cranberries in Kamchatka

Kamchatka for the thrifty: 5 easy ways you can save money

Kamchatka is an expensive destination, really (since it’s a peninsula in far-eastern Russia, geographically near Japan and away from the beaten tourist tracks). It costs a lot of money to travel to remote places so you can enjoy its amazing nature. Roaring geysers, breathtaking tundras, fire-spewing volcanoes – all of this is great, but what if you don’t have the money? Well, it will be a tough call, but there are still some awesome places to see that won’t break your bank account. If you do it right.

Plan beforehand

Of course, this is one of the most basic rules of independent travellers – if you don’t buy a package from a tour company, you have to be your own guide. It’s especially important to do some research when you plan to go to Kamchatka, because very few of the sights are easily accessible and most people in the streets won’t speak enough English to help you out on the way, so do your homework. Look up things you want to see, search for information on how to get there and try to find some locals on the web – they’ll be your best source of local information.

Save on accomodation

wooden cabin near lake in Kamchatka
A wooden cabin near Dvukhyurtochnoye lake in Kamchatka

Finding an inexpensive place to stay will be the hardest part of your planning. Average hotel in Petropavlovsk costs around $100 per night for a single room, and you won’t get a luxurious suite for your money. Kamchatka hotels are notorious for the poor balance of price and quality, so if you are travelling on a budget, it’s best to avoid them alltogether. Here are a few tips on finding cheap or free accomodation in Kamchatka:

  1. Couchsurfing is your best bet for finding a free housing for the first few days. There is a small but active couchsurfing community in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, and if you write several hosts, you’ll be sure to find someone who will be able to accomodate you for a few days. Also, locals can be a veritable fountain of information on where to go and how to get there, so it’s a doubly good idea.
  2. Camping is a good opportunity when you travel in the wild around Kamchatka, but it’s only advisable in July or August. It’s too cold in winter months to stay in the wild and it can be dangerous to stay in tent during spring and early summer: there is a good chance you could be attacked by a bear. Also, staying in a tent and hiking on your own can be quite risky: so bring a partner or a big company along! Also be warned: there are practically no regular camping sites in Kamchatka, so you’ll literally be staying in the wild.
  3. Hostels are an opportunity for Petropavlovsk or Elizovo (the two biggest cities) if you absolutely can’t find any other accomodation. Actually, there are only a few. The cheapest bunks in a dorm are at the time in Hostel24 (you can find it on booking.com). They are quite affordable at about $15 per night.

Choose cheaper destinations

cranberries in Kamchatka
Kamchatka cranberries in a tundra near Ust-bolsheretsk

Kamchatka can be quite a budget breaker. There are plenty of stunningly beautiful places that can only be reached with a helicopter – which means that a one-day trip can cost as much as $600 even if you travel in a group with a tour company (If you decide to book a helicopter for a private tour – the sky is the limit for the prices). However, there are some alternatives that are quite as good as the top-priced destinations – and won’t cost you a fortune.

For example, the Valley of Geysers is one of the more famous spots in Kamchatka. It really is worth seeing – great spurts of boiling water, geysers erupting, mud pots overflowing with boiling clay.. it also cost around $630 for a one-day trip in summer 2016. The valley is only accessible by helicopter, and it’s a one-and-a-half-hour flight each way, hence the price. But if you don’t want to spend this much on a single trip, consider going into the crater of the Mutnovskiy volcano – the locals call it “the mini-valley of geysers”. There are no geysers inside the crater, but there is a boiling mud pot, fumaroles and a glacier lake, and it’s beautiful enough to take your breath away. A two or three day tour to the volcano through a local tour company will cost you around $100 – and it usually comes with visiting the Gorely volcano (with acid lakes in the crater) as an added bonus. You can also try hitchhiking to get to the foot of the volcano and stay in a tent on the way – travelling costs will be minimal then.

Also, try for some unusual destination or activities – for example, why not go berry-picking with some of your local friends in July or August? A lot of locals go in the woods in summer to gather honeysuckle or blueberries, so just tag along. You can enjoy stunning tundra landscapes, try artic berries and get an authentic experience with locals all in one package, and it’s virtually free!

Use local public transport

Oktyabrskiy settlement
On the road to Oktyabrskiy settlement

Transportation costs in Kamchatka can be quite high if you have to hire a taxi to go somewhere. Plus, it’s unlikely that taxi drivers will speak English (not a lot of people in Kamchatka do). So here are some saving tips:

  • To go to the city from the airport, take bus #104. Note: there are two bus stations side-by-side at the airport – one is for those who want to go to Petropavlovsk, the other for those who wish to travel to Elizovo. If you can read cyrillic, just look out for the right name. If you can’t, either ask the locals or look at the length of the names on the signs – Petropavlovsk-Kamchatkskiy has a lot more letters than Elizovo.
  • Take bus #21 or #1 to travel to the city center – this is where the Avachinskaya bay and most city attractions are.
  • Take bus #110 from the main bus station (also called “the 10th kilometer by the locals) to go to hot thermal springs in Paratunka.
  • Take public buses to travel to small settlements like Esso or and Ust-kamchatsk. The buses generally run once or twice a day and the tickets are available at the main bus station in advance.

Hitchhike

Map of trekking routes in Esso
Map of trekking routes in Esso village

While locals rarely do it, hitchhiking is possible in Kamchatka, as proven by a number of foreign backpackers I’ve known. If you don’t want to pay for a tour, you can hitchhike your way to the foot of the Avachinskiy,  Mutnovskiy and Gorely volcanoes, for example. To be safe, just don’t stray too far from the main roads and complete all travels by night – most roads are quite literally in the woods and chances of meeting a bear on the roadside are greater in the dark, as they are nocturnal animals. Also camping by the road is not a good idea, so try to move between settlements during the day.

Improvise

It’s easy to travel around Kamchatka when a big sum of money can be spared; but it also leaves much less space for spontaneous and authentic experiences. Be open to new and uncommon routes, go with the flow and rely on locals for their experience. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to have the time of your life in Kamchatka!

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