Stopping at Lake Baikal is on the top of most travelers' lists when planning a trek across Russia by rail.
The Trans-Siberian train line passes just on the southern border of the lake, making it enticing not only because of the convenience factor but also because Lake Baikal is just such a strange and unique lake in general.
When I was planning my recent trip on the Trans-Mongolian railway, Lake Baikal was an absolute must – hands down.
This post is going to outline that recent adventure, including what makes Lake Baikal so interesting and where to stay on Olkhon Island – an island right out in the middle.
Lake Baikal – Facts and Things to Do
Did you know that Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world?
Fact. This lake reaches depths of around 1,632 meters.
Other interesting facts include:
- Lake Baikal contains 1/5 of the world's freshwater. One-fifth!
- It's 20 to 25 million years old – the world's oldest freshwater lake!
- There are times when visibility in the lake can reach depths of 40 meters. That's some crystal clear water!
- 336 rivers are flowing into the lake, and only one is flowing out.
- There are 26 islands on the lake, the largest being Olkhon Island.
- Lake Baikal grows by 2 cm each year, and it is believed that one day, it will turn into another ocean.
- About half of the species that call Lake Baikal home, like the famous Baikal seal, are unique to this area.
- In the winter, the place completely freezes over, which means there are no lake ferries. Instead, you can drive across the ice!
In the summertime, the area around the lake is an excellent place for hiking, camping, and biking, and in wintertime, you can try your hand at dog sledding.
We couldn't help but be shocked by how much it felt like we were at sea instead of at a lake, and so it only makes sense that fishing is another great potential activity for visitors to Baikal.
I was drawn into visiting Lake Baikal because of its strange facts and unique wildlife claims; my boyfriend was pulled because of the potential for fishing.
But, at our train stop just before Lake Baikal, we still really had no idea where we wanted to base our Baikal adventures: Slyudyanka, Listvyanka, or Severobaikalsk on the shores.
Choosing to Visit Olkhon Island
Since our time on our stop at Baikal was limited, we had to pick and choose our lake activities carefully.
At a hostel in Ulaan Bator, our stop before Lake Baikal, we heard countless people recount their stories and longing for Nikita's Homestead – a hostel community of sorts on Olkhon Island.
At the time, we hadn't even considered going to the islands, but when word of mouth is so strong, it's hard to convince yourself to go elsewhere.
As mentioned before, Olkhon Island is the largest of the 26 islands at Lake Baikal, and to get there, one must take a ferry from Sakhyurta.
Even then, you will need transport when you arrive on the other side, as Nikita's (if Khuzhir is your destination village) is still a drive away. It is best to organize a transfer with Nikita's in advance.
I remember feeling miles away from anything at that moment, much like in Mongolia from a couple of days before.
If you enjoy the feel of nature and being away from the hustle and bustle, then island life is probably a good option for you, too.
Nikita's Homestead – Accommodation on Olkhon Island
The number one reason we loved Olkhon Island so much and decided to stay for three nights instead of two is Nikita's Homestead.
This little community – a collection of several charming Russian wood-carved buildings – served the tourist perfectly.
Three sufficient and sufficiently Russian meals every day are included in the price!
It was straightforward to book a day tour of the island through Nikita's, bicycle rentals, transport to our next destination, and all without ever needing to worry about planning our next meal.
Where not much else exists, Nikita's has filled a significant gap and provided the island with even more tourism.
The one bad part about visiting Olkhon Island is the fact that it takes a good chunk of time (and money) if you want to backtrack and visit a shore village, like Listvyanka, afterward.
On our limited schedule, we decided to stay an extra night in Olkhon Island and then head straight to Irkutsk for a night before hopping back on the train.