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Exploring Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal

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.

Another view of Lake Baikal in June

Another view of Lake Baikal in June

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.

Walking through a forest on Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal

Walking through a forest on Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal

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

Nikita's Homestead on Olkhon Island

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.

Nikita's Dining Room

Nikita's Dining Room

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.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

gunther cloosen

Sunday 16th of August 2015

We are going next week to Olkhon. We were wondering how you got back to Irkutsk from Olkhom?


Thursday 30th of January 2014

This sounds amazing ! My partner and I are going for a one year trip around Asia next June and we will be starting with the trans siberian. I was thinking of 1 week stop around Irkutsk as we both love hiking and natyre. Do you think it is too long or too short to see all the wonders of Lake Baikal ?

oliver fisher

Saturday 3rd of November 2012

Great article, i'm planning on going there in December. How many days would you suggest there?

Beth Campbell

Thursday 16th of August 2012

Wow.. that just looks beautiful! I've also never been there before. but after reading this think i might just do so too.! i would love to be stood up high looking over Lake Baikal. this is going straight on my bucket list. thanks for a great post. :)

Charles Chatworth

Monday 13th of August 2012

What a really interesting article. I've never really thought about taking a trip to Lake Baikal, but I might just do it now.

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