This is a huge guide-chapter. These instructions will help you with picking up a suitable way of travelling in Altai. It might be not so necessary right now, but in the future.
Introduction. Why do you need such a letter at all?
If you try to search for the unprejudiced articles on 'how to select a tour in Altai' you will probably find nothing to the point. Tour operators publish such articles in the site of their companies to tell about selection among their own tours (what a surprise, isn't it?)
We are the tour operator too, and we had such an article either
). So, to make our experiment cleaner, we won't be recommending our tours — we wouldn't like to turn to a hidden advertisement.
Nearby the Ust-Koksa cave. October, 2017. Try to find me on this photo?
Everything in this letter is my personal opinion - just an opinion - not the final truth. I make it up through the contacts with altaian guides, managers, 'colleagues' from other companies (we are all kind of boiling in one big pot). I study enough material in the Internet, in the social network and see a lot with my own eyes. Also, some news, some gossip and so on.
I will try to make this letter as helpful as can be - as though I was telling all that to my friend.
Selection of a tour. General scheme
A loop of the Katu-Yaryk Pass
It might be extremely confusing, for the first look. But in fact, there is a very little difference in the most of the tours.
You just need to know for sure what you want and what you are prepared to do.
For example, type of accommodation (tent or hotel) or level of activity (active or still) will be a principle choice. Having defined with the couple of parameters you may decide what the tour is going to be and where to go. Then you may choose the operator and compare prices.
Here is a bit funny scheme on choosing a tour. It looks simple, because I spent just a couple days projecting it)):
Choosing an operator (or a personal guide)
There is a lot of juridical stuff. According to the law, tour operator must have a license (from register of tour operators). This license is nothing else but insurance of the tour operator's responsibility. In case the tour fails you might go to the court, and insurance company would pay you some money - up to 500000 RUB for a tour operator in Altai.
The license doesn't influence the quality of service or the class of the tour. But if it is important for you, the license can only be given to the entity. Individual entrepreneurs, according to the law, will provide services illegally.
Some individuals provide great tours without official clearance. Also, I know tour operators that work bad, even with the license.
So it is better to estimate in a complex:
- Juridical aspects (license, contract, payment documents).
- Reputation, reviews, comments. It doesn't work well now. People write positive reviews pretty rare. They may use other websites to write negative ones. So it looks like on the review-sites tourists may scold a company, but company's site will contain good reviews. Both got from real people. They just prefer not to post negative reviews on the tour operator's site. They are afraid that tour operator will not post their negative reviews. Or it doesn't really post them.
- Staff. Tours are made by people: guides, drivers and the cooks are the ones providing your holidays.
- Guarantees: how are they represented in the contract.
- Price. 'No name' guide, who works for himself unofficially, will make one and the same tour cheaper than official company working with staff, taxes, advertisement and office. It's a fact.
Who will organize the tour best - an unofficial guide or a tour operator? Both can make it awful or make it perfect. I'll repeat - juridical aspects and license don't influence the quality of the service (see the next paragraph about risks).
Risks on tour selection
What are the risks?
- The most sensitive - you paid for a tour, you came to Altai, and no one met you, no one got your money back - that is a fraud, in fact. Not so often, but it happens with the unofficial guides. It's an old dilemma: cheap/no guarantees or expensive/with guarantees.
- Bad tour. It happens if you are promised too much and you got... Altaic reality. Also, your guide may turn out dull.
- Cancelling the tour due to shortage of tourists in a group. That's a standard practice in Altai: tour is cancelled, prepay is paid back. But you are holding tickets and going to Altai to... nothing. What should you do? You don't want to change your plans or loose your money. Guaranteed tour is usually more expensive than 'from 6 members' tour.
Categories of the tours
Tours can be divided into several large groups. I will tell about tour selection for the first comers to Altai. If you have ever been to Altai, it's up to you where to deepen. The second trip to Altai is usually based on the previous experience - but it's different all the time.
So, let's imagine that you are selecting your first tour in Altai, and you are sure - it is not going to be the last (those who make their one and only trip are from the different category).
Hiking tours with tents for beginners
Hiking tour to Belukha: quite difficult for beginners
The advantages of such tours are - lower price and opportunity to see unique places which are really hard to get to.
I would recommend to choose a tour including one type of activity, lasting 3 to 6 days. Don't pick up a 12-day horse tour or rafting for two weeks. You will get bored, or dissatisfied, or you will suffer.
What would I take? Rafting down the middle Katun, horse tours (unnecessarily to Belukha) or light hikes. These are kind of classical tours. Extreme rafting or difficult hikes (to Belukha or, for example, to the Shavla Lakes) - might be possible for me, but I wouldn't recommend them for my mother, aged 57, or for the beginners.
Here are direct links to examples of the tours (prices and the set of tours are almost equal, easy to compare analogues):
The Middle Katun,
a horse ride to Toguskol
(one of the cheapest) or to Belukha
, a hike tour to the Multa Lakes
. Here is another variant of a sightseeing tour.
Who offers such tours (examples):
- Altai-Tour (a major tour operator, but the quality of service leaves mixed feelings,
- Altai-Active-Tour (good reputation),
- Ak-kem-Tour (works not so long, they are currently making their reputation).
Tours including comfortable accommodation (hotels, campsites)
Aktash village — key point for many different routes. There are very few rooms to stay available
The variety of directions is not so wide. Hotels are located along the roads. Tours are organized along the same routes. They just differ by the content. Infrastructure is the same for everyone.
What is the advantage of tours including comfortable accommodation? The simple conveniences: WC, shower, sleep in a normal bed, with regards to privacy and human dignity. But, as the result, such tours are cheaper and set of sightseeings is limited (no places to stay).
What would I choose for the first time? I'd proceed with the level of the load. I am young and sportive, so my choice would be - excursion mixed with some activity. For my mother, aged 57, I would recommend a walking tour with some light activity.
What is important in the sightseeing tour? First of all - good guide and program. Many things depend on the guides - they direct your views and feelings.
We can unite them all under the title like "golden ring of Altai"
or "sightseeing tours in Altai
". Almost every tour operator offers such tours. For example, this
What should you pay attention to?
Number of days and their content:
there may be 'days of rest' or the days of arrival and departure may be included into that number. Also, see reviews - to make sure there was not a 'race'.
: see the maps, check the coverage. There should be Chuysky trakt. Some operators provide tours to Chemal only.
: pay attention to the level of rooms and availability of conveniences. Campsite means WC outside, sometimes not so close. There are also sightseeing tours with tents.
Meals and what the price includes
: it is better to ask for clarifications from the tour operator - how much money you need for some extra spends. That is not always pointed clearly in the description. Sometimes 'all-inclusive' doesn't include lunch, bathhouse, transfer, some of excursions, or something else. As a result, a cheaper tour might cost much more, because even 7 lunches and couple suppers may add 3000-4000 RUB to the price of the tour.
For those going to Altai for the first and only time
This is a special category, so there are strict requirements. The main difference here is that tourist needs to see and taste Altai at once. Requirements include completeness and variety of the program and deal the compromises (concerning housing, prices and time limitations). That is our specialization and we know how hard it is to carry out.
Here is a couple of tour operators providing good geographical coverage, but completely fail to carry out all those requirements above: the first
, the second
Here we include the tours which can be provided by only one tour operator, and they differ a lot. An unusual tour is difficult to provide, due to their approach maybe.
Here is an example from Altai-Tour
(differs by the type of transport). Here is a tour disposed to religion
(guided by psychotherapist). Here is kayaking tour.
Multi-active tours: a lot of things to do
Main principle - 'the more activity, the better'.
It is a kind of package tour, including housing, meals and excursions. Pay your attention, what is exactly included and what is the level of the provided services (housing, meals). The geographical coverage of Altai may differ a lot.
I'll give you some links:
- From Altai-Expedition
- From Altai-Tour
And that's it). Not too many, in fact.
Looks like a snack, right? Right, if we ignore the fact that it is the Darashkol Lake and the tourists came here by helicopter (which is awaiting nearby). By the way, awaiting costs tens of thousand rubles.
These are all the tours of 'a-lot-of-money' type. As simple as that - for a pretty unlimited budget (from 1 million RUB) you will have helicopter flights, you may go hunting, or take a jeep and drown it in a swamp. I can elaborate the subject, if necessary, but, as a rule, people interested in VIP tours don't read our articles. We have a little experience of arranging VIP tours, but I should say Altai is not prepared, in terms of service, for the demanding clients.
Tours without activities
Such tours began to appear in Altai. It is a package tour - doing nothing, in fact, (or using suggestions of a hotel) - just like in Turkey.
- Altay Resort
In general, that is a popular tour, as a leisure.
Tours for retirees (low load)
For physically strong retirees any active tour is suitable. But for the most of older people excursion tours suit best. Or, as a maximum, multi-active. Please, do not overestimate your abilities. A trip to the mountains may ignite some old diseases, or make the pressure go up. We had some cases when we had to expel older tourists from an active tour - they were unable to continue.
Tours for young and strong tourists
There are two variants.
First - take an active tour and go travelling through the mountains.
Second - stay in a hotel closer to disco-bars and go raving) - at the Aya lake, for example.
Tours to go with small children
It depends on the age. Up to 10 years old it is better to stay at a hotel with a swimming pool and animators. Special tours for kids are pretty rare (because of law restrictions), but it is possible to go on the usual tour with children; older kids may go here.
Family tours, due to the low demand, are not popular. Just take your family for an ordinary tour - there are some discounts for children.
Ask your questions
So here we end this chapter. I did try to gather the most popular categories. But I can't describe tours for each single demand. Ask your questions, and I will add some information and contacts. If you, for example, want a tour to Belukha, please, write to me, and I'll give you the contacts of the well-tried organizers.
That was not an easy chapter. Frankly speaking, picking up an Altaian tour is really complicated process: tour operators copy each other and offer similar programs; each uses the same infrastructure and the same routes.
While writing this letter, I have explored lots of websites. And I got an idea why there are so many tour operators nowadays: it is relatively easy to start and low risk business. they do it the follow way:
1. Creating a website and copy the tours of some existing operator. For example, I ran across the copies of our programs.
2. Set the condition like 'group starting from 6 people' and offer a lower price.
3. Waiting for the necessary number of tourists to gather. If not - cancel the tour. If the group gathered, they provide the tour and earn something.
I don't quite understand, why they try to copy someone, to make something 'as others do'. That is probably the model of Russian competition: copy, even wryly - no matter, and set a lower price. I'm more inclined to the model, in which competitors create a new product that differs.
There is a lack of unusual offers - something else but 'horse-raft-combined'. There is also lack of offers for demanding clients - to make it really good, but without 'Altaian service'.
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