Some time ago, looking at the planisphere to find a new destination for my next journey, I ended up pointing at a peninsula in the Russian Far East: Kamchatka. This remote corner of Asia was isolated until 1991, when the Soviet Empire broke apart and Kamchatka was far from being considered a tourist destination. Access was only granted to politicians and military officers, being it a crucial strategic base in front of the Pacific Ocean during the Cold War.
Nowadays visitors can finally enter the region. To get there you will need a tourist visa, being ready to a long aerial transfer and a strong ability to adapt – the latter is an absolute must for whoever wants to discover Kamchatka’s natural beauties, since the tourist structures are very scarce.
On the web as on several esteemed guides there is a lot of misleading information about this region: it is often stated that it is not possible to move freely without the support of an organized tour. Such tours can be booked in local agencies, which use antiquated and obsolete trucks and helicopter recovered from the Red Army. During July and August even the wildest areas are crossed by these loud vehicles, loaded with many rich tourists ready to pay any sum in order to collect hundreds of pictures to impress family and friends. Instead, I could move far and wide on my own without any problem. I just had to go through some search whenever I got close to a military base, and they all went well.
During my journey in Kamchatka I faced several lonely treks through reserves and wild areas, volcanoes and thermal springs, rivers, woods – bears! – and billions of unbearable mosquitos. Around Nalychevo Nature Park, close to the regional capital Petropavlovsk and Esso’s tourist village, there aren’t any trekking routes, so adventuring into the wilderness isn’t a challenge one should take on too easily.
The public means of transportation cover all the few and disconnected roads in the peninsula. Accommodation options outside the capital are really scarce, and the few available options come with ridiculous rates. In the other villages finding accommodation isn’t easy: sometimes you may find a family run guest house – which during high season are often full – or you will have try your luck asking around for a lodge in a private house, or you will just have to… camp in the woods!
The situation is even worse when it comes to find a restaurant, but in every corner of every lost village there is a well furnished grocery. Knowing a few words in Russian may greatly improve your chances, especially when dealing with the most welcoming local people. They always appreciated my efforts to talk in their language, but trying to speak in English will rise a totally different kind of gazes.
And be very careful about touching our throat with a finger: the meaning of this gesture is “drinking vodka”, and you may be forced to continue until your legs are not able to support you anymore! I hope I made myself clear enough…
Where is the Kamchatka Peninsula?