Go off the grid and far from the ordinary.

Go wild – very wild – as you unlock the beauty of the Altai Mountains on an 18-day far-out adventure through Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia. Beginning in Nur-Sultan (Astana), travel to the depths of Russia and the Uch-Enmek National Park, making your way to some of the most isolated and spectacular mountain passes in the world. Weave your way into western Mongolia and discover the secrets of the Ice Age with a glacier trek in the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, and see truly wild Takhi horses in Khustain National Park. If you crave those weird and wonderful places, then this is about as uncharted as you can get. So much so, that our inaugural Intrepid Uncharted Expedition, which this trip is based on, sold out in days. This definitely isn’t the usual itinerary you’ll pick up from your local travel agent.

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Terms & Conditions

Start
Nur-Sultan (Astana), Kazakhstan
Finish
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Destinations
Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia
Style
Original
Theme
Expedition
Code
KBSU
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 4, Max 12

Why you'll love this trip

  • It’s unlikely you’ll have many other chances to get this isolated in Central Asia and do the amazing things that you will experience on this expedition. This is a trip of unmatched adventure and is defintiely one to show off about.

  • Walk the most spectacular mountain pass into the Chulyshman River Valley with your small group. This road is like nothing you would have encountered before, and you’ll be camping right in its heart.

  • On your way to the Karakol Valley, stop by the Anokhin Museum in Gorno-Altaisk to see the Siberian Ice Maiden – the 2500-year-old mummified remains of a Eurasian woman only discovered in the 1990s.

  • Take on the mighty Pontanin Glacier – the longest in Mongolia – on a trek through the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. Your expert local guides will get you up close and personal to this beast of nature.

  • You’ll be visiting a lot of new, isolated regions so you’ll want to hear from local people. Use this opportunity to interact with indigenous communities, including the Altai people, who have a sacred connection to nature. Read more about meeting some of the communities in Mongolia here: https://www.intrepidtravel.com/adventures/ger-camp-western-mongolia/

Is this trip right for you?

  • A heads up before you book: this trip is new to our range this year. And while we have thoroughly researched every detail of the logistics, new destinations can sometimes throw us some unexpected surprises. More often than not, it’ll be a great surprise. But every now and again there might be a hiccup. We like to think that’s what puts the ‘adventure’ in ‘adventure travel’.

  • This trip involves multiple nights of camping, giving you access to more remote destinations at close proximity, and the joy of experiencing the elements. This is a participatory trip – a fancy way of saying you’re not just along for the ride, but you are part of a team! Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and help out with camp activities. It’s all about giving your new travel mates a hand, and everyone knows there’s nothing worse than trying to put up a tent on your own!

  • Sometimes you’ve got to rough it to get amongst it. As you’ll be often setting up camp in the remote wilderness, please note that there will be no wi-fi for the majority of the trip, and often no access to showers or electricity. At times, your leaders will make available a traditional Russian banya (bath) to wash in, but embracing the elements is important for this trip.

  • Please note that this trip involves a lot of walking, so be sure to bring sturdy walking shoes and comfortable clothes. To make the most of the trip, it's best if you have at least a moderate level of fitness, as most days involve exploring rugged landscapes on foot.

  • This trip includes long driving days spent travelling in a van with your group on rough roads that are often undefined and unmarked. Extra space can be tight, and conditions may feel a little cramped. It’s all part of the adventure and a great way to get to know your fellow travellers. Please read the itinerary carefully for travel time estimates. Note that these distances and times are estimated only and are subject to change, and due to the nature of a remote overland adventure trip like this, some travel may take much longer than anticipated, even if it looks close on a map.

  • Pack light, as you will be carrying your luggage at different stages of the journey. There is also an included flight in Mongolia which has a luggage weight restriction – please check the limits when you confirm your booking details to avoid paying any excess charges to the airline.

Itinerary

Welcome to Nur-Sultan – the newly named capital of Kazakhstan! There are no activities planned for today until an important welcome meeting at 6 pm, where you’ll meet your group leader and travel pals joining you for this unique adventure. Until then, why not get out and about to explore what’s touted as the ‘Singapore of the Steppe’, and check out the futuristic buildings, opulent mosques and public gardens around town. Otherwise, hole up in one of the traditional restaurants on Turan Avenue for some shashlik kebabs and hot boursaky bread.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
It’s very important that you attend the welcome meeting as we will be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this time. If you are going to be late please let your travel agent or hotel reception know. Ask reception or look for a note in the lobby for more information on where the meeting will take place.
Get to know your fellow travellers as well as Kazakhstan’s grand capital on a city tour of Nur-Sultan. Around twenty years ago, this city didn’t exist, but then President Nursultan Nazarbayev decided to ditch the old capital Almaty (some 1200 kilometres away) and completely rebuild here. Walking from Independence Square, you’ll pass the Khazret Sultan Mosque – the largest of its kind in central Asia – and continue along the Ishim River, down Nurzhol Boulevard to the Bayterek Monument and Round Square. Expect to see towering skyscrapers, gold-domed mosques and the stately Presidential Palace during the tour. Your group leader will also likely introduce you to more of Kazakhstan’s traditional foods. Tonight, board an overnight train bound for Barnaul (approximately 24 hours).
Accommodation
  • Overnight sleeper train (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Nur-Sultan - City tour
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
Trains on this journey are simple but comfortable. There's a toilet/bathroom at the end of each carriage with a small sink and cold water. An attendant is assigned to every carriage to look after your comfort and safety, however please keep in mind that service standards can vary greatly. Each compartment has four bunks with luggage storage space inside. Bedding is provided, although some travellers still prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. There's hot water available for making drinks or instant meals, tea and coffee. Sometimes snacks and drinks are available for purchase on board and most trains also have a dining car, albeit with a limited menu. You’ll travel 2nd class (four berths per compartment) on this trip. Trains are generally heated but most do not offer air conditioning. The train can become very hot even in winter and the train attendants will not allow the windows to be opened, so please pack clothing appropriate for the warmer conditions on these train journeys.
You’ve got a full day on the train today, so make sure you’ve stocked up on snacks and have a good book to read or podcast to listen to. During the day, you’ll be crossing the Kazakhstan border into Russia. Arrive in Barnaul late at night and transfer to your hotel.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
This morning, drive to Gorno-Altaisk (approximately 3 hours; 250 kilometres) and visit the Anokhin Museum, home to the famous Siberian Ice Maiden. Also known as the Princess of Ukok, the 2500-year-old mummified remains are those of a woman who lived on the Eurasian Steppes in the fifth century BC, and were only discovered by archaeologists in the early 1990s. When her body was exhumed, researchers also discovered clothing, headdresses and a small bag of cannabis, and her preserved skin had a deer-shaped tattoo on one of the shoulders! After spending some time at the museum, continue your drive towards Lake Teletskoye (approximately 3 hours). Lake Teletskoye – or Altyn-Kol, meaning ‘Golden Lake’ – is a stunning body of water in the Altai Mountains with around 70 rivers, including the Chulyshman, flowing into it. You’ll stay in a nearby guesthouse in Artybash overnight, so relax and take in the serene atmosphere.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Gorno-Altaisk - A.V. Anokhin National Museum of Altai
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Enjoy the scenic vistas and the crisp valley air during a boat trip on Lake Teletskoye, covering a large section of the lake and some of the most remote sections and the most beautiful waterfalls in the national park. Afterwards, set off and drive towards the Karakol Valley and Uch-Enmek National Park via the Seminsky Pass (approximately 6 hours; 350 kilometres). Uch-Enmek roughly translates to ‘three peaks’ – referencing the mountain’s three crests – and is known as an ethno-cultural nature park, as there are many culturally significant sites sacred to the local Altai people in the park’s confines. Uch-Enmek was created in 2001 to protect the natural, cultural and historical locations in the Karakol Valley, part of the Ongudaisky district in the Altai Republic. Tonight, stay in a local family homestay to understand the customs and cultures of this small community, before exploring the park tomorrow.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Lake Teletskoe - Boat trip
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
You’ve got all day to explore the stunning wilderness of Karakol Valley and Uch-Enmek National Park – one of the most ethnically diverse and interesting reserves of the Altai. The valley is rarely visited by outsiders. There’s no alcohol for sale here, men wear traditional hats, and the entire community (three villages with a total population of less than 1000) are ethnic Altais. The local religion is Burkhanism, which combines elements of pre-Shamanism, Shamanism, Lamaism and Orthodox Christianity. Burkhanist beliefs include not collecting water after dark so as not to anger the spirits, and not climbing mountains considered sacred. Visit some of the ancient Scythian burial sites and have lunch in the valley with a local family learning about their customs and traditions. Afterwards, return to your hotel for the evening.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Uch-Enmek NP - Karakol Valley & Altai villages tour
  • Uch-Enmek NP - Family lunch
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Get ready for a big day today, as you drive to the Katu-Yarik Pass (approximately 270 kilometres). This is one of the most hair-raising roads in the world, and you’ll walk the steepest parts (about 3-4 km) which usually takes around 1.5 hours. On the way, you’ll pass some stunning natural wonders such as the Chike Taman Pass (1300 m above sea level), the merging of two powerful Altai rivers – the Chuya and Katun, and Kidelu Lake, framed by the snow-capped mountains. The larger Chulyshman River Valley is one of the world’s most striking canyons, but because of its isolation it’s still pretty unknown and unvisited. Admire the plummeting cliffs and the Chulyshman River weaving through a deep ravine that runs for over 130 kilometres. Tonight, stay in riverside cabins in the valley, and enjoy a traditional Russian barbecue dinner with your group. At your accommodation tonight, you’ll have access to a banya (a Russian-style bath), so soak up your surroundings, and if you’re game, dive into the river afterwards!
Accommodation
  • Cabins (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Chulyshman River Valley - Katu Yarik Pass
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Today, breathe in the crisp mountain air and head off to visit the dramatic Mushroom Stones of the Altai. Locally known as Ak-Kurume, these unique rock formations have been caused by years of weathering and water erosion, and are tipped to disappear within the next century or so. The ‘hats’ of the mushroom seem as though they balance precariously on top of their ‘legs’, creating a unique landscape on the side of one of Chulyshman’s ridges. After exploring the surrounding area, you’ll stay in cabins nearby. The lush landscapes around you are a photographer’s dream at any time of the day, so make sure you’ve charged your camera batteries before heading deep into the wild.
Accommodation
  • Cabins (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Chulyshman River Valley - Ak-Kurume (Mushroom Stones)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
As the old adage says, what goes down, must come up (or something like that). Bid the spectacular Chulyshman River Valley farewell today as you climb back up the Katu-Yarik Pass on foot – this time you’re going uphill, so it may take a little bit longer (approximately 2 hours). Once the group has tackled the pass once more, hop back in your private vehicle and drive back to Chibit for the evening. This small village is the perfect rest stop before heading into Mongolia, with comfortable lodgings and shower facilities.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Settle in for another long day of driving today (approximately 4-5 hours; 240 kilometres) as you make your way to the Mongolian border. This is another very remote border that sees very little non-local traffic, so a bit of patience will go a long way. At the border, you’ll say goodbye to your local guides, and you and your group leader will meet a local Mongolian crew who will join you for your journey. After all of the border formalities have been completed, continue to your nearby campsite where you’ll enjoy some lunch with the group. Tonight, as with quite a few of the nights on your Altai expedition, you’ll be very remote and isolated from the usual tourist facilities. Spend the afternoon setting up camp and your tent and relax into the slow life of rural Mongolia.
Accommodation
  • Camping (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Special Information
As this region of Mongolia can get very cold, especially at night, we advise you to bring an all-season sleeping bag with you for your nights of camping. Sleeping mats will be provided.

For the next few days, you will not have access to electricity, mobile coverage or banks, so it is best to prepare accordingly by charging your devices and bringing spare batteries. If you wish to purchase anything here (such as local souvenirs), please carry fresh and crisp USD currency in small denominations – traders will not accept old and crumpled cash. There is, however, not much to purchase here, and bottled drinking water is provided for your camping days.
Today sees another full day of driving to the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, via the Sogoo River and through Mongolia's highest mountain range. Being in the depths of Mongolia in a van is definitely not as bad as it sounds – think snow-capped mountains on the horizon, tiny ger villages on your path and enthusiastic guides and travellers sharing stories of the land and the local people. Deep in western Mongolia, the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is a trekker’s paradise, and will be yours to explore over the next couple of days. Your accommodation tonight? A cosy tent at a local campsite.
Accommodation
  • Camping (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Altai Tavan Bogd National Park
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
You’ll be pleased to hear we’re not in the van at all today! But you’ll be super happy that you made the effort in the past couple of days to get to this remote national park. Today, you’ll be taking a hike to the Potanin Glacier, where you’ll spend the night at a camp used by mountaineers. The hike is 18 kilometres and will take all day, but the experience will be unforgettable. This section of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park is said to hold some answers for global warming, as many of the region’s glaciers through the Ice Age are said to have created the mountainous terrain. Researchers from around the world study these rock samples to unearth different causes of weather change, and you’ll be hiking right near all of this source material! Today’s hike isn’t easy, but luckily all of your gear will be carried by camels, who’ll accompany the group to the glacier.
Accommodation
  • Camping (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Spend your morning checking out the glacier, then hike to the Tsagaan Gol River, where you’ll meet a Tuva family. Tuvans are an indigenous people of Central Asia – historically, they have been cattle-herding nomads, but also have herds of sheep, goats, camels and reindeer, and currently reside in parts of Russia, Mongolia and China. One aspect of their culture is a unique form of music called khoomei, also known as throat singing, and is traditionally softer sounding than other Mongolian overtone singing styles. Your friendly team of camels will be carrying gear again today, so you can appreciate the mountainous surroundings and have time to spend interacting with this local community. Tonight, set up camp by the riverside.
Accommodation
  • Camping (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tsagaan Gol River - Tuvan family visit
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Today, get back on the road and head with your group to Olgii in western Mongolia (approximately 4 hours; 140 kilometres). On the way, stop to meet a Kazakh nomadic community – including an eagle hunter and local women who make handicrafts in a traditional workshop. Be sure to have your camera ready today, as there will be several photo opportunities to stop and take some memorable snaps. The far-off city of Olgii shares more of its character with Central Asia than Buddhist Mongolia, with Arabic and Kazakh Cyrillic script around, as well as mosques and a central market called a ‘bazaar’ rather than the Mongolian ‘zakh’. Once arrived, spend the night in a ger tourist camp – modelled off the traditional accommodation for Mongolian nomads.
Accommodation
  • Tourist Ger Camp (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Ölgii - Kazakh family visit
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Time to say goodbye to western Mongolia and your fearless local leaders! Today, you, your group and group leader will be taking a flight from Olgii to Ulaanbaatar (approximately 3 hours). Once you have arrived and collected your baggage, transfer to Khustain National Park (approximately 2 hours). The park boasts grassy steppes and hilly landscapes, and is home to the world’s last truly wild horses, the takhi or Przewalski’s horse. These furry equines are dotted across the countryside, but be careful not to get too close – they may not be as placid as they look! This afternoon, you’ll have time to explore your surroundings and search for some of these horses, as well as other wildlife. Tonight, stay at a tourist ger camp in the park.
Accommodation
  • Tourist Ger Camp (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Khustain National Park
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Today is all yours to discover Khustain National Park. There’s a range of hikes on offer, all of which lend themselves to some pretty unique wildlife spotting, some of which include red deer, steppe gazelle, the Eurasian badger, grey wolves and marmots. Otherwise, feel free to relax in and around your tourist ger camp or, depending on the time of year, pay a visit to local families of the region – your group leader will be able to organise this for you.
Accommodation
  • Tourist Ger Camp (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Special Information
Please keep in mind that, to ensure your safety, it is important to keep to the national park’s marked tracks, and to stay at least 200 metres from a wild takhi horse.
After breakfast, make your way back to Ulaanbaatar and check into your hotel (approximately 2 hours’ drive). After lunch, join your leader and group for a city tour of Ulaanbataar, which should take around 4 hours. After spending the last three weeks in the wilds of Central Asia, you may experience a bit of culture shock in the city, with its high-rise buildings, chaotic traffic, and the juxtaposition of suit-wearing businessmen with leather-clad punks and nomads just off the steppe.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Ulaanbaatar - City tour
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
With no activities planned for today, your Expedition finishes up after having breakfast with your group. You are free to leave at any time, provided that you comply with your hotel’s check-out times.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

16 breakfasts, 13 lunches, 13 dinners

Transport

Private vehicle, Overnight sleeper train, Furgon (Russian van), Taxi, Plane

Accommodation

Hotel (3 nights), Cabin (4 nights), Overnight Sleeper Train (1 night), Tourist Ger Camp (3 nights), Camping (4 nights), Homestay (2 nights)

Included activities

  • Nur-Sultan - City tour
  • Gorno-Altaisk - A.V. Anokhin National Museum of Altai
  • Lake Teletskoe - Boat trip
  • Uch-Enmek NP - Karakol Valley & Altai villages tour
  • Uch-Enmek NP - Family lunch
  • Chulyshman River Valley - Katu Yarik Pass
  • Chulyshman River Valley - Ak-Kurume (Mushroom Stones)
  • Altai Tavan Bogd National Park
  • Tsagaan Gol River - Tuvan family visit
  • Ölgii - Kazakh family visit
  • Khustain National Park
  • Ulaanbaatar - City tour

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. This trip requires visas for most nationalities. Please see the Visa section of the Essential Trip Information to ensure you understand the requirements.
2. A Single Supplement is available on the trip for hotel nights only. It does not include camping, cabins, overnight train or tourist ger camp stays.
3. A strict luggage limit of 15 kg for checked baggage and 5 kg for carry on applies on this trip. Any excess baggage fees will need to be paid on ground direct to the airline.
4. We do not recommend travelling on multiple passports on this trip as it involves multiple visas and overland border crossings, and will cause complications at immigration and border control. You should use one passport for the duration of your trip and ensure it has all the required visas.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

View Essential Trip Information

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