The government of Belarus has introduced visa-free entry for visitors to the Augustow Canal staying for a period of up to five days. This new rule will be in force until 31 December 2017 and can be prolonged for an indefinite period.
This visa-free policy applies to travellers entering Belarus from Poland at the border crossings of Lesnaya (Rudawka) and Bruzgi (Kuznica Bialostocka), as well as those entering from Lithuania at the border crossings of Privalka (Svendubre) and Privalka (Raigardas). Exact locations to be included in the visa-free regime will be known soon, but it primarily covers the special tourist and recreation park Augustow Canal and the surrounding area. Other proposed locations are the town of Hrodna (Grodno in Russian) and nearby agri-tourism complexes and villages along the Neman river.
The cross-border Augustow Canal was built in the 19th century and connects Poland and Belarus. As it’s surrounded by lakes and coniferous forests, in the 20th century it developed into a popular tourist route offering canoeing, sailing and boating opportunities. But it is not the first sight in Belarus that has been made visa-free for foreign visitors. In 2015 the policy (although only for stays of up to three days) was first introduced for travellers coming to Unesco-listed Belavezhskaya Pushcha national park from neighbouring Poland, where half of the park’s territory lies. The park is the oldest wildlife refuge in Europe and it’s most famous for its 300 or so European bison, the continent’s largest land mammal.
Visas for Belarus are needed by citizens of almost every country and they should be arranged before arrival. Travellers who are staying in Belarus for more than five working days must also have their visa officially registered with the authorities.