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Natural wonders of Russia. UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Popular tourist attractions and destinations

Sredniaya mountain, Kamchatka, Russia

Russia is vast country that extends across the whole of northern Asia and 40% of Europe. It incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. The country's topography is varied including stretches of plains, mountain ranges, numerous lakes, thousands of rivers and extensive coastline. Some of the landmarks are considered real natural wonders of the country and were placed on UNESCO's List of World Heritage. Apart from internationally famous Mount Elbrus and Lake Baikal there are quite a few less visited places where the nature has been creating magic for centuries. Some of them are dynamically developing as ecotourism and travel destinations, others naturally forming systems remain almost inaccessible and lack a comprehensive scientific explanation.

Lena Pillars, aka Lena's Stone Forest, Lena's Stone Pillars

Lena Pillars is incredible natural rock formation along the banks of the Lena River in far eastern Siberia. It is one of most beautiful sites in Russia and the most difficult to reach, by tourists. Lena's Stone Forest is lines of the fossils from various organisms that were formed 80 million years ago from Cambrian era sea-basin. They are grouped together and stretch for tens of kilometers, along the river banks. The colossal pillars rise up from the earth and pierce the sky, like giants frozen in time. Lena's Stone Pillars are not easy to get to though. Lena Pillars National Park lies less than a day's boat ride upriver (south) from the city of Yakutsk.

Lake Baskunchak

Lake Baskunchak, a Russian version of the Dead Sea, is a salt lake of 115 km² in Astrakhan Oblast, Russia. The name Baskunchak translates as "dog’s head". According to one legend, a caravan of merchants once got lost in this area. One of their dogs saw the lake and began to drink from it, but the water was so salty that the animal died instantly and fell in; only its head remained above the surface. The concentration of salt in the lake reaches 90 percent. Nowadays the lake's salt of distinct purity covers 80 % of Russia's salt production. Multiple springs renew the lake’s salt reserves, bringing in some 2,500 tons every day. Since 1997 the area is strictly protected as nature reserve.

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The Valley of Geysers

The Valley of Geysers is a geyser field in Russia, and has the second largest concentration of geysers in the world. Approximately ninety geysers and many hot springs are located in the 6 km long basin situated on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East. It is part of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve, which, in turn, is incorporated into the World Heritage Site "Volcanoes of Kamchatka". The valley is difficult to reach, with helicopters providing the only feasible means of transport. It was discovered by Tatiana Ustinova, a local scientist, in 1941 but serious exploration of the area began in 1972. In the 1980s the Valley of Geysers was presented as one of the main attractions of the Kamchatka peninsula, in an attempt to raise tourist awareness.

Alpinist in Altai

Altai Mountains

The Altai Mountains are a mountain range in East-Central Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together, and where the rivers Irtysh and Ob have their sources.

The Altay ecoregion covers vast 845,000 square kilometer area at the junction of four countries: Russia (largest part), Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China.

The name Altai means the "Mountains of Gold" in Turkic language.

Altai Mountains amaze the visitor with their diversity and beauty. It is a unique mixture of various nature shapes and features: boundless steppes, wild taiga thickets, the majesty of snowy peaks, the dynamic of rivers and the treeless plain of tundra.

Various landscapes, climates, abundance of wildlife as well as remoteness of industries make the region a mecca for adventure tourism as it offers the possibilities for various activities like rafting, trekking, fishing, speleo and skiing. Most famous Altai landmarks are: the Beluha mountain, the highest peak of the Altay Mountains; Lake Teletskoye - the largest lake in the Altay Mountains, 325 meters deep; Ukok Plateau - a remote and pristine grasslands area; Aktru glacier - a beautiful and the most accessible of Altay's glaciers and favorite snowboarders' destination; Katun river - a popular rafting site as it starts its way near the highest point of Altai mountains and goes down through pristine alpine scenery.

The Manpupuner rock formations aka the Seven Strong Men Rock Formations

The Manpupuner rock formations or the Seven Strong Men Rock Formations or Poles of the Komi Republic are a set of 7 gigantic abnormally shaped stone pillars located north of the Ural mountains in the Troitsko-Pechorsky District of the Komi Republic. These monoliths are around 30 to 42 meters (100 foot) high and jut out of a hilly plateau formed through the weathering effects of ice and winds. This mysterious site is one of the Seven Wonders of Russia and a very popular attraction in Russia. However their height and abnormal shapes make the top of these rock giants inaccessible even to experienced rock-climbers.

Kungur Ice Cave

Kungur Ice Cave in the Ice Mountain is one of the most popular tourist landmarks in the Urals. It is a karst cave located near the town Kungur in Perm Krai, Russia. Known since 1703 the Cave as an excursion site is used since 1914 and equipped with 2 tour routes with total length of 2 km. During this time the tourists travel under the ground 1300 m. Inside the cave there is narrow path which is called "the women road" because long time ago a foreign princes fell down on this road and after her return she got married. It is believed now that if a woman falls down on this road she will get married soon.

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The Commander Islands aka Komandorski Islands

Komandorskiye ostrova are a group of treeless, sparsely-populated Russian islands located 175 kilometres (109 mi) east of the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East, in the Bering Sea. The islands consist of Bering Island, Medny Island, and fifteen smaller ones. The highest point is Steller Peak on Bering Island at 755 metres (2,477 ft).

The Commander Islands received their name after Commander Vitus Bering, who died there in 1741 after his ship St. Peter wrecked on the otherwise uninhabited Bering Island on his return voyage from Alaska.

The majority of the islands' area, as well as much of the adjacent marine habitat, is taken up by the Komandorsky Zapovednik, a natural preserve. Significant numbers of northern fur seals and Steller sea lions summer there. Sea otters, common seals, and larga seals are likewise abundant.

Due to the high productivity of the Bering Sea shelf and the Pacific slope and their remoteness from human influence, the Commander Islands are marked by a great abundance of marine animal life and a relative paucity of terrestrial organisms. The neighboring waters provide important feeding, wintering, and migrating habitat for many whale species, many of which are threatened or endangered Bering Island was the only known habitat of Steller's sea cows, an immense (over 4000 kg) animal similar to the manatee. The spot is famous for its diverse terrestrial fauna and seabirds.

Whale Bone Alley in Chukotka

Whale Bone Alley is a unique monument of ancient Eskimo culture, situated on the northern shore of Yttygran island. It consists of a large number of carefully arranged whale skulls, whale bones and stones, along with a considerable number of meat storage pits. It is thought that Whale Bone Alley was used as a central shrine by a number of different villages dotted along the eastern Chukotkan coast. The scientists believe that the site was used for initiation rituals and for sporting contests, although the local Yupik have a simpler explanation that the island was a collective center for the flensing, butchery, and storage of whale meat as the site lies on a major whale migration path.

The site is monumental by Chukotkan standards and consists of several lines of whale skulls and jaw bones along the shoreline, several large pits behind them and a number of meat pits surrounding a central sanctuary and stone path around one third of the way along the site traveling from south to north.

Whale Bone Alley was discovered in 1977 by the archeological expedition and is now most mysterious Chukotka attraction.

Ruskeala marble canyon

The picturesque deep quarries and adits with limpid water is now a popular tourist attraction. It is a unique combination of what a man and nature can do. Ruskeala is a former mining object. The vast deposit of marble was discovered in 1765. Integrity of the massif of the marble was cracked in the 20th century due to the use of dynamite. Some quarries were then abandoned and inundated and now make up a chain of quarries filled with water of different color from emerald green to deep blue and framed with picturesque marble walls. The site is now popular travel destination, as it offers canoeing, rafting and kayaking trips.

Lake Baikal, Eastern Siberia, Russia

Baikal Lake

Lake Baikal is the world's clearest and deepest lake with an average depth of 744.4 metres.

Located in the south of the Russian region of Siberia, between Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest and the Buryat Republic to the southeast. At 1637 meters, it is the deepest and world's freshwater lake, holding approximately 20% of the world's fresh water. It is so big that is often mistaken for a sea. Baikal is home to more than 1,700 species of plants and animals, two thirds of which can be found nowhere else in the world. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Lake Baikal is in a rift valley, created by the Baikal Rift Zone, where the Earth's crust pulls apart. The fault zone is also seismically active; there are hot springs in the area and notable earthquakes every few years. Its age is estimated at 25–30 million years, making it one of the most ancient lakes in geological history.

The lake is completely surrounded by mountains. The Baikal Mountains on the north shore and the taiga are technically protected as a national park. Baikal contains 27 islands; the largest, Olkhon, is 72 km (45 mi) long and is the third-largest lake-bound island in the world.

Lake Baikal is rich in biodiversity. It hosts 1,085 species of plants and 1,550 species and varieties of animals. More than 80% of the animals are endemic. Baikal Seal (the only freshwater seal in the world.), omul (a type of salmon found in Lake Baikal), and a large number of bird species represent only a partial list of Baikal's diverse wildlife.

The color of Baikal's water is close to that of the sea. It is similar dark blue or blue green In winter this lake is almost completely covered in ice. Due to the cleanness of water the ice looks transparent. The thickness of the ice layer is up to 1 meter by the end of winter.

Baikal Lake has been the important holy place of Asia for many centuries. Indigenous people call Lake Baikal the "Sacred Sea" in admiration of its majestic beauty and size. Despite its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lake Baikal continues to come under threat from industrial pollution, agricultural run-off and other environmental problems, including nearby mining activities and potential oil and gas exploration.

Trips to Lake Baikal are the incomparable travel experience. The area offers an abundance of activities like trekking, biking, camping, kayaking, fishing, sightseeing, boating trips - to name a few. Whatever the activity you choose stay friendly to this unique "Pearl of Siberia."

Read about Russian architectural wonders

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