Visit lake Baikal when it's frozen
April 3, 2019
by Tamara Boricheva
Imagine walking on ice of an ancient lake, the oldest and the deepest on the planet. You hear the hollow sound of ice cracking, but you are still staying among the stunning beauty of the shining snow and crystal clear ice, and hundreds of meters of depth underneath. You feel the wind blowing and through the cold it brings the sounds of shaman drams, indistinct voices or the smell of smoke from the nearest village.
When Lake Baikal freezes
The temperature starts to drop below zero in November, but the huge lake doesn’t freeze fast, so it is usually frozen by the middle of January and starts melting in April. Due to the wind and temperature the ice is cracking all the time, but it’s safe. The ice withstands a truck easily, in the 20th century there was even a railway crossing on the ice. Stick to the official safe routes of course, there are still other places where the ice is thinner.
When to visit Lake Baikal to see it frozen
If you want to feel what the Siberian frost is – come at the end of January, it gets about -25 Celsius but it is quite bearable since the climate is dry and it’s usually sunny. March is also a great time to travel, it’s about -15. Also keep in mind that it is usually windy on the lake.
Where to go on Lake Baikal
Olkhon Island and Listvyanka village are the most popular places, that will give you a great experience.
The island takes at least 3 days to visit, including a 5-hour drive. Make sure the ice road to the island is open, it usually functions in February and the beginning of March. On Olkhon you will be right in the heart of the lake, seeing endless white expanses, magnificent rocks and hollows covered with the ice in all shapes. It’s an amazing place, also considered very spiritual – it’s a world famous center of Shamanism.
Listvyanka village is 40 minutes away from Irkutsk – the city you need to get to first if you want to visit Baikal. The place is quite touristic yet still has it’s charm and allows “to say hello to Baikal”, as the locals say.
Top 10 things to do at Lake Baikal in winter
When in Listvyanka
You can go along the hiking trail to Bolshye Koty, the small village to which there is no actual road – people get there by water during summer and by ice in winter. The distance is 24 kilometers, you can get to Bolshye Koty and stay there overnight – there are few home stays and hostels. Whether you want to go all the way or not, it’s a nice route for some trekking with amazing views.
It is a fish that is found only in Baikal. There are quite a few ways of cooking it, smoked and dried are considered the best. You can grab a few at the local street market and enjoy it by the lake.
Go dog sledding
It’s a good opportunity to feel close to nature and try something new. There are also many other ways to travel through the forests and ice of Baikal – pick what you like the best. You can choose ice skating, skiing (both can be used for the routes of crossing the lake, some of which include sleeping in a tent right on the ice, if you feel like doing something quite extreme) there are also horse riding and snowmobile rides available.
See Shaman stone
It is seen from the shore at the origin of the Angara. The best part of it is an old legend. There are over 300 rivers flowing into Lake Baikal and only one, the Angara flowing out. So the legend says Angara was Baikal’s beautiful daughter who disobeyed and ran away from the strict father – to be with her love, of course. The father was furious and in attempt of stopping her threw a huge rock in pursuit of the child.
When on Olkhon Island
Visit Shamanka Rock
The heart of the island, the rock that is sacred for locals and from where you can still hear the sound of shaman’s drum at nights. It is in a walking distance from Khuzhir village where you will be probably staying.
Go to the very north of the island
Wherever you will be staying they can book this tour for you. You will go by ice on UAZ – Russian army car, seeing unbelievable sceneries.
Try poza or buuza
It’s originally a traditional Buryat dish and even though now it’s quite common all around Russia – the best ones you can have are on the Island – where for the locals it’s a favorite homemade food always made from products of own household.
Stare at the sky at nights
Seriously, don’t miss that. You will see the skies right above and around yourself, so clear because of the cold, fresh air and no cities around, that it’s hard to believe and impossible to forget.
Try Russian banya
You have probably heard that Russian banya is something special – it is nothing like sauna actually, it’s extremely hot and often has some extraordinary way of cooling down – usually including douching with or jumping into the cold water or snow bathing outside. You can try it at least partially and don’t forget to have some tea with local herbs right afterwards.
Make a wish
You can do that either on Olkhon island or in Listvyanka village and actually everywhere around the lake – you will be seeing posts and trees with ribbons in variety of colors, don’t forget to be specific and careful – it is said that those wishes always come true.
Lake Baikal – how to get
Most travelers first come to Irkutsk – it’s the closest city to the lake. You can get to the city by plane or by train by the Trans-Siberian Russian railroad, which goes through Russia from east to west.
In the city there is a variety of hostels, hotels, tour agencies and tour guides and ways of transportation to the lake. You can buy a full tour with transfer, accommodation and excursions included, or go all by yourself – local buses and minibuses leave hourly from the city’s central market for the main destinations (for Olkhon come at morning hours).
There is also a convenient option for Olkhon Island – most hostels and hotels can organize a minibus to pick you up right from the front door, it is only a few dollars more expensive then going from the central market.
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April 6, 2019
Congratulations ??? it,s perfectly
June 22, 2019
Thanks for sharing! Am planning to visit lake baikal in February next year!