Līgatne is situated in northwest Latvia, 25km from Sigulda and 29km from Cēsis. The local Tourist Information Centre lists quite a few reasons to come and visit their town and I’m sure they are all valid ones but our one inducement to visit Līgatne was to go on a guided tour of a former Soviet-era bunker located in the forest near the small village of Skajupes.
The bunker was established at some point during the Cold War and its purpose was to protect the political elite of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic (Latvian SSR) in the event of a nuclear attack and also provide them with everything necessary to allow them to keep going as a functioning government. As a result, the 2,000m2 facility was very well equipped and included air purification units, direct telecommunication links with Moscow, diesel generators as well as living quarters, map rooms and a kitchen and canteen. Apparently, it was so top-secret that both the employees and patients at the rehabilitation centre/sanatorium underneath which the reinforced shelter was constructed had no idea of its existence.
Visiting the fallout shelter is only permitted by guided tour. The excursion lasts around 1½ hours and is offered in Latvian, Russian and English. It’s best to plan a visit for either a Saturday or a Sunday as this is when the join-in group tours operate. It is possible to go on a tour on weekdays as well but the price is more and a minimum of ten people are required in order for them to run. You should also call in advance or reserve a place via the bunker’s official website. We reserved our places in advance by telephoning but, when we arrived there weren’t enough people to warrant an English-speaking guided tour so we were asked to join a Russian-speaking one and given a small discount for the inconvenience. The guide did have a folder with some English explanations in it that she referred us to every now and then but, overall we didn’t learn that much. But, under the circumstances, there was little else we could have done apart from not visit at all.
Despite that, it was still a worthwhile experience and we thought it was worthwhile. As with the former prison in Karosta, also in Latvia, there are extras that can be bolted on to enhance the regular tour. You can have a traditional Soviet meal in the bunker’s canteen, for example, or you can become a secret agent and save your homeland from disaster in various roleplaying games. There is even the option to take over the entire place and invite all your comrades to a proper Back in the USSR-style knees-up. At 9 metres below ground and completely soundproof, at least you won’t disturb those who are actually trying to rest and recuperate in the rehabilitation centre above!
Everything you need to know about visiting the bunker is listed on this website including the location, route maps, timings of tours and prices etc. What isn’t mentioned on the website is how cold it is down in the depths of the bunker. We visited on a hot sunny day and were wearing just a t-shirt and shorts when we checked in for the tour but once you are below ground it’s darn right nippy. Luckily, the staff are on the ball and offered us a blanket each to wrap around our shoulders but it wasn’t really enough and it’s better to bring your own fleece or jacket.
How to get to Līgatne on public transport
Having your own transport is definitely the easiest way to visit the Soviet bunker at Līgatne. Getting there on public transport isn’t particularly easy, as coordinating the infrequent bus schedules with the guided tour timings is nigh on impossible. If you do want to attempt it, first you need to get to Augšlīgatne (Lower Līgatne). Confusingly the bus station name is Līgatne. Augšlīgatne is on the main road north of Sigulda, en route to Cēsis; both towns are worth visiting and either would be a good place to base yourself for visiting Līgatne as well as exploring other places in the region.
Local buses run from Augšlīgatne to Skaļupe bus stop, which is next to the car park in front of the rehabilitation centre.
You can check the bus timetable here or on Google maps.
As mentioned, the once-secret bunker is beneath Līgatne Rehabilitation Centre and the reception desk for the tours is just inside the sanatorium’s main entrance.
The bunker is displayed on google maps as Padomju Slepenais Bunkurs and the GPS coordinates are 57.255742, 25.069032
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