The Kamchatka peninsula, on the easternmost edge of the vast Russian mainland, between the turbulent waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk, is remote, inhospitable and unfamiliar. It's a sparsely populated land of glaciers and mountains where few visitors have ventured. Indeed, until 1990, Kamchatka was closed to all foreigners, and even Russians needed a special travel permit to enter the remote area with its rugged landscape of volcanoes and hot geysers.
Today, though, the peninsula is a dream destination for adventurous travellers and scientists from around the world who come in search of new experiences in this still unexplored location. More than a holiday destination, a trip to Kamchatka is an expedition of discovery, and better undertaken as part of a group. Although the area has finally found its way onto the maps, there are not many tourist facilities here and not much in the way of state-of-the-art infrastructure. Nor are you going to find it easy to make yourself understood, so it's far wiser to leave the organisation in the hands of a specialised agency whose personnel will take care of all the official aspects and leave you free to enjoy the majestic Siberian scenery and wildlife.
What the area lacks in mod cons, it makes up for in biodiversity. The region's variable climate encourages abundant flora, which in turn supports a marvellous range of animal and birdlife. At Lake Kurilskoye you can watch brown bears – the true kings of Kamchatka – hunting salmon in the icy waters, or feeding on wild berries. The volcanoes of Kamchatka are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and standing at 3,085 metres on the edge of the crater of Tolbachik will leave even the most hardened traveller breathless with wonder as they turn through 360º to admire a panoramic view that takes in dozens of volcanic cones.
You can take a helicopter flight and get a fascinating aerial view of the Valley of Geysers, stay in a cosy wooden lodge overlooking Lake Kurilskoye and the surrounding mountains, or bathe in the thermal waters of the Khodutka River in the shadow of the Khodutka volcano. You can explore the coastline of Avachinsky Bay, visit the old Cossack settlements of Milkovo, search for abandoned gold mines, or discover the secrets of Russian rural life in villages such as Esso and Anivgai.
Why not take a boat trip – a fishing excursion complete with fish soup sampling – on the Avacha River Bay, or go trekking in the Kronotsky Biosphere Reserve? Kamchatka is home to vast numbers of birds of prey including over 50% of the world's population of Stellar's sea eagles, as well as white tailed eagles, gyr falcon and peregrine falcon, and Starichkov Island is a favourite location to observe sea birds who nest in great numbers on the steep cliffs. The experiences Kamchatka offers are unique and unforgettable, and here, possibly more than anywhere, Nature deserves to be written with a capital letter.