Information on Russia
Russia is by far the largest country in the world covering more than 6.5 million square miles and spanning 11 time zones. It is the ninth most populated country with 142 million people and spans the whole of north Asia and 40% of Europe. It has the planets largest mineral and energy reserves and its lakes are home to ¼ of the worlds fresh water. Russia also has access to the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific Oceans.
Adventure Alternative concentrates its trips in Russia to the Caucasus area in the South for climbing Elbrus, the border with Mongolia for its treks to the Altai, and the far east of the country to visit the volcanoes in Kamchatka.
Most of Russia are plains known as steppe to the south and forests to the north, with tundra along the northern coast. The mountain ranges include the Caucasus (containing Mount Elbrus, which at 5642m is the highest point in both Russia and Europe) and the Altai (containing Mount Belukha, which at the 4506 m is the highest point of Asian Russia) and in the east the Verkhoyansk Range or the volcanoes of Kamchatka. The Ural Mountains form a north-south range that divides Europe and Asia.
The Russian Orthodox Church would be the main religious group, which is also a symbol of Russian heritage and culture. Smaller Christian groups such as Roman Catholics, Armenian Gregorians, and Protestants are also found. Islam, Buddhism and Judaism are also traditional religions and deemed part of Russia's "historical heritage".
Of the many ethnic groups in Russia you will find the Slavic Orthodox culture, Tatars and Bashkirs with their Turkic Muslim culture, Buddhist nomadic Buryats and Kalmyks, Shamanistic peoples of the Far North and Siberia, the highlanders of the Northern Caucasus, and the Finno-Ugric peoples of the North West and Volga Region.
What is the climate in Russia?
The climate of the Russian Federation varies hugely due to the enormous size of the country and the remoteness of many areas from the sea result in the dominance of the humid continental and subarctic climate, which is prevalent in European and Asian Russia except for the tundra and the extreme southeast. Mountains in the south obstruct the flow of warm air masses from the Indian Ocean, whilst the plain of the west and north makes the country open to Arctic and Atlantic influences.
Throughout much of the territory there are only two distinct seasons — winter and summer; spring and autumn are usually brief periods of change between extremely low temperatures and extremely high. The coldest month is January (February on the shores of the sea), the warmest usually is July. Great ranges of temperature are typical. In winter, temperatures get colder both from south to north and from west to east. Summers can be quite hot and humid, even in Siberia. A small part of Black Sea coast around Sochi has a subtropical climate. The continental interiors are the driest areas.
We have staff in Moscow who can facilitate any type of tour or schedule. We can book and arrange hotels, trains, ballet, circus or tours around the many sights. We have English speaking guides and vehicles at our disposal. It is best to give us a call about specific requirements however the most common post Elbrus tours are mentioned below.
We have our own website dedicated to City Tours, but here are a few of the obvious examples:
Many people like to stay on in Moscow after the climb of Mount Elbrus to explore the city and its amazing history, culture, architecture and entertainment. Home to many iconic buildings from Russia's colourful past, it is worth extending your holiday to take in some of the main attractions. Simply choose the number of days you would like to stay and we can arrange the hotel and pick-up and also any tickets or guiding you may need.
Dominating much of Red Square (Krasnaia Ploshchad), the tall red-brick towers of the Kremlin building are one sight hard to miss and occupy the actual spot where the city was first established. As well as its rich Soviet history, modern Moscow exudes a strong and at times bohemian flavour, with some wonderful art galleries, theatres and restaurants.
Combined Moscow and St Petersburg Tour
It is also possible to travel by train after visiting Moscow to visit St Petersburg, where the highlights are well worth the extra time. Few cities can offer so many stunning attractions and intriguing moods as the City of the Tsars!
From the vibrant colors of spring, through the sunny summer days and endless twilights of the famous White Nights, the brilliant golden sun of autumn and into the crisp and brittle brightness of a St. Petersburg winter, the City casts its own unique spell over visitors. Created by Peter the Great to be his "window on Europe", St Petersburg combines its fascinating Russian heritage with a distinctly European outlook. Considered the cultural heart of modern day Russia, St. Petersburg has regained its reputation as one of the Great Cities of Europe.
Russia Travel Facts
Got a question regarding travel to Russia? We've got answers. Feel free to contact us with any additional questions you may have.
Do I need a visa for Russia?
Yes. You need to send details of your passport and your flight details to us and our office in Moscow will then process a letter of invitation which is emailed to you. You then use this voucher to accompany your passport when you fill in the online application form on the Russian Embassy's website. This is done about five weeks before the date of travel.
Following this you then take in person or post the completed applications plus a fee to the nearest Russian Embassy. This process normally takes a few days to process but you can pay more for a fast track service.
Permits and local requirements for entry
You need to have the following documents with you at all times in Russia:
Passport with visa (nowadays the migration card is electronically completed on arrival into Moscow airport)
The tourist voucher supplied by us when you applied for the visa
The OVIR (Visa & Registration Department) registration stamp, which is either put in your passport or on a local permit. This is completed by the tour guide in the nearest OVIR office in Tyrnauz, and is a requirement for any visitor entering Russian for more than three days.
The police can stop visitors at any time and ask to see these papers.
When is the best time of the year to visit Mt Elbrus?
The best time to visit the Caucasus to climb Elbrus is from mid May through to September. May offers a challenging climb with cold weather, more difficult conditions and very few visitors; June is a little warmer but still with few visitors; July and August is the peak season with the most settled and warmer months; September is also a nice time of year with fewer visitors and still warm but slightly more temperamental conditions.
What vaccinations do I need for Russia?
No vaccinations are required.
What's the currency in Russia?
The currency is the rouble which can be purchased from some banks before travel. It is often hard to have time to buy rubles on your journey through the airport and the ATMs have limited payout facilities. In the Elbrus area nobody will accept foreign currencies and there are few, if not any, ATMs in the villages and small towns down in the Caucasus.
What is the time difference and phone code for Russia?
Russian time is GMT/UTC plus 3 hours and the international code for dialing to Russia is +7.
What is the Russian character like?
They are generous and warmhearted with quite a cynical sense of humour. They are forthright with each other, often very loud, polite and sometimes suspicious towards strangers and generally difficult to assess to a western mind. They are not overly demonstrative people but they do love literature, music, nature and of course vodka.
Are there ATM facilities in Russia?
Yes, in the airport and in Terskol however guarantees of them working cannot be made. We suggest you bring cash in roubles.
Are prices set in Russia, or can we expect to haggle?
Generally the price you see is the price you pay, however on occasion it is possible to seek out the best deal particularly when buying souvenirs in the markets in Terskol.
What type of plug is used in Russia?
Russia uses a Type C Europlug as well as the Type E and Type F Schuko. The voltage is 220-240.
What Language is Spoken in Russia?
Russian is the official language of Russia. English is not widely spoken or written in Russia. All of our guides at Adventure Alternative can understand and speak English, however, outside of that do not expect to hear much English.
Mount Elbrus is in the Republic of Kabardino Balkyrie which is part of the Russian Federation territory. It lies at the head of the Baksan Valley which is in a very mountainous area of the Caucasus Range, bordering Georgia and 400 kms from Chechnya. The nearest airport to Elbrus is Mineralnye Vody and from there you can drive to the south side of Elbrus in about four hours which is a road journey via Tyrnauz and then along the Baksan Valley to the villages of Terskol and Cheget. Or you can drive to Pyatigorsk and continue off road to the reach the north side of Elbrus which has no villages nearby.
Other cities which are entry points to the area are Pyatigorsk and Nalchik. The road from Mineralynye Vody to Nalchik is controlled by policy and military posts and is safe; a stop is made at the town of Tyrnauz for local registration but much of the journey is a long winding road going up the Baksan Valley if you are on a south side trip. There are a few villages along the way, and the villages at the base of Elbrus itself are orientated towards tourism and skiing. There are hotels, cafes, saunas and shops. There are cable cars and in the peak season many people on holiday.
The road to the north side quickly becomes an offroad track which then crosses open territory and eventually a river to reach the campsite at the bottom of the mountain.
The area round Elbrus (Prielbrusie) is a subject of much debate regarding safety in the context of the wider politics of the region. Seen in this wide context the region is noted by the Foreign Office as a place not to visit unless for express reason. However Chechnya is far away and seperated from this area by many mountains, and it is in a very different situation to Kabardino Balkyrie; it has independance from Russia and operates an almost feudal system of state. What happens in Chechnya does not impact on life in the Baksan Valley.
Elbrus represents a region of strong economic growth because of tourism and there is certainly a black market and local mafioso style of leadership. There is local crime as in any other place, and there is poverty and definitely quite a wild feel to the place. But thousands of people go there every year to ski and climb without any danger. It is also fair to say that your safety from commonplace crime is much lessened by the presence of our local guides.
The situation in the area is definitely fluid and it is worth always checking the FCO Know Before You Go website which gives up to date information on the region. The FCO obviously cannot go into any granularity on their assessments of a region, but it is worth mentioning that their current recommendations may render insurance policies null and void. Do check your policy to see if it is affected by FCO warnings.
Russia has a subtly different culture of personal and official interaction to Western Europe. It can, at first, present itself as a hard and serious culture but Russians are by nature private and undemonstrative towards strangers. This changes among friends and family, when Russians display great emotion and love of the family and community. They feel a deep link to history and nature and the creative arts.
How to Greet People in Russia
The usual greeting in between people of both sexes is a handshake though a male and a female greeting each other may give three kisses on the cheek, alternating sides, if they know each other well. It is expected that you make eye contact whilst greeting as a sign of respect and trustworthiness. Some Russians may see you as untrustworthy if you laugh and joke too much, especially if you are discussing important matters.
How to Dress While in Russia
Russians, especially in cities, often dress smartly and many obviously see it as a matter of respectability and social standing. You will rarely see anyone dressed in a scruffy manner. You may therefore attract disapproving attention if you come back from an expedition to the city in dirty or damaged clothing.
What is the Etiquette in Russia?
The general Russian demeanor is fairly dry and serious in public or among strangers. You will rarely see people in public expressing outbursts of emotion, a hang over from the repressive regime during Soviet times when people kept a degree of anonymity. It is usually best to try to conduct yourselves in a similar manner, especially when queuing or waiting for services. Russian men are often macho in their appearance and conduct. Don't forget that many Russians have a strong conservative belief which is linked to the Russian Orthodox belief, so it's a good idea not to be too demonstrative until you feel you are accepted to a more intimate level.
Russian Government Authority
In Russia, the authorities are strong, well-resourced and are far less constrained by the answerability to 'human rights' that is common in Europe. There are levels of authority including the Police, the Army and the Intelligence Agencies such as the FSB. In any situation where you are dealing with the authorities you need to do so with the utmost care, seriousness and respect. Agencies have the power and capacity to end any of our activities without warning or appeal. It is usually most effective if the guide does all of the talking and administration. If you are undergoing personal or baggage searches at borders or airports pay attention to what is being asked of you and comply as efficiently as possible.
Do not even consider taking photographs in the vicinity of any government, police, military or intelligence agency buildings or at border posts.
Food and Drink in Russia
When most people think of Russian food they picture hearty meals of meat and potatoes. However, Russia is quickly becoming a star on the international food scene. Restaurants in cities such as Moscow now serve all kinds of international dishes. Kasha is a staple breakfast dish with milk and oats. While Blini is a small pancake filled with caviar, fish and melted butter. There a lot of different meat pastries that are well worth a try, like Pirozhky. For the sweat lover, try Ponchiki – hot sugared doughnuts. Borscht is another Russian classic, a beetroot soup with sour cream.
Drinking is part of Russian culture. The first thing that comes to mind is vodka. There are many flavors and types of vodka. A traditional way to drink vodka is actually with pickles. Expect shots to be served with much more liquor than you would normally expect. Nalivka is another national liqueur made with fruit or berries. Either way, do take care when drinking. Do not get excessively drunk, and we advise that you do not drink on your way to higher altitudes, as this could cause problems with acclimatization.
What is the Major Religion in Russia?
With so many different ethnic groups spanning such a large geographical area Russia contains many different religions. However, the predominant religion of Russia is Russian Orthodox. Russian Orthodox is a branch of Christianity. Although they follow a slightly different calendar than the Christian groups of the west, the primary Christian holidays are still observed. When entering Russian Orthodox churches, women must cover their hair with a scarf. It is also advised to cover yourself to your knees and your elbows.
Russian Holidays and Festivals
Russia has many unique holidays, as well as a few familiar holidays. However, the Russian Orthodox church follows a different calendar than typical western sects of Christianity, so the holidays are observed on different days.
- Russian Orthodox Christmas: Observed on January 7th
- Maslenitsa Festival: Parades, games, live music, eating and fireworks celebrating the preparation for the Lent fasting time. It lasts a week.
- International Women’s Day: Celebrated in Moscow in March. Women’s groups from all over come together to promote equality for women.
- Easter: Usually in early April. It is a quieter festival.
- Stars of White Nights Festival: A St Petersburg festival that runs from May to July. This festival celebrates the Russian love of opera, classical music and ballet.
- St. Petersburg Beer Festival: Hundreds of beer venders gather at the Peter and Paul Fortress in June to celebrate all things beer!
- St Jon the Baptist’s Day: Held on the Saint’s birthday in July, this is actually a pagan holiday. Lots of bon fires and fire displays.
- International Moscow Film Festival: Held from June to July this festival celebrates all things film, both Russian and international.
- Den’ Gorda: This September holiday celebrates the founding of Moscow. Free concerts, festivals, and parties create a festive vibe in Moscow.
- Russian Winter Festival: Sleigh rides, folk music, dance, and ice skating celebrate the coming of winter in Moscow. Happens in December.
Should you Tip in Russia?
In hotels tips are appreciated for bellhops and cleaning services. Around $1-3 USD per bag and $2-$4 USD per day for cleaning. At restaurants tip between 10-15%. For taxi rides, simply round up the fare.
Tips are accepted for guides and porters. See our Tipping Advice Page.
The following advice is intended to provide a brief outline of any laws in the destination country that are directly applicable to travelling there. This is not intended to be exhaustive or complete and laws do change from time to time so we strongly advise visiting the UK Foreign Office website and checking for their current advice.
In general the laws of any country will be based on the same values as at home but significant differences can be present subject to the prevailing cultural, religious and political environment in the country. These four basic factors can be your main guide to how to act in unfamiliar situations. If you are any doubt as to what to do in a given situation it is usually possible to identify the "safest" fallback option and go with it. For example, not buying something, not taking a photo of a government building etc.
Do not become involved with drugs. Long sentences are given for those in possession of even small quantities of drugs, regardless of whether they are "hard" or "soft"
You must carry your original passport at all times in the Russian Federation. A copy will not be sufficient. If you cannot produce your passport when asked, you will be fined. The Russian immigration service usually retains copies of visiting cruise passengers passports for immigration purposes for 6-12 months.
Homosexuality is legal in Russia and there is a reasonably tolerant attitude to homosexuality in major urban areas. However, be careful about public displays of affection as there is still a degree of intolerance amongst some sections of the population.
The photographing of any military installation, establishment or site of strategic importance (including airports) is banned. You are likely to have your film confiscated, be detained for questioning and possibly arrested if you do not observe this rule. When you are on a trip to climb Elbrus however there will be no particular restrictions of where and what you can photograph.
How do you get a Russian Visa?
The process to gain a Russian Visa is straight forward but does require some procedure and submission of papers done in plenty of time before your visit. You can apply for a visa six weeks prior to your arrival. Please note that the rules often change every year, sometimes with little warning. The followings is the procedure and time frames involved:
1) 8 weeks prior to your arrival in Russia you must ensure that you have entered the required information into 'your booking profile' page on our website. The required information is your passport details (ensure your have at least 3 months remaining on your passport expiry after returning home and a blank page for the visa) and your flight details.
2) 5 or 6 weeks prior to your arrival in Russia we will send you a 'travel voucher' and 'invitation letter'
3) Using your Travel Voucher and Invitation Letter you fill in an online application form on the Russian Embassy website. We will send you details to assist.
4) You then need to submit your passport, online application form, travel voucher, invitation letter, visa fee and a photograph to your local Russian embassy. This can be done in person (1-2 days processing time) or by post (7-10 days processing time). Some years it is necessary to submit your papers in person only and this may mean a visit to the nearest city where there is a Russian visa consulate.
Use online websites offering to help you get a visa with some caution. There are sites that have outdated information; the visa form and some of the application processes changed so be wary. There are also agencies that present themselves in a way that makes them look like an official government office when they are in fact a middle-man that will charge extra for their services. A good general rule would be to follow links from the website of ‘The Embassy of the Russian Federation’ in your home country. If you are in any doubt contact or link via the UK Foreign Office.
Although you cannot apply for your visa more than 6 weeks before your travel date you should look at the supporting information prior to this date so that you can send off the application as soon as the 6 week window opens. For example, you need to have all the countries and dates that you visited them ready to put into the online form, plus full details of your work place and your place of education (for yourself and your parents).
The personal data supplied to the office for the invitation letters and on the visa application needs to be precisely as it appears on your passport. Please do double-check the invitation letter very carefully as any inconsistencies may lead to rejection of your application by the consulate. Do also check that you have enough validity remaining on your passport – this depends on your nationality but is usually 3 months validity remaining after your departure date from Russia to home.
The visa form will require you to specify the exact entry and exit dates so really you need to have your flights booked before filling out the form. You need to have planned your whole itinerary, in terms of duration, before applying for the visa. It is not possible to extend your visa whilst in Russia, and nor is it possible to travel freely about Russia without having the arrangements put into your visa application prior to arrival.
Some nationalities are required to send their papers into the Russian consulate - including the invitation letter that we supply - in original format only. This will require posting the documents by a courier service which will cost extra money.
Nowadays the visa is digitally entered into the Russian database so when you arrive your passport is scanned and there is no longer any need for a paper migration card. However, all visitors are still required to register with the local authorities in the area you visit, and this is something our staff will do when you arrive in the republic of Kabardino Balkyrie if you are climbing Elbrus. Do keep your passport with you at all times, it is a law for all foreigners to have their papers with them.
Will I Be Able to Contact Home While I Am Away?
Russian time is GMT/UTC plus 2 hours in the west to +12 hours on the far east. Russia’s country code is +7. International calls while in Russia are extraordinarily expensive. Consider downloading WhatsApp, a free internet-based texting and calling service to keep in touch with loved ones. Wi-Fi is available in most hotels and some public spaces in major cities. Cellular services quickly dissipate as you leave major urban areas. Also, local SIM cards are local to the city you are in. If you plan on bouncing around the country, you will want to get a new SIM card in each city.
WiFi is widely available in urban areas throughout Russia. In fact, the Moscow subway system was the first to offer free WiFi to travelers. However, when traveling to more remote areas, WiFi, like cellular service, will be tough to come by. Be prepared to go off the grid for a bit when you are camping or trekking in remote areas.
What Vaccinations do I need?
We advise that you schedule an appointment with your doctor, or a travel-specific doctor prior to coming to Russia to discuss your individual health needs. Although Russia does not require any vaccinations for entry, it is a good idea to consult with a doctor for other needs such as antibiotics, prescriptions, and any specific health concerns you may have.
Do plan on bringing any prescriptions you may require during your stay. Medication does exist in Russia, but the specific medication you need may not be available and communication with a pharmacist without the help of a translator might be difficult.
What is the Quality of Medical Facilities in Russia?
Russia has free healthcare for all of its citizens. However, quality varies widely. For the best quality healthcare, it is best to head to a private clinic or hospital. Be sure the insurance you purchase covers you for any hospital visit. British nationals do not need special health coverage for travel in Russia if you visit a state hospital.
Will I have Access to an ATM in Russia?
Cash withdrawal from ATMS are widely available in Russia. The Ruble is the official currency of Russia and there is no benefit to having any other currency on hand. ATMs in country offer the best rates for currency exchange. Withdrawal limits are limited to 10,000 to 25,000 Rubles per session (check current exchange rates here).
In more rural areas there are still ATMs but bring enough cash to make it through a stay in a more rural area.
Credit cards are also accepted at major shops and stores in big cities. However, cash is still king for the majority of smaller shops and in towns and villages. Always have cash on hand for transactions while traveling in Russia. We advise that you bring Rubles with you prior to your arrival.
What is the Water Quality in Russia?
Russian tap water is unfit to drink, brush your teeth, rinse your mouth, etc. Purification can be done using one of several methods. A SteriPen is a good option, however be sure to bring plenty of extra batteries. Another option is the use of iodine and chlorine tablets that will purify water. Lastly, you can use a backcountry or wild camping water filter. Whichever method you choose it is important to also bring a backup method as well. On the climb of Elbrus we will provide boiled water
We do not promote the use of disposable plastic water bottles in Russia. Disposable bottles are harmful to the environment. As a responsible tour agency, we strongly urge you to rely on a different method for drinking water.