Kuril Islands, Kamchatka and Commander Islands

Expedition cruise: Kuril Islands, Kamchatka and Commander Islands – May 28th to June 9th, 2019

Expedition cruise and voyage to the Kuril Islands Expedition cruise on board the vessel Spirit of Enderby

Size of the group: 48 expeditioners maximum

Duration: 12 nights/13 days

The ship in details…

Expedition cruise basics…

The Pacific Ring of Fire manifests itself in numerous places on the rim of the Pacific Ocean – but nowhere more dramatically than in Russia’s Far East. Along one of the world’s most active plate boundaries, the Pacific plate sub ducts under the North American plate and the resulting volcanic and geothermal activity has built a unique and amazing landscape. Upwelling from the deep trenches formed by this action and currents around the many islands creates perfect conditions for seabirds and cetaceans. Consequently the area is one of the richest in the world, both in terms of the number of species, which can be seen, and their sheer abundance. For many birders, the undoubted highlight is the auks and during our voyage it is possible to see up to fourteen species including Tufted and Horned Puffins, Parakeet, Whiskered and Rhinoceros Auklets, as well as Spectacled and Pigeon Guillemots.
The region’s human history is equally interesting and fascinating. The original settlers were the Ainu and Itelmen. They were displaced with the arrival of the Cossacks in the 18th century after the Explorer Vitus Bering had put the region on the map. The Soviet empire encompassed the region and at the height of the Cold War, Russia’s formidable Pacific Fleet was based here. The secrecy surrounding the fleet resulted in the region being ‘closed’ even to Russians who had to get special permits to travel to and within the area. It is only now, two decades since Perestroika, that people can travel relatively freely here, although there is still very little in the way of infrastructure for visitors.


About the program and itinerary…

Day 1: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy
You will be transferred to the vessel and will depart for the Commander Islands.

Day 2: at Sea
A day at sea as you towards the Commander Islands. Enjoy several lectures and briefings as you prepare for the days ahead. It is also a good time to be on deck as the birding is good with Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel and Red-legged Kittiwake amongst the likely sightings.

Days 3 and 4: Commander Islands
There are two main islands in the Commander group, Bering and Medny, and during your two days you will explore several sites combining the best of the natural and cultural history. There is an excellent chance of finding Rock Sandpiper, Mongolian Plover, Pechora Pipit and Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch, as well as the endemic subspecies of Arctic Fox. Zodiac cruising can be extremely rewarding here with several species of auklets as well as the Red-legged Kittiwake. The area is also extremely rich in marine mammals. Potential species include Sperm, Humpback, Northern Minke and Baird’s Beaked-Whales, as well as Orcas, Steller Sea Lions, Northern Fur Seals and Sea Otters. A visit to the small settlement of Nikolskoye and the local museum will be planned if weather permits, like for Commander Bay, where Vitus Bering was shipwrecked and is buried.

Day 5: Zhupanova River, Kamchatka
You will spend several hours in the Zodiacs cruising on the scenic Zhupanova River where you should get great looks at Steller’s Sea Eagles as the birds often perch in the trees adjacent to the river. Other highlights could include Pacific Diver, Far Eastern Curlew, Glaucous-winged Gull, Aleutian Tern and Yellow-breasted Bunting. There is also a major salmon fishery on the river which you may visit.

Day 6: Bukta Russkaya, Kamchatka
In this deep fiord on the Kamchatka Peninsula you will look for the critically endangered Kittlitz’s Murrelet as well as Long-billed Murrelet. A short excursion is planned at the head of the fiord where there is a chance of seeing brown bears. At the entrance to the fiord where you can Zodiac cruise there are almost always Orcas and Steller Sea Lions.

Day 7: Second Kuril Strait, Atlasova and Onekotan Islands
Very early in the morning you will pass through Second Kuril Strait which has one of the highest densities of Sea Otters in the Kuril Islands. Your landing on Atlasova Island will be great for birders and non birders alike. There are the remains of a Gulag to explore and numerous species to see. This evening on Onekotan Island you can stretch our legs through an amazing field of wild flowers as you walk to Black Lake.

Day 8: Ekarma and Toporkovy Islands
During an early morning Zodiac cruise at Ekarma Island you should see various alcids, with close looks at Tufted Puffin and Whiskered Auklet. This afternoon at Toporkovy Island in the shadow of the active Matua Island volcano you can expect to find Harlequin Ducks, Red-faced Cormorants, Tufted Puffins and Brunnich’s Guillemots. Ashore you encounter Grey-tailed Tattler, Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler and Black-faced Bunting.

Day 9: Simushir and Yankicha Islands
You will enter a flooded caldera at the northern end of Simushir Island where a once top secret Soviet submarine base lies abandoned. In the surrounding area look for the Siberian Rubythroat, Eurasian Nutcracker, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Grey Bunting. Your visit to Yankicha Island is likely to be one of the highlights of the voyage as the number of alcids which breed here is incredible, with spectacular concentrations of Crested and Whiskered Auklets.

Day 10: Chirpoy and Urup Islands
This morning depending on weather you will either Zodiac cruise or land on Chirpoy Island where there are some dramatic volcanic landscapes and headlands covered in breeding seabirds. This afternoons landing on Urup Island is a chance to stretch you legs on an extended walk, beachcomb and look for Sea Otters or birds in the forest behind the beach.

Day 11: Iturup Island
This morning you land at the small settlement of Kurilsk from where local buses/trucks will take us into the volcanic highlands to thermal hot pools where you can enjoy a soak or go birding. Possible species include Brown Dipper, Arctic Warbler, Japanese Robin, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Grey Bunting.

Day 12: Kunashir Island
Kunashir is the largest island in the Kuril chain. The plan is a landing in the Kurilsky Reserve and explore an extensive area of woodland, where there are some good walks and birding. This afternoon while you are at sea there is a chance for birding and an opportunity to recap and pack.

Day 13: Sakhalin Island
Arrive at the Port of Korskov on Sakhalin Island. There will be transport to a central hotel and the airport in the town of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

Map of the itinerary of the voyage and expedition cruise to the Kuril Islands in the Russian Far East

PRICES (per person):

– Main deck triple: $7650 USD
– Main deck: $8925 USD
– Superior: $9660 USD
– Superior Plus: $10290 USD
– Mini suite: $10700 USD
– Superior suite: $11550 USD

Additional charges: local payment $500 USD pp

Prices include: pre/post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation with meals and all expedition shore excursions

Prices do not include: all items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.

The ship in details…


The region you will explore on this expedition falls into three quite distinct and unique geographical regions: the Kamchatka Peninsula; the Commander Islands (the western extremity of the Aleutian chain of islands) and the Kuril Islands. Each region is very different. Each has its own story and in many cases endemic plants and birds. You will search of those people, plants, animals and birds that make this part of the Pacific Ring of Fire so special! Interest of this trip: wildlife (birds, whales, sea lions, sea otters, brown bears, foxes…), flora, historical sites of the USSR, landscapes, history…