Summary : Russia's rugged Siberian coast hosts a number of cultural highlights, tucked in amidst a profusion of wildlife and dramatic tundra landscapes. Journey through the narrow Bering Strait, which separates Russia from the United States, and travel west along the Chukotka coastline before crossing the De Long Strait to Wrangel Island where you’ll spend several days under the guidance of local rangers. Untouched by glaciers during the last ice age, Wrangel is a treasure trove of Arctic biodiversity. Perhaps best known for the multitude of polar bears that breed there, the island also boasts the world’s largest population of Pacific walruses and lies near major feeding grounds for gray whales that migrate thousands of miles north from their breeding grounds in Baja, Mexico. The number and type of endemic plant species, the presence of mammoth tusks and skulls, and a range of terrain types and geological formations are all visible evidence of Wrangel’s rich natural history and its unique evolutionary status within the Arctic. The ‘mammoth steppe’ vegetation complex, a rich and diverse relic from the Pleistocene epoch, nurtures over 400 plant species and never fails to astound with its sublime beauty. Throughout the voyage, an expert expedition team will lead you on guided walks and Zodiac cruises as you scout for a variety of wildlife or visit massive birdcliffs on nearby Herald Island. Lectures by knowledgeable guides will help you understand and appreciate this unique High Arctic landscape.
The human history of Wrangel Island is fascinating on its own. Highlights include a 3,400-year-old Paleo-Eskimo camp in Krassin Bay, the amazing story of the survivors of the shipwrecked Karluk, and, more recently, the establishment of a world-class nature reserve and designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. While natural history enthusiasts are drawn to Siberia for its Arctic biodiversity (over 200 bird species, polar bears, brown bears, whales, walruses, over 900 plant species, reindeer, musk ox), it's the cultural and historical discoveries made along the way that enrich this adventure and add unexpected perspectives for visitors to the Russian Far East. This special voyage includes the colorful 6th Annual Beringia Arctic Games and Chukotka Cutural Festival, an indigenous festival like nothing you've seen before!
Activities : Birding, Culture, Hiking, Triple/Quad Cabins
$11,000 to $14,500
Arrive in Anadyr*, the administrative center of Chukotka. Depending on your time of arrival you may have the opportunity to explore Anadyr before boarding the vessel. If flights have been on time, plan to depart Anadyr this evening. As the ship sets sail, join the captain, officers and expedition team on the bridge. The Anadyr estuary is renowned for its Beluga whales.
*This shipping company offers a round-trip Nome/Anadyr/Nome charter flight. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for details.
As you sail across Anadyrskiy Bay towards the Bering Strait there will be introductory lectures, an introduction to the staff and ship, and a series of compulsory briefings and drills. There will also be a chance to relax, enjoy some ‘birding’ with your naturalists, settle into ship life, and adjust to the time change. Late this afternoon you will be in the vicinity of Preobrazheniya Bay where there are some outstanding bird cliffs. Enjoy a Zodiac cruise along the cliffs before dinner.
Yttygran Island is home to the monumental ancient aboriginal site known as Whale Bone Alley. Whale bones stretch along the beach for almost a half-mile. There are many meat pits used for storage and other remains of a busy whaling camp that united several aboriginal villages at a time. In one location, immense bowhead whale jawbones and ribs are placed together in a stunning arch formation.
Gray whales are frequently seen around the island. After landing at Whale Bone Alley, take the Zodiacs on a whale-watching excursion. You will also cruise close to neighboring Nuneangan Island (Bird Island) where a large number of seabirds nest.
On nearby Arakamchechen Island there is a prominent walrus haul out; if the animals are present you will land and walk across the tundra to view them from the cliffs.
Sea conditions permitting, you will land at Cape Dezhnev early this morning. The northeastern-most point of the Eurasian continent, it is sometimes possible to see the coast of America from this remote and lonely outpost. It is also an historic landmark named after the Siberian Cossack, Semyon Dezhnev, who in 1648 became the first European to sail from the Arctic to the Pacific. A steep scramble from the beach brings you to an abandoned border guard base, a monument to all the sailors who have sailed these seas. Cape Prince of Wales in Alaska lies 55 miles across Bering Strait. A few nautical miles to the west of Cape Dezhnev lies Uelen Village, the most northeastern village in Russia. Archaeological work has revealed that walrus, seal, and whale hunters have lived here for over 2,000 years. Today the population is predominantly Chukchi with some Russians and Inuit. Hunting is still very important, but the village is also one of the largest centers for traditional Chukchi and Inuit art in the world. You will be entertained by villagers and visit a bone-carving workshop during your visit. Sculptures from the bone-carving workshop in Uelen can be found in most of the major museums in Russia.
This small island was once an important Russian Polar Research Station and one of a number of research stations dotted across the Arctic. Sadly, with the collapse of the USSR there was no money to maintain them and they were abandoned; the buildings are derelict but the wildlife once studied is still here. Near the abandoned station at the northwestern end of the island are some of the most amazing bird cliffs in the Arctic; puffins, guillemots, gulls, and cormorants can be observed and photographed from just yards away. At the southeastern end of the island there is a prominent walrus haul out—if they are present, this is one of the easiest places to observe and photograph them.
Ice and weather conditions permitting, you will spend the next few days at Wrangel Island. The earliest human occupation here—seasonal hunters from Siberia—dates back to 3,200 B.C. The island’s presence was speculated and marked on maps by early Russian explorers but it wasn’t until 1849 that it was ‘rediscovered’ by the British. Today it is a Russian Federal Nature Reserve of international significance and importance. Wrangel is a major polar bear denning area that is sometimes referred to as a 'polar bear maternity ward' on account of the large numbers of pups born there. It is also the last landfall for migratory species flying north. Each summer thousands of birds migrate here to breed, including snow geese, snowy owls, skuas, Arctic terns, and Ross’s, sabine, and ivory gulls. There are many possible landings here to scout for wildlife, wild flowers, and Arctic landscapes.
Polar bears will be high on the list of animals to see. With a little patience you may be rewarded with several encounters. Musk oxen and reindeer were introduced to the island in 1975 and 1948 respectively, though reindeer numbers are low.
You may also have a chance to visit Dragi Harbor where the survivors of the Karluk, which was crushed by ice in 1914, scrambled ashore and survived until they were rescued. If ice conditions permit, you will explore Herald Island to the east of Wrangel Island.
Although well mapped and charted, few expedition cruises have sailed here. Consequently, there are many opportunities for expedition landings, depending on weather and sea conditions. There are several choices. One is a seasonal walrus haul out at Cape Vankarem. Another is the area around the Cape which is bounded by narrow sand ridges with numerous coastal lagoons and inlets—nearby there is a small Chukchi village whose residents still make their living hunting walrus, seals, and whales. Another possibility: a smaller Chukchi village called Nutepelmen which is situated on a spit at the entrance to Pyngopikhin Lagoon, further west of Cape Vankarem.
So huge that it is visible from satellite photos, this inlet contains vast numbers of waterfowl and migratory waders. This visit will concentrate on Belaka spit near the mouth of the Kolyuchin Inlet—a wild, desolate landscape that is strangely beautiful. Search the dunes for birdlife including emperor geese and spoon-billed sandpipers. Gray whales frequent the area and are sometimes spotted feeding only yards offshore.
In the early morning you will pass the Diomede Islands, sometimes called Tomorrow Island and Yesterday Isle because they straddle the International Date Line. Here, Russia and America are separated by only 2.3 nautical miles of ocean. The ship will remain in Russian territory as you cruise south past the islands.
In 1867 when the USA purchased Alaska from Russia, a new boundary was drawn between Big Diomede Island (Russia) and Little Diomede Island (USA). This makes Big Diomede Island Russia’s eastern-most possession. Originally inhabited by the Yupik, today there are no permanent residents; however, Russia maintains a border guard station here. It is an important island for birdlife with good numbers of black-legged kittiwakes, common and Brunnich’s guillemots, and horned and tufted puffins. If the border guards grant permission, enjoy a Zodiac cruise off the coast near the station. The bird numbers (especially the number of puffins) in this region are spectacular.
Later in the afternoon, attempt an expedition landing on the Chukotka coast for your last chance to enjoy the wildlife and tundra landscape.
Join the staff for an expedition recap and a disembarkation briefing, then simply relax as you sail across Anadyrskiy Bay towards Anadyr. Tonight you'll enjoy a farewell dinner to celebrate your journey.
After breakfast it will be time to say your farewells. A complimentary transfer to the airport* or to a central downtown hotel will conclude the expedition.
*This shipping company offers a round-trip Nome/Anadyr/Nome charter flight. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for details.
Read the above itinerary is a guide only. The exact program depends on weather, ice conditions, wildlife encountered, and is subject to approval from various Russian federal and regional authorities. Permits have been lodged for all the sites mentioned in the itinerary. The itinerary may be changed, amended or substituted depending on these approvals. Flexibility is key to the success of this expedition. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.
You may join this expedition in Anadyr or Nome, Alaska. Those starting in Nome will fly by a charter flight and join the ship in Anadyr. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for details.
Mandatory Travel Insurance:
Due to the remoteness of the areas in this itinerary, all passengers must purchase full medical and emergency evacuation insurance for the specific areas they will be visiting. Proof of coverage is required prior to embarkation. ExpeditionTrips strongly recommends that you select a travel protection plan that covers trip cancellation insurance, trip delay (interruption or after departure coverage), baggage and repatriation, and at least $200,000 in medical evacuation coverage. ExpeditionTrips can assist U.S. residents with travel protection options. Other conditions may apply based on pre-existing conditions.
6th Annual Beringia Arctic Games and Chukotka Cultural Festival:
This colorful annual festival takes place in Lorina Village and brings together and celebrates the indigenous communities of Siberia. Traditional song and dance performances grace the stage, whale-skin boat regattas are held, and artisans display carved bones, fur hats, beaded clothing, and other handmade art. There are wrestling, weight lifting, and tug-of-war competitions. Traditional food is prepared and shared with locals and visitors alike. Look forward to spending a day at the festival towards the end of your trip.
Pre- and post-cruise transfers; shipboard accommodations; all expedition shore excursions; gear on loan (rubber boots for shore landings); all meals onboard the ship; tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and water; juice with breakfast. Inclusions subject to change without notice.
International/domestic flights; private charter flights; passport and visa expenses; full medical and emergency evacuation insurance (mandatory), excess baggage charges, local payment of $500 per person (payable in cash onboard the ship); juice, carbonated beverages, bottled water, and alcoholic beverages; all items of a personal nature such as laundry, ship to shore communications, medical supplies, souvenirs, etc.; gratuities; fuel surcharge may apply.
PHOTOS: © K. Ovsyanikova; © M. Kelly; © A Terauds