Join us for an exciting and exclusive new horse riding holiday to Lake Baikal in the wilds of Siberia. There is an optional possibility to start in Moscow with an overnight and tour before taking the legendary 3 day rail journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Irkutsk. Alternatively it is possible to fly to Irkutsk and take part in riding portion only.
The itinerary has been designed to include all the best sights of the area. We start on the shores of Lake Baikal near Orkhon Island. The locals used to call Lake Baikal a place of power, and it is easy to see why. Formed 25-30 million years ago, the largest freshwater lake in the world contains 22-23% of the world’s fresh surface water. The water is also unbelievably clear and clean.
We travel by ferry, jeep and on foot to explore the sights on Orkhon Island one day - you may be lucky enough to swim with the only freshwater seals in the world here. There is also a boat trip on the Sacred Sea (the area between Orkhon Island and the lake shore) and learn more about the ecology and wildlife of the lake. We visit Buddhist, Buryat and Shamanist sites in incredible locations.
Then we head out on horseback. Reliable and responsive locally bred Orlov and cross horses make easy work of the rolling grassy terrain, leaving no lasting impact on this remarkable environment. Ride along the Tazheran forest-steppes which rise up from shores of Lake Baikal to cover picturesque hills and cliffs, and even the peaks of the Baikal Mountains. The ride takes you through this endemic Godlevsky Larch and up in to the Tazheran Massif. Try to spot some of the 150 different minerals present between Orso Bay and Ulan-Nur bay, or simply marvel at the ancient caves and mineral lakes that can be discovered on this ride. Locals believe the lakes have medicinal properties and will bathe in the waters to cure all manner of ailments.
Accommodation is in twin person tents for most of the trail, with a few nights in local guesthouses at the beginning and end. The riding is not fast but includes walking, trotting and cantering. A good level of fitness is needed as a camping trail is always more challenging and there is a significant amount of walking on foot required to make the most of this trip.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from IV of Montrouge on 05/03/2020
We suggest you arrive in Irkutsk today, get over any jet lag and tour Irkutsk, which is very worth while. Overnight in 3*** Hotel in Irkutsk.
We will all meet in Irkutsk in the morning (11:00AM) and transfer to the area of Small Sea. The trip to Baikal, to the area of the Small Sea will take about 4 hours with stops for rest. You will arrive at your accommodation at a tourist base where there will be time to have a stretch, relax, enjoy the fresh air, and have some lunch. In the afternoon you will receive a briefing and set out for your first ride to Mount Shebiet. It is an incredible introduction to your tour with the unforgettable sights of the Small Sea: the Camel and the Sleeping Dog, the remains of the walls of the ancient Cuirkan hillfort, the picturesque coves of the Kurkutsk Gulf and the beautiful panorama of Lake Baikal, which opens from the top of Cape Shabite. Once back at the accommodation the horses go for their dinner while you take a sunset boat trip out to some of the islands on the Small Sea. Enjoy a traditional Russian meal around a campfire and watch the starts come out.
It’s an early start today for breakfast before a day exploring the island of Olkhon. You go by car as the island is accessed by ferry via the strait of ‘Olkhon Gates’. The day’s programme takes you to Khodai mountain and on to Khuzhir village. Here you can do a bit of souvenir shopping and visit a museum of the history of the island. There are some incredible views of Cape Burhan to enjoy before carrying on to the beaches of Peschanaya bay. A picnic lunch is served on the shores of Baikal, then it is back in the car to Cape Sagan-Khushun (Three Brothers) and Cape Khoboy. This is the northernmost point of the island from which you can see the picturesque view of Baikal ridge, Svyatoi Nos peninsula and the Ushkanii islands. After seeing all this beauty you will take the ferry back to your accommodation for dinner. Useful things: warm clothes; sunhat; walking shoes; money for souvenirs, for fish and for the museum.
After breakfast you pack up, mount up and set out along the hilly shores of the Small Sea. Although you will not cover a huge distance today, there are many ascents and descents along the route presenting different views as you go. There will be time to enjoy the warm coves and sandy beaches hidden amongst the undulations and swim in the bays, so remember your swimwear and towel! The beauty of Baikal is all around you today as you ride to Mukhorsky Bay. This cove is not accessible by vehicle so you can almost guarantee it will be deserted when you arrive, except of course for the wonderful support team who will have everything ready and waiting for you. Dinner is served and you have the evening to relax by the fire.
Today’s day ride is much longer now that you have had a chance to get used to your horse, guides and the terrain. Your path lies beneath the Pribaikalsky ridge along the forest boundary. You will pass through the wonderful meadows near the Buryat village of Shar-tovot (Chernorud), until you reach a cosy valley where a cascade of beautiful salt lakes lies among hills and larch groves. The lakes all have different compositions: saline, radon, sulphide-sodium. Many locals still believe the waters and mud here can be used as treatments for many things from diseases of the spine to equalizing blood pressure – if you want to try them out for yourself you are welcome to! You will meet the back-up team by a small car park on the shore of one of the lakes to set up camp and relax for a bit. You then mount up again to ride to a small roadside café for an excellent Buryat dinner.
This day is full of interesting objects worthy of attention and you will have plenty of opportunities to dismount and explore each new wonder as they appear. The aim today is to get to the "real" Baikal, spacious and boundless. It will be a pleasant and easy hike through the Tazheran mountain forest steppe. Tazheran steppe is a very unusual because of the taiga (forest) and high mountainous lakes. This is a climate zone with unique fauna, flora and a rare mountain-steppe landscape. You will follow the coast to the "Mechta" cave (if you wish you may follow it underground a short way) and examine the settlement of the primitive man in the Badin caves. You will walk along the Valley of Sleeping Spirits to the boulders of "Gate of Tazheran", "Two Shamans", and "Heart of the Steppe". The shores in this part of the lake are high, so you will walk down to the bay along the trail leading the horses (approx. 1.5km). When you reach the cosy, deserted Arso cove the horses are fed and watered. Then you can rest, bathe in the lake, and enjoy the surrounding beauty. Dinner and time for rest.
Today is your longest day of riding, so make sure you have a good breakfast before setting out. However, for the most part the going is comfortable and smooth, so it will be possible to move at a faster pace. You will travel along the western shore of Lake Baikal through the tract of Organa, where yaks are bred. You can buy fresh milk and sour cream from Buryat herders near the ancient Ulan-Nur tract (the largest steppe lake and an old abandoned Buryat village with wooden eight-yurts). You will be spending the night on the shore of the sacred lake in the Aya bay. Descent into the bay is comfortable and gentle. The beach is sandy and big. In summer there can often be other campers in the bay, but your camp will be set up on the side-lines. While dinner is being prepared and afterwards, you will have free time to admire the spaciousness and power of Baikal or explore the caves. There are rock carvings which you can search for in this bay.
After breakfast you will continue your route across the Anga River. The path lies next to the mountain Erd, which hosts the legendary Erdynian games. This is an important ritual feast for local residents. It takes place once every 4 years and draws together different peoples and generic shamans of the Baikal region. During the "Erdynian" dance, people join hands and make the ring around the mountain. This will be your last night camping as you settle down for dinner and one more evening by the fire. Overnight in tents in the Bay of Birkhin.
After breakfast you will set out for your last day of riding around Baikal. The terrain starts changing as you approach the taiga. You will make a stop not far from the famous sacred place of Baikal - the White marble cliff of Sagan-Zaba where you will have lunch. The cliff was discovered by the researcher Okladnikov and became known due to the large number of rock paintings, the petroglyphs of Sagan-Forza, depicting dancing shamans crowned with horns, running deer and swans. You finally arrival at Krestovskaya bay where you will stay overnight in accommodation at the recreation centre. There is a Russian sauna available here too. Enjoy a farewell diner with your fellow riders before bed.
Have breakfast at the recreation centre before preparing for your departure to Irkutsk at 13:00 arriving at the airport at approximately 16:00.
This horse riding holiday can be combined with an adventurous extension. Starting with a tour of Moscow, you then board the world-famous Trans-Siberian Railway to travel to Irkutsk. For more details please click here.
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
The horses used on this trek are locally bred Orlov and cross horses perfectly adapted to the terrain and climate. Horses range from 1.55m (15.1hh) to 1.70m (16.3hh) and have a range of temperaments to suit different riders.
The riding is mixed paces of walk, trot and canter over a variety of terrain. The trails include riding through forests and across mountainous terrain. On occasion it may be necessary to dismount and lead the horses across rocky terrain or over steep ground.
The saddles used on this ride are a modern day version of traditional Mongolian saddles - the main feature being wooden 'shelves' that protect the horses back and evenly distribute the weight of the rider and luggage over the entire surface of the back. Todays version is much neater of course but fundamentally the design hasn't changed and the wooden shelves are still used - the modern saddles are cavalry travelling saddles and suit lengthy days out trekking and all weather conditions. A saddlepad is also used under the shelves and a soft 'pillow' is sewn in for the riders' comfort.
For this exploratory programme riders must be experienced and have a good sense of adventure. Riders should be confident in walk, trot and canter, and be able to mount/dismount unaided. A good level of general fitness is advisable. There may be occasions where riders have to lead the horses and walk alongside them for up to an hour depending on conditions. The minimum age for the exploratory ride is 18 years. The maximum weight limit is 90kg. Please note that riding helmets are compulsory and you must take your own.
The weight limit for this ride is 242 lb/110 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
This programme has a mix of accommodation with 1 night in hotel in Irkutsk, 4 nights in a local 'homestead' accommodation with double and triple rooms and shared bathrooms. Along the trail (4 nights) accommodation is in 2-man tents with a bio-toilet and high tent with a washbasin where buckets of hot water are available. Sleeping bags and blankets can be provided if requested in advance. Most camps will be close to the lake or a river for swimming in.
Meals will be Russian or Asian cuisine, if you have any preferences please let us know before the tour. A typical breakfast would be porridge, bread, butter, omelette, yoghurt, chocolate and nuts. Lunch will be brought by one of the support vehicles and will include sandwiches, meats, cheeses, salad, nuts, tea and coffee. Dinner will be cooked in camp and will usually consist of traditional Russian dishes such as borsch and dumplings with salad, water, tea and coffee.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visa’s are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request. Almont Visas also provide information and services to assist visa applications http://almontvisas.co.uk/
Visas are required for most nationalities to enter Russia. Make sure you apply for the correct type and duration of visa and that you abide by the conditions of your visa.
All applicants over the age of 12 will need to visit a visa application centre to submit biometric data (scanned fingerprints). For further information see the Russian embassy website and the website of VFS Global who manage Russian visa applications, they have offices in London, Manchester and Edinburgh. Tourist visas usually take 10 working days to issue, but during periods of high demand, for example during the summer holidays, you should apply for your visa well in advance. The Embassy in London can normally process visas in 10 working days. If you want to get a visa more quickly it is possible to queue in person and pay an extra fee, though the numbers processed in this way per day are limited.
You should complete the application form (found on line) electronically, then print it out, and take that to the VFS Global office, along with your official invitation and two passport photos.
Before you travel to Russia ensure that you are aware of the terms and conditions attached to your visa and check that the dates and details which have been entered on your visa are correct. If you intend to stay longer, you should arrange an extension of your visa before it expires. If your passport has been lost/stolen while ashore and a replacement Emergency Travel Document is issued, or you plan to continue your journey by air or land, you must get a visa to leave Russia.
Overstaying your visa without authorisation from the Russian migration authorities can result in a delay to your departure from Russia, as well as possible, fines, court hearings, deportation and a ban from re-entry. Presenting documentation which contains incorrect information to immigration officials can lead to severe inconvenience and in some cases could result in refusal of entry.
If you’re staying for more than 7 working days you must register with the local branch of the Main Department for Migration Issues of the Ministry of Interior. Most major hotels will do this automatically. If you’re staying in private accommodation the owner of the property must do this for you.
If your passport has less than six months to run, you may be refused entry to Russia. You are advised to get a replacement passport before travelling. Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months after the expiry date of your visa.
If you’re travelling on a British passport issued since January 2017, you should make sure you’ve signed your passport before you travel. Some British nationals who haven’t signed their new passports have been denied entry into Russia.
On entering Russia you must sign a migration card, which is produced electronically at passport control in the major airports. Some airports may still require you to complete the migration card manually. You must complete a new migration card each time you enter Russia, even if you have a multiple entry visa.
The card is in two identical parts. One part will be retained by the Immigration Officer on arrival. You should keep the other part with your passport. You will need it when you leave Russia as well as if you’re stopped by the police for an ID check during your stay. There are many hotels and hostels that will not check in guests if they don’t have the immigration card with them. If you lose the second part of the card you’ll be fined and your departure from the country could be delayed.
The Russian Embassy in London can be found at: 6/7 Kensington Palace Gardens, London, W8 4QP; Tel: + 44 (0)207-229-3628, + 44 (0)207-229-6412; Fax: +44(0)207-727-8625; E-mail: email@example.com; Official website:www.great-britain.mid.ru (Embassy), www.rusemblon.org(Consular section of the Embassy).
The British Embassy in Moscow can be found at: Smolenskaya Naberezhnaya 10, Moscow 121099; Tel: (7) (495) 956 7200; Fax: (7) (495) 956 7201; Website: http://www.britaininrussia.ru.
Dialling code for Russia is 7 and the time is between 3 and 12 hours ahead of GMT depending on location.
Because large bodies of water retain heat longer than land, the climate around Lake Baikal is much milder than in the rest of southern Siberia. Even in the depths of winter the average air temperature is -21°C, compared with minimum temperatures of -90°C elsewhere in Siberia. However, it is only warm enough to ride during the central summer months. Temperatures are warm in the day often reaching the mid-20s, although it can cool off at night and take some time to warm up in the mornings. The lake freezes over from January until May, but its surface temperature in August can reach up to 15°C but if you do plan to go swimming it is best to check the water temperature and enter the water slowly to avoid shock.
Since June 2016, foreign citizens can bring medication for personal use with them, as long as they don’t contain narcotic or psychoactive substances. All these drugs are listed on the Rossiyskaya Gazeta website (in Russian).
If your medication does contain highly potent or narcotic poisonous substances and you wish to bring it with you, you’ll need to provide a prescription in your name which has been translated into Russian, and then notarised (notarisation services in the UK are available from a Notary Public).
If you’re unsure whether you need to provide a prescription and notarised translation to bring your medicines into the country, you should check with the Russian Embassy in London or Consulate General in Edinburgh.
The reciprocal healthcare agreement between the UK and Russia terminated with effect from 1 January 2016. You should make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance. You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date. NHS Direct (0845 46 47) can provide you advice on vaccination requirements for Russia. Tap water is not drinkable anywhere in Russia. Caution should be exercised and local advice sought. Bottled mineral water is widely available.
Electricity: 220V 50HzHz. Electric Plug Details: European plug with two circular metal pins.
There will be no electricity available on most nights so spare batteries and/or power packs to recharge cameras are a very good idea. Mobile phone and WiFi signal will only be available in the towns/cities.
Boots suitable for riding and walking in.
Clothes suitable for hot days: t-shirts, light trousers made from strong fabric
Clothes for rainy and cold days: Rain/wind proof jacket and trousers or raincoat. fleece or wool warm sweater.
Comfortable footwear and half chaps are advisable to stop stirrups rubbing. You will be walking and leading horses on steep descents, so non slip footwear is essential.
Backpack or saddle bag (can be provided) with a volume of 10-20 litres for small items such as camera, raincoat, water etc
Torch, either hand held or on a headband
Personal hygiene items
Personal first aid kit
Tents: double , two-layer, single-tan, mountain, lightweight version.
Sleeping bag: two-layer, synthetic, with headrest and pillow - Russian manufacturer, type MP-2. Temperature comfort +5 degrees. If you have a more modern type of summer sleeping bag (hollow fibre) you can take your own, and use your hosts' as an additional option.
The recommended weight of personal belongings for this trip is 10 kg. Suitcases and things that are not useful during the ride can be left at the base in the storage room, you will get them back at the end of the route.
This is a 10 day/9 night programme with 7 days riding.
Baikal: Sacred Sea of Siberia by Peter Matthiessen and Boyd Norton ?
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Lonely Planet Olkhon Island
Lonely Planet Russia
Lonely Planet Trans Siberian Railway
The Year of Miracle and Grief by Leonid Borodin
There are a number of other activities based on and around the lake including kayaking and cycling. Irkutsk is on the Trans-Siberian rail line which gives access all across Russia, Mongolia and in to China.
There are about 65 fish species in the lake and more than half of these are endemic. A wide range of land mammals can be found around the lake including brown bears, wolves, red foxes, sable, stoat, moose, Siberian red deer, reindeer, Siberian roe deer, Siberian musk deer, wild boar, red squirrel, Siberian chipmunk, marmot, lemming and alpine hare.
The recommended weight of personal belongings for this trip is 10 kg. Suitcases and things that are not useful during the ride can be left at the base in the storage room, you will get them back at the end of the route.
Russia is the largest country in the world, spanning 11 time zones. The landscape varies widely, from vast open tracts in the European heartlands and the taiga and tundra of Siberia, to mountainous terrain. Churchill's 'riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma' remains an apt description of Russia; most outsiders have only a hazy idea of its realities. A composite of the extravagant glories of old Russia and the drab legacies of the Soviet era, it's a country that both befuddles and beguiles. This is a land of snow and deadly winters, but also of rivers that meander across meadows and a midsummer sun that never sets. It has an area of 17,075,400 square kilometres and a population of 143,500,000 (2005). The capital city is Moscow.