BaikalBaikal is considered the biggest attraction to the oblast, and even to Irkutsk itself. In fact, most advertisements and websites for Irkutsk cite it as the "Gateway to Baikal" immediately. The closest part of the lake is only a few hours away from Irkutsk, so most tourists stay in the city and make excursions to the lake from there. Many of the brochures from the Tourist Information Centers in Irkutsk focus on advertising Baikal and its related attractions like Olkhon, Listvyanka, the Taltsy Museum, and Ulan Ude to visitors.
- Baikal is both the oldest and the deepest lake in the world. It's estimated to be 25 million years old (at least one million in its present state), and 81% of the lake's area is covering water 250 meters deep or deeper.
- Lake Baikal has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the most popular natural place in Russia, and is considered a strong spiritual place by some indigenous people like the Buryat.
- There are around 1000 species of animals and 50 plant species that are endemic to Lake Baikal and the surrounding area.
Baikal sees anywhere from 1.5 to 2 million tourists per year, and peak tourist season stretches from July to August. It used to be that tourists would only come during the warmer summer months, but the oblast has seen an increase in visitors in March and April, and in the winter months for ice-related Baikal activities like ice-skating, biking, and even playing golf on the ice.
Activities such as the Circum-Baikal trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway are designed primarily for tourists from all over the world. The majority of tourists exploring Baikal are from Asia (China, primarily), various countries in Europe, and other cities within Russia.
ListvyankaMaybe the most popular village for tourists to view Lake Baikal, with more comfort afforded than on Olkhon. Listvyanka offers the Baikal Museum and access to the Great Baikal Trail for tourists interested in hiking. It is also one of the easiest and closest places to get to from Irkutsk, so most tourists find themselves there. Activities are offered to tourists year-round in Listvyanka, like boat trips and jet-skiing in the summer to ice sculpting and skating in the winter.
Olkhon is the largest island belonging to Lake Baikal with an area of 730 square kilometers. The island is 72 km long, a global pole of shamanistic energy according to the indigenous Buryat people, and one of the most popular tourist locations to experience Baikal. The island’s main village, Kuzhir, has seen a big tourist boom in the last few years. Some credit this to a song about Baikal winning a Chinese TV contest. Tours leave from the guesthouses in Kuzhir every morning (sometimes starting as low as 900R per person). There’s an opportunity to make the bumpy 7-hr ride in an ex-army minivan to the island’s most northern tip, to try and catch sight of some Nerpas basking in Cape Khaboy. There are also plenty of opportunities to rent a bike and make your own way around, which is a popular activity in both summer and winter seasons. However, outside Kuzhir there are few to no places to buy supplies, so tourists must bring everything with them that they might need.
Taltsy VillageThe Taltsy Village is a unique open-air architectural-ethnographic museum of traditional wooden architecture, set in a picturesque place on the right bank of the Angara River. This reconstructed Siberian village is storage of history and culture of the peoples of Eastern Siberia. There are more than 40 historical and architectural monuments and 8000 exhibits of great historical value scattered in the 67 hectares Taltsy Village occupies. The museum boasts rich natural landscapes, and gives visitors the opportunity to get acquainted with the material and spiritual culture of the peoples that inhabit the Baikal region: Russian, Buryat and Evenki.
Ulan-Ude is the capital of the Republic of Buryatia, a central combination of Asian, Buryat, and Mongolian cultures that produce a peaceful city during the day and some interesting nightlife. The city is a tourist attraction for many reasons, including its proximity to the Buddhist cultural center of Russia, the Ivolginsk Datsan. Ulan-Ude also offers travelers access to Mongolia, and is not far from a community of Old Believers who allow the entrance of interested and curious travelers. No matter where they go next, tourists in Ulan-Ude are always sure to pay a visit and snap a picture next to the world’s largest sculpture of the head of Vladimir Lenin.
To accommodate tourists, Ulan-Ude takes a page from Irkutsk’s book and has implemented a Green Line system as well. However, it seems like the project either hasn’t been finished or has been abandoned by the city, as it is not exactly comprehensive, nor is it easy to follow. It consists only of green arrows spread out far from each other and is not particularly forthcoming with information about what even is included in Ulan-Ude’s Green Line system.
As important as tourism is to the economy and prosperity of all of these areas, the industry also causes its fair share of problems. Most obviously, tourists contribute heavily to the pollution that Baikal is suffering. Tourists produce 800,000 tons of trash and 6,000 tons of human waste per year. Because most areas where tourists stay aren’t equipped with proper septic tanks, their waste goes into the groundwater, and then is transferred to Lake Baikal, disrupting the Nitrogen cycle by contributing to abnormal algae bloom.
For these reasons, it's important to include that eco-tourism and responsible tourism have been growing segments of the industry. There are groups in the area that will organize cleanups, and it has been a draw for tourists to come and try to help Baikal.