There are few places in the world that can simultaneously enthral and disappoint quite like Kamchatka (Камчатка). A fickle temptress, it tends to hide its primal beauty behind a veil of thick clouds and fog.
But when the skies finally clear and the powdered snouts of several dozen volcanoes appear through the clouds, all else melts away and you understand that you’re in a special place. No matter what you went through to get here, no matter how long you’ve spent grounded, it was all worth it.
Visitors to Kamchatka are an intriguing mix of outdoorsy types and package tourists. The former have back-country adventure on their mind; the latter want to see Kamchatka’s otherworldly geysers, fuming volcanoes and bears the easy way – by helicopter. They’re united by deep pockets.
Yet against all odds, Kamchatka has suddenly become viable for independent, relatively budget-conscious travellers. The permit situation has relaxed, allowing visitors to take public transport north to Esso in the heart of the peninsula, where a slick nature park office is busy mapping trails in English and guesthouses hawk beds for less than R1000. Here hot springs abound and you are not far from several volcanoes, including tempestuous Mt Klyuchevskaya (4688m), the tallest active volcano in Eurasia.
The capital, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, may be gritty, but it’s in an incredible setting and also has its share of easily accessible activities, including lift skiing into late May and some very doable volcano climbs. Kamchatka may not be a budget destination yet, but no longer is it strictly the domain of tycoons.