Tiksi developed during Soviet times as a trade outpost along the northern Arctic shore. About 1,000 km away from the nearest city, Tiksi is an extremely remote settlement in a desolate Arctic wasteland. Dating from the Soviet era, most of the city has a monotonous look of concrete buildings, and the harsh climate prevents effective outside maintenance.
Built in 1933 under the rule of Stalin, Tiksi grew to be a bustling port along the Northern sea route, and became the unofficial capital of the Russian Arctic. Coal found under the city attracted workers from all over the Soviet Union, and coal mines sprouted in the landscape. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, trade along the route declined in favour of the longer but safer Suez Canal route, and with it Tiksi's economy collapsed. Without Soviet subsidies, coal lost its economic value, and the mines closed one after one. In less than 30 years, the towns population has plummeted by 60%, and many buildings were abandoned. The large number of mothballed concrete structures dotting the city give it an even more depressing outlook.
Nowadays little remains of the once flourishing arctic trade. Quay walls, cranes, and other shipping infrastructure have been rusting away for a quarter century. Many ships have been abandoned in its docks and are stuck in the ice. There are plans to upgrade the infrastructure, but without a strong economy to support them, investments are unlikely. The Russian Navy is the largest employer in the town, maintaining a military base to defend the Russian Arctic.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Above the Arctic Circle, Tiksi has a polar sea climate. Temperatures are above zero from June to September and drop gradually at the end of summer. From November, the long polar winter kicks in and Tiksi does not receive any more sunlight until February. The tundra transforms into an icy wasteland, and with no sun to warm up the landscape, temperatures drop to -30° for the next 4 months. Snow falls from September to May.
From March, temperatures slowly rise, and April is the sunniest month in Tiksi. Summers are wet and cool, with ample rainfall to keep residents indoors even in summer! The average temperature in July and August is only 12°C, so travellers can save space in their luggage by keeping t-shirts home! July and August are the best months to visit Tiksi.
There are roads connecting Tiksi over land, but the vast distance and inhospitable Arctic climate make the journey hazardous. There are no coach services or other transportation options connecting Tiksi over land.
The easiest way to get into Tiksi, and for most the only way, is by plane.
- 1 Tiksi Airport (Tiksi Aerodrom, IKS IATA). Used for civil and military flights, and the majority of passengers, food, and medicine reach the city by air. Polar Airlines and Yakutia Airlines operate flights to Tiksi, and there is a daily connection with an Antonov-24 or Antonov-26. Seats are limited to ca 50 per day, so make sure you have a reservation well in advance.
For the more adventurous traveller, hitchhiking on one of the few cargo ships mooring at the Tiksi dock may be a cheaper alternative than air fares. The option is self-evidently unreliable, and not for the faint of heart -- the arctic climate is unforgiving, and ships occasionally do get stuck in the ice.
During the summer months, there are ferry services between Tiksi and neighbouring settlements along the Russian Arctic coastline.
There is no public transport in Tiksi, so the only way to get around is by foot.
- 1 Museum of Ust-Lena Reserve (Музей Усть-Ленского заповедника), Akademika Fedeoova. Founded by Alexander Gukov from the Russian Geographic Society, the museum is dedicated to the history of Tiksi with a strong emphasis on paleontology and archaeology. It has numerous taxidermied animals on display, but its crown piece is the nearly complete skeleton of a mammoth.
- 2 Seaport. Watch ships rusting away in their icy tombs. There are 7 ships stuck in the ice covering the abandoned docks of Tiksi. It is unsafe to attempt to enter them, but viewing from the quay walls is equally satisfactory.
- 3 Orthodox Church (Церковь Серафима Вырицкого и Николая Чудотворца), Leninskaya Ulitsa 12. An Orthodox church with a gold plated cupola, one of the few buildings in Tiksi that look like at least some efforts have been spent on architecture at all.
The Arctic climate is prohibitive for most outdoor activities, but if the weather permits it, walks along the Arctic shoreline are a good way to explore the area.
- 1 Leisure centre (Культурно-спортивный комплекс), Vostochnaya. Tiksi's only community and leisure centre.
- 2 Cinema (Культурно-спортивный комплекс), Vostochnaya. Tiksi's only cinema, showing national and occasionally also international movies. Russian-language only.
There is no accommodation in Tiksi because of its remoteness, but travellers should have no problems finding a host family to spend the night. Even if you only speak a few words Russian, visitors are so rare in Tiksi that locals are likely to invite you out of curiosity.
Sleeping on the ferry is also a viable alternative.
The economy of Tiksi is struggling, and unemployment is high. Speaking Russian fluently is a requirement, and even then the chance of finding work is rather low, with the exception of highly skilled engineers and technicians who always find work in the oil and gas industry.
The cold climate, clean air, and diet dominated by fish and vegetables are beneficial to health on the long run, but travellers visiting from warmer climates may find themselves vulnerable to colds. Bringing nose spray along is advisable.
Make no mistake, the Arctic climate is unforgiving to poorly prepared travellers. Tiksi's airport is its lifeline to supply food and medicine, and interruptions of the service immediately have serious consequences. When the airport's runway had to be closed in 2012 for repair works, it resulted in a famine that lasted for 7 months. Interruptions in the diesel-fueled desalination and heating systems pose a serious threat to town inhabitants and visitors alike. During winter, temperatures routinely drop below −30 °C (−22 °F) and can even reach −50 °C (−58 °F), making hypothermia a serious threat. Every year, people freeze to death — sometimes even in their own homes. If you have the choice, visit Tiksi between May and October, when temperatures are mostly above zero.
When venturing into the Arctic tundra, bears pose a threat to travellers if provoked or disturbed while protecting their cubs. In winter, when food resources are scarce, hungry wolf packs may be tempted to attack unattended children.
The vast Arctic tundra surrounding Tiksi is essentially a desolate, lawless wilderness, and traversing it over land is dangerous. There are few outposts along the way, if any at all. Satellite modems are the only communication method, and an absolute necessity if you consider venturing into the tundra. Never leave the city on your own, and take an experienced guide along if possible. Many maps of the surrounding area may be out of date for decades, and any outposts or settlements marked on them are likely to have been abandoned. The dangers cannot be emphasized enough: countless people have died in the tundra from attacks by wild animals or bandits, or disappeared without a trace. Especially in winter months, your vehicle breaking down or running out of fuel will likely be deadly because you will freeze to death before help can reach you.