One of the moments from 2020 that will forever be etched in my memory was in early March, when borders around the world were being “temporarily” closed on a daily basis. My tour colleague Josh turned to me in our Russia office and said, “We could have every tour for 2020 canceled.” My heart dropped into my stomach as I tried to brush off his statement as too farfetched…and now here we are in March 2021, with all 2020 tours indeed canceled, and with borders to most Western countries still closed. What a year it was.
In hindsight, I’m actually encouraged at how 2020 panned out for many of our local Russian tour partners, all things considered. When domestic travel re-opened within Russia in early July, with no other international destinations to travel to besides Turkey, Russians flocked to those corners of their beautiful country that often get overlooked in favor of more exotic overseas destinations. One of those places was the North Caucasus Mountains, where we live.
Despite the 1st half of the summer tour season being canceled (April-June), many of our tour partners worked non-stop from July-October, with the largest number of Russian tour groups in recent memory. Guides, drivers, and hospitality industry workers in places like Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, and Karachay-Cherkessia were still able to make ends meet for the year, and in some cases even make more than the previous year! Climbing season at Mt. Elbrus still went forward, albeit with very few languages heard on the mountain besides Russian. In this regional travel industry that is very seasonal and a relied-on boon for the local economy, this was something we are grateful for in 2020, on behalf of our many friends across the region.
This year has also forced us to think outside the box of what tourism can look like with closed borders. We’re currently experimenting with “virtual tours” and “online experiences” for the Caucasus region, to bring the beautiful landscapes and fascinating cultures of this region straight to YOUR home. Who knows, maybe this is the future of tourism, where anyone can “virtually visit” another part of the world from the comfort of their home?
Of course, like many of you, we’re all itching to get back to doing what we love: experiencing the excitement of travel to a foreign land. What does this mean for your planned Russia Trip or Mt. Elbrus Climb in 2021? Here is the most updated travel information as of March 26, 2021:
-We ARE making tentative plans with clients for Late Summer/Fall 2021, both with cancelled groups from 2020, and new clients, so reach out to us now!
-Here is the most updated list of countries whose citizens are being allowed travel into Russia, at least on a limited basis (i.e. on certain kinds of visas):
-Europe: Greece, Switzerland, Turkey, Serbia, Finland, Germany (as of April 1), UK (temporary restriction until April 16 due to new COVID-19 strains)
-Middle East: UAE, Qatar, Syria (as of April 1)
-Asia: South Korea, Vietnam, India, Singapore, Maldives, Sri Lanka (as of April 1)
-Africa: Egypt, Tanzania, Seychelles, Ethiopia
-South/Central America: Cuba, Venezuela (as of April 1)
-Former Soviet Bloc (i.e. Eurasia) – Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (as of April 1)
-Russian borders are still not open to citizens of the US, Canada, and Australia
Although there is still much uncertainty in the air, we are optimistic with vaccines starting to be administered around the world.
We live in Russia, love this country and its people, and can’t wait to see people from around the world get to experience it for themselves. Let us know how we can help make this a reality for you in 2021 and beyond!
***Information in this post is up-to-date at the time of publishing. We will be editing this post monthly as we learn of changes in our area and Russia in general. We would love to talk to you directly if you have any other questions!