Expedition – Footsteps of Russia’s Reindeer Herders

Russian Federation,

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12 people
15 days
Code: WBSY
Activity and Adventure, Expedition, Tours
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Overview of Expedition – Footsteps of Russia’s Reindeer Herders

There are expeditions and then there are expeditions; this trip, to the far reaches of Russia, definitely falls into the latter category. After a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stop in St Petersburg, travel by train, bus and Trekol to the Yamal Peninsula; quite literally ‘the end of the world’. Extending far above the Arctic Circle, this isolated region has been home to the Nenets, a tribe of nomadic reindeer herders, for centuries. For the first time, the Nenets are inviting Intrepid travellers into their community for a first-hand glimpse at their daily existence. Learn about life on the frozen tundra, how they stay warm when the temperature hits -50°C, and how much the nomads rely on their reindeer herds. This is definitely one of our most eye-opening, off-the-beaten-track adventures yet.

Trip Summary for Expedition – Footsteps of Russia’s Reindeer Herders

Start Location: St Petersburg,   End Location: Moscow

Countries Visited: Russian Federation, 
Meals Included: Breakfast: 10   Lunches: 4   Dinners: 4

    • Rub shoulders with the locals as you experience overnight train travel in Russia
    • Meet the local Nenets people, the Siberian Arctic’s indigenous reindeer herders
    • Visit a traditional Nenets campsite and see the reindeers up close
    • Try your hand at fishing and then enjoy a picnic lunch on the banks of the Horomdo Lake
    • Explore Russia’s glittering capital Moscow


Day 1 - St Petersburg
Zdrastvutye! Welcome to Russia. Truly one of Europe's finest and most dazzling cities, where Baroque architecture stands alongside the opulent palaces of Russian royalty, St Petersburg’s history, emerging art and music scene, and riotous nightlife won’t fail to get under your skin. The legacy of Russian tsar Peter the Great, who founded the imperial city in 1703, will clearly be felt as you explore its enigmatic streets, cathedrals and museums.

If you arrive in town early, spend some time exploring. Perhaps climb to the colonnade of St Isaac’s Cathedral for magnificent views over the city, or stroll along Nevsky Prospekt – St Petersburg's main thoroughfare – popping into one of the many bakeries or pancake shops along the way. Non-squeamish travellers may like to check out Peter the Great’s ghoulish collection of oddities at the Kunstkamera, while art-lovers should head to the Hermitage Museum, one of the world's premier art collections, housed in the former imperial Winter Palace.

Your expedition begins with a Welcome Meeting at the hotel at 6pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We’ll be collecting insurance and next of kin information at the meeting – please ensure you have all these details ready to provide to your leader. You’ll also need two copies of your passport, visa and migration cards ready. One will be collected by your leader, the other is for you to keep on you at all times while on this trip.

Day 2 - St Petersburg
Today is a long travel day, as we board the overnight train to Velikiy Ustyug (approximately 22 hours). Be sure to pack a good book or deck of cards for the journey!

Notes: Trains on this journey are simple but comfortable. You’ll travel 2nd class on this trip. There's a toilet/bathroom at the end of each carriage with a small sink and cold water. An attendant is assigned to every carriage to look after your comfort and safety (although service standards can vary greatly). Each compartment has four bunks with luggage storage space inside. Bedding is provided, although some travellers still prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. There's hot water available for making drinks or instant meals, tea and coffee. Sometimes snacks and drinks are available for purchase on board and most trains also have a dining car although with a limited menu. We recommend stocking up on snacks prior to travel. Please note that in many cases, due to high demand for tickets on this route, the group is not always together. It's likely that at least some members of the group will be sharing compartments with other travellers, either foreign or local, particularly if your group does not divide evenly into four.

A brief word about drinking on the train: Social drinking is common on trains in Russia and can be an enjoyable way to meet local people as well as interact with your fellow Intrepid travellers (in moderation). While alcohol is often available for purchase on the train, spirits (including vodka) should only be consumed in the dining car. While we certainly want all our Intrepid travellers to have a great holiday it's important that you show due respect for your fellow group members, and keep in mind that many of your local companions use the train as a means of transport to get home or to work. It's most appreciated if foreign travellers are respectful of this, particularly in the mornings and evenings or when other passengers are sleeping.

Day 3 - Velikiy Ustyug
Upon arrival in Yadrikha, transfer to Veliky Ustyug by private bus (around 50 kilometres). This small town was once well of the map, until authorities declared it the official home of Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa Claus. Also known as Father Frost, Ded Moroz is said to be 2,000 years old and once kidnapped small children, only returning them when their parents provided him with gifts. Over the years, he’s shed his negative image and is now the white-bearded, jolly gift-giving gent associated with Christmas. Home to some 30,000 people, the settlement boasts gorgeous wooden architecture and centuries-old Orthodox churches. We’ll take a walking tour around the township, then the evening is free to spend as you please.

Day 4 - Velikiy Ustyug - Salekhard
Spend the morning enjoying some free time, perhaps visiting Father Frost’s Residence, before the drive to Kotlas (70 kilometres), where we’ll board our next overnight train (approximately 25 hours).

Day 5 - Salekhard
Arrive in Labytnangi, where we’ll transfer to Salekhard via private bus and ferry. Founded in 1595 by Russian Cossacks, Salekhard was once used as a place of exile, with prisoners in Soviet camps forced to mine metal ores, construct a new railway, or polish diamonds. Your evening here is free, in preparation for the journey ahead.

Day 6 - Lake Horomdo
We’ve got a long day of travel ahead of us today. After breakfast, take a Trekol (a six-wheeled cross-country vehicle) from Salekhard to Laborovaya (approximately 6-8 hours). Transfer to the Land of Good Hope camp (approximately one hour), our home for the next few nights. Accommodation here is fairly basic and is multishare.

Day 7 - Lake Horomdo
It’s easy to see how the Yamal (translating to ‘the end of the world’ in the indigenous Nenets language) gets its name; the remote tundra, featuring low-lying shrubs, mossy pastures, snaking rivers and not much else, is pummelled by icy winds for most of the year, with temperatures dropping to almost -50°C. Despite the freezing conditions, the area is home to some 10,000 nomads and more than 300,000 domestic reindeers.

Today we’ll visit the Gornokhadatinsky National Reserve (approximately 25 kilometres from camp). Keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of the muskox; with their insulated thick hair and woolly undercoats, the mammals are true Arctic animals. Enjoy a picnic on the mountainside and then visit a small Ethnographic Museum to learn more about the inhabitants of this isolated region.

Day 8 - Lake Horomdo
Trek to Horomdo Lake (7 kilometres, one way), where we’ll try our hand at fishing! The Nenets people will meet us at the lake and share stories about their traditional way of life (they’ll also give us a few fishing tips!). Then we’ll enjoy our catch of the day for lunch with our new Nenets friends. If the fish aren’t biting, we won’t go hungry though – supplies will be packed, just in case!

Make the return hike to camp and spend the evening learning more about the Nenets, such as how the nomads stay warm during the freezing nights. At the end of a day of reindeer herding across the tundra, the Nenets retire to their chums, conical-shaped tents constructed using reindeer hide stretched over a skeleton of wooden poles. Beds are made from deer hides and provide excellent insulation from the cold air outside.

Day 9 - Lake Horomdo
Walk with the Nenets to the Sihirtya Old Nenet Camp (approximately 3 kilometres), where we’ll enjoy a traditional local lunch and meet more of the Nenets community for a rare glimpse into their nomadic lifestyle. You’ll have the opportunity here to get up close to the beautiful reindeer herd, and perhaps give reindeer sledging a go. The Nenets rely on reindeer for almost everything; the creatures provide food, warmth and transport. Walk back to camp for our last night with the Nenets.

Day 10 - Salekhard
Drive back to Laborovaya in the Trekol vehicles (approximately 25 kilometres), then transfer to Salekhard (the 150 kilometre journey will take between 6-8 hours).

Day 11 - Salekhard
This morning, take a two-hour walking tour of Salekhard, the only city in the world located on the Polar Circle. After lunch, visit the Gornoknyazevsk village, then head of to the Shemanovsky Ethnographic Museum to learn about the history of the region.

Day 12 - Salekhard - Moscow
Travel by private bus and ferry to Labytnangi (approximately two hours) before our long journey to Moscow. Be sure to stock up on supplies in Salekhard before boarding the train – we’ll be riding the rails for around 45 hours.

Day 13 - Salekhard to Moscow
Sit back and enjoy the view as Russia’s winter landscape rushes by. This is good opportunity to share travel stories with your fellow passengers, or test your language skills with a conversation with some of the locals.

Notes: Alcoholism is also a serious social problem in Russia so travellers should take care not to encourage or take part in drinking to excess. Fake alcohol is common and the motives for being invited to drink with locals may not always be honest. The locals' tolerance for alcohol is likely to be much higher than your own. You may be putting yourself and other members of your group at risk by getting involved in heavy drinking while on the train. While alcohol is often available for purchase on the train, spirits (including vodka) should only be consumed in the dining car. Train security guards keep a very close eye on drunken behaviour and have the legal right to fine or have any passengers who are intoxicated removed from the train without warning.

Day 14 - Moscow
The Russian capital has survived centuries of revolution and has seen the country through some of its most turbulent years, from the days of the tsars through the communist era to the growing pains of democracy. Beneath its modern veneer – due to Russia's recent embrace of capitalism – Moscow is a fascinating, historic city with a wealth of sights to see.

Arrive into Moscow very early at 4:45am. Head to the hotel, where we’ll have some day rooms available for luggage storage and to freshen up before heading out to explore dazzling Moscow at your leisure.

Perhaps wander through the cobbled Red Square, admire the colourful domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, visit the opulent GUM Department store, head to the fairy-tale building of the State Historical Museum, or marvel at the imposing walls of the Kremlin. From the days of Ivan the Terrible to the military parades of the Cold War, the square has long been at the heart of Russian history. Visit Lenin’s Mausoleum and then enter the Kremlin grounds, filled with some of the oldest and most important churches in the country. The Armoury Museum, home to an eye-bulging collection of ambassadorial gifts, Faberge eggs, coronation robes and glittering jewels, is an easy spot to while away some time. Afterwards, perhaps take the metro to see elaborately decorated stations; from sculptures depicting the glory of the Soviet days to ornate chandeliers and stained glass windows, these are the 'Palaces for the People'.

Notes: On occasion Lenin's Mausoleum and Red Square may be closed to the public during regular opening hours without prior warning. As Moscow's premier tourist attractions, tickets for the Kremlin and Armoury are in high demand, and the Moscow Tourism Administration sets strict quotas to control visitor numbers. Time in each area is also limited to 90 minutes.

Day 15 - Moscow
Your Arctic expedition ends today. There are no activities planned and you are free to depart the accommodation at any time.

Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities

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