Kamchatka travel guide

2 minute summary

Russiaís far eastern peninsula might ring a bell for the fans of board game, Risk; in real life it is one of the worldís most remote and greatest natural sanctuaries. A well-kept secret. A wilderness of thermal springs, thousands of rivers bursting with fish, enormous natural parks and wild cliffs and coastline; fittingly Kamchatka is shaped like a salmon swimming its way southwards from Russia towards Japan. Itís nearly 500,000sqkm in size, but has the human population of Bristol - nature truly is King here. An irresistible Pandoraís box of biodiversity, the peninsula is home to bears, walrus, reindeer and snow geese, as well as puffins, Emperor geese and spoon-billed sandpipers that dwell among the dunes. And then thereís the volcanoes steaming proudly at almost every turn: destinations have found fame on one volcano alone; Kamchatka has 300, of which 29 are active and, like the protective guardians at the gates of this otherworldly wonderland, erupt defiantly from time to time to remind us whoís boss.

What we rate & what we don't

Our best & worst of Kamchatka vacations


Eastern Russia Cold War history Russian hospitality Kamchatkan birdlife

Eastern Russia

You can navigate these waters for just a few months each year. The wilderness islands include the Wrangel Nature Reserve, whose mammoth steppe vegetation is filled with strange endemic flora. Visit the remains of a 3,400-year-old Eskimo camp, and look for grey whales, polar bears, musk oxen and Pacific walrus. The burning embers of 30 active volcanoes light up the Kamchatka peninsula.

Cold War history

There is a palpable sense that Kamchatkans value their isolation and want to remain as far away as possible from memories of the Cold War, yet it remains a significant and intriguing part of the areaís history. Visit abandoned submarine bases and travel past abandoned salmon fisheries where people just packed up and left. Chilling, but very interesting to see the effects of the war frozen in time.

Russian hospitality

One of the most extraordinary aspects of a trip to Kamchatka is that for days you may not meet another living soul, or see another ship. Youíre most likely to run into a lone salmon fisherman, or a couple of locals hanging out in a hot spring and theyíre so welcoming Ė not at all the stereotypical stand-offish Russian, and far more likely to offer you some caviar and an obligatory shot of vodka.

Kamchatkan birdlife

The black-throated diver, red-faced cormorant, and the rough-legged buzzard; all names of jaunty Kamchatkan locals, but of the bird variety; in fact, there are hundreds of bird species to spot in the peninsula and you donít have to be twitcher to be astounded by their wonder. The Stellerís sea eagle, an enormous bird of prey that deftly swoops salmon from the water, is the leader of the pack.


Wrangel Island Volcanoes Kamchatka wildlife Small ship cruising

Wrangel Island

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Wrangel Island is home to a large polar bear population, as well as Pacific walruses, Arctic foxes, snowy owls, snow geese, musk ox, reindeer and more. In addition, Wrangel Island is believed to be the last home of the woolly mammoth and mammoth tusks and bones are regularly unearthed in the riverbeds and interior of the island.


Kamchatka has a staggeringly beautiful geology. The land of fire and ice, its volcanoes, of which there are over 300, are magnificent and surprisingly brightly coloured; the volcanic landscape bubbles, steams and shines as though someone has taken a paintbrush and just gone to town. In 2013, four volcanoes erupted simultaneously, which is frankly bananas. Spectacular.

Kamchatka wildlife

The wildlife in Kamchatka is almost indescribably spectacular. Wrangel Island, untouched by glaciers during the last ice age, is a treasure trove of Arctic biodiversity; the peninsula is awash with great brown bears that patrol the coast sweeping for salmon; pink, wrinkly Pacific walrus loll about in their masses, and reindeer, musk ox and snow geese can often be seen further inland.

Small ship cruising

Ditch any preconceptions you may have about ďcruisingĒ, an expedition cruise in Kamchatka is no floating Las Vegas. Black tie is replaced with all-weather gear, the onboard entertainment involves ecology talks and photography tips, and strict itineraries are chucked out the porthole. Cruising in Kamchatka is an exciting journey into an untamed wilderness, all on natureís terms.


Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Accommodation prices Sakhalin Poaching Ďtrophiesí


Entirely at odds with its spellbinding natural setting, Petropavlovsk is not a pretty city, but then nothing is, and very few other places probably will ever be, quite as beautiful once youíve been slapped in the face by the sheer stupendous wonder of Kamchatkaís wilderness. A gateway to Russiaís most spectacular scenery, regard it as a necessary blot on the landscape and escape ASAP.

Accommodation prices

A little bit like being in a holding cell, but where youíre free to come and go and you can use your own toilet, the accommodation around Petropavlovsk is very basic Soviet-style, plus the rates are sky high Ė weíre talking upwards of £130 a night Ė isolated, expensive and utterly uninviting, itís a much better option to get out on a tour and camp near a volcano, or escape to the wilds on a boat.


A playground for oil-struck business people, thereís a lot of gas and oil exploration money coming in to this island, which has environmental ramifications, but also hikes up prices further. The isolation of this part of the world has meant, until now, wildlife has been left to do its own thing and we canít imagine the brown bears, quietly getting on with their salmon runs, are particularly pleased.

Poaching Ďtrophiesí

Poaching has reared its ugly head and over-hunting now endangers wild reindeer, bighorn sheep and bears in Kamchatka. Despite legal hunting outside of reserves allowed for four months each year, illegal hunting sees between 400 and 500 bears poached annually for meat, for the supposed medicinal virtues of gall bladders and for head, skin and paw trophies. Whatever you do, donít buy into it.

Food, shopping & people

Music Kamchatka like a local

Eating & drinking in Kamchatka

Borsch is everywhere in Kamchatka. A soup made with cabbage and beets at its base, there are over 40 varieties and it should be thick enough to stand your spoon in.

Freshly caught salmon caviar spread over thick butter on even thicker white bread = the stuff dreams are made of.

Local Kamchatkan beer, such as Seroglazka or Kamchatskoye, is very tasty thanks to the pure volcanic water that goes into making it.

There is at least one brown bear for every 30 people in Kamchatka 

People & language

Although Kamchatka is one of the least populated regions in the world, there are over 100 nationalities and ethnic groups on the peninsula with the indigenous population represented in the main by Koryaks, Evens, Aleuts and Chukchi.

The Itelmens, whose name translates as Ďthose who live hereí, are the oldest residents of Kamchatka and are thought to have settled there 7,000 years ago.

The seeping influence of Russian spread into Kamchatka in the 1930s and now almost everyone speaks Russian.

Say hello "privyet"
Chukchi is considered a severely endangered language with only 10,000 native speakers remaining.

Gifts & shopping

The best Kamchatkan souvenirs Ė fresh crab and caviar Ė have to be bought and eaten while youíre there. Otherwise, spending money locally is a tricky one; Cassia Jackson, from our supplier, Heritage Expeditions, explains:

ďIt is possible to buy carvings made from walrus ivory from the Chukchi people who have hunting rights, but although they are very skillfully made, it isnít something we would encourage visitors buying. A suitable alternative for tourists wanting to spend their money locally would be to donate to a conservation project; thatís where money is most needed.Ē

Fast facts

Kamchatka produces 8,000 tonnes of red caviar every year

How much does it cost?

small local beer: 51p

Bottle of local vodka: £4

Basic lunch: £1.80

150g of red caviar: £6

Helicopter ride over Valley of the
Geysers: £350/person

A brief history of Kamchatka

The Kamchatka Peninsula projects down between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the few places on earth where nature can still be found in its pristine state. About 30 percent of the land area is protected in different national reserves.

Kamchatka was first inhabited about 15,000 years ago. These indigenous peopleís culture and lifestyle was based on their wide use of the natural resources found there. The Itelmen were mainly fisherman; Koryaks and Evens were hunters and reindeer herders. The first ĎCossackí explorers came to Kamchatka in the early 17th century. At the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century there was a period when interest in the Far East and Kamchatka grew rapidly, driven in part by the economic development of Russia by Peter the Great. Read more ▼
Photo credits: [Eastern Siberia: paukrus] [Cold War: Jaguar Land Rover Media Centre] [Russian hospitality: A Vahanvati] [Kamchatka wildlife: Francesco Veronesi] [Wrangel Island: E Bell] [Volcanoes: Giorgio Galeotti] [Kamchatka wildlife: Einar Fredriksen] [Cruising: NOAA Photo Library] [Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky: Indrik myneur] [Accommodation prices: Einar Fredriksen] [Sakhalin: khaled abdelmoumen] [Poaching Ďtrophiesí : Brian Jeffery Beggerly] [Eating and drinking: Roger Braunstein] [crab (gifts): Tatters] [Helicopter rides: Einar Fredriksen]
Written by Polly Humphris
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