It has been said that, if Lake Baikal is the pearl of Siberia, then Olkhon island is the heart of Lake Baikal. The name Olkhon was derived from the Buryat language, meaning "little forest". The island's population is around 1500 residents, and mostly are concentrated around the main village of the island named Khuzhir (which is where all the accommodations are).
Totem poles on Olkhon Island
Olkhon island has spectacular landscapes which are second to none. It is especially true for the northern region of Olkhon island, where you will see majestic and unforgettable panoramic views of the cape overlooking the sea.
Sunset at Olkhon Island
Olkhon island is the ideal spot for nature lovers and landscape photographers, here you will find many untouched natural wildlife, virgin forests and jaw dropping landscapes, ideal for a 4-6 days rest on the island.
View at Cape Burkhan, Olkhon Island
Bicycling and horse riding are very often seen along the island, and are one of the most common ways of transportation within the city.
Olkhon Island Information
How to get to Olkhon Island
From May to December, the most popular way to reach Olkhon island is by a car, minivan, or a bus, which departs from Irkutsk to MRS (the mainland port opposite Olkhon island). And these motor vehicles will be transported to Olkhon Island via a ferry. Upon arrival to the island, it will take around 1 hour to reach the main village Khuzir.
Transportation to Olkhon Island can be easily arranged by all the hostels / hotels in Irkutsk. It cost approximately 700 Roubles. It usually leaves at 9 AM or 11 AM, depending on the transportation company. The returning minivan from Olkhon to Irkutsk can also be found everywhere around the city, with price ranging from 400 Roubles to 700 Roubles, multiple times a day.
The MRS from Irkutsk
On the way to Olkhon on a ferry
During the coldest days of winter (usually around late January till February), it is possible to traverse the lake on ice.
Example of an advertisement seen anywhere about transportation from Olkhon to Irkutsk
How many days should I spend on Olkhon Island
3-6 days should be the ideal time to spend on Olkhon Island. Bare in mind, that to reach the island usually takes up most of the first day, and you will only have the evening available. The ideal amount of time to be allocated for Olkhon Island should be 4 days, with an itienary such as below :
Day 1 : Depart from Irkutsk at 9 AM. Arrive to Olkhon at 3 PM. Settle down in the guesthouse. Evening walk around the city. Visit the "Shaman Rock" at sunset for an awesome photography session. If you are lucky, you might get to see the shamans perform at the Shaman Rock.
Day 2 : Take a full day tour to the Northern cape of Olkhon known as Cape Khaboy (This is highly recommended as it is THE BEST tour here). Arrive back at around 5 PM. Go for a swin in the sea. Chill around the seaside.
Day 3 : Take the full day tour to Lake Shara-Nur and Lake Khanhoy. Alternatively, this tour could also be done by horse riding. Arrive back around evening. Take the cruise along the Maloye Morye.
Day 4 : Depart from Olkhon Island in the morning.
Is it hard to find a tour in Olkhon Island
Absolutely not. Olkhon islands main economy comes from tourism. Every accommodation there offers various excursions to the most popular tourists spots such as cape Khaboy. On every street in the village of Khuzir there are bicycles for rent, hourse riding within the city, various boat rides, and different excursions around the island.
There are also many tourists information center in the village of Khuzir, some of them have helpful english speaking staffs. Travel booths can be found at every street. Accommodations are also easily found, with attractive prices.
Sights and Tours on Olkhon Island
It is advisable to get yourself a map of Olkhon Island upon arrival. These maps can be purchased from any of the tourists information center around Khuzhir village, or even at the MRS ferry station. It usually cost around 200 Roubles. Request for the map which has description of the tour as well as it's route drawn on the map. It will give you a better orientation of Olkhon island.
City tour and the Shaman Rock
Khuzir is a small village with approximately 1500 inhabitants. It is located on the north-west coast of Olkhon Island, near Cape Burkhan. It is the largest and main inhabitat area of Olkhon Island. During the Soviet times, Khuzir village was a fishing village, where the main income of the people was from producing canned fish food. However in recent years, this village has become one of the most popular destinations in Russia, and tourism has become the main income for the people.
The Shaman rock, previously known as the "Stone Temple", lies at a stone's throw away from the village of Khuzir, can be easily reached by foot. The Shaman Rock is one of the most ancient and sacred Buryat beliefs, and it is also one of the holy places of Asia.
In the village, there is the local museum, which displays various archeological materials, which tells the ancient way of life of the indigeneous people. The museum also exhibits various religious items and shamanic traditions, as well as the minerals, local flora and fauna of Lake Baikal.
Around the village, keep a lookout for various tent like kiosks, where they sell many interesting souvenirs of the Buryat people.
If you only have 1 full free day in Olkhon island, this is definitely the tour you should take. Cape Khaboy is the northern cape of Olkhon. The excursion starts at 9AM and ends around 5 PM. Hiking is possible, but tourists usually goes there by an automobile. The tour itinerary goes along the northeastern coast of the island, passing by the most scenic places of Olkhon island.
Here are a the stops they made during the tour.
The first stop is known as Cape Badana Guba, where you will get an awesome view of the Maloye Morye, which has 2 small islands along the sea known as the "Lion" and the "crocodile". (see picture below)
The next destination is Pishanka Village, which used to be a fishing village. There were some people swimming here during summer :D
After Pishanka Village, we will go along some scenic green hills towards Cape Sagan Hushun. This cape is also known as the White Cape. Wonderful scenary from the edge of the cape.
10 minutes drive from the White Cape, we will finally reach Cape Khaboy.
Almost every guesthouse, hotel or hostel offers this tour, and it cost around 600 Roubles for a full day tour.
Accommodation on Olkhon Island
The 2 most popular accommodation in Olkhon are Nikita Homestead and Sunny Hostel. Both of them have a huge compound with many wooden cabins, excursion booths, baths, banya, and souvenir shop. However, based on personal experience, there is a huge difference in staying experience when comparing both of these bed and breakfasts.
Nikita Homestead is a very pleasant place to stay, one which I will almost certainly recommend to any foreign tourists coming to Olkhon. There are plenty of foreigners there, place is clean, nice hot baths, excursion booth speaks good english for information regarding tours. Tours in Nikita Homestead is almost certainly the cheapest you can find all around Olkhon.
The downside is that the lodging price is slightly more expensive and frequently fully booked. Hence it is best if you can book well in advance.
Nikita Homestead website : olkhon.info/en/
Sunny hostel is very much more of a Russian style bed and breakfast. It is located just a stone's throw away from Nikita, and 90% of the people here are Russians, and it is not as foreigner friendly in comparison with Nikita's. However, the price is cheap, inclusive of breakfast and dinner. There are almost always empty spaces here, and most of the foreigners who come here are the last minute tourists who just decided to visit Olkhon. Sunny hostel is located on the highest mountain in the city, with a good landmark (the communication towers) and you can always find your way back. Sunny hostel also offers free evening city tours around the shaman rock and vicinity.