Kurilsky Zapovednik - Impressively beautiful nature reserve, considered the best example of an unspoilt, pristine environment of the same flora and fauna native to Japan
Atlasov Island - An Island-volcano in the Kurils praised by the Japanese for its near perfect shape, similar to Mount Fuji
Map of the Kuril Islands
Sakhalin: Sakhalin, known as Karafuto by the Japanese, is a large and very sparsely populated island which was a center of a long power struggle between Russia/USSR and Japan for control of its large oil and gas resources. Sakhalin is beautiful, but has an undeveloped tourist sector. Because of the energy business, however, good food and hotels catering to foreigners are available. Yuzhno-Sakhalin, due to its large population of stranded Sakhalin Koreans, reputedly has very good Korean cuisine.
The Kurils: Claimed by their former master Japan, the Kurils are now thoroughly Russian, sparsely populated and poor. Most locals make their living fishing in the island chain's abundant waters. The chain's most populated island is Kunashir, centered on Yuzhno-Kurilsk, but its smaller administrative capital Kurilsk is located on the biggest island, Iturup.
As elsewhere in Russia, Russian is the predominant language, but there are also an estimated 30,000 Koreans, mostly in the capital Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
The regions largest city, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, is the arrival point for international flights from major Russian cities as well as Seoul and Hakodate; most foreign tourists wishing to visit these islands begin here.
Travelers going to the Kuril Islands arrive most quickly via plane from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, but it is also possible to take a slower ferry from Sakhalin to Kunashir and on to Iturup.
Try kimchi in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, be sure to eat seafood in the Kurils, and enjoy the ubiquitous and tasty everyday Russian soups and meals.
Remain vigilant in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk; Sakhalin Oblast has the highest rates of juvenile crime in all of Russia.
Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island paradise for skiing, hot springs, and delicious regional cuisine is a relatively short ferry ride away from Sakhalin, although there are no regular ferries between the Kurils and Hokkaido due to the political conflict.
If you have the time to wait and find someone to ferry you from Severno-Kurilsk, Kamchatka is a beautiful destination for outdoors enthusiasts and a worthwhile addition to a Kurils trip.