Olkhon Island on Baikal Lake

Author: Dmitry Paranyushkin (on 04 Jun 2015)

Olkhon is a beautiful nude land that seems to have emerged from the fresh waters of Baikal. The surface of the island is green and smooth like meadows, and crumbles down in Baikal in rocky cliffs on the edges. Olkhon is covered by grass and aromatic plants on the side facing the coast (steppe), and by small pine trees (taiga) on the side facing the middle of the lake. It’s about 70 km long and 15 km wide.

Olkhon island at Baikal lake, photo by Jason Rogers @ FlickR

Olkhon is a great place to get away from civilization, to feel the nature, to live right next to Baikal lake, and to enjoy the magnificent energy of the lake. It’s not as touristic as Listvyanka and still has quite good infrastructure, so you can always enjoy modern life amenities, if you so wish. It’s possible to rent mountain bicycles, motorbikes or even off-road cars from the locals. There are also kayaks for rent as well as some water activities available. You can also make trekking walks and make tours to the parts of the island that are not populated.

Olkhon island, photo by Konstantin Malanchev
The main settlement is Khuzhir, located in the middle of the island, so if you want to stay with some comfort you can rest there. However, if you want to be on your own you’ll need to travel beyond Khuzhir and find a nice spot on the lake. The best would be to walk along the shore until you reach more or less empty spot (will take you at least an hour). This way you will not be too far from civilisation in case you need to get products or water, but also not too close to all the touristic activity.
 

Map, Location & How to Get There

click on the map to see it large

Olkhon island is located about 250 km north-east from Irkutsk and is reachable overland or by the sea. The ferry runs only from the beginning of May until the end of December, so if you travel within those dates you will be able to reach Olkhon quite easily. 

An evening sky at Olkhon island, Baikal, photo by WayToRussia.Net

In the Soviet times, when nobody was saving on anything, there was a small plane flying every day from Irkutsk to Huzhir, the main village at Olkhon. But now, as the service stopped, usually people travel six hours by car or by a local bus from Irkutsk to MRS, the place where they can board their vehicle on a ferry. While waiting for the boat you can climb up the cliffs just opposite Olkhon, and taste local tea with pepper from the tea shop, which is situated in a yurt just next to the lake. After a 15-minute ferry crossing, people drive out their vehicles and Olkhon land is theirs to discover. Also, cruise ships often include a stop at Olkhon Island as a main feature of their Baikal holiday trip. 

A ferry to Olkhon lake, photo by Jason Rogers @ FlickR
The cheapest way is to take a bus, which will take 6 to 8 hours (you will also need to take a ferry from the mainland to the island). There are 4 buses daily departing from the central bus station in Irkutsk at  8-00, 10-00, 14-00 and 17-00. Seat reservations can be made on +7 902 5772020. You can also take another bus from the Central market place in Irkutsk at 10.00. Seat reservations on +7 902 1714961. The trip costs about €20 one way.

A faster way is to get a car with a driver. This can be arranged with a local taxi company or with a homestay / hotel at Olkhon directly. The price is usually around €150 for a car (up to 4 passengers) and around €200 for a van (up to 9 passengers). So if you're a few people it makes much more sense to organize your own transport. If you want to save time and avoid queing to the ferry, book your car until the ferry and then get a local transport at Olkhon to get from the ferry to Khuzhir settlement – that should cost about €70 extra.
 
A village at Olkhon island, photo by WayToRussia.Net
Another way is to take a speed boat from Irkutsk to Olkhon with the local VSRP (East Siberian River Transport) company. They have ferries from Irkutsk to Olkhon that depart every Monday at 8.30 and arrive to Khuzhir directly at 17.15. The ferry continues to the opposite side of the lake on that same day, so you can also use it to explore the Buryatian eastern side of Baikal. The ferry goes back to Irkutsk on Tuesdays. This route circulates only from 7th of July until the 24th of August and they have an additional route on Wednesdays in the last week of July and the first week of August. 

For up-to-date ferry schedules between Irkutsk, Okhon and Ust-Barguzin, check out the website of VSRP Irkutsk river transport company on http://bit.ly/vsrpbaikal
 

Olkhon Island Landmarks

The main places on Olkhon island, that you will not miss, are Khuzhir — the main village, about 20 km from the ferry, Shaman cave — a sacred place in Khuzhir, on the shore of Baikal lake, beaches and yurt-camps, which are about 4 km from Khuzhir, Peschanaya village — a strange abandoned settlement, "Three Brothers" rock, and mysterious and enchanting Khoboy Cape — the northest point of the island.

A bay at Olkhon island, photo by WayToRussia.Net
 

Khuzhir Village

Khuzhir is the main village on Olkhon island. There are a few thousands inhabitants, and it is quite a calm place. All shops and little cafes are located near the main square of the village, and you can buy everything you may need there: from bread, water, juices, and beers, to fresh vegetables and fruits, milk, cheese, and crops. There are a few tour bases at the village, where you could stay, but it's much more interesting to be at one of the many homestays. Perhaps, the most popular ones are "At Svetlana's" and Nikita Bencharov's Usadba (of which I'll talk about later).
There's no particalar bus station, but all the buses depart from "Svetlana's" homestay, you can also buy tickets there (buy at least 3 days in advance!).

Khuzhir settlmenet at Olkhon island, photo by Delirante Bestiole @ FlickR
In fact, Khuzhir is only interesting for practical things, shops, and if you want to stay in a comfortable homestay. Baikal lake is about 5-10 minute walk, depending where you are.
Some people offer vegetables for sale from their garden. Look out for notes and announcements on the streets. Every Sunday there's a market on the main street, where local people say cheap Chinese clothes. There are many food shops on the main square, most of them are opened 9.00 to 23.00.
 

Shaman Cave

Also called Burkhan Cape, Shaman Cave is a sacred place in Khuzhir settlement, on the shore of Baikal lake. It is believed to have supernatural powers by Shamans and is one of the main tourist attractions on the island. Can get crowded at moments, but still is quite beautiful and serene, especially early in the morning at the sunrise...​

Shaman Cave at Olkhon Island at Baikal Lake, photo by photo by Konstantin Malanchev @ FlickR
 

Beaches and Yurt Camps

About 4 km to the north from Khuzhir settlment along the road there are really nice beaches behind the pine forest. The beaches are open to everybody so there are many locals coming there by car for the summer, but the place is so vast, they donít seem to disturb each other. If you feel like staying alone, you can find a secluded spot along the lake, and enjoy Robinsonís life. Thereís a village (Kharantsy) in about 2 km from there, where you can buy vegetables, milk, and eggs from locals (there are no shops). Alternatively, you can also walk back to Khuzhir (about 1 hour), and buy some stuff in the shops.​ There are also really nice beaches on the opposite side of Baikal lake, near Goryachinsk, where you can get through Ust-Barguzin with a twice-weekly ferry (3 hours from Khuzhir and then 2 hours by car). 
 
Beaches at Olkhon island Baikal lake, photo by Mandy @ FlickR
 

Peschanaya Village and an Abandoned Factory

Peschanaya village is quite far from Khuzhir, but you can get there by car in about an hour. It is an abandoned place, and in the Soviet times there used to be a fish factory where prisoners worked. Nowadays, there is only a bridge and two houses left from it, and the rest is covered by the sand. Also, when we were there, I found an aeroplane engine on the ground.  Itís a very mysterious, nice, and spooky place. If you take any tour along Olkhon, youíll normally pass it, and stop there for about 20 minutes. ​

Abandoned factory at Olkhon island, Baikal
 

Three Brothers Rock

Three Brothers rock is a must-stop for every tour around the Island. The three rocks standing in a row overlooking Baikal lake. The old Buryatian legend explains their appearance. In the old times there lived three brothers. Their father was a very powerful entity and he turned his sons into eagles. They were enjoying the freedom to flight where they want and thanked their father for that. However, he told his sons that by no means they should eat dead meat. The sons promised not to do that, but once, when they were flying above the island, they were very hungry, and found a dead animal. Despite their vow, they ate this dead animal. When their father learned about it, he was very furious, and to punish his sons he turned them into three rocks.​

Three brothers rock, photo by WayToRussia.Net
 

Khoboy Cape

This is the most northern point of Olkhon island. The road terminates 1 km before, and you should walk to get there. The cape is a very beautiful spot, you can see the lake all around you, red cliffs, seagulls, and sometimes, if youíre lucky, even Baikal seals. The big rock stands out, and you can walk round it, go down a steep path (be careful - it may be dangerous), and swim next to dark caves. It is a very magic and intimidating and exciting feeling at the same time. At the top, the stones are piled together, and a totem is erected on the very end of the cape. Itís a very contemporary totem, featuring all kind of man-made objects, which people left to remind their passage.​
 
Khoboy Cape Baikal lake, photo by WayToRussia.Net


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What to Do at Olkhon Island

1. Rent a Bike
You can rent a mountain bicycle at one of the many hotels and homestays at Khuzhir settlement for about €15 per day. There are many nice routes along the island, the good thing to do is to get a bike for a few days, so you can use it to get to the villages nearby and to do sightseeing and shopping near where you're staying. ​
Our bikes at Olkhon, photo by WayToRussia.Net

2. Rent a Kayak
Olkhon island is great for kayaking. The Baikal waters at this part of the lake are calm, so you can easily go several hours along the shore. Many locals and hotels at Kuzhir and beyond offer kayaks for rent (about €10 per hour plus a deposit) and it's sometimes to take them overnight, so you can find a secluded bay and camp there.
 
Kayaks at Baikal lake, photo by WayToRussia.Net

Make sure you check the weather forecast with the locals to make sure the lake is going to stay calm if you're going for a long trip. Also dress warmly and make sure you have rain protection, as there's a lot of wind and you will definitely get water into kayak.
Our favorite route is to go north from Khuzhir along the shore (4-5 hours, then camping on the beach that you see on the picture below and then back the next day).
 
A nice beach on Olkhon island, photo by WayToRussia.Net

3. Rent a Motorbike or a Car (with or without a driver) 
Can be done at Nikita's homestay, the price is 1000R ($30) per day. It's possible to get a jeep or a motorcycle (with a driver or without) to explore the furthest parts of the island. We recommend you to get a local driver as the roads further up north are really bad and you need to know the place (and to be an experienced driver) to be able to drive through and back. Sometimes when it rains the roads are simply impossible to use, that's why the local knowledge would get very handy in this case. 
 
4. Trekking
Olkhon offers a lot of opportunities for trekking as itís not very densely populated and thereís a huge variety of landscapes: from bare steppes to mountain forests. The best place to start is 4km north of Khuzhir, from where you can walk all the way to the north of the island and back (better to do it as an overnight trip) or to the east of the island into the mountains.
If you want to find out the good trekking routes check with Nikita Bencharov homestay - they usually have the best information about the island for tourists (see contacts on previous page).
Also, make sure you have warm gear as it can get quite cold during the night. You'll need a sleeping bag that holds temperatures down to zero degrees celcius, a good raincoat and trekking shoes. 
 
Olkhon Baikal trekking, photo by Mandy@FlickR
5. Shaman Sites
The island is full of various shaman totems and special places of power. Usually you can run at them by yourself, especially if you explore the more remote parts of the island with a kayak. For instance, once we found a small self-made sauna on a secluded beach and a beautiful totem next to it. Both looked completely surreal, but super interesting and thereís a lot of spots like that at the island. You can always also take an organized tour, of course, but in this case you'll just see the touristic attractions.
 
A shaman site at Olkhon, photo by WayToRussia.Net
6. Fishing
You can organize a fishing trip with a boat at Olkhon. Start from Khuzhir settlement or simply make an arrangement with the local fishermen. They will usually have all the equipment, but you're also welcome to bring your own. The most famous local fish is Omul, which can be eaten raw just with salt – very delicious. 

 

Where to Stay on Olkhon Island

You can either stay in Khuzhir, which is more practical for comfortable living (including shops, organized trips, and buses to Irkutsk), or in the felt-yurt camps, that are about 4 km from Khuzhir. Olkhon is also great for camping. Just bring your tent and walk an hour north from Khuzhir and you'll find a lot of nice spots in the forest there right on the beach, where you can also make fire, cook local fish and other stuff.
 

Nikita Bencharov's Homestay

Nikita Bencharov Homestay is the most famous and the oldest guest house at Olkhon, located right in the middle of Khuzhir. The rooms are all hand made and the house is amazing: full of hidden treasures and really made with love. Itís worth to stay there if you want to know more about the island and to meet fellow travelers. Nikita, the owner of the guest house, is a super friendly person and he used to be a champion in table tennis.
The prices start at €20 per night per bed, private single rooms and doubles are available starting from €50 per night. 
Address: Kirpichnaya str., 8, Khuzhir - Кирпичная ул, 8
Phone: +7 914 895 78 65
Book online: 
www.bit.ly/nikitabencharov
​ 

Nikita Bencharov homestay at Olkhon Baikal lake, photo by Martin Lopatka

Baikal View Hotel

A proper resort-like hotel about 800 m away from the lake, quite well designed and also has a bar and a restaurant. Rooms start at €70 per night for a double and are quite comfortable, nice and have a good view to the lake. Itís definitely one of the most expensive options on the island, but also an easy place to start exploring the rest of Olkhon. They also offer tours and bikes for rent.
Rossiyskaya Street 17, Khuzhir - Российская ул, 17, Хужир
+7 3952 76-84-84
Book online: www.bit.ly/baikview

Baikal view hotel at Olkhon
 

Mini-Hotel Baikal

This hotel offers quite basic rooms situated in wooden houses starting at €50 per night for a double. Located just 150 meters from the lake.
Address: Voroshilova Street 36, Khuzhir - Ворошилова ул, 36, Хужир
Book online: www.bit.ly/minibaikal
 

Baikal Arc Hotel

A small settlement on the shore opposite of Olkhon near Bazarnaya bay where the ferries to Olkhon depart to. It has private wooden houses as well as accommodation in yurts. Prices start at €19 per night per person.
Address: Bazarnaya bay, Irkutsk region, near Olkhon island - залив Базарная
Book online: www.bit.ly/baikalkov
 

Kochevie Yurt Camp

Located on the main land on Irkutsk side, just opposite of Olkhon island not far from the ferry. This Yurt Camp is in the middle of the steppe and beautiful grasslands, the water is slightly warmer than anywhere else on the lake, so it’s quite good for swimming. They are opened until the end of August and offer private or shared accommodation in real yurts. Prices start at €30 per person per day. This is an eco-camp, so the facilities are quite basic, but environment friendly. They also offer a range of activities and boat trips to Olkhon island. Can be a good place to start exploring, then you can simply get a boat to Khuzhir and go on from there. The camp is ran by a tourist agency called In The World of Fantasies, so it’s best to book through them directly.
Another yurt camp is located on the opposite side of Baikal lake near Goryachinsk.
Address: Khagdan Dalay bay, Maloe More, near Olkhon island
+7 (3952) 33-22-31
+7 (914) 895-16-87
Book online: www.bit.ly/yurtolkhon
 

Camping

The best way to stay at Olkhon island is to camp on the shore of the lake. Get to Khuzhir settlement first and then walk for about 1 or 2 hours along the shore towards the northern tip of the island. There’s a small forest right next to the lake – the perfect place to camp. It’s best to reach the steppe lands after the forest as that’s where there’s less people and also you have a more varied landscape that way. Tourists are treated quite well at Olkhon, so you shouldn’t have any troubles with locals. It’s good to make friends with some nearby hotel or house, so you can get water and food from them.
 
Camping at Baikal, photo by Hugues @FlickR

 




 

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