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The Pearl of Siberia, Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal is a real Russian treasure and mystery. Surrounded by mountains and taiga, the rift lake is situated in southern Siberia, between Irkutsk and the Buryat Republic. It is considered the world's oldest lake which was formed about 25 million years ago.

Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume encompassing approximately 20% of the planet's unfrozen surface fresh water. Its maximum depth is 1,642 m (5,387 ft) making it also the deepest lake in the world. The harsh temperature varies here from −19 °C (−2 °F) in the winter to 14 °C (57 °F) in the summer.

What is more, Lake Baikal Russia is considered one of the clearest lakes on Earth. In the winter its layer of ice freezes up to 1 meter thick so it is possible to go jeep-riding on its surface, yet the biggest phenomenon of Baikal's ice unseen nowhere else on Earth is that it stays crystal clear, revealing all the secrets of its underwater world as if through glass.

It is the 7th largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and contains more water than all the North American Great Lakes combined. Because of its importance to the planet and its uniqueness, Baikal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The area is also protected as a national park including the lake's 27 islands, the biggest of which is the legendary Olkhon. It is a pilgrimage site where many shamans lived and is believed to be a source of enormous power and energy.

The lake is home to more than 3,500 species of plants and animals, 70% of which can be found nowhere else in the world, for example, the nerpa - one of the three freshwater seal populations on Earth. It is the residence of Buryat tribes that live on Baikal's eastern side. They have been rearing goats, camels, cattle, and sheep on this territory for centuries.

Baikal is fascinating any time of the year and is a perfect place to start your Russian vacation.