Olkhon Island. The largest island in Lake Baikal.
So what if I was visiting in the middle of November?
When I first planned my trip to Russia and as I finalized my Trans-Siberian itinerary, a visit to Olkhon Island was non-negotiable.
To make it worth your while, you really need to allow three days to visit the island from Irkutsk, the closest stop on the Trans-Siberian – a day to get there, a day to explore, and a day to return. My marshrutka (shared mini-van) departed the city around 9:45 a.m. on a Friday morning and reached Khuzhir, the main town on Olkhon Island, by about 3:00 p.m.
I had just enough time to get settled and explore the small town before enjoying the sunset over Lake Baikal.
On Saturday, I split the cost of a driver with two others to take us around the island for the day (about $80 total, likely cheaper because it is the low season). Starting from Khuzhir, we stopped six times as we drove up the west side of the island to the northernmost point at Cape Khaboy and then back along the east side until crossing over and retracing our path back to Khuzhir.
The weather in Khuzhir was mostly clear and sunny when we departed around 11:00 a.m. but the clouds gradually started to creep in. After an initial stop to enjoy the view of the lake, our second stop allowed us to get up close and personal with the largest source of fresh water in the world.
As we headed further north on the island (and higher in elevation), snow flurries turned to snow flakes and the pine trees seemed to multiply.
By the time we reached our fourth stop, the snow was falling at a rapid pace. We enjoyed a “picnic” lunch of smoked omul (the local fish), vegetables and a cup of tea in the minivan with our driver, Vasya, and then hopped out to frolic in the fresh powder.
Our fifth stop was at Cape Khaboy on the northern tip of the island. With the ground covered by several inches of fresh powder, we walked tentatively out toward the cape to get the best views – and almost slipped a few times in the process!
The snow completely subsided and the sun started to peak through the clouds by the time we reached our final stop on the eastern side of the island. There, we had one last chance to see the clear blue water of Lake Baikal up close before heading back to Khuzhir.
The return route was a bumpy ride as Vasya carefully navigated around deep frozen tire treads and through skinny pine trees. But by the time he dropped us off back in town, the skies were clear and the snow was long gone, making for the perfect conditions to watch another sunset over Baikal – somehow even more amazing than the first.
Again, a big thanks to Real Russia, who not only provided amazing service and advice as I applied for my Russian visa, but also generously assisted with train tickets for my Trans-Siberian journey – without them, this would not have been possible. I highly recommend both their visa and travel services.