Giving to
Bryn Mawr

Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center

Wild Kamchatka: Volcanoes and Reindeer

August 14 – 24, 2013

This uncommon journey focuses on Russia’s east coast and the wild Kamchatka Peninsula, a wide volcanic promontory thrusting upward from the Pacific Ring of Fire. Spend over a week exploring this spectacular region by cross-country vehicle and helicopter, meeting its diverse people en route.

We gather in the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, a remote seaside town surrounded by three sky-piercing volcanoes: Koryaksky, Avachinsky and Viluchinsky. Our adventure begins with a helicopter ride up Kamchatka's backbone of volcanic peaks to the UNESCO-listed Valley of the Geysers. A natural preserve only discovered in 1941, this area seethes with geysers, steaming hot springs, mud kettles and aromatic sulfur pools. Venture north to the rarely visited Esso Region, meeting Koryak and Even native peoples. Our tour ends back in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky; consider extending your time with touring in Vladivostok on the way back home.

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Preliminary Itinerary
(please click on location to reveal details)


Day 1 August 14 Depart USA

Depart the USA on individual flights bound for Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. We recommend flying from New York to Moscow and connecting all the way to the Kamchatka peninsula.

Meals: In flight

Day 2 August 15 enroute to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

Change planes in Moscow and continue onward to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky at the tip of the Kamchatka peninsula.

Meals: In flight

Day 3 August 16 Arrive Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

Arrive today in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. A beautiful sight greets arriving flights: mountainous terrain highlighted by three snow-capped volcanoes. The peninsula is home to some 150 volcanoes, 28 of which are active, including those closest to the city of Petropavlovsk, Avachinsky and Koryaksky.

On arrival transfer to the hotel. The remainder of the afternoon is free to explore Petropavlovsk. Founded by Vitus Bering, the city is named after the two ships he sailed into Avachinsky Bay in 1740, the St. Peter and the St. Paul. Prominent explorers including Bering, La Peruse and Charles Clark all played a role in local history. A city of more than 250,000 people, Petropavlovsk is home to fishermen, shipbuilders and repairmen, traders, geologistsand students. It serves as the capital of the Kamchatka Peninsula, a total area of 472,000 square kilometers. Dinner this evening is at a local restaurant.

Accommodations: Avacha Hotel or similar
Meals: in flight, D

Day 4 August 17 Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky • day trip to Valley of the Geysers by helicopter

Today embark on a helicopter excursion to the fantastic Valley of the Geysers. The helicopter flight takes approximately 90 minutes over one of the more active regions of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Admire the beauty and grandeur of active volcanoes and the mountain ranges, taiga, rivers and lakes of Kamchatka during the flight to the preserve. The Valley of the Geysers is located in a hidden canyon deep in the territory of the Kronotsky Biosphere Preserve about 200 kilometers from Petropavlovsk. Geysers, mud pots, thermal springs and steam vents erupt from the valley floor, and boardwalks thread their way through the extraordinary landscape. Since its discovery in 1941 by scientist Tatyana Ustinova, the valley has attracted researchers and visitors from all over the world. It is a centerpiece of the Volcanoes of Kamchatka World Heritage Site.

Lunch will be served picnic style today by the heliport. After the return flight from the valley, enjoy dinner at a local restaurant. Please note: Helicopter flights are weather dependent. Other groups will join the flight to the Valley of the Geysers.

Meals: B, L, D

Day 5 August 18 Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky • Cruise Avacha Bay

Enjoy another day in the capital of Kamchatka, beginning with a visit to the Museum of Volcanology, the exhibits made all the more real from witnessing the Valley of the Geysers’ geothermal activity yesterday. The museum houses a collection of minerals from the Ring of Fire, and screens video footage of some of the latest eruptions on Kamchatka.After lunch this afternoon, set out to explore Avacha Bay by boat (weather permitting). Avacha Bay is, considered to be one of the worlds biggest. Admire the boats and ships that arrive and depart year round. Further from town, colonies of sea birds nest on the cliffs and rocks, the cone of Avacha volcano steams above the green hills and the sheer sea stacks called the Three Brothers stand guard against tsunamis. Also cruise around Starichkov Island where you may perhaps spot some of the bay's sea otters, seals, and other sea mammals.

Meals: B, L, D

Day 6 August 19 Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky • Esso

This morning depart by overland vehicle for Esso. The day will be quite long, but the route offers fantastic scenery. Make stops along the way at small settlements such as Milkovo (Malki), known for its natural thermal hot springs, and enjoy the forested hillsides of central Kamchatka. This is a route few travelers have taken, as Kamchatka remained off-limits to Soviets and foreigners alike until 1993. During that time it was one of the most secret and restricted parts of the Soviet Union due to its military installations (Petropavlovsk harbors the Russian Pacific submarine fleet and a major naval base).

The lunch stop will be at Milkovo, an old Cossack village situated on the banks of the Kamchatka River, the largest river on the peninsula. Notice how the climate differs markedly from Petropavlovsk: in the summer, Milkovo is the warmest place on the peninsula. Time permitting, visit a replica of an old Cossack fort, before continuing to Esso. Esso is a town of approximately 2,300 people, two thirds of whom are Russian and one third of whom are indigenous peoples.

Spend the next three days visiting and learning about the two major indigenous peoples of Kamchatka, the Koryak and the Even. By current estimates, there are approximately 7,200 Koryaks in Kamchatka, most living in the Koryaksky Autonomous Okrug. The name Koryak originated in the 18th century as a general term used to describe the scattered ethnic groups that inhabited northern and northeastern Siberia. The Cossacks, who came to Kamchatka in the 17th century, frequently heard the local people use the word khora, which means reindeer. They took this word to refer to the people in general, thereby calling them "the men of reindeer."

Koryak people are divided into subgroups: nymylany (settled) and chavchuveny (nomadic).The nymylany-Koryaks were originally hunters and fishermen. Today, most of them live a modern life-style in wooden homes with electricity. The chavchuveny-Koryaks engage primarily in reindeer breeding. They rely on the reindeer for their food, clothing, shelter and transportation. Originally they lived in yaranga, round dwellings covered in reindeer hides. Towards the end of the 19th century, however, they began to use tents made from a dense type of fabric instead. The chavchuveny-Koryak have retained much of the original nomadic culture of the Koryak people, primarily because they continue to spend the better part of the year traveling with their herds. Since they return to their settlements only periodically, there is much less opportunity for foreign cultural elements to have an impact on their way of life.

The Evens came to the Kamchatka peninsula relatively late from the Okhotsk region. Originally they engaged in fishing and hunting, but towards the end of the 19th century their major occupation became reindeer breeding. The first Even arrived in Kamchatka with a small number of reindeer, but upon arrival in Kamchatka, under the influence of the Koryak, they began to breed reindeer for fur and meat. For shelter, they constructed conical tents called chums (similar to the Koryak yaranga and to the Native American teepee). They used reindeer for transportation and made clothes of the hides. Today, almost half of the approximately 1,500 Even in Kamchatka live in the Bystrinsky area, to which Esso and the nearby Anavgay Settlement belong.

The indigenous people of Kamchatka have their own mythology. They believe that the universe is divided into upper, middle and lower worlds. The upper world, or Land of Clouds, is inhabited by the Creator, Dawn, Noon, Zenith, Polar Star, and the Picket, to which stars and constellations, like reindeer, are tethered. They believe that stars and constellations are like people. The dwellings of indigenous people represent the mythological model of the world, particularly the pole-ladder, which stands in the middle of the dwelling and symbolizes the connection between the lower and upper worlds. When someone dies, they believe the person ascends to the upper world and, simultaneously, someone descends to the lower world in their place.

Dinner tonight is at the hotel.

Meals: B, L, D

Day 7 August 20 Esso • Helicopter to reindeer breeders’ camp

After breakfast today, transfer again by helicopter, this time to a region where reindeer breeders live. Fly in a helicopter over the dramatic landscape of Kamchatka to where the nomadic population of Even reindeer herders still practice traditional methods of hunting and fishing. Visit their chums, the cone shaped, portable tents they call home, and experience a way of life that is now in danger of completely dying out.

After the visit, make the return flight to Esso for dinner.

Please note: The precise schedule for the next few days is subject to change, as helicopter flights are weather dependent.

Meals: B, L, D

Day 8 August 21 Esso • day trip to Anavgay

Spend the day today in and around Esso. The alpine village of Esso is situated in the middle of the Kamchatka peninsula and has been called the “Switzerland” of eastern Russia because of its dramatic mountains and relatively mild climate. Esso has a vibrant indigenous culture which inhabitants have fought to preserve. An ethnographic museum dedicated to the people who originally called this place home is considered one of the best of its kind in Russia and offers visitors a glimpse of their way of life.

This afternoon travel to the nearby Anavgay Settlement, a village of 700 people inhabited mostly by indigenous peoples of the Even and Koryak groups. This settlement, about 15 miles from Esso, is an example of how the native populations have integrated into modern, settled life in Russia’s Far East while maintaining a link to their past and sharing that history with visitors. Enjoy a cultural performance of Koryak song and dance. Have dinner on return to Esso and overnight at the guesthouse.

Meals: B, L, D

Day 9 August 22 Esso • Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

Today transfer overland back to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The evening is yours to explore the city. Dinner at a local restaurant.

Accommodations: Hotel Avacha
Meals: B, L, D

Day 10 August 23 Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky • Avacha Volcano

The final day in this rugged country includes a trip to Avacha Volcano. Hop aboard a sixwheel truck for the drive to the foot of Avacha. The first 18km is on the main road, but the next 25 km is on a rugged track that climbs upward to the base camp where climbers begin ascending the volcano. After a picnic lunch at the volcano’s foot, set off for a walk to the top of Camel Mountain (1150 meters). All types of indigenous plants and flowers grow here along the 20-30 degree angle slope. Spectacular views of Zhupanovsky, Vilyuchinsky and Koryaksky Volcanoes are the reward for reaching the apex of Camel Mountain.

Return to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to bid farewell to the Kamchatka peninsula with a festive dinner.

Meals: B, L, D

Day 11 August 24 Depart Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

Following breakfast, the tour concludes with a transfer to the airport.

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Price and Program Inclusions:

$5,995 per person double occupancy
$795 single supplement

Land Tour Package Inclusions

  • All accommodation based on double occupancy per itinerary with breakfast daily, local service charge and tax (standard hotel check-in/out times apply unless otherwise noted): Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (5 nights over 2 stays); Esso (3 nights);
  • Private transport for group arrival and departure transfers;
  • Transportation by private minibus, coach or 4 wheel drive vehicles for overland travel days;
  • Helicopter flights as listed in itinerary: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Valley of the Geysers (Day 3); Esso to the reindeer herders’ settlement (Day 6). Both helicopter flights are round-trip and weather-dependent;
  • All sightseeing and excursions including entrance fees per itinerary;
  • Local English speaking guides throughout itinerary;
  • Special cultural features as stated in itinerary;
  • Services of a MIR tour manager throughout the land program;
  • Special Welcome and Farewell Dinners;
  • Breakfasts daily, lunches and dinners as listed in the itinerary. Bottled/purified water with meals;
  • Gratuities to tour manager, local guides, and drivers;
  • Baggage handling at the hotels & guesthouses where available;
  • Destination preparation information packet;

Price Does Not Include

International airfare between the U.S. and the start and ending cities; air taxes or fuel surcharges; pre- or post-tour services; visa or passport fees; medical and trip interruption insurance; evacuation costs; food or beverages not included in group meals; items of a personal nature such as laundry, alcohol, telephone expense, excess baggage fees, photo/video expenses inside museums (where allowed); other items not expressly listed as included.

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Faculty Study Leader

Maria Luisa Crawford
Maria Luisa Crawford

Our Bryn Mawr faculty host is Maria Luisa Crawford, Emerita Professor of Geology. Her research is focused on solving the history of mountain belts (such as the Coast Oregon of British Columbia and southeastern Alaska or the older Appalachians in Pennsylvania) by looking at as many different aspects as possible of the kinds of rocks, the time the rocks formed, the location in which they formed, the way the earth moved.

Her ongoing research programs have the aim to understand mountain building processes and related terrane accretion. This has focused on the nature, rates, and timing of the processes that resulted in the mountains formed along the present eastern margin of North America during the early Paleozoic (550-350 million years ago) and along the northwestern coast of British Columbia and southeastern Alaska from the Cretaceous (110 million years ago) to the present.

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Tour Operator Information

Why MlR?

Regional knowledge is crucial to the success of any trip to our corner of the world. MIR combines detailed information about geography and infrastructure, history and art, language and culture, with the depth of knowledge that comes only from decades of regional experience. You may wonder how we differ from other tour operators…

Destination Specialization

MIR focuses exclusively on the exceptional region at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. This area has been our overriding passion since 1986; we don’t do the rest of the world. Our hardearned expertise gained over the last 25 years can take you from end to end of the largest country in the world — Russia — and to all of its neighbors. We specialize in travel to Siberia, the Silk Route, St. Petersburg & Beyond. Our destinations include: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), Central Asia (the five ‘Stans), Iran, the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), Mongolia, China, Tibet and Central/East Europe (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania and the Balkans).

25 Years of Experience – A Solid Track Record

A travel company doesn’t last 25 years in the business without a solid track record. Our dedication and experience have earned us their trust and the trust of many well-respected institutions. Today MIR is the preferred tour operator for museum, alumni and special interest organizations across the country including Harvard Alumni Association, Stanford Travel/Study, Dartmouth College Alumni, Harvard Museum of Natural History, Washington Agriculture and Forestry Education Foundation, Northwestern Alumni Association Travel and of course, Bryn Mawr Alumnae Travel .

Award Winning Travel

MIR has twice (2008 & 2009) been named one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” by National Geographic Adventure. Several of our tours have won awards in top travel publications, such as Outside magazine and National Geographic Traveler. Our trips have been featured in books like Riding the Hula Hula to the Arctic Ocean and 1000 Places to See

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