I moved from Minsk to Kamchatka about two years ago. It was love at first sight, at that very first breath of fresh air, and the charm hasn’t dimmed ever since. And this place is not just a land of bears, volcanoes, strikingly beautiful nature, and really cheap fish. Kamchatka is a real mecca of extreme sports. Diving, surfing, kiting, kayaking, enduro, jeeps, mount bikes, rock climbing, snowboarding, heliski, and so much more. I could go on forever. Locals love their home and try to use available resources of the place to a hundred percent. Here, nobody will spend their weekends doing nothing, laying on the couch and watching TV, or sitting at a cafe with a hot cup of whatever. I’ve never met anyone anywhere quite as bright, or as innovative as these people. They are also unbelievably welcoming and friendly, and whatever happens they will always try to help out.
Plane tickets and airports
Let’s start from the beginning: which season is the best for visiting Kamchatka and how to get there.
Flying is the only option you have. Unfortunately, there are no roads, or railways connected to the continent. Firstly, it is just not practical due to the number of volcanoes in the area (there are over 300 of them, and over 30 that are active). Secondly, it would be just too expensive: the construction, the maintenance. That’s why the locals call the rest of Russia the “mainland”. A flight from Moscow to Kamchatka is about eight and a half hours long. The cost of the tickets will vary from season to season: it is about 20 thousand roubles during autumn and winter (return), and the prices can escalate to a whooping hundred thousand during the summer period. It is all tied to the holiday season of the local community and the increasing number of tourists during this time. The airport of Kamchatka is located in the town of Yelizovo. The capital - Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky - is about 30 km away; you can take a bus or a taxi to get there.
Weather and climate
There are over thirty microclimates in Kamchatka that differ in temperatures, winds, precipitation, humidity, etc. Unlike the central areas of the peninsula with its continental climate, the coastal regions have more or less stable temperatures. Actually, those who think that it’s always cold down here are very mistaken. Near the coast line the temperature might not rise above 25 degrees Celsius during the summer, but it doesn’t go lower than ten degrees during winter either, plus the number of sunny days is pretty high over here. While deeper in the centre the rough continental climate dictates its own weather with temperatures lowering to a shocking minus thirty-forty degrees during colder seasons and over forty degrees during the summer.
There’s hardly ever a proper springtime here. Almost every spring the whole land is covered in snow. It’s a perfect season for those looking to prolong winter. For boondocking enthusiasts I advise to visit the first Russian school of snowmobiling - Ski-Doo (skidooking.ru). Anyone who enjoys skiing or snowboarding won’t be disappointed either. Spring is the best season for those kind of sports - you can enjoy all of them up to May here in Kamchatka.
There are a few popular types of freeriding in Kamchatka:
1. Backcountry - it’s a mix between mountain tourism and skiing/snowboarding. Reach the top by foot and go swiftly down without being constrained by any tracks.
2. Heliski- you are dropped to the top from a helicopter and you ride down those virgin hillsides. The heliski here is quite cheap (especially compared to what it costs in other countries), and the range of different hills and mountains is very impressive.
There are a few companies that organise this pastime:
- Kamchatka Freeride Community (allaboutkamchatka.ru)
- Helipro (helipro.ru), located at what is probably the best mountain sports base in Kamchatka - the Snow Valley (snow-valley.ru),
- “Vertikalny Mir” (vertikalny-mir.com).
Lately, another wonderful sport has been gaining popularity here - sailing backcountry - a sport that combines sailing with the formerly mentioned backcountry. Similar programs are organised only in Norwegian fiords and Iceland. This is how this adventure goes down: you sail on a “Kosatka” along the picturesque shore of the Pacific ocean and everyday you make trips to the mainland to climb and go down the mountain. This journey is taking from five to six days and usually takes place from around the last week of April and up to June. These tours are organised by the Kamchatka Freeride Community.
As summer comes, the snow starts to melt and new kinds of leisure activities become available. The most interesting ones have to do a whole lot with water.
1. Sea navigation opens up and begins the season of the sea tours along the Avacha Bay. Divers for hire will gladly fetch a fresh crab, or a sea hedgehog, and all of this will be accompanied by spectacular views.
2. If you want to spend even more time roaming the salty waters then book a journey to the Commander Islands. You can also organise expeditions to both Russian and Bechevinka bays. Each one is interesting and unique in its own way.
3. You can also spend your time watching the sea mammals - whales and killer whales. Or you could join the Team Trip guys (teamtrip.ru) and dive with the sea lions.
4. Surfing - one of the most popular sports in Kamchatka. The main local surf school is the Snowave Surfschool located at the area of the Pacific ocean, at the famous Khalaktyrsky beach with its black sand. Open on regular basis during the summer, so you can sign up, come here and rent whatever you need (costume, board, etc), as well as, hire an instructor, or you could just come on your own and surf till you drop. The water never freezes, so you can enjoy those waves all year long!
5. The guys from the Kamchatka Freeride Community organise really cool kayak sea tours and expeditions. Interesting for both beginners and professionals.
6. And of course, there’s fly fishing! A number of companies will offer you different salmon fishing tours.
7. The “Snow Valley” tour base organises rafting down multiple Kamchatka’s rivers.
Trekking and hiking
Near the end of June, all kinds of tour operators start to organise tours to different volcanoes. The best month for this is August, because at that time of year there is no snow or fogs waiting for you at the top.
This year, the tours to the Klyuchevskaya Sopka seem to be most in demand. Its height is about 480 metres and it is the highest active volcano in Eurasia. During this season it is constantly erupting which enormously delights both Russian and foreign tourists.
Be very cautious when choosing a guide to help you conquer the mountain tops of Kamchatka. Many will be quite willing to help, but most don’t even have the basic medical training, a satellite phone, or even a first aid kit.
Helicopters and bears
All summer long and all the way to the middle of autumn you can safely study the land from your very own helicopter. Visit the famous geyser valley, Uzon caldera, Nalytchevo hot springs and Kurile lake. The latter is the largest breeding ground of red salmon. There are also a lot of bears hanging around the lakeside. These animals spend the whole summer storing up on those fatty fishes, preparing for the long and rough winter ahead. They are so used to humans that they barely pay an attention to them. You will be standing about three metres away, with nothing between you an the bear except for a low big voltage barrier, and you would feel completely safe. But just in case, every group will always be accompanied by a gun carrying huntsman.
Autumn and sled dogs
From the start of October and all the way till the end of December, there’s pretty much nothing to do in Kamchatka. Climbing volcanoes becomes quite dangerous, and rough winds and constant rain basically kill the tourist season. First snow usually appears closer to January and the temperatures finally become more stable and glistening Kamchatka once again is ready to welcome all those in love with extreme winter sports.
I also want to talk about dog pounds. Local mushers breed sled dogs; you can visit them and even ride in a real dog sled.
To wrap up, I just want to say how truly wonderful is Kamchatka and how equally tough and unpredictable can be its weather. It all depends on how lucky you are. You can have an unforgettable experience with plenty of warm sunny days, or you could also get stuck in your hotel room for the whole time. Whatever happens, I wish you to have the best time at the end of the world, also known as Kamchatka!