Precious Baikal: price for a dip in holy lake

Why a holiday on Baikal is more expensive than in Turkey

Baikal is an appealing holiday destination for tourists from all over the world. Twice more travellers have visited this lake during the two first months of the year only than in the analogous period in 2018. The tourist season on Baikal is open all year round, but tourists mostly like to visit the lake in February, March to picture the unusual pattern of the ice and in July, August to enjoy Baikal’s wild nature. Realnoe Vremya’s analytic staff chose the most interesting holiday options on the shore of the purest lake in Buryatia, found out how to get to the only inhabited Baikal island of  Olkhon and what to bring from the trip.

Fast but expensive by plane, long but cheap by train

One can get to Baikal from Kazan by plane or train. There aren’t direct flights to Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude, this is why a flight with a connection in Moscow will have to be chosen. Tickets should be bought beforehand. The price range for a two-way flight per person starts with 23,518 rubles and ends with 47,190 rubles. So in April, an S7 flight to Irkutsk with a connection in Moscow and back will cost 23,518 rubles, two connections will 28,436 rubles, three – 28,991 rubles.

Aeroflot round-trip tickets to Irkutsk are a bit more expensive – with one connection it’s 30,790 rubles, two connections – 32,389 rubles, three flights – 33,788 rubles. Utair offers to have three round-trip connections for 35,850. Belavia’s prices with two connections will make up 39,850 rubles. A flight to the airport to Ulan-Ude will be more expensive than to Irkutsk. S7 airline’s lowest two-way ticket price with one connection is 35,448 rubles, three connections – 37,142 rubles. Belavia flies to Ulan-Ude with three connections for 48,702 rubles. The price range depends on the travel time.

Tickets should be bought beforehand, S7, Aeroflot, Belavia and Utair operate flights to Baikal. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Tourism business members in Irkutsk Oblast and Buryatia complain that Pobeda low-cost airline has stopped flying to Baikal this year, which has immediately affected Russian tourist traffic.

‘‘If in 2017 all groups were full for the following year’s winter, tours in 2018 were booked almost a week to check-in. Pobeda flew often last year, but our destination has closed this year. It’s expensive to get to us with other airlines from any point of Russia. However, tourists anyway prefer planes to trains,’’ said consultant of Baikal Planet tourism agency Ksenia Shpak.

A trip from Kazan to Irkutsk by train will be much cheaper: a sleeping car is 5,477 rubles, a compartment – 8,945 rubles. However, only a real romantic and a fan of long railway trips will get through a round trip. One will have to spend about a week for the two-way trip: the train reaches Irkutsk for two days, 20 hours and eight minutes.

25,000 rubles for week on holy Baikal

To really feel Baikal’s beauty, tourists are offered week-long tours. Such a holiday varies from 17-25,000 rubles in April to 37-50,000 in June-August. So a 7-day tour to Barguzin Voyage in June is 27-33,000 rubles. The tourism company promises to show the sightseeing points of the Barguzin Valley, which is famous for Genghis Khan’s grave. Tourists will be able to see the Ininsky Stone Garden, Suvin Saxonia, visit the Algin Lake. A guide will show the guests a place where Barguzin shamans’ rites take place, take to a boat trip along the Chivyrkuy Gulf to the Snake’s Bay, which is known for its hot springs. Tourists will be able to go on a dip in two fonts right on the Baikal shore. The tour includes transfer from and to the airport, a guide, excursions, boat fees, three meals a day, accommodation, medical insurance.

‘‘The lowest price for an 8-day tour in summer is 25,500 rubles. We welcome guests at the airport, accommodate in a hotel in Listvyanka, provide with meals and excursions. The tour’s price varies from the number of excursions, the number of days. The most popular months are from February to March, when guests come to look at the white transparent ice and from July to August, though we work all year round,’’ said Ksenia Shpak.

The tourism company promises to show the sightseeing points of the Barguzin Valley, which is famous for Genghis Khan’s grave. Tourists will be able to see the Ininsky Stone Garden, Suvin Saxonia, visit the Algin Lake. Photo:

Holiday prices in July-August considerably rise. So a 9-day tour of another tourism agency Glorious Sea, Sacred Baikal will cost 47,600-61,550 rubles. The price includes not only travel on Baikal but also excursions to Irkutsk, Taltsy settlement where the namesake Irkutsk Architecture and Ethnography Museum is located, Listvyanka. Guests are promised a holiday on the Small Sea’s shore and on Olkhon Island.

The tourism agency promises that the ‘‘absence of infrastructure on Baikal is easily paid off by the surrounding nature and the energy of the Sacred Lake’’. The tour includes accommodation, meals, guides, excursions and entrance tickets: Taltsy, Baikal museum, two excursions in the Small Sea, Burkhan Cape, a daylong excursion to Khoboy Cape, a visit to the national park. For an extra fee, guests will be able to go to on a boat trip to Ogoy Island – 1,800-2,000 rubles per person – and visit a Buryatian village for 1,100 rubles per person.

Expensive for Russians

Consultant of My Baikal tour operator told Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent by phone that mostly tourists from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Crimea came. Chinese, Koreans, Germans and French take the lead among foreigners. A popular week-long tour by My Baikal company costs 40,000 rubles.

‘‘A holiday on Baikal is very expensive. It’s possible to buy a tour abroad with flights for this money. It’s expensive for Russians, though it became cheaper for foreigners after the ruble collapsed. This is why we have a lot of Chinese, Koreans, Thai began to come a bit, Germans love Baikal. The prices are high because the infrastructure isn’t developed. We don’t have roads, the mains. The business exists not thanks to the state but in spite of it because there aren’t investments from the state,’’ said the consultant of My Baikal tour operator.

According to her, the most popular resort Olkhon Island doesn’t have even a good marina, and the road was laid only several years ago.

Though tourists loved only four months for a holiday on Baikal, tourism companies state there are things to do on the lake at other times of the year. Photo:

Tourist season all year round

Tour operators also complain about the short tourist season. ‘‘All tourist camps are full in February, March, July, August, the rest of the time they are empty, while they need to be maintained, repaired. The prices stem from the short season, the absence of infrastructure, support from the government. We have to maintain the whole year with four months,’’ the consultant of My Baikal tour operator added.

Though tourists loved only four months for a holiday on Baikal, tourism companies state there are things to do on the lake at other times of the year, too, while the weather on Baikal is always windy and cool.

‘‘People don’t swim on Baikal, people admire it. But people usually go when it’s hot. Though it’s incorrect, we always say to tourists that September is the best time. Temperature is about 20 degrees in June and September. And water temperature doesn’t go higher than 20 degrees even on hot days. Once it was 30 degrees hot, and Baikal even on Olkhon was very warm, though it’s an open place and water is mixed, warm water goes to cold water. Then many people swam, though it’s not characteristic for Olkhon,’’ the consultant of My Baikal tour operator said.

Interest of Kazan in Baikal and Sagan-Daila

Baikal is interesting for citizens of Kazan only as individual tours, group tours aren’t booked. ‘‘There are mainly requests with accommodation and meals, tours with excursions aren’t booked. Now one can book a trip to Baikal on the May holidays. Four days for three people will be 53,000 rubles,’’ said Yekaterina Kashtankina, a manager of domestic tourism in Capital travel bureau.

It seems that citizens of Kazan don’t like Baikal at the moment. Tour agencies in Buryatia and Irkutsk Oblast, in turn, see competition for Baikal from Kamchatka and note the growth in tourist traffic, which occurred two years after the political problems between Russia and Turkey.

Baikal is interesting for citizens of Kazan only as individual tours, group tours aren’t booked. Photo:

‘‘Mainly families with adult children. The youth rarely come. Sometimes there are old ladies who have been dreaming of visiting the lake all their life. Everyone has one’s own motive for the visit,’’ Ksenia Shpak added. Medicinal herbs are brought from a trip to Baikal, the most famous Sagan-Daila tea is often purchased. Mongol healers use it to fight fatigue, headaches, insomnia. Arctic cisco, local gems, sweets with pine nuts are also bought.

By Yekaterina Gumarova