Life in Russia was infamous during the brutal and paranoid rule of Joseph Stalin. From the 1930s to the 1950s countless millions of people perished from many causes directly and indirectly at the hands of this criminal regime. The Gulags were the infamous forced labor camps that the Soviet Union became known for.

Russia is a massive land with an incredibly deep history. There is so much to see and explore here and yet it is visited by so few tourists. Most who do go only visit St. Petersburg, Moscow, and ride on the Trans-Siberian railway. One place everyone should check out is the eerie "City of the Dead" in southern Russia.

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What Were The Gulags?

Gulag is an acronym for Гла́вное управле́ние лагере́й - or in English "chief administration of the camps". They were used from the 1930s into the 1950s for political prisoners, petty criminals, and others. The conditions were often horrendous and many of the unfortunate prisoners sent there never returned. 

  • Period: From the 1930s to the 1950s
  • Type: Forced Labor Camps

During the wartime years of 1942-43 conditions were the worst having yearly mortality rates of 20%, this improved post-war with it falling to 1%-3% in the 1950s. By 1956 the mortality rate had dropped to 0.4%.

  • Number of Prisons: An Estimated 18 Million Were Sent To the Gulags

It is estimated that 18 million people were sent to the Gulags (of which around 1.5 - 1.7 never returned). Following the death of Stalin, there was a process of de-Stalinization by Khrushchev and a limited general amnesty was declared immediately. The Gulag system had come to a complete end by the beginning of 1960.

Today, one can visit these infamous camps in Russia (though they are to be found in the other post-Soviet republics as well). One will also get to see some of the extreme destinations in Russia that most tourists miss out on.

Even though they haven't existed for the last 60 or more years they still often color the impression people have of Russia. It is not uncommon for some people to be surprised that one would be visiting Russia and ask if one is not scared of being locked up in a Gulag. Today visiting Russia is safe, the people are welcoming and friendly, and no one needs to worry.

Related: What To Know About Visiting The Moscow Kremlin In Russia

Magadan: Soviet Gulag Tour

The Magadan: Soviet Gulag Tour is offered by the tour group Young Pioneers and offers tours into some of the darkest histories of Magadan and the Kolyma region. The Kolyma region is in the Far East of Russia near Alaska. This region is exceptionally inhospitable and cold and remote.

It became home to the "Road of Bones" - a highway stretching thousands of miles and costing thousands of lives. Prisoners who perished were often just buried there and became a part of the road.

This tour will explore some of the remote gulags, ghost towns, and other Soviet relics that were left abandoned following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This is an action-packed adventure with camping in abandoned gulags miles from anywhere as well as fishing in the Arctic waters of the Sea of Okhotsk and other adventures.

  • Note: Minimum Of Four People Are Required To Be Scheduled
  • Start Date: July 25th, 2022
  • End Date: July 31st, 2022
  • Price: €1895 ($2,240)
  • Duration: 6 nights, 7 days
  • Included: All Accommodation in Twin-Share Hotels, all Transport (as Per the Itinerary), Admission Fee, English Speaking Guide, Breakfasts

Related: 10 Mistakes All Rookies Make During Their First Time In Russia

3-Day Guided Tour Yakutsk to Soviet GULAGs

For another option consider this tour to the Gulag camps called "YanStroi". This was one of the toughest places for the unfortunate prisoners to survive. The prisoners were assigned the task of constructing a road to the North through the Big and Small Olchan Mountain Passes.

These camps are in such remote parts that they have been mostly untouched since they were abandoned. This will be a trip of a lifetime and one will be starting in the Siberian locations of Yakutsk before heading truly into the remote wilderness.

  • Option: On Request, They are Accessible in The Winter
  • Group size: 1-4 Persons
  • Trip Duration: 3 days / 2 Nights
  • Recommended period: January till the First Week of April
  • Location of the visit: Camps are located between Topolinoe and the Kolyma Federal Road
  • Starting Point: Yakutsk in Russia’s Siberia
  • Cost: Contact So that They cAn Calculate a Precise Travel Budget
  • Includes: England Language Guide, Transport, Accommodation in Teply Klyuch (Twin Rooms - No Breakfast), Entry Tickets, Accommodation in Khandyga (Twin Rooms - No Breakfast)

Virtual Tour

If one can't visit Russia, then one can have a virtual tour of the gulags with Gulag Online. Relax in the comfort of one's own home as one explores some of the remotest places on earth and their unforgettable tales.

Next: Moscow, Russia: Planning The Perfect Weekend