Because knowing that would make us go on a trip to lake Baikal earlier.
1. It’s not so hard to get to lake Baikal
Even though looking on a map and seeing, where lake Baikal is, it doesn’t seem like easily accessible place. No one really travels to Siberia, right?
But trust me – it’s not a problem to get there. Irkutsk is the city, from which most of people start their trips to lake Baikal. It has an international airport and it is easy to go there by long distance train as well. Getting to the shores of lake from there is just a matter of few hours on a local bus or train.
2. Getting Russian visa is easier than you think
Most of people traveling to Russia need visa. When I read, that to obtain Russian visa we, Europeans, need to provide Visa support letter + voucher, I wanted to abandon this idea and not go to Russia at all. But turned out, that it’s “just a paper”, which you can buy from travel agency.
Many companies are selling it, and we got ours for a little bit under 10 euro per person.
One more thing – we obtained Russian visa not in our home country, but in Cambodia. Turned out, that it’s not too hard either.
3. There is nothing like long distance train journeys in Russia
As I already mentioned above, you can go to Irkutsk, gateway to lake Baikal, by plane. But you can also take a long distance train. Irkutsk is at the far East of Russia, closer to Mongolia and China than to Moscow. And that makes it a really long distance journey almost all the way across Russia. That’s if you are coming from the side of Europe like we did.
Getting from Moscow to Irkutsk by train takes between 3 and 4 days. And that’s one hell of an adventure itself! Because you will not be just traveling. You will be living on the train. Train will become your home for these 3-4 days of travel. It’s not your European high-speed train, taking you from Paris to London in 2 hours. But distances here aren’t the same either.
4. Traveling by train in Russia is easy and convenient
You can buy train tickets online from the website of Russian Railways. Be smart – do it in advance. It’s possible to buy tickets up to 45 days in advance. Website of Russian Railways is available also in English. In order to buy train tickets all you need to do is go through simple registration process and afterwards you will be able to buy tickets for yourself and others.
Traveling even on a cheapest class sleeper car (“плацкарта”) you will have a comfortable journey. If you are two, choose two seats on the side. This way you will have a table all for you two. Hot boiled water is available for free on every car.
Clean beddings cost only about one and a half euro extra. What else, traveling by train in Russia you can take up to 36 kg of hand luggage for free. Only downside is that there is no shower on the train. But, of course, there are toilets. Two in every car.
One thing to remember – long distance trains in Russia always run to Moscow time. Read more about our experience traveling by train in Russia.
5. You can travel in Russia without knowing Russian language
It might be frustrating at times and you may get tired from it, but it’s far from impossible. We both speak Russian, but during our trip to lake Baikal we met Malays and Japanese, who don’t, and they told us, that they are doing just fine.
It will help if you learn letters of Russian alphabet (Cyrillic script) before traveling to Russia. Because then you will be able to read. And sometimes that’s all you need to understand, what’s written on that sign or what is that building.
6. Lake Baikal is incredibly beautiful
Originally coming from a small town in Latvia, close to the border of Latvia and Russia, I went on this trip to Russia and lake Baikal assuming, that nature will look very similar to what I’m used to in my homeland and in Europe in general. Boy, was I wrong.
What I forgot to take into account is that lake Baikal is so far away and that it’s that BIG. 7th biggest lake in the world isn’t just another lake you may be so used to in Europe. But once you get to Olkhon, an island in lake Baikal, you immediately start to feel like being in Mongolia and by the Mediterranean sea all at the same time. It’s as beautiful as in both of these places. It’s wild. But it’s far from inaccessible or impossible for beginner traveler.
Leave at least 3-4 days for Olkhon island. And count in 2 days for getting to and from Irkutsk by bus. And if you have more time go and hike some part of Circum Baikal railway, too.
7. It’s cheap to go on a hiking and camping trip at lake Baikal
One of the best ways to experience natural beauty of lake Baikal is to go on a hike there. While it is as beautiful as by, for example, the Mediterranean sea, you need way less money to go on a hike at lake Baikal. Because here you can camp for free everywhere.
Drinking water is always available from the lake. Food in Russia is cheap. And if it’s Olkhon island, where you are heading, you don’t necessary need to carry a lot of food with you. Because you can always count on its main town Kuzhir, where you can resupply.
8. July is the best for summer trip to Baikal, February – winter trip
Yes – lake Baikal is in Siberia.
No – it’s not cold year-round there.
Weather in Siberia can change a lot and quickly, but anyway July is the month, when you can expect mostly sunny and warm (even hot) days. Even though it gets as high as +35C on some days, water in lake Baikal never really warms up. In some places it warms a bit, but mostly it’s not more than +5 C – +10 C, which is cold.
In winter in Siberia temperatures drops significantly. -30 C isn’t something special there. But even in such a cold weather lake Baikal freezes completely only at the second part of winter. That’s why February is the safest bet as when to go and see how this magnificent place looks during the winter. At the same time it’s your chance to experience real Siberian winter.
If you have some more questions about traveling in Russia, send us a message!
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they are traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On WeAreFromLatvia.com they share their experience and things learned along the way.