4 Day-Trips Around Issyk Kul
Kyrgyzstan is beautiful with its high mountains, sparkling lakes and hospitable people. We spent four weeks in this country, travelling around but somehow always ending up near lake Issyk Kul. Here are four day-trips I loved.
About the Lake
Issik Kul is a massive lake in the east of Kyrgyzstan. There is no outflow to other bodies of water and therefore called a terminal basin. Its water is saline and never freezes. That's why it's called ‚the warm lake‘.
During the Soviet era, it was popular for vacation with resorts and sanatoriums in the north. Also today the area is attracting tourists from Russia and Kazakstan.
Coming from Naryn, we passed the Orto Tokoy Reservoir. The landscape enthralled me with the green fields, wrinkled red mountains and their snow-covered tops.
1 Chon-Aksuu Gorge
The river Ak-Suu is in the north of Issyk Kul. We drove through the village Grigorievka up the bosky valley. Shortly after the town, a few Kyrgyz offered horse rides or pictures with their falcons. There are even a few restaurants, and we had to pay an entrance fee. It's a popular destination, but further up the road, there're fewer people. We could find plenty of spaces to park the car for an overnight stay next to the river.
The valley is narrow and arriving at the top, it suddenly opens up and reveals a beautiful view over a green mountain range. It somehow reminded me of our Swiss mountains, the only difference being browsing horses instead of cows.
If you'd follow along the river further west, you'd come to some small lakes. We didn't go that far but spent a full day hiking close to the forest before we were heading down the other valley in the east, leading to the village Semenovka.
2 Jety Oguz
The Jety Oguz Valley should definitely be on your Kyrgyzstan wishlist. We drove there by car; it's close to Karakol. When you pass the stone formation Broken Heart, you're getting closer. The parking lot is easily spotted, it's the starting point for several hiking trails.
It's nice to walk up the hill to have a better view over the Seven Bulls. Better to go a bit further to the Dragon Gorge. We did a 5-hour hike through the Valley of Flowers, including a few extra turns. My advice to you: Check the weather forecast!
We walked through every condition; from sunshine to drizzle, hail and - arriving at the top - a loud and scary thunderstorm. We had nowhere to hide and rushed down, our joints already hurting from the cold. This situation distracted me from appreciating the beautiful flower field. The moment we arrived back down, the sun returned and illuminated the Seven Bulls in a golden shimmer.
3 Skazka Canyon
This bizarre and gorgeous place is called Fairy Tale Canyon. If you arrive there, you'll know why. There is not much to say about it than don't miss it if you are in Kyrgyzstan! Go in the morning to avoid the heat. The afternoon you could spend chilling at Issyk Kul and hop in for a cold refreshment.
We spent hours walking around, spotting all kinds of shapes, discovering all shades of red and photographing different patterns in the rocks.
It's easily accessible by car, once you spot the road sign. You could also hire a private taxi from Karakol.
4 On the shore
Most of our time we spent on the southern coast. There is a long beach with red sand. Be careful driving there; twice we had to take out our towrope to help a Kyrgyz family out of the sandy ground.
The scenery is stunning and changes with daylight. It was a perfect beach holiday. The shore in the northwest is reedy and liked by mosquitos. The eastern part is inhabited, and the north is captivating with its lovely towns and beaches, but it's harder to find a camping space.
Those were my four favourite excursions around Issyk Kul. But there is more to do; Karakol is a bigger town and great if you need internet or want to stroll through the bazaar. Hike up the red river and swim in the hot springs of Chong Kyzyl Suu valley. When you’re driving to Bishkek, take a turn to the Chuy Valley to see the ancient remains at the minaret Burana.
Tell me, what was your favourite excursion around the Issyk Kul?
In 2015 Dave and I bought a Mitsubishi L400 and drove off. This road trip took us from Bern to Ulanbator through some fantastic places. I will talk more about this adventure in the future.
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