Need a getaway for rest and recuperation to a remote island during the summer? Surrounded by Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world, Olkhon Island is a far-flung paradise for all nature enthusiasts out there. Filled with famous legends of Siberia, a sanctuary of Baikal baby seals, pristine blue beaches and lush-green forests, Olkhon Island is a real gem to explore and to immerse in its history of the indigenous Buryat culture. Although Lake Baikal is gorgeous during the winter, when the lake is deeply frozen and crystal clear, the island also fosters a serene summer ambience to ease your minds.
1. How to travel to Olkhon Island
The most affordable option for individuals or a couple to travel to Olkhon Island is to take a minibus from Irkutsk to Khuzhir, Olkhon Island’s main village. It costs a maximum of 17 USD for one-way. If the earliest intended date is in early June, then there are more frequent bus operations towards the island in contrast to the operations during the winter. For instance, you can either take the bus from the central bus station at Irkutsk, which leaves at four different time slots, or you can take the bus from the central market, which leaves at 10am.
The second option is if you are travelling in a group from early June, you can also book a local taxi with the homestay or hotel you are staying at on the Island. Prices can range from 160 USD for a car, which carries up to four passengers, and 210 USD for a van, which carries up to nine passengers. No matter which route you decide on, the journey will take between four to six hours as it will depend on the traffic. Bear in mind that there will be an inevitable ferry ride to the island from mid-May and expect some bumpy paths along your journey to paradise!
Irkutsk to Khuzhir Village
Central Bus Station
Address: Oktyabrskoy Revolyutsii street, 11 Irkutsk 664007
Price: 800 RUB (14 USD) one-way if you pay the minibus driver directly; 950 RUB (16.40 USD) one-way if you book via Transport Excursions.
Departure Time: 10am
Access to Bus Station: From the railway station, take tram no. 4A. From the airport, take the minibus no. 20 to Decembrists Museum. You can either take a minibus no. 4K, tram no. 4 or 4A or walk 400 metres north-east. Ask the information booth for buses to Olkhon Island.
Contact: +790 25772020
Near the Central Market
Address: Bus waits at Timiryazeva Street, Irkutsk 664003 between the Central Market and a Commercial Centre
Price: 800 RUB (14 USD) one-way if you pay to the minibus driver; 950 RUB (16.40 USD) one-way if you book via Transport Excursions
Access: Take trams no. 1 or 2 to Central Market from the Central Railway Station, cross the street opposite and find your minibus driver, ask “Olkhon” or “Khuzhir.” Alternatively, take minibus no. 20 from the railway station towards the airport and stop at “Dom Kuznetsa.” Tell the bus driver that. Go through the Central Market and you will find yourself at Timiryazeva Street. Turn right and find your minibus driver before the commercial centre.
2. Stay at Nikita’s Homestead
Nikita’s Homestead offers a cosy lodge, including private rooms and shared bathrooms at competitive prices that you can choose from. But what will amaze you is the owners’ warm hospitality, as they welcomed their guests at the beginning of their stay and remember everyone’s names. Their staff members speak fluent-like English and are bilingual. They can also arrange local drivers for you to travel to their homestead directly from Irkutsk and book mini van trips for you around the island. If their hospitality could get any better than this, they also provide fully satisfying breakfast and dinners, which are also included in the accommodation price per day.
Address: 8 Kirpitchnaya, Olkhon 666137, Russia
Price: Between 28 USD to 61 USD (varies for different rooms)
Number of Guests: 1 to 4
Access: Arrange bus to Khuzhir village and ask to stop at Nikita’s Homestead
Contact: +791 48957865
3. Book a jeep tour around the island to appreciate its history and nature
If you want to journey to the northernmost point of the island, the best summer tour excursion is booked through Nikita’s. You will depart from your designated meeting point around 10am and in some cases, the driver picks up other people from other places, for example, their hotels. The excursion is quite a bumpy ride but definitely worth the trip if you want to see all the main landmarks of Olkhon Island in a day. The first stop is the abandoned Peschanaya Village and fish factory. During the Soviet era, most political prisoners were exiled to Siberia and sent to work at factories such as this one. Then, you will see the Three Brothers Rocks facing to the lake. An ancient, Buryatian legend says that there were three eagles, which were turned into rocks because they disobeyed their father by eating carcass. You will later have a surreal experience on the top of Cape Khoboy, one of the highest peak points of the island. If you are lucky, you will be able to spot Baikal baby seals below the base of the hill. During the excursion, you will also be provided with a picnic lunch, in which the food varies from time to time.
4. Ride a mountain bike or go hiking
The island comprises accessible forest tracks for both bikers and trekkers to enjoy the landscape views from the hills. You can see both Maloye (small) and Bolshoye (big) seas surrounding the island from afar. You will frequently come across wooden shaman totems or trees, dressed with colourful bandanas. Each colour has a certain significance in healing or fortune, for instance, the colour blue represents ‘good health’. The intensity of the bicycle gears can change from low to moderate, so it is suitable for regular bikers. You can arrange to rent a bike from Nikita’s Homestead if you are staying with them. The average cost of renting a bicycle is 16 USD, but it varies depending on where you rent it from. Alternatively, you can also hike there and you will be provided a map of the track lines from Nikita’s. From the dense forests to the open-air steppes, you will enjoy the lush greenery that the island offers.
5. Taste Baikal Omul, a type of fish from the village of Khuzhir
This may be a long-shot, but if you want to try some local food, omul, a white-species fish that resembles the texture of salmon, is both a delicacy and one of the main food resources in Siberia. The locals would prefer the salted omul, but you can also try it smoked or freshly cooked. Go to Khuzhir and you can either find it at a convenience store or ask your accommodation on where to buy the best omul.
6. Take a sip of Lake Baikal through the rocks
It is safe to drink Baikal water if you know where the streams are flowing. Some parts of Lake Baikal, which include huge boulders of rocks, can provide clean and fresh water through its fast flowing streams. If you go downhill to the rocks of Cape Burkhan, or stop by Peschanaya Bay, find a fast-flowing stream and put your bottle facing towards it on the rock.The water should be clear and not milky.
7. Watch sunset and/or sunrise near Cape Burkhan
Whether you are coming to an end of your journey or day, watching the sunset on the hilltop near Cape Burkhan is an unforgettable experience. From afar, you can see two white-marble and sharp-edged rocks conjoined with one another called Cape Burkhan or Shamanka. The name, ‘Burkhan,’ originates from the name of a God that Shaman believers worshipped. Until this day, it has been a sacred place of Shaman healing rituals. Visitors are immediately entranced with Cape Burkhan’s beauty and mystic.
Help to preserve Olkhon island and Lake Baikal
If heaven for nature enthusiasts ever existed on earth, it is here at Olkhon Island. While its unique landscapes will gratify your expectations, Olkhon Island is in need of better nature conservation. As water levels of Lake Baikal have gradually decreased by more than 40cm (15.74 inches) since 2015, both the lake and Olkhon Island rest in the hands of their tourists to keep them green and clean.
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