Originally, I never planned on going to Belarus during my trip to Europe. The VISA to the country is very expensive reaching over $400 USD previously. Then, something changed. By February 12, 2017, a new decree was introduced in Belarus allowing citizens of 80 countries to visit the country VISA-free as long as they fly into Minsk International Airport.
Countries eligible for VISA-free travel to Belarus
Upon hearing this great news, I then put in the back of my mind that if the opportunity arises, I will go to Belarus while I’m travelling in Europe.
Kiev, Ukraine to Minsk
While planning my route back to Canada as my one year travel is coming to an end, I decided that I would fly out of Amsterdam to go back home. The cheapest flight to Amsterdam was from Tallinn, Estonia. Since I was in Ukraine, it seems like the best thing to do was to fly to Belarus from Kiev. Afterwards, I would fly to Vilnius in Lithuania and take the overnight bus crossing Latvia and arriving in Tallinn.
Perfect, I thought. This gives me a chance to visit Belarus and tick off the three Baltic countries while I’m on it.
I booked my flight on the Belarus national carrier: Belavia. I was pleasantly surprised how good the airplane was. The price was good at about $50 USD to fly into the country and they even served us food! I was shocked because most European carriers doesn’t serve any food at all.
This communist country knows what they’re doing.
Upon arriving at Minsk, I went through immigration and tried taking the taxi into the city. That’s when I realized how horribly expensive the taxi was. They are definitely trying to price gouge tourists. So, I went with the next option and called Uber. Perfect, it was significantly cheaper than taking the taxi.
Most people in Minsk cannot speak English except for young people that’s about college age. When the Uber driver tried dropping me off at my hostel, we couldn’t find the way in. I wandered the streets asking for directions but no one can speak English.
Finally, two female students came up to me and helped me find my way. Their English was good because they apparently study it in university.
I also found out how warm and friendly Belarus people are through this interaction.
I stayed in a hostel called Dreamy Castle Hostel. Upon checking in, I learned that the hostel is the former home of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man that allegedly assassinated John F. Kennedy.
After getting settled, I went out the city for a stroll taking pictures of anything that looked interesting.
For some strange reason, eating out is quite pricey in Belarus. And I don’t think they were price gouging me because their prices seem set.
People in Belarus are really friendly. While staying in my hostel, I got a chance to speak with a man who turned out to be a psychiatrist in Minsk. He said his life is tough because he worked 80 hours a week dealing with up to 50 patients a day.
According to the man, his monthly salary is $400 USD a month which is considered to be quite decent in Belarus standards.
From what I learned, the fate of Belarus is quite similar to Ukraine. Most individuals who do well financially have to work in the IT sector serving westernized countries like the US to make a living as an online IT programmer.
Leaving Minsk to fly to Vilnius, Lithuania
Before leaving my hostel, I befriended several Germans in the hostel. Turns out they had the same idea as me. Now that Belarus has this 5-day VISA-free entry available, people are coming here to check out the country.
Minsk is very clean and I think it’s done on purpose to show off the Belarus capital.
Me and another backpacker took a taxi together and headed for the airport to fly to Lithuania.
To be honest, I really liked Minsk and Belarus. And it’s mostly because the Belarus people are very friendly. They seem grumpy at first but when they’re nice and friendly to you, it’s genuine because their default state is grumpiness.
I felt a connecting with the Belarus people much like when I was in Poland and Ukraine.
Would I return to Belarus one day? Perhaps, but most likely very distant in the future if I do.
Regardless, if you are travelling in the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia or if you are in Ukraine, I would recommend flying over to Belarus to go check it out while you’re there already. It’s an interesting place and you definitely learn a lot from the people there.