In June 2011, four of us set out to vacation and explore a small part of Russia’s Siberian region, a tourist destination which is certainly not well traveled by Westerners, particularly those with little or no Russian language. We found that locating appropriate accommodation and a travel company to assist was not an easy task though, in the end, the effort was well worth it. We found it particularly difficult as we wanted to find a place on Lake Baikal that was unique—we were really searching for a gem. Information about lodging on the web, even at Trip Advisor, was so scant that we resorted to locating Russian sites and using a web translation site to cross-reference the Russian information to English and get any sort of understanding. We did have some limited Russian among us, and that was helpful but all the booking agents spoke English so not an absolute necessity. We were looking for a place that incorporated the incredible natural beauty of one of the most unspoiled landscapes left on the globe, a place that was rustic but not too rustic, and, of course, with a few creature comforts. We know a lot of well=traveled folks, though not a one of us knew a single person who’d actually ever stayed on the Lake, anywhere. We now write this review of our stay at Nikita’s Homestead and Baikal Dunes recreation center (lodge) quite late---we finally gave in to a collective guilt in not doing our bit to add some English based information for others venturing there or interested. So, here’s our humble posting about both; hope it helps.
1. Nikita’s Place and Ohlkon Island
Having stayed a number of days in the idyllic Peschanaya bay, we went on to what most western travelers seem to do, striking out for Ohlkon island. The reviews posted on Nikita’s (located in the Khuzhir district of the island) are fairly accurate—unique architecture, rooms, helpful staff, interesting food—we reserved a rustic two bedroom cabin, which included a shared bathroom, and it was certainly comfortable enough for the single night we were there. Having come just at the tail-end of a June rain, the dusty dirt roads and what passes for the main drag in Khuzhir village took on a Wyatt Earpish atmosphere; really reminded us of what the American West must have looked like 150 years ago. We noted wandering cats, cows entering the internet café (a couple of ‘blocks’ down the street from Nikitas), and packs of wild dogs among other quirky features of staying on the island. The high point of our visit was hiring a guide with 4WD (soviet era military jeep complete with CCCP logo) to tour Ohlkon--the hotel recommended Victor and it would be hard to imagine a better guide. For lunch he cooked us a very interesting and tasty pot of omul, a Lake Baikal native fish, on the campfire he built while we hiked one of the cliffs overlooking the lake.
We also had trouble calling Nikita’s directly but via LakeBaikalTravel.com, Pavel Bodrykh, found the rooms at a good price. As most travelers have said, Nikita’s is the best location on the island…it is rustic, but well-run and certainly an adventure.
A hydrocraft picked us up at Baikal Dunes—this was a very fast and utilitarian boat, one of the few on the lake, and it was a more comfortable journey up the lake from Pechanaya to Ohlkon. We were glad they served us tea and had hot food (think cup-o-noodles) available as well. This was especially important as rain plagued us most of the 2 hour trip up the lake. By the time we landed on the shores of Khuzhir (the hydrocraft skips the normal ferry stop at the south of Ohlkon), the rain had washed out most of the road leading up the very steep hill in to the village and no vehicles of any kind could get down to the beach. The guys managed to hike up a ¼ kilometer hill, quite steep, in ankle deep mud with almost no grasses to cling to. We didn’t pick up a clue on any of the websites or from the booking agents that during a rain, you hike up the hill with bags or whatever, but there really is only the one way in and out. This is great for backpackers, less fun at the time for those of us who needed to pack in the suitcases we were to need on the Transsiberian express, St. Petersburg touring and business meetings that were to follow for us over the next 2 weeks.
2. Baikal Dunes Lodge on Peschanay Bay
Baikal Dunes (lodging, or recreation area as it is listed on websites) is by far the most unique among all we investigated for our trip in July of 2011. Set in an area near Peschanaya and Academicheskaya bays against the backdrop of the Pribaikalsky National Reserve, the area around the lodge has some of the most dramatic views of Lake Baikal. Steeply rising hills and an ancient Taiga forest (the lake and forest date 20 million years back) surround small beach inlets of blue-green clear waters. (see pics). Once we arrived, after crossing some of the Baikal ‘sea’ on a small fishing trawler, we were greeted at the pier by a Fantasy Island-like reception, with nearly all of the lodges’ staff, crisply uniformed, arrayed in formation on the beach to welcome us and the other adventuresome travelers—the boat only had one stop, Baikal Dunes. The lodge has rustic log cabins in varying sizes and while somewhat unrefined, they exude warmth and comfort in this amazingly pristine landscape where each day you can decide on beach lazing or mild to extreme hikes in the Reserve or up and down the coast of Baikal. Our guide through the forest along the coast to the south of the resort included the Lodge’s black-clad security escort, who, though his purpose was unclear, appeared to enjoy the hike, picking unusual flowers to show the guests. The Russian lodge experience is wholly unique—from singing around campfires at the beach to Karaoke in the bar. The lodge is popular as a vacation destination to Russians from Irkutsk. But, it would be unfair to say that this is a Russian exclusive tourist resort, as around the campfire we sang songs (with the aid of much vodka and other libations) with German and French tourists as well as the Russians. We were the only Americans but were immediately incorporated into everyone else’s festivities. It’s a full-board resort—you get what is served. There is an option to order additional items but this seemed to be discouraged. Fortunately the food is generally quite good so we had no worries there. A good thing, because there is no way in or out of the camp except by boat—which comes only every few days. This is a lodge that is exclusive to the guests lucky enough to find it and persevere through the planes, buses and boats needed to get there--no roads lead into the resort over the mountains. This, of course, is its charm. Or, as one friend noted, this really is the resort that time forgot. While it appears to have been built in the late 80s, its Siberian charm provided by its staff and warm hearted guests seems as if it could have been conjured a hundred years ago or more, truly timeless.
Booking Baikal Dunes Recreation Center: Leonid Buynov, BaikalNature.com, was key to helping us contact several hotels in the Irkutsk region and, in particular, this resort (as well in getting the best price). We failed a number of times in trying to contact the lodge itself. The lodging was prepaid; this is pretty common, but no problems at all with the resort, or the various transport providers, honoring the vouchers provided by Leonid.
Getting There: This was an experience—only one boat owner takes people on his fishing trawler out to the area. Leonid booked these tickets for us as well. It’s a 2 hour ride (after maybe an hour and a half on bus from Irkutsk, complete with a stop at a sacred site decorated by indigenous totems) on what resembles a ‘sea’ excursion. If sea-sickness is a concern, it is worth pre-medicating as this is no small lake. We were constantly reminded by the rough seas that it is the world’s largest in terms of volume and depth.
Get the 2 bedroom at Nikita's and a deluxe cabin at Peschanaya.
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.