Five reasons to visit Iturup — the largest and most habitable island of the South Kuril IslandsFind out more
Mountain beauty of the off-seasonFind out more
Ecological route through reserved placesFind out more
Tourist Russia is not limited or defined by Moscow and St. Petersburg. A huge country is fraught with a lot of mysteries, secrets and simply beautiful places away from civilization: amazing landscapes and nature reserves, mountains and rocks, the rarest flowers and animals you won't find anywhere else. Nature reserves take up 27.38 million hectares of the country territory, and national parks are spread across 10.65 million hectares (all without water areas). Not surprisingly, 2017 became the year of ecology in Russia, and the country celebrates the centenary of Barguzinsky, the first state reserve, in the same year.
The main difficulty in traveling across Russia is long distances. The most interesting places are far away from major cities. But their beauty is worth a long and difficult journey. Most of the reserved places lie in the Asian part of the country.
For example, there's the Stolby (Pillars) Nature Sanctuary near Krasnoyarsk with rocks of an unusual shape that really makes them look similar to large pillars. A comparable reserve, the Lena Pillars, exists in Yakutia. It's a complex of flat, almost vertical rocks, reaching a height of 100 meters and stretching along the riverbank for many kilometers.
Famous Russian national park, the Curonian Spit, lies on the shore of the Baltic Sea. It's a sandy peninsula with huge dunes up to 68 meters in height. Russia even has something like a huge open air volcano museum — the peninsula of Kamchatka.
There's 300 volcanoes in total there, and 29 of them are still active. Six separate sites in Kamchatka, where the active fire mountains coexist with glaciers, geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, mud boilers and turquoise lakes, are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Altai Golden Mountains, consists of ecological reserves in the Altai Mountains at the junction of Russian, Mongolian, Chinese and Kazakh borders.
Point on the map
Baikal is the deepest lake on Earth and consequently the largest reservoir of fresh water. Its beaches and waters are famous for the unique variety of flora and fauna species. Almost the entire coast of the lake is surrounded by a chain of specially protected natural areas: Baikal Nature Reserve, Pribaikalsky National Park, Barguzin Nature Reserve... Each of them has its own wonderful sites: Shaman's Rock, Cape Burkhan on the Olkhon Island and many more. Specially protected natural areas of Russia are constellations of amazing natural phenomena, famous or known only to a narrow circle of tourists. For example, there is the inland Elton Lake in the Eltonsky Nature Park in the Volgograd Region. It's considered the largest mineral lake in Europe. The nearby Baskunchak salt lake is part of a unique natural complex included in the Bogdino-Baskunchak Reserve. People come here for the beautiful views, as well as for the treatment: there are deposits of therapeutic clays on the lake shore, and you can take mud baths there.
Roads through miracles
The main mission of reserves and national parks is to preserve the amazing nature of these corners of the planet. There is a special nature conservation regime on the territories of reserves, and sometimes a permission from the reserve management is required in order to just set foot in that land. Along with recreational zones, there are protected areas in national parks that can stay untouched by people for decades.
Usually, tourist trails are laid along specially protected natural territories. For example, the whole area around the highest peak of Russia and Europe — Elbrus, the sleeping volcano of the Caucasus — is the Elbrus National Park that has about 20 developed thematic tourist routes. Tourists wander through reserved lands on foot, on horseback and in other ways. And in the summer, climbers rush to the top of Mount Elbrus.
Tourist routes along the Kronotsky Reserve and the South Kamchatka Wildlife Preserve lead to a geyser site, the Uzon volcanic caldera, which Itelmen call the «Floating Lands», to the Valley of Death, to the islands and archipelagos of the Kurile Lake... The tourists are exposed to the best and most amazing sites of the area during such trips. In fact, the routes offered in the reserves and national parks are kind of «traveling while traveling»: there are water, horseback and snowmobile routes or backpacking through the area on your own.
Alive as life itself
In 2017, the Year of Ecology, seven new national parks, two reserves and two sanctuaries will be opened in Russia. Expanding the territory of two specially protected natural areas of federal significance — the Russian Arctic national park and the Caucasian State Natural Biosphere Reserve is also in the plans. In addition, three Russian reserves — Dagestan, Khakass and Kostomuksh received the status of UNESCO biosphere reserves this June. Now there are 46 biosphere reserves in Russia.
New ecological trails are treaded in the reserves, new routes are developed and various projects are being implemented; new volunteers join the mission, ready to work on saving the amazing landscapes. Even nature itself changes and never ceases to surprise: for example, this year the Kambalny volcano has awoken in the South Kamchatka Nature Reserve for the first time in 250 years. Specially protected natural areas are like a living organism: it develops and changes along with the entire planet.
Shamanic dances by the fire, fiery rock'n"roll, jazz improvs and poetry slams? It's not Sunday in the capital, but Baikal in August when the Baikal-live art festival takes place.
Lake Baikal shores in the summer become the place for yoga, music festivals, and various cultural entertainment in general. The thing is that specially protected natural areas aren't only for facing silent nature in order to get a private experience. They also can become a holiday territory. For example, Kamchatka celebrates the Volcano Day annually on one of the August days. Main event of the day is the ascent to the Avachinsky volcano. The dark colossus of the volcano is covered in snow strips from top to bottom, and they never melt completely, not even in the summer. The foot isn't visible: almost half of the volcano is hidden by the morning haze. And the trail that leads tourists to the top of the Avachinsky volcano (2741 meters high) goes right into that haze. Traditionally, on one of the August days thousands of people head there in a long, never-ending procession shortly after dawn. Old and young, adults and children.
Those who preferred to stay at the foot are offered a variety of entertainment, from master classes in folk crafts and yoga to walks through gift shops and barbecues. Fun never stops down by the foot. There are movie screenings. Kamchatka's indigenous inhabitants hold their ancient rituals. Gift shops are hard at work: items made of obsidian or volcanic glass are very popular for example. In ancient times it was used to make knives, arrowheads, pelt scrapers, etc. But the most exotic entertainment is golfing on a volcano. They say that there's nothing else like it in the world. Finally, the program of the Volcano Day concludes with concerts and dances that last until the morning.