Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world, is nature at its best: just being there feels you with joy and peace. We visited Baikal’s largest island, Olkhon Island, at the end of September 2016, on our Russia tour. That was the farthest we went into Russia. It felt like we were at the end of the world. The tourist season was wrapping down, so it was us with a bunch of Chinese tourists and a Korean couple. And fog, a presence that never left, static and happy.
The lake is easily accessible from Irkutsk, a beautiful city full of charming wooden houses. However, the lake is huge so you can spend days exploring it. In fact, Ulan Ude the capital of Buryatia Republic, is 7 hours away on the other side of the lake. It seems the perfect place to stay for those continuing their Trans – Siberian route. We decided to skip it, there does’t seem to be decent tourist infrastructure and we didn’t want to spend our entire time traveling so far.
Listvyanka, the closest access point to the lake is just an hour and a half away from Irkutsk. Its landscapes seem interesting and it often gets too crowded. Olkhon Island is something else. The journey there takes some 6-7 hours on a minibus, riding on a paved road till the lake, then getting on a ferry and continuing on a dirt road. The island is magical and completely authentic, with no asphalt, big hotels or street light at night. Khuzhir is the only village with hotels (basically guesthouses) and restaurants.
Why should you choose Olkhon Island on your visit to Baikal Lake?
- The island is absolutely beautiful and completely authentic.
- It is much less crowded than Listvyanka.
- The accommodation and gastronomical offer is quite satisfying.
- Plenty of places to visit on the island.
We walked through the village, inside pine forests, on sandy beaches, above and around cliffs. We could hear the wind announcing winter was just around the corner. We had great coffee chatting with friendly locals whose life hasn’t changed much since the arrival of tourism. One afternoon, a cute dog followed us, chasing rodents hidden in the ground. And the horizon: endless Siberian horizon. We got to feel how big Russia is: 17 million km² under our feet.
We spent three days just wandering around Khuzhir. One day we walked far through a forest and some very long sandy beaches to reach the beautiful Cape Kharantsy. Then we visited the famous Shamanka Rock next to the village. The next day all we did was walk about the village soaking up its relaxed atmosphere. On the last one we took an excursion to the Cape Sagan-Khushun, colloquially known as the Three Brothers, and the unbelievable Cape Khoboy.
Our 2 month journey around Russia yielded 3 favorites. In no particular order our top places to visit in Russia are: Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, Moscow and the Golden Ring, and Olkhon Island on Baikal Lake. It’s difficult to describe the whole atmosphere and thanks to the fog even our photos don’t showcase its real beauty. I have no doubts that spending a couple of days there rivals the beauty of the Trans-Siberian journey. You become one with nature and get to see life as it once was, well, it still is, follow our advice, go there, and experience it yourself.