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  • Overview

    Despite being landlocked, Belarus is a country apartset apart from its continental neighbours. It has stoutly resistedintegration into Europe as well as the embrace of capitalism shownby other former Eastern Bloc countries.

    While such isolationism has its negatives - thetyrannical rule of its president and its stringent visarequirements foremost among them - Belarus's Soviet-era atmosphereand relative isolation are also its primary attractions.

    Not many visitors include Belarus in their summervacation plans, but those that do get to experience a portion ofEurope almost entirely free of consumerist trappings, litter, andadvertising.

    Moreover, foreign investment is discouraged andprivate enterprise is virtually non-existent, which results in acountry that has evolved little in the last 20 years, providingvisitors with a sense of time standing still.

    There is no doubt that in many ways life in Belarusis hard for the populace, and the country has suffered more thanits fair share of misery in its history, including losing more thantwo million of its people (particularly Jews) during the Nazioccupation of World War II.

    In 1986, Belarus suffered the fallout from theChernobyl nuclear power plant disaster just across its border inneighbouring Ukraine. Yet there is much that is bright andbeautiful in the culture and natural attractions of Belarus.

    Beyond the clean Stalinist lines of its capitalMinsk, the tiny towns and villages of Belarus have medievalatmospheres and the national parks contain mysterious forests,murky bogs and swamps, thousands of smooth lakes, and a fascinatingarray of unspoilt eco-systems, fauna, and flora.

    Visitors are encouraged to enjoy the great outdoorsin the Vitebsk Region, where there are almost 50 designated touristroutes involving hiking, cycling, boating, hunting, and fishing.While hotels and health spas offer rest and relaxation, there arealso art and music festivals throughout the region.

    Belarus is a destination that rewards those seekingan original travel experience, with welcoming people, pristinenature, and traditional villages, all spiced up with interestingglimpses into a Soviet past that appears to live on in thecountry's isolated present.

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    English Pronounciation

    This humid, damp city has precipitation on most days of theyear, with wet summers and snowy winters. The climate in Minsk is,however, moderate with an average January temperature of 21°F(-6°C) and an average July temperature of 64°F (18°C).

    Winters (December to February) are mild, with snow likely, whilesummers (June to August) are warm and usually damp; two thirds ofthe annual precipitation falls during the summer months. May toSeptember is the warmest time of year, while fog is common duringthe autumn and spring.

    Belarus has a temperate continental climate, withcold, snowy winters and warm, pleasant summers. Humidity andprecipitation is generally high all year round. Expect rain insummer or snow in winter. In the north of the country, winters aremore extreme with the temperature often plummeting well belowzero.

    The warm summer months between May and September areconsidered the best time to visit Belarus, and Minsk especially.Summer temperatures stay pleasant, seldom rising above 77°F (25°C).Travellers should be sure to pack a jacket or umbrella, however, assummers in Belarus are rainy, especially in June and August. Wintertemperatures in Belarus often drop below zero, and there istypically snow from December to April.

    Minsk National Airport
    Location: The airport is situated about 25 miles (40km) east of theBelarussian capital city of Minsk.
    Time: Local time is GMT +3.
    Getting to the city: Buses and taxis are available for the hour-long journey to thecity. The airport bus, which connects to the central train stationon a hourly basis, is a far cheaper option.
    Fascilities: Airport facilities include a restaurant, shops, baggage wrappingservices, an information desk, ATMs, currency exchange services,and a VIP lounge.
    Parking Guarded parking at the airport is available in two parking lots,for a fee.
    Website: www.airport.by
    Money:

    The currency is the Belarussian ruble (BYR), which is equal to100 kapeks. As of 2016, coins have been introduced due toredonomination, the first in the country's history. Currency can beexchanged at banks and official bureaux de change in Minsk and thelarger towns. US Dollars and Euros are preferred and somecurrencies may not be accepted.

    Mastercard and Visa are accepted at the larger hotels andtourist restaurants, but other cards, like American Express andDiscovery, may not be accepted at all. ATMs are widely accessiblein major towns and banking hours are weekdays from 9am to 5pm.

    Language:

    Russian and Belarusian are both official languages, withthe majority speaking Russian.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Europeantwo-prong plugs with circular pins are in use. Schuko plugs arealso in use.

    Entry Requirements:

    United States citizens need a passport and a visa to enterBelarus, although US nationals are visa exempt for a maximum of 30days.

    British citizens need a passport and a visa to enter Belarus.However, British citizens are exempt from obtaining a visa for amaximum of 30 days.

    Canadian citizens need a passport and a visa to enter Belarus.However, Canadian citizens are exempt from obtaining a visa for amaximum of 30 days.

    Australian citizens need a passport and a visa to enter Belarus.However, Australian citizens are exempt from obtaining a visa for amaximum of 30 days.

    South African citizens need a passport and a visa to enterBelarus.

    Irish citizens need a passport and a visa to enter Belarus.However, Irish citizens are exempt from obtaining a visa for amaximum of 30 days.

    United States citizens need a passport and a visa to enterBelarus, although US nationals are visa exempt for a maximum of 30days.

    New Zealand citizens need a passport and a visa to enterBelarus. However, New Zealand citizens are exempt from obtaining avisa for a maximum of 30 days.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    Valid passports and visas are required to visit Belarus. Werecommend that passports are valid for six months after departurefrom destination. Visitors from countries where there is noBelarussian consulate or embassy may obtain a tourist visa onarrival at Minsk Airport, but it is strongly recommended that aneffort is made to obtain a visa prior to arrival. Visas are onlyissued on the basis of invitation from hotels, tour companies orBelarussian citizens. All visitors have to buy health insurance onarrival. Foreigners not staying at a hotel must register with theauthorities on arrival and such registration must be entered ontheir visa. Hotels automatically register their guests.

    Travel Health:

    No vaccinations are required for entry to Belarus. Visitorsshould not drink unpurified tap water. Medical care is limited andessential medications are not frequently available, whilefacilities lack modern equipment. The best equipped are privateclinics, which are available in Minsk. Doctors and hospitals expectpayment in cash. Travel insurance with air evacuation cover ishighly recommended.

    Tipping:

    Tipping in Belarus is not as common as in many other countries,but it is adequate to round up the bill or taxi fare, and a 10percent tip for excellent service will not go amiss.

    Safety Information:

    Most visits to Belarus are trouble free. The crime rate is verylow. However, precautions should be taken against mugging,pick-pocketing, and theft from vehicles or hotel rooms. There havebeen instances of theft from travellers on sleeper trains betweenWarsaw and Moscow.

    Local Customs:

    While visiting Belarus, do not take photographs of governmentbuildings, military installations, or uniformed officials. Be awarethat jaywalkers are heavily fined. Whistling inside a building isconsidered bad luck.

    Business:

    Business appointments in Belarus should be made well in advancethrough a local third party with a good reputation and connections.When meeting, address people with their surnames and a briefhandshake. Meetings are usually formal, and negotiations can beprotracted.

    A great deal of concessionary bargaining is expected.Bureaucracy and legal matters in Belarus are complicated so it isbest to hire local professionals to assist. Dates in Belarus arewritten with the day first, then the month, and then the year.

    Communications:

    The international dialling code for Belarus is +375. There areseveral mobile network operators in Belarus, at least two of whichoperate GSM networks. Coverage is good in the major towns and alongthe highways, but generally not available in rural areas. Mobilephones may be rented from local service providers.

    Duty Free:

    The duty free allowance for visitors entering Belarus is 3litres of alcoholic beverages, 200 cigarettes or 250g of tobaccoproducts, a reasonable quantity of perfume for personal use, andgoods up to the value of US$1,500.

    Useful Contacts:

    Tourist Information: www.belarustourism.by

    Belarus Embassies:

    Embassy of Belarus, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 9861606.

    Embassy of Belarus, London, United Kingdom (also responsible forIreland): +44 (0)20 7937 3288.

    Embassy of Belarus, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 233 9994.

    Embassy of Belarus, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 4307709.

    Embassy of Belarus, Yarralumla, Australia: +61 2 6156 5471

    Foreign Embassies in Belarus :

    United States Embassy, Minsk: +375 17 210 1283.

    British Embassy, Minsk: +375 17 229 8200.

    Canadian Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible for Belarus):+ 7 (495) 925 6000.

    South African Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible forBelarus): +7 495 926 1177.

    Australian Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible forBelarus): +7 495 956 6070.

    Irish Embassy, Vilnius, Lithuania (also responsible forBelarus): +370 5 262 9460.

    New Zealand Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible forBelarus): +7 495 956 3579.

    Belarus Emergency Numbers : Emergencies: 103 (medical), 102 (police). Note thatoperators may not speak English.
    Belarus

    The best way to get around Minsk is on the fast and efficientMetro system. However, it does tend to be very crowded. To accessplaces not served by the Metro there is a good system of trams,buses, and trolley buses, which run from about 5.30am to aftermidnight every day. It is wise to avoid peak hours.

    Taxis tend to be expensive, and should be booked by telephonefrom reliable, official operators. Taxis flagged in the street tendto be private and may rip off unsuspecting visitors. State taxisare yellow and metered. Ensure meters are turned on when departing.Drivers prefer to negotiate fares before you board.

    Minsk is not exactly a sightseeing city, but it makesup in interest for what it lacks in traditional touristattractions. A Stalinist city, Minsk has a unique atmosphere whichis appealing to those seeking a novel destination.

    Worthwhile tourist attractions in Minsk include theimposing Cathedral of the Holy Ghost, dating back to 1642, one ofonly a handful of historic buildings surviving in the city; theChelyuskinites Park, a very old-fashioned amusement park providingsome outdoor fun and a pretty botanical garden; the Museum of theGreat Patriotic War, which showcases the horrors of World War II,including a model recreation of a Nazi concentration camp; theNational Museum of Culture and History, which chronicles the longand turbulent history of Belarus; the National Opera and BalletTheatre of Belarus, a striking white landmark; and Victory Square,which includes a moving war memorial.

    Minsk is a comparatively safe city and getting aroundis easy while sightseeing: many of the main attractions can bevisited on foot, and reasonably priced public transport fills inthe gaps for travellers.