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If you’re travelling the Siberian railway, the chances are you’ll stop off at Irkutsk, Russia in Siberia. And, if you do, then a trip to Olkhon Island is one of the best things to do in Irkutsk! Olkhon Island is a popular Siberia holiday destination thanks to its wildness and beauty. If you’re trying to decide whether to extend your stay in Russia and travel to Olkhon Island be sure to check out this guide to Olkhon!
About Olkhon Island
For people visiting Irkutsk, if they’re not travelling to Listvyanka, they make the long journey out to Olkhon Island. Olkhon Island, Russia is the largest island in Lake Baikal and the 3rd largest lake island in the world! It makes a great 2 day/3 night trip if you’re visiting Siberia.
There’s only one town on Olkhon Island, Khuzhir. Expect sandy roads (there are no paved roads on the entire island of Olkhon!), and restaurants run out of Ger camps. This is where all the hostels and hotels in Olkhon are and also where to go for food and Baikal gifts.
Considered one of five global poles of shamanic energy by the Buryat people, Olkhon Island is popular with both tourists and locals. Although, from what we could tell, the locals tend to view it as a camping destination rather than splashing out on the more expensive hotels in Khuzhir.
- Top tip: Take cash as there aren’t any cash machines on the island!
Where is Olkhon Island?
Olkhon Island is an island in Lake Baikal. It’s the largest island in the lake and is around 300km away from Irkutsk in Siberia.
How to get to Olkhon Island
Getting from Irkutsk to Olkhon Island requires a car and a short ferry trip (20ish minutes). You can either hire your own car or take a bus to Olkhon Island from Irkutsk.
Self-drive to Olkhon Island
If you want to be able to stop off when and where you want then you can get an Irkutsk car rental and drive to Olkhon Island yourself.
The advantage of this is you can leave when you want and don’t need to go around the hotels and hostels in Irkutsk as the buses do. You can also use the car on Olkhon Island to tour the island a bit more without having to pay for a tour.
However, there are some disadvantages. If you’re renting make sure your rental agreement allows you to take the car offroad. There aren’t any paved roads on Olkhon Island and the road is dusty, bumpy and pot-holey. You don’t want to do have to pay for any damage!
The other disadvantage is that you may get stuck in a super long queue for the ferry. The queue is pretty much unavoidable in the summer which is peak season for Olkhon Island. If you’re on a bus your driver will go straight to the front of the queue which can save several hours.
Getting to Olkhon from Irkutsk by bus
We chose to get the bus to Olkhon from Irkutsk. This was very easy to arrange at our hostel and pretty much every hostel and hotel in Irkutsk will be able to help you with this. The standard cost when booking through a hostel seems to be 1000 rubles each way.
You can find it cheaper if you book through another company or go directly to the bus station. If you do go from the bus station you’ll need to book in advance as the tickets are usually sold out. A ticket to Olkhon on this bus is approximately 500 rubles and 100 rubles for one piece of baggage.
The bus does take a long time and sometimes the drivers are late (ours was 2 hours late picking us up) but you do get to skip the ferry queue which is a bonus when you see how long it gets!
Where to stay on Olkhon Island
There’s a lot of variety in places when it comes to where to stay on Olkhon Island. There are hostels, hotels and hippy-looking domes. Here are a few of the best places.
Olkhon Island hotels
- Baikal Wood Eco Lodge & Spa: We treated ourselves on Olkhon Island and booked somewhere more expensive than we’d usually stay. The rooms here are lovely and the hotel has great facilities. (however I wouldn’t recommend eating in their restaurant for dinner, it’s way more expensive than elsewhere and not necessarily worth the money).
- Hotei Guest House: Including breakfast, the Hotei Guest House has a bar, terrace, restaurant and shared kitchen and even karaoke.
- Olkhon Story Guesthouse: Has double or twin guest rooms with a private bathroom. The Olkhon Story guesthouse also has free bikes and a terrace.
Olkhon Island hostels
- Nikita hotel: Nikita lodge is perhaps the biggest accommodation on Olkhon Island. The Nikita homestead guest house has been hosting travellers for around 15 years. Serves tasty food, organises tours around the island. Book in advance as fills up quickly.
- Sunny hostel: Private rooms & 4-bed dorms, price includes breakfast.
What to do on Olkhon Island
Be sure to add these things to do on Olkhon Island to your list!
Shaman Rock (also known as Cape Burkhan, Shamansky Cape, Cave Cape) is one of the most popular places on the whole island. There are prayer flags, a few beaches and, of course, the rock. We spent the morning hanging out in the sun by the rock and taking dips in the water and it was lovely.
Have a Russian sauna experience on the beach
On Saraiskii Bay Beach there are a couple of small wooden saunas. On our trip down to the beach one evening we had a great time watching people coming out of the saunas and running into the lake to cool off before heading back to the sauna again.
Omul is the name given to Baikal fish. While you’re staying on Olkhon Island make sure to eat some!
Catch the sunset on the beach
We loved watching the sunset on Saraiskii Bay Beach It was absolutely beautiful and the sand here is super nice. We’re pretty sure it must’ve been imported from somewhere since it’s totally different from anywhere else and there’s a noticeable difference between the sand towards the back of the beach, and that near the lake’s waters.
Swim in Lake Baikal
We’d been told that the waters in Lake Baikal were absolutely freezing but we were pleasantly surprised. Maybe we’re just used to the waters around BC which tend to be pretty cold too!
I’m sure the water is cold further away from the shore but be sure to pack your swimsuit as you won’t want to miss taking a swim in Lake Baikal on a hot day.
Take a kayak tour on the lake
You can arrange a kayak trip through some hotels or the tourist information trip. Most tours are 2 hours which is plenty if you’re not used to kayaking!
Hunt out secret beaches and get a different viewpoint of the lake and the island from the comfort of your kayak!
Take an Olkhon Island tour
Olkhon Island tours go to the north of the island and the standard tour takes a whole day. Tours take place in a UAZ minivan that you’ll see everywhere on the island. On the tour, you’ll go up to Cape Khoboy which is at the very northern tip of Olkhon and is where seals sometimes hang out.
Most accommodation on Olkhon Island will be able to help you organise a tour if they don’t run their own.
Shara-Nur (Yellow Lake) is a brine lake on Olkhon Island. It’s a great place to swim if Baikal is too cold for you since it’s sheltered from the winds by forest and hills!