Russia? Yes. The biggest country in this world, which borders European and Asian countries across the Eurasia continent. Many people may know its capital city Moscow and the second largest city St. Petersburg. But do you know the world’s largest freshwater lake by volume, Lake Baikal, is located in southern Siberia in Russia? Although the scenery here is uniquely fantastic, planning a trip to Baikal is not easy as many people here don’t speak English. With my first experience in Russia, I will share some useful tips you may need to plan your next trip to Lake Baikal!
Where is Lake Baikal?
Lake Baikal is located in Southern Siberia, between Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest and the Buryat Republic to the southeast (Wikipedia). It lies in a cleft where Asia is literally splitting apart.
More info: http://lakebaikal.org
How to get there?
Normally, people will arrive in Irkutsk first and then take a mini bus or car to the villages near Lake Baikal. Irkutsk is the administrative center of Irkutsk Oblast, Russia, and one of the largest cities in Siberia. Many cities have a direct flight to Irkutsk. The Siberia airline S7 provides two and a half hour direct flight from Beijing. The minibus to Baikal will always drive passengers to the small village called Khuzhir on Olkhon Island, where there are a lot of traditional wooden house home stays for visitors. Traveling from Irkutsk to Khuzhir will normally take around 6 hours on average.
How to book hotels?
Generally, Airbnb is not recommended in Russia as English is not a widely used language in Russia. Communication will be a big problem! Instead, there are some international hotels that can accommodate English-speaking visitors in Irkutsk. They can be booked via Booking or Agoda. We recommend Hotel Irkutsk, Angara Hotel and Boutique Hotel Marussia.
In terms of hotels in Khuzhir, we highly recommend Nikita homestead as this is the most established and reliable so far. They host their own website and all booking services are via the page.
If you plan to go to the small town Listvyanka near Irkutsk, you may book Listvyanka Chalet or Dream of Baikal Hotel.
How about the weather?
Because large bodies of water retain heat longer than land, the climate around Lake Baikal is much milder than in the rest of southern Siberia (http://lakebaikal.org/lake-baikal-climate/). The coldest is around negative 20-degree celsius which is just like the winter in northern China. Nevertheless, during my stay in Baikal lake, it was not that cold except when the piercing wind blows towards your face.
Visitors will need to apply their visa from Russia embassy. For people living in Singapore, you can go to the vfs website.
Tours on Olkhon island
During the stay in Olkhon island, many people will like to book a one-day tour on Baikal. There might be different routes but most of them will be on a minibus of 10 people taking you around the lake and hills around. Note that many travel agencies and homestead in the village can also help book the tours.
Day 1: Irkutsk
Day 2: Irkutsk -> Olkhon Island
Day 3: Olkhon Island
Day 4: Olkhon Island
Day 5: Olkhon Island -> Irkutsk
Day 6: Listvyanka
1. Timezone: same as Beijing UTC+8
2. Exchange rate: USD:RUB=58:1