Altai Republic – Travel Destinations in Russia
The Altai Republic is one of Russia’s hidden treasures. It is situated in Siberia in the Altai Mountains and borders Mongolia and Kazakhstan. The republic is known for its incredible landscape consisting of bodies of water winding through mountain ranges. And although the landscape is reason enough to visit this Siberian gem, that’s not all there is to enjoy! After the fall of the Soviet Union, the indigenous Altai culture made a real comeback in the region. Today you can observe the native languages (stemming from their Turkic roots) being spoken and national holidays being celebrated. Among the celebrated holidays are Nowruz and Chaga Bayram.
If you aren’t able to visit the region during a national holiday or festival, there are still plenty of ways to explore the culture. My first, and greatest piece of advice, try the food! When ordering, ask for Kurut; a cheese you’ll see the locals eating, made from boiled, fermented, milk. I also recommend trying the local stews. If you are visiting in the summertime, you won’t want to miss horseback riding. Horses are a part of Altai’s herding culture and a great way to take in the scenery. And lastly, find a banya. Banyas are more of a general Russian tradition, but, never the less, a great way to relax like the locals.
So when is the right time to visit Altai? This question really depends on you and what activities interest you. Summer runs from June through August and temperatures usually average +20 to 25 Celsius. Autumn is more of an off-season for tourism, but still, a great time to visit if you want to see the scenery change. Winter, and the most popular time to visit, runs from the end of October through March. I recommend visiting in November or December. You’ll still see that picturesque snow-covered landscape, but the temperatures will be milder than in the later months. And lastly, Spring; when all the snow melts and flowers bloom. For the best experience, I recommend visiting at the beginning of May. You’ll avoid the slush from melting snow, and be just in time to see the spring bloom.
Travelling to the region can also an adventure in itself. The closest big city, and where you will want to fly into, is Novosibirsk (a convenient 4-hour flight from Moscow). If, however, you are feeling a bit more adventurous, you can take the Trans-Siberian railway. From Novosibirsk, you will need to travel by private car or bus for 6 hours to the Republic’s capital, Gorno-Altaysk. Buses run about 4 to 5 times a day (always remember to check the schedule). If you are a newbie to Russia and aren’t fluent in Russian, I recommend signing up for a tour to take you to and through the region (public transport can be a little tricky in these smaller cities). Here’s a Trip Advisor link with some recommended tours. Happy travels!