Enjoying the Water
Boating on Baikal
Traveling by boat is certainly the truest way to get the feel of the lake. It also allows you to visit some corners of Baikal that are completely off the beaten track.
There are many choices of boats for you to use on Lake Baikal. There are smaller pleasure craft and sailboats; there are also larger boats that are more leisurely and roomy. Some ships on Baikal serve as public transport across the lake, and run regularly in the summer (usually from early June until the end of September). Others can be rented for private use, if you so desire.
It is fairly easy to charter almost any vessel on the lake. Most common perhaps are what many call “economy class” boats, designed for brief trips from one shore to another. You can also take a “high-comfort” vessel that is designed for longer journeys along the lake. Depending on your preferences, you can board a cruise along the water for just a few hours—or for three days, four, even a dozen in a row!
Whenever you go out on the lake you are sure to find something new and exciting around every corner. Most people like to hug the shore and visit Sandy Bay or Olkhon Island in Pribaikal’ski National Park. On the eastern side of the lake the Selenga River Delta is certainly an interesting stop for bird-watchers; much further north the Holy Nose Peninsula and Zabaikal’ski National Park are definitely worth a visit.
In the end there are many beautiful untouched corners of Baikal to visit by boat; so many islands and bays and sandy beaches—each leaves a lasting impression.
River Rafting and Kayaking at Baikal
Lake Baikal is a great location for water sports, but the lake isn’t the only water where you can exercise your muscles. There are numerous accessible mountain rivers here that flow into the lake. Some of them are smooth and easy to run, but others yield another element of adventure—swift powerful currents that can challenge the most experienced white-water rafters.
Its easy to rent boats of all shapes and sizes around the lake—from 20 person inflatable rafts to smaller single and double kayaks.
Of course, the advantage of the smaller kayaks is that you can take them out into the open lake. However, the winds are so strong and unpredictable at Baikal, we suggest you try to hug the shorelines.
Rafting and kayaking trips can last a few adventuresome hours; or they can go on for days and days. Most local tour companies will package one of these rafting trips with other fun activities at Baikal. The closest rafting around the city of Irkutsk can be found along the Irkut and Oka Rivers. But there are other options available, including trips down the Selenga, the Khara-Mureen, and the Snowy River.
It’s at the northern end of Baikal that people tend to sail on the open lake. Tours operators can lead you along the shores to small streams. From there you can paddle up to medicinal hot springs, such as the famous Khakussy thermal pools. In the end, these boating trips are great ways to make new friends among the other passengers and crew members.
Snorkeling and Diving
The diving at Baikal is very different from what you would experience in the ocean or tropical seas. The waters of Lake Baikal are crystal clear. As you peer through your mask into this underwater world, you are surrounded by a vast and seemingly alien environment. The depths of the lake haven’t been fully explored—new species are being discovered all the time.
You can submerge yourself under water at any time of year, even during the winter! In the summer, it’s easy—you just jump off the boat into the lake. In the winter, though, you’ll find people cutting holes into the ice to go scuba diving! Under the ice, frozen spires and corridors and galleries loom above; a hidden palace turned upside down. And where the lake is not frozen too thick, you can peer up through a perfectly clear window of ice and even see the faces of your friends standing above!
The best places to go diving are mostly accessible by vehicle: either right off the shores of Listvyanka, or a little bit to the south, along the Baikal Shoreline Railroad. In some of the more remote enclaves around Baikal you’ll also find some fine places to explore the depths of Baikal. From what experienced divers tell us, the best spots are just off the east coast of Olkhon Island. Some of the bays and inlets are also worth mentioning, such as at Sandy Bay, or the Bay of Aya. And on the east shore of Baikal the mouth of the Frolikha is supposed to be excellent, as are parts of the much larger Barguzin Bay.
With a little effort you can reach all these areas at Baikal. But as a rule, we always suggest that you go diving with people who are either professionals or very experienced amateurs.
As a side note…
To learn more about the underwater world of the lake, we recommend Rick Sammon’s “Seven Underwater Wonders of the World,” which devotes a whole section to Lake Baikal.