The Yugorskiy Peninsula in Arctic Russia‘s Nenets Autonomous Okrug is the northeasternmost part of Europe while the neighbouring Yamal Peninsula is the northwesternmost part of Asia. The nomadic Nenets reindeer herders that inhabit both peninsulas have retained a remarkably exotic traditional culture and migrate year-round through the tundra with herds numbering up to several thousand. They have both retained the Nenets language as their mother tongue unlike some other groups in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug. They both still wear fur clothing, live in reindeer-hide conical tents and migrate by reindeer sledge. On the Yugorskiy Peninsula there is even one group of Nenets known as Yamb To who managed to completely avoid contact with the government throughout the Soviet Union, never becoming collectivised. Other than its incredible cultural interest, the Yugorskiy Peninsula also has waterfalls, mountains, alpine lakes, polar bears, abandoned gulags and is the gateway to the mysterious, idol-strewn Vaygach, “The Easter Island of the Arctic” and “The Nenets Mecca”.
The main settlement on the Yugorskiy Peninsula is Amderma. This village is now mostly abandoned but retains a population of 600 (mostly ethnic Russians). Polar bears can sometimes be seen wandering its streets and beaches! There is a weekly flight here which goes to and from Arkhangelsk on Saturdays and costs 10,000 – 12,500 roubles one way as of 2012.
Another settlement on the Yugorskiy Peninsula is the Nenets village of Karatayka. It has highly irregular helicopter flights from Naryan Mar, the capital of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, and weekly or twice weekly all-terrain vehicles from Vorkuta in the north of the Komi Republic in winter.
Once in either of these settlements you could try hitching lifts to Vaygach Island or encampments of nomadic Nenets reindeer herders, although you’d have to be lucky, charismatic and have very good Russian to succeed at either. From either, however, it is certainly possible to pay people to take you to a reindeer herding settlement (by snowmobile in winter or all-terrain vehicle in summer) or to Vaygach Island.
If you are interested in traveling to the Yugorskiy Peninsula or Vaygach Island with me as interpreter / guide, have a look at this website.
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