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LAKE BAIKAL TOUR MAP
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BAIKAL LAKE TRAVEL GUIDE
WHERE LAKE BAIKAL IS LOCATED?
The Baikal lake is located in southern Siberia, not far from the border between Russia and Mongolia, 5 hours ahead of Moscow. In terms of regions and Russian territories, Lake Baikal is split among Irkutsk Oblast (whose capital is Irkutsk) for the western shore and Republic of Buryatia (whose capital is Ulan-Ude) for the eastern shore. To give an idea of "how far north Baikal Lake is", we can say that the southern part lies more or less at the latitude of Berlin, while the northernmost shores extends to the same latitude of Copenhagen. The altitude of Baikal lake is 455 meters above sea level and it extends for 636 kilometers of length and 79 of width, while, with a maximum depth of 1642 meters, Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world and the biggest fresh water basin on the planet: Baikal lake contains in fact over 20% of whole world's fresh water excluding polar ice caps.
WHAT TO SEE ON LAKE BAIKAL?
Lake Baikal was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 and is part of the Seven Wonders of Russia. The huge attention to this part of the world is due to the fact that Lake Baikal is also the lake of the extremes and of the world's records, having unique features that cannot be found elsewhere on the planet and that will fascinate every kind of traveler. So, let's see why Lake Baikal is so special and why is a destination not to be missed:
HOW TO GET TO BAIKAL LAKE?
The main gateway to Lake Baikal is the city of Irkutsk, served by numerous direct flights onto Moscow and onto major Siberian cities. A growing number of international destinations are available as well. For those arriving from Europe, the connection in Moscow is convenient and fast (better, however, to ensure at least 3 hours between flights, as it will be necessary to change the terminal and the immigration procedures may be a bit long especially on rush hours). For those arriving from North America or South-Eastern Asia, Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo or Vladivostok are probably be the most convenient hubs to get to Irkutsk. Another way to get to Irkutsk is by Trans-Siberian trains from either Moscow or Vladivostok (3-4 days of travel) or from any other Siberian city located along this railway line. From Irkutsk it is only 1 or 2 hours by road to get to the southwestern shores of Lake Baikal and it is for this reason that most of the organized tours to the lake leave just from this city. Other access points to Lake Baikal are Severobaikalsk to the north, where visitors can arrive by train (Baikal-Amur Mainline, known as BAM) or Ulan-Ude for the eastern shore, which can be reached by plane or Trans-Siberian train as well.
HOW TO MOVE AROUND ON LAKE BAIKAL?
The way to move around on Lake Baikal depends on season and conditions of the ice. During the second half of the winter, the ice covers the entire lake and its thickness makes possible to move around safely on it by hovercraft, cars and any other ground vehicle. In summer, without ice, the most suitable ways to move around on Lake Baikal are obviously ferries, small cruise boats, motorboats and, once again, the hovercraft. Mid-seasons are more problematic as ice is not safe enough to travel on, but it is still too much dense to be crossed by normal boats. In this case, small ships with reinforced hull can be used to safely sail in such an environment.
IS IT SAFE TO GO TO LAKE BAIKAL ON MY OWN, OR IS IT BETTER TO GO WITH A LOCAL OPERATOR?
The extreme environmental characteristics, especially in winter, and the logistic needed in any season, suggests that contacting a local operator which can provide an experienced guide, is the best solution. On Lake Baikal it will be necessary to travel around a lot to see all the things: now on hovercraft, now by car, now by boat, now by train: in the most remote villages there are no hotels, but just accommodation provided by local families, and organizing everything without speaking Russian, can be long, complicated and you will risk to miss lot of beautiful things. The tour presented in this travelogue has been organized by BAIKALNATURE, who provides lot of itineraries in all seasons and convenient group departures.
WHICH IS THE BEST SEASON TO GO TO LAKE BAIKAL?
Basically, there is no best time to visit Lake Baikal, indeed, the best season to go to Baikal lake depends essentially on own interests and what you expect to see. Therefore, let's see season by season what Lake Baikal offers, so visitors can decide what is actually the best time to go:
HOW IS THE WEATHER ON LAKE BAIKAL? HOW TO DRESS?
Lake Baikal has a local microclimate quite different from the climate of the rest of Siberia, especially regarding the precipitations, which are well below the average in terms of both rain and snow. The weather on Lake Baikal is often sunny, particularly during the long winter, but the wind can occasionally be very violent. The average temperature during the second half of winter, when traveling to Lake Baikal to enjoy the clear ice, is generally a few degrees below freezing point, with extremes ranging between -30 and +5 centigrades. The extreme cold usually happens before the tourist season, from December to mid-February, when temperatures can drop below -40 degrees centigrades. The temperature in summer is usually mild, with daytime maximum reaching almost +25 degrees and the minimum around +10/15 degrees (extremes that can exceed +30 degrees are always possible). Be careful however once again for the winds, which can become violent without warnings and may generate waves in the lake up to 5 meters high. Due to the wide range of temperatures that can be encountered even within a few hours or days, layered clothing is recommended, avoiding cotton and preferring wool or synthetic. A wind-stopper outer layer, gloves and a hat, are useful in all seasons. During the winter it is advisable to wear a pair of padded trousers and a good-weight wind jacket or expedition parka (with at least 600 grams filling) providing also good protection for the neck.
WHERE TO STAY ON LAKE BAIKAL?
The main towns located along the shores of Lake Baikal, like Listvjanca, Mrs or Chuzir on the island of Olchon, offer a good variety of accommodation facilities, usually in typical Siberian architecture, including guesthouses and family stay. In the more remote villages like Ust-Barguzin, the only possible option is often just a family stay, while in major cities like Ulan-Ude, Irkutsk and Severobajkalsk, there are normal hotels with all western standards. Other options in the middle of nowhere are obviously cabins or refuges (such as in Khakusy) or tents.
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LAKE BAIKAL PHOTOS AND TRAVELOGUE DAY BY DAY
|Irkutsk <<-- GO Irkutsk is the main gateway to Lake Baikal: we take advantage of a one-day stop to discover the attractions of this interesting city.|
|From Kultuk to Listvjanka <<-- GO The crossing of Lake Baikal begins from the southernmost port of entry, moving from Kultuk to Listvjanca aboard an hovercraft.|
|Southern Lake Baikal <<-- GO Journey aboard an hovercraft from Listvjanca to Mrs to discover various types of ice that cover Lake Baikal, among the unspoilt landscapes of Siberia.|
|Olkhon Island <<-- GO Olkhon Island is one of the largest lake islands in the world: we admire the scenic beauty of this sub-arctic desert and come into contact with local Buryats traditions.|
|Baikal Lake <<-- GO The expedition to Lake Baikal continues crossing the lake longitudinally in 4x4 cars, with an overnight stay in a tent directly on clear ice.|
|Ust-Barguzin <<-- GO The eastern shore of Baikal lake hosts a traditional village with log houses, nestled in the boundless Siberian taiga.|
|Khakusy hot springs <<-- GO Khakusy is a remote resort without any resident population and with basic facilities: we enjoy the warm and healing water of the hot springs among an unspoilt taiga forest.|
|Severobaikalsk <<-- GO Severobaikalsk is located along the north-western shore of Lake Baikal: we visit the city and the nearby Goudzhekit hot springs, where visitors can also practice different winter sports.|
|Traveling on Siberian trains <<-- GO We return to Irkutsk by train, traveling on both BAM and Trans-Siberian railways, aboard a consist equipped with cabins for 4 passengers and bunks.|
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