A Buryat man – native of Baikal land

Baikal Lake is one of the marvels of nature. Located in Siberia, it may be seen as just a point on the map, a wild and remote place. Nevertheless, not all Siberia is wilderness and what is often seen as its capital Irkutsk is in fact a kinetic mixture of the East and West, sporting the prime examples of old Russian wooden architecture.

Its lake is a bliss to behold, and Olkhon Island is one of the most venerated Buddhist sites in the former Soviet Union, and a rapidly developing tourist destination. Thus the region offers a variety of recreational and other activities, along with pristine nature. For you to enjoy it to the utmost we will provide you with valuable tips for you to board your plane happy and truly rested.

When is the best time to visit Baikal

First of all let’s start with the main thing, best season to visit Siberia and namely Lake Baikal. In fact there is no one best season but a host of various disparate opportunities; each season offering something unique. For example to see the ice on Baikal and go dog-sledding or riding a snowmobile visit Baikal in winter. To witness the lake ice-laden it is best to come in February-March when it is the thickest, and offers a chance to fish in the Russian way, that is through ice.

If a fan of heat go there in July-August, when it is high time to swim, even though the water still may feel quite chilly. Otherwise the region’s short spring and autumn are still cold but the time is best for calm warm-dressed outings along the lake, without the intense sunlight of the July-August, or the refreshing cold of winter.

How to visit Baikal

Once again, as often is the case with Baikal and Russia in large, there is no exclusive answer. To visit Baikal you can use different ports of entry to the region. The three having airports are Ulan-Ude, Irkutsk and Severobaikalsk. If willing to visit the savage and pristine region of the Northern Baikal, head to Severobaikalsk.

If you are more into the culture, of nomadic mongol Buryat people, for example their mouth-watering cuisine, or the republic’s unique nature make for the capital of eponymous Buryat Republic, Ulan-Ude. The port of entry of choice for most travellers, whose infrastructure has caught up with the cities of the European Russia and where more and more travellers are coming not just to see the lake but also enjoy the unique vibe of the place is Irkutsk.

There are plenty of things to do in Irkutsk, from energetic night-life, mouth-watering cuisine, to a host of museums and exquisite old Russian wooden architecture. From there it is possible to easily venture for further travels in Siberia into the adjacent regions, such as Tofolaria, an unspoilt piece of the Sayany Mountains region, with almost no basic facilities, but friendly Tofu people speaking a truly unique language, surrounded by nonpareil and enchanting flora and fauna.

Note: Pradiz can arrange for the transport from the point of arrival to where you are staying.


Where to live on Lake Baikal

Nikita Bencharov’s homestead at Olkhon // photo credit: olkhon.info

Staying in Irkutsk means that you have plenty of choice when it comes down to lodgings. They range from up-scale and luxurious Marriot Hotel to the most simple hostels, where you can sense the youthful charm of the city. Nevertheless once setting out to explore the lakeside you have fewer options; and the further you from large cities the less accommodation you get. For example, in Listvyanka and Olkhon Island, both are visited on Olkhon Island Tour, choice places of retreat for the Irkutsk dwellers there is no five or four star hotels, but a host of good-quality properties with all the necessary facilities.

If going off the beaten track or to the nature reserves brace for a tough but experience-wise enriching camping. If roughing it in the scenic Taiga in summer don’t forget to take along your mosquito repellent, first-aid kit, down-to-zero sleeping bags, and warm clothes for even in the hottest months it can get chilly at night. If spending the night aboard a ship it is possible to sleep either on deck or in the cabin.

Also note that it is necessary to obtain a special permit if camping in a nature reserve.

Note: If looking for where to stay on your own check out such online resources as Airbnb and Agoda, otherwise contact Pradiz, one of the most reliable tour operators in Russia.


What to eat on Baikal

Buryat food / Baikal cuisine

The surprise you get visiting Baikal is its ambrosial food and drink. It’s not only Siberian cuisine but also Buryat one that truly amazes. The Buryat gastronomical proclivities and finicky palates have definitely contributed to the global warming; these ancient cattle-herding people can’t live without meat. Buryat steamed dumplings filled with meat, called buuzy, highlight this carnivorous weak-spot; tasting them you sense the hospitable and well cooking Orient; also delectable is bukhler, lamb bone soup. The Burayt cuisine is also unimaginable without dairy products; Buryats make drinks using milk, as well as second and first courses and even bread; don’t miss out on traditional herbal and green tea. Siberian cuisine is best exemplified by the pelmeny, aka Russian dumplings, and fish. Baikal is a place beloved by both meat and fish lovers.

Buryat food & Baikal cuisine

Visiting Baikal you must try fish. It comes in different forms but due to the proximity of the lake always fresh; you can eat it smoke-dried, sun-dried, salted or even raw. The locals’ favorite is hot-smoked omul, it is usually consumed on the shores sometimes moments after the smoking. Try also grayling; whether it is fried, baked or a soup ingredient it is always delicious. The two most famous fish dishes to be tried are raskolotka, sliced fresh-frozen fish served with salt and pepper, and the piquant zaguday, raw-fish salad usually dressed using olive oil and pepper and salt  for the most fastidious eaters. During the short summer the land around the lake brims with the berries, and mushrooms which sprout up in August. On Lake Baikal Private Tour by Pradiz it is possible to savor the delicacies from almost every corner of the lake, since the tour takes you to a host of most significant locations.

Where to withdraw cash on Lake Baikal

On your Siberia tour it is not always easy to withdraw cash. Before setting out on your Baikal journey don’t forget to take into account the lack of infrastructure, such as ATMs. If heading to the hinterland take as much cash as you need for outside big cities there may not be ATMs. Sberbank, Russia’s state-owned bank, has branches in Listvyanka, Maloe More, Baikalsk, Severobaikalsk and most raytsentry.

What to take to a trip to Lake Baikal

Baikal Lake region boasts a unique super-continental climate. That means that in the summer it can be hot at midday and in the afternoon but once the darkness falls the temperature drops and can reach zero. So if travelling to Lake Baikal even in summer don’t be deceived by what seems as sunny weather forecasts and take along warm clothes. We suggest that you take rain-jacket, a hat, sneakers, hiking boots and swimming wear, sun-hat, and repellants against mosquitoes and ticks. In winter, take clothes to wear at minus 20-30, also advisable is to take two outfits made of heat-retaining material, and a small thermos.

Also note that all year round it is recommendable to take the sun cream and sun glasses. Note that going outside big cities you should take first-aid-kit and all the medications you are using for there may not be pharmacies. Don’t forget to take photo-camera for the memory card fills up fast when in such a scenic location. If you unintentionally left something out, try to buy it in Irkutsk or Ulan-Ude.

What to see on Lake Baikal

Apart from the unique architecture, nature people of differents creeds and ethnicities, go and have a look at the the seals, the aquatic mammals which are seen as the symbol of the lake. Another animal which may be of interest to you is babr. The official symbol of Irkutsk is a curio, going by this name. It is what looks like a love child of a very ferocious feline with an over-sized beaver. It holds a fur-covered animal cadaver between its teeth, a reference to fur-trade, one of the historical pillars of local society, and boasts fangs and a sizeable tail, otherwise it is a tiger. What may look like the product of sick mind of one of the city fathers, was in fact brought about by the officials in St. Petersburg. They mistook old Siberian word babr, Siberian for tiger, for a Russian word for beaver, which resulted in this gory reference to the Imperial ignorance of the Siberian life.

How to travel along Lake Baikal

A traveler sitting on a hovercraft in winter Baikal

Travelling in Baikal region may be done either by taxi, ferry, bus, jeep, train and even helicopter. Often the most easy way to reach some locations is a combination of means of transport; for example to reach Olkhon Island on the shoestring you can take both a regular bus or a ferry. In winter it is possible to travel by a hovercraft.

It is often best to contact the professionals, such as Pradiz Tour team. Note that some spots are accessible only hiking for miles via rough terrain, but note that the destinations around the lake and the pristine nature along the way are always worth it.

Where to buy Russian-sim card on Lake Baikal

Outside the south coast of Baikal, Olkhon Island and Maloe More the connection may be patchy or non-existant, especially in the nature reserves, where signal comes via a satelite. Usually you can buy data from one of the 4 operators, Megafon, MTS, Beeline, and Baikalvestcom.

What to bring home from Lake Baikal

Apart from Matreshkas, amber, or Russian banya paraphernalia you can opt for something truly Siberian or, even more narrowly, Buryat or Irkutsk. The region is known for its fur trade, thus it is may be of interest to do research into fur clothes-vending places. Otherwise it may be the wood-carving craft that will elicit your interest. If willing to preserve mother nature, buy a t-shirt with a seal portrayed on it, spreading the word of the wonderful inhabitants of Baikal.


As you may have understood Baikal is a treasure-trove of cultural and natural landmarks, but to appreciate it in all its beauty you need to be properly dressed, connected, and informed. And don’t forget about the dinner, for the dynamic life of Irkutsk and untamed nature around the lake require you to have energy, and what can be more energizing than the cornucopia of delicacies the lake is known for.


Interested in travelling to Baikal and Irkutsk? Check out our signature Lake Baikal tours.B