The pearl of Siberia.
Lake Baikal, is the deepest lake on earth and is also the most ancient lake on the planet .The age of Lake Baikal is estimated at 25 million years. I was told that the total volume of water Lake Baikal contains is even more than the total of all5 great lakes in America combined. It contains roughly around 20% of the world's fresh water.
View of Lake Baikal from Listvyanka during winter.
View of Lake Baikal from Olkhon island during summer
Fishing village @ Olkhon Island
ake Baikal Cape Khaboy
Me @ Lake Baikal Cape Khaboy
Lake Baikal Information
General Information of Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal is the world's oldest lake, which was formed as an ancient rift valley, having the typical long crescent shape with a surface area of 31,722 km2/12,248 sq mi, less than that of Lake Superior or Lake Victoria. Baikal is home to more than 1,700 species of plants and animals, two thirds of which can be found nowhere else in the world and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is also home to Buryat tribes who reside on the eastern side of Lake Baikal, rearing goat, camel, cattle and sheep, where the regional temperature varies from a minimum of -17°C in winter to maximum of 14°C in summer.
Omul fish in Baikal, the distant relative of salmon
When is the best time to visit Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal during winter
My visit to Lake Baikal during winter was surprisingly pleasant, and it was quite an unforgetable experience .
The best time to visit Lake Baikal during winter would be either late December till mid January. Starting late January, the weather around Lake Baikal usually rises up to -30' to -40', and the Lake completely freezes up. It would be too cold to take good pictures or to stay outdoors for a long period of time.
Lake Baikal at Listvyanka during winter
This picture was take just outside the tourist information center in Listvyanka. The shores were frozen in ice but it was not very stable. Temperature was -15' . It was January 2008.
Usually the lake will be completely frozen up by February, and at that time, it is possible to drive across the lake in a 4WD, to the eastern side of the lake. It is even possible to cycle across the lake.
During winter, there are many activities to be done such as ice cycling, dog sledging, etc (mentioned below).
Baikal Sunset during winter
Lake Baikal during summer
During the summer of 2011, I visited Baikal once again. I stopped by Baikaler hostel at Irkutsk, and took an early morning bus to Olkhon Island. During late summer and autumn (June, July, August, September) the weather in Baikal is just perfect. Not too hot during the day, and not too cold during the night.
Lake Baikal can be overpopulated with tourists during summer, therefore it is important to reserve you accommodations and train tickets in advance. Summer is the best time to visit Olkhon island, and it is also the time when there will be loads of tourists from all over the world flocking to Olkhon.
Many tours (which might not available during other time of the year) are highly available for the abundance of tourists around Baikal. Tours to Bolshiye Koty, the circumbaikal railway and tours to Cape Khabody (Olkhon) are amongst the most popular tourists choices.
View from Cape Khaboy, Olkhon Island
Introduction to Lake Baikal
Before we enter the topic about how to reach to Lake Baikal, let me first give you a brief personal introduction about Lake Baikal and where it's main sights are, to get you more orientated with Lake Baikal.
Irkutsk is a small town, which flourished mainly due to it's proximity to Lake Baikal. This is where most of the tourist arrive to stay a night before moving on to either Listvyanka, or Olkhon island.
Listvyanka is located 70KM from Irkutsk, about an hours ride from the city. It is located on the south-west region of Lake Baikal, and it is the easiest way to reach lake baikal from Irkutsk. Frequent (hourly) busses and minivans depart from the Irkutsk bus station to Listvyanka.
Olkhon Island is the main attraction of this region. It takes 6 hours to reach the island. The views of Lake Baikal from Olkhon island's northern cape is definitely second to none. Olkhon island is also considered one of the five global poles of shamanic energy by the Buryat people.
Circum baikal Railway is one of the main attraction around Lake Baikal, with day trips organized from Irkutsk city. It is a full day tour, starts from 8 AM and ends at 9 PM. The Circum Baikal railway runs from Kultuk Village (Sludyanka) and goes northbound towards Port Baikal Village (near Listvyanka). The whole day tour cost around 2500 Roubles to 3000 Roubles, depending on the season. The views here are exceptional, but the slow train can be somewhat boring after some time. Try this out if you have some extra time around Lake Baikal.
How to reach lake Baikal
Lake Baikal, is huge (more than the 5 great lakes of the US combined). And to get to the lake, there are many ways. The easiest, and commonest way of reaching Lake Baikal, is via the famous city along the Trans-Siberian railway called Irkutsk. (see below)
The picture below shows where Irkutsk train station stands along the Trans-Siberian Railway. It is located approximately 5200 KM east from Moscow, and it takes around 4 days for a direct train to reach. I would strongly advise to break up your journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and make few stops every 2 days, to have a comfortable sleep and bath, as well as to purchase food for your train ride. For more information about which cities to visit along the Trans-Siberian Railway, as well as the conditions of the Trans-Siberian train ride, do visit our detailed page about the Trans-Siberian railway.
Lake Baikal is about 70 KM away from Irkutsk, and to reach the lake, there are a few options.
The easiest way is to take a mini van or bus to Listvyanka. The bus and mini vans run hourly, and reaches the lake in about an hours time.
Alternatively, you can also take a minivan or a bus, (usually runs at 9am in the morning) to Olkhon Island. This journey takes 6 hours, and it takes you across the sea to Olkhon via a ferry.
There are also other routes to reach the lake, which are less known to tourists. For example, we can reach the eastern side of Lake Baikal from the next major city along the Trans-Siberian railway known as Ulan Ude. This side of the lake has much lesser tourists, and the people on the lake are mostly friendly locals and fishermen.
Another possible route to Lake Baikal is from the northern side of the lake, via the Baikal-Amur Mainline. This route is also much less known to tourists, and if planned well
Main Destinations Around Lake Baikal