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Introducing Olkhon Island

Halfway up Lake Baikal’s western shore and reached by a short ferry journey from Sakhyurta (aka MRS), the serenely beautiful Olkhon Island is a wonderful place from which to view the lake and relax during a tour of Siberia. Considered one of five global poles of shamanic energy by the Buryat people, the 72km-long island’s ‘capital’ is the unlovely village of Khuzhir (Хужир), which has seen something of an unlikely tourist boom over the last decade, mainly thanks to the efforts of Nikita’s Homestead.

Escaping Khuzhir’s dusty, dung-splattered streets is the key to enjoying Olkhon. Every morning tours leave from Khuzhir’s guesthouses to the north and south of the island, the most popular a seven-hour bounce in a UAZ minivan to dramatic Cape Khoboy at Olkhon’s very northern tip, where Baikal seals sometimes bask. Driver-guides cook fish soup for lunch over an open fire, but few speak any English. See the Nikita’s Homestead website (www.olkhon.info) for details of this and other excursions. Otherwise, rent a bike and strike out on your own. Maps are available from Nikita’s but take all food and water with you as there’s none outside Khuzhir.

Some of Olkhon Island falls within the boundaries of the Pribaikalsky National Park. As of summer 2014 there was no charge to enter the park but this might not always be the case (an admission charge of R60 was levied for a couple of years).