Whilst there are plenty of regions to explore throughout Siberia, Tuva is one of the most stand-out locations within this great wilderness as it is a semi-autonomous republic that has maintained a strong appreciation for its history, traditions and nomadic culture. The capital city, Kyzyl, is home to the geographical centre of Asia, and is an ideal starting point for all trips throughout Tuva. There’s so much to see and do here, ranging from trips on horseback visiting small nomadic settlements, exploring the multitude of rivers which carve their way through the remote taiga forest, to immersing yourself in its rich music and artisanal crafts-making culture.
Standing at 3970m high, this is Tuva’s highest peak and its name means ‘Silver Forest’. Reaching the foot of this permanently snow-capped peak located in the border zone with Mongolia is an expedition in itself and for those wanting to attempt this rarely climbed summit an additional adventure is guaranteed. Be warned though, even in summer this peak can be very cold, but you’ll at least get fantastic views in to the Altai Republic and even Mongolia.
Aside from being the capital of Tuva, Kyzyl is also the geographical center of Asia and directly overlooks the Yenisei River. A day or two in Kyzyl is well worth one’s time where you can see the bustling black market in the city centre full of local foods from the taiga forests, the Tuvan Cultural Centre and on the outskirts one can even check out the monstrous remains of abandoned buildings from the Soviet times.
KUNGURTUG & POR-BAZHYN
Kungurtug is tucked away in the isolated SE corner of Tuva alongside the Mongolian border and is regarded by the Tuvans as being the most beautiful place in the Republic thanks to Lake Tere-Khol. In the middle of this marshy and placid lake, home to hundreds of eagles, are the remains of an 8th Century fortress/palace, called Por-Bazhyn, which was built by the Uyghurs when the region was part of their extensive empire.
AZAS LAKE & TODZHA
Located in the north-east of Tuva this is the Republic’s most isolated region and is accessible only by one road to the main village of Toora-Khem. From there on it is untrammeled and trackless wilderness which extends throughout the Todzhinsky Basin and Azas Lake, the largest in Tuva. For the few who visit this region there’s also the possibility to meet with local Todzha reindeer herders who live deep inside the taiga more than 2 weeks away from the nearest civilisation. One quirky fact about Azas Lake is that it is Putin’s favourite spot to hunt and fish in between his busy schedule.
The longest River in Russia and also the largest river which flows in to the Arctic, the Yenisei, is as impressive to look as it is to paddle. The river holds such a presence in Tuva that it is impossible to avoid wherever you travel!
Covering the western section of Tuva is the region of Bai-Taiga and it’s a great place to seek out and explore traditional Tuvan nomadic culture and crafts in the surrounding mountains and villages of Kyzyl-Dag and Bay-Tal.
Letter of invitation and visa required for most nationalities. Must be applied for in advance at a Russian embassy or consulate.
January temperature range: -9.2 °C to −31 °C. July temperature range: +11 °C to +35 °C.
Russian rouble. ATMs are available in all cities and over-the-counter bank withdrawals are also possible in smaller areas. USD also accepted for large payments in many areas.
For up to date exchange rates please have a look at www.xe.com
Two prong European style systems (types C and F).
Reliable wifi in Kyzyl. Little or no internet connection outside of main towns.
Typical of Russia: Dill. Dill. And more dill. Lots of potatoes, beetroot and root vegetables. Meat and fish centre in most dishes. Bulgar wheat is a popular grain. Tuvan cuisine includes: araka (milk vodka), hoytpak (sour milk), kumis (fermented horse milk), shay (milk tea), han (blood sausage), various meat dishes made from yak/camel/deer/beef/goat/horse.
Alcohol is permitted and is widely available
Russian. Tuvan (a Turkic language) is widely spoken.
Russian Orthodox Christianity. Shamanism. Animism.
No special dress code.
SAFTEY & SECURITY
The FCO considers Republic of Tuva to be a low risk region to travel.
The Shaman’s Coat: A Native History of Siberia by Anna Reid
Tuva or Bust!: Richard Feynman’s Last Journey by Richard Leighton
Siberia: A History of the People by Janet M. Hartley