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.
Get to Slydyanka or Kultuk like this:
- By taking a train from Irkutsk-Passazhirski station.
- By taking a train to Zemlyanichnaya station, walking down Gornaya Street and taking 20 minutes to walk to Kultuk.
- 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;
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 email@example.com. 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.