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.
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.
Touristic 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.
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).
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:
Go to the bus station to buy a ticket to Artybash for the next morning.
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:
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.
Gorno-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.
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.
The 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)
There is an interesting rafting route from the Biryuzovaya Katun, for an hour
On our way back we will make a few stops. I recommend:
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.
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:
Then I turned to elaboration of the route.
Our initial desires were the following:
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:
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 Booking.com. 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).
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.
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 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.
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.
Equesto CEO (FB)
Chapter 14. The examples of independent travels in Altai
If 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.