When I first started researching ways to see Lake Baikal, the Circumbaikal Railway came up a lot. At first I thought it was a train that went around the whole lake (and I’m not the only one) but alas, it only covers a small portion from Sludyanka to Port Baikal. Luckily those 89km are a stunning journey and one that shouldn’t be missed if you have a day free and want to see Lake Baikal from Irkutsk.
If you want an easy, enjoyable day out then you can book day tours that will take you from Irkutsk to Sludyanka to Listvyanka and back to Irkutsk in the evening, riding the comfortable tourist train, it will cost you around $76. But where’s the fun in that? It’s possible to go it alone and it’ll cost you about $7.60.
After a nice breakfast you can take the tram to the train station for 10am and buy a ticket for the 10:21 local train to Sludyanka, it costs 195R ($3) and takes around 3 hours to get there. You can also buy your ticket to Port Baikal here, or when you arrive, it costs 145R ($2.20).
What not to do: don’t try and determine the train times with Google Maps, even though it’s normally spot on, because it will tell you that the first train arrives in Slyudyanka at 13:30 and the next train departs Sludyanka at 13:30, leaving you no time to change, so you think you can just get off at the stop before, which isn’t really a stop at all but just a layby for cargo trains, but you will have to wait there for three hours with no shade, food or water until the train shows up but there will be some puppies so that’s the silver lining I guess.
The local train is a single carriage with a toilet and two rows of seats on each side, make sure you grab a window seat on the right so you get the best view! You’ll want to bring snacks and drinks, hot water should be available onboard for noodles or tea.
It’s a long and slow journey, passing hikers setting up camp and day trippers with their picnics. You’ll pass through tunnels drilled into the cliffs when it was too steep to go around and on a clear day you can see the snow capped peaks of the Khamar Daban mountain range. It the autumn the forests are golden as the leaves turn.
When you arrive into Port Baikal you need to catch a boat across the river. You can basically follow the crowds because everyone is going to be doing the same thing, there’s nothing going on in Port Baikal. The boat across takes no more than 5 minutes and cost 20R (30¢).
Once you reach the other side it’s easy to flag down a minibus, either back to Irkutsk for 150R ($2.25) or into town for 20R (30¢) where you can find a few restaurants and a range of accommodation. I stayed at Argo Hostel, very basic but very cheap, because I didn’t realise I could get back to Irkutsk in the same day, but it was worth staying the night for the sunrise alone.
There are also some great hiking trials so spend at least a day here if you have the time! When you’re ready to head back to Irkutsk you can head to the bus station or just flag down a minibus from the side of the road, it will say “Иркутск” in the window.
Want to see more of Lake Baikal? You should think about spending a few days on Olkhon Island!
If you’re planning to ride the Circumbaikal Railway and have any questions then let me know in the comments below.
You can view the full album here.