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8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Traveling to Lake Baikal

Traveling to Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia

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Because knowing that would make us go on a trip to lake Baikal earlier.

1. It’s Not 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 a 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 Visa support letter and voucher is “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. Another thing is you’ll need travel insurance, that is valid in Russia – we recommend World Nomads Explorer Package.

One more thing – we obtained Russian visa not in our home country, but in Cambodia. Turned out, that doing it abroad is not too hard either.

Russian Visa

Russian Visa

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.

Train on Circum Baikal Railway

Train on Circum Baikal Railway

5. You Can Travel in Russia Without Knowing Russian Language

Yes, most of Russians don’t speak English.

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.

[x_blockquote type=”left”]TRAVEL INSURANCE: For travelers to Russia we recommend World Nomads Explorer Package! [/x_blockquote]

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.

Hiking on Olkhon island

Olkhon island, Lake Baikal

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 the island’s 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 second half of February and March 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.

Sunset on Olkhon island

Sunset on Olkhon island

If you have some more questions about traveling in Russia, send us a message!

18 thoughts on “8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Traveling to Lake Baikal”

  1. Thank you for this. I would love to go to Lake Baikal (when I’m really thirsty, I say, “got to have a Baikal”, or “Give me a Baikal” !) Not sure if we’ll ever get there, as we are going overseas for the first time ever next year doing minimalist travel just to Malta and Turkey. However, one never knows! The information you have given seems really helpful. I’ll self-email this site just in case our pennies promise to stretch to visiting Russia! (We’re in Australia!)

    1. As you say, you never know what opportunities may arise :) It’s a place definitely worth a visit.

  2. Hey Kaspars!
    The article was of great help. Was having a difficult time gathering some info on Lake Baikal. Your article helped a ton.
    And Oh boy, I can imagine the fun you guys had.
    Happy Travelling!
    Love from India!
    Yash Keskar

  3. Thank you for this article. I will recomment to everybody to read it. It is very useful and full of your experience. I would like to correct you. Though February is nice to visit, but the ice roads are open only after 15th of February, and this month is considered to be one of the coldest. So it is better to visit in March, it is very popular time. The ice roads are still stable and the temperature starts to go down, so it is much warmer during March. Ice roads are open untill 25-27 of March. During Feb and March it is better to book you stay in few month beforehead. Because it is very popular and a lot of people come to lake Baikal.

  4. Hey Kaspars,

    Nice article! loved the details….I am visiting Olkhon end of December and reading your article further reinforced my decision of visiting Siberia in winter, although you have mentioned February is the best winter month. Would you recommend any not to be missed place or sights in Olkhon or Irkutsk?

    Keep traveling and blogging!



    1. Thanks, Venky! I’m happy to hear that. I don’t know much about Irkutsk. We were just wandering around the city there. But here you can read about our experience on Olkhon island I really liked the coastline some 20 – 30 kilometers up from Khuzhir, the main town of the island. Right next to the town it’s all flat, but further there are hills and cliffs. Beautiful!

  5. Well, yes, most of trip to Baikal starts from Irkutsk.

    However, Olkhon becomes so busy in top season..So I recommend to travel to Baikal from another side, from Ulan-Ude. It’s convinient if you plan to go to Mongolia.

    And Ulan-Ude is a center of Buryatia region. Buryat are kind of Russian Monglian. It’s more authentic. Shammanism and biddhism are popular in here. There are unique phenomenons to see there. Like this one –

  6. We are planning to go there (greetings from Estonia!) on our Transsiberian journey. We will spend a day in Irkutsk before Baikal, but where near Baikal would it be a good idea to stay for one night? We can not carry tents on this trip.
    As we go at the end of August, I am a bit afraid it wil be SO full of tourists at some places, that it’ll not be so enjoyable everywhere. Any ideas on Baykalsk, Vydrino or Mysovaya (Babushkin)? We just want a small costal place, where we can find a bed.

    1. Thanks! :)

      We were there in the end of July and there wasn’t a lot of tourists, so you’ll be fine. Just don’t stay in Listvyanka (Листвянка) which is the most popular place there.

      Unfortunately we haven’t been to those places so I can’t really tell which one is better. I think all of them are fine. If it still too crowded for you, you can walk out of the town for, let’s say, 20 minutes and you’ll get to a place which is undisturbed and quiet. These little towns around Baikal are small and once you’re out of the town there are not that many people, if any, actually.

  7. Big thanks for the article. I’ve just returned from my trip to Lake Baikal and already planning the next one:”)). I really want to see the amazing Baikal ice.

    This year I was traveling in late April – early May. The couchsurfers, which I stayed at, also told me about lots of tourists – but it’s nothing comparing to Lake Como, The Great Lakes in the USA or pretty any lake I’ve seen before).

    Listvanka (I mean the village itself) is disgusting, but the places close to it are really nice. My couchsurfing-friends recommend me a really nice trail to Bolshie Koty – it starts right at Listvanka – can say it much more interesting than Cinque Terre Trail in Italy! Hehe)

    1. Thank you for your tips! :) Haha, yeah, our Russian friend also told us that it’s a lot of tourists there (when we went). But we said – hmm, there are hardly any people. How can it be a lot of tourists? Haha.

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