Lake Baikal is more than a natural wonder or wildlife haven. For about 100,000 permanent residents, it's home. The population spans multiple ethnic groups: Buryats (Siberia's largest Indigenous people), Evenks and Russians. Their main occupations are forestry, agriculture, fisheries, hunting and tourism. As adventure and off-the-grid tourism grows, the latter is particularly on the rise.
The Baikal area sees about 30,000 visitors per year, according to Euro News. Karen Zhao, a local expert and Intrepid Travel product manager for North & Central Asia, says there are a handful of ways to enjoy this still-hidden gem. Intrepid's tours, such as Beijing to Moscow and the Trans-Mongolian Experience, both include a stop.
"The best way to experience Lake Baikal is to stay with a local family or at a local guesthouse near the lake. Here, you can experience the Baikal hospitality firsthand," she says via email. "During the day, you can take a boat tour on the lake, go on a hike on the Baikal trail, visit the larger islands, and also stop at some ethnographic museums and villages."
The days conclude with a visit to the host's banya, a Russian-style sauna, although be prepared: These hot-sauna visits end with a "refreshing" dip in the chilly lake. That is, until it freezes over. But winter brings its own type of adventure, too.
"Winter is also one of the best times to visit Baikal, from late January to early March, when the lake is fully frozen," Zhao says. "Baikal is famous for its purity of water and on a good day, you are able to see 40 meters [131 feet] deep into the lake. So when the lake is frozen, you'll be able to see the beautiful transparent blue ice that echoes the color of the sky or see a huge air bubble frozen inside the lake, too."
Originally Published: Jun 24, 2020