Tinged with polar magnetism, Lake Baikal and its coating of ice is a unique alternative to the bog-standard winter sports resorts. Skate into the realm of infinity…
You will feel almost euphoric as you cross the lake from west to east, debate the finer points of hockey, immortalise extraordinary moments in snapshots, skate on polished ice rinks, lunch on the pack ice, taste smoked omul and sleep in an ice camp that is the only one of its kind in Russia (and the world!).
By hovercraft, in a 4×4 and on foot you will explore frozen caves and ‘toros’, a mishmash of ice blocks that collide before your very eyes. While you immerse yourself in the frozen expanses of Lake Baikal you will meet local fishermen, visit the Buddhist temples of Irkutsk and explore the colourful wooden houses of Ulan-Ude.
After plunging into a banya (the traditional Russian sauna and plunge pool) you will board the legendary Trans-Siberian Express. Your memories of this trip will be intertwined with a sensation of purity and the great outdoors. Here are our reasons to break the ice.
A 360° dream of ice. An understandable feeling of worry creeps in when you step onto the ice field. Will the glacial icecap really take your weight?
There’s no need to fear. Ice one-meter thick separates you from the waters hibernating underneath your feet, leaving you free to make the most of the puzzling world around you.
You’ll hear the creaking and bumping of the blocks of ice and experience the magic of the light enshrouded with crystals and the air alive with the polar winter and the purity of the elements. And in this beautiful, timeless place sheltered from the world, you will come face to face with the immensity of the spaces of Siberia. It’s a real-life frontier land that John Snow would never dream of leaving.
Your eyes will be drawn to the turquoise veins, the fantastical ice shapes, the stalactites, stalagmites and air bubbles imprisoned in the ice, reminding you that the great contemporary masterpieces don’t have a patch on nature’s creations.
On the agenda:
A day at the southernmost tip of Lake Baikal
You’ll arrive at Irkutsk airport and depart for the southernmost part of Lake Baikal. A hovercraft ride over the ice will take you to the village of Listvyanka. The route will take you along the Circum-Baikal Railway, a unique monument to the architectural engineering of the end of the 19th century.
A day on Baikal’s ice in a hovercraft
Step on board the hovercraft headed to the north of the lake and the village of Maloe More. The whole journey will be on the ice, with a stop off at the sandy Peschanaya Bay, the lake’s best-known spot.
A day on Olkhon Island, the largest in Lake Baikal
Today you are headed to Khuzhir, the main village on Olkhon Island, and cape Burkhan (initially called Shamanka or Shaman Rock). It is considered a holy place for the followers of shamanism. They organise religious ceremonies and make sacrifices in the cave at Shaman Rock.
Lake Baikal, at the heart of the legend
It’s not surprising that the travel writer Sylvain Tesson erected his cabin at the heart of this icy solitude to experience voluntary exile. He said of it: “The cold, silence and solitude are states that will be more precious than gold in the future. On an overpopulated, overheated, noisy planet, a cabin in the woods is like El Dorado.”
Once you arrive in these lands reminiscent of the Ice Age, it won’t take long to understand why Lake Baikal is a “sacred sea” for the native peoples. The Buryats, who are of Mongolian origin, believe that Olkhon Island in the middle of Lake Baikal is the residence of Burkhan (“God” in Mongolic languages). Balanced between Buddhist traditions and Shamanistic beliefs, it is at the centre of innumerable spiritual rites that help the being transcend to internal harmony.
“Baikal should crush a man with its majesty and size; there everything is vast, free and spectacular.
But, to the contrary, it lifts him up.” (Valentin Rasputin).
Your discovery continues:
A day and a night at the Ice Camp
Imagine yourself in an authentic ice camp in the middle of a frozen lake. The magnetically beautiful landscape around you stretches to the horizon. You won’t find any other tourists here. They are all in Red Square. The only people here are a handful of photographers, adventurers and scientists. Only the dull roar of the ice field breaks the spellbinding silence of the white desert. That’s because you are on Lake Baikal, at the outer limits of eastern Russia (or even of the world), far away from civilisation and all your points of reference. The real Siberian adventure, reserved for a handful of travellers, is only just beginning.
A day crossing Lake Baikal to experience the pace of life in a Baikal village
You will make the most of the camp activities and the surrounding wonders before starting your journey to Ust-Barguzin to experience village life. You will cook, walk, share and rest, and if you are the active kind then you have the option to discover the snowy forests of the taiga to look for flora and fauna with an experienced local hunter and wide skis on your feet.
A day along the east coast of Lake Baikal to prioritise your wellbeing
Your options include crossing Chivyrkuysky Bay, swimming in the thermal springs at Zmeinaya Bay and experiencing the waters with their healing properties at Khakusy thermal health resort, where you can draw on the energy of the natural environment.
Lake Baikal? It’s more than a lake: it’s an inland sea Nestled at the heart of mountains, high cliffs and forests, Lake Baikal is a magnet for superlatives. Its surface area (636 km long and 79 km wide) makes it the largest freshwater lake in the world (it’s as big as Belgium!).
And that’s not all. You might not know it yet, but under your feet and the sparkling surface of the ice field are thousands of cubic metres of water leading down into the abyss. Lake Baikal isn’t just one of the oldest lakes on the planet (born 25 million years ago), it is also the deepest in the world (1637 metres deep in some places).
Its huge size and unique biodiversity saw it classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
A day in Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia. You will cross the taiga to reach Ulan-Ude where you are invited to visit Ivolginsky Datsan, a group of Buddhist temples and the centre of Buddhism in Russia located outside the town on the breath-taking steppe.
A day and night on the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM)
From the town of Severobaikalsk, you will spend a day and a night on board the train on the famous BAM route, one of the longest train lines in the world. Construction started in 1938 and it stretches 4287 km in total. At Tayshet, the BAM meets the legendary Trans-Siberian Express and continues northwards. This line was mostly built by prisoners from forced labour camps, then by volunteers. You will have the chance to see a part of Russia’s history with your own eyes.
The best time to visit: February and March
Around a 13-hour flight from Nice/Paris to Irkutsk via Moscow with Aeroflot
Between €2600 and €4200 for a 7 to 12-day itinerary as part of a group
Around €8000 to €15,000 per person (based on two travellers) for a tailored package
Don’t delay, as spots at the Ice Camp are limited