© shutterstock/ Best-of-Russia.net
Traveling to Lake Baikal, one of the most beautiful destinations in Russia, is an experience of a life time. Pristine nature, fresh air, picturesque landscapes and a sense of adventure: Lake Baikal is a true must see for all nature lovers. Here you will find an introduction to Lake Baikal and general information on Lake Baikal. Read this article to find out more about nature, climate and people of Lake Baikal.
- Region in Russia: Lake Baikal, Siberia
- Topic: Nature Reserves, Multiday trips, Trans-Siberian, Camping, Hiking
- Best Season: Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring
- Family & Kids: Yes
An Introduction to Lake Baikal
If you decided to travel to Lake Baikal, it means that you are about to embark on a beautiful journey through Lake Baikal pristine nature and on an interesting adventure of Lake Baikal activities. Whether your trip to Lake Baikal is for getting closer to nature or your travel to Lake Baikal has a goal of camping, fishing, hiking, there you will definitely find what you search for. Before you start planning you trip to Lake Baikal, let’s have a look at general information on Lake Baikal.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lake Baikal is one of the most impressive destinations in Russia. Located in South-East Siberia, Lake Baikal is the deepest and the biggest freshwater lake in the whole world. Set in the pristine taiga forest, Lake Baikal contains 20% of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater reserve. The water is crystal clear and you can easily see through meters depth. No wonder that the name of the lake “bai” “kul” means wealthy lake in the language of endogenous people. Speaking about past, lots of local tribes used to make the lake their spiritual center and over centuries different peoples who had lived here used to pray to the lake. Powerful and magical atmosphere of Lake Baikal can be felt even today – especially in remote areas where there is no cell phone connection and no electricity. No cell phone, you ask, everywhere? No worries – the shoreline of Lake Baikal has comfortable tourist sports as well as pristine nature areas.
Geographically, Baikal is located on the territory of two Russian provinces – Irkutskaya Oblast on the North-West and Buryatia Republic on South-East. From the main cities of both provinces – Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude – you can easily get to Lake Baikal. Both of the cities are a part of Trans-Siberian Railway, and Lake Baikal is of course among the best and most important stops along Trans-Siberian Railway.
In this article you will find answers to such practical questions as: can you swim in Lake Baikal? What is the water temperature of Lake Baikal? What is the weather like in Lake Baikal? What is the best time to travel to Lake Baikal?
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Nature and Climate of Lake Baikal
Nature of Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal is a truly unique place rich in biodiversity and almost one of a kind in its geographical and geological characteristics. The biggest freshwater lake on the planet and the deepest one with maximum depth of 1637 m, Lake Baikal is also one of the oldest lakes in the world. Whereas an average lake lives around 15 000 years, Lake Baikal is 25 million years old and is not going to disappear at all, as it is growing with an average speed of 2 cm a year. The lake is located along a tectonic break, and therefore the area is seismically active with frequent minor earthquakes and hot springs along the shore. Lake Baikal is surrounded by mountains all around its coast line with the highest ones called Ulan Burgasy Range (the highest peak is 2840 m). Lake Baikal is also clean to such an extent that in some areas you can actually drink water right from the surface – thanks to unique microorganisms that clean water surface three times a year.
Fauna and flora of Lake Baikal is rich and unique hosting around 1000 species of plants and 2500 species of animals. More than 80% of the animals on Lake Baikal are endemic (meaning they cannot be found anywhere in the world) which makes the place unique and one of a kind. The highlights of Baikal fauna are nerpa and omul. Endemic Baikal seal or nerpa is one of only three freshwater seal populations and the world. Omul is an endemic white fish with big population that is sold on the markets around Lake Baikal and is very expensive in Moscow or Saint Petersburg.
Climate, Weather and Water Temperature of Lake Baikal
The first question that comes to mind of every tourist – can you swim in Lake Baikal? What is the water temperature of Lake Baikal? The answer is yes, you can swim in Lake Baikal. However, not everywhere and you won’t be able to spend too much time in the water. In summer season – July and August – the water is about + 15 C, but in the warmest bays it can reach + 22 C. If you want to swim in Lake Baikal, visit such bays as: Maloye More (Western shore of Olkhon Island), Chivyrkuiskiy zaliv (Eastern shore of Svyatoy Nos peninsula).
The second question is – what is the weather like in Lake Baikal? The temperature in summer is quite warm for Siberia – about + 18-20 C, but don’t worry the summer sun can get really hot sometimes, so you will be wearing just a t-shirt. During the night the temperature may drop to + 5-10 C. Therefore, if you are camping on Lake Baikal, think about having a warm sleeping bag.
The third question about climate is – when is the best time to travel to Lake Baikal? Of course, the most popular tourist season on Lake Baikal is summer season (from June 15 to August 15). The weather at the time is the best: there’s a lot of sun and few rainfalls thanks to sharp continental climate. You can enjoy the variety of outdoor activities on Lake Baikal at that time: biking, hiking, camping, fishing and many more. Autumn season on Lake Baikal starts from August 15 and lasts till November 15. End of August is warm for a trip to Lake Baikal but quite often rainy. September is the time of magical and beautiful golden autumn – so if you are a fan of photography that is a time of the wonderful pictures. October and November are characterized by poor weather conditions, and a trip is not recommended. Winter season (from November 15 to April 15) is getting more popularity among tourist as a good time for a trip to Lake Baikal. At the end of January Lake Baikal freezes completely, and it is quite cold for those who are not used to Siberian weather conditions. In March when the weather is getting warmer and there is a lot of sun, it is the best time to experience winter outdoor activities on Lake Baikal: ice skating, walking on the ice, skiing, snow riding etc. A tricky spring season starts from April 15 and lasts till June 15. Trips to Lake Baikal in April and May are definetaly not recommended: the weather is unstable, and the roads around the lake will be ruined by melting snow and wet dirt. At the end of May and in the beginning of June one shall travel to Lake Baikal to feel himself an explorer, the only one for hundreds of kilometers, as most of the tourist come in the summer season when the weather is warmed and there is much less cool nights.
People and Traditions of Lake Baikal
When travelling to Lake Baikal, you will experience two cultures – Russians (Irkutskaya Oblast on the North-West of the lake) and Buryats (Buryatia Republic on South-East of the lake).
One of the largest in number nationalities on Lake Baikal is the Buryats, one of the original Siberian tribes that formed on this territory in the 10th century. The Buryats are known throughout Russia as one of the most hospitable and open nationalities – you will experience that on your trip to Lake Baikal. If you meet a Buryat, the next thing you know you will be already inside of yurt, a traditional dwelling house. Lake Baikal insider tip: for those of you who like to experience traditional living, there are many opportunities to book yurt as an accommodation and live there for couple of days.
The Buryat’s religion is Buddhism, but their customs are a mix of traditional beliefs like shamanism and Buddhism. Sometimes when camping on Lake Baikal, especially in the South-East of the lake on the territory of Buryatia Republic, you will see cloth attached to the trees – many small straps of cloth trembling in the wind. That means that you have found a place where, according to shamans, spirits live who help people. To show respect to the spirits, shamans attach cloth to the trees. Lake Baikal insider tip: if you ever meet shaman, show your respect and don’t touch him and his ritual clothes until you have his permission. Make sure to take photos of him only if agrees – luckily, most of them do agree 🙂
The Buryats were the dominant nationality on Lake Baikal for a long time until Russia colonized Siberia in the 17th century. They brought with them Russian traditions – Orthodox church, Russian banya (sauna) together with traditional food and vodka. Lake Baikal insider tip: make sure to visit Russian banya which can be found almost in every hotel.
Omul – Traditional Baikal Fish
When you are on a trip to Lake Baikal, make sure to taste its traditional fish – Baikal Omul that can be found only in Lake Baikal. You can buy Omul at the market and right from fishermen on the lake. Omul can be sold salted, dried or smoked – whatever cooking technique you like most. A special soup called Ukha can be prepared with omul fish as well. Lake Baikal insider tip: fishing on Lake Baikal is not forbidden, so you can try to catch Omul yourself. If you succeed, you can cook it right away by the lake.
© shutterstock/ Best-of-Russia.net
Buryat woman wearing traditional clothes © shutterstock / Best-of-Russia.net
Lake Baikal- Location Map & Contact Information
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Lake Baikal, Russia