Olkhon island is the fourth largest lake-bound island in the world and is found on Russia’s famous Lake Baikal; the oldest and deepest freshwater lake in the world. We were very excited to get away from city life for a bit, relaxing on the island and exploring the amazing scenery for four days! We left Irkutsk at 9am, bundling into a minibus organised by our hostel with around ten others. The bus definitely wasn’t big enough to hold the number of people PLUS all their stuff, so once the tiny boot was full, bags were piled on people’s laps, on to chairs and in the walkway! Luckily, we ended up with the back row, so we had our bags next to us on one seat and space to put our smaller rucksacks on the floor in front of us.
It took seven hours to reach the island; seven hours of the bumpiest driving you can imagine!!! Once you are out of Irkutsk, the roads are mostly dirt tracks through the countryside which are packed with potholes, lumps, falling rocks, suicidal cows, wonky paths and random obstacles. Our driver seemed intent on killing us all, and flew over the roads at a speed that made my head meet the ceiling on more than one occasion! He often changed his mind on which path to take at the very last minute, swerving us over bumps at some hair raising angles. After hanging around at the ferry port for half an hour, it was a short ride across to the island and after another hour or so, we eventually made it to the tiny town of Khuzhir on Olkhon Island.
Battered and bruised, we were dropped right outside our guesthouse. There are a few different places to stay on the Island, but we’d heard more mentions of ‘Nikita’s Hostel’ than any other and the reviews were great. Nikita’s is less of a hostel and more of a small village… it’s huge! They have a large reception, multiple dining areas (you are allocated one based on your room number), a French Bistro, bike rental and even a small concert hall for evening entertainment! Our room was great (aside from some antlers on the wall) – we were right near the restaurant where our breakfasts and dinners would be served and a little bit tucked out of the way of the main entrance and walkways.
As we arrived late in the afternoon, there wasn’t much to do apart from explore our immediate surroundings. Nikita’s backs on to a large hill overlooking a beach, so we decided to walk along the hill and down on to the beach for the sunset. We didn’t realise at the time, but the hill was actually Cape Burkhan, which is one of the top tourist attractions.. right on our doorstep!
Afterwards, it was time for our first dinner at Nikita’s. I was a little worried as I had already emailed ahead to let them know but had read some bad reviews that said the veggie options were crap. We were both pleasantly surprised; there was beetroot soup, vegetable soup, three different salads, stewed vegetables and buckwheat.. So plenty for me to eat! In the evening, we chatted to the hostel staff about their excursions around the island and booked ourselves on to a tour to Cape Khoboi, the most Northern part of Olkhon Island, for the following day 🙂
We left Nikita’s at 10am with another six guests from the hostel, to drive North to Cape Khoboi on our tour. We piled into an old green Soviet van and set off for another bumpy journey. It was a great day exploring different parts of the island and was definitely worth being thrown around in the van for four hours! Climbing the peak of Cape Khoboi was a highlight, as it offered views of Baikal as far as you could see in all directions.
Lots more photos of this beautiful island can be found on my Flickr!
After our walk to the peak, we met our driver back down at the bottom who was in the middle of preparing our lunch over a small fire. It was boiled fish soup for everyone else and a salad of tomato and cucumber for me with sliced bread and a veggie spread that is very popular with Russians, which is kind of like a pasta sauce. I think I got the better deal!
That wasn’t quite the case for dinner… Food is served from 7-9pm and when we got there just before 8pm, it was clear there was barely any food left. I looked at the dishes and asked which were vegetarian and the lady just pointed to a bowl of white rice. Really? Gary’s only option was a tiny portion beef stew with rice as everything else had been eaten. We queried this and the lady told us that she was sorry but “all the Asian people came and ate everything, so there is nothing left”. Errrr whaaat!? Food is included with the room rate, so you would expect there to be enough food for everyone… After complaining to reception, a very apologetic lady sent us off to one of the other dining rooms and we were able to get some more food! In the evening we booked another tour for the next day – this time to Idiba Valley and Elga Bay.