During our visit to Perm, a small city that is a day’s train ride from Moscow, we enlisted the help of a tour company Evrasia Travel Bureau. They set up a day tour from Perm to GULAG Perm 36 and Kungur Ice Caves.
This post was written in collaboration with Evrasia travel Bureau who organised our tour and guide. We paid for our food and entrance fees.
After The GULAG Perm 36
The first half of our day was spent at GULAG camp Perm 36.
We decided to drive to the ice caves before getting food and thanked Azat profusely for whacking the heating up in the car.
Arriving at Kungur Ice Caves
We turned up at the Kungur Ice Caves complex a little late. The lady behind the ticket window was not happy with us. My Russian is completely lacking but her tone was very clear!
Luckily Azat sweet talked her and from around the corner appeared our tour guide for the ice caves. They let us run into the restaurant to grab some food. The restaurant was very cute, with an interior like a ski lodge. Apparently, the food here is great, but we really didn’t have time so I scoffed a pack of ham flavour crisps…classy.
A Little Information About Kungur Ice Caves
The Kungur Caves is a network of 48 grottos and around 70 lakes naturally carved from the gypsum rock of the hills. They were formed between 10,000-12,000 years ago.
Peter the Great sent a chap called Simeon Remezov, a famous geographer to map the caves way back in 1703. However, it was Alexey Timofeevich Hlebnikov that made it commercial enterprise. He rented it from the local population in 1914 and began taking guests down for a fee. It was very different experience with less developed paths, little to no lighting and none of those handy emergency telephones. The cave system is 5,700 metres long, but the part of it that visitors see is 2,000m. It takes around an hour and a half to go through.
The Ice Caves
The Diamond Grotto
We passed through the first door and into a world of ice. Light glinted and glittered across the frozen surfaces. It was pretty cold down in the cave and condensation emerged every time we breathed. However, it was actually warmer than the world outside, which I was thrilled about!
The first three stops were my favourite. I was transfixed by the ice crystals and their shimmering beauty.
In summer, when the temperature struggles to stay so low, visitors need to walk through the first two grottos without stopping. That means you need to have your camera ready! We didn’t realise that the ice on the ceiling was finishing after the second grotto and so we rushed through dutifully and didn’t get the best photos. Mind you, capturing that sparkle is very hard on a still photo.
The Rock Caves
Dante and the Ice Sculptures
The first rock cavern you enter is called the Dante Grotto. Just check out that intense red light. This is your first hint that the Kungur Ice caves are going to be a multi-coloured affair.
In the distance, we spotted some ice sculptures. We asked and Darya, the guide, said that more are added every year so there is always something new to see. She gave us a quick history of how the caves were formed here as we gazed at the smooth, frozen works of art. Somewhere between sublime and tacky, ice sculptures are always interesting.
We explored the Cross Grotto next. It is not called the Cross Grotto for the obvious reason. They have erected that cross since tourism began here. The name comes from the small, simple wooden crosses found in this cave when it was first mapped. Were there people hiding here? Were they living here? Nobody knows.
The Dragon Grotto
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Take one cool little cave with ice stalactites, backlight with a scary red et voila! Instant dragon. I do think this is pretty awesome though.
After this cave, we took some stairs down and the temperature warmed up a few degrees. There was no more ice after this.
The Women’s Tears Steps
When the caves opened as a proper tourist attraction in 1914, one of the intrepid adventurers to visit was Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s daughter. She tripped up the stairs and injured her leg, shedding tears with the pain. Now, if you are lucky to hurt yourself whilst ascending this little set of stairs, you are bound to marry. The legend doesn’t specify that you’ll get a prince as she did, but we can hope!
I have no idea how we missed getting a photo of these but we loved the story.
The Reef Grotto
Tip this photo upside down and it looks like a coral reef… maybe I’ll do it for you.
I’m not going to tell you what the next one is. I don’t want to spoil the surprise. But yes, FUN!
I can’t remember the name of this one but I think it was another underwater type name. To me, it is like the morning after the night before getting drunk with the Lost Boys from the film Hook. Sorry if that makes no sense you, but they had some weird food!
The Great Lake
This is one of the 70 lakes in the caves but it was my favourite. It was crystal clear and so still that it took me a minute to realise there was water here at all. Apparently, people come here to swim once a year in the “not too cold” water. I am obviously not as hardy as the Russians because 4°C doesn’t sound all that appealing.
In the water here are small creatures related to prawns. Having evolved in a totally dark environment, they are totally blind. Being quite blind myself, I struggled to see them in the little tank they have to show people. It was only when I zoomed in on the photos afterwards that I saw the little guy.
Heres one for the geology fans out there. That is some beautiful sedimentary rock. This is one of the ways they know that there used to be a sea here.
Leaving the Kungur Ice Caves
Be prepared ladies and gents to be slightly ashamed of your exit. You start to climb up a shallow slope towards a door. Don’t think that this it. You repeat the same thing about 8 times, each new tunnel section dropping in temperature (at least that is what it was like in early February). We emerged puffing and panting whilst desperately trying to pretend it was just cold that was making us breathless.
Kungur Ice Caves
Darya was incredibly sweet, and a wonderful tour guide. If they all that good then you’ll have a nice time. Remember that the cave is cold all year, that is why the ice doesn’t melt. We were already wrapped up for the cold but if it summer do take many ayers to snuggle into.
Evrasia Travel Bureau Review
There are a few tour operators that organise day trips from Perm but we are always keen to keep the money we spend in local pockets. We found Evrasia Travel Bureau in Lonely Planet and checked them out on their website. They had lots of tours and services on offer but as we were so short of time in Perm, we reached out to them to organise us a bespoke tour. They couldn’t have been more accommodating.
Plus, we REALLY needed a translator! Most of the signage in Perm 36 were in Cyrillic and we would have missed out on a lot of detail. Also, we wouldn’t have had a clue about anything Darya said in the ice caves without the Azat’s translation.
We had a wonderful visit to Kungur Ice Caves and Perm-36. It would have been impossible to visit both locations on the same day using public transport and this doing as a guided day tour from Perm was a fantastic option. We enjoyed the company of Azat and he even dropped us, with our luggage straight to our hostel. What a splendid service. If you are coming to Perm, look Evrasia Travel Bureau and see what they can do for you!