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World > Eurasia > Lake Baikal > Summer Tour

It is never too early (or too late!) to plan a trip to Lake Baikal. We at Earth Island are now accepting applications for our annual group expedition to Siberia this summer. For more information, see below.

Of course........ if you would prefer to travel to Baikal individually (i.e., not as part of a group) then you can communicate directly with our partners at Lake Baikal! The good folks at the Great Baikal Trail Association can help you plan and arrange for any number of individual or small-group tours from out of their home offices in Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude. (And we at Baikal Watch can still help you with visas and other travel arrangements to Russia.) The GBTA web-site for ecotours can be reached at the following address: http://greatbaikaltrail.ru/index_en.html. The GBTA staff will be happy to help you arrange your own tour to the lake.

Your adventure to Siberia can begin this Summer!

Join renowned photographer and author Boyd Norton for a special 3-week ecotour to Lake Baikal this summer.

This is the oldest and deepest lake in the world-recently recognized as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. Situated in the southern steppes of Siberia, the lake is surrounded by mountain chains that form sheer walls thousands of feet high.

Indigenous people call Lake Baikal the "Sacred Sea" in admiration of its majestic beauty and size. Blessed with ample biodiversity, the lake itself provides habitat for more than 1,500 plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth. In fact, the world's only freshwater seal lives here, in the amazingly clear water of Baikal.

Our trip will include a unique voyage to Baikal's remoter islands, where large rocks offer a natural "blind" from which these dark-eyed seals can be photographed. One goal of this ecotour is to generate added interest among local peoples for protecting these unique mammals.

We also visit the thriving town of Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Buryat Republic. There, in the heart of eastern Siberia, we will spend several days amidst ethnically diverse, European/Mongolian/Tibetan cultures. In addition to tours around towns and villages, special excursions are planned to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, an outdoor museum of Siberian architecture, and a Tibetan holistic clinic.

After Ulan-Ude, we will visit two large and spectacular national parks---named and Zabaikalski and Baikalski---both located along the shores of Baikal. We will spend some 5 days on board special 40-foot boats, exploring the southern lengths of the lake. We will visit the Ushkanii Islands and the Holy Nose Peninsula, with a microclimate similar to the steppes of Mongolia. And there will be loads of time to view the peaceful pastoral scenes of the Siberian outback, and also see a wide variety of Siberian birds which nest in the deltas and wetlands around Baikal.

Another excursion will be made to the spectacular Barguzin Valley, described by photographer and tour leader Boyd Norton as "four Jackson Holes rolled into one." With luck and patience, we may sight sables, foxes, bears, and wild horses. Summer is the best time to visit Baikal. This is when the waters are cool and clear, and the hills are colored with native wildflowers and butterflies.

Accommodations are provided in homestays and hotels in towns, in small lodges or private homes in Zabaikalski National Park, Baikalski Nature Reserve, and on the boat or (optionally) on the beach while traveling around the lake. Anyone with a calm and flexible attitude and a spirit of adventure can enjoy this expedition.

This tour is wholly sponsored by Earth Island Institute's Baikal Watch program. The proceeds from this trip will benefit both Zabaikalski and Baikalski Parks, as well as the Great Baikal Trail Association and the many other environmental groups who are going all out to protect the treasure that is Lake Baikal.

For further details, simply write to us at baikalwatch@earthisland.org. We would be happy to share more information or contacts.

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Leadership: Boyd Norton, Photographer and author of Baikal: Sacred Sea of Siberia and either Gary Cook, Ariadna Reida, or Elena Agarkova, co-founders of the Great Baikal Trail Association.

Dates: Please write to Gary Cook at baikalwatch@earthisland.org, for the scheduling of our various ecotours.

Limit: 12-18 participants

Cost: $3,950

This price covers all in-country costs, such as: all accommodation, transportation and meals around Lake Baikal, all excursions, photographic instruction, guides, interpreters, naturalists, etc.

It does NOT Include:

  1. International Air-Fare and travel insurance, for travel all the way to Irkutsk.
  2. Sleeping bag, pad and ground cover for those who would prefer to sleep on the beach and not on-board the boat (tents will be provided, however);
  3. Passport and visa fees (currently around $150 per application);
  4. Airport departure and other taxes;
NOTE: Earth Island recommends consulting with your travel agent for travel to and from Irkutsk. The travel agent that we at Earth Island use, Azevedo Travel, based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, has been the best in our eyes at arranging travel that is both convenient and affordable to and from Russia. You can reach Azevedo Travel via e-mail at UNIGLOBECT@aol.com.

Map of Lake Baikal and Siberia


  1. Objectives for the Ecotour


    This trip is to be hosted by Zabaikalski National Park and the Baikalski Nature Reserve, and is co-sponsored by Baikal Watch, a project of Earth Island Institute. Baikal Watch seeks to support the growing understanding of local residents that the lake can be of great economic value if kept in pristine condition. Baikal Watch has already arranged dozens of ecotours to the lake, in addition to sending hundreds of specialists to share their valuable expertise.

    Russian parks and nature reserves have asked Earth Island for help in developing and leading ecotours to Russia. The parks and reserves are experiencing serious financial problems. Most of them exist on government allocations that are only a fraction of what they were only 15 years ago. Therefore, much of the work to protect these pristine natural areas is no longer funded, and the future of the parks is in jeopardy. Your participation in this trip will help the parks survive. All profits will be donated to the parks and local environmental groups. As a non-profit organization, Earth Island will retain no moneys from this tour for itself.


    Boyd Norton has been leading ecotours to Africa, Indonesia, Alaska, and Russia for many wondrous years. He has also produced over a dozen books dealing with photography and the environment. This will be his tenth trip to Baikal. Boyd will lead us to many prime scenic spots of Siberia, and will share the secrets on how best to photograph diverse Siberian wildlife and its habitat-while also capturing the color of local cultures on film. Instruction will begin on the Trans-Siberian train, and will continue to the last day of our trip in Khabarovsk.

  2. Climate

    During August, the weather should be warm enough in the daytime to wear short sleeve shirts. One should count on bringing a warmish jacket, as evenings tend to be cool. Average temperatures are generally in the mid-70s, and can range from low 40s to high 80s.

  3. Trip Difficulty

    Anyone in general good health with a calm and flexible attitude can enjoy this expedition. On any one day of the trip, participants might be prepared to hike for a distance of 1-2 miles, some of which is uphill (less than 200 meters of elevation gain). Altitude should not be a problem since we will not exceed 4,000 feet. Participants should enjoy either camping or living on board our boats in remote areas where there are no modern conveniences nearby.

  4. Itinerary or Program Modifications

    Every effort will be made to carry out the program as planned. However, insofar as international flights to the Russian Far East are subject to change, Baikal Watch reserves the right to alter the itinerary, even after the final schedule has been sent to participants.

  5. A Note about Costs

    The tour price is based upon current air fares, tariffs, and currency values, and also on the assumption that a minimum of 12 people will be taking part in the program. While every effort will be made to maintain the price listed, Earth Island reserves the right to levy a surcharge at invoicing time (90 days prior to departure) should changes in travel fares or in currency values make this necessary. (Note: we have run this tour a number of times over the last 10 years, and we have never had to add any surcharge.)

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Tour participants have the option of arriving early in Moscow. There are a number of flights arriving in Moscow each day from various points in the US and around the world. Your tour leader will be in Moscow to meet early arrivals and help guide them around Moscow and the historic Russian towns that surround it. Please note: those who choose to arrive early will be responsible for their own accommodations in Moscow. However, for those who do choose to arrive early, Earth Island would be happy to help reserve the same rooms in which participants will be staying when the tour begins there in Moscow.

What follows is the day-by-day sample schedule for travel and "sight-seeing" while in Russia:

  • Day 1 Ecotour commences in Moscow, with tour of Red Square and Kremlin, overnight in city hotel (all tour participants will be met at airport---please be aware that there are direct flights departing on the 28th from JFK and Seattle, arriving on the 29th)
  • Day 2 Moscow, tour of Gorky Park and Novodevichii Monastery, depart in the evening by air to Irkutsk
  • Day 3 Arrive in the morning in Irkutsk, participants get settled in local bed and breakfast, and then tour of Irkutsk begins (visits to the Decembrist Museum, as well as local arts and crafts shops). Evening welcome dinner with our Baikal hosts from the Great Baikal Trail Association.
  • Day 4 Irkutsk and the Angara River, with visit to outdoor architecture museum and the main port of Listvyanka, overnight on trans-Siberian train to Ulan-Ude in private sleeping cars
  • Day 5 Arrive in the morning in Ulan-Ude, participants settle in local bed and breakfast, followed by an afternoon-long visit to the Tibetan Buddhist Temple (the only such temple/monastery to survive during Soviet times)
  • Day 6 AM tour of downtown Ulan-Ude (including Karl Marx Square, with the biggest statue of Lenin in all of Russia)---after lunch, depart for 5 hour bus ride to Ust-Barguzin, the home of Zabaikalski National Park (one of our two main hosts at Baikal). Stops along the way to picnic on Lake Baikal's shores. Overnight in specially arranged home stays with local Siberian families
  • Day 7 Tour of Ust-Barguzin, an all wooden Siberian village on Lake Baikal's shores. Afternoon will start with a short bus trip to the Chivyrkui wetlands, for birdwatching tour lasting until sunset, with Zabaikalski rangers serving as guides.
  • Day 8 Full day bus tour of the scenic Barguzin Valley, with the Barguzin Mountains towering some 6 thousand feet above. This area is home to some of the oldest native Buryat villages; we will have lunch with local families in the valley, and then a late afternoon return to Ust-Barguzin
  • Day 9 Morning departure on a Zabaikalski Park boat onto Chivyrkui Bay, for tour of local hot springs and of the many islands that abound in this, the largest Bay in Baikal (for comparison: this Bay is twice as large as Lake Tahoe). Finish day with overnight on floating hotel in one of the small inlets in this Bay.
  • Day 10 Cross Chivyrkui Bay by boat to the south, for a visit to the marine portion of the wetlands, for more bird-watching; followed by afternoon cruise up the eastern shores of the Bay, under the looming Barguzin Mountains. Then a late afternoon hike on a portion of the newly created Great Baikal Trail, for prime viewing of the lake at sunset.
  • Day 11 Depart the floating hotel north out of Chivyrkui Bay, around the Holy Nose point, for a day-time cruise out on the open sea of Lake Baikal. Late afternoon arrival on the Ushkanii Islands, for stay in local ranger cabin (with Russian steam sauna, or banya)
  • Day 12 Boat out to Narrow Island (one of the Ushkanii Islands) for full day viewing (and photographing) of the famed Baikal seal (or nerpa). Short hike across Narrow Island on new trail that leads to perfect viewing point to see the seals sunning themselves.
  • Day 13 Return by boat to Ust Barguzin by way of the Holy Nose Peninsula (with wild flowers and wild bears often spotted along the way on the peninsula's shores)
  • Day 14 Day of relaxation in Ust-Barguzin, last visit to local beach (a 20 mile crescent of golden-sand beach), birdwatching at the mouth of the Barguzin River.
  • Day 15 Depart in morning for Ulan-Ude, afternoon visit to Tibetan Medicine Clinic in this, the capital of Buryatia, overnight in local bed and breakfast
  • Day 16 Depart early by bus for 3 hour drive down to the Kabanski Nature Reserve, a prime wetland located in the heart of the Selenga River Delta (the Selenga feeds into Baikal from its headwaters high up in Mongolia); afternoon bird-watching and hiking in the Kabanski Nature Reserve; then short bus ride to the village of Tankhoi, for overnight in local homestays
  • Day 17 Day in Tankhoi, also on the southern shores of Lake Baikal, and the headquarters for the Baikalski Nature Reserve (our second main host for this ecotour). Afternoon visit to the Reserve's museum/education centers, under the guidance of the nature reserve director
  • Day 18 Morning hike out of Tankhoi along new Great Baikal Trailway, up to famed waterfalls and Siberian winter cabins within the Baikalski Reserve itself. Early afternoon banquet with nature reserve staff, after which we catch a bus for 5 hour ride back to Irkutsk
  • Day 19 In Irkutsk, for a final opportunity for shopping in this, the biggest city in Siberia; evening final supper and celebration at local home in Irkutsk, overnight in local bed and breakfast
  • Day 20 Morning departure for Moscow, where participants will be able to catch connecting flights back to the US. On this day, our ecotour is officially completed (however, once again, if participants choose to stay on for several days in Moscow, they can do so at their own initiative and own expense).

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Ecotourism is an initiative of Earth Island Institute.
Copyright (c) 1999 - 2007
300 Broadway, Suite 28, San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 788-3666 / Fax: (415) 788-7324
E-mail us at baikalwatch@hotmail.com

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