Lake Baikal – The Siberian Riviera
15-23 August, 2017
After the long (74hs) but relaxing trainride we arrived in Irkutsk at 06:00am. At our arrival we were thrown back into (the now known) Russian madness at the train station, with taxi drivers, sellers and travellers crawling around us like flies on shit. Luckily we came prepared (this time😅). We knew we wanted to take the easy way to our hotel in Listvyanka, so we charted a taxi. The taxi-ride turned into quite the experience, as the driver didn’t speak a word of English and he said he did not need to see the address?! He kept saying “Da” and “pay now”, so we went on our way.
To get an idea how the ride went, imagine; the most beat-up crap on wheels you have ever seen, and a taxi-driver on LSD. The speedometer and shocks weren’t working and we literally came of the ground as he speeded over the – pothole covered, semi-paved road. He drove so fast that our 1h 30 minutes drive was less than 45 minutes!
After re-finding our footing and after some searching in Listvyanka we found our little hotel. We arrived very early, dropped our bags off and had breakfast in the hotel. As we could only check in at noon, we walked around and found the harbor with some shops. We spend the rest of the day relaxing and stocking up with food. The next morning the weather was good so we went for a walk around town and noticed that there were lots of Russian tourists. As there are no real beaches for more than a thousand kilometers, the lake has become somewhat of a Siberian riviera in summer. Especially in weekends, Russians from the area flock to Listvyanka to hang out at the beach and eat Omul (local fish, similar to Salmon). We took a typical boat ride across the lake in a glass-bottom boat. We passed the Shaman Rock, stared through the glass looking for fish and saw Baikal seals from a distance. In the evening we ate at the Shaman restaurant next to our hotel, as most evenings to follow.
Prior to coming to Lake Baikal we looked up some hikes in the area, as they are currently developing the great Baikal Trail, which will circle the whole lake in the future. As the weather worsened over the weekend we decided to go on our hike already on the next day. Therefore we stocked up on supplies and bought the permits at the local ranger’s office. As unexperienced hikers and relatively lazy people we took the “short” and “easy” hike of “only” 24.9 kilometers (Plus the several kilometers to the start) from Listvyanka to Bolshie-Koty. This turned out to be quite the adventure. The first part of the hike was a grueling 500 meter hill, straight up. It took almost as much energy cursing as it took to get up there🤣. After the hill we came back down on the other side and were treated to a stunning view of lake Baikal and the Siberian wilderness. There was a small pebble stone beach with a campsite sitting on the banks of the lake. We took a breather here and checked how far it still was on the map, only to find out that we still had 3/4 of the way to go.
After the hill it was a relatively easy walk along the shoreline. There were several rock-slides we passed by and had to climb over some steep rocky cliffs, but the weather and views were amazing. We sat on the beach for a bit and ate our pre-packed lunches, always on the lookout for some hungry Siberian bears or wolves 😉
Finally, we arrived in Bolshie-Koty around 15:00 in the afternoon (8hs after we started) and celebrated our achievement with a cold beer. Bolshie-Koty is a small town of about 25 houses and a cute wooden church. There are no roads leading to this small village, the only way to get there is by hiking the 25km from Listvyanka or taking a boat over the lake. We stayed in a small hostel overlooking the village in the midst of the Siberian forest. Our host Natalia was a great cook and, funnily enough, here in the middle of nowhere we had a lovely vegetarian dinner (to Leni’s delight, the first decent meal in weeks). Absolutely amazing food! The remoteness of the village made the night turn pitch-black and silent. Best conditions for a good night’s rest.
After a great breakfast made by Natalia, we both decided to opt for the boat for our return, as we were suffering from serious muscle-ache. Unfortunately, the boat only arrived at 17:00, therefore we had several hours to kill in the small town which proved to be quite difficult. When finally the boat arrived it took us only 30 minutes to be back in Listvyanka and back at the hostel.
The next few days it was getting quite rainy and cold, therefore we transformed into comfy state and found us some cozy places throughout town to spend the days. The rest of the time we spend planning our upcoming trip in Mongolia and China.
Now we are excited to leave Russia and board the Trans-Mongolian Train. Mongolia here we come 🤠