Greater Altai (Алтай), bordering on Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, consists of the Altai Territory and the Altai Republic. The Altai Territory, while pleasant enough, is most noteworthy as a gateway to the wonders of the unforgettable Altai Republic. This sprawling and sparsely populated region is home to over 7000 lakes, snow-capped mountains – including Siberia’s highest peak (Mt Belukha, 4506m). The Altai Republic has long been regarded as an area of spiritual and occult significance, and Russian philosopher and painter Nikolai Rerikh (Nicholas Roerich) visited the region in the early 20th century in an attempt to locate the entrance to Shambala, the mythical enlightened land of Tibetan Buddhism. He failed, but you might not…
Gorno-Altaisk, the capital of the Altai Republic, is the logical jumping-off point to most of Altai's attractions. Be sure to get your visa registered here before heading onwards. Also note that if you plan to do any trekking in the high peaks of southern Altai you'll need a border permit. If you are heading to Ust-Koksa or beyond (including Tyungur), you will also need a border permit. If you are heading to Mongolia you will not need a permit as long as you don't venture off the M52 highway (aka the Chuysky Trakt).
Prices remain low across Altai, one of Russia’s poorest regions. For maps, try the Dom Knigi shops in any big city, which sporadically stock 1:200,000 Altai sheets.