One of the main attractions of Russia seems to be the amazing Lake Baikal. Most tourists use Irkutsk as their gateway to this natural beauty, making the western shore quite touristed. To get a little off the beaten path, and because we wanted to visit Ulan-Ude, we started researching options to explore the eastern shore instead.
However, it felt like there were only sparse information out there on how to do this, and especially how to get to see some of the amazing nature in the area in winter. In Summer it all seems a little more accessible and a little easier to do independently.
Here we will share with you what we learned along the way.
The biggest village on the shore of Lake Baikal is Ust-Barguzin, and in winter it seems to be the centre for all day-tour activities.
You can get to Ust-Barguzin from Ulan-Ude by bus (minibus on route 302) twice daily. The morning bus is at 7 am and costs 596 RUB per person as of February 2018. The other bus is at around 3 pm. The bus takes about 4 hours and stops in Gremyachinsk after about 2 hours with time to go to the toilet and eat a quick meal in the canteen. When you return to the bus after the break your ticket will be checked. You should buy your tickets at the bus station in Ulan-Ude a day in advance – the bus is full, so you will probably not get a last minute ticket.
The rest of the trip is a lot more bumpy, but after another 2 hours you will be dropped off at the “bus station” or possibly at your guesthouse if you can manage to tell where it is. We just waited for the bus to stop and everybody else to leave 🙂
When it comes to exploring the natural beauty of the area independently we did not find many options with the cold Siberian weather. We spent a day hiking in the forest west of Ust-Barguzin down to Lake Baikal. It seemed that you could also do cross country skiing in this area (we saw tracks from other skiers) but we could not figure where to rent skies nor explain ourselves well enough at the guesthouse to get an answer. However, hiking was okay as the snow is not that deep and is often packed well enough to walk on top of it.
For the rest of our adventures on the lake and in the Zabaikalsky National Park we were dependent on “guided” day tours arranged ad hoc.
The method to do this seems to be to ask the guesthouse if they can arrange something. The big “octopus” behind all tour planning in the area seems to be Alexander Beketov and his family. We stayed at their guesthouse and could ask them directly, but it seemed that other guesthouses called them on behalf of their guests as well.
Doing this we were able to get empty seats on tours already planned for other tourists. The tour were then of course planned according to their needs, and we were in a car with no guide – just a Russian speaking driver. And we did not manage to go to the Barguzin Valley as there were no others going there.
As we had not booked any tours ahead it was not possible to arrange a private tour on the spot (no cars available). Our impression is that private tours out of Ust-Barguzin cost 10.000-15.000 RUB for one car.
However, we got the two tours we went on (driving across the frozen Lake Baikal to Olkhon Island and back, and a day tour to Zabaikalsky National Park) for 3000 RUB per person per tour including lunch and tea from the guesthouse. You can read more about what these tours are about in our blog post.
Going back to Ulan-Ude by bus is a little more complicated. The lady at our guesthouse called to reserve seats on the bus for us. There are 2 buses daily, early morning and mid afternoon. The morning bus starts picking up people around Ust-Barguzin at 6 am. At some point it hits the “bus station” and you board the bus (no seats assigned). After 2 hours you are back in Gremyachinsk and there is a toilet break and time for a quick meal. Returning to the bus the driver collects the payment. Another two hours and you’re back at the bus station in Ulan-Ude.
So what do we recommend?
- If you have a must-see but do not want to pay for private transport to Ust-Barguzin try to contact Alexander Beketov upfront (or have your hostel in Ulan-Ude do it for you) to arrange a private tour out of Ust-Barguzin. This can possibly be done through your accommodation in Ulan-Ude as well. Then buy your bus ticket in Ulan-Ude and go to Ust-Barguzin independently.
- If you are on a tight budget and up for an adventure just book your guesthouse and go there – and see what tours are possible to join. This includes a risk of nothing being available like on our day two. As far as we understood especially week 9 and 10 are busy with pre-arranged tours. We do not know if this is good or bad for independent travellers wanting to fill up empty seats 😉
- If you just don’t want the hazzle buy a full tour from one of the tour agents in Ulan-Ude. Prices seems to start from 30.000 RUB per person including 2 nights homestay, private transportation, all meals and the like.
Finally, we definitely recommend staying at Alexander Beketov’s guesthouse. They are extremely helpful, serve great food, and the house is nice, clean, and warm 🙂