A vast area encompassing three-fourths of Russia, Siberia is a land amazingly varied in landscape and culture.
Our 18-day tour begins in Irkutsk, a former Cossack settlement forever linked to the memory of the Decembrists, 19th-century exiled Russian nobles who recreated the cultural and artistic life of St Petersburg for Siberia’s rough frontiersmen. We then travel via Lake Baikal, the world’s largest, oldest, and deepest lake, to Olkhon Island, sacred to the indigenous Buryat people and widely regarded as Baikal’s ‘jewel’ for its otherworldly beauty.
Taking the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway, we arrive in Ulan Ude, a culturally Mongolian town that is the centre of Russian Buddhism with centuries of close ties to Tibet. From there we fly to Khabarovsk, a frontier town on the border with China, and onto steaming, volcano-studded Kamchatka, ‘Russia’s Alaska.’ The tour concludes in the bustling port city of Vladivostok, famous for its seafood and stunning setting on the Golden Horn, one of the world’s great harbours.
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If Government imposed COVID-19 restrictions mean that we cannot run a tour, or that you cannot travel to join a tour, then you will be given a 100% refund of all monies paid to Academy Travel for your tour.
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Valley of the Geysers – Experience a thrilling helicopter tour through snow-capped volcanoes to a hidden canyon.
Lake Baikal – Immerse yourself in the world’s oldest and deepest lake, and savour the picturesque tranquillity of Olkhon Island.
Russian Buddhism – Hear the lamas humming in Buryatia’s revived monasteries and learn about the dynamic blend of Tibetan Buddhism and indigenous Siberian shamanism.
The Old Believers – Hear the heart-rending stories of the persecuted Old Believers, who for centuries have preserved their beliefs in Siberian exile.
Vladivostok – See the sights and sample the glorious seafood of this bustling North Asian port city, unofficial capital of the Russian Far East.
The tour begins at Irkutsk Airport and ends at our hotel in Vladivostok.
Korean Airlines offers flights into Irkutsk and out of Vladivostok from Sydney or Brisbane, via Seoul.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Wednesday 12 July – Arrive Irkutsk
Your tour leader will meet the group arriving on the flight at 9.15pm (flight time subject to change) at Irkutsk Airport and transfer with you to our hotel. Overnight Irkutsk
Thursday 13 July – Exploring Irkutsk
Founded as a Cossack fortress in 1661, Irkutsk later prospered as a leading way station for the fur and tea trade between Russia and China, as well as a place of exile for thousands of political prisoners. Today, it is a pleasant, tree-lined city of 600,000 people with important aeronautical industries. We begin with a city tour visiting the WWII Memorial and Eternal Flame Monument, before we visit the Volkonsky House Decembrist Museum, devoted to the Russian nobles who rebelled against the Tsar in 1825 and were exiled for life to Siberia. After lunch at a local restaurant, we continue to the local Bazaar where there is time to shop for local handicrafts. This afternoon we climb to the belltower of the church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and enjoy a concert of chimes by the master bell ringer. We then visit the Angara Icebreaker, once used to ferry passengers on Lake Baikal. Overnight: Irkutsk (B, L, D)
Friday 14 July – Listvyanka Village
This morning we travel along Eisenhower Road and visit the superb Taltsy Folk Architecture museum, where we learn of the origins of Russian Siberia. We continue to Listvyanka on the shores of Lake Baikal, where life remains much the same as centuries past. We’ll dine as guests of a local Russian family, who prepare a typical Russian meal using produce from their own garden. From here, we visit the Baikal Limnological Museum to learn about the origin of the lake, its characteristics as the oldest and deepest lake in the world and its native species, some that are found nowhere else. Our final stop is the Seal Aquarium before we return to our hotel for dinner. Overnight: Irkutsk (B, L, D)
Saturday 15 July – To Olkhon Island
Today, we travel north from Irkutsk, and stop at Ust-Ordinsky Buddhist Monastery for a first glimpse of their culture, a dynamic blend of Tibetan Buddhism and indigenous Siberian shamanism. Our final destination is the beautiful Olkhon Island that lies just off the dramatic western shore of Lake Baikal. We spend the afternoon walking to local spots and, for those brave enough to brave its pure, icy waters, swimming in the world’s oldest lake. Overnight Olkhon Island (B, L, D)
Sunday 16 July – Shaman Cape, Lake Baikal
A deep inland sea separated by thousands of kilometres of steppe and forest from the sea, Lake Baikal is an ecosystem like no other. Of all its many beauty spots, Shaman Cape on Olkhon Island is justifiably the most famous. Looking like a perfect Japanese miniature and framed by mountain ridges, the Cape is considered the eye of the world by local shamanists and one of the seven holiest sites of Asia among Buddhists. After hearing from a local Buryat shaman about the Cape’s significance, we take to the water for a cruise across one of the lake’s most picturesque arms, the so-called ‘Little Sea’, with the capes, headlands and bays of Baikal forming a perfect backdrop. Keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of the lake’s most famous denizen, the mysterious Baikal seal or nerpa. Overnight: Olkhon Iland (B, L, D)
Monday 17 July – Soviet Siberia
Today we bid farewell to Baikal and return to Irkutsk. Here we retrace the history of Siberia during Soviet times with a visit to the Russian Orthodox Znamensky Monastery. We have supper with a local resident in a Stalinist-era apartment. Overnight Irkutsk (B, L, D)
Tuesday 18 July – The Trans-Siberian Railway
This morning we board the famous Trans-Siberian Railway for a day-time journey to Ulan Ude. Stretching from Moscow to the Pacific, in its day the Trans-Siberian was one of the world’s great feats of engineering. Today we travel what is probably the Railway’s most scenic section, with fantastic views as our train rounds the southern shore of Lake Baikal. Arriving late afternoon in Ulan Ude, the semi-autonomous Republic of Buryatia, we take the evening to unwind and watch the sun set over the north Asian steppe from the top floor of our modern hotel. Overnight Ulan Ude (B, L, D)
Wednesday 19 July – Ulan Ude
This morning we visit Ivolginsk Buddhist Monastery to witness a morning prayer service and learn about the links between Buryatia and Tibet. At the home of a local Buryat family, we enjoy lunch and learn about the realities of life in a ger. This afternoon we embark on a gentle walking tour of central Ulan Ude. We continue our exploration of Buryat culture through a visit to the Atsagat Buddhist Temple, located on the open steppe. Overnight Ulan Ude (B, L)
Thursday 20 July – The Old Believers
Today, we tour the fascinating collection of Buryat art and performing arts artefacts at the Bardamov Gallery. There is free time to gather for lunch. In the afternoon we depart by bus for an unforgettable visit to a village of one of Siberia’s most enigmatic peoples – the so-called ‘Old Believers’. After rejecting a series of Church reforms, the Old Believers split from established Russian Orthodoxy in the 1600s and either fled or were exiled to Eastern Europe and Siberia, where they have preserved their beliefs and culture unbroken for centuries. Learn about their lives as workers on collective farms under the Communists and, after dinner enjoy a performance of their songs of exile, hope and determination. Overnight Ulan Ude (B, D)
Friday 21 July – To Khaborovsk
An early start today as we fly to Khabarovsk, the major city of Russia’s Amur region. Originally a Cossack border fort, Khabarovsk became prominent in the 19th century as the centre of efforts for the annexation of what is now called Russia’s ‘Maritime Province’ from China. At the height of the Cold War, the Ussuri River that separates Khabarovsk from China was the scene of tense skirmishes between the Soviet and Chinese armies. This afternoon, we meet with Alexander Batalov, a legendary organiser of tiger tracking. For more than 40 years, Batalov has worked to conserve the habitat of the endangered Amur Tiger. Tonight, we enjoy dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Khabarovsk (B, L, D)
Saturday 22 July – Explore Khaborovsk
This morning, we enjoy a walking tour of Khabarovsk’s central area, visiting lively Muravyev-Amursky Street, Trans-Siberian Station, Lenin Square, War Memorial and the new Assumption Cathedral. After lunch in a local restaurant, our tour continues to the Khabarovsk Bridge and open-air Museum. Later, we embark on a cruise on the river that separates the city from China. Dinner this evening is in a local restaurant. Overnight: Khabarovsk (B, L, D)
Sunday 23 July – To Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
Today we fly to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the capital of Russia’s remote but spectacular Kamchatka peninsula, with a mix of geology, scenery, Russian and indigenous cultures. We begin with a brief city tour and a visit to the local Volcanarium to find out more about the unique geological forces that have created Kamchatka’s striking scenery. Overnight Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (B, L, D)
Monday July 24 July – Valley of the Geysers
A highlight of our Siberian journey is today’s full-day helicopter tour of Kamchatka’s volcanoes. Our first stop is the famous Valley of the Geysers, a wonderland of volcanic activity. We enjoy the valley’s geysers, mud pools, steam vents and unique flora by boardwalk. Our helicopter next alights in the 225,000-year-old crater of the Uzon Caldera, where we learn about the local geology against a backdrop of snow-capped volcanoes. Explore the lake on foot, and watch from a safe viewing platform as the big Kamchatka brown bears fish for the rich food that will carry them through the winter. Our third helicopter trip takes us to a series of picturesque natural hot springs in Nalychevo National Park. After soaking our weary limbs, we enjoy a picnic lunch in the unforgettable surroundings, then return by helicopter to Petropavlovsk. Overnight Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (B, L, D)
Tuesday 25 July – Taste of Kamchatka
Today, we embark on a trip to the volcanic plateau and foothills of Avacha Volcano. We take a 4WD up to the tourist base, and spend some time at the camp enjoying the rugged scenery and a picnic lunch. Returning to town this afternoon, there is the opportunity to try your hand at regional dishes during a cooking class. Overnight: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (B, L, D)
Wednesday 26 July – Avacha Bay and Snow Dogs
The Siberian cold is legendary, and today we experience life in the tundra, beginning with a visit to the ‘Snow Dogs’ kennel. The kennel offers a unique insight into the role that dogs and dog-sledding have played in the culture of the indigenous Koryak people. After enjoying a performance of native songs and dance, the brave among us can experience the thrills of the dogsled for themselves. Our next stop is Avacha Bay, home to a rich diversity of sea, bird and mammal life, and is the main Pacific base for Russia’s submarine fleet. Via motorboat, we discover a clutch of offshore islands that are home to thousands of migratory sea birds and lively sea otters. After a lunch onboard, we return to Petropavlovsk in the early afternoon. Overnight Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (B, L, D)
Thursday 27 July – To Vladivostok
Today we fly to Vladivostok, the bustling capital of the Russian Far East. Founded on a superb natural harbour in 1860 but closed for decades under Communism to foreign tourists, Vladivostok is once again a free port and a busy hub for Russian trade with North Asia. On arrival we visit the Eagle’s Nest for spectacular views of Vladivostok’s famous Golden Horn Suspension Bridge and enjoy a walking tour of Vladivostok Foreshore. Overnight Vladivostok (B, L, D)
Friday 28 July – Exploring Vladivostok
After decades of relative neglect, Vladivostok has benefited in recent years from a spate of government development projects. After a talk in the hotel, we depart by coach for a visit to one of the most impressive of these projects, the Aquarium and Research Institute, where we explore the rich marine life of the Russian Far East. In the afternoon, we return to Vladivostok proper to view the superb exhibits of the Arsenyev Regional Museum that include the unique ‘fish skin’ clothing of Vladivostok’s original native people. Our farewell dinner is held at the cutting-edge seafood restaurant, Café Morye. Overnight Vladivostok (B, D)
Saturday 29 July – Depart
The tour concludes after breakfast. Flights depart Vladivostok via Seoul for Australia in the afternoon. (B)
Dr Matthew Dal Santo
A writer, historian and foreign affairs commentator, with Honours degrees from both Sydney and Cambridge Universities.
Dr Matthew Dal Santo is a writer, historian and foreign affairs commentator who currently resides in Copenhagen, Denmark. Born in Sydney, Matthew lived most of the past fifteen years in Europe. The current focus of his interest is Russia. From 2014 to 2017, Matthew was Danish Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen, with a grant to study how Russians think of themselves in the light of their history 25 years after the collapse of Communism and 100 since the 1917 revolution. He is particularly interested in how the revival of Orthodoxy has encouraged the return of the age-old idea of ‘Holy Rus’ as well as rehabilitation of the culture and achievements of Imperial Russia, as for example in the canonisation in 2000 of the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family as saints. Matthew has travelled extensively in the Russian-speaking world, from Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus to Siberia and the Russian Far East. He is currently writing a book called The Romanovs and the Redemption of Putin’s Russia: Remaking Holy Rus. Before returning to academic work, Matthew was briefly a policy officer with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Matthew has a PhD in Ecclesiastical History from the University of Cambridge, where from 2005 to 2008 he held the Lightfoot Scholarship. In 2007 he was elected Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge’s leading college, and was appointed Associate Lecturer in the award-winning Faculty of History. Matthew also has an MPhil from Cambridge and a BA (Hons I) from the University of Sydney, where he won the University Medal in 2004.
In addition to English, Matthew speaks Danish, French, Italian and Russian.
We asked Matthew, what motivates him to lead a tour to Russia?
“I lead Academy Travel’s annual Russia tour. This is something I really enjoy. My aim with the tour is not only to provide people the opportunity to visit Russia’s famous historical sights and great collections of art in St Petersburg and Moscow, but also a chance to engage first-hand with the way the identity and world view of this most perplexing of countries has been transformed in the two and half decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. My lectures take a close look at Russian history and politics, with the aim of showing how ‘Putin’s Russia’ (so-called) is still grappling with processes set in motion hundreds of years ago, often in ways that have a deep effect on Russia’s often difficult relations with the West.
Coming from a long line of teachers, I also find the training and development tours that I lead for the NSW History Teachers’ Association a great source of pleasure and inspiration. Of course, Russia is a very big country and my view is that too few people ever get to its vast reaches east of the Urals.”
As Siberia and the Russian Far East are still relatively new destinations for international travellers, hotels do not always meet Western standards. Wherever possible, we stay in the best local hotels.
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.