Lonely Planet has its opinion on everything. For instance, it offers to consider its top 10 highlights for Lake Baikal. Here are some of them:
Irkutsk , unofficial capital and home to mutineers
Irkutsk, the unofficial capital of the Lake Baikal region, is both a modern city and excellent introduction to Siberia’s past. Irkutsk Regional Museum showcases Evenk artefacts and shamanist ritual items and the main square retains a statue of Lenin. The smattering of attractive timber houses dates back to the time when the Decemberists, mutinous Russian aristocrats, were sent into exile by the Tsar. Look for the Volkonsky House-Museum, the most impressive example of this architectural style.
An island home for sunbathing seals
Indulge your wilderness-conquering fantasies by trekking and camping wild on the dramatic cliffs and secluded sandy bays of Olkhon, Lake Baikal’s largest, sparsely-inhabited island. Alternatively, base yourself at Nikita’s Homestead (by the way, our interview with Nikita and his family is coming soon) in lively Khuzhir and admire Shaman Rock, the island’s holiest site for Buryat, the Siberian Mongol group. Visit the the Khoboy peninsula in an antiquated Soviet army jeep to view the largest of the shaman ritual sites and spot some Nerpa (or Baikal) seals sunbathing on the rocks below.
Hike the Great Lake Baikal Trail
The Great Baikal Trail project aims to eventually encircle Lake Baikal with a series of trails. You can currently hike through pine forest between the villages of Listvyanka and Bolshiye Koty, or from the picture-perfect fishing village of Baikalskoye to the cold Lake Slyudyanskoye via an attractive cliff edge path. The most picturesque of all is the steep trail to the top of the Svyatoy Nos peninsula, with stupendous 360 degree views across Lake Baikal and its islands.
Grab a meal in Listvyanka
Listvyanka, with cheerful wooden cabins spread out across three lakeside valleys, is the most popular of Baikal’s villages. You can sample smoked omul (Baikal whitefish) and shashlyk (grilled meat skewers) at the waterside market and picnic on the pebble beach with weekending Russians. Hike up to the viewpoint for excellent views of the lake, admire the sculptures made of Soviet car parts at Retro Park, or get up close and personal with Baikal’s aquatic life at the Baikal Museum aquarium.
Swim your way to youth
Legend has it that Lake Baikal’s waters have miraculous properties, a swim in which gives you five extra years of life. The best places to take a dip include the golden sandy beaches along the northern shore of Olkhon Island, where the water of Maloye Morye (Little Sea) is shallowest and warmest, and the long pebble beach in Severobaikalsk. Listvyanka is one of the most popular spots for year-round exploration of the lake’s depths with Baikal Tek.
Lonely Planet also recommends to consider other options:
– The Russian home of Buddhism (the Ivolginsky Datsan is the largest and most important Buddhist centre in Russia);
– Take up winter sports (hovercraft rides on the ice, ice fishing, snowmobiling and ice-biking, which uses bikes fitted with special tyres, and dog sledding);
– Wild frontier of the Barguzin Valley (open steppe punctuated by salt lakes, small Evenk and Buryat villages, and shamanic sites, etc.)
– Ride the Circumbaikal Railway (a picturesque railway running between Slyudyanka and Port Baikal along Lake Baikal’s southern tip)
– Hit the hot springs (the land around Lake Baikal is alive with hot springs, particularly in the little spa town of Arshan)
Full story at Lonely Planet.
More spring Lake Baikal photographs on the Ask Lake Baikal facebook page.