The main reason most people choose Irkutsk as a stopover on the Trans Siberian railway is for Lake Baikal. The city of Irkutsk is actually quite beautiful and deserves at least a day of your time before heading to a location on the lake. There is a green line that leads you through the historic areas of the city.
Lake Baikal is the deepest and largest freshwater lake, by volume, in the world. It holds 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh water.
The lake houses many different species and holds a mild to freezing temperature year round. When standing on Olkhon island looking North, you can see why the lake gets called “the sea” by the Russians. It is so vast you cannot see the end of it.
As Lake Baikal is so huge, it can be hard to decide where to visit and what to do. There are many different locations suited to different seasons. Either way, if you are stopping in Irkutsk you have to make a decision.
We opted for Olkhon Island as our place to visit in early June. As there are many different locations, we hope we can help you in your research of where you want to spend your time.
Olkhon Island is the largest Island on Lake Baikal. Even so, it isn’t the easiest to get to.
As far as we could discover, there is one company offering comprehensive return trips to the Island from Irkutsk. The other option would be to hitchhike or swim, neither I can personally say sound appealing. Jacob jumped in the 1-degree water for about 20 seconds before jumping out. This is the summer temperature of the water, swimming would be considered stupid.
Olkhon Island has few towns and is sparsely populated. The main town being Kuzhir.
This would be the main location for accommodation and for bus journeys to and from Irkutsk for the island.
There are no paved roads, only sand roads where cows and dogs sit on the side and only 4 wheel drives can go the distance. The town has a small supermarket known as a Mini Market that sells an assortment of beer, basic fruit, water, and some basic cooking items.
Food on the island is more expensive than in Irkutsk and is limited.
It is best to stock up on your favorite meals and food before heading to the island in case it is not available.
If you are Vegan or Vegetarian, I seriously recommend taking your own food to the island. The island and lakes famous fish, Omul, is everywhere and the classic Russian diet of meat is prevalent on the island.
Most of the Hostels and mini Hotels provide breakfast which is often included in the price. Some even offer dinner at an additional charge, you can normally tell them during the booking process your dietary requirements. We found the Russians very hospitable about wanting to cook our own food as I am vegan. The particular mini hotel we were at let me use their kitchen and offered me any food that was vegan for free. I think they felt the need to feed me.
How to get to Kuzhir on Olkhon Island:
As said before, we could only find one easy way to get to the island. A minivan picks you up from your hotel/hostel in Irkutsk and drops you at your destination in Khuzhir.
We used the Hostel company The Baikaler for two tickets of 1800 rubles each, return. This has to be pre-booked in person at the hostel, in summer you must book the day before.
They also offer a one-way ticket, with you then finding your own means of return.
We were not staying at The Baikaler hostel, nor were we staying at their sister hotel on the island. They offer this service to anyone.
The car ride is long, bumpy and a tight squeeze when full of passengers. Bring a prepacked lunch and drink. The driver only speaks Russian with a little English. The phrase “Please stop for a toilet” is essential. Our Russian is limited we simply asked: “Excuse me, toilet?” He does stop at the nearest toilet if you ask, but otherwise, no stops apart from waiting for the ferry.
Be aware, the toilets along the way are not exactly toilets, they are the squat toilet over a large hole kind. Bring your own toilet paper, as none is provided.
The return journey left at 10 am from the island (picked up from your hotel) so the driver stops for a lunch break at a diner.
Once again, pack your own food if you are vegetarian/vegan or cannot eat the Russian diet of carbs and meat.
What to see on Olkhon Island by foot:
When checking in to our accommodation in Khuzhir we were asked if we wanted to join a bus tour to the northernmost point of the island and back for 800 rubles per person. We opted out and decided to walk as far as we could get instead.
Olkhon Island is over 60 km long, so don’t expect to walk to the end. We decided to turn back after walking 8 km north, but we could’ve easily gone further had I prepared for a longer journey food and clothing wise. The temperature doesn’t normally rise above 15 degrees Celsius, so take warmer clothing even if the sun is shining.
No matter what direction you walk in, there will be beautiful views.
From the town of Khuzhir, the Shaman rock is easily accessible by foot. This makes for a great place to watch the sunrise and sunset. Read the plaque at the top of the hill and respect the area.
Check out our Olkhon Island video.
We were not paid, nor offered any service for this post. This is our honest and true opinion.