How many times can you say beautiful, stunning, amazing, vast, breathtaking etc, etc? Doesn’t matter, because it won’t capture the feeling of it all. Island of Olkhon is the largest island in Lake Baikal, and it – along with the Lake (or Sea, as most locals call it) – is really spectacular. Worth the 6 hours that it takes to get there.
We spent three nights and two full days on the island and felt like we were there for a week. We hiked all day, did the traditional banya at our guesthouse, did dog trekking, ate well, slept well (though I now regret not staring at the stars all night long – the sky was so clear, and we could see the North Star!)
We did two full day excursions where we explored the north and south of the island. In the north we explored countless cliffs and hills, with lots of opportunities to climb. In the south there was lots and lots of hiking, a few climbing bits, and even a swim in the bay of the Large Sea (aka the main part of Lake Baikal). The water was freezing, but the weather was great with the sun shining and nearly no wind – we couldn’t let such opportunity pass by!
Olkhon is the center of Shamanism in Russia. According to our guides, archeological discoveries on the island, link the native Buryat people to the American Indians, who must have at one point walked along the frozen Bering Straight. We learned many fascinating legends about Baikal, the island and Buryat people. All of the mountains and large rocks have names, and as legends have it were at one time people, who were turned into stone for their misdeeds by the spirits.
The pictures here are just a few of the many hundreds that we took in just two days. We are going to have another post with just the views from this stunner, so stay tuned for that.
Cash money: There are no ATMs on the island, but extra money can be withdrawn with a purchase from a souvenir store at Nikita’s (there is a hefty 10% commission). Reportedly the same can be done at the local post office for a much cheaper 150 rubles ($3) fee, but we didn’t try it out.
Transport links: There is a minibus taxi that departs from train station and goes to Olkhon, stopping at each guesthouse as requested. The cost is 600 rubles ($20) per person, one way. This service is used by all guesthouses – including Nikita’s (the large Western tourist oriented BB). Once you make a reservation at any lodging on Olkhon, they will tell you when to catch the minibus. At the time when we visited there were several of these buses per day, but the service probably depends on demand, so off season may be different, while in peak season these might run every hour or so. The same minibus service can be arrange to come back from Olkhon to Irkutsk.
Eat & Sleep: We stayed Baikalsky Plyos, which really deserves its own post. It was fantastic, especially considering the price, just 950 rubles ($30) per person for lodging and meals. I can go on and on about how much we enjoyed our stay there.
The owners are very personable and all food is homemade from natural ingredients ( !) and so delicious. There are several guesthouses on the territory, but none have ensuite. However, both shower and bathroom buildings are clean and heated, so even if its nippy outside, it will be warm and toasty inside. There is a banya, which is always available to use. A load of laundry is included gratis with a stay.
Among the many highlights of our stay was playing (and later dog trekking) with the adorable laika samoed and a husky – both breeds being native to the area, although exterminated under Stalin.
Baikalsk Plyos are the only ones in the area with these guys now! No wifi (which I think is the case for every other place around), but there is 3g access if you have a Russian sim card in your phone. *I realize all of this sounds like an ad, but its not — we paid full price for our stay, we just loved it so much.
Do: The island is large, and best way to explore is via various excursions, so add about another $30 per person (though English-language may be more?) per day – though these come with lunch. Horse riding and fishing is possible, but we ran out of time to try these out.