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Visiting Lake Baikal - World's Deepest Lake

Amidst mountains and pine forests in a remote Siberian village in the far east of Russia, lies the deepest lake in the world: Lake Baikal.

This ancient lake is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of Russia’s most popular tourist destinations. In summer, it’s sapphire-blue water and 2000-kilometre-long shoreline make a perfect setting for picnics and leisurely lakeside strolls.

In winter, it transforms into a transparent ice rink that is so clear you can see up to 40 meters down, and strong enough to support a network of winter roads, complete with traffic signs laid on the ice surface.

Lake Baikal in winter
Lake Baikal in winter. Credit: © Sergey Pesterev / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Lake Baikal History

This ancient lake is estimated to be about 25 to 30 million years old, making it the oldest lake in the world. It is speculated that Lake Baikal was originally a riverbed that gradually increased its size due to the fractures and movements of the Earth’s crust.

There are several myths and legends surrounding the lake but the most famous one is a Buryat legend about a great earthquake that happened a long time ago. The ground came apart and everything was engulfed in flame.

In despair, people cried to the Gods, “Bay gal!” (Fire, stop!), which miraculously stopped the fire and filled the rift with clear water. That was how the lake got its name.

Lake Baikal Geography

Lake Baikal in autumn
Lake Baikal in autumn.

Lake Baikal is a continental rift valley fed by more than 300 streams and rivers but drained by only one outlet — the Angara River near Listvyanka. Every year, up to 2,000 earthquake tremors are detected in Lake Baikal, each one increasing the depth and size of the lake.

Some geophysicists predict that Lake Baikal will one day turn into an ocean, as the shores drift further apart by 2 centimetres (0.78 inches) a year, which is the same rate at which Africa and South America drift apart. Like the ocean, Lake Baikal is also the only very deep lake that has oxygenated water at its lowest depth.

Due to the presence of plankton that eat floating debris, coupled with a lack of mineral salts in its water content, Lake Baikal is considered one of the clearest lakes in the world.

Lake Baikal Size

Map of Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal. Credit: DarkCorsar / Wikimedia Commons

Lake Baikal has the shape of a banana, with a surface area of 31,727 square kilometres (12,250 square miles) that spreads 636 kilometres (395 miles) from north to south. That’s slightly bigger than the country of Belgium!

Lake Baikal Depth

Measuring up to 1,637 metres (5,370 feet) deep from the lakebed to the water surface, Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world and contains a fifth of the world’s freshwater supply.

Lake Baikal Ecosystem

Lake Baikal has been nicknamed the “Galapagos of Russia”, due to its exceptional biodiversity. The age, isolation, and high oxygen levels at great depths of the lake have resulted in one of the richest freshwater ecosystems in the world.

At least 80% of the more than 3,700 species found in and around Lake Baikal are endemic, which means that they do not exist anywhere else on Earth. These include the oily, scaleless golomyanka fish, the omul fish, and — probably the most famous of them — the nerpa (a.k.a. Baikal seal), which is the world’s only freshwater seal.

Baikal seals
Nerpas in Lake Baikal. Credit: Yuri Geifman / Wikimedia Commons

Scientists believe that the seals might have swum into Lake Baikal all the way from the Arctic through a prehistoric river.

In addition to these rare species, the lake is also home to more than 50 species of fish, and hundreds of aquatic invertebrate species that all help to purify the water.

In surrounding forests, there are bears, reindeer, elks, polecats, wild boars, Siberian roe deer, sables, ermines, and wolves, as well as dozens of tree species, including the native Angara pine tree.

Best Time to Visit Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal in autumn
Lake Baikal in autumn.

Lake Baikal is open to visitors all year round, with each season offering its own charms. The best time to visit therefore depends on your weather preference and the kind of activities you plan to do at the lake.

As far as weather goes, summer is the most pleasant time to go, and is perfect for picnicking, swimming, and hiking. However, it also attracts the biggest crowds and tour groups.

Winter is when you get to experience the true beauty and uniqueness of Lake Baikal. To see the lake in its beautiful frozen state, go between October and April, although it may still be icy in May. The weather is manageable as long as you dress appropriately. Prices are also lower in winter.

How to Go to Lake Baikal

The nearest airport to Lake Baikal is in Irkutsk, which is a five-and-a-half-hour flight from Moscow.

You can either fly to Irkutsk or opt for the Trans-Siberian Railway (longest train ride in the world that connects Moscow and Vladivostok). This was what I did. Check out this video to learn more about my journey in the 3rd-class coach of the Trans-Siberian:

There’s also another route that makes a stop in Irkutsk: the Trans-Mongolian, which takes you from Beijing to Moscow via Mongolia, or the other way around.

From Irkutsk, take a bus or drive over to Listvyanka, a popular village located in the western shores of the lake. The buses depart around 4 times a day from the main bus terminal (avtovokzal) in Irkutsk city center (Oktyabrsky Revolutsii Street, #11). The first bus leaves at 7 a.m. and the last bus at around 6 p.m.

If you don’t want to explore independently, there are several tour operators that offer private and group tours. Prices vary depending on the length of the trip and the itinerary.

Top Things to Do at Lake Baikal

No matter what time of the year it is, Lake Baikal has plenty to offer its visitors, especially those who love outdoor activities. Here are some of the things you must do at Lake Baikal:

Exploring Listvyanka

Listvyanka, Lake Baikal
Listvyanka village near Lake Baikal.

Most visitors to Lake Baikal will stop in Listvyanka, a popular village on the western edge of the lake that also serves as its main gateway and tourism center.

Most shops and tourist facilities are concentrated around this area, including the Baikal Museum, the Siberian Zoo, a food market selling local delicacies, souvenir shops, a tourist information center where you can get a free map, and an observatory at the south of the village.

Siberian zoo at Lake Baikal
The Siberian Zoo at Lake Baikal.

The village itself is a treat for the eyes, with its quaint architecture, rich flora and fauna, and a laid-back vibe. Nightlife is said to be quite lively with bars and restaurants serving alcohol and playing music, but I didn’t stick around long enough to experience it.

Shopping at the Local Market

Listvyanka is also a good place to indulge in some shopping or mindless browsing. Fares on offer range from typical souvenirs like the matryoshka dolls and T-shirts, to the more unique finds, such as taiga herbs, teas, cedar nuts, and dried fish that can be packed nicely to bring home.

Don’t forget to try the smoked omul fish, a famous local delicacy.

Eating omul fish at Lake Baikal
Eating smoked omul fish at Lake Baikal.

Hiking the Great Baikal Trail

The Great Baikal Trail (GBT) is a circular trail surrounding the lake that originally began as a project to help promote ecotourism, voluntary work, and ecological education in the area.

It now attracts a large number of visitors every year owing to the spectacular scenery and unique flora and fauna along the route. The most popular section of the GBT is the 22-kilometre Listvyanka – Bolshie Koty that takes 5 – 8 hours to hike.

A permit is required to hike or camp along the trail.

Hiking around Lake Baikal
Hiking around Lake Baikal.

Engaging in Water Sports

Many tourists go to Lake Baikal to take part in water sports, such as sailing, speed-boating, and water skiing. Scuba-diving is an especially popular activity due to the water clarity and rich underwater ecosystem.

Lake Baikal, Russia.
A scuba-diver statue at Lake Baikal.

Taking Part in Winter Activities

Its location in Siberia means that Lake Baikal gets a proper winter that promises a whole range of winter activities every year, including:

  • Cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, tubing, and freeride biking.
  • Horse-riding across the lake and through the Siberian taiga to Bolshie Koty village.
  • Dog-sleighing.
  • Ice-fishing (there are even championships held there every year).
  • Riding on snowmobiles.
  • An ice marathon on the frozen lake.

Visiting Olkhon Island

Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal.
Olkhon Island. Credit: Iñaki LLM / Wikimedia Commons.
There are 27 islands in Lake Baikal. The largest of these is Olkhon Island, which measures 72 kilometres (45 miles) long and has a population of about 1,500 people.
 
As Listvyanka can get very crowded in the peak season, Olkhon Island is a great alternative if you prefer some peace and solitude. It has its own lakes, steppe, forests, mountains, and ice caves, which makes it perfect for the more adventurous type.
 
To get there, there are several transportation options, depending on the time of the year (ferry in summer, bus across the ice in winter, and hovercraft when the ice is too thin).

Can You Swim in Lake Baikal?

Yes, visitors are allowed to swim in Lake Baikal. Although it’s possible to do so near Listvyanka, the best place to go for a swim is Olkhon Island, which has the best beaches that are relatively shallow and have warmer temperatures.

How Long to Stay at Lake Baikal

Allow at least 2 – 3 days if you wish to see everything Lake Baikal has to offer, including the hiking trails and the island(s). But if you’re short of time, it’s also possible to make a day trip from Irkutsk and only explore Listvyanka.

Listvyanka, Lake Baikal
Exploring Listvyanka on a day trip.

Where to Stay Near Lake Baikal

There are a range of accommodation options available near Lake Baikal to suit all budgets, from cheap hostels to luxury resorts overlooking the lake. Most of them are concentrated around Listvyanka, with a few on Olkhon island. Here are some of them:

Budget

Belka Hostel – A cozy wooden house located in a quiet area, away from the main road and surrounded by nature. Owned by a friendly couple, the hostel is equipped with a communal kitchen, shared bathrooms, and a Russian steam bath. Rates start at RUB 700 per person per night.

Mid-Range

Hotel Dauria – Set in the center of Listvyanka, 300 metres from the lakeside, this rustic-style hotel offers rooms with wooden interiors, private bathrooms, free Wi-Fi, and free toiletries. Barbecue facilities and a steam bath can also be found on site. Rates start from RUB 2,678 per night.

Luxury

Baikal View Hotel – Located on the picturesque Olkhon Island, this hotel is only 700 metres away from the banks of Lake Baikal and features an outdoor pool, a seasonal sauna, and a restaurant offering regional and European dishes. Each room comes with a private bathroom and panoramic views of the lake. In summer, guests can use barbecue facilities and a bike rental service. Rates start from RUB 9,020 per night.

Additional Tips for Visiting Lake Baikal

When traveling to Lake Baikal, there are a few things to consider to make your visit an enjoyable one:

  • Dress appropriately according to weather. In winter, ensure you have adequate coats, jackets, scarves, and gloves to keep yourself warm. In summer, it can still get cold in the evening, so bring some warm clothing in addition to your summer wear.
Lake Baikal
How I dressed in October. It got very cold in the evening. I wished I had brought gloves and a scarf.
  • There are no ATM machines, so make sure you bring enough cash to last you for your entire stay.
  • English is not as widely spoken as in the big cities.
  • In summer, there are kayaks, catamarans, quad bikes, and bicycles for rent. In winter, you can rent skates to ride on the frozen lake.
  • Before going kayaking, it is wise to ask the locals about weather conditions, as there can sometimes be sudden strong winds that can push you out far from shore.
  • Bring insect repellent or anti-mite sprays especially in the summer. Mite bites can bring on high fever, or in severe cases, encephalitis and Lyme disease.
 

Final Thoughts on Visiting Lake Baikal

Is Lake Baikal worth visiting?

I visited Lake Baikal in mid-October, and although it was still beautiful, it was not as impressive as it would have been in winter. In the warmer months, it looks no different from the sea.
 

Lake Baikal, Russia.

Given the choice, I would have preferred visiting when it’s frozen solid as I don’t often get to see frozen lakes at home in Southeast Asia. The unique winter road system on the icy lake must be interesting to see and experience.

Still, I think Lake Baikal is worth visiting if you happen to be in Irkutsk — whatever the season may be. Its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the fact that it is the deepest, oldest, and one of the clearest lakes in the world easily warrant a visit.

Due to a time constraint, I only got to spend a day at Lake Baikal, but I managed to explore Listvyanka, enjoy a leisurely stroll along the lake shores, and try the smoked omul fish. And I get to brag that I dipped my hands in the deepest lake in the world.

Lake Baikal Russia

Lake Baikal, Russia

Lake Baikal, Russia

Posted in Russia

46 Comments

  1. Mohd Zarin

    Wow very details travelogue and nice information. I baca pun rasa macam really excited sebab tak pernah sampai. Nicekan dapat baca semula old travelogue sebelum covid.. sure rindu nak travel again

    • ummi

      Terima kasih, Mohd Zarin. Sangat rindu nak travel again sebenarnya. Tapi dengan kelapangan masa yang ada sekarang ni, dapat la juga saya gunakan untuk tulis travelog yang lama2.

    • ummi

      It’s really beautiful, Fadima. And I have been to quite a few other UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Penang being one of them. Heheh. 🙂

    • ummi

      Terima kasih, Nadia. Ya, Lake Baikal ni memang bersih dan jernih, sebab ada hidupan invertebrata yang filter out all the impurities. Cuma saya teringin nak tengok tasik ni sewaktu musim sejuk pulak. 🙂

  2. Bella Jamal

    Now i know rupanya Lake Baikal masuk list UNESCO. Baru2 ni baca pasal new 7 wonders of the world.

    P/s: btw nak bgtahu yg ur previous comments detected as broken link bila sis buat checking. I pun rasa pelik coz ur blog is active. Sis tpksa padam broken link tersebut. Sorry ya.

    • ummi

      Ya, kak Bell. Ada lebih daripada 1000 World Heritage Sites di seluruh dunia ni sebenarnya. Setakat ni saya baru pernah sampai ke lebih kurang 30+ sites.

      Anyway, about the broken links, takpe, kak Bell unlink je semua. Your site doesn’t allow me to enter my URL, kena guna blogger (blogspot) profile, so it links to my old blogger profile yang dah lama tak aktif. But thanks for letting me know. Now saya dah activate balik.

  3. Rawlins GLAM

    I would love to visit the lake in its frozen state and see the beauty of the vast frozen roads.
    Tak lama lagi Ummi, the world will be opened once again and we will read more of your adventures lepas semua dah dapat vaksin.

    • ummi

      Amen to that, Rawlins. I hope that will be soon. I’d love to revisit the lake in winter too and see the winter road system on the icy lake. Must be wonderful to watch.

  4. Sis Lin

    Waaa best juga kalau pergi tempat gini,. tapi kelilingnya pun ada semua tempat boleh pergi.. so enjoy aje habiskan masa di situ kan.. time ni sejuk panas ye? Nampak panas tapi angin sejuk..

    • ummi

      Ya, sis. Waktu saya pergi ni musim luruh. Walaupun ada matahari, tapi rasa suam2 kuku je. Angin sejuk. Bila matahari dah nak terbenam, lagi la bertambah sejuk. Baju tebal dengan jaket saya tu pun tak cukup.

  5. Ezna

    Tak pernah lagi berkunjung ke Russia. Nampaknya kat sini ada Lake Baikal yang sangat cantik!. Kalau sis ke negara lain pun sis suka tengok permandangan macam ni. Rasa takjub dengan ciptaanNYA.

    • ummi

      Betul tu Ezna. Saya pun lebih suka tengok keindahan alam semulajadi berbanding bangunan pencakar langit dsb. Lake Baikal ni lebih cantik sewaktu musim sejuk, kalau musim lain, dia nampak macam laut je.

    • ummi

      Ya, Marina, boleh mandi, tapi kena tahan sejuk la. Sebab musim panas kat sana pun tak panas macam tempat kita. Yang insect tu, kena hati-hati la terutama sewaktu musim panas.

    • ummi

      Terima kasih, Ayu. Bila saya menulis travelog2 ni pun sebenarnya saya banyak belajar perkara baru tentang tempat2 yang saya lawati. Jadi, kita sama2 tambah ilmu pengetahuan 🙂

  6. huda

    Love reading your travelog, details with informative information. I bet u miss travelling over sea right? Hope we can cross border and enjoy travel again

    • ummi

      I hope so too, Huda! I miss traveling overseas so much, but on the positive side, I get to use the extra time that I have now to work on my blog. There’s still so much of my previous trips that I haven’t written about.

  7. Kitkat Nelfei

    Wow, another interesting place to be explored in near future ya,.. so, this entire lake will turn into icy solid lake during the winter? That will be even more interesting to explore right.. cool, looking forward to visit places like this..

  8. Danik Bates

    This is going to be one of my pit stops when I eventually drive my car from my home town here in the UK to Japan via Russia! (I also want to do the train but I love road trips even more!). I know the lake isn’t the most scenic (my wife tells me that, she is Russian) but there is plenty to do around the lake as mentioned in the post. I been told 2-3 days is enough to do everything and is a great pit stop. I hope to do this at the end of summer as I don’t fancy getting bitten by all the bugs there. 😀 Great post and love your video on the railway (brings back great memories of Moscow and shopping in the GUM), very in depth and great tips.

    • ummi

      Thank you, Danik, and glad you enjoyed the post and video. That sounds like an epic road trip you’re going to make. As someone who can’t really drive a car (I mean I have a license, but I don’t really trust myself to drive long distances on my own), I have to rely on public transports, which took me on some of the most interesting journeys. Anyway, all the best for your upcoming road trip and I hope you’ll enjoy Lake Baikal too. 🙂

  9. Angela

    What an amazing place and somewhere I hadn’t heard of (even though I have been to Russia) I liked that you went on the world’s longest train journey to see the world’s deepest lake – Russia seems to have a lot of the most extreme stuff!

    • ummi

      It does seem to, Angela! Although the main reason I went on the Trans Siberian was for the journey itself and not so much the destination, Irkutsk and Lake Baikal were the perfect ending to my trip. 😀

  10. Iuliana Marchian

    Oh, this is one of my dreams to visit and explore Lake Baikal one day ! I once read the travelogue of a motorbiker who traveled the Silk Road and had great stories about lake Bakal. Ever since, I have wanted to know more about this place and now I can finally start planning with all the info in this post.

    • ummi

      I hope this post will be useful for your future trip to Lake Baikal, Iuliana! I must go and find the motorbiker’s travelogue — sounds interesting!

  11. Chloe Beaver

    I can’t believe I had never heard of Lake Baikal, but how breathtakingly beautiful & rich with things to do & see! I find the endemic species the most interesting part… I think if I made it to Russia I would have to scuba dive here. I’d also love to see it when transparent & frozen.

    • ummi

      I agree with you, Chloe. The endemic species are the most interesting part. It would be so cool to see animals that are not available anywhere else on Earth. I actually didn’t know about the lake either, until I booked my Trans-Siberian train ticket and wanted to see what was available near Irkutsk. Glad that I did!

  12. Saidila Abdul Rahman

    Tergeliat lidah nak sebut nama2 tempat. Hari tu baru jer tengok satu dokumentari dengan anak pasal pengembaraan seorang wartawan ker apa kerjanya kurang pasti yang berjudul Trans Siberian Adventure. Ada scene2 yang mendebarkan dengan askar2 Rusia lagi . Dalam hati terus rasa macam tak pergi pun takper walaupun tempat-tempat yang dia singgah tu semua memang cantik..tapi bila nampak dia kat Mongolia alahai terus hati rasa nak pergi jugak walaupun sekali seumur hidup.

    • ummi

      Oh, selama saya berada di Rusia (St. Petersburg, Moscow, dan Irkutsk) saya takde pulak nampak askar Rusia atau kekacauan di mana2. Mungkin saya tak sampai ke tempat2 yang dia pergi kot. Mongolia memang saya berniat nak pergi tapi belum ada rezeki lagi. Dengar kata ibu negara Mongolia, Ulan Bataar agak kurang selamat bagi wanita yang travel solo, tapi tak tau la kan. Tu orang kata.

  13. Anda

    Visiting Lake Baikal is on my husband’s mind also. He keeps telling me that we should go, but it seems it’s quite difficult to get there: five-and-a-half hours flight from Moscow is a long distance. From what you are saying, visiting it in winter would be quite spectacular, but I wonder if it’s not too cold. At any rate, Lake Baikal looks really beautiful and I should probably listen to my husband and go.

    • ummi

      Perhaps you should, Anda. 🙂 Five and a half hours from Moscow is a long distance. To make it worthwhile, perhaps you can also explore more around Irkutsk, go to nearby Ulan Ude or cross the border to Mongolia. I imagine the winter in Siberia would be extremely cold, but it should be bearable as long as you have the appropriate winter wear. 🙂

  14. Ambica Gulati

    I would love to stay long and do the hikes. Lately, my city senses have just got tired and I am always searching for peaceful sojourns. Listvyanka sounds just like a place where you can lose yourself and explore in peace.

  15. Raksha

    Now this is an amazing post to read. I love everything about it. I had never heard of Lake Baikal before and how funny that it is bigger than Belgium as a country itself. Those seals look adorable and yes this lake has just made it to my list of places to visit. I never knew a lake can be that deep actually.

    • ummi

      Me neither, Raksha. Nature is so fascinating, isn’t it?

      I also had never heard of Lake Baikal until I started to do the research for my Trans Siberian trip. Would be lovely to see those seals next time. I hope you’ll get to visit it too. 🙂

  16. Amrita

    I have a wish to visit Lake Baikal after I watched a movie about the Gulag. And I would like to visit sometime in winter to see the ice rink. I am interested in hiking the Lake Baikal Trail as well. Whenever I visit Russia, Lake Baikal will definitely be on my list.

    • ummi

      I hope you will visit it someday, Amrita! It would be cool to hike the trail and skate on the lake when it’s frozen. All the best for your future trip. 🙂

  17. Shreya Saha

    Lake Baikal is in my list since forever. After this COVID, it’s more difficult now. However, glad that you explained about how to go there. I am interested in the Trans Siberian Railway.

    • ummi

      I hope you’ll finally make it to Lake Baikal someday, Shreya. I’m currently working on an article detailing my trip on the Trans Siberian Railway. In the meantime, do watch the video. 🙂

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