Where to Go at Altay Mountains: Katun River

Author: Dimitry Paranyushkin (on 21 Aug 2009)

Katun is the main river at Altay and is famous for great rafting routes. Also, the first 50 km after Gorno-Altaysk along Katun river is the area with very good infrastructure and can be recommended to those, who have only a few days and want to get a glimpse of what Altay is like.

What Katun is Like:
Katun is one of the major rivers at Altay, it's 688 km long and starts at the height of 2000 m at south Altay mountains, being

Katun river, Altay mountains, Russia

fed by melting glaciers, smaller rivers, and Chuya river (along which passes Chuysky Trakt - the road to Mongolia).
From far, Katun looks like a green river, that is because there's a lot of limestone in the water, so the light is reflected in a strange way. Katun is not very wide: closer to Gorno-Altaysk it is just 20-30 meters wide and up towards the stream it may be 50 meters wide.
The stream in the river is quite strong, but it is possible to walk in at some places and swim a little bit, especially that the water during summer is not very cold. Katun is also great for fishing.
The main attraction of Katun is that for years, since the Soviet times, it has been a mecca for water tourism and rafting trips. Katun has a wide range of rapids of all kinds and complexities. It is a good place both for beginners and advanced rafters. There are a few annual rafting championships taking place at Katun.

Getting There:
Katun river is very easily accessible and is impossible to miss if you go to Altay. All the starting points for any travel to the mountains (like Gorno-Altaysk, Biysk) are located along Katun. Although you will see the river quite early on your way to Altay, the nice places to stay are located after Gorno-Altaysk town (which is about 500 km from Novosibirsk, or 300 km from Barnaul).
The most "civilised" part of Katun is along the first 50 km after Gorno-Altaysk on the way down to Mongolia along Chuysky Trakt. There are many tour bases on the shore of the river, they offer quite comfortable accommodation (for about $10-$15 per person) and a lot of different tours: from short walks and 1-day sightseeing tours to breath-taking rafting and long-distance trekking journeys. It's also possible to camp on the shore and this is quite a popular way of spending holidays for local auto-tourists (from Barnaul and Novosibirsk).
After Barangol (about 50 km from Gorno-Altaysk) the road, that goes along Katun, splits at two: Chemal trakt (which leads to Chemal - a tourist village about 60 km away) and Chuysky Trakt - the auto road connecting Russia and Mongolia. Katun river goes further along Chemal trakt and then meets Chuya river a few hundred kilometers up through mountains.
There are a few local buses going from Gorno-Altaysk along this road and you can ask them to stop at one of the tourbases. However, the buses are unreliable and sometimes it may be hard to get a ticket, because of so many locals traveling. So, it may be a better idea to either take a tour at one of the tour bases (in this case, they will arrange a transport for you) or hire a guide with his own car, so he can get you to any place / tour base you choose. In our Altay Transport guide we have a list of recommended drivers.

Places to Go & Stay Along Katun:
The length of Katun river from Gorno-Altaysk to Chemal offers quite nice and comfortable tourbases, where you can stay and which you can use as a starting point for further activities at the mountains. After Chemal village there's no good auto-road, so the area becomes quite wild and you can meet there only advanced rafters, rather than "normal" tourists.
Along this way (first 50 km from Gorno-Altaysk) there are a few villages and in almost every village there are a few holiday houses for short-term rent and homestays. In most cases the hosts don't speak English, one night usually costs $5 - $15 per person. Most of the houses are owned by Russian people and by businessmen, so don't expect any "unique" ethnic experience. This type of accommodation is quite popular with Russian auto-tourists.
All tourbases located in this area offer various individual and group trips, which are quite fairly priced (for example, $10 for 2-hour rafting, $20 for 1-day tour in the mountains). We do not recommend you to stay in Gorno-Altaysk, as it is not interesting at all and you will not experience the feel of the area. It's better to take a taxi or a bus to one of the bases listed below and stay there: it will be cheaper, more interesting, and more "natural".
We recommend the following tourbases along Katun river:

Manzherok Tourbase.
This tourbase is directed by the minister of tourism of Altay republic and is the closest tourbase to Gorno-Altaysk

Manzherok tourbase Altai, in Altay mountains Russia

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(about 30 km), located near Manzherok village. They offer accommodation on the shore of Katun in wooden cottages ($10 / night per person) and in tents ($5 / night per person). Among activities offered are rafting, fishing and walking tours to nearby hills and mountains. It is also the last place along the road from Gorno-Altaysk where cellular network works (provider: MTS). Open all year round.
Reservations are recommended, can be made through Travel Services / Altai Tours

Korona Katuni.
This tourbase caters for those, who want "active" holidays in Altay. They offer a wide variety of tours, both during summer and winter, from standard rafting and sightseeing tours to skiing tours in winter, ice-fishing, and even ice-swimming.
Accommodation is provided in two-story wooden cottages and tents.

Around Korona Katuni base - Tarzanka

The "special attraction" of this tourbase is "tarzanka" - something similar to bungee jumping. You are attached to a rubber band and jump over Katun, bouncing down. This experience gives an adrenalin injection for the whole day, and costs $3.
Frequented by active travelers (from Russia) and auto-tourists.
Located just after Barangol village along the road.
Open all year round.
Contacts: email - korona_katuni@mail.ru; telephone - (38844) 28-802; Representative in Novosibirsk: (3832) 55-86-86, email: orange_world@mail.ru
Reservations are recommended and can be made through Travel Services / Altai Tours

Tsarskaya Okhota Tourbase. This tourbase caters for "comfortable" tourists, who prefer not to venture into active tours but rather stay at the territory of tourbase, hang out in a restaurant and tan under the sun. Hence, the higher prices and higher level of accommodation and service.
Accommodation is provided in wooden "teremok", where one night costs $20 per person. It is also possible to rent the whole house for $40 per night.
On the territory there's a traditional house of Altay people - Ayul (museum), a restaurant, bar, swimming pool and souvenir shop.
Appropriate for corporate holidays or comfortable vacation.
Located just before Korona Katuni tourbase.
Contacts: (3852) 368-401
Reservations are recommended and can be made through Travel Services / Altai Tours

Katun Tourbase. Located about 20 km along Chemal tract from Bogotol, this tourbase is interesting because every year, in July and August it hosts ethno-music festival, where you can hear traditional music of the region, throat singing, electronic music and much more interesting stuff.
This event attracts many young people, so it can be a nice spot to hang out.
See more information about the ethno festival at their website.


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