Russia

St Basils, Russia   The Kremlin, Russia

Why Russia?                                                                       Click here to view video

For centuries the world has wondered what to believe about Russia. The country has been reported variously as a land of unbelievable riches and indescribable poverty, cruel tyrants and great minds, generous hospitality and meddlesome bureaucracy, beautiful ballets and industrial monstrosities, pious faith and unbridled hedonism. These eternal Russian truths coexist in equally diverse landscapes of icy tundra and sun-kissed beaches, dense silver birch and fir forests and deep and mysterious lakes, snow-capped mountains and swaying grasslands – those famous steppes. Factor in ancient fortresses, luxurious palaces, swirly spired churches and lost-in-time wooden villages and you’ll begin to see why Russia is simply amazing.
 
To get the most from Russia, head way off the beaten track. After taking in old favourites such as dynamic Moscow, historic St Petersburg and beautiful Lake Baikal, dive further and deeper into the largest country in the world. Visit the soft, golden sands of the old Prussian resort of Kranz, now known as Zelenogradsk in the far western Kaliningrad Region; the charming Volga river village of Gorodets, home to folk artists and honey-cake bakers; fascinating Elista, Europe’s sole Buddhist enclave and location of the wacky Chess City; the 400-year-old mausoleums of Dargavs, a North Ossetian ‘city of the dead’; or the hot springs of Kamchatka’s Nalychevo Valley in the Russian Far East.  Russia’s vast geographical distances and cultural differences mean you don’t tick off its highlights in the way you might those of a smaller country; the Russian Far East, for example, is the size of Europe. A more sensible approach is to view Russia as a collection of countries, each one deserving exploration. Rather than transiting via Moscow, consider flying direct to a regional centre such as Irkutsk to have an Eastern Siberian vacation, or to Yekaterinburg to explore the Urals mountain range.
 
If cultural and architectural highlights are what you’re after, stick to European Russia, which is all of the country west of the Urals. If you don’t mind occasionally roughing it and are in search of Russia’s great outdoors, train your eye on the vast spaces of Siberia and the Far East. Alternatively, boost your adrenaline on the country’s top ski resorts and raft-friendly rivers. You can also get a bird’s eye view of it all from the cockpit of a MiG-25 or even from outer space, as well as unique experiences such as getting a beating in a banya (traditional steam bath).

  • When should I travel?
Early summer and autumn are many people’s favourite periods for visiting Russia. By May the snow has usually disappeared and temperatures are pleasant, while the golden autumnal colours of September and early October can be stunning.  July and August are the warmest months and the main holiday season for both foreigners and Russians (which means securing train tickets at short notice can be tricky). They’re also the dampest months in much of European Russia, with as many as one rainy day in three. In rural parts of Siberia and the Russian Far East, May and June are peak danger periods for encephalitis-carrying ticks, though June and July are worse for biting insects. By September the air has cleared of mosquitoes.  Winter brings the Russia of popular imagination to life. If you’re prepared for it, travel in this season is recommended: the snow makes everything picturesque, and the insides of buildings are kept warm. Avoid, though, the first snows (usually in late October) and the spring thaw (March and April), which turn everything to slush and mud.

  • Is it safe to travel and are there places to avoid?
Travellers need to be very careful of pickpockets in Moscow and St Petersburg. Most foreigners stand out a mile in Russia and there’s an increased chance you’ll be targeted. Bear in mind that, while things have improved slowly, many police officers and other uniformed officials are on the take – some of them are not much better than the people they are employed to protect the public from. Never allow them to go through your wallet or pockets and try not to go out after dark alone.

What money should I take?
The currency in Russia is the Rouble. You can use all major credit and debit cards in ATMs and in good restaurants and hotels. Travellers cheques are possible to exchange, although at a price. Euro or US dollar cash is the best to bring, and in general should be in pristine condition – crumpled or old notes are often refused. Most major currencies can be exchanged at change booths all over any town in Russia. Look for the sign obmen valyut. You may be asked for your passport.

  • What language will they understand?
Russian is the official language, although there are over 100 other languages. English is widely spoken by younger people as well as some educated older people.

  • How about my health?
The highly developed health service provides free medical treatment for all citizens. If a traveller becomes ill during a booked tour, emergency treatment is free, with small sums to be paid for medicines and hospital treatment. If a longer stay than originally planned becomes necessary because of the illness, the visitor has to pay for all further treatment. This can be very expensive; especially air evacuation. All visitors are strongly advised to have full medical cover that includes medical evacuation. It is advisable to take a supply of medicines that are likely to be required (check first that they may be imported legally). All water should be regarded as being a potential health risk. Bottled water is widely available.

  • Public Holidays

2012
January 01 New Year
January 07 Russian Orthodox Christmas Day
February 23 Day of the Defenders of the Motherland
March 08 International Women's Day
May 01 Spring and Labour Day
May 09 Victory in Europe Day
June 12 Russia Day
November 04 National Unity Day
December 12 Constitution Day

2013
January 01 New Year's Day
January 07 Russian Orthodox Christmas Day
February 23 Defender of the Fatherland Day
March 08 International Women's Day
May 01 Spring and Labour Day
May 09 Victory Day
June 12 Russia Day
November 04 Unity Day

  • Do I need a visa?
South African passport holders require a visa for Russia.

  • Will I need any innoculations before I depart?
No innoculations are required when travelling to Russia.