Issyk Kul Adventure

Lake Issyk-Kul  and Lake Tahoe in California have a lot in common.  They are both very blue, beautiful deep mountain lakes and they both are vacation destinations freom the city, Kake Issyk Kul is about a three hour drive from Bishkek.  Both have nearby fanatastically wonderful mountains,  just as spectacular as Yosemite and  Soquioa National Parks are from Lake Tahoe (and closer too)

Both Lake Tahoe and Lake Issykl are Extra Blue because they are Extra Deep and Extra Clear

It an endorheic lake in the northern Tian Shan mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan.  Endorheic means the lake has no out flow and like the Great Salt Lake in Utah, lake Issyk is saline.  It is the tenth largest lake in the world by volume and the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea. Issyk-Kul means “warm lake” in the Kyrgyz language; although it is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, it never freezes.

Karakol Gorge

The Karakol Gorge is only a short drive from town  and it has it all, wilderness, wildlife, adventure and amazing scenery everywhere you look. You can hike and ride horseback in the gorge in the summer and is recommend to anyone with an adventurers spirit and as many people as you will encounter along the way, they are all there for the same reason, to enjoy all that nature is providing.

The sight of yurts and horse wranglers out in the great wideopen was truly a sight to behold.  It was so worth it. The mountains, gorge and open spaces are stunning.on a clear day with the blazing sun beating down,  the mountains seemed to go on forever.

Locals frequent the area setting up picnic sites for the day. Camping can be anywhere. Lovely cascades and river bends. . The climb is gradual and not strenuous

You can walk from Karakol into the gorge,, but then you will probably not make it up to big mountain meadows at the end  which would be a 6-7 hour one way walk.  An option to to halfway by vehicle ( big old army truck is available) and started walking from there.

Jyrgalan Valley

Also called Jergalan, Jyrgalan Valley is located 60 km northeast of Karakol in the eastern part of Issyk Kul Region near the border with Kazakhstan. It has stunning nature, waterfalls, and mountains.  Summer tourism includes: Hiking, trekking, base yurt camps, horseback riding,  and sampling kymyz (mares milk).  Winter tourism includes free skiing, snowshoe tours, snowcat tours and snowmobile tours.

This is a rare example of a mountain valley in this part of the Tien Shan, full of steep slopes and spiky peaks.

Jergalan is very popular among tourists all year round. In the summer, there are kymyz treatment resorts and recreation centers. In winter fans of free ride skiing, snowboarding and ski touring gather here. The valley is covered with snow from November to March.

There are no ski resorts and cable cars in the valley, therefore many use all-terrain vehicles that deliver fans of extreme mountainous sports to the slopes.

Especially stubborn people climb the mountain themselves.
The slopes of the valley are covered with a thick forest of Tien-Shan fir trees. In the summer the valley is covered with a carpet of flowers, and at the beginning of the season, it is possible to pick mushrooms under the fir trees in huge quantities.

Jyrgalan Valley Trekking -Freeride Skiing 4

The Jyrgalan valley is a short journey from Karakol, but largely untouched by tourism. The scenery is spectacular, with green meadows, wildflowers, pristine lakes, snowy peaks and dramatic views in all directions. The 3-day Box Uchuk lakes hike will take you across a river crossing on horseback that you will never forget Anyone who enjoys trekking will love this place!

The village of Jergalan has a population of about 1,000 and there are several guesthouses you can book.


Lake Ala Kul

Ala Kul  is very near Altyn Arashan.  It is a pristine lake accessible only after a difficult (for beginners, at least) and steep hike. Wonderful scenery along the way though, and really worth the time and effort spent getting there.   Montana is the the mountainous eperience in the continental United States and Alaska is the most mountainous experience in North America, but the mountains around Lake Ala Kul beat them hands down for shear awe

Ala Kul lake is in rugged mountains, so it is best to do hiking in the summer months.   A an established tour operator who can provide guides and porters is recommended.  They are very friendly and speak English.

Ala Kul is accessible from Karakol and Altyn Arashan valleys. Both routes are challenging and may surprise even well-trained hiker. Reserve 2 to 3 days for hiking around the lake. Experienced hikers should choose the trail from Karakol valley with overnight at Sirota hut and finish their trip at Altyn Arashan. The ascent from Altyn Arashan is relatively easier, it’s not necessary to carry the equipment, and it’s a great one-day hike from Altyn Arashan to pass over Ala Kul. The pass over the lake may be covered by snow even in mid July. Be careful when descenting from the pass and lake.

You need some hiking gear and good shoes to hike to this lake. No matter which trail you take, you will hike to a 4000m pass where it was snowing on September 3rd! The views over the lake and glaciers were fantastic and worth the efforts to get there

It is a little tough getting to Ata Kul Lake on your own,  however once you get here you will enjoy and be glad and you will realise that it is worth your sweat and toil.  Temperatures can be below zero in september, so be prepared. The view is amazing from the pass (3900 m – 12,800 ft).

Ala Kul Lake 8

Altyn Arashan

Altyn Arashan (Golden Spa) is a valley and mountain resort near Karakol  along the trekking route from Teploklyuchenka (Ak-Suu).  It is a hot spring development set in an alpine valley, containing the 5020 metre Pik Palatka in its southern part. It includes three groups of nitric thermals springs on the right side of the Arashan River, 20 km southeast of Karakol mountain, situated in a picturesque forest landscape at an altitude of 2350-2435 metres.

Beautiful Lake Ala Kul is a trek away. (see above)

The resort has numerous wooden sheds which contain hot sulfurous pools to cure various ailments.  The resort is set in a botanical research area called the Arashan State Nature Reserve which has about 20 snow leopards and several bears.

In Winter Altyn Arashan is a wonderland + Hot Springs and is only accessible by Russian Jeep from Karakol for an overnight.   If you go in winter, you can expect no other guests and great hospitality from the locals  who will  cook your the meals.

Excellent hillside guest houses are available with  organiszed  4 wheel drive trips to take us up and back.  While it possible to engage an iffy vehicle for a few soms,  $70 for 2 will get you reliable transporation.  It worth it to be driven up because because hiking up is very steep and the track is difficult.   The view at the top will amaze you  Your driver can wait for you while you spent a couple of hours hiking around and using the  hot springs. The lake is stunning and a srenuous hike up another couple of hours.

It is great hike for those who are scared to get lost: the road is simple to follow. The view at the end is very rewarding.   These huts encloses a mineral spring.   The hot water springs are good, but a lil smelly (though it does not stick to your skin).  The water is body temperature. You have to pay to go to this one,  but more special are the outdoor hot springs along the river (just ask a local for directions; plus, it’s free!)

Unforgiewtable albeit simple to navigate trek to Altyn Arashan. No food really offered here out of season, so don’t be like us and forget lunch. Good places to sleep if needed

From Karakol you can take a mashutka to beginning of the trek. It’s 4-5 hours walk to the valley. There are multiple guesthouse to choose from.  The first one you pass underway  “Ala-Kul” is recommended.

It’s the best to stay at least two nights so you can do more trekking from your guesthouse. It’s so beautiful up there and clean.  A guided horseback trip further up the valley is an option.  No cell reception makes it truly a stress free hideout. There are free hot springs along the river with amazing views.

Altyn Arashan can be a unique experience by walking into the hot springs, 14km. Bus to the village Altyn Arashan costs 400 som.   You can start with Marshrutka to Ak-Suu for 20 som, then hitchhike for free next 2km and walk to the top  and back with the same route the same day.   You can stay in village for one night and meet the local people. Stunning nature, nice weather, sound of water and waterfalls, animals..


Vist a Yurt

For example, you can stay in a  Yurt camp in the Kok Jayk valley 5 km up the road from Seven Bulls Rocks.  It is beautifully located near the could river. Snow capped mountains and plenty of cows, horses and sheeps together with the sheperds. Elevation is about 2.200 m. (6,500 ft)  You can choose either to continue walking in the valley (easy) or to climb the surronding tops. There is a waterfall nearby (at 2.500 m).   Locals will offer you an adventurous horse ride there for about five bucks. (hahahaha – be careful)

Ala-Archa Gorge 3


Yurt Interior 1

Learn More about Issyk Kul Adventure

Things to do in Issyk Kul Province – Trip Advisor

Alakol-Jyrgalan Guest House – Trip Advisor

Issyk Kul Region – Travel Guide Kyrgyzstan

Visit Karakol – Travel Company – Trip Advisor

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