When planning the Trans-Siberian holiday you are always faced with a difficult decision of choosing where to stop. However hard it may be to weigh the pros and cons of such destinations as Ekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk or Ulan-Ude, there is always this one place that, no questions asked, will be the highlight of your trip: the jewel of Siberia, Lake Baikal!
Visit Lake Baikal
The magnificent Lake Baikal is the purest in the world. In summer, when the lake is still full of melted ice, it is possible to see 40m down! The amazing transparency is the result of the purity of the melted ice and lack of mineral salts in the lake. It’s also the deepest lake in the world with a maximum depth of 1642m and it holds 20% of the world’s fresh water! Baikal is also the world’s most ancient freshwater lake, estimated to be about 30 million years old.
Everything about Baikal is unique: more than 300 streams and rivers feed the lake but only one, the massive Angara river flows out of Baikal, carrying about 60 cubic km of water per year into the Yenisei River. The Lake is also home to around 1800 endemic plant and animal species that you will not be able to see anywhere else. Despite its size, the lake still freezes over in winter and melts only in May or June. As the ice can be up to 2m thick, the lake will always be very cold, in summer reaching the temperature of only about 11C. For many it may be a real cold-water challenge to swim in the lake. For those looking for warmer waters, we certainly recommend getting over to the Olkhon Island, where the water is much warmer and perfect for a swim.
Olkhon is the fourth largest lake-bound island in the world, and the biggest on Lake Baikal. It is located about 250km north-east from Irkutsk. The best way to get there is by ferry to the village of Khuzir, the main village at Olkhon. Here you can find food and accommodation. Every Sunday, locals organize a market where you can buy fresh food and handmade items. You can join a bike tour of the island from Khuzir or for even better experience; you can rent a kayak and explore the clean waters of the Baikal Lake. Olkhon is a place of raw and natural beauty: the spectacular landscapes will take your breath away. The north of the island is an ideal spot for nature photographers with virgin forests and untouched wildlife. Olkhon is also home to the Buryats and the centre of spiritualism. You will see pray ribbons wrapped on the trees and stones all around the island. This is also the place where you will see the famous Shaman rock, the ninth most sacred place in Asia.
As the Lake attracts more than 500,000 tourists a year, it also faces new challenges from trying to manage the great influx of visitors. But there is something everyone can do to preserve the beauty of the Lake Baikal. With a simple pledge to go plastic free on your Trans-Siberian holiday, you can help save the Baikal ecosystem and by using a reusable bottle; you can make an even bigger difference. And with the cleanest freshwater source at your feet, you can take the water from the lake, boil it and drink it!
Volunteer at Lake Baikal!
If you are looking to get even more involved, we offer a unique chance to protect the environment through the construction of a system of eco-trails around the deepest and oldest lake in the world: The Great Baikal Project. At the project camp, volunteers will be sleeping in tents and prepare meals together over a campfire. During the workday, volunteers might clear the way for a new trail, improve an existing trail, or build a campground or other structure. During any free days, you can enjoy hikes, or trips to local sites and museums. All projects are led by crew leaders who are trained in the design and construction of trails and the creation of campsites. Each group also will have a translator, and English is one of the official languages of the project, next to the native Russian.
There are a number of trails already completed for you to enjoy. One of the best is the Listvyanka — Bolshie Koty trail of a medium difficulty, around 25km long.
The first 4.5 km of the trail is uphill. This is the hardest part of the route but the most rewarding as well. Before reaching the top, the trail splits; make sure to go right. At the top (860m above sea level and 404m above the lake), a magnificent view of the lake will await you. Soon, the path also runs along the coast. You will cross rivers and streams by small bridges, all of which were built by Great Baikal trail’s volunteers.
Camping is permitted only in designated areas, which can be easily found along the trail. Please remember that in order to visit the park; a camping permit is required, which can be obtained in the administration of Pribaikalsky National Park in Irkutsk, or in Forestry office in Listvyanka.
The trail finishes of in the village of Bolshie Koty – a former mining settlement. The surrounding area has traces of gold mining and you can see artificial lakes and piles of rock inside the Bolshie Koty valley.
From Bolshie Koty, there are other trails you can follow. For example Bolshie Koty to Bolshoie Goloustnoe: 2 days will be needed to complete this very picturesque trail, but you must be very careful. Due to the loose terrain of the coast, a few parts of this trail have been destroyed, and it is necessary to go down to the stony beach to avoid these parts.
If you are interested in volunteering at Lake Baikal please contact us for more information and available options at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 603 5045