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.