Chapter 14. Examples of independent travels in Altai

We are analyzing the variants of independent travels in Altai: planned or in case the tour is cancelled. With examples.

Our mailing contained the poll, in which we asked what variant of leisure for a week we should describe - if your tour was cancelled or you came to Altai alone. The absolute winner in the poll was 'hybrid' variant, which contained everything in small portions, without strain or extreme.

Well, I agree, it is quite an interesting variant: not complete travel experience, but a good time to spend.

Pluses and minuses of the other variants

1. Passing (without renting a car, by bus or hitch-hiking)


The old bridge to Patmos island

Minuses: Very complicated and a bit extreme variant. To be fair, Altai is not adjusted at all for travelling without car, especially if you want to see the most interesting places - there is no regular public transport. In winter transport doesn't function, in summer it is overcrowded, the schedule is not convenient, not stable. The only bus going to the place you need may just pass you by, and you will have to stay for the night at the roadside. I tried this variant - you need to be strong to stand the difficulties - and it is not that cheap (well, you may use BlaBlaCar service - but not everywhere). If your bag is bigger than a small hand luggage - that's a problem.

Pluses: coverage, strong emotions, quest and overcoming, surprises and saving money.

2. Motor (Renting a car)


Renting a car in Altai you may get not so fresh one

Minuses: being expensive it makes you responsible for the car, which suffers a lot from our roads. Also it is going to be boring and asocial. You will waste some time to find a place to stay (reservation service in Altai is weak), reserving a car also takes some time. During a cold season without good driving skills I wouldn't go anywhere - the roads are not so simple to drive.

Pluses: bigger geographical coverage. But if it is not crossover, the coverage is limited. A car may get damaged which may cause some money loss. You can move freely from place to place - it is physically lighter and more comfortable.

3. Resort

503b267a-342c-4fb4-b935-202d66d6f814.jpgTouristic base with a swimming pool. Almost Turkey)

Minuses: it's just a kind of boring. You won't be able to see Altai.

Pluses: silent, relaxed and relatively cheap.

Hybrid variant


The observation deck at Tiyakhta Mountain - you can get there by hitch-hiking or by bus

Let's try to make a week plan for you the way you could spend it interesting and see more sight. Still, it shouldn't make you sick, as in the 'passing variant' might be. Let's take the peak of summer season - when all the excursions are available, because during the low season everything seems dead and you will have to sit at your hotel (there's nothing to write about).

Day 1. Arrival to Gorno-Altaysk


In Gorno-Altaysk they usually call spade a spade

So. You arrive to Gorno-Altaysk airport or to the bus station.

I recommend you to have a bite - rare hotel can offer meals. For example, our tourists prefer 'Skovorodovna' cafe - great slapjacks and good coffee.

Check in at any hotel, take a shower and let's have a walk.

Then there are some variants:

  • To climb Tugaya Mountain in the evening - to see the panorama of the town.
  • To have a walk around the town
  • To rent a bike (from 500 RUB) and have a ride (route 'Ed')
  • To visit the main Museum (от 250 руб)
  • To taste the national Siberian cuisine at El'Gran (from 300 RUB)

Go to the bus station to buy a ticket to Artybash for the next morning.

Day 2. Let's go to the Teletskoye Lake


There is a special mode of life near the big ponds

We pack our things and go to the bus station. We get to the bus to Artybash. 
We will stay at a hostel near the lake for two nights. Let's leave our bags in the room and have a walk. We will have lunch (anywhere but 'Yevseich' cafe, no matter how hungry you are).

Let's make a terrestrial day. Possible variants:

  • To have an ATV ride (from 2000 RUB)
  • To have a horse ride (from 500 RUB)
  • To go to the top of mountain ski complex 'Artybash' on the ski elevator (from 200 RUB)
  • To go to the waterfalls of the Third river (cool, but a bit complicated)
  • To have pleasure of walking along the lake shore. You may even bathe. Make a bonfire in the evening and admire the sunset
  • To buy some lake fish and fry it.

Day 3. Water day


The Teletskoye Lake is huge

If the motor ship is available - get aboard (from 1500 RUB), if not - try to cooperate with someone and take a boat. Have a look at the motor ship's schedule - so you can fit in your trip to the Teletskoye Lake.

The motor ship doesn't go every day and its only destination is Korbu waterfall. Still, it is a piece of history. Boats are faster, they can take you farther and you can hire them whenever you like: it is expensive for one, but cooperation is a good way to save money. In this case the cost will be comparable with the cost of the motor ship.

Day 4. Moving to Chemal

f2270ae9-51dc-4ac0-8124-afd61c1571c8.jpgGorno-Altaysk bus station hasn't been repaired since the soviet times. So we can call it a part of history)

In the morning get to the bus and go to Gorno-Altaysk. You may stay there for a night, but I would recommend to take a bus to Chemal. No matter how, but you should get to Chemal by the morning of the fifth day, or better by the evening of the forth.
While changing the bus, have a bite with a delicious ice-cream - the tastiest ever (same taste since 1990s). It's in a plain small window - you can find it from the side of the platform. 

Day 5. Chemal - 'Mecca' of Altai tourism

5097a233-81fc-4b70-bb34-7894242a15dd.jpgGoat's path

Let's make a pause and breathe with the healing air of Chemal. Walk around and look around.
There are not so many sights to visit: Chemal HPP, goat's path, Patmos island. You may also go rafting or take a short excursion - I would recommend you to go to Chech-Kysh. Then have a rest before the next day.

Day 6. Excursion to the Karakol Lakes (from 1000 RUB)

2db7f155-5309-421a-97e8-a2c13f03ab9e.jpgThe view of the Lakes from above 

You can join it in Chemal, ask the locals. They set off quite early and come back late. Take some meals with you.
Taste the pies at the starting point of the foot part of the excursion. Have some tea at the Lakes. You'll probably get tired, but you will surely enjoy with that unbelievable beauty. About how is the excursion being held look at the photos (transport is really tough there)  

Day 7. Setting off to Gorno-Altaysk

d55b35b6-fb26-4aa3-a81c-08700b27f5d6.jpgThere is an interesting rafting route from the Biryuzovaya Katun, for an hour

On our way back we will make a few stops. I recommend:

  • at 'the Biryuzovaya Katun': rafting (from 600 RUB), the caves (100 RUB), visiting the lake (150 RUB)
  • there is also an excellent apiary at 'the Biryuzovaya Katun' with а great excursion
  • then we move to Gorno-Altaysk, but we can visit the Aya Lake on the way. You may stay there for the night, visit a disco-bar and get to the airport by taxi in the morning (25 km). Or you may stay for the night in Gorno-Altaysk - closer to the airport.



In the morning of the eighth day you go to the airport. And then your week of single journey ends. It is not so simple, not so hard. It costs not so cheap, not too expensive. The cost depends on many factors, your needs and abilities. I think, the range would be 25000-70000 RUB .

The case of an independent travel on the super hybrid variant


Here is a real example from our subscriber — she decided to share with us her variant of an independent travel in Altai in 2017. That is the case showing the widest use of the opportunities which Altai offers. Photos depict a real mode of life.

I post this letter with the author's permission and add my comments, which will look like this.

So, let's start. The following text and photos belong to Ekaterina - the author of the letter.

I've been receiving your mailing for about a year - since me and my husband decided to spend our vacation in Altai. In your last letters you touched the subject of independent and hybrid journeys - so I decided to share our route with you. This might be interesting to you.
Our journey had been lasting for two weeks - from the end of July till the beginning of August, 2017.
We tried the similar method of travelling in Ural several years ago. It was great, so I got some experience on creating a route. In Altai we wanted to copy the structure.

Usually, creating a route demands some efforts and time. But, as the experience shows, there is nothing difficult in it - all you need - desire and time. There is some pleasure in preparation - it is already a journey, just virtual, you start living through some moments in advance.

We live in Moscow. Our plan was to go by plane and and rent a car.
We had an opportunity to use bonus miles from 'Aeroflot'. But it doesn't make flights to Gorno-Altaysk, so we decided to fly to Barnaul. Without bonuses we would surely fly to Novosibirsk: cheaper, more variants, more cars for renting, and the way takes just 2 hours more than from Barnaul, on the good road.

Novosibirsk is a huge transport hub. Much more air companies fly there and offer better prices. But! You shouldn't overestimate the road from Novosibisk and the city itself: the highway is narrow and overloaded; it is going to take 1-2 hours to leave the city (not considering the traffic jams). The distance from the airport to Gorno-Altaysk is about 500 km: even at night - without traffic jams and stops it will take at least 6-7 hours; in summer it might be much longer and tiresome. In terms of transport, Novosibirsk is awful - traffic jams, you have to move through the city - there are no bypass roads. The reality is this: to arrive to Barnaul, to sit in the car and to get to Gorno-Altaysk takes 4 hours. To do the same from Novosibirsk takes at least 8 hours.

Having reserved the tickets we began to search for a car rental. We faced a problem of absence of international chain services - there are only several local variants. Some of them didn't answer at all, some told us to call them a week before arrival. But we needed a bit more certainty. So we picked Renault Sandero from 'Karetniy dvor' company.


Our car

I should say right away: we got the car on time, as it was appointed. But it turned out too weary from the use, there was unpleasant smell inside; the air-conditioner was out of work. On our way back, 80 km before Barnaul the battery got broken and we had to stop on the road. We were lucky that our flight was planned for the next day. It would be scary to think what would it felt like somewhere at Ust-Koksa... Our friends experienced a similar journey in September - they rented a car in 'GrantAuto' - and they had no problems.

Yeah, car rental is like that. There are no chain services because they would be unprofitable due to the seasonality. As for the local car rentals, you should see reviews and learn how they care about their cars, because car rentals usually offer used cars (private business is not able to pay for leasing due to the seasonality - so they buy cars as property). I'll give you couple examples:

  • 'Glavnaya Doroga' car rental - the service of 'chain' level. They offer a big variety of relatively new cars, but some may look 'tired'. Available in Barnaul, Gorno-Altaysk and Novosibirsk.
  • 'Mandarinka' car rental in Gorno-Altaysk - offers used cars and not so many. But they have their own service station and car dry-cleaning, so all the cars are fixed and clean. Moreover, they pick cars in consideration of Altai reality (realizing they'll have to fix them) — strong suspension, availability of spare parts and being unpretentious towards the fuel.
The second moment: private firms have small car park. In winter it stands idle, in summer it works day and night, which means by the middle of the season all the cars are tired a lot.

Then I turned to elaboration of the route.

Our initial desires were the following:

  1. To visit as many beautiful and interesting sights as possible. We gave more priority to the natural sights than to the museums or petroglyths.
  2. Accommodation with comfortable conditions (WC in the room). The budget is up to 3000 RUB per night. 
  3. Also we would like to join some hiking tour, may be with tents, for three days - to observe some hard to reach places.
I started with searching for a three-day tour to fit in the rest of the route. Unfortunately, I didn't find any suitable 3-day tour (maybe I was searching in the wrong place?). There was only rafting for three days, but we didn't want it. The rest of hikes were planned for 5-7 days.


At the Karakol Lakes

The only thing I found was 3-day tour to the Karakol Lakes with accommodation at the hostel on the fifth lake and with the radial hike on the second day. We picked this variant and reserved it with no problems - at 'Altai-Voyage'. If I got it right, the hostel belongs to that firm, so we reserved the tour from them.

Yeah, short term tours are rare here. The reason is - it makes no sense because there is not enough time to reach the distant places: it takes one day there, one day - back. Altai is big. As for the Karakol Lakes, yes, these are the closest high mountain lakes - a good variant for a short hike. Another one is to go to Baida mountain and have a look at Belukha mountain (but it will take only one day, as well as a day outing to the Multa Lakes).

Then I started exploring internet forums and sites to find the main sightseeings - available to get there by car or with one day excursion.

At the beginning of searching my main concerns were connected with the moments mentioned either in your mailings:

  1. The car we reserved couldn't take us anywhere but within Chuysky trakt.
  2. There is a weak accommodation beyond the passes: we weren't able to find a good housing; or if we were, we couldn't be sure that by the arrival the reservation would still work.
  3. There would be a REAL problem to find a petrol station and a cafe beyond the passes.
  4. I read many stories from people who made up a route but many things turned out impossible to realize, and their itinerary got crashed.
All in all, I got the replete route, still, possible to realize.  Two nights for each point - one day is for the road, the other is for the radial outing. The only driver is my husband - if we had been able to switch each other it would be much better!

We were oriented to the distances and time given in the Yandex-maps - well, they were precise enough. The initial route I got from your 'Big ethnotour' :) Almost all the information on the sightseeings and accommodation I got from the site It gives a nicely done map.

Some points of our route 'got wasted', not much anyway. It was extremely hot and we just wanted to find a place to bathe, so we spent so much time doing that. The pond at the 'Biryuzovaya Katun' for such a big money didn't suit us. So we went to the Seminsky baths.


The Seminsky baths

There is the Manzherok Lake near the 'Biryuzovaya Katun'. In general, there are a lot of lakes, paid or free (but cool as well - like the lakes at Podgornoye village) - within 50 km around. The Katun (aka Seminsky) baths - is a good choice. In spring the level of the Katun rises and flood them. Then the level of water gets lower - and here are the baths - clean and with no trash.

Having finished with making up the route I turned to the hotel reservation - for 2 months before arrival. I started with the most distant places. To my surprise, I found several suitable variants in Ust-Koksa and, in general, beyond the passes on Chuysky trakt - so I even had a choice. It was harder to choose something in Chemal for the same money. Some of them were available on But to be completely sure I contacted every single hotel. Then I kept contact with them by e-mail, requiring written confirmation of the reservation and prepayment. All the places fitted our expectations, there were no problems with reservation or checking in. Everywhere we were met by friendly hosts or hostel staff, ready to do anything they could. There were some flaws, of course: the absence of curtains on the huge panoramic window, mold in a bathroom, big spiders. We didn't expect something supernatural from accommodation. Moreover, we were only spending nights there, so, in general, we got satisfied! All the houses are quite new, with the smell of timber. We could notice that the hosts tried their best to equip them.

Here is our factual route, very close to what we planned (prices are for two persons):

Day 1 - arrival to Barnaul in the morning, renting a car (29200 RUB for 12 days). Move to Iogach village (Lake Teletskoye) - 410 km, 7 hours. Staying at 'Manul-Kel' hostel (1350 RUB per night).


'Manul-Kel' hostel

Day 2 - boat trip to the southern shore of the Teletskoye Lake. We arranged that possibility in advance - that hostel provides excursion service. We spent the night there.


A boat at the Teletskoye Lake

Day 3 - move to Chemal (250 km, 6 hours). On the way we visited the Manzherok rapids and 'Biryuzovaya Katun' - to have a walk a bit. We didn't go to the caves - we were in a hurry. Then we called in the Seminsky baths. By the evening we reached Chemal. We stayed there for the night at 'Serebryaniye Rodniki' hostel (2500 RUB per night). We chose that hostel in particular to the reason that it is a stone's throw close to the starting point of 'Altai-Voyage' excursion to the lakes.


'Serebryaniye Rodniki' hostel

Day 4, 5, 6 - the tour called 'Altaiskoye ozherelye' ('Necklace of Altai') to the Karakol Lakes (11100 RUB/3 days). In general, we don't regret that we joined it - we got a lot of impressions, but the way it was organized was not so well. At first, I suppose, one day for there-and-back is too tough, taking to consideration that a part of the route to the hostel we were suppose to go on foot (7 km to one direction). On the way our car (KAMAZ) got broken, and we lost 2 hours; so on the walking part of the route (ascent) we were toughly hurried up.


The breakage of KAMAZ

The most of our group chose to continue the further ascent by car. It was probably the right decision.

On foot ascent to the lakes is hard. But I think it is worth walking, at least, once - views there are great.

It was good that we didn't go down after visiting the lakes - we had a rest. The houses are awful, though we lived in the best one. I guess, they realize - that is the only hostel there.
There is no electricity, except for several hours of light on the first floor, while the generator for bathhouse is working.

They build houses for such an area going by the principle 'better than a tent anyway'). The absence of the competition influences the level of service badly.


Our houses at the Karakol Lakes

On the second day we had a risk that our excursion would be cut for the reason we might be late for lunch!! But we insisted on the continuation. They almost deprived us from seeing one the most beautiful places. We climbed the Bagatash passage - we could see 4 closest lakes. We also visited the valley of spirits and took a walk along the extremely picturesque road - to the 'Castle of Mountain Spirits'.


The view of the lakes from above

The only thing that was great - hiking cuisine with 3-time meals - various and tasty!


The canteen at the hostel. Take a look at the way the floor is made)

Day 6 - night in Chemal at 'Serebryaniye Rodniki' hostel (2500 RUB per night). Our car was parked on their territory.


The interior of the room at 'Serebryaniye Rodniki'

Day 7 - Patmos island, Chemal HPP, goat's path. We came to the island much earlier, so we could avoid long queues.


The bridge to Patmos island

Move to Aktash village (330 km, 5,5 hours). We made several stops at the passages, at the confluence of the Chuya and the Katun rivers, at the Ilgumen rapid. We stayed in Aktash at 'Rasul' tour complex (2300 RUB per night).


'Rasul' tour complex (these are some of its houses. There is also the hotel nearby)

Day 8  - (350 km) trip to the Katu-Yaryk. We didn't know in advance how we could get there, because we weren't sure if we were able to reach that place on our car or not. We thought we might ask someone to take us there, but the host of the tour complex told that we could get there by our own. The road was long and tiresome but that was worth it! We didn't go down, of course, and didn't plan.


The view of Katu-Yaryk passage

At the second half of the day we went to the Martian fields and reached there by the sunset. Overnight stay was at the same tour complex.


A journey towards the Katu-Yaryk is almost a kind of adventure: it contains some possible risks. An ordinary thing - puncture of more than one wheels. You might change one with a spare wheel, but there are no service stations - and would have to stop. In the that case, people usually keep going on the punctured wheel till a service station and throw it away right after. But the views there are just fantastic. In general, it is possible to drive through, especially if it's dry. Usually it all goes well.

Day 9 - We visited the Geyser lake (didn't make it previously). 


The Geyser lake

Move to Ust-Koksa (400 km, 7 hours). On the way we visited 'Khalbak-Tash' nature reserve and joined an excursion. We made a stop at the Deer stone and and many stops for taking photos on the way. The road was bad, and we had to move slowly; but it was so picturesque that we didn't feel sad about it.


On the way to Ust-Koksa

We planned the ascent to the Multa Lakes for the next day. I had to choose between the hostels of Multa and Ust-Koksa. So we made the right choice - Ust-Koksa - because it is 20 km closer to go there and back, and there are the tours to the Multa Lakes as well. We chose center of active leisure 'Kolobok'. We arranged the ascent to the lakes with them in advance and stayed for the night at 'Kolobok' (2000 RUB per night).


'Kolobok' hostel (our house)

Day 10 - trip to the Multa lakes. Overnight stay at the same hostel.


The middle Multa Lake

Day 11 - we didn't plan anything in advance and didn't reserve a room for that day to avoid a strict binding to the place of overnight stay. We wanted to have a chance to visit something that hadn't or just wherever we would like. Then we realized that we wouldn't be able to make it, because we had to get to Barnaul by the evening of the next day. We didn't even go to Multa to visit the Rerikh's museum and the old-believers. We set off slowly towards the lower Altai, with stops for a picnic and visiting the Ust-Kan cave (350 km).

On the way we reserved a room at a hotel in Manzherok. Overnight stay at 'Krugosvet' guest house, Manzherok (3000 RUB per night).

Day 12 - having bathed in lake Manzherok, we decided to visit the apiary at 'Buryuzovaya Katun'. And we didn't regret about it! Then we stopped for a picnic at the Manzherok rapids once again and took the course to Barnaul (290 km). On the way we visited the Shukshin's monument at Srostki village and the museum of Chuysky trakt in Biysk.


Shukshin's monument

By the evening, with the obstacles caused by our broken car we reached Barnaul. Overnight stay was at 'Malta-2' hotel (1600 RUB per night). In the same evening we gave the car back (the firm evacuated us from the roadside).

Day 13 - a taxi took us to the airport for the morning flight to Moscow.

About meals: we took a lot of sublimated lunches and porrige for breakfasts. We bought all the rest at the place. We had self-organized breakfasts everywhere. If there was a possibility of having lunch or supper in a cafe, we would use it. But we might reach some places at the time when everything was closed, so our reserve came in handy. We liked the 'Van' cafe in Chemal. In Ust-Koksa we had meals at the hostel - they were ready to feed us even late in the evening!


Menu in the cafe at the southern shore of the Teletskoye Lake

So, the accommodation, the three-day tour and renting of the car costed us about 60000 RUB. We spent about 10000 RUB for fuel (the whole route is 2400 km).
The excursions around the Teletskoye Lake and to the Multa Lakes costed us around 10000 RUB (for two persons).


Taking to consideration almost free plane transfer (they used accumulated bonus miles), we got  an economical, full and interesting vacation that gave us a lot of unforgettable impressions!

Thanks for your mailings, they came in handy. I enjoy reading them now - I reminisce about that wonderful place. Moreover, I guess, we will come back some day - we haven't seen and haven't tried many things!

I think, such variant of travelling is quite excellent: visited so many places, stayed at the rooms with good conditions. It costed about 50000 RUB for one person without transfer to Barnaul, but with meals and souvenirs.
Travelling like that alone is more expensive, of course. And it would be much cheaper to travel in a group of 3-4 tourists.


I have experienced different ways of travelling(my reserved blog): travelling by myself, studying Wikipedia on the way, having contacts with the local guides. I traveled by bus, by car, by foot and by motor bicycle). I must say from my experience - independent travelling interesting and great. But the guided tours created unforgettable impressions. A living person pointing at the details, revealing the truth, the reasons, all what's hidden, directing my attention to the most interesting things - that's what made my journeys brighter and better.

You don't have to buy a tour for that all the time. You can use social networks, private guides and couchsurfing. Especially if you are interested in something special, for example, street art or places of power.

My attitude to independent travels is just positive - they are interesting, economical and adventurous a bit. What are their pluses? Price, privacy and freedom. What are the minuses? Risks, responsibility, the absence of narrator, time spending for preparation. We can't say which way - independent or organized - is better. These are just two different formats - each one is cool in its way.

Alexey Kiryanov,
Equesto CEO (FB)


Chapter 1. Why Altai and what's its zest?

Chapter 2. Best time of the year to go to Altai

Chapter 3. Best solutions how to get to Altai

Chapter 4. Taking off our rose-colored glasses: antidote against 'all-is-good' ads

Chapter 5. Activity in Altai

Chapter 6. Touristic bases, hotels and campsites of Altai

Chapter 7. Hikes with tents

Chapter 8. The ancient Altai and history

Chapter 9. Important questions got answered

Chapter 10. Prices in Altai

Chapter 11. Altaian tour selection guide

Chapter 12. Goods of Altai

Chapter 13. What do people say after visiting Altai?

Chapter 14. The examples of independent travels in Altai

Chapter 15. Organizing a tour

Chapter 16. Bike tours in Altai

Mailing for the first time comers to Altai

9 - Edited (2).pngIf you are going to visit Altai, you probably started with searching for the information in the internet: how, what, where, how much, what are the routes, reservation, sightseeings and tours. That's a huge work and it is time consuming.

Our mailing is a set of several letters full of concentrated and structured information, links to well-tried sights and sources and answers to questions.