Volcanoes of Kamchatka
The Volcanoes of Kamchatka are one of the most outstanding examples of the volcanic regions in the world.
The Kamchatka River and the surrounding Central Valley are flanked by large volcanic ranges, containing around 160 volcanoes, 29 of them still active. Thus, the peninsula has perhaps the highest density of volcanos and associated volcanic phenomena in the world, with 19 active volcanos being included on the World Heritage List.
The WHS is a serial site including the following six areas:
- Kronotsky State Biosphere Nature Preserve
- Bystrinsky Nature Park
- Nalychevo Nature Park
- Southwestern Tundra Nature Reserve
- Southern Kamchatka Nature Park
- Nature Park "Kluchevskoy"
Map of Volcanoes of KamchatkaLoad map
Visited this amazing site in July 2020. We were part of probably the first organized tourist groups after removing regional Covid restrictions. Kamchatka is considered one of the most outstanding volcanic regions in the world and is also part of iconic highlights of Russia. It is still not possible to determine exact number of volcanoes on the peninsula; usually the sources indicate 29 active volcanos and approximately 300 dormant volcanos. From time to time devastating eruptions take place; the latest was in 1975-1976. However many active volcanos continue to eject ash with various level of density and are closely monitored scientifically. On average, there are 3-7 eruptions each year in Kamchatka.
Kamchatka is larger than Germany and Benelux together, while its population is only 313 thousand people, including 180 thousand in Petropavlovsk and 20 thousand in closed city Viluchinsk, naval base of nuclear submarines. This results in extreme wilderness and remoteness of the region with very limited access to mobile network, internet, hotels and comfort in general. At least I finally learned how to set up tents.
Our trip started with a two-day rafting down the River Bystraya. There is high probability to encounter bears on the shores and (which is much less funny) during night stays in tent camp, however this is largely unpredictable and depends on the season, last year a similar group spotted 92 bears in two days; while we noticed only one. Our guide luckily had Kamchatka husky dog called Sever, and it is consdered the best protection against curious bears. Rafting provides amazing opportunities for fishing and preparing so called triple fish soup (ukha), when different species of freshly caught fish are boiled three times in the same water.
We also completed hiking trails to volcanos Mutnovsky and Gorely. There is dirt long road to the start point for Mutnovsky volcano by jeep or KamAZ/URAL shift bus, from parking there is 3km long ascent with elevation of 400 meters. The reward will be a field of fumaroles, thermal water sources and boiling pots with chemical smelly substances. Within a couple of kilometers, there is also beautiful gorge with waterfall Opasny (80 meters high). Next day we climbed volcano Gorely, approximately 5km ascent with elevation of 800 meters. Here we arrived to the edge of huge crater with blue sulphur lake and the second sub-carter with fumarole emissions inside. There was also possibility to climb volcano Avachinsky, but it requires 8km long ascent with elevation of 1,800 meters to the 2,741 meters summit. After 3-month quarantine calorie intake we preferred to walk around base camp; however several fittest members of our group climbed successfully to the top and back in 10 hours. Interestingly, during August there is mass speed ascent to Avachinsky volcano when 1,500 participants of all ages climb to the top.
We also took two iconic helicopter tours to the Valley of the Geysers and to the Kurilskoe Lake (both parts of strict national parks included in Unesco nomination). The price for each for 2020 season is very high, 45,000 Roubles (~550 Euro) for non-Kamchatka Russian residents and is even a bit higher for foreigners. The Valley of Geysers is one of the 7 wonders of Russia and is one of the world’s largest geyser fields. A massive landslide significantly damaged it in 2007, however the valley seems to recovering slowly afterwards and some geyser reappear. While heading to the Valley of Geysers the helicopter also flies around active smoking Karymsky volcano and above huge crater sulphur lake of Maly Semyachik volcano. After the Valley helicopter lands inside caldera of Uzon volcano with many hydrothermal and chemical activities and at Nalychevo where you can swim in natural thermal waters. Kurilskoe Lake tour provides you almost guaranteed opportunity to spot some of approximately 300 bears, which live around the lake and come for fishing (especially in late summer); to find out amazing facts about salmon spawning, when the fish returns from the salt water to the fresh water in order to change color, spawn and die in the lake. In total it is esimated that around 20,000 bears live in Kamchatka. Afterwards the helicopter lands inside green caldera of Ksudach volcano and at Khodutka thermal waters. While expensive, these helicopter tours are highly recommended to see the best places of Kamchatka and to appreciate the wilderness of this place.
The famous fish market with its red caviar, salmon and crabs in Petropavlovsk was a tasty gourmet attachment of the trip. We were very lucky to catch good weather for most days, the weather here is subject to dramatic changes and subsequent cancellations and enjoyed post-Covid region with even lower number of visitors than usually. Compared with Iceland, Kamchatka is wilder, more diverse in terms of volcanos and has bears; while Iceland has more scenic waterfalls, more photogenic in general and have horses. Both destinations are very expensive (unless you go tough backpacking and tent camping), but if you are lucky with the weather will easily become once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
This is one of those WHS that truly deserve a trip of their own and contain so many parts and places that even with a week at your disposal, you'll be able to just cover couple of those places. I visited the Kamchatka peninsula this August with my husband Ivan. It consists of numerous nature parks/reserves and places. We started with the ascend to Avachinskiy volcano (2000m altitude hike over 8 km track), hiked around Dachniye springs (by the Mutnovskiy geothermal station), did a helicopter tour of the Valley of Geysirs and hiked the Gorelyi volcano. The nature is marvellous and out of the three "top" mainland Russia natural UNESCO WHSs, Altai, Lake Baikal, and Kamchatka, I have to hand it to Kamchatka as the most wonderful of the three. It's a beautiful place that will leave even seasoned nature lovers amazed.
As for the technical part of all of the tours, you get your plane ticket, if it's from Moscow, check a stopover in Yakutsk as an option, it will reduce the price of the overall ticket significantly. The return way is cheaper as it's subsidised. The accomodation and trip is arranged by one of the local travel agencies, we chose Kamchatintour. The service is quite mediocre, not very well organised, pickups don't arrive on time and the length of the ride with Kamaz (which is required for most of the destinations) depends on the driver on duty that day. What we covered in mere three hours one day took us over four the other. Many people stay in small resort of Paratunka where there are couple of overpriced mediocre hotels or in Petropavlovsk Kamchatskiy, but it takes longer to get to the places of interest, i.e. Elisevo airfield, base camps of volcaones, etc. There are hikes available for all levels of fitness, i.e. you can do the Avachinsky volcano hike, either all the way (2000 m altitude gain) or to two thirds point (1200 m altitude gain) or hike a small Camel foothil with elevation gain over 300 m. Get info on each of the hike as they would say it's for everyone, even the most difficult ones and judge your abilities accordingly. The helicopter tours are the same price regardless of whether you book with the operator or tour agency as there is only one operator, Vityaz Aero.
The itinerary consists of numerous day or two day trips which you can pick and mix according to what's available with your tour agency. I would strongly recommend choosing a helicopter ride for the first couple of days of your tour as the weather might get bad and the sky above Kamchatka closed for a day or two, so if that happens, you'd still have the chance to rebook. There is a limited number of English speakers in most of the tour agencies so book ahead and make sure you're getting into English group if nobody in your party speaks Russian.
To include Kluchevskoy Nature Park
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