Lake Baikal

Being one the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lakes on the planet, Lake Baikal is a unique natural site surrounded by snowcapped mountains and incredible wildlife. Words are not enough to describe the beauty and purity of the lake, which many Russians call „the Pearl of Siberia”. A dramatic scenery of the Siberian taiga delivering tranquility and self-reliance is able to capture hearts and minds of nature lovers from all over the world.

What to See/Do in Lake Baikal? 

Tourists who visit Lake Baikal in Siberia are drawn towards the magnificent natural beauty and cultural diversity residing around the lake shore. If you want to spend your vacation actively and discover the wonders of the Russian nature, a tour to Baikal is your best option. Have a look at what you can expect to see and do there. 

Taste smoked omul and sagudai
Get acquainted with Baikal seal
Take a swim in the crystal and pure water of lake Baikal
Meet with a real voodoo healer or Lama
Try to rob cedar cone from the local squirrels
Have a stop for a rest in Buryat yurts

Some Facts

There are some interesting Lake Baikal facts, which won’t leave you cold about this place
The lake holds almost 20% of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater reserve. In case you don’t know, that’s a lot!
The area of the lake is so big that the entire Belgium would sink there.
When the lake gets covered with ice, you can hear the crackling sounds - Baikal is breathing!
The Devil’s Crater is a mysterious phenomenon of a powerful whirlpool that is able to swallow even large vessels into the depths.
There is a non-alcoholic soft drink called “Baikal”, which was developed as a Soviet analog of Coke in 70s. One of the ingredients is Baikal herbs, so you should definitely try it!
If you wonder how deep Lake Baikal is, the answer is 1,642 m. It is the most transparent of all freshwater lakes, allowing you to see its bottom at a depth of 40 meters.

James About Lake Baikal

“When European landlords turn on the heaters, Siberians make their last seasonal picnic.… I was truly amazed since what was supposed to be a joke turned out to be quite true! The locals seem to have no problems, swimming in ice holes or wearing short sleeves when it’s -10°C outside. I even started preparing myself for seeing white bears smiling and waving at me on the streets. Luckily or not, this didn’t happen.”

A Bit of Geography

Geographically, you will find Baikal Lake in Siberia on the road from the region called Buryatia to Irkutsk region. Therefore, we can talk about two shores of the lake. The one that belongs to Irkutsk region is more adapted for tourism, which means there are really a lot of tourists. Most people choose to visit this side of the lake because it is more convenient to get there. You can join the crowd as well – it will take you 68 km to reach Baikal from Irkutsk.

By the way, this shore is quite rocky, meaning you will hardly manage to explore anything on your own, except the typical tourist destinations, such as Listvyanka and Olkhon Island. As opposed to that, there is another shore of the lake, which is more slopping and thus more appropriate for walking and enjoying the nature in all its beauty.

Both the locals and the experienced tourists claim the shoreline from the Ulan-Ude side to be more beautiful and picturesque. Besides, there are not that many tourists who choose to go this way, so it’s possible to see the pure nature without all that noise created by other travel enthusiasts. Also, being on this side of the lake, you can take some great photos of the sun going down into the waters of Lake Baikal, while on the opposite shore, you may picture the sunset with the mountains in the background. Still, if you want to uncover the Buryat shore, you will have to spend more time trying to get there as it is 130 km from Ulan-Ude.

Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude are the biggest cities located close to Baikal, and you can reach them by plane as there are regular flights operating between them and other major Russian cities. However, you may find it more interesting to travel by train as you can get the opportunity to observe the landscapes and feel the local atmosphere. Who knows, maybe driving through the Trans-Siberian route, you will even be lucky enough to see from the train’s window the local bears dancing to balalaika music.  

A Bit of Climate

Considering where Lake Baikal is located, it is no wonder that the weather on different sides of the lake – that is, in Irkutsk region and in Buryatia – is different.

The Buryat shore is a mix of steppe, tundra, and taiga. It’s quite sunny there, though. The sun is shining bright on more than 300 days of the year. The weather in Ulan-Ude is generally dry, and the summers are hot. The temperatures on summer months can go up as high as 40°C and then go down as low as -40°C in winter. There are not that many trees, and the ground is less covered with grass along this shore, compared to the opposite Irkutsk shore, which is greener indeed.

The weather in Irkutsk in Russia is milder thanks to the Angara River, which doesn’t freeze in winter. Actually, that’s why the winters in this region are not that cold. You can still see beautiful cedars and pine trees covered with snow.

A lot of tourists choose to visit Lake Baikal in summer. June and August are the best months to sunbathe, swim, sail, and enjoy the magnificent sunrise or sunset on the horizon, no matter what side of the lake you are exploring. Low temperatures in winter don’t stop travelers from trying various winter activities, including riding dog sleds, crossing the frozen lake, ice fishing, and exploring gorgeous winter grottos and ice caves.

So, what you should remember is that Lake Baikal could be enjoyed in all seasons. There is no need to worry about the best time to visit this “sacred” place!

A Bit About Irkutsk Region

Irkutsk in Siberia is definitely not only about Lake Baikal, but it got used to living in the shadows of its main attraction. Still, history lovers might know that Irkutsk also was one of the places where the rebels sentenced to hard labor were exiled by Nicholas I of Russia after the uprising in December in 1825.

The nearest place where you can see Baikal from the Irkutsk side is Listvyanka settlement, which is located 65 km from Irkutsk. The settlement stretches along the Baikal shore, and the Angara River leaves the lake there. In the Buryat language, “Angara” means “gorge”, so it’s possible to suppose the name has come from the shape of the Angara River valley reminding a gorge. You can see this as well as the whole Baikal yourself from a local viewing point.

Olkhon Island is probably one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lake Baikal. By the way, it is only one of the 30 islands in Baikal, most of which remain uninhabited and thus shrouded in mystery. Thanks to the meditative and relaxing views you can enjoy from Olkhon, it is a well-known local center of shamanism.

A 3-hour trip by the Trans-Siberian train from Irkutsk will take you to Slyudyanka town, which just like Listvyanka is another interesting destination of the region. You can start with observing local monuments and visiting museums, continue with exploring the surrounding territories, for example, Heart Lake or Rookery Rock, and end with visiting a dead-end route of the Circum-Baikal Railway with its numerous tunnels, stone and ferro-concrete galleries, viaducts, bridges, and retaining walls. This part of the Circum-Baikal, which starts in Slyudyanka, is considered a unique engineering masterpiece of the 20th century.

A Bit About Ulan-Ude, Buryatia

The Buryat side of Lake Baikal is well-known for its sunny bays and numerous beaches. Being less developed than the Irkutsk side, Buryatia is more suitable for those who are looking for a calm place far away from the busy crowds. Some of the natural wonders you will be able to explore on this Baikal shore are:

  • the Tunkinskaya valley (also called the Tunka valley), a valley of 190 km in length, which includes several mountain ranges, single mountains, and six hollows.
  • Arshan, a resort village known for mineral springs. There are more than 12 waterfalls and more than 30 volcanoes in the area around Arshan.
  • The Eastern Sayan, a mountain range with wonderful views and the highest mountain being 3491 m in height.

For Buryat natives, Lake Baikal is a sacred and holy place. The natural purity and tranquility created a new religion of shamanism based on the beliefs in spirits. “Shamans” or witch doctors are believed to be able to communicate with nature. The representatives of this caste can still be met in the local villages, such as Goryachinsk, Gremyachinsk, Svyatoy, and Nos, which all go along the Trans-Siberian route.

A Bit About Locals

Have you heard all those stories about severe Siberians able to spend a winter day on the beach, wearing nothing but ushanka hats and boots? These are true. You can call Siberians severe because they are used to low winter temperatures. But there’s nothing else severe about them.

Following the coastline of Lake Baikal, you will visit numerous villages and settlements with their unique traditions and culture. Predominantly low temperatures and cold weather do not influence the warm-hearted nature of the local people. Being deeply spiritual, they are friendly and open to visitors.