Lake Baikal, Russia

Lake Baikal is the World's oldest, clearest, and deepest freshwater lake, which curves for nearly 644 kms (400 miles) through south-eastern Siberia north of the Mongolian border. This 25 million years old lake contains roughly 20% of the World's unfrozen surface fresh water. It lies in a cleft where Asia is literally splitting apart, the beginnings of a future ocean. Geologists say Baikal today shows what the seaboards of North America, Africa and Europe looked like as they began to separate millions of years ago.

Lake Baikal is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which exist nowhere else in the World. The lake was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. More than 1637m (5000 feet) deep at its most profound, with another 4-mile-thick layer of sediment further down, the lake's cold, oxygen-rich waters teem with bizarre life-forms.

Surrounded by mile-high snowcapped mountains, Lake Baikal still offers vistas of unmatched beauty. The mountains are still a haven for wild animals, and the small villages are still outposts of tranquillity and self-reliance in the remote Siberian taiga, as the forest is called.

By far the most popular destination for tourists is the village of Listvyanka located less than 2 hours away from Irkutsk, a city which is served by International airlines. Listvyanka has a number of good hotels and it is also the preferred destination of locals. Much further from Irkutsk lies the town of Severobaikalsk, on the northern shores of Lake Baikal. There are also many islands on Lake Baikal. Out of them, by far the most popular is the island of Olkhon, a big island with several villages.