Hi there! My name is Nastya and I live on Baikal since birth. In this article, I will share the secrets of a budget traveling on Baikal. I’ll also recommend the places that worth visiting and time to spend there.
What season to choose
For travelers from afar, I recommend summer and winter — from July to August and from late February to mid-March. So you can fully enjoy the unique nature of the lake. In summer you can swim in the icy water, in winter you can skate on the world’s biggest ice rink.
Traveling in spring and autumn also makes sense. First of all, Baikal is beautiful anytime of the year. Secondly, there are fewer tourists in these seasons. In fall nature literally freezes — peace and quiet. In spring you can see how the ice is cracking.
Baikal is beautiful anytime of the year. 1st photo by Raphael Zampieri
Average daily and nighttime temperature by months
In early May you can see how the ice is cracking
Where to go to get to Baikal
Lake Baikal is located on the border of Irkutsk Oblast and the Republic of Buryatia. Both sides have something to offer for travelers, but I recommend Irkutsk Oblast. Nature and the coast are more diverse there and the service is more developed. Most importantly, on the territory of Irkutsk Oblast, there is Olkhon Island — the main attraction and one of the most beautiful places on Baikal.
If after visiting Baikal from the Irkutsk side you still want to see more, you can continue your journey in Buryatia. It is more measured, calm, and wild there.
How to get to Irkutsk
Irkutsk is far from big transport hubs, so be prepared for high ticket prices. You can get there in 3 different ways: by plane, by train and by car (or motorcycle).
Depending on the time of year, one-way tickets for direct flights from Moscow cost from 8,000 R to 13,000 R (110 € – 180 €). During sales, you can get a discount of 10-30%.
Airlines with direct flights from Moscow to Irkutsk:
• S7 Airlines
• Ural Airlines
Average one-way flight prices by months
Over the past 3 years, there have been launched many direct flights from Asian countries. Depending on your location or route, it could be more convenient to plan a flight via the following cities:
• China — Guangzhou, Beijing, Hong Kong
• Korea — Seoul
• Japan — Tokyo
• Thailand — Bangkok
• Vietnam — Nha Trang
• Mongolia — Ulan Bator
The direct flight from Seoul to Irkutsk costs from 11,000 R to 15,000 R (150 € – 210 €).
Irkutsk train station
Irkutsk is a popular stop for travelers by The Trans-Siberian Railway. For those who haven’t heard, the TSR is a network of railways connecting Moscow with the Russian Far East, China, and Mongolia. The Moscow — Irkutsk segment costs 8,000 R – 20,000 R (110 € – 280 €) depending on the class of service — open, private or luxury cabin.
I do not like Russian trains since childhood. And at some point, it became wildly interesting to me why people choose trains instead of planes — the price is the same! The best explanation I got was from my Swiss friends:
What you need to be ready in Russian trains
1. With a height of 170 cm and higher, your legs won’t fit in the bed. If you are tall, better buy a place in an open cabin, so the legs won’t be against the wall, but at least hang in the air.
My husband goes all the way with his legs bent
2. The smell of MSG from instant noodles will delight you 24/7.
3. Lack of Internet. In Russian cities, everything is good with the Internet, but between cities… getting a GPRS connection is a success.
Irkutsk side of Baikal
Irkutsk has nice cafes, creative spaces, and interesting galleries. But you don’t come here for this, do you? Therefore, I recommend spending in the city 1-2 nights maximum. If you arrive in Irkutsk on Friday or Saturday, you’ll have an opportunity to enjoy nightlife and live music.
My friend is a singer in a local pop-folk music band
4 things to do before the Lake
1. Find a bed
Those who share the ideas of CouchSurfing can stay in Irkutsk for free. In 2019 there are 5,000 hosts in the city, and some of them will certainly welcome you. My husband and I host couchsurfers too.
For those of you who want to forget Russian trains like a bad dream, there is a more expensive option — Syaen hotel with prices from 11,000 R (152 €), Japanese minimalism in the interior and the best panoramic restaurant in Irkutsk.
2. Decide whether you need a car
All the places mentioned in this guide can be reached by bus or ship. But someone, for certain, will want to rent a car. For me personally, the main advantage of the car is the ability to stop anywhere on the way to the lake to take pictures. There are lots of such places!
There are international companies Avis and Hertz represented in Irkutsk. Both have offices at the airport. There are also local car rental companies, but I don’t recommend dealing with them. Without knowing local specifics, there is a risk of strange situations — there will be inexplicable surcharges, there will be old defects for which you’ll be charged a fine, etc.
3. Buy food and medicines
On Baikal, you overpay 20-50% for food and other products due to complex logistics. What’s also there is either no pharmacies at all or they work only for a very limited time.
For example, the pharmacy on Olkhon is open only 3 hours a day on weekends — from 12:00 to 15:00. Therefore, the best option is to buy a basic set of drugs in Irkutsk: for temperature, for sore throat, for diarrhoea, sunscreen, an antiviral drug.
4. Buy the necessary sports equipment
If you like living in a tent, then it is not necessary to bring it with you. You can easily buy a basic set in Irkutsk. And then, when you return to Irkutsk, you can sell everything to your hostel administration. To sell quickly, of course, you’ll have to put a ridiculously low price.
Listvyanka is the most accessible place on Lake Baikal. It is located 70 km from Irkutsk, in one of the most picturesque areas of the lake — the place where the Angara River flows from Baikal. In Listvyanka it’s good to admire the crystal-clear water and the snow-capped peaks of Chamar-Daban on the other side.
I don’t like the village itself. Since the beginning of the 90s, it’s been developing chaotically, and today Listvyanka is the dirty half-ruined embankment, the absence of sidewalks and semi-legal cafes. On weekends, crowds of local tourists complement the overall picture. Does this mean that you should not go to Listvyanka? No, it doesn’t! It is worth to go… and it’s even worth to spend a night here.
Today Listvyanka is the dirty half-ruined embankment and the almost absence of sidewalks
You can get to the village by car, bus or high-speed ship. I propose to choose a combined version, starting with the bus. Ticket price — 133 R – 150 R (1.85 € – 2.10 €) one way depending on the carrier. Buses go from the bus station and the central market every 30 minutes. For central market busses, tickets can be easily bought from a driver with cash.
What to do in Listvyanka
Architectural and Ethnographic Museum Taltsy is located in 20 km from Listvyanka. It’s an optional stop for those who enjoy culture and history. This open-air museum contains dozens of wooden buildings from the 17th – 19th centuries and presents the life of local peoples. Ticket costs 250 R (3.50 €) per person. Additionally, I recommend taking a personal tour for 1,500 R (21 €).
The open-air museum contains dozens of wooden buildings from the 17th and 19th centuries
Baikal Museum is in 4 km from Listvyanka. Here, in an interactive way, you can get acquainted with the nature of Baikal. I avoided this place for a long time until I came here with my parents and got real pleasure. There is even a virtual dive to the bottom of Baikal in the bathyscaphe! A ticket for the Museum exposition plus the virtual dive costs 370 R (5 €).
In the Baikal Museum you can get acquainted with the nature of Baikal
Then keep the path to the village itself, where you can finally eat. You can walk 4.5 km from the Baikal Museum, or you can wait for a minibus again and get there for 25 R (0.35 €).
Delicious local fish. You can try grayling and golomyanka. Fishing for the popular Omul has been banned in Irkutsk Oblast since October 2017. I recommend trying hot-smoked grayling and sagudai (something like fish tartare). Don’t be scared to buy the first dish on the local market for 250 R (3.50 € ) per tail. Saguday is better to order in Restaurant Mayak ( 270 or 3.75 €), it is excellent there — they even got a reward for this dish.
Don’t be scared to buy hot-smoked grayling on the local market. Photo by Raphael Zampieri
A place to sleep and more. There are hostels, hotels, and guesthouses in the village. I recommend choosing the last option — it will allow you to better immerse yourself in the local atmosphere. The prices on Booking.com are approximately 2,000 R (28 €) per room for two. Be sure to book banya in addition. It paid separately, and costs around 1,500 R (21 €) per hour per person.
To better immerse yourself in the local atmosphere choose guesthouse instead of hotel
Entertainment. In the remaining time, you can go to Nerpinariy, where cute freshwater seals entertain tourists with acrobatic performances. The idea of such entertainment is not for me, but someone likes it. The cost is 550 R (7.50 €).
There is a husky farm in the village. Photo by Raphael Zampieri
Sunset is better to meet on the terrace of one of the local cafes and then return to the guest house to relax in banya. The next morning you can return to Irkutsk, but I recommend to go for a walk along the coast.
In wintertime, you can take a day excursion on a hovercraft with stops in Peshanaya Bay, Bolshie Koty, and Bolshoye Goloustnoye. In this place, the amazing picture of the Baikal ice is complemented by bubbles, which freeze in the ice due to methane.
Tourist hovercraft. Photo by Raphael Zampieri
Ice hummocks near Listvyanka. Photo by Raphael Zampieri
Great Baikal Trail. This is a volunteer project, a picturesque route along the Baikal coast from Listvyanka to Bolshoye Goloustnoye. The total length of the route is 55 km, but I recommend you to take only a part of it — a section of 25 km to Bolshie Koty. You don’t need special equipment for it, just normal sport shoes with good grip.
The main magic of this trail is that the entire 25 km it changes every 5 km. First, you go through the coniferous forest. Then along the rocky coast. Then the path goes down to the water, and you go almost near the water. Then go to the beach and walk along the shore. You can make a rest and swim in icy water if you like.
Save the route to your Google maps
First, you walk through the forest, then you walk along the coast…
One rocky section of the route
Phrase “Bon voyage” composed of stones
Having reached Bolshie Koty, you could rest on the beach and then return back by speed boat — to Irkutsk for 1100 R (15.50 €) or Listvyanka for 550 R (7.60 €). Route navigation is open from June, 1 to September, 29. It is better to buy tickets in advance. This can be done only on the Russian version of the site, but with Chrome Translation you will not have any problems.
We usually return from Bolshie Koty to Listvyanka by speed boat
Olkhon is the main attraction of Baikal. You may not go to Listvyanka, but you must go to Olkhon. The area of the island is 730 km2, which is 2 times the size of Malta or 5 times the size of Liechtenstein. The island gives a complete picture of the regional nature — you could find desert, taiga, sandy beaches, and rocky shores.
I recommend staying at Olkhon for at least 2 nights — otherwise, you won’t have time to see anything. 3 nights will be even better — you can truly relax and explore the island.
How to get to Olkhon
By car, minibus, or speedboat (from Irkutsk or Listvyanka). First two options involve the ferry crossing. In high season — from July to August, you can stand in line to the ferry up to 8 hours. That’s why I prefer visiting the island on weekdays when lines are much smaller. Therefore, my record is only for 3 hours.
Ferries operate all summer, as well as in spring and autumn. In the period of thin ice, you can only get on a hovercraft. In February and March, you go across the ice.
As an example here is the calculation fro renting Hyundai Solaris with automatic transmission for a trip to Olkhon island.
Car rental (from 10:00 on July 1 until 19:00 on July 4) – 14,700 R (205 €)
Fuel for 700-800 km – 2,500 R (35 €)
Total – 17,200 Р (240 €)
Hyundai Solaris is OK for Baikal, but it is advisable to choose something more adapted to bad roads – for example, Nissan X-Trail or Mitsubishi L200.
A speedboat is the most expensive (3,700 R or 51 € per person), but at the same time the most picturesque option. You can admire the beauty of the Baikal coast all the way to the island.
Unfortunately, even this option won’t save you from having to travel the worst section of the route by car — 30 km of the soil road from the south of Olkhon to Khuzhir village. When choosing speedboat, it is important to book a shuttle to the village in advance because on the bay of arrival it could be a problem (bad signal, extra waiting). The price is 4,000 R (55 €) for a car that can take up to 10 passengers. Therefore, it is more cost-effective, of course, to travel by a group. When ordering, say that you need UAZ car — so you hardly feel the shaking on the bad road.
Where to live
You can live in tents, yurts, houses, hotels… and at Nikita Bocharov guesthouse. I recommend choosing a place near the village of Khuzhir (or right in it). If you live in the village, you should show the address to the bus driver — in most cases, he will bring you directly to the house. For a return trip, take the phone number from the driver and arrange where and when you will be taken back to Irkutsk.
A tent could be set up for free on the sandy beach. The farther from the village, the fewer people will strain you with their presence. This is especially true in the high season when locals come to from Irkutsk.
A lonely tent on a big sandy beach of Olkhon island
There are two types of tourist houses on the Island: the ones with a private bathroom inside and the others — with a shared shower and toilet (often on the open-air). Prices for the second option start from 2,000 R (27 €) for a 2-bed house. Comfortable houses are 1.5-2 times more expensive. There is such a problem with а toilet because of no water treatment facilities on the island. The accumulated bio… treasure has to be transported to the mainland.
There are few hotels on the island. The most popular is Baikal View. He is often shown in various travel shows. The price is high, but due to low competition in the segment, there are customers. The biggest disadvantage is the remote location. Living here is OK if you have a car. If not, it is better to choose an option inside the village.
What to do on the island
Even if you left the city early in the morning, you will arrive on the island in the late afternoon. The first thing to do in Khuzhir is walking to Cape Burkhan. The cape ends with a double-peak cliff called the “Shaman Rock”. This place, along with the prayer pillars “Sergee” are depicted in the photographs of the Island most often.
From ancient times shamanists lived here, and even now a part of the population worships spirits and nature. For them, this is a holy place — there is even a rule that prohibits women from stepping on the rocks. Such an ancient sexism…))
Then you can eat somewhere or buy groceries in the supermarket. For grocery shopping, there is a nice supermarket Horoshiy. It has everything you may need — from fresh vegetables, sausages, and cheeses to budget wines from France, Spain, and Portugal.
When there are too many people, be ready to wait for your order. But this even better — while you wait, you can meet travelers from different countries or talk with staff. Here you can get an answer to a pretty any question because the staff speaks good English and French.
There are two main excursions: to Cape Khoboy, the northernmost point of the island, and to Ogoy in the southern part of the island. The first one costs 1,300 R (18 €), the second costs 1,500 R (21 €). It’s better to arrange an excursion the same day you arrive on the island. Telephones with such offerings hang on almost every fence. This can also be done at Nikita’s place or at your guesthouse.
View of Cape Khoboy
In summer you can take both excursions. One trip will complement the other. The road to Cape Khoboy goes by land — on UAZ army minibus. The road to the island of Ogoy goes by water on a boat. In winter, when both routes go by ice, it makes sense to choose only one of them. Cape Khoboy, in my opinion, is much more picturesque in summer and winter.
During the tour, you will experience yourself as a real off-road rally racer. On the way to Khoboy, you will make 3 sightseeing stops. At the end of the route, you will be waited by a fish soup, which the driver will cook for you. In total, the trip takes 4-5 hours. Return to Khuzhir in the evening.
“Three brothers” rock
Ex-Gulag fish factory
In wintertime the road to Cape Khoboy goes by ice on UAZ army minibus
Me riding an ice block on Baikal
A walk to Kharantsy Cape
Near the supermarket there is a sports inventory rental. You can rent bicycles or quad bikes and ride around the island. In winter, you can rent skates to ride on a frozen lake. In the summer it can be kayaks or catamarans. For any water activities, be sure to consult with the locals about the weather. Sometimes there are very sudden wind blows, which can easily blow you to the middle of the lake.
Remember I told about the optional stop before Listvyanka — the Taltsy ethnographic museum? Another option (longer and more romantic) is to go to Listvyanka via the Circum-Baikal Railway and then by ferry. The road is notable for its 38 tunnels, 6 bridges, and 16 galleries. Russian, Italian and Prussian engineers took part in the construction.
When you hear the word Circum in the title, you got one question – why is it called so if there is no railway around Baikal? Because in fact, this is a blueprint title. It was used during the construction of 1893-1905. And now they just use this historical title.
Nowadays, the Circum-Baikal Railway means the dead-end section of Slyudyanka – Port Baikal road. Until 1956 there was a section along the Angara River — from Irkutsk Station to Port Baikal. But with the construction of the direct road Irkutsk — Slyudyanka and also with the launch of the Irkutsk Hydroelectric Station, the road was dismantled and then flooded.
How to get there
Train 6201 “Motanya” goes on Mon, Fri, and Sun. Therefore, to travel, choose these days. Be sure to buy food for a picnic — the path is long.
09:08 – departure from Irkutsk-Passazhirskiy to Slyudyanka 1. Tickets cost 200 R (€ 2.75) per person (schedule and tickets online).
12:20 – arrival at the station Slyudyanka 1. Here you should buy a ticket for the Slyudyanka-Baikal train. It costs 150 P (2.10 €) per person (schedule).
13:37 – departure from the station Slyudanka 1 to Port Baikal. The road takes 5 hours.
18:31 – arriving at Port Baikal, walking, taking pictures of old ships.
20:15 – take a ferry to Listvyanka. An important moment, the ferry on the official ferry costs 71 R (1 €). Private carriers will offer the same for 450 R – 500 R (€ 7) per person (schedule and prices for the official ferry).
A ferry from Port Baikal to Listvyanka
The Buryat side of Baikal
On the Buryat side, the most interesting place is Barguzinsky Bay, where people travel with tents and from where they go hiking to the Mount Svyatoy Nos.
From Irkutsk, the road to the bay by car is 650 km and takes at least 11 hours. By minibus and train you can get there in 3 steps: get to Ulan-Ude, then to Ust-Barguzin by minibus and then to the bay by taxi.
A train ticket Irkutsk — Ulan-Ude costs from 800 R (€ 11). Bus ticket – 1,000 R (€ 14). Buses to Ulan-Ude depart from the Irkutsk railway station square. Logistically, it is more convenient to take the night train and catch the morning bus to Ust-Barguzin (at 8:00 or 11:00). Once in Ust-Barguzin, look for a taxi ad on the pillars or catch a passing car to the bay.
If you haven’t bought everything you need for a holiday earlier, you should do it in Ust-Barguzin in Absolute Cash and Carry supermarket. My personal recommendation is to buy a mosquito spray, there are always plenty of them on the bay.
The beach itself is located on the territory of the Trans-Baikal National Park. At the entrance, there is a security point with a barrier, where you need to issue an entry permit. An employee of the park will help you with this. He will ask for a passport and how many days you will stay on the peninsula, and will take a payment of 100 R (1.40 €) per person per day. From 2018, they take another 100 R per day for a passenger car, 500 R (€ 7) – for the cars with six passengers and more.
The top of the mountain is located at an altitude of 1870 m. Organized excursion groups go overnight to the mountain (the one-way route is 25 km). I suggest just going up to the viewpoint, where you can get nice pics.
What you need to be ready at Baikal
1. Mites. A bite of ordinary mite causes only high temperature. But there are also mites with encephalitis and Lyme disease. Therefore, everywhere on the open air use anti-mite sprays. These sprays are sold in every pharmacy and cost 150 R ( 7 €). Bite treatment is usually covered by international insurance.
2. Weather. Even in the summer months, there are only +5 .. +10 degrees Celsius in the evening at Baikal. Therefore, take not only caps and shorts with you but also warm clothes: hats, gloves, scarves. In winter, many warm socks, and wind-protected jackets.
3. Cash only. At Baikal, it is rarely possible to pay with a banking card, there is no ATM, so stock up with a large amount of cash in advance (including 50 R and 100 R).
4. Provinciality of the region. English is mainly known only by young people from big cities. Some locals on vacation drink alcohol, litter and listen to loud music. It is better not to enter into an argument with them, it can be dangerous.
If you have already traveled to Lake Baikal, please recommend what else should I include in this guide? If you are just planning a trip to Lake Baikal, and you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments or email me.