Trips to the edge of Russia are no longer surprising: Kamchatka has been on the must-see list of all travelers for several years. But the Kuriles are not so popular yet – only about 500 people visit here a year. Although in reality all these volcanoes, snow-white lava rocks, tropical forests, boiling rivers and volcanic lakes are far from being as impregnable as they seem.
We talked with travel expert Svetlana, who organizes comfortable tours to Iturup and Sakhalin, what awaits travelers.
Spoiler: a lot of beautiful.
— How to get to Sakhalin?
We meet in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Here we spend the day to recover. The flight is exhausting: it takes at least nine hours to fly to Sakhalin from Moscow. And the time difference with the capital is eight hours. Therefore, upon arrival, get ready for a strong hangover-like jet lag.
Life hack: I recommend taking night flights. Aeroflot has an ideal option, the plane takes off at 23:05 and lands at 15:30 in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. It will be possible to sleep on the road and land when it is still light. Then it will be easier to reschedule the flight.
The next day we go to the largest island of the Iturup archipelago. We will spend five days there and return to Sakhalin again to get acquainted with the history of the city and go to Aniva, an old abandoned Japanese lighthouse.
Rocky coast of the Kuril Islands
— What to take with you on a trip?
We have a “glamexpedition”: we are about comfort and care. We stay in good hotels and glampings. We travel in four jeeps. In each – three people and a driver. Plenty of space for everyone, you can even lie down. But despite this, you need to understand that this is a trip to nature, to the mountains. We send a detailed list of things in advance so that there is time to buy everything you need: a membrane jacket, hoodie, cap, hat, shorts. The islands have different climates: sometimes snow, sometimes rain, sometimes sunshine. You will have to change clothes often, so you need a lot of clothes. Musthave – waterproof trekking shoes. Best high, to the ankle. Urban sneakers – definitely not, it will be cold and uncomfortable.
I advise you to thoroughly approach the selection of things – no matter how beautiful it is around, if you freeze, you will not be interested in all this.
You can travel to the Kuriles in comfort
– When should you start preparing?
For half a year. A trip to the Kuriles must be planned in advance so that there are tickets. Only one aircraft flies on the route Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk – Iturup, and in the season two aircraft a day. These are small Canadian Bombardier DHC-8s with a capacity of only 70 people. The good news is that thanks to the regional program of subsidizing passenger transportation, the cost of tickets remains low – 5,950 rubles one way.
An alternative is a boat that runs every three days. But it's hard to get tickets for it. There are no other ways to get there, even with transfers. Already now there are no tickets available for July, August and September.
Plus, going to Sakhalin and the Kuriles is not cheap. For example, our tour costs $2687. If you plan ahead, you can split payments into several parts, find profitable tickets.
There is a variety of seafood on the islands (there are even sea urchins)
— When is the best time to go?
The busiest season is from July to September. By local standards, at this time it is warm here – around +14 ° C – and there is little rain. But for the first time I visited the Kuril Islands in October, and still I was impressed. In the midst of autumn, it is insanely beautiful here: such bright colors and a raging ocean.
— Top-3 the brightest impressions from the trip?
1. White cliffs are the main reason to go, the calling card of Iturup. It's incredibly beautiful, amazing. The rocks stretch for 28 kilometers along the sea. Although in fact these are not rocks at all, but deposits of pumice and volcanic glass.
2. Aniva lighthouse. We arrange a tour to the old Japanese abandoned lighthouse. It's a long drive: two hours by car and another one and a half by boat. But it's worth it.
3. Boat trip along the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk. Imagine: a boat jumps on the waves, splashes of salt water fly in your face, but you don’t notice anything, because there are incredible bays and steep cliffs with waterfalls around.
— Who usually goes on tour to the Kuriles?
Most often girls. We usually have a female group in each round, only 20-30% of men. It seems to me that this is because we provide very comfortable conditions: glamping on the seashore, a beautiful hotel, private cars. And a professional photographer always travels with us, who will definitely take cool pictures for all the participants.
Families with children do not travel: we have an 18+ tour. We love children, but it will be hard and uninteresting for them to be with us. The road is long, we are constantly on the road. And we don’t have any action: you need to be very conscious and really love and appreciate nature, know history. Only then can you have fun.
Rough greenery of Iturup Island
— Is it true that you can meet bears?
The most popular question! Yes true. There are many bears in Iturup. And they do not just walk in the forest, but go out into the city, onto the road, to the cars. But you need to understand that this is a normal situation for this region. Therefore, our groups are always accompanied by a professional hunter with a gun. But you should not be afraid, it's just for safety net. Bears do not come out to people when they make noise, and we always have cheerful companies. Recently, we were the first in the season to follow the route and saw a lot of bear tracks, we understood that he was somewhere nearby. But the bear never came out.
— The most important thing is what can you eat there?
Of course, fish, caviar and seafood: scallops, oysters, shrimp, crabs. This is a feature of the region. The prices are pleasant: for 500 rubles you can buy a pound of excellent fresh caviar. I recommend that you allocate a special place for it in your suitcase.
The Kuriles are impregnable, but criminally beautiful. Yes, you will have to plan a trip six months in advance, fly nine hours and fight jet lag. But it's worth it. Let's take a chance?