✍️: Erin 📸: Jan & Erin
As with most everything on the Kamchatka Peninsula, information was scarce when we looked into taking a bus to Esso, a village surrounded by mountains in the peninsula’s center. The town is near Bystrinsky Nature Park, which we’d been told had good trail markers and was easy to hike without a guide (compared to elsewhere in East Russia, so still not easy).
Guidebooks and blogs only said that a roughly 10-hour bus route existed. So if you’re looking to get to Esso on your own, without spending a fortune on a private tour, you found the right place for information!
(Our visit to Esso didn’t go quite as expected — let’s just say we befriended the local hospital staff. You can read more about it here.)
Some initial tips:
- Go to the bathroom before you leave! There are two bathroom breaks in the first couple hours, but both are unpleasant pit toilets — a hole in a piece of plywood covering a pit. They neither look nor smell pleasant.
- The only true bus station is in Milkovo, about halfway through the trip. The station is clean with a little cafe and seating, along with clean restrooms and sinks. The bus stops here for about an hour for lunch.
- About half the trip is along a dirt road, as of August 2019. It wasn’t too rough. But construction was occurring along long stretches, so pavement could easily be extended by now.
- Wear layers! The summer weather can be warm, meaning the temperature inside the bus will be warmer. And windows are often closed to prevent dust from the dirt road seeping in.
Yelizovo bus station
We took the bus from Yelizovo, the small city in southern Kamchatka that’s home to peninsula’s only commercial airport. It’s about an hour’s bus ride north of the capital, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The bus picks travelers up in both cities and makes a handful of stops before arriving in Esso along the peninsula’s only long-distance road.
In Yelizovo, go to the main bus station in town. Inside the station, through double doors, you’ll see a small enclosed ticket counter with a super small window for transactions. This is where tickets to Esso are sold, and it’s only open from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. The office is separate from another slightly larger ticket counter just to the right that stays open later.
A sign indicates that tickets can only be purchased the day of your trip, but that seems inaccurate. We bought our return tickets in Esso a day in advance, and another pair of travelers we met did so two days early.
You want bus number 215, which picks up from the main outdoor sitting area in front of the ticket office in Yelizovo. Look at the yellow signs above the seating; they list the bus numbers that pick up from that stop.
You’ll have to show your passport to purchase a ticket, which costs 2,150 rubles, or about 34 U.S. dollars, as of August 2019. Pay the driver an additional 200 rubles for each bag stored under the bus. (On the way back, the driver wouldn’t take money for our luggage. But we still offered.)
Day of the trip
You need to be at the station ready to go 15-20 min. before departure time. From Yelizovo, that means 9:10 a.m. The bus is scheduled to leave at 9:30 a.m. — and it was on time.
The first stop after Yelizovo is about an hour later, in Sokoch. There are about a dozen small shops, most selling some kind of food (people came out with bread or muffins, and snack foods like chips, sodas, etc.) An outdoor bathroom is at the far end, on the right as you’re looking at the shops.
The next stop also offers a bathroom/smoke break. But the bathroom is an open pit in a dark shack; close the door for privacy, and it was literally a black room with a circle of light in the wooden floor about 12″ wide. Just aim and hope for the best (and bring your own toilet paper).
We hit a dirt road just before noon, shortly after the bathroom break. There’s no town, the pavement just ends and turns into hard-compressed dirt.
But, the pavement starts back up again 20 minutes later and lasts until Milkovo, where we arrive at 1:30 p.m. There’s a nice bus station here, with a small cafe (coffee, pastries, ice cream bars) and a clean, modern bathroom. There’s also a market/grocery store next door.
The bus stays here for an hour as a lunch break. Take your food off the bus when you arrive or shortly thereafter. We didn’t, thinking we’d take a quick walk around to stretch our legs. The bus driver left and locked the bus! We had our wallets, so we just got some meat, cheese and bread (and a cold beer) at the market next door.
There’s a cute park across the street and brightly painted fences and homes nearby. There’s also some interesting Soviet-era street are on a nearby apartment building, all worth a look while taking a quick walk.
The road goes back to dirt after Milkovo. Again, it’s compact dirt and pretty well maintained, so it’s not a crazy bumpy ride. But it’s definitely noticeable after three hours of what feel like newly paved roads.
The bus gets pretty hot during the drive. We wore T-shirts and jeans, thinking it’d be a bit cool outside. But we were uncomfortably warm by 4 p.m. I wouldn’t say miserable, but we were clammy. Opening the windows isn’t an option because of all the dust from the dirt road.
There was another stop break at about 4:30pm, at Atlasovo. No shops or services, just a place to stretch your legs off the bus or go to the bathroom (in another roadside pit toilet).
We arrived in Esso a couple hours later, at a bus stop in the middle of town. Most of the hotels or guesthouses are a bit north, so walk in the same direction as the bus. The nearby public hot springs pool is a good landmark.
Updates from Esso?
We hope that helps anyone else looking to visit Esso! Taking the bus is far less expensive than hiring a guide or tour agency to take you there.
If you take the bus and have any updates, please let us know! There were signs of construction along large swaths of the road, so maybe the entire road will be paved soon.