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Lake Baikal

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Lake Baikal [1](Russian: Байка́л bigh-KAHL) is a lake in Eastern Siberia, Russia. It is the biggest and deepest freshwater lake in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Along the shores of Lake Baikal in the autumn

The lake is located in Eastern Siberia, between Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest and Buryatia to the southeast. It is the planet's deepest (1637m) and oldest lake, as well as its largest body of freshwater, containing over one fifth of the world's supply. The origins of the name are unknown, but several hypotheses are these : deep water (Yakut), rich lake (Turkic), nature (Mongolian), northern sea (Chinese). Russians sometimes call the lake Baikal sea because of its size.


The lake's geological formation started around 20-25 million years ago, making it one of the oldest lakes in geological history and even nowadays its rift is continuing to widen 2cm a year. The first mention of its name appeared in Chinese writings in 110 year B.C. as "Beihai" (Northern Sea). Several cultures have appeared on its shores, including the Buryat. Russian sources first mention Baikal in 1640 after which was a time of exploration and description by Russian Cossacks and the Church until its first scientific expedition in 1723. On October 13, 1905 the Circum-Baikal Railway opened. In 1916 Barguzinsky Nature Reserve was organized. In 1990, wind-surfers from Russia, Austria and Czechoslovakia were the first to cross the lake's widest point. In 1991, the deepest point on the lake's bottom was declared near Olkhon Island, and since then slightly deeper points have superseded the original. In 1997 Lake Baikal became a part of UNESCO Heritage. The vessel "Sevan" begins cruise tours in 2003.


Baikal ice

Baikal mountains surrounding the valley and the lake consist of a few ranges. In the west there are the Baikal Mountains, in the east the Zabaikalskie Mountains. The Angara River is the only outflow of Lake Baikal. The ranges, rivers and valleys are tourist attractions of their own.

Flora and fauna[edit]

  • Baikal Seal


The water mass is a key factor to the climate of the lake's banks. Winters are often milder, summers are chillier. Spring-time is late 10-15 days than the outer regions and fall is rather long. The area is distinctive for sunshine longevity which is record-high for the whole of Russia. Specific traits are added to the climate of the Baikal by winds: barguzin, sarma, verkhovik, kultuk. It is a common thinking that the Baikal is best for visit in July, when temperatures and winds reach favorable condition. The water in summer is cold, normally +8..+9C and can reach +15C in bays. It's so pellucid that one can see the bottom 40m down.

Get in[edit]

By air[edit]

The nearest airport is in Irkutsk [2], which can be reached from either Domodedovo or Sheremetyevo 1 in Moscow. The furthest airport lies in Ulan-Ude in Republic of Buryatia [3] from where the right shore of Lake Baikal is more easily accessible.

Other international options include Seoul, Ulan-Bator, Beijing. The charters from Bangkok are very often operated. Domestic flights are taken in from Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk, Magadan, Yakutsk, Yekaterinburg, Saint Petersburg, Sochi.

By train[edit]

The Baikal-Amur Mainline and the Trans-Siberian Railway both reach Lake Baikal. The closest miles to Irkutsk follow serpantine pattern as the train curves around the shoreline, which is scenic and worth riding in day light.

By bus[edit]

Buses leave from Irkutsk station and from Ulan-Ude station throughout the day.

Riding from Irkutsk lasts about an hour and a half, with several stops along the way, and ends in the small town of Listvyanka.

The right bank (marked by sandy shores) of lake Baikal is more easily accessible from Ulan-Ude.


Zabaykalsky National Park: 50 roubles per person per day.

Get around[edit]

Railway from Port Baikal to Sludyanka (interactive map)

From Listvyanka you can go by ferry to the Bolshoie Koty, in the hearth of Baykal national park. One way costs 180 rubles, but you cannot buy tickets in advance (only in Irkutsk). First ferry goes from Listvyanka at 10, last at 16 o'clock. From there you can get by boat at 18.00 or by foot by Baykal tourist trail. It is around 18 kilometres and the most of the path goes around the shore of a lake. From Bolshoie Koty you can go to the Irkutsk by the same boat. It costs 360 rubles (summer 2008).

In the winter, Bolshoie Koty is connected by ice road from Listvyanka.

From Listvyanka you can go to the Port Baykal that lies on the opposite side of river Angara. Boat costs 56 rubles (summer 2012) and goes from the place just under the Baykal limnological museum. It takes around 5 minutes to get there. However it is recommended to go the other way, from Port Baykal to Listvyanka.

To Port Baykal you can go by train as well. Remaining part of old Circum-Baikal Railway line goes from Sludyanka at the southern corner of the lake. It takes around 4 to 6 hours, since the train is really slow. But you have time to look around, because the railway is going by the shore of the lake. It costs 46 rubles. It is so slow because it is the old Baykal railroad was built around 100 years ago.

The right sandy shores of Baikal and Zabaykalsky National Park are more easily accessible from Ulan-Ude. The only transportation is by car or bus from Ulan-Ude. Driving to Zabaykalsky National Park takes 5-7 hours.

See[edit][add listing]

  • Olkhon. The largest island on the lake.

In Irkutsk Oblast (west of the lake)

  • Vitimsky Nature Reserve
  • Baikalo-Lensky Reserve

In Buryatia (east of the lake)

  • Baikalsky Nature Reserve
  • Zabaykalsky National Park
  • Barguzinsky Nature Reserve
  • Dzherginsky Nature Reserve

Do[edit][add listing]

Take part in yearly cross-country six-day race TransBaikal-20xx in July. Hovering 465km and the dislevello 10,060m it starts in Buguldeyka village takes two-days turn to Olkhon and ends in Yelantsy down south. In 2011 the competition begins on 16, July. Registration of cycle teams until 31, May. [4].

Recreation on Baikal's most picturesque beaches at the Sandy Bay, trekking along the Baikal coast, river rafting, fishing, cruises on Baikal "

Great Baikal Two Day Hike[edit]

Day one: Listvyanka to Bolshy Koty (18km).[edit]

Take a morning bus to Listvyanka. Walk along the shoreline past the market and up away from the shoreline to find the trailhead. You will see green signs with 'Great Baikal Trail'. The trail is well documented on The first part leads steeply up into the forest, before descending again and continuing along the shoreline. At times you walk along the beach (the lake water is both potable and delicious so take the opportunity to fill your bottle). At other times you climb up over cliffs and through the forest with stunning views over the lake.

Rest: Bolshy Koty

In Bolshy Koty there are severgal places to stay in high season. There is a village shop open year round.

In low season this tiny fishing village is deserted, but you can still stay at Lesnaya 7 [5]. The hut(s) provides heating, electricity, beds and a basic kitchenette. It's one of the very few English speaking hosts I could find in the area. She could also provide information about the hike.

Email the host and she will provide you with a map of the second half of the trail and instructions on how to access the accommodation. Arrange access to the hut in advance as there is no internet in the village and the host may not be present in low season.

Should you want to return to Listvyanka in low season, the locals can arrange to drive you back down a small dirt road for an extortionate price.

Day two: Bolshy Koty to Bolshy Golostnoye (25km).[edit]

Follow the village along the shoreline to find the second part of the track. Stick to the shoreline. There is a small path around the houses.

The second day is quieter with fewer hikers and more challenging, but you will be rewarded with pristine shoreline, stunning views of the mountains across the lake and lush forests. You will also pass a small historic homestead at about halfway. The ranger who lives there speaks basic German. Nice place to stop for lunch.


There is no internet access in the national park.

In a few places the path has collapsed. If you see sticks in a cross on the path or red markers, be cautious and follow the alternative. Usually this means diverting along the shoreline and joining the path again further on.

Bolshy Golostnoye

In Bolshy Golostnoye you can easily find accommodation and mobile internet access, even in low season. Some guesthouses have a banja, which your muscles will appreciate.

In low season one bus per day leaves back to Irkutsk at 8 am. (oct 2018). Don't believe the locals who point to the church near the port. When I was there the bus didn't even go near the church. I took it from outside the driver's house, from which it traveled up the main road that leads out of town where other locals were waiting.


  • Frolikha Adventure Coastline Track.[6] as part of the future Great Baikal Trail.[7]

Buy[edit][add listing]

Souvenirs are sold near the omul sellers (see below), and tend to be cheaper than in other Russian cities. There are several boats at the main dock who take on tourists when not fishing. The prices are negotiable, try to find other tourists who want to ride and get cheaper prices by being in a large group. Sometimes a local young person with a broken English would act as an intermediary for the price haggling.

Eat[edit][add listing]

The smoked Omul sold by several fish sellers on the edge of the lake is wonderful, and there is a restaurant on the lake's edge with good fish, along with several bars and small groceries. Everything in Listvyanka, is within walking distance, including a small post office.

Riding towards Baikal, one will find local food restaurants where the most selled cusine are Buuzi/Pozi (steamed minced balls in dough).

Drink[edit][add listing]

Baikal water is drinkable and almost distilled as the amount of mineral salts is infinitesimal.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

You may stay in Irkutsk or Ulan-Ude, make a day trip to the lake and get back. In case of longer trips, contact local tourist agents to look for accomidation in Rest Bases (see below). Alternatively, one can set up tents at the beaches of lake Baikal. Golden rule to remember, which is strictly implemented by the local communities: do not leave any non-organic trash or waste behind.

Lake-side towns:


Peninsulas :

  • The Svyatoy Nos peninsula ( Святой Ноc)

Rest bases[edit]

'Rest bases' of the Baikal are Russian type of countryside wooden houses with facilities offering excursions to the local sights. They often are located in villages around lake Baikal.

Eastern shore[edit]

  • Yurt in Enkhaluk village [8], 170km from Ulan-Ude.
  • Barguzin bay (Баргузинский залив) and Saint Nose Cape (Мыс Святой Нос)
  • Chivyrkuisky bay (Чивыркуйский залив)
  • Maksimikha village (Максимиха)
  • Sukhaya village (деревня Сухая)
  • Zabaykalsky National Park (Забайкальский национальный парк):
-The Svyatoy Nos peninsula ( Святой Ноc)
-The Ushkany Islands (Ушканьи острова)
  • Barguzin Nature Reserve (Баргузинский заповедник)

Western shore[edit]

  • Severobaikalsk
  • Maloe Sea (Малое море)
  • MRS (МРС)
  • Krestovsky Cape (Мыс Крестовский)
  • Buguldeika (Бугульдейка)
  • Bolshoe Goloustnoye (Большое Голоустное)
  • Bolshie Koty (Большие Коты)

Stay safe[edit]

It's a small risk to travel alone without a guide. Travelling with at least two Phone reception in the national parks can prove to be weak or not existing.

On the second part of the Great Baikal Hike, some of the path has collapsed into the lake. It's possible to safely take a detour along the shoreline (which is about 1m wide, but consistently present unless there are high waters) until the path meets the shoreline again. Another alternative is to go up and over the landslide, though this is a little risky.

Get out[edit]

Irkutsk is the biggest city nearby, but the BAM and the Trans-Siberian can take you from one side of the country to the other.

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