Earth : Europe : Russia : Russian Far East : Kamchatka
Kamchatka (Russian: Камча́тка, kahm-CHAHT-kuh) is a 1,250km-long peninsula in Russian Far East. Kamchatka is extremely geologically active and has numerous volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, and even a lake of acid! It contains the southernmost expanse of arctic tundra in the world and is notable for its wealth of arctic wildlife, fish, game, and marine life. Furthermore, nineteen of Kamchatka's volcanoes constitute the "Volcanoes of Kamchatka" UNESCO World Heritage Site, .
Kamchatka climate is diverse and numbers several climate zones, divided along alpine, coastal and geothermal lines. Summer and autumn months are the most popular among tourists when max temperatures range from 15C to 30C. The high season lasts from June to September. The weather is marine i.e. changeable. In summer temperatures can fall significantly at nights; rains brought by the Okhotsk sea and the Pacific are not uncommon. Mosquitos may cause some discomfort only in low altitudes and are active till September. Summer allows swimming in Avacha bay.
Kamchatska is a unique land where fire meets ice, containing the southernmost expanse of Arctic tundra along with 160 volcanoes (29 of them active). Despite its great size, the peninsula is home to just 400,000 people of which half live in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and another 50-100k live in nearby communities (including Yelisovo). As such, the peninsula is vastly uninhabited wilderness where one can climb volcanoes, sport hunt for bears, visit geysers, spend hours in natural hot springs, or go fishing in wild rivers or off the coast. Politically, it is divided between Kamchatska Krai and Koryak Okrug (Koryakia).
Kamchatka was, like much of arctic Siberia & North America, originally sparsely inhabited by native tribes. In the 16th century, spurred by tales of a land of fire, rich in fish & furs, Kamchatka was claimed by Muscovite Russia. Two settlements of Cossacks were built in 1697 as fur trading posts.
The peninsula was mapped during Vitus Bering's expedition to explore the Far East of Russia and reach North America. In 1740, Bering reached Avacha Bay and laid the cornerstone for the settlement of Petropavlovsk—named after his two ships St.Peter & St.Paul. One year later, Petropavlovsk would be the settlement survivors of his expedition would reach with news of his death & discovery of Alaska as well as remaining artifacts...including the "finest fur in the world" (sea otter) from Alaska which would later spurn Russian interest in North America. Petropavlovsk grew into a main stopping point for travelers to the Russian Far East, the Kuril Islands, and North America.
In 1854, during the Crimean War, a joint Anglo-French naval fleet bombarded Petropavlovsk in what became the heroic defense of the city in which 988 men with just 68 guns defended against 6 ships with 206 cannons and 2,540 French and British troops. Unfortunately the Russians realized the city was a liability and when more invaders came one year later, the city was abandoned and proceeded to be burnt. With the sale of the Kurils to Japan and Alaska to the US, the peninsula waned in importance. Following World War II, it was deemed a military zone and placed off limits to Russians (except residents, of course) until 1989 and foreigners until 1991.
The peninsula hosts the largest Russian nuclear submarine pen & submarine construction yard. The only notable event since Petropavlovsk's defense in 1854 was the shootdown of KAL Flight 007 in 1983 after drifting off course and flying over sensitive military areas on Kamchatka, resulting in one of the most tense moments in the Cold War during the early-80s.
There are no roads connecting Kamchatka with other parts of Russia. Indeed, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk is the second-largest city in the world which cannot be reached by road.
Arriving by plane is the only practical way of reaching Kamchatka. All commercial flights arrive at Yelizovo, only 16km from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky/PKC (which airlines list as the destination). There are regular flights between Petropavovsk-Kamchatsky and: Moscow (Aeroflot, Transaero), Saint Petersburg (Rossiya), Novosibirsk (S7, Rossiya), Irkutsk (S7), Khabarovsk (S7, SAT Airlines), and Vladivostok (S7, Aeroflot). Yakutia flies an Antonov 24 to Magadan and on to Yakutsk weekly or fortnightly (seasonal) on Wednesdays. Yakutia Air has seasonal service between Anchorage, Alaska, and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky from July until September 2012. Korean Airlines offers frequent charter flights from Incheon in summers.
It may be possible to hitch a ride on boats from the Kuril Islands,
Depending on the destination of your journey there are Russian and Japanese jeeps as well as 6WD URAL and KAMAZ trucks with a booth for people as 4WD tend to be uncapable to overcome majority of dirt roads, especially if snow is involved. The bus stations that serve routes around the region are located in Yelizovo and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
Dogs are used instead of taxi in Esso.
The number of places you can start seeing is as countless as the summer is short. The bravest tourists take months for trekking, if they wish to explore everything by foot. The best way is cooperation with local tour agencies, it will save time, but not money.
There are two types of day sightseeing one can practice in Kamchatka. First one is within a reach by auto and walk for $80 at max, the second is about taking a helicopter and costs up to $900. The tour agencies are of no lack in number, so it is rather easy to find them or/and join a group of tourists. Preliminary order of participation in helicopter excursions is better because of the possible crowds in peak season.
Be aware that excursions by helicopter are dependent on both weather and sufficient passengers, both of which are unpredictable. Typically Mi-8 helicopters are used, requiring about 20 passengers to be economically viable. The helicopters are about 25 years old, they are basic and rugged inside but generally feel safe. If you really want to go, allow for several spare days in Kamchatka (the writer spent 13 days in Kamchatka and only managed to travel to his second-choice destination on the 12th day).
As at July 2011, the cost of excursions to Kurilskoye/Geysers was 24-27,000 Rubles payable in CASH (but remember - this is an experience of a lifetime!). This equates to about 3 hours of actual flying - about $5 per minute, comparable to helicopter rides elsewhere.
Some shops accept credit cards, but acceptance is not widespread. Most Bankomats (ATMs) limit cash withdrawals to either 6,000 or 10,000 Rubles - note that some will levy a 2% fee in addition to whatever your own bank charges. As at July 2011 Rosbank, Gazprom Bank and Bank of Moscow did not levy a fee.
Many bottled waters are sparkling, or "with gas". If you want to avoid this, ask for "still" water or "byez gaza".
A Rynok, or open market, is full of local produce and general supplies, including office supplies and clothing.