Yakutsk is a city in Far Eastern Russia and has about 225,000 inhabitants. Yakutsk was founded by Pyotr Beketov in 1632. A detachment of cossacks under his command founded the city as the Lenskii fort, on the right bank of the Lena River (the tenth longest river in the world), which grew into (and changed its name to) Yakutsk in 1647.
As one of the most important Russian outposts in eastern Siberia, Yakutsk became the economic and administrative center of the region - a base for probes (and later scientific expeditions) into the Far East and the extreme North.
In 1822, Yakutsk was officially designated a city, and in 1851 became the official administrative capital of the Autonomous Republic of Yakutia. Today Yakutsk is a major administrative, industrial, cultural, and research center - standing out as one of the most dynamic and fast-developing cities in the Russian Far East.
Sights and Activities
Yakutsk is far off the beaten path in Russia for international tourism. Consequently, you should expect all museums exhibits to be explained only in Russian. Fortunately some exhibits (like the cryogenically preserved mammoth head) don't require too much explanation!
Events and Festivals
Yakutsk is situated at the fairly high latitude of 62°N. Its climate is definitively very continental, with temperature records of +38° Celsius and -64° C (a range of over 100° C)! The average temperature in January is around -42 °C; in July, +19 °C. The ideal time to visit (unless you're traveling here purposely to experience the extreme cold) is from March to July. The sunny spring months will allow you to enjoy winter sports like skiing, ice-skating, dog sledding, ice sculptures, etc., under temperatures permitting outdoor human life. The average March temperatures, of course, are still cold at an average of -22.5 °C. The summer months of June–July are great for the opportunities to see the Northern wilderness in its full glory, to enjoy the White Nights when it never gets really dark, to set off on adventures along the Yakut rivers, and to experience the Yakut national holiday "Ysyakh."
There are two airports. The international airport Tuimaada gets regular direct flights from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Khabarovsk, and a few other major cities in Russia. There are also direct flights by Yakutia Airlines once a week -on Thursday- from Harbin, China and from Beijing by S7 air.
The domestic airport Magan mostly serves flights within Yakutia, as well as private flights.
During the winter, Yakutsk often has fog, sometimes lasting for days or even weeks. The airport may be closed as a result, or flights can be delayed by several hours. Although Russian airlines do land in some amazingly poor visibility, sometimes the conditions are so bad that even Russian pilots will not attempt it. It is not unusual for passengers to Yakutsk to find themselves staying in Magadan or some other alternate city instead, sometimes for days. The airline personnel generally will be most unhelpful in providing information about when you can continue on to Yakutsk, and they will not offer hotel accommodations or meals to passengers who have been stranded. It is advisable to carry at least some emergency money just in case you end up stranded somewhere.
To get from the international airport to the city center, you can take a taxi (15-20 minutes), or one of the buses #4, 5, & 20 (30-40 minutes). Magan is a bit further out, and a taxi ride to the city centre will take 30-40 minutes; the bus "Yakutsk-Magan" will take a little over an hour.
Yakutsk has no connections to the Russian rail network; the nearest train station is in Tommot (453 kilometres away). A railway line is under construction and was expected to be completed by 2013.
You can however buy train tickets leading from Tommot or Neryungri in advance at Yakutsk's main travel agency at 8 Ordzhonikidze St (ул. Орджоникидзе, 8). Catching a train from Tynda to Neryungri or Tommot and from there continue by long-distance taxi to Yakutsk is an option. After Tynda there are no first class or second-class cars (spalny vagon and kupé) only third-class platzkart. This train is usually very crowded and if, you are a non-Russian speaking westerner, expect to be stared at and talked about constantly. When the train arrives, passengers will hurriedly make their way over to get a seat on board the cars continuing to Yakutsk.
The only road connecting Yakutia with other regions of Russia is M56 Never-Yakutsk road. It is macadam covered, sometimes asphalt (near towns and cities). There are many lakes and rivers along the way, and it is very exciting to go along the road. The road has been selected as "the worst in the world" in 2006, it has been renovated, but still after long rains the road becomes a way of mud.
In the past couple years the condition of the road is improving, with serious reconstruction work ongoing. But regardless, in the rain, many sections of the road are extremely difficult to get through (especially the section between Uluu to Kachikatsy). The last stretch, from Nizhny Bestyakh to Yakutsk requires a ferry in the summer across the Lena River; in the winter you can just drive across the ice! In the months in between (May and October) there really isn't a way to make the crossing.
Two buses per week travel Yakutsk-Neryungi (18–20 hours) from the bus station and Yakutsk-Aldana (12–14 hours). There are also mini-buses, which run between local towns and Yakutsk, provided they can fill enough seats to make the trip profitable.
A popular option during the summer months is to take a river boat along the majestic Lena river, both cruises and regular services are available from Yakutsk. Among the routes offered are a once-weekly hydrofoil service to Lensk (RUB 4,000, 32 hours). The more remote destinations you can reach via ship includes arctic settlement of Tiksi where the Lena river meets the Arctic ocean, there are 5-6 departures during summer and a one-way journey takes five days, prices from RUB 12,000. More information can be obtained from the Yakutsk river port (+7 4112 21-90-13), the seasons schedule is usually published in early May.
There are several taxi companies in Yakutsk, which you can call for service. The prices are not fixed, and depend on the length of the trip (and likely how much they think they can take this foreigner for). The average price for a cross-town trip is about 100-120 rubles. You can also hire a cab for the day, which will cost you about 350 rubles per hour.
By Public Transport
Bus is the basic mode (and really the only mode) of public transport within Yakutsk. A well developed network of marshrutkas can take you to practically anywhere in the city. A few suburban routes to the nearest inhabited localities also run from the main bus station. All routes cost 16 rubles, although kids less than seven years old ride free.
Most Yakutians do not often eat out in restaurants. When they do, it is most often for special occasions such as for weddings, birthday celebrations, and other special occasions. Most of the local restaurant customers will tend to be the younger generation who were born after 1970.
Traditional Yakutian food is simple and generally very, very bland. Soups are probably the most common, and most Yakutians will have soup at least once during the day. Salads are very common, and almost always made with mayonnaise. Mayonnaise, as everywhere in Russia, is used everywhere and on everything. Yakutian delicacies include fish, reindeer, and young horse. Pork is the most common meat for everyday consumption. Sausages and kolbasa are very common. Fish is often served frozen or pan fried. Meat is often boiled or fried and is generally overcooked, or "cooked until death", often making it tough.
There are a lot of places where hamburgers are offered in Yakutsk, but up until now, there are no places offering a good one. Most are made from pork, not beef. Most have been precooked and then reheated to serve. Don't be fooled by the fact that many places are using McDonald's trade marked product names. What you get will not resemble the McDonald's product.
Mexican sounding dishes have been introduced in Yakutsk, but so far these have been local intrepretations by local chefs who have no clue about Mexican food. There was a so-called Mexican restaurant which seems to have closed. Don't be fooled into ordering the local buritos or tacos unless you just want to have a laugh. There is no Mexican food in Yakutsk. In fact, there are no authentic Mexican restaurants in Russia so far, not even in Moscow or St. Petersburg, where a number of places pretend to offer Mexican food.
Eight years ago there were no sushi bars in Yakutsk. Today, sushi is available seemingly everywhere. It is popular with the young people who are the most frequent visitors to restaurants. All of the fish product is brought in frozen, and not all of the sushi restaurants are keeping the fish properly. There have been a number of cases of food poisoning in sushi restaurants in Yakutsk. Most of the sushi chefs have been locally trained by other locally trained sushi chefs, and this also shows in the quality of the sushi. Makisushi is the most popular and most of the local chefs have mastered this art. Nigiri sushi is also pretty common, but the kinds of topings available will be limited. Many Japanese restaurants also offer other Japanese dishes, but the chefs generally have no real idea what the real Japanese dish should be, so you will find many interesting local interpretations. Many restaurants offer interesting combinations of Japanese and other ethnic foods.
Pizza restaurants have also become popular, and there are more and more places offering pizza. Pizza in Yakutsk will almost invariably be thin crust pizza, as everywhere in Russia. Tomato sauce is often absent or sparingly applied. Various types of cheese may be used. Mayonnaise is often used instead of tomato sauce or sometimes in addition to it. Real pepperoni is difficult to find in Yakutsk, but the pizzeria in the Polar Star hotel usually has it, and sometimes it is available at other pizzarias.
There are several Chinese restaurants in Yakutsk. There are a lot of Chinese in Yakutsk, so this is not surprising. The Chinese restaurants are generally ok and reasonably authentic, even though the Chinese in Yakutsk, as everywhere Chinese have migrated, have adapted their dishes to local ingredients and tastes.
Korean restaurants have recently begun appearing in Yakutsk. One such restaurant has already failed and closed, but the rest seem to be doing ok so far. The quality is pretty good.
There are several hundred places in Yakutsk where it is possible to get a meal of some sort or other. Many office and other buildings have cafeterias that are open to the public, but they are not advertised. Usually these cafeterias have limited choices, and the food will be simple and inexpensive. But if you are hungry and on a limited budget, it may be your best bet.
Most of the eating establishments are in the budget/low end category. Cleanliness standards are non-existent or ignored in many of these places. Some may not even have running water. Be careful!
Fast food places have been springing up in the past few years. So far, all of them have been pretty disappointing. They have a long ways to go before they achieve the same quality standards which have been established by the major global fast food chains.
Coffee houses have also been springing up all over Yakutsk. These generally offer various types of coffee and tea and usually some pastries. Some offer a somewhat more expansive food menu. Good coffee and tea is available in most of these. The food items can vary a lot, but are generally ok, especially the cakes and desert items.
Russia is a huge country, and excess to the internet varies a lot. The main cities and tourist places have (free) wifi excess at lots of places, like restaurants and cafes (McDonald's is always a safe bet). Internet cafes are present in larger places as well. Rural areas and especially if you venture into remote and/or mountainous areas have little excess at all. Most travellers will find connections though when using their phone or tablet.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The emergency number is 112. The country code for Russia is 7. Russian phone numbers have an area code with three, four or five digits (according to their province), followed by an individual number with, respectively, 7, 6 or 5 digits, always yielding 10 digits in total. The three digit code 800 is used for toll-free calls. Mobile phones always have three-digit "area" codes and seven-digit numbers. Calls within any one area code may omit the area code (except in Moscow). Inter-area code calls within Russia: 8 (wait for tone) full Russian number including area code. The international access code for dialling outwith Russia is the sequence of 8 (wait for secondary tone and then) 10. International calls to Russia, as always, replace the plus sign (+) in the international phone format with the local international access code for the country you're calling from, followed by Russia's country code of 7 followed by the individual Russian phone number including area code.
You will require a SIM-unlocked GSM 900 / 1800 compatible international cell phone when buying a Russian SIM card. If you do not have your own international cell phone, it's best to buy a cheap cell phone with some value on the card. Foreigners can purchase a local SIM card by showing your passport. BeeLine is considered to be the best in terms of reliability and connections quality. However Megafon's services can be a bit cheaper.
Russian Post is the national postal service of Russia. It's English version is currently under construction, but mainly involves the track&trace system. The domestic post is reasonably reliable, and sending international mail is fairly reliable but slow, taking at least a few weeks to European countries, longer to the USA or Australia for example. The delivery of mail sent from abroad to Russia is highly unreliable, and people or companies tend to use foreign adresses, from where a private carrier sends it to Russia. Alternatives like poste restante are non-existent with Russian Post. Most cities and large towns in Russia have a Central Post Office (Glavpochtamt), which also sells stamps and envelopes, and usually has fax services and Internet availability, though the latter mostly not in smaller places. Also, many hotels have postal services, including mail boxes. Post offices tend to keep long hours, usually from 8:00am or 9:00am until 8:00pm or 9:00pm Monday to Friday, and closing earlier during weekends. The main central post offices in the biggest cities keep even longer hours. For sending parcels, you can also try services by DHL Russia and FedEx Russia. For all mail you can use the regular alphabet, though maybe include the country's name in Cyrillic. For sending post to Russia (or trying to receive it) note that addresses should be in reverse order: Russia, postal code, city, street address, name.