This chapter is a kind of disclaimer taking off the rose-colored glasses. Let's look at the situation with realistic eyes.
Ads represent Altai as a paradise place. They may tell a lot about pluses and keep silence about the minuses of that area. Let's see into expectation/reality issues and our experience.
Starting with 'comfortable accommodation'
It is better to get rid of delusion: some 5-star hotels in Altai can match only 3-star hotels in Germany. Standard room in a mountain hotel may differ a lot from a 'Standard' in a city. The further we go to the mountains, the worse comfort issues get. A 'Suite' in Aktash village may look as a poor 'Standard'. 'Economy' may turn out a hostel. Or maybe even without rooms: just a yurt for 8 persons.
Many tourists would like to stay in a yurt
Still, the prices are not lower.
WC outside is an ordinary thing for Altai. Rarely could you find a towel in the bed linens; as well as room with a shower and WC. Yurts, small wooden houses - is a kind of standard.The situation is better in 'lower' Altai. In the mountains you might need a tent.
All the items of comfort in a camping
There are no good hotels with suitable rooms in the mountains. You may find some good variants in the 'lower' Altai, but they are not so big - pretty often they have no vacant rooms. Prices are not so provincial.
Checking in for a night
Most of our tourists come from western part of Russia or from abroad. So we try to stay in comfortable rooms. There are few rooms of that kind, especially in the mountain hotels. Such hotels are usually small, 10-20 beds, and only 1-2 rooms with conveniences. So we have to reserve them in advance.
There is always some element of luck - you can't be 100% sure where you are going to stay. We don't have a chance to check online if there available rooms in some hotel in Altai (no information given). So we reserve rooms after booking a tour. Such an adventure!
It's not that bad as it might seem, but it is better to be prepared to some Spartan conditions, as in the photo below - double room with conveniences.
So-called 'Standard room'
We have only one good road - Chuysky trakt. The rest are much worse; one step aside - no asphalt at all. Gravel roads in different states, dirt roads, battered blacktop roads with sharp stones, passages and fords. It is possible to reach the most of sightseeings by car, but it is kind of complicated.
The Katu-Yaryk Pass: one of the hardest and the most dangerous
If you use navigator, ask the way from some locals. Sometimes navigator suggests a 'short way' on the road that doesn't exist. Or it may consider a riverbed as a road.
Not clearly seen, but that is truly a piece of a road)
Any car - old one, new one - is breakable. Wheels may be punched by sharp stones, disks may be bent from sudden pits, engines may overheat during a pass forcing, vibrations cause carcass's damage and the fuel of a low quality leads to the blockage. Wearout of the transport is higher in Altai, car rent costs can surprise even Muscovite. We always have to hold some standby cars, figure out alternative variants, extend the network of 'supporting agents' ready to deliver help and spare parts in case of need.
Chuysky trakt in January
We don't have franchise cafes, such as MacDonald's, only 'Traveler's coffee' in Gorno-Altaysk. There are some private restaurants and cafes for the whole republic.
Going further, to the mountains, we may have meals at the roadside canteens or have on-wheel picnic. In general, it is not so expensive, 200-500 RUB (4-8 USD) for a dinner. Local cuisine consists of meat and fat. Few cafes are able to offer vegetarian dishes.
National cuisine cafe
Last summer we bought 15000 different lunches and suppers in dozens of cafes.
What can we say? Quality is not stable, even at well-tried suppliers. It has a tendency to get worse: the same cafe may change to smaller portions, higher prices and worse taste within a year. Competition is low, so bad cafes don't disappear.
Here is an example of a lunch at a roadside canteen
Vegetarians just don't take meat.
1. 'Manzherok' ski resort in winter
View from the highest point that you can ski from
It is a good developing resort, with modern tracks suitable for beginners only. In the ads they tell about ski slopes and high mountain but that's all about the future. In fact, there are two slopes: one is a training track and the other is from the middle station. Many people come here hoping it is a real ski resort and get upset or angry. But it is just developing area.
2. Beltirtuyuk waterfall
Awful road. People drive there scratching their cars' bottoms to watch for a while and then drive back. In my opinion it doesn't worth it.
3. Having health problems
Example: Barangol is a village on Chuysky trakt, very popular among tourists. It is 52 km for an ambulance to go to bring help
If there is a possibility that you might need emergency help, you'd better avoid going to Altai. Distances are long; it may take hours for an ambulance to come. Moreover, level of medical service is pretty low - concerning drug and equipment supplement, and doctors' qualification.
4. Altai honey
Altai honey is super. But it is better to buy it from well-tried places. There are two moments:
1. It might be honey from anywhere else but Mountain Altai.
2. Honey may contain some additions - flour or starch.
5. Roadside 'grayling'
I don't want to use one-size-fits-all approach but most likely it will not be grayling. Fishing graylings is hard and strongly limited by the law. Its population goes lower and lower in Altai. Artificial breeding is long and not profitable. What fish is going to be - we can only guess. One day a group of our tourists bought some 'grayling', and the whole group felt bad after having it. Grayling is found only in the clean water and tastes amazing. Here it is:
This chapter might scare you
Don't be afraid.
It is not that bad as it seems. You just should be prepared to 'Altai service' and take its simplicity as a feature. People coming to Altai have a big fun. Comfort and good roads is something you could meet in your own city. But here - everything is compensated by different things. All the flaws are the outcome of pluses of Altai unspoiled by civilization. My purpose is to give the whole image, not only 'wows', so I tell as it is.
We used to write 'selling' texts for tours, supporting them with cool photos, representing the best sides of Altai and the tours. We used to guarantee there would be no problem. We thought like 'first sell, then think'.
Sales were on the rise. Our growth was so fast, that soon we could hardly provide such an amount of tourists.
But then a huge minus of a "selling" approach appeared - higher expectations from our tours. Altaic wildness, weak infrastructure, mid-class hotels and at all mid-level service make people upset. Especially, if one is disposed to have a perfect leisure 'as ads say'.
Everyone suffers from that - we get negative reviews even if we did our best. Clients get worse service than they expected even if everything was fine.
Altai's flaws - weather or infrastructure - is the back side of their pluses. So we should use them not for making your leisure perfect 'as ads say', but for great adventure.
So we switched from 'guaranteeing no problem' to 'guaranteeing to solve problem'. If there is anything that might go wrong, we are able to remedy the situation. We have alternatives in case of bad weather, we substitute broken cars, we make injections against tick bites, change guides if they can't go with you and so on.
We completely changed our approach to service and organizing a tour.
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