Guide to the South Kuril Islands: During the pandemic, many Russians were able to fully enjoy domestic tourism. Someone studied the southern part of Russia far and wide, other citizens went deep into our country. We vote for more complex tourist routes, but no less interesting and unusual. We are talking about the South Kuril Islands, which you can go to next season. But so that this trip does not become a test of strength for you, Alexey Egorov and Andrey Kipyatkov, captains of the Power of the Wind project, have prepared a guide for you that will help you enjoy the local nature, culture, and even gastronomy.
This is the southernmost point of the Kuril Islands, the main population of which is fishermen, and the administrative center – the city of Yuzhno-Kurilsk – is more like a village. From Kunashir you can see Japan – the island of Hokkaido is only 22 kilometers away.
It is also the most accessible island in terms of transport of all. An airplane flies from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Yuzhno-Kurilsk (a ticket will cost about 6,000 rubles). Since the Kuril Islands are a border area, a special pass must be issued to visit (through the State Services). This will take about a month, and the document itself will be valid for six months.
There are only 5 hotels here. “Docker” and “Iceberg” are classic hotels, “Druzhba” is a cute Japanese hostel in its own way, quite clean and comfortable. Surprisingly, there are also comfortable rooms in the local butcher shop.
It is still better to stay in a tent – there are two tent camps on the island, which are surrounded by a special net from bears. Predators, by the way, can be found anywhere here, so before traveling, you should familiarize yourself with simple rules and tips on what to do when meeting with animals.
The Southern Kuriles are famous for their nature, but not for civilization – you should not expect an interesting museum or at least some kind of service, since this place has become a tourist destination not so long ago.
There are several trekking routes in Kunashir: Cape Stolbchaty, Golovninskiy Cliff (a long miraculous wall with waterfalls on the Pacific side of the island), the Golovnin volcano caldera (included in the list of 100 most beautiful places in Russia), and two mineralized lakes – Boiling and Hot, in which you can swim, unfortunately not.
You can also climb the Mendeleev volcano, which is about 900 meters high. You will have to make your way to it through dense thickets of bamboo, at the end of which you will see a real Martian landscape.
All these routes are designed for one day, and it is better to take water and food with you, as there will be nowhere to eat along the way. Depending on your confidence, you can take a guide (in general, local taxi drivers are quite willing to suggest cool places to walk) or go by yourself. For those who like climbing more seriously, the Tyatya volcano is suitable. The way to its top will take several days, but you can use an all-terrain vehicle. You can also climb the Tyatyu volcano, but this is a difficult journey, so it is better to get there by transport.
The pearl of the Kuril Islands is very green, sparsely populated, and therefore a beautiful island with a strong flair for Japan. There are two settlements here, one hotel, one truly hipster cafe-bakery, which it is not clear how it brought here. An ideal option for a holiday on Shikotan is to live in a tent and walk around the entire island in two days.
It is worth starting the tour from Cape World’s End, and next to it is Cape Crab. If you are lucky, you can see whales from the rocks here, and if you don’t succeed, then just enjoy the endless horizon of the ocean, with huge container ships rarely passing by. A few hundred meters from here are Bezymyannaya and Soldatskaya bays, as well as the Shpanberg lighthouse, which is considered perhaps the most important attraction and probably one of the most beautiful architectural structures of this type.
Then you can climb Mount Shikotan, and then go to the Tserkovnaya and Snezhkova bays and at the same time see the islands of Aivazovsky and the Ninth Val. On the way, you will see Japanese burials covered with moss, but retaining perfect geometric shapes.
There are no bears on the island, the only danger is the mustard plant. It is not found on the coast, but there is a lot of it in the middle of Shikotan: locals advise covering open areas of the skin and bypassing the flower.
If, nevertheless, hiking seems difficult, then on the island you can hire a driver-guide. Almost all locals move on all-terrain vehicles – residents will be taken to any bay and picked up in a couple of days, and at the same time, they will tell about the secrets of Shikotan.
The most infrastructurally developed island of the Southern Kuriles. There are about 6 hotels, several cafes, and shops, so an avid tourist will be satisfied.
Iturup is a volcanic island. It differs in that its hot springs, unlike those of Kunashir, are ennobled. These are full-fledged Japanese-style onsen. There is no such thing on Kunashir, and on Shikotan there are no mines at all, just like volcanoes.
The island’s most popular attraction is the White Cliffs, huge basalt cliffs built from volcanic ash several million years ago. They gradually, under the influence of erosion from wind and rain, acquired a very unusual indented lace shape.
It is also worth going to the Yankito plateau – a lava cliff resulting from the action of volcanoes, including Baransky (by the way, we also recommend driving to it). In this area, there are a lot of blue lakes and fonts that boil all the time (the temperature is such that you can boil an egg there), acid streams.
There are also attractions from the sea – the Atsonupuri volcano and the Lion’s Mouth. But the only way to get there is by water. And probably the most optimal and convenient way in this situation is to rent a yacht.
What to eat
There are no special dishes on the Kuril Islands. The gastronomic delights of the Southern Kuriles are seafood. There are a lot of them here – crabs, scallops, octopuses, and much more. The fish season in the Kuriles, by the way, is year-round – there are species that spawn in summer, and there are those that lay eggs in autumn and winter. The most popular snack for travelers is shrimp and salmon caviar, and the best crab is bought from local fishermen and cooked by them on the ocean shore.
If we talk about restaurants and cafes, then there are a couple of establishments on Kunashir Island where you can eat. The Docker Hotel has a dining room (in the good sense of the word), but at the same time, you can take king prawns there. And in the cafe “Ocean” you can find 5 types of the scallop.
What to wear
In winter, it is often snowy in the Kuril Islands – a blizzard may not stop for several days. At the beginning of summer, there are fogs and drizzle over the islands, which also makes hiking difficult.
The best time to go there is between July and early November. September and October can be considered the most comfortable months. The temperature at this time is from +10 to +20 degrees, and you will also be able to catch a beautiful autumn nature, very similar to the Japanese.
Before traveling, you should take care of the equipment – it is about it, and not about ordinary warm clothes. It is worth following the rule that the weather changes several times a day, so it is better to have several layers: the bottom one is breathable thermal underwear, the middle one is a warm layer, or maybe two if you plan to move around at night or climb, for example, a volcano. And be sure to take the top with you – windproof and waterproof things and trekking boots.