The Small Sea is also known as Narin-Dalai, which means “narrow sea” in Buryat. This place is a tourist magnet, especially for people who can stifle their love for comfort in favor of having some affordable outdoors fun.
During the summer, the shallow straight between the northwestern Baikal shore and Olkhon Island turns into a center of beach life. You can swim all day long or take sunbaths on sand or pebble beaches, only moving to change your lying position. The Small Sea is a sunny place. The water in the bays warms up to +21 °C, sometimes up to +24 °C. Moreover, water temperature may differ by up to ten degrees every ten meters.
Kurkutski and Mukhor Gulfs are the warmest and most popular places of the Small Sea. Their popularity means that these gulfs are crowded as a beehive during the peak season. Don’t expect to find a quiet place there. However, if you like loud companies and enjoy making new friends, stay at these gulfs and have fun.
If you want to have less people and more wildlife around you, travel a bit further. The coastline of the strait stretches from Sakhyurta village to the borders of the Baikal-Lena Reserve. This is almost 100 kilometers of territory for you to do what you like, from trekking and biking to kayaking and sailing on catamarans and yachts.
Should you come here even if it isn’t summer? Absolutely! The fall at the Small Sea is breathtakingly golden. In winter, you can enjoy exciting ice-fishing or exotic Baikal ice golf. And rock paintings at local caves, ancient towns and uninhabited islands can be seen all year round. Their beauty doesn’t depend on the season.
How to get to the Small Sea from Irkutsk
Take a bus, a car, a minibus or a hydrofoil. You can also drive a car or take a boat ride from Olkhon Island. The road will take 2-5 hours, depending on the remoteness of the place.
Go like this: drive the Kachugski highway through Oek, Ust’Orda, Bayanday, Kosaya Step’ and Elantsy. Make sure to refuel in Elantsy, as you won’t see any gas stations after passing that village.
Five kilometers before the MRS, you’ll see a fork in the road. The turn to the right is for those who need to get to Olkhon. The road to the left leads to the Mukhor Gulf. Turn left for another 6 kilometers of the way, and then drive the soil and gravel road along the Small Sea coast.
Minibus route 507 departs from the Irkutsk bus station every 30 minutes from 8:30 to 11:00. The minibus goes to Khuzhir, so you’ll need to get off at the MRS bus stop in the Sakhyurta village. The road will take 3.5 hours. One-way ride will cost 420 rubles plus 105 rubles for luggage. Minibuses and buses from Irkutsk to MRS (Sakhyurta) also depart from Angara hotel. You can board any of them any day of the week at 9:00.
Please note that this kind of transport will only take you to the ferry port. If you want to go directly to your turbaza, call +7 39-52 70-70-17 and book a bus seat a day or two in advance. These buses depart daily from the Trud stadium (48, Lenin St.) at 9:00 and 12:00, and you can arrange for an evening departure. One-way ride will cost 900–1 000 rubles, and the road will take 4-5 hours.
Irkutsk — Ust’-Barguzin and Irkutsk-Nizhneangarsk hydrofoils make stops in the Zagli Gulf on Olkhon Island. Both depart from Raketa pier in the Solnechni microdistrict.
The first route sails on Mondays from July 6 to August 24. “Barguzin” hydrofoil departs from the pier at 9:15 and arrives to the gulf at 16:10. One-way trip costs 3 200 rubles.
The second route sails from June 19 to August 28. The hydrofoil departs on Tuesdays and Fridays at 8:30 and gets to Zagli Gulf at 14:00. One-way trip costs 3 200 rubles, too.
To get to the Small Sea from Zagli Gulf, get to the opposite shore.
This is how you can do it:
book a transfer from your turbaza;
walk 1.5 kilometers from the gulf to the ferry, get to the MRS and board a minibus that travels to your destination;
In summer, most tourists come to the Small Sea with tents and settle to form an entire tent city, cheerful and loud. If you want to have less people around you, travel further to the north along the coastline. Pack up everything you might need, from food to a first-aid kit with meds. The Small Sea area doesn’t have many shops. Only turbazas have first-aid stations, and the closest hospital is in Elantsy.
Recreation centers provide the most comfortable housing at this coastline. Some of them are simpler; they have wooden toilets outdoors, and the guests prepare their food themselves. Others are more interesting. They have indoors showers and toilets, canteens and thought-out entertainment options.
If you plan on taking your family or friends to the Small Sea, don’t book individual rooms. Book an entire house. Almost all turbazas provide an option to do so. The minimum price for a low-end local house is 500 rubles per person. Mid-range houses cost 1 000–1 400 rubles. Houses with all amenities cost 2 000–3 000 rubles per person.
Throughout all year, Arshan is a nice place for a brief respite from work, outdoor activities from morning to night, or a thorough treatment in a sanatorium. The resort stands at the foot of Tunka Mountains, 893 meters above the sea level. Breathe Arshan’s clear mountain air for a day, and you’ll be full of energy.
“Arshan” means “healing water” in Buryat. This water is what makes Arshan so popular. Local mineral water is similar to Kislovodsk narzan, and it can be used in different ways. People drink it, bathe in it, and bottle it to take home.
Water falls from the wells into pump rooms and baths at 51,8 °F to 113 °F. However, Arshan also has springs that were preserved in their natural form. One of them is the eye spring. This spring is visible from large distances because of colorful ribbons tied to the tree branches. According to local customs, the ribbons should be tied twice. The first one is tied with a request for a healing, and the second is tied with gratitude for treatment before leaving the resort.
Getting health benefits on your holiday is great. But if you want some more excitement, add some of the more interesting landmarks to your list of things to see. Some of the landmarks stand within the resort, such as the 500-year-old larch tree. Others demand a long walk or a car drive. Pick the sights to see according to your wishes and capabilities.
How to get to Arshan from Irkutsk
Take a car, a bus or a taxi. Alternately, take a train to Slyudyanka and then take a bus, a minibus or a bike through the Tunka Valley.
The journey will take 3—4 hours. First, drive 100 km to Kultuk village and another 110 km to Arshan on the Kultuk-Mondy highway. The best way to drive is like this: from the Kultuk highway to the M-55 highway, then taking the A-164 through Kultuk, Tibelti, Tory and Zun-Murino. Then, at the 182nd kilometer from Irkutsk, you’ll see a turn from the federal highway. Follow “Arshan” pointer to the right and then drive 28 km straight.
Arshan is located in the Tunka National Park. You’ll have to pay 100 rubles per person and car at the entrance.
By bus or taxi
Irkutsk-Arshan buses depart from the bus and train stations. Route 520 departs from the bus station at 8:00 and gets to Arshan at 11:45. The ride costs 385 rubles. Keep in mind the routes 523 and 723 — they go from Irkutsk to Arshan and then to Nilova Pustyn’. The former route travels on odd days, and the latter — on even days. Both depart at 8:45.
If you need to depart at a different time, choose a minibus route at the train station. Minibuses take the tourists to Arshan from 8:00 to 18:00 daily, with 30-minute intervals in the morning and 3-hour intervals in the evening. The tickets must be bought from the train station ticket window half an hour before the departure. Note that the last minibus that goes from Arshan to Irkutsk departs at 17:15. Don’t be late.
The longest route is combined, and best suited for those who want to visit Slyudyanka on the way to Arshan. First, you spend 3 hours and 15 minutes on a train from Irkutsk to Slyudyanka. One ticket will cost 105 rubles.
Then you pick the option that suits you best. Take a minibus from a train station or a bus from Slyudyanka bus station and travel another 1,5—2 hours. We recommend you to check the ticket prices and the schedule by calling +7 950 053-40-84, +7 950 139-63-70 for a minibus, and +7 950 055-11-07 for a bus ride.
Romantic and sporty people go on a biking route from Slyudyanka through the Tunka valley. 130 kilometers of the flowery scenic road take a day or two to travel, but the memories of this adventure will last a lifetime.
Where to stay at Arshan
Those who come on a purchased trip just stay in a sanatorium. For others, accommodation options run like this: a bed in a shabby private house with a street toilet; a room in a comfortable house with all facilities; or a hotel room.
Finding a place to spend a night is simple even during winter. House owners paste their phone numbers all over the village. Some of the owners meet the tourists at the bus station and offer to stay in their houses. A bed without amenities costs 300—500 rubles. Rooms with toilets and running water in the house cost 600 rubles a night and up.
For 1 000 rubles a night you can find a decent suite in a guest house with a toilet, a shower and satellite TV. Hotel suites are more expensive, costing 1 500—5 500 rubles. Better book them in advance, as the most comfortable suites are rarely unoccupied, especially in the summer.
On July 24-26, Baikalsk will turn into a berry kingdom as the time comes for the VII annual strawberry festival “Victoria”. The celebration will be accompanied by a youth music and arts festival “By pure waters”. Folk and rock bands from the Irkutsk region will perform there.
The festival will be held in and around the “Baikal” sports complex.
The festival will have:
“Baikal Arbat” shopping arcade and “Strawberry Festival 2008-2014” photography exhibition; “Miss Victoria 2015” pageant;
Workshops on blacksmithing, woodcarving and making flowers from balloons and satin ribbons;
Table tennis, minifootball, checkers, beach volleyball and weight-lifting competitions;
The opening of the strawberry festival forged sculpture at a quay in the Gagarin microdistrict/
And for dessert
Friday: color festival from 16:30 to 18:00, strawberry auction at 21:30 and a party until 01:00.
Saturday: eating a large strawberry pie at the official closing of “Victoria” festival from 19:00 to 20:00, opening of the “By pure waters” festival and a music concert from 20:00 to 01:00.
Sunday: the final concert on a sports complex stage from 16:00 until nightfall.
Participation is free, so come and get into the mood for some strawberries.
by bus route number 544 that departs from the bus station. The bus departs at 09:30, and the ride will cost you 300 rubles.
by a minibus that departs from the parking lot near the Shopping Complex on Timiryazev Street. Book the tickets in advance before your trip by calling +7 (902) 560-35-36, +7 (902) 513-86-94.
by an evening train to Vydrino. The train departs from the Irkutsk-Sortirovochny station at 17:36. The ride will last for 4 hours and 7 minutes, costing you 150 rubles. The train back departs from Baikalsk at 05:08
Circum-Baikal Railway (CBR) is one of those things that leave a lasting impression once and for all. Dozens of tunnels and galleries, hundreds of bridges, viaducts and retaining walls blend together with natural monuments that can only be found here. The technical wonder of the XX century is a result of tremendous work on the edge of human possibilities.
Embodying the grandiose plan took almost 6 years. Construction work began in 1899, and the commissioned road was ready to use in October of 1905. The section of the road that connected the Trans-Siberian Railway had no equals in its cost, quantity and complexity of work per each kilometer. For this, Circum-Baikal Railway was called “the golden buckle of Russian steel belt” for a long time.
The road was fully functional until July 1956. After the construction of a hydroelectric power station on Angara River, water level of the lake rose by one meter. The road from Irkutsk to Baikal flooded. A new path was built, bypassing the lake by the mountains, but CBR became a dead-end section. In late 1970s, the road got a status of a historical and architectural monument, and came under state protection.
Today, this 94-kilometer long railway line from Baikal station to Slyudyanka is called a museum of engineering thought. The tourists travel thousands of kilometers to see the views of CBR at arm’s length. They ride the very edge of Baikal. They walk through the tunnels, where each step gives a resounding echo, where every meter of the road was nurtured by human hands. See how to travel here, where to stay and which safety tips to follow to make your meeting with the Circum-Baikal Railway truly memorable.
Getting to the CBR
You can get here by foot from Slydyanka, Temnaya Pad’, Kultuk and Port Baikal. You can ride a tourist train or go by a boat. In winter, you can go by skis, grab a ride on an amphibious vehicle or drive a car on lake ice. During other seasons, you can take passenger transport only to get to major train stations. Then, you’ll have to leave your car and take a long walk. Circum-Baikal Railway area has no highways.
Traveling the CBR alone by foot is wonderful. You alone decide on your route. You alone decide where to stay, and for how long. Nobody’s hurrying you, and there are no noisy tourist crowds nearby. Moreover, this type of travel is comfortable. Every five kilometers there are picnic and camping areas with tent sites and wooden tables.
The starting and finishing points of the route are usually Slyudyanka, Port Baikal and Kultuk. The reason for that is simple. Those places are easily accessible by train, bus, minibus or car. Port Baikal is also accessible by a ferry from Listvyanka.
By taking a bus from Irkutsk car station. Buses depart daily at 9:30. The ride takes 2 hours.
By taking a minibus from Irkutsk train station from 9:00 to 22:00. Minibuses depart every 30–60 minutes. Rides at 20:30 and 21:30 must be booked in advance by calling +7 (950) 053-40-84, +7 (950) 139-63-70. You can also book a seat for another route by calling +7 (950) 066-62-71, +7 (904) 110-99-97.
An alternative way exists for those who aren’t used to lots of walking. A local train called “motanya” travels to any end station of CBR. “Motanya” departs from Slyudyanka on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays at 12:30, arriving to Port Baikal at 18:30. In summer, the last ferry to Listvyanka departs at 20:15. This way, you’ll manage both to cross the lake on time and to see the local wonders.
“Motanya” departs in the opposite direction on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 2:20. It gets to Slyudyanka at 7:45. Slyudyanka — Irkutsk train departs daily from that point.
All questions about railway rides can be asked at +7 800 775-00-00, the number of the Unified Information and Service Center of JSC “Russian Railways”. The center works 24/7, and all calls are free of charge.
3–5 days, depending on route length
Around 200 rubles for a bus ticket or 105 rubles for a train ride to Slyudyanka;
80–100 rubles for a “Motanya” ride;
58 rubles for a ferry ride for adults, 29 rubles for 5–10 year old children and 90 rubles for pets or bikes;
103 rubles for a Listvyanka-Irkutsk minibus ride;
400–600 rubles per person for an overnight stay;
If you don’t have much time on your hands, walk a simple one-day route from Temnaya Pad’ to Angasolka and back.
To travel with comfort, choose the Circum-Baikal Express tourist train. Depart from Irkutsk in the morning and get to Slyudyanka by train or go to Listvyanka by bus, getting a ferry ride to Port Baikal. Port Baikal will be the starting point of your route in the latter case, and the finishing point in the former case.
During the ride, the guide will tell you about the construction of the road and outstanding engineering structures. The screen will show you movies about Lake Baikal and Siberian nature. The window will show you the views that will make you catch your breath in awe. The train makes 20–90 minute stops along the way to help you see this immense beauty up close, go on a short walk and take pictures.
The road back takes 2–3 hours. You can take a ferry to Listvyanka and then board a bus to Irkutsk, or ride a train from Slyudyanka to Irkutsk-Passazhirski station. The journey will end at about 22:00.
From 2 800 (for children) to 4 500 rubles per person + meals.
Before you start planning your trip to CBR, call +7 (39-52) 20-29-73, 20-29-69, or write to firstname.lastname@example.org. The train might not be working when you want it to, and it’s best to discover that in advance. If all goes well, reserve a seat that faces the engine. Those seats offer an amazing view of Baikal, and are immensely popular.
Waterway tours along the Circum-Baikal Railway are available on weekends from May 30 to September 27. July and August offer additional rides on Thursdays and Fridays.
An air-cushioned “Barguzin” ship departs from Raketa, a pier in Irkutsk, at 10:30. Two hours later, it makes a first stop near the picturesque Tolsty Cape. You’ll have an entire hour to wander around the neighborhood, to walk through the #8 tunnel and make a selfie amid high rocky structures that resemble medieval castles. The second stop happens near Shumikha Cape, and this stop only lasts for 30 minutes. The ship makes a 2.5 hour stop at Polovinny Cape, though. You’ll have enough time both to enjoy some engineering masterpieces and to grab a lunch at a local café. The journey ends at 19:30 at Raketa pier.
2 200 rubles + meals
Buy tickets in advance, preferably two weeks prior to your trip.
You can go on this journey from February to March. A winter road runs along the shores of Baikal, allowing you to get to the CBR and to go in both directions from there. To have a good trip, keep to well-travelled routes that are marked by special signs. Otherwise, you might get in trouble. If the car gets to a crack in the ice or a thin spot, it might sink.
On the way, pay attention to signs that say “No Stops”, “5 tonnes maximum” and “recommended speed 10 km/h.” Depart at no earlier than 9:00 and finish your trip at no later than 19:00. Total darkness is not your friend on a winter road. To be absolutely sure, hire an ice captain for a guide. The trip will be more expensive, but your security is worth it.
Gas + food + guide services.
Khivus, an amphibious vehicle, is an interesting alternative for a journey on ice. Travel agencies in Irkutsk and some Baikal hotels both offer these tours. The price varies from 3000 to 7500 rubles per person for 3–10 hours of travel.
Where to stay
There are no luxury hotels around the CBR. However, there are a good number of affordable accommodation options. Turbazas, hostels and mini-hotels at Ulanovo and Shumikha stations, in Slyudyanka, Angasolka and Baikal villages offer a variety of rooms for 400–600 rubles per day. If you plan to just spend a night or a couple of hours, your stay will be even cheaper.
You can also stay for a night in Listvyanka if you’re traveling there by ferry from Port Baikal or returning from a day-long trip on the Circum-Baikal Express and want to spend some time to admire the deepest lake in the world. Listvyanka is a major tourist center, and so it offers a variety of accommodation options. You can find anything from low-comfort houses with street toilets to luxury hotels suites.
Wear sturdy-soled boots for hiking. You’ll be walking on heaps of crushed rubble, which serves as pavement for the railway. Other types of footwear will not handle it.
Don’t attempt to climb up every rock and every slope. Better yet, avoid them when traveling alone and unsure of yourself. The Circum-Baikal Railway is a dangerous area with lots of unstable, crumbling rocks. For the same reason, only take well-traveled routes to get down to the beaches.
Leave your headphones out when walking on the railway tracks. Listen to the sounds of nature and approaching trains. The railway is sometimes used by local trains and trolleys, and you’ll have to step aside to let them pass.
When examining the tunnels and galleries, always hold a working flashlight in your hand. Watch your feet. Tripping over a railroad tie or falling into a pit is much more unpleasant than meeting a harmless local ghost.
From April to August, be sure to pack a tick repellent in your backpack. Always keep an individual first aid kit with you. Keep in mind that only Kultuk, Slyudyanka and Baikal villages have aid stations.
If you’re not planning to stay in a turbaza, pack up a supply of your usual food and drinks. You’ll have a chance to refill your supplies only at the major railway stations and in some villages between them. The car-shop attached to the “Motanya” train also sells water, bread, canned food, pasta and cereals. Avoid homemade alcohol – there’s a high risk of poisoning.
Arshan is a source of infinite joy for active and curious travelers. Soft climate without deafening heat or heavy rains and chilly winds is perfect for those who love taking long walks, climbing the mountains and exploring new trails and routes. Natural attractions, scattered throughout the Tunka Valley, inspire the travelers. We captured them all in one article to make your days at Arshan full of movement and fresh impressions.
Waterfalls and the marble floor of Kyngarga River
Waterfalls are the undisputed hit of Arshan. According to different sources, Kyngarga has from 12 to 20 waterfalls. The first one gets most attention, as it is located in 1.5 kilometers from the resort. A wide furnished trail leads to the waterfall, almost never empty. Follow the tourists who walk the trail, and you won’t get lost.
If you walk another 500 meters up the trail, you’ll see the Kyngarga ravine, adorned by high walls of stone. Its bottom is covered with water-polished and shiny pink and yellow marble — hence the “marble floor” name. In 3 kilometers from the first waterfall stands the Veerny waterfall, the most beautiful of them all. The road to Veerny is much more difficult. If you decide to climb the dangerous cliff, be extremely cautious and wear shoes with slip-resistant soles.
You don’t need to climb high to see Arshan from a bird’s eye view. For this, the resort has a comfortable viewing platform near the drinking pavilion over the white staircase.
If the view from the plateau isn’t impressive enough for you, walk 600–700 meters further up the ridge. You will not be able to feign indifference here. The already picturesque Tunka Valley seems breath-catchingly beautiful from above.
The Mongolian market
People come here for unique souvenirs and other curiosities, such as pine nuts or juniper bath brooms. The tourists especially like clothes made of yak, goat and camel wool. No matter how cold it is outside, a warm jumper, vest, socks and mittens from Mongolia will make it bearable. Buy them if you’re planning to travel around Lake Baikal in winter.
Since many come to Arshan for health benefits, the market sells a variety of health products. Bring home some of the local herbs to strengthen your immune system and avoid sickness. And for a snow-white smile, try some sera, conifer resin gum that is a healthy alternative for chewing gum and whitening toothpaste. The market is located at the park entrance. The working hours are from 9:00 to 19:00.
Museums and an art gallery
Arshan doesn’t have many museums, and you can see them all in one day. Start with the resort history museum, which stands on the main avenue of the park. Afterwards, stop by “Forest Fairy Tale” root décor museum which holds more than 500 root sculptures. The “Forest Fairy Tale” is in house 12. Check the working hours and ticket price by calling +7 (950) 137-73-78.
To get a feel of the local culture, visit the private art gallery in an authentic Buryat yurt. The yurt is called “The yurt of the two wise men”. The gallery is behind the Kyngarga Bridge, on 8a, Veresov St. A stream rumbles near the museum, and an Uzbek cuisine café stands open nearby. Interesting tours with Sayan medicinal herb tea tasting happen inside of the yurt. The ticket costs 100 rubles per adult and 30 rubles per child. “The yurt of the two wise men” is open daily from 10:00 to 20:00.
Old and new datsans
“Bodhidharma”, the first datsan, is a corner of peace with a pleasant mountain view. “Maidar”, the central temple of a Buryat religious association, is surrounded by a century-old pine forest. This place is perfect for walking, breathing grace-filled air and thinking of nothing.
“Dechen Ravzhalin”, the new Hoymor datsan, is located in the center of Arshan, across the “Sayany” sanatorium. The entrance is free of charge. Stop by to see the Buddhist services and purchase Tibetan medicine.
This stone bowl filled with clear water got its poetic name due to Buryat customs. The night before the wedding, a bride and her bridesmaids went to a secret place where they did a ritual bath and gave offerings to ongons, family spirits. Near Arshan, this ritual was held in the upper reaches of Buhota River.
Nowadays, anyone can take a swim in the bowl after walking 3 kilometers from the village. Locals and guides always say that the waters of this bowl will grant strength to your body, beauty to your soul and love to your heart.
This is the most attractive place of Arshan for those daredevils who are ready to travel a 3–5 hour long road for a breathtaking view from the peak. The legend attracts even more, saying that this place will uncover the truth about the visitor and his or her companion. According to this legend, a man and a woman from a single ulus were closely related, and therefore forbidden to enter a close relationship. To enlist help from powerful spirits, the couple climbed to the top and saw each other with their hearts.
The woman saw another man, her true future husband whom she had yet to meet. And the man was pierced by a pain of a mother who suffered for her family, reflected in the woman’s face. The mountain showed the lovers that they aren’t meant to be together, and that each one will find happiness alone. And so it happened. If you want to test yourself and your feelings, walk the trail from the end of the main alley up to the peak.
Buryats have used this place of strength and positive energy for healing since the ancient times. The spring has many names. Suburgan, Old Arshan, Small Arshan, Baruun Arshan and The Kingdom of a White Elephant Calf are among those names.
This spring is 5 kilometers away from the resort. Follow the trail from the datsan that stands near the souvenir market. The trail is simple. The route is straight and takes about an hour. A white stupa, interesting from all sides, stands near the spring. A steep path leads to this stupa. To be safe, hold the ropes strapped to the trees.
Hard to imagine but true: traces of volcanic activity from the end of the Ice Age can be found near Arshan. The oldest of Tunka volcanoes is Kovrizhka. It stands about 10 kilometers to the east from the Tunka-Arshan highway, between Khobok and Khurai-Khobok rivers. The volcanic cone can be seen from the right side of the road. The pedestal over Yelovski plateau is Kovrizhka.
Another notable volcano is the wooded Khara-Bolok, also called Ulyaborski or Cherski volcano. This one is 7 kilometers from Arshan, between Taloy and Ulyabory villages. The diameter of this volcano almost equals to its height, which are 80–100 meters and 100–120 meters respectively. A spring flows at the foot of the volcano, not freezing even for winter.
When asked about what to see at Arshan, all tour guides exclaim as one: “Go see the Crystal Lake!”. The tourists are not so unanimous. Some love it, some pass by. The lake is famous for not having any kind of fish or other living creatures, for which the locals call it a dead lake. However, the area around the lake is beautiful and absolutely worth its 4–5 hours of walking down well-trodden mountain trails with steep descents.
Further away, 10 kilometers from Arshan, stand the Koymorski lakes. These lakes are an entire group of ponds, connected with each other by water channels. These lakes are home to many rare plants and animals that are a part of a list of Endangered Species of the Buryat Republic. This place is perfect for swimming, fishing, boating or discovering healing mud in Shirshonka and Butakovskoe lakes. Or, alternatively, you could just lie down on the meadow and enjoy the perfection of wildlife.
Olkhon is the largest island out of the thirty islands or Baikal, and it is also the only one that is inhabited. This is a place of powerful energy and cosmic magnetism. The island ensnares people with its legends like a wise old man who possesses the knowledge of the ancient secrets. Olkhon is believed to be the place where the first Buryat shaman got his powers, and some still search for a cave where the great and terrible Genghis Khan was laid to rest. In contrast to the mighty Khan, the locals are peaceful and hospitable. They rent their rooms to the tourists, feed them heartily and tell them the stories and legends of Olkhon.
The name of the island translates from the Buryat language as «having little forest»
This name is accurate. Forests of pine, birch and larch only grow in the central part of the island, while the northern and southern parts of Olkhon lay bare.
The summer is the best time for a vacation on Olkhon. Burning sun, rainless weather and a complete lack of mosquitoes make the island an especially great vacation spot. A winter vacation has an obvious setback of severe Siberian winter coldness. If you’re mentally and physically prepared to face this kind of weather, visit winter Olkhon and be rewarded with a view of the breathtaking landscape of icy caves and crystal-clear Baikal ice.
Things to do
Olkhon is a perfect place for a lazy vacation of swimming, sunbathing, stargazing and meditation. The island provided various vacation opportunities for those who aren’t used to sticking to one place. The choices are numerous, varying from horse-riding and quad-biking to hiking and taking tours of the island.
Olkhon has 143 historical monuments, which is more than anywhere else in the Baikal region. If you want to feel the spirit of this place in all its glory, visit Burkhan Cape, one of the nine Asian sanctuaries. This cape is also commonly called the Shamanka Rock. Only the shamans could enter the cave inside Shamanka in older times, but now the tourists can visit it, too. Children and pregnant women should stay away from the cave, though — the energy of the place is too strong.
Olkhon has many wooden poles with colored ribbon tied around them
These poles are serghe, symbols of the tree of life and places of spirit worship. As soon as you enter the island, find a serghe and appease the spirits by sprinkling the pole with milk or tarasun (milk vodka), and your vacation will be a success.
Visit the Khoboy Cape for some truly breathtaking scenery. This cliff looks like a sharp fang, and it provides the best view of the Barguzinski bay, Svyatoy Nos peninsula, Ryty Cape and Ushkanii islands, where Baikal seals bask in the sunlight. The Love Cliff is only 4 kilometers away from the Khoboy Cape. Visit this cliff if you want to conceive a child in the near future.
The miracles of Olkhon Island do not end here. A unique spruce forest on the western slope of the Zhima mountain grows there since the Ice Age. Sagan-Khushin Cape is comprised or pure white marble. Shara-Nur lake is famous for its healing muds and unique waters. The Buddhist Enlightenment Stupa on Ogoi Lake is a place where people travel specifically to make a wish.
The more your learn about Olkhon, the more unique and attractive it seems. It is no coincidence that the tourists from around the world come back here again and again, confident that any time wasted on the road is absolutely worth meeting Olkhon again.
How to get to Olkhon
Since Olkhon is an island, the road to it consists of three parts. The first is getting to the ferry, the second one is a ferry ride and the last one is getting to the place you want to visit. You can get to the ferry by taking a bus or a minibus, by car or a taxi, or by waterway. If you wish to, you can hike or ride a bike through all 300 kilometers from Irkutsk to Olkhon.
The cheapest public transportation option is a 507th route bus that departs from the Irkutsk bus station. This summer, these buses depart at 8.30, 9:00, 9.30, 10:00, 10.30 and 11:00. However, you should still call 8 (3952) 50-03-66, 8 (39-52) 603-303, 8 (902) 51-03-303 to verify the departure schedule since it may change from time to time. A one-way fare is 475 rubles.
Commercial minibuses also travel to Khuzhir, departing from Timiryazev Street bus stop and from the Central Market. The ride will cost 600-800 rubles. Additionally, you may travel by bus that departs from the «Trud» stadium. The ride costs 1000 rubles per person and the seats must be booked in advance at 8 (3952) 70-70-17.
If you take a car on Kachugski highway from Irkutsk to the ferry and then to Khuzhir, the road will take about 5–6 hours. Buses pass the queue without having to wait in line, but the cars will have to wait for their turn for a long time, especially if you’re travelling during the most popular tourist season.
The «Barguzin» ship departs to Khuzhir from Irkutsk pier «Raketa» during the summer. The road takes 6 hours. The exact schedule of the ride can be found on the website of the East Siberian River Shipping Company.
During winter, cars travel to Olkhon by ice. But when the ice is settling or melting, a plane is the only way people can get to the island.
Where to stay on the island
Tourists usually stay in Khuzhir, the largest and the most civilized village on the island. Khuzhir provides all sorts of wares and rental services for a comfortable and fun vacation: shops, markets, cafes, internet access, bike rentals and tourism equipment. If you don’t speak Russian, you can hire an English-speaking guide.
The housing in Khuzhir varies from small rooms in private houses with shared toilets outdoors to hotel rooms with all amenities available. The demand for the mini-hotel rooms is high — book them in advance. But if you prefer camping, put up a tent in any beautiful spot and enjoy every second of living to the beat of the heart of Baikal.
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