Russian Far East
Access a unique part of Russia that was inaccessible until the early 1990s on your Russian Far East adventure. Learn about survival in this remarkable landscape from the area’s indigenous peoples—who stay warm by using animal skins and furs. Listen to the Chukchis play dance music on walrus-skin drums, or hear the Koryaks’ tales of hunting bear and whale.
This harsh landscape presents travelers with a superb array of wildlife. Brown bear, red fox, arctic fox, hare, sable, wolf, elk, reindeer, lynx, mink, snow sheep, otter and caribou all await your camera lens. In the water, you might spot dolphins, whales, seals, walruses and orcas.
Catching a glimpse of some of the 18,000 bears that live on the Kamchatka Peninsula is a sight you’ll never forget. If you’re lucky, you might even see them fishing for salmon, their main diet. Among the more extraordinary specimens is the Siberian salamander. This hardy little creature can spend years encased in -40o ice and still survive.
Birdlife includes the magnificent Steller’s sea eagle, one of the largest raptors on earth. Over 4,000 are found near the Kamchatka Peninsula. These giants eat mostly salmon but occasionally prey on sheep and deer! Their huge nests can measure up to six feet deep. Other avian species include strange-named birds like rhinoceros auklets, red-throated pipits and orange-flanked blue-tails as well as the more common puffins, cormorants and sea gulls.
The Kamchatka Peninsula contains about 160 volcanoes. Approximately 30 are still active—and actively changing the landscape with eruptions and landslides. Journey inland by helicopter to the Valley of the Geysers, where more than 400 geysers shoot water and steam into the air
An enchanting land of fire and ice, this far-flung part of Russia is just beginning to be explored by intrepid travelers. Make it an unforgettable part of your Russian tour!
The Russian Far East extends from Japan’s Kuril Islands 700 nautical miles north to the Kamchatka Peninsula. The vast and diverse landscape presents grassy knolls, jagged cliffs, fire-spitting volcanoes, bubbling calderas, coastal forests, and snow-capped peaks. Part of the great Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the Kamchatka Peninsula has over 100 volcanoes, nearly 30 of which are active. Klyuchevskaya, the tallest volcano, towers 15,584 above sea level. Eruptions and landslides frequently alter this dramatic landscape.
For more than 70 years, the Kamchatka Peninsula was off limits, a military zone closed to foreigners and even to most Russians. It wasn’t until after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 that the area was finally open for the world to see and enjoy.
The land was first claimed by Russia in the 17th century but remained very much a wild place. Early explorers to the area reported a “land of fire” full of fish and fur-bearing animals. In 1697, an expedition under Vladimir Atlasov established two forts along the Kamchatka River to serve as trading posts for Russian fur trappers. Colonies of Cossacks settled the peninsula between 1704 and 1706, and the area remained a wild free-for-all. The Cossacks dominated the indigenous people and even defeated authorities sent in to restore order in 1711. The next several decades were marked by revolts and uprisings as the locals resisted the Cossacks. The native population dwindled from 20,000 to just 8,000 by 1700.
In 1725, Vitus Bering attempted to explore Kamchatka in an effort to discover whether Asia and America were connected. He was turned back after two years by the harsh weather the area is still known for today. Bering returned in 1740 to found Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, the region’s main city center and seaport.
The 1800s saw additional settlers arrive on the peninsula, thanks to land grants from the Russian government. By 1823, the Russian population had grown to around 2,500, and the indigenous population was nearly devastated—just 3,200 remained.
Despite its geographic isolation, the Kamchatka Peninsula was sometimes engaged in battle. In 1854, during the Crimean War, French and British troops attached Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. A testament to the hardiness of the Kamchatka residents, less than 1,000 men with just 68 guns managed to successfully defend the city against more than 2,500 French and English soldiers. Unfortunately, the city fell a year later when a larger force came to claim it. A century later, Russians would once again abandon Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, this time persuaded by Japanese battleships that shelled the city. During World War II, Kamchatka was the launch site for the liberation of Kurlis in 1945 but otherwise was uninvolved in the war.
It was after the end of World War II that the Kamchatka Peninsula was declared a military zone. It remained closed to Russians until 1989 and to foreigners until 1990. Today the region’s wonders are just beginning to be discovered by intrepid travelers from around the globe. In addition to tourism, fishing, limited agriculture and tending herds of cattle and reindeer sustain the region.
Photos: © WOLFGANG KAEHLER