Our 7 day itinerary at beautiful Lake Baikal. For 7 days we travelled around world’s deepest fresh water lake, visiting Olkhon Island and hiking on the GBT.
Day 1 – Irkutsk and being still
Feeling very relieved to be outside of a train we enjoyed an early morning walk to our hostel in Irkutsk. First impressions of the city is that it is a dusty and calm city. As you can imagine, after 4 days in a train, the first thing to the do list was a shower! After recharging our batteries on the couch at the hostel it was time to explore the city of Irkutsk.
As we came to find out, there was not a lot to see in this dreary city. We saw a few monuments, a river and of course, Lenin statues. I cannot write a lot about this city, it is very simple and not too exciting – it is a good stop to stock up on supplies and cash before going to Olkhon Island – lake Baikal.
We headed to bed early that evening and enjoyed our non-moving beds because tomorrow it was adventure time!
Day 2 – Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal
Finally, it was time to go Olkhon Island, we planned this for a long time and were very very excited. A minibus picked us up from the hostel and we were on our way to Olkhon Island.
Enjoying the green landscape and bouncing in the minibus we both dozed off for a bit. After about 4 – 5 hours we made it to the Ferry which was going to take us to the island and the village of Khuzhir. What followed was a mix of a rallycross and Dakar rally stage, but then in a beat-up old minivan filled with terrified tourist.
A bumpy ride it was, the driver who drove like he was on a rally stage pushed his van through the many curves, bumps, holes, hills all while avoiding the many cows trying to cross the road.
Following a bit of confusion about the address of our guesthouse we found our little cozy wooden hut. It was located in a cluster of houses, next to a big potato garden and beautiful flower beds. We felt very excited to start exploring this beautiful island and headed straight out and walked through the village of Khuzhir. The village is quite small, has no paved roads and is mostly comprised of rundown wooden houses. Every now and then we’d hear a loud MOO coming from behind us from the friendly neighborhood cows strolling around everywhere.
After dodging the cows and a few packs of street dogs we made it to the Shaman’s Rock. This rock is a very sacred place to the locals and that is not without reason. It stands proudly and tall, standing out from all other nature around it. Where the rock is located there are a few polls where people can put prayer flags, each flag representing a prayer, a want or a need.
Since the island is quite big and we only had 3 days to spend on it we made arrangements for a 4×4 tour for the next day to be able to explore more of the island. So after this exciting, shaky day, we sat down for a delicious home-made meal that our Russian host cooked for us and caught a good night rest.
Day 3 – 4×4 day!
All over the island where these old, grey, Russian 4×4 buses running through the village. We’d hoped that our tour would be in one of those – and yes, we were right!!
This old shaky van drove away from the village and brought us to the northern most point of the island with several stops in between. Each stop was more beautiful than the other, the pictures do no justice to what we saw!
On one of the stops we saw the three brothers rocks. Legend has it that a man from Olkhon Island who had supernatural powers turned his 3 sons into eagles so they could fly free. On one condition – they were forbidden to eat dead meat. The boys were ecstatic with their new freedom and flew around the island all day. Of course, they became hungry, but the only food they found was dead meat and they ate it. Their father became furious and as a punishment, turned them into 3 rocks, who still stand there to this day. Then we headed more north to Khoboy Cape, which is the northern most point on the island. After hiking to the top, we circled back down where our driver had prepared fish soup on the spot, tea and salad for us, which was delicious and really hit the spot.
Day 4 – Hiking in the Siberian forest
This morning we decided to go for a hike as a warm up for the Great Baikal Trail we had planned. The trail took us through the woods above Khuzhir and to a fresh water spring. By the spring we noticed that many locals were filling up their trucks with drinking water. After a quick lunch we continued out of the woods and towards a viewing point. Following a steep climb (keep in mind, we are not in any kind of hiking shape) we finally reached the top and were rewarded with amazing view of Khuzhir.
After that day filled of beautiful scenery, even though we were exhausted from the hike, we ran towards the Shaman’s rock to catch the sunset before it was too late. We made it just in time to see this beautiful sight. What made this sunset even more beautiful were the 3 cute little puppies who were roughhousing around the whole evening.
It is said that this island either accepts you or it doesn’t. If the island accepts you, you will have a great time and want to return. It is safe to say that we have been accepted by the Island, because this is a place where we could spend weeks.
Day 5 – Is this the end?
Sadly, our time on Olkhon island was over and it was time to head towards our next adventure in Listvyanka village, where the Great Baikal Trail lies.
We thought the previous 2 car rides on the island were bumpy, we had no idea what was coming. This time we were in a larger bus, packed with locals. I sat in the far back, on a foldup seat. The driver was booking it, obviously trying to get off the island as fast as he could. At one point, Marc’s seatmate opened the window and threw a coin out and two of the older ladies sitting in front of us did the same. We soon realized why that was, they were saying a prayer.
Right after they did that the road got even worse. Driver did not slow down and we were in the air more than we were on the road. Slamming from left to right, hanging in our seatbelts, almost rolling over a few times and holding on to dear life we finally made it to the ferry. We were very relieved to have made it off the island – I guess their prayers worked!
Thankfully it was then a smooth ride towards Irkutsk and onwards to our final destination on Lake Baikal, the village of Listvyanka. Listvyanka is a small, kind of touristy village that lies on the edge of Baikal. It felt almost like a tiny beach town, people where sunbathing all along the coast and music blaring from loud speakers – giving it a very beachy vibe.
That evening we enjoyed our cabin guesthouse and the mountain views from the balcony and prepared our lunch for tomorrows hike.
Day 6 – The Great Baikal Trail
The Great Baikal Trail is a project run by an organization that is striving to improve and add hiking trails around Lake Baikal. Their website has excellent information about the trail and others around – it tells you which animals and plants to avoid (i.e bears!) and a description of the trails. You can check them out here.
We woke up fresh and ready to take on the 25km trail! The temperature outside was perfect and we were excited.
The hike began as a light climb towards the woods, slowly getting steeper and steeper. We climbed and climbed, felt like it went on forever – oh god, what have we gotten ourselves into. But, as stubborn as we both are, we kept going and made it to the top. Thankfully, after that the trail descended down and through a beautiful green valley where we had to cross a little river and went towards a beach. After reaching the beach, were about 1/4th done and we recharged with a bit of food and water we kept going. The trail only became more beautiful after that, threading the coast of the lake, going up and down – occasionally coming down to a beach or ascended up revealing the most beautiful views. Then the village of Bolshiye Koty appeared, and we had completed the Great Baikal Trail 🙂
The village was one of those places where you wonder, why on earth do people live here – but it had a little shop where we could buy a well deserved ice cream (or two). The ferry which would take us back to Listvyanka would not be there in a few hours, so we took our icecream(s) and decided to rest our tired bodies on the beach while waiting for the ferry.
The ferry came and we boarded easily and enjoyed the views from the boat. We approached Listvyanka, and we were dreaming about a cold beer. But the ferry kept going, for about 3km it went on and docked. We were completely empty, but I guess we had no other option than to add 3 more kilometers onto our hike. It only made the beer taste better and the food more satisfying once we got to the restaurant.
Day 7 – Back to Irkutsk
Waking up knowing we had spent a brilliant week around Lake Baikal, we caught a bus back to Irkutsk. We did some laundry, updated the blog and the next day we took the train to Omsk. Our final stop in Russia.
Make sure to check out our route page to find out where we are!