Yankicha Islands, Russia
Stretching for 750 miles along the Northwestern Pacific’s infamous “Ring of Fire,” the Kuril Islands are a hotbed of geothermal activity with at least 160 volcanoes. Originally inhabited by the Indigenous Ainu people, the Kurils lie halfway between the Kamchatka Peninsula in Far East Russia and Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. The battle for control over the archipelago has been as turbulent as the region’s tectonic instability, as the two countries traded possession multiple times during the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet for all this political oscillation, tiny Yankicha — one of two islets that form the larger Ushishir Island — is a peaceful haven of lush, emerald slopes surrounding a startling crater bay. The Ainu considered Yankicha a sacred place, and the island’s steaming hot springs and ever-enshrouding mist add to its ethereal quality. Today’s residents include curious Artic foxes, Orca and sperm whales, seals, and sea lions, along with a bevy of bird species.