Posted: 09.09.2022 12:40:00

The attraction of the native land

New excursions, improved hotel stock, camping sites: how the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve manages to attract tourists

There are many unique historical and natural places in Belarus. The pandemic and the difficult situation with travel logistics pushed us to get to know our native shore better. And, as many admit, the recreation in their homeland not only did not disappoint, but also captivated and delighted them. 

Long-standing tradition 

Spread over almost 86,000 hectares, more than half of which are swamps, the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve is the only territory in the country with the highest protected status. And this is no accident, because it contains countless rare and protected species of plants and animals. By the way, the number of bears here is huge for our latitudes — about 80 individuals. In addition, all this great variety is not only carefully maintained, but also demonstrated to tourists. Director of the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve Andrei Prokoshin says that domestic tourism has been around for a long time. Moreover, the scope of the reserve is much wider — from scientific to tourist. The leader says, “Nevertheless, tourism is widely represented in our country. We have been exchanging experience with colleagues from Europe, Russia and other countries for many years. Over the past ten years, we have focused on creating favourable conditions for our guests. We improved the infrastructure for museum and excursion work, improved the hotel fund.”
Today, visitors of the reserve have not one, but a number of facilities where they can stay at their disposal. These are the following hotel complexes: Serguch for 100 places, Plavno — for 50, Nivki tourist complex — for 44. There are three catering facilities.
A specially equipped camper parking lot for ten places in Nivki is a piece of particular pride, and we made sure of this fact. The new facility was put into operation in August. The administration of the reserve assures that there are no such facilities in structures of other protected areas yet. So, the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve is a pioneer in this sense.

Myths and legends 

It must be admitted that tourism in protected areas is not an easy task. After all, when creating any product, it is important to remember about nature. Nevertheless, Andrei Prokoshin is convinced that the activists of the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve succeeded in finding a golden mean. Well, this is confirmed by the facts: amid a bunch of successes in the field of tourism, the reserve again proved its compliance with all environmental requirements, having defended its A-diploma of the highest category for ten years at the latest audit of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Any event, no matter how entertaining it may be, has a popularising effect on nature and ecology. For this purpose, says Andrei Prokoshin, unique excursions have been developed from the category of observing the life of wild animals, “Here one can observe the life of bears in the wild. In early spring, one can see belling black grouse, capercaillie, a colony of waders, flying dragonfly, as well as the blooming of the lady’s-slipper orchid. Here one can hear the roar of a deer in autumn. We offer trips on bicycles, kayaks. But since not everyone is fond of this, we hold various cultural events dedicated to the holidays, as well as festivals. Kupala Night, Belarusian Halloween — Veles Night are quite popular. Recently, the Tsmok’s Way annual mythological festival was held.”
Moreover, the museums established on the territory of the reserve are more interesting and creative than many others. Take at least the museum of honey. Its territory is small, but there is a real glazed beehive with access outside the building, where one can see the real life of bees. No less original is the Museum of Slavic Mythology, where the beliefs of our ancestors are collected in a unique manner. 
During the pandemic, the reserve made a rebranding of its travel services. The Forest Zoo survived the reconstruction, a number of new objects appeared. When the restrictions were lifted, they were ahead of the game here. And they offered the guests both new and older objects. For example, in addition to the popular Forest Zoo, a Pet Zoo has appeared. Today, and we are convinced of this, both objects are well visited.

With a focus on the domestic tourist   

Andrei Prokoshin informs that the geography of tourists is quite broad even in the current difficult time. Of course, most of them are guests from Russia. However, there are guests from Georgia, Czech Republic, France, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Estonia, Slovakia, Norway, Great Britain, Germany, Lithuania, Israel. Andrei Prokoshin notes, “Despite all the difficulties, we were visited by more than 2,000 foreign guests over the seven months of this year. We were visited by about 10,000 foreign guests in pre-COVID-19 year. So, we need to regain momentum.”
However, the interlocutor emphasises, the peculiarity of this year is the increased number of Belarusian tourists, “In 2021, out of over 75,000 of our guests, there were about 74,000 Belarusians. In general, the number of tourists is growing. According to the trend of this year, we will also observe an increase. Thus, for seven months, more than 46,000 people visited the reserve, of which about 44,000 are our residents. And this is without taking into account the peak of New Year’s visits. I can say that COVID-19 and other restrictions have helped the people of the country to understand Belarus, to see its true beauty: castles, national parks, nature reserves and museums. That is, our task is not to stand still and offer something new.”
In addition, the reserve operates in constant motion. So, for the next five years, according to the head, three grandiose projects have been outlined here, sources of funding have been identified, “One of the objects is the park with the conditional name ‘Bird Kingdom: a view from the inside’. Here, all the birds of our forest will be kept semi-free. A person will be able to see the life of a linnet, flycatcher, jay and other birds from the inside through some interactives — with the help of special equipment and webcams. The second object is the Home Park, where enlarged dwellings of various animals will be presented. The visitor will be able to descend into the hornet’s nest, where the ‘revived’ hornet will be located. Or in an anthill where 2 million ants live. In addition, they have their own storage facilities, incubation chambers, and cemeteries. The third object is a game with augmented virtual reality that immerses a person into the world of Belarusian mythology. There are no analogues of such entertainment at other protected sites in Belarus, and possibly beyond its borders.”
It should be noted that with a large variety of entertainment, the cost of services is quite affordable here.     

By Vera Arteaga
Photos by Aleksei Matyush and from open sources