Olkhon (Russian: Ольхо́н ahl'-KHOHN) is is by far the largest island in Lake Baikal, and one of the real jewels of Siberia. With it's amazing — and amazingly diverse — landscape, and a vibrant culture even the Soviet's couldn't quite suppress — this island practically begs for a spot on your Siberian itinerary. Just the main lodging's at Nikita's guesthouse, is worth a visit in itself.
There are also several smaller villages: Listed from north to south: Usuri, Pescanaja, Chalgaj, Charancy, Khuzir (main village), Mal. Khuzhir (little Khuzir), Jalga.
It is possible to visit the amazing north cape of the island, Cape Choboi, by 4 wheel drive — as well as the Taschkiney valley and Shara-Nuur lake and other destinations by day trips. This can be arranged in Khuznir, by either one of the tour operators, or Nikita's guesthouse.
The island has an area of 730 sq. km (282 sq. miles) and is inhabited by around 1,500 Buryats. It is a center of local shamanism and features many holy sites.
The islands small population mainly consists of Buryats, a northern Mongol population group, and one of the largest minorities in Russia. Buryat is a independent language but closely related to Mongolian (and like in Mongolia, Cyrillic script is used for orthography), but as everywhere in Russia — despite the independent minded, and somewhat secluded population — Soviet centralism prevailed, and Russian is universally spoken.
As Olkhon is an island, it is usually necessary to take a ferry from the pier in Sakhyurta, more commonly known as the MRS. During the Siberian winter, though, the ice gets too thick for the ferry to run, and instead, buses resort to taking an ice road across the narrow channel. In April and October while the ice is forming and melting, the island it completely cut off from the outside world.
Minibuses and normal buses ply the 300-kilometre (186-mile) route from Irkutsk (five to eight hours) for around 500-600 RUB. You might have to pay a bit extra for big luggage. Normally the two major hostels in Irkutsk arrange minibuses to Khuzhir almost every day in season, and it is worth noting that in the early season, this is your probably your best bet, since buses do not begin to run until late May or June, even though the ferry starts running in early May.
You can rent bicyles and go on tours by boat, and of course you can walk around and sleep in tents, which you can also rent.
There is a great beach just past the Shamans Rock, north or the Village. It is a great place to camp, swim, and have a BBQ. There is also a kayak that you can use if staying at Nikitas. Take it out on the lake and fish!
Because there are no water pipes, showers aren't available in private households. So you should use the Russian banja, but be careful with the extremly hot water.
There are several little "restaurants", more like bistros in Khuzir.
There are something in the range of five little supermarkets, where you can get everything you need. The biggest one is at northern end of the middle of wide dusty main street, after the odd looking soviet war memorial. It looks closed all of the time, but isn't, they all seem to close around 7 or 8PM.
There will probably be a lot of "babushkas" waiting at the bus stop on your arrival, You can rent a room at their houses and sometimes you also get dinner and breakfast (250 rubels per person in 2007, including meals).