Far-away land of peaceful volcanoes

In Russian schools, the row of desks at the very back of the classroom is called ‘Kamchatka’. Every Russian knows the phrase «it’s midnight in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky» because most people in the country have heard this on the radio sometime in the middle of their day. Kamchatka greets the dawn even before Japan, the «land of the rising sun». The local time is 9 hours ahead of Moscow time, and a flight here from the capital will take approximately the same amount of time.

Formally, Kamchatka is a peninsula whose shape resembles a giant fish on the map. But it’s no coincidence that Kamchadals (the native people of Kamchatka) call the rest of Russia the «mainland». The extreme points of roads in Kamchatka are separated from the extreme points of roads in the rest of Russia by over 1000 kilometers, which can only be crossed by foot.
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But the Cossacks, having arrived from the Ural Mountains by rivers, seas, and animal trails “to greet the Sun”, got here as early as the 17th century. Cossacks were interested in the yasak—a tribute in fine furs that was collected from the indigenous people. The Koryaks and Itelmens, indigenous to Kamchatka, are the connecting link between the native peoples of Siberia and North America. Today, their population is only several thousand people, but the Koryak folk ensemble Mengo is famous far beyond Kamchatka.
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Performance of a folk ensemble dressed in costumes of the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka in celebration of a holiday of the northern Koryak people

During the 18th century, Kamchatka was made into a support base for the conquest of an even more remote land—Alaska. Kamchatka was discovered by Vitus Bering, a Dane in the Russian service, who, in 1740, settled the base of his expedition in the extremely cozy Avacha Bay. He named the new port Petropavlovsk in honor of his ships, St. Peter and St. Paul.
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Panoramic view of the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Avacha Bay, and the Pacific Ocean

The port’s history is mainly unremarkable except for its heroic defense during the siege of Petropavlovsk in 1854. Then, as part of the Pacific theater of the Crimean War (Eastern War), a British and French Allied squadron attempted to attack the remote Russian colony on the Pacific Ocean but did not succeed. There is a memorial in remembrance to this at the top of Nikolskaya Sopka (a large hill in the center of the city), behind which is concealed the small historic center—a dozen early 20th century wooden homes along Leninsky Street. The city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is rather unkempt, but the breathtaking beauty of its landscapes compensates for this.
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The city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky against the backdrop of the Koryaksky volcano

On one side, there is the quiet Avacha Bay, which is capable of holding all the world’s fleets. Further on, there is the open Pacific Ocean with its wide beaches of absolutely black volcanic sand. The main feature of the local landscape is the snow-capped volcanic cones: Kamchatka is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. But its volcanoes are noted for their peacefulness: although eruptions regularly occur here, not one of them has ever caused serious destruction or death.

The Kamchadals ironically call the trio of fire-breathing mountains closest to Petropavlovsk ‘domesticated volcanoes’. Klyuchevskaya Sopka, the highest and most active volcano in Eurasia, rises above the most distant part of the peninsula. Uzon is more well-known: the Valley of Geysers is located in its gigantic caldera. From Petropavlovsk, it is only accessible by helicopter and passengers will be able to get a bird’s eye view of the craters. Thermal springs can be found everywhere in Kamchatka, including in Paratunka, which is very close to Petropavlovsk.
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Caldera of Uzon volcano, Kronotsky Nature Reserve

Autumn is the best time to visit Kamchatka: the peninsula is not yet covered by taiga, but by birch forests, which begin to display their flaming colors in September. But autumn is also spawning time: there are legends going around Russia about the abundance of fish in Kamchatka, and indeed, sometimes the amount of salmon in the rivers here is more than the volume of water. In Kamchatka, red fish and red caviar, crabs caught in the ocean, scallops and sea urchins are the freshest and most readily available anywhere in Russia.
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Here, it’s not only people who love to feast on fish: from October to April, you can see a breeding ground of sea lions even within the city limits of Petropavlovsk, and the forests of Kamchatka are home to the world’s largest population of bears.
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Breeding ground of sea lions

Kuril Lake in the south of the peninsula is the bears’ favorite place to catch fish. There are few places in the world where nature is so near and untamable.
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Kronotsky Nature Reserve: a bear sits on the shore of Kuril Lake and looks in the direction of Ilyinsky volcano

Related trips
Kamchatka 12 days
Kamchatka 12 days
  • 12 days
  • 2500 €
  • from July to September
  • Kamchatka

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