it guarded throughout the night.
- Distance from hospital. Our route is registered with the emergency services. These areas all have good helicopter ambulance services and we will always have a satellite phone with us. Guests must, however, have insurance that covers helicopter evacuation.
What are living conditions like on your Arctic Russia trips?
On all of our trips, we provide our guests with the best available accommodation options. All trips start and finish in the nearest town with an airport to the destination area. In town, we use the best possible hotel. This is usually a 3* or 4* hotel, although for Taymyr Peninsula trips it is a simple guest house.
Once we leave town and the real adventure begins, accommodation depends on the tour you book. For Archangel tours, most villages have simple guest house. For our Taymyr Peninsula wildlife tour, guests will be sleeping on the ship we use in very simple 4-berth cabins. For our Chukotka tours, guests will be staying in simple guest houses or local homes. When visiting mammoth tusk hunters, the only option is to live in tents. When visiting the Dolgan reindeer herders, guests will sleep on mattresses on the floor of their cabins.
When visiting Nenets nomads on the Yamal Peninsula, guests will stay with a nomadic family in their chum (reindeer-fur teepee). The chum has a stove in the middle in winter or an open fire in summer, so it is always warm during the day. However, at night when nobody feeds the fire it gets colder and a sleeping bag is required.
On either side of the chum is a bedding area. This is made of warm, soft reindeer furs on top of a layer of bouncy, springy twigs. It is actually very comfortable. However, guests need to be aware that everyone sleeps lined up next to each other with their head by the wall of the chum and their feet nearer to the stove or fire in the centre. There may only be a couple of feet between you and the person sleeping next to you.
There are tables and stools that are brought out for meals several times a day and a small sink with melted snow in the corner for washing and brushing teeth.
As mentioned elsewhere on this site, all our programs are designed to provide guests with the maximum possible level of comfort in these extremely remote areas that are almost completely lacking in tourist infrastructure. Comfort levels will definitely be lower than what you may have experienced in the Arctic regions of other countries. However, in exchange you will have a totally unique adventure and experiences that almost no other foreigners have had.
Where do I go to the toilet?!
This depends on the trip. Local homes in remote villages often have an outdoor toilet in a wooden outhouse. Guest houses usually have indoor toilets. The ship we use for the Taymyr Peninsula trip has its own toilet and shower. Dolgan nomad encampments usually have a walled wooden toilet built on sledge runners, which is pulled by reindeer during the migration!
Nenets encampments do not have toilets. You need to walk some distance away from the chums (reindeer-fur teepees), find a place that is out of sight and do your business there. For people who cannot manage this we can bring a kind of portable toilet from Moscow.
How can I charge electrical equipment in Arctic Russia?
You will never be far from a place to charge your equipment, unless camping. Even most nomad camps these days have a generator which they switch on for a few hours every evening. If you just need to charge a couple of cameras and a laptop this should be more than enough. However, please be aware that such extreme cold does sometimes make it hard to start the generator or cause it to break down completely. This is more common in the extreme cold of December and January. Photographers should always bring plenty of spare batteries with them just in case.
For film crews with large amounts of kit, the camp generator will probably not be sufficient. For such crews we can purchase a 2-kilowatt generator in advance, complete with cable, adapters, petrol and oil.
Can I rent cold-weather clothing and equipment in Arctic Russia?
Yes, we have sets of jackets, trousers and boots to rent, as well as sleeping bags. The jackets and trousers are rated down to -45°C, the boots are rated down to -50°C and the sleeping bags are rated down to -60°C. We will deliver them to you at the beginning of the trip and collect them from your hotel at the end of the trip.
Which tour would you recommend for a first time visiter?
It depends on your interests. For a first time visiter interested in well-preserved traditional nomadic culture, we would recommend Yamal Peninsula: most migratory Nenets. This is the tour that will immerse you in the extreme migratory lifestyle of the nomads more than any other. If you come at the right time of year, they will be migrating 2 – 5 times a week. They also have the biggest reindeer herds (up to 11,000), which of course makes these migrations utterly spectacular. Everyone wears traditional clothing every day throughout the winter.
If you are interested in nomadic culture but worried about the cold, we would recommend the Yamal Peninsula: summer migration trip. The nomads visited are from the same area as the above nomads and have preserved their migratory lifestyle and traditions just as well.
If you have little time and a limited budget, the Yamal Peninsula: most accessible Nenets is our shortest and cheapest tour. Nenets here have smaller herds and are less traditional and less migratory than in the other tours. However, they all wear traditional clothing and live in traditional chums (reindeer-fur teepees). If you just want a quick experience of Nenets life and some photos of traditionally dressed nomads, this may be the one for you.
If you want to spot polar bears and other wildlife, the bet option is our Chukotka: polar bears, whales, walrus and nomads
Our Taymyr Peninsula tour is similar to the Chukotka one in terms of what wildlife can be viewed. However, on Taymyr you are less likely to see whales but more likely to see muskox.
If you do not want a cultural immersion or wildlife-focused tour but more of a sight-seeing tour moving from place to place, the Overland across Yamal and Archangel Province: Nenets nomads and Pomor villages tours are for you.
Do I need to be fit?
None of our tours require a particularly high level of fitness. There are no prolonged periods of walking or other physical activity. However, on winter tours guests do need to be in a reasonable overall state of health. This is particularly true if visiting nomads in winter. When accessing the nomad camp, when travelling out to the reindeer herd or when migrating you will need to endure extended periods in cold weather and on bumpy, cramped sledges.
Do I need special travel insurance?
Yes, anyone coming on our tours must have travel insurance. It must cover the region to be visited, the activities to be engaged in and helicopter evacuation.
How far in advance do I need to book?
A 35% deposit will reserve the dates of your trip. The earlier you pay this, the better your chances of getting your desired dates and the most experienced guide. In Arctic Russia there are very few experienced guides. Transport is by non-standard means and we need to book it far in advance. To be sure of getting what you want, it is therefore best to plan in advance. We will of course explain which guides, accommodation and transport options are available for your proposed dates. If visiting nomads, we can provide you with several options of different camps to visit and a description of the people at each camp. However, they will only be confirmed once you send the deposit. The balance of payment must be sent two months before the tour start date.
We can organise your trip even if you only book one week in advance, as long as you are not visiting a region like Chukotka or the Taymyr Peninsula, which require special permits. However, if booking a Yamal Peninsula or Dolgans trip just a week or two in advance, your choice of guide, transport and nomad camp to be visited will be seriously reduced. Most nomads have no mobile phone reception, so they need to be warned far in advance about the arrival of guests. With only one week to organise the trip, the number of camps we would be able to contact would be seriously reduced. We guarantee, however, that in any circumstances we will be able to contact at least a few camps and send you out to one of them.
I am a single person, do I pay a single person supplement?
All prices indicated on our tour programs include twin or double accommodation. For those who would prefer to have single accommodation a single supplement is indicated on every tour program.
How many people will there be in the group?
All the tours we advertise on this website are bespoke itineraries. We do not run tours with set departure dates that anybody can join. Therefore the number of people in your group depends only on you. If you are a single traveller, there will be just you and your guide. If you are booking as a group of friends, there will be just you and your friends. We will not add unknown people to your group, unless you specifically request us to do so. If you are a single traveller who would like to join a group, we can try to find one. However, it depends on whether we have any other groups willing to accept other travellers at the same time as you want to go. As many of our clients are film crews, photographers and researchers, they are often unwilling to accept other travellers in their group.
What is included?
You will find a list of inclusions and exclusions at the bottom of every tour page on this website. However, as with everything we offer this is customisable. We can include or exclude anything you want in the price of your trip. If you want to include something that is not on the list of inclusions, please let us know. Likewise if you would like to exclude something from the price, please let us know.
Which countries do you accept bookings from?
We accept bookings from all countries. Our guides speak many major world languages including English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Russian and non-fluent Indonesian.
There are things I would like to see and do in Arctic Russia that are not included in any of your set itineraries. What can I do?
Please get in contact with us. We have only included a few set itineraries on our website as an example of what we offer. All our trips can be tailored. We are always happy to create completely new itineraries for our guests based on their own goals and requirements. Whatever you want to do in Arctic Russia, there is nobody better placed to organise it than us.
I prefer travelling independently in a more backpacking / exploratory style than that offered on most standard tours. How much freedom and flexibility do I get on your tours?
Our guides and our owner / founder / director began as backpackers and exploratory adventure travellers in some of the remotest parts of the planet decades ago. They started informally guiding a few trips many years ago. Arctic Russia Travel was born out of that fairly informal start. We now have a decade of experience guiding trips in Arctic Russia. This allows us to understand pretty much immediately the style of trip that most travellers want. If you want your guide to be more of a travel companion, this is how it will be. On the other hand, if you want your guide to pamper you throughout the trip, this is also no problem. We have a very good understanding of what most travellers want and our guides are able to adapt to their needs easily.
Some people prefer team expeditions with flexible programs where everyone mucks in. Others prefer to follow a guide on a strictly preordained route. Some want to be involved in the decision-making process. Others prefer not to think about organisation, route changes or flexibility. Some prefer roughing it while others want a more luxurious and catered trip. We can provide any of these trip styles based on your own preferences. We will discuss your requirements at length during the booking process.
Will I need to “rough it” on your tours?
As mentioned above, we are always happy to tailor our trips to the needs of the client. While some people actually enjoy roughing it, others do not. As the aim of some of our tours is to immerse ourselves in the local culture, we generally recommend doing as the locals do and spending as much time as possible with them. On the Yamal Peninsula this means sleeping in a chum (reindeer-fur teepee) and travelling by sledge attached to the back of a snowmobile at some point. However, if this seems like too much “roughing it” for you, we are happy to provide other options. You can rent your own all-terrain vehicle with beds and a kitchenette in it or you can rent a helicopter. We can even provide you with your own cook or catering team if required. Suggestions for clients who want a higher level of comfort can be found on our VIP tours page. Whatever you want, we guarantee 100% that we can provide it if it actually exists and create it if it doesn’t!
In general, as noted elsewhere on the site, conditions will be somewhat less comfortable than in Arctic destinations elsewhere in the world, as there is almost no tourist infrastructure. Our trips are more like expeditions than tours. Having said that, we do strive to provide the maximum level of comfort in these conditions. We guarantee that, if you are willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort, you will have totally unique once-in-a-lifetime experiences and see places very few foreigners have seen!
What do I need to bring?
This varies depending on the itinerary and the time of year. We will send you a detailed list of the necessary clothing and equipment during the booking process. It will be possible to rent some items from us if you do not have them yourself.
Do you offer trips to other parts of Russia?
Yes. Please visit our sister sites. They offer trips to:
We also have a number of itineraries we have created on demand for our partner tour agencies around the world over the years. These include several overland trips such as:
- Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow in 3 weeks
- Overland from Karelia to the Yamal Peninsula
- Russia in three seasons. This once starts in late April in the Arctic (winter), goes overland through Karelia, St Petersburg and Moscow (spring) and finishes in mid-May in the Caucasus (summer).
Please get in contact for more details.