Planning Your Trip to Baikal
Single-Day Extensions: Circum-Baikal Railway & Bolshiye Koty
2-3 Night Extensions: Peschanaya Bay, Olkhon Island, Ulan-Ude
Baikal at a Glance
Most tourists who travel along the Trans-Siberian railway stop at Lake Baikal for only a couple of days. Generally, travelers spend one night in Irkutsk to see the city with its 350-year history and to visit some of the museums. Decembrist Museum housed in the former Price Volkonskiy mansion is the most often choice. Prince Volkonsky was one of the nobles exiled to Siberia for taking part in December 1825 rebellion against Russian Tsar. The Fine Art Gallery and the Regional Studies (Local Lore) museums are also worth visiting.
After that, travelers most often depart for Listvyanka settlement located at the Angara river source from Lake Baikal. Listvyanka is the closest to Irkutsk international airport location at the lake waterside (only 65 km ~40 mi). For this reason it has become the most visited tourist center at the entire lake. Besides, Listvyanka is probably the only resort at Lake Baikal with relatively well-developed tourist infrastructure. It has a variety of hotels that offer all the amenities including private bathrooms with shower cabins, running hot and cold water and flushing toilets. There is hardly any choice of such hotels if any at all other Baikal destinations.
Thousands of tourists head off annually to Listvyanka settlement for Lake Baikal sightseeing. This is a list of the most popular museums and attractions that are definitely worth visiting here: Taltsy – the open-air museum of wooden architecture; the Angara river source from Lake Baikal with the famous Shaman-rock in the middle; Baikal Museum featuring a diverse collection of flora and fauna as well as a few Baikal water aquaria with many Baikal endemic species; Chersky peak viewpoint from where one can enjoy breathtaking views on Lake Baikal, the Angara River and peaks of Khamar-Daban mountain range on the lake opposite side; and finally Baikal seal show performed at Listvyanka nerpinarium. Usually, 1 or 2 nights are more than enough to cover all these landmarks. See Guide to Listvyanka
1-Day Extensions from Listvyanka
In Listvyanka, there is basically only one major street which is an embankment road running at the lake shore in front of the steep mountain range. Most of Listvyanka hotels, restaurants and sites are concentrated here. The village is pretty much civilized and does not offer a lot of nature landscapes. If you have a free day, a trip to the Circum-Baikal Railway or Bolshiye Koty settlement located nearby will allow you to enjoy sceneries and get a different impression of Baikal outside of busy Listvyanka.
We advise you to take a tour to the Circum-Baikal Railroad which is a historical track that used to be a part of the Trans-Siberian. It was constructed in early 1900s along the rough rocky shoreline of Lake Baikal. This short 80-km (50 mi) track has over 420 engineering constructions including tunnels, bridges and levees built without machines using only human power. In 1950s, when Irkutsk hydropower dam had been constructed, a part of the track from Irkutsk to Lake Baikal along the left bank of the Angara river was flooded, and the segment running further from the Angara source along the lakeshore could not be used any longer. Today, this part of the track also known as the open-air museum of civil engineering can be visited on Circum-Baikal train tour or hydrofoil boat trip. These tours can either follow or precede the visit to Listvyanka depending on weekdays of your travel.
Other option is to take a trip to nearby Bolshiye Koty settlement. Situated only 16 km (10 mi) away from Listvyanka, this village is still considered to be a remote destination at Lake Baikal accessible only by hiking, off-road vehicles and water transportation. We lead single-day hiking tours to Bolshiye Koty on a picturesque trail coming across the mountain passage. You can spend 5-6 hours of hiking on the edge of Siberian taiga forest, enjoy a campfire lunch en-route and then return to Listvyanka by hydrofoil boat. This is a great way to admire magnificent views of the lake and its shoreline somewhat away from crowded Listvyanka. The trip will surely become one of the highlights of your stay at Lake Baikal. See Guide to Bolshiye Koty
After touring Irkutsk and Listvyanka we would suggest to take off for Olkhon Island which is the biggest and the only populated island at the lake. For many centuries it used to be a sacral center for Shamanist believers. Nowadays, many people visit Olkhon for sand beaches found at shallow bays of the Maloye Morye (Small Sea) strait where water is getting warm enough to swim. The island is also renowned for a variety of natural landscapes from steppe and sand beaches at the south-west to steep rocky mountains covered by dense taiga forests to the north-east. At Olkhon Island, you should expect more basic accommodation than in Listvyanka. These are either log cabins or cottages, and only few properties can provide private in-room amenities. You will need at least extra 2-3 nights for this tour extension. See Guide to Olkhon Island
Other alternative is to take a boat trip to Peschanaya (Sandy) Bay. Peschanaya Bay is the only place in Eastern Siberia where annual average temperature is above freezing. It is famous for 1 km long sand beach rimmed by two picturesque capes Big and Small Belfry. Another attraction of the bay is the unique pine trees that grow at the beach. Wind blows sand away from underneath of them, so that pines have tall naked routes which appear as if trees are walking on stilts. This place is accessible only by hydrofoil route or private boats. There is only one good lodge there, so at high tourist season accommodation is very limited and should be booked in advance. See Guide to Peschanaya Bay
East Shore of Baikal
If you have a couple of extra nights consider boarding a regular Trans-Siberian train from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude city located about 100 km (62 mi) east of Lake Baikal. This part of the Trans-Siberian track leads from Irkutsk around the southern extremity of Baikal and then further eastwards to Buryatia. Rails run on the shoreline of Baikal only in a few meters from the water edge. You can take a break from excursions and relax on the train for a day starring out of your cabin window at Lake Baikal mirror-like surface.
In Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryat autonomous region of Russia, many elder Buryat people still maintain their old traditions and use Buryat language in their every day life. The city is famous for being the center of Buddhist religion in Russia. On our tours you will see Ivolginskiy datsan the major Buddhist Temple in Russia located 23 km (14 mi) outside of the city. Buryatia is also a home for the Old Believers, a branch of Orthodox Russians who were exiled to Siberia in the XVII century after the church reforms carried out by Patriarch Nikon. There is a possibility to visit Old Believers’ village where citizens still follow old traditions including two-finder cross sign and unique singing style.