Though still claimed by their former owner, Japan, the Kuriles 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 with much of Russia, Russian is the predominant language, some Japanese is spoken as well.
The largest nearby Russian cities with airports are Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to the west on the island of Sakhalin, and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to the north. The former's airport has flights on domestic carriers to Yuzhno-Kurilsk and Kurilsk.
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.
Also ferries run from Japan at certain times of the year to Yuzhno Sakhalinsk. There are also smaller local ferries that travel around the islands. Expedition company Heritage Expeditions takes 50 passengers on an expedition cruise every May-June around the Kuril Islands including visits to Atlasova, Onekotan, Ekaram, Toporkovy, Simushir, Yankicha, Chirpoy Islands.
Places to visit include the Kurilskiy State Natural Reserve, Volcano Baransky, Tyatya Volcano, Museum of Local Lore and the Cape Edge of the World.
Be sure to eat seafood in the Kurils, as the fishing in this part of the North Pacific is considered some of the best in the world. You may well see this seafood available in expensive restaurants around the world offered at prices a hundred times what it will cost to enjoy it here.