The West Altai Nature reserve is a wonderful area for those who like their nature wild. There are no marked trails here, few people and even fewer tourists. Instead, a variety of wildlife, trees and plant species find refuge here.
Silence and spirituality rule. A small-scale ecotourism programme lets you discover unscripted village life. The food is delicious.
Terrain, fauna and flora
From IUCN: The West Altai Nature Reserve covers an area of 56,000 hectares. The reserve’s terrain is representative of a mid-mountain range with gentle slopes. Only the central part of the Ivanovsky mountain range (Vysheivanovsky Belok, 2778 meters) is notable for its extreme alpine topography.
Up to the forest border are small glacial lakes and brooks emanating from bogs, and 14 small glaciers on the tributaries of the Belaya Cuba River hold ice. The reserve could be divided in 4 zones: deciduous forest, mountain taiga, mountain tundra and subalpine and alpine meadows.
In short: a lot of forest. A lot of diversity in plant life and a good opportunity to see wild animals. Eagles are everywhere, bears are common. For a long list of other fauna and flora you can encounter, see the IUCN website.
Where to stay
Surrounded by snow-covered mountains, this mostly Russian village is very loved by its inhabitants. You can find some unusual characters here: artists, poets, newborn Christians, biologists and historians. Most are of course, simple farmers.
Poperechnoe is the perfect place to start if you are not comfortable with heading off into the great wilderness by yourself but would still like a taste of Altai life.
And when we say taste, we do mean taste. Almost everything is home-made. Cream is used as if there is no tomorrow. Svetlana is a great cook. Roman is a terrific cook.
As Svetlana might be turning her home into a camp for autistic children, we advise to stay with the magnificent Roman. It is a homestay and conditions are basic, but you will be warm.
Svetlana’s son Vladimir is an experienced mountain guide and snowboarder if you need help getting somewhere.
A bit further on the road, past the turn-off to Poperechnoe, lies a mountain base for trekkers and skiers called Seriy Lyuk (Grey Onion). Mistress Natalia is a biologist, alpinist and cyclist happy to live in the wild.
The place consists of simple wooden huts with beds and a stove.
This is DIY living: you are on your own here. Prepare all your own food and be ready to strike off by yourself. The price is negligible: 5000 tenge for a hut which can contain 5 people.
A rather fancy hotel with horse riding facilities and a higher service level is a bit further still. As a foreigner, it’s unlikely you would come all this way for this. Klimovka exists mostly for locals. Prices start at 25000 tenge for a room.
If you have your own gear, you can camp. There is no entrance fee or tent fee. Be aware the area gets a lot more rainfall than average in Kazakhstan, and bears roam.
Interesting sights to visit are the 400-year-old cedar, the Monk’s Cap forest and an old triangulation point to measure distances.
Birdwatchers will want to head for Shcherbakov Lake, White Ulba Lake (Byeloulbinskoye) and Cedar Lake (kedrovoye ozera), and the Small Ulba reservoir (Maloulbinskoye Vodokhranilichshe), which retains a wooden dam and early electrical equipment from the time it was built in 1926.
The Promenade (gulbishe), a colourful highland swamp 2 rivers originate.
Petrophiles will not be able to resist the massive granite outcrops called Thunderbolt (chyortov palets) and Stone Fairytale (kamennaya skazka) and the strange stone river of Kamennaya Rechka.
Mountains of note are Kholsun (2598 m) and the Black Knot area (chyorniy uzel) where 4 mountain ranges come together at 2775 m height.
Tours and booking
We can help you with transport, booking accommodation and guiding services. Please let us know what you need.
Road & other practicalities
The road is perfect until Ridder, after which it deteriorates to a potholed gravel road for the last 50 km. A 4WD is not necessary, but a higher ground clearance is definitely preferred.
Instead of coming in via the West through Ridder, real explorers could come in from the south. From Turgusun, the road north leads to an old Old Believers village called Kutikha, and to a protected zone called Nizheturgusunk. From there, you can hike to the Black Knot area.
Beeline is the best sim card for Altai in general, but really, don’t expect to have a mobile connection once you leave Ridder.
For other places to visit nearby, see our guide to the Kazakh Altai.