As with the board game, Kamchatka in real life peers over the edge of the world. Unlike in the board game, where hundreds of armies invade eastward or westward across it as an important part of strategy, few people ever actually see the real place. That’s unfortunate as the peninsula is perhaps one of the most beautiful locations in the world. With 160 volcanoes, 29 of which are still active, the mountains dazzle visitors. Klyuchevskaya Sopka stands as the largest active volcano outside of the Andes at 15,584 feet (4,750 meters); along with all the other volcanoes in the eastern chain, it most recently erupted in late January (2013). Meanwhile, volcanologists often nominate the near-perfectly symmetrical Kronotskaya Sopka, the centerpiece of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve, as the world’s most beautiful volcano.
With so much volcanic activity, it’s natural that this world wonder of a peninsula features so many natural hot springs. The geothermal potential of the region is incredible, with unique sights dotting the landscape. For instance, the spectacular natural steam emissions in the Valley of the Geysers are, in fact, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Nalychevo Nature Park features quite a number of special medicinal hot springs, set in the middle of a reserve that showcases many rare species of plants and animals.
The peninsula has a population of about 350,000 people, about half that of the U.S. state of Alaska, and as with that country’s 49th state, about half of the overall population resides in one city, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The second largest city in the world that is not reachable by road (other than from the airport at nearby Yelizovo), Petropavlovsk hosts several monuments to its earliest 18th century visitors, including one to the city’s founder Vitus Bering (who “rediscovered” the Bering Strait 80 years after Semyon Dezhnev first sailed through it - Bering died on a nearby island heading back home to here), another to James Cook’s successor in the ill-fated third British circumnavigation - Charles Clerke (he died during his visit not long after Cook was killed in Hawaii), and a third to Jean-Francois de la Perouse (whose French expedition sank on the way from Petropavlovsk to Japan). That this is a remote location whose scenic beauty is worth risking one’s life, there can be no doubt.
Kamchatka thrills more than just the eyes, though. Along with many other remote North Pacific locations, one of the leading attractions is the seafood. The red king crab here is the same as can be seen on Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch,” and as in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, is superb when eaten freshly caught. Salmon fishing is also still quite good on the rivers of Kamchatka (though, be aware that many bears agree).
Kamchatka is certainly not for the timid traveler, the kind that must have all the comforts of civilization at beck and call at a moment’s notice. But it is for the adventurer who must see and experience the most beautiful places in the world at least once in a lifetime.