Winter traveling in Siberia
When you think of Siberia, what comes to your mind? Lots of snow, cold, winter all year long, bears… Thinking
I’ve already shared some perks of traveling in Russian Siberia in the wintertime (you may read the post here), but here’s something that can be done ONLY during winter.
Lake Baikal is one of the most famous natural sights in Russia and it’s truly unique. It’s also a sacred place for the local Buddhist population. The lake has incredible characteristics: it’s the deepest and the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world! It contains more water than all the Great Lakes of North America. It’s said that it’s the clearest lake in the world thanks to one type of zooplankton (epischura baikalensis) that filters water through its body. And it’s the 7th largest lake in the world by surface area.
After reading this, can you imagine that you can actually drive across the frozen lake like this?! It sounds pretty crazy to me… But that’s what we did!
The lake starts freezing in late December, and it’s covered by thick ice totally by mid-January. Sometime in mid-February the ice is pretty thick and some official ice “roads” open to travel across the lake. Well, there are plenty of unofficial “roads” as well, or people simply get on the ice and drive the direction they want!
It sounds fun, but it definitely isn’t 100% safe. This enormously thick ice makes cracks from time to time. Sometimes cracks are wide enough for a car to submerge. That’s why normally driving on ice is not recommended (or maybe even prohibited) at night. It’s hard to see the cracks, and honestly, even if you see them, you’re not always able to stop your vehicle in time. So, travelling with locals during such an adventure is a must.
We were very excited when we went on the trip in the beginning of March. It’s probably the best (or the safest) time of the year for such trips, when the ice is most stable. People say that the ice is most beautiful when it starts melting later in spring, then you can see a surface of ice without any snow – which is a spectacular view, but it doesn’t always happen and really depends on the weather.
This was a short but very exciting trip on Lake Baikal. There are longer trips offered by local travel agencies. One such trip crosses Lake Baikal on ice from Buryatia’s shore to Olkhon Island (a very famous local attraction). Such trips need special vehicles and well-experienced drivers.
Our trip was organized by a local travel agency BaikalBuryatia (link to their Facebook page) and they did a great job! Locations visited: Zabaikalsky National Park and Chivyrkuiskii Bay (Чивыркуйский залив) on Lake Baikal.
Feel free to leave comments and ask questions below or share some advice.