In the heart of Russia is Lake Baikal, one of the most surprising natural treasures on this earth. We can only describe this place in superlatives: the deepest lake in the world and one of the biggest ones, extremely transparent and clean, the planet’s largest freshwater reserve. There is a dearth of natural diversity: from arid steppe to impassable taiga, high mountains to floodplains and marshes. The 2,100-km shoreline is sparsely populated. Along the coast are natural parks and nature reserves. Baikal is not only for intrepid adventurers looking to test their strengths in the rigorous conditions of Siberia. For children, it is the most incredible open-air museum of biology, geography and natural history.
Getting To Baikal
Lake Baikal has two main entry points: the western city of Irkutsk and Ulan Ude in the East. These two cities are connected by regular flights and the historic Trans-Siberian. You can get there from Moscow or Saint Petersburg and then continue on to Vladivostok or even Beijing, through Mongolia.
By plane from Moscow to Irkutsk or Ulan Ude. There are regular 6-hour flights with a +5 hour time difference with Moscow. By leaving in the evening, you can get to Irkutsk or Ulan Ude by morning (local time).
By Trans-Siberian train from Moscow, it takes 75 hours to reach Irkutsk and 82 hours for Ulan Ude. Important! When the train gets to the Kultuk Pass, it follows the Baikal coast along the shore.
Neither of these two cities are located on Lake Baikal: there’s still some road to cover. The city of Irkutsk is near the lake, but you must go as far as Listvyanka (70 km) or Khuzhir (290 km) on Olkhon Island. From Ulan Ude, you will head to Ust-Barguzin (270 km).
February and March are the best months to visit Baikal in winter. It is the longest season and temperatures drop below zero towards the end of October. Even though temperatures may reach -30°C, Lake Baikal only starts to freeze in December – first in the bays then out in the depths of Great Baikal. The lake generally starts to freeze in the North and slowly creeps southwards. By mid-February, the whole lake is completely frozen with ice reaching depths of 1 metre in some places. During this period, strong winds and storms are less common while the days get longer and sunnier.