Mysteries of the Far North

Exploring Russia’s White Sea aboard the Island Sky

Mysteries of the Far North route-map

Trip Details at-a-Glance

Cost From: $13,970  
Length: 18 days
Arrive: St. Petersburg, Russia
Depart: Oslo, Norway
Lodging: 2 nights hotels, 14 nights aboard 114-passenger expedition vessel
Meals: All meals included aboard ship and with the group ashore
Activity: Small Ship Cruising
Trip Level: 16-day cruise, cultural explorations and walking tours

Choosing the Right Trip

We work hard to help you choose the right trip for you, paying attention to your individual interests, abilities, and needs. If you have questions about the level of comfort or any of the activities described in this itinerary, please contact us.


We are proud to have an exceptionally high rate of repeat travelers. For more information, we would be happy to put you in touch with a client who has traveled with us.

This expedition to Russia’s remote White Sea, an area long closed to Western travelers, brings us sublime beauty, plentiful wildlife, and a long and fascinating history. In the fabled Solovetskiy Archipelago, we learn of ancient legends, view millennia-old archaeological finds, stroll through island flora in remote valleys, and explore splendid architectural monuments, including the fortress-like Solovetskiy Monastery, a World Heritage Site founded by hermit monks in the 15th century. Our voyage also includes plenty of wildlife watching, from Arctic terns, puffins, razorbills, and guillemots to, with luck, playful beluga whales.


Days 1-2
St. Petersburg, Russia

Fly to St. Petersburg, Russia. Upon arrival, transfer to the Hotel Astoria. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax or explore. In the evening we gather at the hotel for a welcome dinner.

Day 3
Arkhangelsk / Embark Island Sky

After breakfast, we fly to Arkhangelsk, Russia’s first seaport, founded by Ivan the Terrible in 1584. Upon arrival, we enjoy a lunch of traditional Russian foods at a local restaurant, then visit the lively farmers' market where a local guide highlights the culinary heritage of the Russian north. We drive past the city’s architectural landmarks as we head to the Island Sky, which remains alongside overnight.

Day 4
Arkhangelsk / Mudiug Island

With easy access to the Barents, White, and Arctic Seas, Arkhangelsk became the first city in Russia to establish trade relations with foreign merchants. On our city tour we explore the highlights of Arkhangelsk, including the old quarter with its eclectic architecture, the harbor, embarkation point for many historic polar expeditions, and the Merchant Yard and museum, a unique example of Russian architecture from the second half of the 17th century. We enjoy lunch on board as the Island Sky cruises down the Dvina River to Mudiug Island. Here we go ashore to learn about the North Russia Intervention during the early 20th century and visit the former prison camp.

Day 5
Solovki Island

We spend a full day exploring Solovki Island, the main island of the Solovetskiy chain. The first hermit monks gathered on Solovki Island during the mid-1400s and founded the Solovetskiy Monastery, which gradually took over administration of the islands and later came to play an important role in the defense of the Russian north. To connect the rapidly expanding compound and the many lakes that dot the island, the monks constructed a network of canals, creating both a source of fresh water and a highway for the transportation of goods. By the 17th century, more than 300 monks had built one of the largest monasteries in the world, and during the course of its 500-year span, an amazing assemblage of architecture. We explore the magnificent Kremlin with its eight towers and thick rock walls surrounding the St. Nicholas Church, the Assumption Cathedral and Transfiguration Cathedral, and the museum of the infamous Gulag camp established here during the 1920s. We also visit inland hermitages and churches, the botanical garden, and weather permitting, board small boats for a cruise along the stone-lined canals.

Day 6
Anzerskiy Island

The second largest island of the Solovetskiy chain, Anzerskiy is endowed with lovely, unspoiled forests and crystal-clear lakes. It is also the site of an active skete (monastic community), where we learn about the history of the monastery, including its time as a prison camp, and modern monastic life in these ethereal surroundings.

Day 7
Zayatskiy Island / Kuzova Island

We go ashore on Zayatskiy Island, where prehistoric labyrinths and burial mounds are believed to be the remains of temporary Neolithic settlements. On Kuzova Island, we observe numerous seid, stones stacked in various configurations by ancient Sami people.

Days 8-9
Karelia Region

As we head along the rugged western coast of the White Sea, we make several stops to visit rustic villages and stroll along pebbly beaches to peaceful fishing hamlets of simple wooden houses surrounded by lush evergreen forest and commanding views. We also explore the coast by Zodiac to witness countless seals and seabirds, including eiders and guillemots.

Day 10
Kola Peninsula

The Pomors (people of the coast) traveled from the Russian mainland in the east and settled permanently along the Kola Peninsula in the 13th-14th centuries. Along with reindeer herding and fishing for salmon, herring, and cod, their summer farming enterprise includes the dehydration of mushrooms and berries.

Days 11-12
Expedition Stops / Kanin Peninsula

Wind, sea conditions, and tides determine our course during two days of expedition cruising as we travel north along the coast toward the Kanin Peninsula. We explore the region by Zodiac and visit subsistence fishing villages never-before visited by foreign passenger ships. There is also a good chance to see wild Atlantic salmon spawning in the numerous rivers that lace the peninsula.

Day 13
Sem Islands

Our cruise brings us along the northern coast of the remote Kola Peninsula, a wilderness of vast tundra, mountains, spectacular waterfalls, and some of the oldest forests in Europe.

Day 14

Murmansk, the world’s largest city north of the Arctic Circle, was founded in 1916. Our city tour includes the major cargo port and its impressive fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers, the Orthodox Church, Savior-on-Waters, a lighthouse with panoramic views of the city, and the Murmansk Museum. We also witness the city’s many monuments commemorating its short, but intense history, its maritime heritage, and military struggles.

Day 15
Kirkenes, Norway

We go ashore in Kirkenes and drive south into the Pasvik Valley, which fits like a wedge between Russia and Finland. Here we take nature walks to observe the valley’s unique birds and plants. After returning to the ship for lunch, we visit the scenic settlement of Grense Jakobselv, just across from the Russian border.

Day 16
North Cape

North Cape (Nordkapp), commonly referred to as the northernmost point of the European continent, sits on a 1,000-foot-high plateau that rises dramatically from the Barents Sea. Historical exhibits and a film about the region are highlights of the impressive edge-of-the-world visitor center. This afternoon, we're on deck as the ship cruises along the coast of Norway, keeping watch for puffins, kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, cormorants, Arctic skuas, and with luck, majestic white-tailed eagles.

Day 17
Tromso / Oslo

We disembark in Tromso, known as the “Gateway to the Arctic,” for a tour of this charming university city. We enjoy incredible views from Mount Storsteinen, visit the unique Arctic Cathedral, and explore the Polar Museum. After lunch, we fly to Oslo and transfer to our hotel for overnight.

Day 18
Oslo / Depart

After breakfast at our hotel, transfer to the airport for independent flights homeward.

Note: This cruise is not an exclusive Wilderness Travel departure. The itinerary, lecturers, and other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the ship operator.

What the Trip is Like

The trip is rated Level 1, Easiest, and is appropriate for anyone in good health who is physically active. Zodiac landing crafts are used to explore the coastline and transport passengers ashore for walks to wildlife sanctuaries, scenic nature areas, and the remains of ancient settlements. Some agility is required for getting in and out of the Zodiac landing crafts.

Explanation of Trip Levels



Future dates have not been set for this itinerary. Please contact us if you would like to be notified of trip dates once they are available.

Trip Cost

Prices are for 2014

Cruise Rates by Cabin Category
Per person, double occupancy

CategoriesCruise Price
Category 1 $13,970
Category 2 $15,770
Category 3 $16,970
Category 4 $18,970
Category 5 $20,170
Category 6 $21,170
Sole occupancy Category 2 from: $19,770
Sole occupancy Category 3 from: $21,270

Deck Plan

Cabin Descriptions

  • All cabins feature ocean views and have two twin beds that can be reconfigured into one queen, a sitting area, en suite bathroom, large wardrobes, vanity table, small refrigerator, television, personal safe, hairdryer, assorted toiletries, individually controlled air-conditioning and heating, and American-style outlets (two flat prongs) at 110 volts
  • Magellan Deck cabins are 230 square feet and have two to four portholes
  • Columbus Deck cabins are 240 square feet with large picture windows
  • Marco Polo Deck cabins range between 225 to 240 square feet and feature large picture windows
  • Erikson Deck cabins are 270 square feet including private balconies
  • Explorer Deck cabins are 325 square feet including private balconies

Trip Cost Includes:

  • Accommodations in our hotels and on board Island Sky as outlined in the itinerary
  • All meals onboard the ship and group meals on land
  • Arrival and departure transfers on group dates
  • Services of the expedition staff, including lectures, briefings, slide/film shows
  • All group activities and excursions
  • Landing and port fees
  • All gratuities

Trip Cost Does Not Include:

All air transportation; excess baggage charges; airport arrival and departure taxes; transfers for independent arrivals and departures; passport and/or visa fees; items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar charges, alcoholic beverages, e-mail/Internet/fax/telephone charges.

Trip Payment Schedule*

At time of reservation: 25%
130 days prior to departure: Balance

*Please note that this differs from our regular catalog departures.

Cancellation and Transfer Fee Schedule*

120 days or more prior to departure: $750 per person
60-119 days prior to departure: 50% of trip cost
1-59 days prior to departure: 100% of trip cost

*Please note that this differs from our regular catalog departures.

Island Sky

One of the finest small ships in the world, the Island Sky features 53 spacious, outside-facing suites with marble-appointed bathrooms. Each suite includes a flat-screen TV with DVD player, hairdryer, individually controlled air-conditioning, and mini-fridge. High quality service and attention to detail are the order of the day aboard the Island Sky, with an on-board atmosphere more similar to a yacht than a cruise ship. Having undergone significant refurbishment in 2010, she features a large lounge, a library and bar, and an elegant dining room as well as spacious outside decks. The ship’s relatively small size lets her drop anchor in remote areas and in small ports where larger ships can’t go, and the fleet of inflatable zodiacs offers access in wonderfully remote places. Island Sky has a staff and crew of 75.