Issyk-Kul is another must see region in Kyrgyzstan. It is easy, cheap and fast to get there by mini bus from Bishkek (the capital). It can be challenging to travel around the region as not many people speak English and some might charge you a higher price, as you are not a nomad Kyrgyz. If you can arrange transport with an English speaking driver or a guide then you will get the best out of your trip. I would recommend reserving around 7-10 days for Issyk-Kul if you want to see all the popular places. Today I’ll only talk about 7 of them:
Salt Lake Tuz-Kul (“Salt Lake”)
People also call this a “dead” lake and it is located on the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. Due to the high salt density in the lake, it is impossible to sink. The composition of the lake’s water is similar to the famous Dead Sea in Israel. The high concentration of salt helps cure many skin diseases, gynecological diseases or diseases related to the musculoskeletal system.
Skazka canyons (Fairy tale)
Next destination is only 40-45 km away from Tuz-Kul and is located 10-15 mins away from the town called “Kaji-Say”. When you enter these canyons you feel like you are in a fairy tale or a fantasy movie, on Mars where red rocks and mountains form weird and beautiful formations that make your mind wake up and start imagining.
Barskoon gorge, waterfalls
45km away from Kaji-Say you will be able to enjoy another breathtaking place called Barskoon, a gorge in the Terskey-Alatau mountains. At first glance the entrance to the gorge will look like nothing special, just low hills with overgrown grass. However, if you pay a little bit more attention you will notice the perfect smooth lines of hills, a clear structure of their location relative to each other. It is because these are actually the remains of the fortress which used to control the entrance and exit of the gorge in times past, as the Great Silk Road was laid here.
“Tears of the Snow Leopard Waterfall”
The height of the waterfall is around 100 meters, so prepare to be stunned by the sound of the water, which fills the area making it hard to hear anything else. During the winter the waterfall freezes and turns into a magical ice palace between rocks. The legend says:
“One day a Snow Leopard went hunting so she left three of her offspring inside the cave at the top of the rock. They tried to go out to look for their mother and fell to their deaths. When the mother came back and saw her dead cubs, she cried and her tears turned into a waterfall with three terraces”.
On the way into the canyon you will pass a statute of Y.Gagarin (the first human to journey into outer space), who loved this place. You will also discover 3 more waterfalls within the canyon: “Aksakal’s beard” (Aksakal – a respected old man), “Splashes of Champaign”, “Manas’ bowl).
Jety-Oguz (“Rocks of Seven Bulls”)
Jety-Oguz gorge is one of the most beautiful places in Kyrgyzstan (though I tend to say that about every single place in Kyrgyzstan but you’ll understand and forgive me once you are out of Bishkek) located about 28 km west of Karakol. The unusual rock formation, that looks like seven red bulls lying on the ground, attracts hundreds and thousands of tourists from Kyrgyzstan and overseas. Another place around seven bulls that catches the attention of many young couples is a rock called “Maiden’s Tears” due to the shape of the rock. There are several peaks (around 2700 – 3800 meters) that you can conquer or you can choose to hike (or ride a horse) to a nearby waterfall called “Braids”; it will take you only half an hour to get there.
Ala-Kul’ is the pearl hidden high in the mountains of Ala-too, a glacial lake located at 3532 meters. The lake is quite small, and there are only two options to get there: walk or ride a horse. The name of the lake means “Motley lake” in Kyrgyz because of the colors of the rocky ridges with snow-white peaks. If you have a local guide you can arrange a 3-4 day hiking trip passing the lake, Ala-Kul pass, camping on the alpine meadows, and proceeding to Altyn-Arashan gorge and resort.
A gorge Altyn-Arashan (“Golden Source”) with its healing hot springs is located 10 km east of Karakul and is another hot spot for tourists.
There is a small resort “Altyn-Arashan” on the right bank of the river at an altitude of 2600 m in a wide valley of spruce forest, green meadows and flagrant flowers. The resort is rich with sources of water with different temperatures and composition. You can swim here all year round, the healing water cures diseases of the joints, digestive system, liver, kidneys, heart. In addition to man-made wells there are wild ones, along the river. You can dip into the cold river water and head back to the hot spring!