Embark on a journey of a lifetime to one of the world’s last travel frontiers. This 16-day tour reveals the cultural and geographic wonders of Siberia and the Russian Far East. We begin in Irkutsk, a Cossack settlement on the steppe and the cultural capital of Siberia, and then travel to the superbly beautiful Lake Baikal, sacred to the indigenous Buryat people. From here we take the Trans-Siberian railway to Ulan-Ude, a culturally Mongolian town that is the centre of Russian Buddhism, and continue to Kamchatka, Russia’s Alaska, to explore its extraordinary landscape of volcanoes and geysers and the culture of its indigenous reindeer-herding and husky-raising people. The tour ends in Vladivostok, where we see the sights and sample the glorious seafood of this bustling North Asian port city.
A cultural kaleidoscope, from modern Orthodox to Old Believers, Mongol Buryats and Kamchatka’s indigenous reindeer herders
Awe-inspiring landscapes: serene Lake Baikal, the Eastern Siberian steppe, and the volcanoes and geysers of Kamchatka, ‘Russia’s Alaska’
Tales of exile and the tyranny of distance, from the time of the Tsars to the Soviet Gulag
Unique wildlife: Baikal’s mysterious nerpa, a freshwater seal thousands of kilometres from the sea, and Kamchatka’s reindeer
The warmth and friendliness of a culture untouched by mass tourism
Marvel at the immensity and tranquillity of Siberia’s Lake Baikal, with its stunning vistas of pine-studded islands
Journey across the Eastern Siberian step on the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway
Private helicopter and walking tour of Kamchatka’s snow-capped volcanoes and the stupendous Valley of Geysers
Reflect on the pathos of Irkutsk, a miniature St Petersburg recreated by exiled Decembrists
Explore the heart of Russian Buddhism at Ulan-Ude’s central datsan
Walk the streets of Russia’s Pacific capital, the surprisingly subtropical Vladivostok
Meet Kamchatka’s indigenous people, the reindeer-herding Koryak
Days 1–4: Explore Irkutsk’s Cossack origins. Travel to Olkhon Island on the western shore of Lake Baikal.
Days 5–6: Return to Irkutsk and board the Trans-Siberian Railway to Ulan Ude.
Days 7–8: Investigate Buryat culture and enjoy lunch with a local family. Encounter Russian Buddhism in Ulan-Ude and visit a village of ‘Old Believers’, Orthodox dissidents expelled in the 17th century.
Day 9: Fly to Khabarovsk and cruise the Ussuri River, separating Russia from China.
Days 10–13: Fly to Petropavlosk-Kamchatksky. Marvel at volcanoes and geysers; relax in Nalychevo’s thermal springs.
Days 14–16: Fly to Vladivostok, a vibrant Pacific port closed to foreigners until 1991, departure.
There are currently no places available on this tour. If you would like to be notified if a place becomes available on tour, please register your details above.
For this tour we recommend Korean Airlines which offers flights into Irkutsk and out of Vladivostok from Sydney or Brisbane. Please contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Wednesday 17 July: Arrive Irkutsk
Your tour leader, Matthew Dal Santo will meet the group arriving on the Korean Airlines flight arriving at approximately 9.15pm (by current schedules) at Irkutsk Airport and transfer with you to our hotel. Overnight Irkutsk
Thursday 18 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 our exploration with a visit to the Volkonsky House Decembrist Museum. The Museum tells the story of the Decembrists – Russian noblemen who rebelled against the Tsar in 1825 and were exiled for life to Siberia. Many of their wives voluntarily followed them into exile. Among the most famous of these was Princess Maria Volkonsky who sought to recreate in Irkutsk the cultural and intellectual life she had known in St Petersburg. We visit Maria’s home in exile. In the afternoon we make a visit to the superb Taltsy Folk Architecture museum. Here we return to the origins of Russian Siberia by walking through a 17th-century Cossack fort and stepping inside the log cabins of 19th-century homesteaders. For dinner, we are guests of a local Russian family, who prepare a typical Russian meal from the produce of their own garden. Overnight: Irkutsk (B, L, D)
Friday 19 July: To Olkhon Island
Today, we travel north from Irkutsk through the vast open steppes of northern Eurasia that are the lands of the Western Buryats, a formerly nomadic people related to the neighbouring Mongols. Claiming the mother of Genghis Khan as one of their own, the Buryats have driven their herds across these lands for centuries, and we stop at Ust-Ordinsky Buddhist Monastery for a first glimpse of their culture. Buryat culture is a dynamic blend of Tibetan Buddhism and indigenous Siberian shamanism and, though suppressed for decades under Communism, today it is again thriving. Our final destination, travelling by ferry, is the beautiful Olkhon Island that lies just off the dramatic western shore of Lake Baikal. We spend the afternoon walking to local beauty spots and, for those brave enough to brave its icy waters, swimming in the pure, clear waters of the world’s oldest lake. Overnight Olkhon Island (B, L, D)
Saturday 20 July: Shaman Cape, Lake Baikal
A deep inland sea separated by thousands of kilometres of steppe and forest from the sea, Lake Baikal (which is estimated to hold about one fifth of the world’s fresh water) 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 Port Olkhon Hotel. (B, L)
Sunday 21 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 (where the Reds executed Russian Civil War leader Admiral Kolchak in 1919) and Irkutsk’s impressive Second World War Memorial. We have supper with a local resident in a Stalinist-era apartment. Overnight Irkutsk (B, D)
Monday 22 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. Work, which began in 1891, was completed in 1916. 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, 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)
Tuesday 23 July: Buddhism in Buryatia
Ulan Ude is the capital of the semi-autonomous Republic of Buryatia. About one quarter of the population of Buryatia is Yellow Hat Buddhist, the spiritual descendants of 17-century Tibetan missionaries. For centuries, links with Tibet were strong. Closed by Stalin, the temples and monasteries that stud the landscape are once again living centres of Buryat culture. This morning we visit its spiritual home at Ivolginsk Buddhist Monastery, where we witness a morning prayer service and learn about the deep historical links between Buryatia and Tibet. We continue our exploration of Buryat culture through a visit to the Atsagat Buddhist Temple, with its beautiful location on the open steppe. The afternoon sees us as guests at the home of a local Buryat family, where we learn about the realities of life in a ger. Overnight Ulan Ude (B, L)
Wednesday 24 July: Ulan Ude
This morning we embark on a gentle walking tour of central Ulan Ude. In Soviet times, local Communist Party authorities sought Moscow’s favour by constructing the world’s largest bust of Lenin. More than 25 years since the demise of the USSR, the bust still has pride of place in Ulan Ude’s central square. At noon we depart by bus across the wooded steppe 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. We learn about their lives as workers on collective farms under the Communists and, after a dinner of home-grown and –raised produce, enjoy a superb and stirring performance of their songs of exile, hope, and determination. Overnight Ulan Ude (B, D)
Thursday 25 July: To Khabarovsk
Today we fly to Khabarovsk, the major city of Russia’s Amur region. Originally a Cossack border fort, Khabarovsk shot to prominence in the 19th century when it became 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, in 1969 the Ussuri River that separates Khabarovsk from China was the scene of tense skirmishes between the Soviet and Chinese armies. Today, Khabarovsk is a relaxed city with an elegant 19th-century core. We enjoy an afternoon cruise on the river that separates the city from China. Overnight Khabarovsk (B)
Friday 26 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 and Russian and indigenous cultures quite unlike anything else on earth. We begin our exploration with a visit to the local Volcanarium (brainchild of the Kamchatka-born volcanologist and physicist Sergei Borisevich) to find out more about the unique geological forces that have created Kamchatka’s spectacular scenery. Overnight Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (B, D)
Saturday 27 July: Valley of the Geysers
Today we embark by helicopter for a full-day tour of Kamchatka’s volcanoes. Our first stop is the famous Valley of the Geysers, some 200km north of Petropavlovsk. Protected by stringent environmental controls, the Valley is a pristine wonderland of volcanic activity, first discovered only in 1941. With a professional guide provided by the national park, we enjoy the valley’s geysers, mud pools, steam vents and unique flora by boardwalk. Boarding the helicopter for the journey to our second destination, we alight 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. The afternoon sees us board the helicopter again for our third destination – 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. We return by helicopter to Petropavlovsk. Overnight Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (B, L, D)
Sunday 28 July: Elizovo
The weather in Kamchatka is unpredictable and this is our buffer day, which may be used for rescheduling our visit to the Valley of the Geysers. If the weather has been kind to us, however, we travel today to the town of Elizovo. For centuries, salmon was central to the lives of Kamchatka’s indigenous peoples, and in Elizovo we visit the ‘Land of Fish and Fish-eaters’ educational centre that is dedicated to promoting salmon conservation and other environmental issues. Afterwards, we enjoy a walk on the black sands of local Khalaktyrsky Beach, formed by lava flows thousands of years ago. Overnight Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (B, L)
Monday 29 July: Avacha Bay and Snow Dogs
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky enjoys a spectacular locale on Avacha Bay. A flooded caldera, the bay’s vast horseshoe is home to a rich diversity of sea, bird and mammal life, as well as providing Russia’s submarine fleet with its main Pacific base. Cruising out through the heads of the bay aboard a comfortable motor boat, we discover a clutch of offshore islands that are home to thousands of migratory sea birds and whose waters are again enlivened with the antics of the once-endangered sea otter. We enjoy a lunch of fresh fish on board and return to Petropavlovsk in the early afternoon. For thousands of years, the indigenous groups that call Kamchatka home have been united by the love of one animal: the sled dog. In the afternoon, we visit the ‘Snow Dogs’. With more than 120 dogs lovingly housed on one site, the kennel offers a unique insight into the role that dogs and dog-sledding have played in Kamchatka’s culture and history. The kennels double as an educational centre dedicated to the culture of the indigenous Koryak people. After enjoying a performance of native songs and dance, the brave among us have the opportunity to experience the thrills of the dogsled for themselves. Overnight Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (B, L, D)
Tuesday 30 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)
Wednesday 31 July: Exploring Vladivostok
After decades of relative neglect, Vladivostok has benefited in recent years from a spate of government development projects. Many of these have been focused on picturesque Russky Island. This morning we depart by coach for a visit to one of the most impressive of these projects, the brand-new Russky Island Aquarium and Research Institute, where we come face-to-face with 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)
Thursday 1 August: Depart
The tour concludes after breakfast. Korean Airlines flights depart Vladivostok via Seoul for Australia in the afternoon (as per current schedules). (B)
Dr Matthew Dal Santo
Is a historian and free-lance writer 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. In the future I would like to offer a tour of Siberia from beautiful Lake Baikal to Russia’s eastern capital and gateway to Japan and China, Vladivostok. I also have a budding interest in the naturally spectacular and culturally rich Caucasus…”
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. Often run by Japanese or Korean firms, these are high-quality and comfortable with all the conveniences you would expect anywhere. Elsewhere, however, patience is needed. This is particularly so on Lake Baikal and Kamchatka where only more basic, though still entirely clean and acceptable, facilities are available.
Irkutsk – Central Hotel (3 nights)
The four-star Central Hotel is located in the very heat of the city’s historic quarter, within walking distance of the central square and river embankment. Housed in a renovated, turn-of-the-century property, the hotel features air-conditioning, cable TV, and complimentary WiFi.
Lake Baikal – Port Olkhon Hotel (2 nights)
With a beachfront location on the shore of UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal, this lodge is committed to helping preserve Baikal’s sensitive ecological balance by using environmentally-friendly materials and resources. Rooms are decorated simply, in a loft-style, with wooden ceilings and floors. The restaurant offers local Siberian and Russian cuisine, while the bar serves up cocktails made from Baikal’s unique herbs and berries to be enjoyed on the terrace with its views of the lake and mountainous opposite shore.
Ulan Ude – Mergen Bator Hotel (3 nights)
Opened in late 2013, the small and modern Mergen Bator hotel is located in the city centre and features an elegant restaurant, a 12th-floor bar, a pool, fitness centre, sauna and hammam. Rooms include flat-screen TV, complimentary Internet access, in-room safe and bathrobes. Its brash appearance above the Ulan Ude skyline may raise eyebrows initially, but its very high level of comfort and spacious, modern rooms make it a good-quality four-star hotel. The swimming pool and Finnish sauna in the basement are great for relaxing. The rooftop bar/restaurant rotates, offering a panoramic view as the sun sets over the steppe visible beyond the edges of town.
Khabarovsk – Parus Hotel (1 night)
Located on the banks of the Amur River in a beautiful building dating from Khabarovsk’s heyday before the Russian Revolution, the hotel has comfortable, well-equipped rooms with all modern conveniences. A restaurant, bar and sauna are also on-site.
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky – Avacha Hotel (4 nights)
The Avacha is located close to the city centre and market. Many of the rooms have recently been renovated and feature satellite TV. There is a cafe onsite. A business centre can provide guests with Internet and fax. This is the most basic hotel we shall stay in during the trip. A borderline two-to-three-star hotel, it is nonetheless the best that Kamchatka offers. Rooms are cramped and dated, as are the bathrooms. But it is clean, the beds are comfortable, and there is plenty of hot water!
Vladivostok – Lotte Hotel (2 nights)
The four-star Lotte Hotel is located in the historic centre of Vladivostok, close to the Historical Museum, seaport, Drama Theatre and Philharmonic Hall. The Lotte combines a high level of comfort with Korean style. Amenities include air conditioning, satellite TV, mini-bar, restaurant, cafe and bar. Formerly known as the Hyundai Hotel, this is a big Korean-run hotel that is solidly four stars. The rooms are comfortable, and from the upper floors offer a spectacular view over Vladivostok’s Golden Horn. A very good Korean restaurant and gym are on site in the basement. From the rooftop bar, the views over the Golden Horn are even more spectacular than from the rooms.
What is included in the tour price? Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate public transport is also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
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 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.
What is not included in the tour price? Open-age tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.
There are currently no places available on this tour. A place on the waitlist is not a confirmed place on tour. If you would like to be notified if a place becomes available on tour, please register your details.
There are currently no places available on this tour. A place on the waitlist is not a confirmed place on tour. If you would like to be notified if a place becomes available on tour, please register your details below.
Please keep me informed about the next departure of this tour.
Hold a Place
Thank you for your interest in this tour. We are happy to hold a tentative place for seven days while you make your final arrangements to come on tour.
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