Chukotka, Russia: travelling in the Arctic
January 1, 1970
by Ksenia Gordievskaya
Getting to Chukotka
If you want to visit a really remote, hard-to-get and wild place, you should definitely go to Chukotka. It’s a Russian region in the Extreme north, at the very edge of the world. The journey will take you much time, money and effort, but you will never regret it. The first challenge you face is just getting there. There is boundary regime, so you have to get special permissions. Be attentive and careful with them and follow all the instructions. You also have to review your itinerary in case you have to enter the Beringia National Park, as you also need permissions for entering its territory, which you have to apply to beforehand. Finally, there are plane tickets. First you have to fly to Moscow, as only from there you can take a flight to Anadyr, the capital of Chukotka, where you will start your journey.
When travelling to Chukotka, you have to bear in mind that there is almost no tourist service: here you won’t find five-star hotels, restaurants, excursion buses. This is a place for really adventurous travelers. Almost no one speaks English, so you will have to find an English-speaking guide from the locals before your journey, otherwise if you don’t speak Russian, you will have many difficulties with the language. Travelling in the Arctic has its own specifics and you have to be ready for plenty of challenges, but believe me – they worth it.
Transport in Chukotka
There are almost no roads because of the deep-frozen soil, so you will have to travel by sea or by air. For travelling to big (by Chukotka standards) villages you can take a motor ship, which makes trips approximately once a week. But don’t expect comfortable conditions there: there are almost only sitting places, and what’s more, as the journey usually takes 1-3 days, it will be an unpleasant experience if you are likely to be seasick. When you travel between small inshore settlements, the only way to get there is to make a personal arrangement with local fishermen and sea hunters and ask them to take you where you need by their motor boat. Be sure to take warm and waterproof clothes for such sea journeys.
When travelling by air, there are also some features you have to keep in mind. First, tickets for inland flights are not sold in the internet. What’s more, as the local air company starts to sell them, they are immediately bought up by the locals. So, the only way for you to get them is to hire a local who can buy tickets in the airport ticket office for you, or apply to a tourist agency. Both variants work, but of course you will have to pay extra money. Another difficulty when travelling by plane is weather. The weather in the North is very changeable and rather rarely suitable for flights. So be prepared for flight delays. When I first came to Chukotka I had to wait just 5 days. But locals say that sometimes they may wait for weeks. But if you are not limited in money, there is a way to hire a helicopter. You will be more likely to depart, but it will cost you a lot.
Where to stay in Chukotka
As I said before, there are absolutely no luxury hotels, but in the capital and some other big towns you can find a hostel or a simple hotel. It will be rather expensive, and the service and conditions won’t be the best. If you imagine an old hotel from the Soviet Union, it will be like this. Simple rooms, often without shower, sometimes you have to share your room with other guests, for example locals, waiting for the flight. I recommend another option – renting a flat. Sometimes it will cost you even less then a hostel, especially if you are in a company of several people. The conditions will be much better and you will have all the conveniences that you need for a comfort stay. Some locals make a living this way – keep a flat always ready to become a “hotel” for tourists. How to find such a flat? Just ask local passers-by when you arrive at a place. Chukchi are a very welcoming nation and be sure they’ll be happy to help.
In small habitations the situation is a little different. There are no hotels at all. What’s more, people normally don’t rent flats because there even isn’t enough living space for themselves. In such situation you may ask some inhabitants to spend a night at their place. Here it’s absolutely normal, sometimes you won’t even have to pay. If you travel in a company, a good option for you is to ask locals to let you spend a night in a school or a community center. Don’t hesitate – they will give you a room where it’s warm and not windy, that’s the most important here! Be sure no people will come to the place you are staying at. You will also have access to the toilet, and if you stay in a boarding school, even a shower.
What to eat
In Chukotka you won’t find any restaurant where you can try traditional dishes. That’s for sure. There are some Soviet-like canteens and cafes in towns and big villages, and mostly the meals are tasty, but they have nothing to do with traditional cuisine restaurants. To try the food of Chukchi you will have to make friends with the locals and be sure – they will be happy to treat you with their delicacies. First, you have to try the whale’s fat and skin, the so-called “mantak”. The taste is something very special, between meat and fish. Second, whale meat, especially tasty is the jerked one. Third, the walrus meat and liver. Third, deer meat and different fish dishes. The locals are likely to treat you with their food for free, as according to the law it’s forbidden to sell whale and walrus products, they are only for locals’ consuming.
What to do
- Visit local museums. This may sound odd, but you will never and nowhere find such exhibits: traditional clothes of deer’s skin, labor tools, boats of walrus’s skin, raincoats of walrus’s bowels, unique masterpieces of whale’s bones and walrus’s tusks. You can see even legends engraved on bones. Such museums are absolutely not boring and really impress a lot.
- Enjoy the nature. Here you will see magnificent landscapes of tundra and northern seas and oceans. They are so amazing that you just can’t take your eyes off such nature. Sometimes it seems even unreal.
- Explore the life of local inhabitants. The life of Chukchi has hardly changed for the past centuries. They still hunt for whales and walruses using traditional methods, they herd deer in tundra and live in traditional houses.
- Taste local food. Where else you can taste whale and walrus which are forbidden for sale? Only here and in other northern regions.
If you decide to travel to Chukotka one day, be sure it’s a right decision. Don’t be afraid of the difficulties, as you will get much more from this journey, that may even change your views of life and your own life on the whole.