Three days by Lake Baikal’s Olkhon Island in October

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
9
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
4
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
7
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
9
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
6
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
8
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
82 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia
country
Russia
Length of time
3-4 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 150
Time of year visited
October
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
22nd/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 10% SUMMARY RATING: Unmissable

Summary

Lake Baikal tears up the geographical statistics – at a depth of 1,637m / 5,315ft it is the world’s deepest lake, holding nearly one fifth of the world’s unfrozen fresh water, its catchment area is enormous with 300+ rivers flowing into it, and it is the geological feature that is slowly splitting the Asia continent in two.   To top it all, the winters here get so brutal (temperature can drop down to minus 50 Celsius / 57 Fahrenheit) that in January to April even this vast lake freezes to the point that trucks use it as a highway.  A key feature in the centre of the world’s largest land mass, it is simply vast and is by far the highlight of a Trans-Siberian trip

 

#1 Tip – I’ve listed some travel tips below, but the biggest one is to make sure you spend time on Olkhon Island – the serene jewel halfway up the west side of the lake

highlights

#1 Looking out across this vast lake and thinking what extreme winter it must take to freeze this enormous body of water each year

#2 Taking one of the old Soviet-style vans and heading off on one of the adventures around the island

#3 Staying in the beautifully carved Nikita's Homestay

#4 Taking a "refreshing" swim by the beaches of Khuzhir . . . quite an experience

#5 Visiting some of the old fishing villages on the east coast of Olkhon Island

#6 Getting to hang out with some of the giant local dogs. Need to be fairly tough to get through these winters

#7 Enjoying a warm banya after spending the day out in the cold

#8 Getting a bit excited up by Cape Khoboy, Olkhon Island's northern most point

Travel Tips

  • Where to start – a trip to Lake Baikal is usually done so as part of a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, in which case you’ve got two starting points for the lake – Ulan Ude and Irkutsk.  Irkutsk is traditionally the most popular and importantly gives you the access to Olkhon Island (which is where I suggest you focus).  Ulan Ude gives more beache options
  • Where to stay – my suggestion is, unless you have a very clear idea of a trekking route on the Great Baikal trail, to spend your time on Olkhon Island.  It is super pretty, easy to get around, and gives you stunning views across the lake.  We stayed at Nikita’s Homestay which is a lovely intricately carved timber guesthouse in the centre of the main village of Khuzhir and seems to be the central point for helping arranging trips around the island.  Khuzhir is not particularly pretty, but is the location you want when visiting the island.   Nikita’s will feed you and generally look after you when you’re there – note though that only a few rooms have showers but, for those that don’t, you can use the banya which is super fun anyway after being out in the cold all day
  • What to do – get Nikita’s to help arrange day trips in one of the old Soviet vans to take you around the island.  The main target is Cape Khoboy at the northern tip of the island, with amazing views across the lake, but various spots along the east coast are also beautiful and the driver will look after you with food for the day
  • What’s it like in October? – this is when I visited and I found it wonderful for a few reasons.  Firstly, there were very few fellow tourists.  I think as you get towards the winter months, people are naturally put off by “Siberia in Winter” which sounds like a crazy idea, but in October the weather wasn’t at all restrictive (see below).  Secondly, the colours in the leaves as autumn approached really added to the atmosphere of the place.  Thirdly, October tends to be the month where the rains of the winter have passed and you get more of those cold, but bright blue sky days.  I would certainly recommend it
  • The weather – you’re in Siberia in late autumn (October), so it’s going to be cold, but not avoid-going-outside cold.  So expect around minus 5 Celsius to 10 Celsius as a range (23 – 50 Fahrenheit).  Thankfully the place is fully geared up for the brutal winters, so you won’t get caught out with a cold snap (again, this place gets some of the coldest winters on the planet, so a cold snap in October is well within what they can manage)
  • Want to be a bit foolhardy / daft? – have a swim in the water by the beaches right next to Khuzhir.  A shock to the system, but at least it puts into perspective any future cold swim you will do!
  • The Trans-Siberian Railway – many people will be visiting Lake Baikal as one of the stops on the railway.  I’ve written a travel entry for tips on this trip, but two main tips are:
    • #1 Prioritise your time in Lake Baikal rather than the city stops of Omsk / Krasnoyarsk / Irkutsk / Ulan Ude.  Stop off in one to see what a Siberian town looks like, but that is enough as they’re not particularly interesting
    • #2 Aim to finish in Beijing rather than Vladivostok.  It’s one of the world’s great cities and has a Wonder of the World on its doorstep. See the travel entry Beijing highlights for 2 days – 10 tips for tips on what to to there
    • For broader tips on the overall Trans-Siberian trip, see the travel entry The Trans-Siberian Railway from Omsk to Beijing

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone