ITINERARY & MAP
You will arrive in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, in the morning and transfer to the hotel. After breakfast and some rest, we depart for the mountain village of Kyzart. On the way, we will cross two small mountain passes. We will stop a few times to take photos and to have lunch. We will spend the night and have dinner in a family-run guesthouse in Kyzart.
Simple guesthouse, c. 1,800m altitude
Today we ditch our wheels for walking boots and start our two-day walk to the mountain lake of Song Kul. We will meet our local support crew after breakfast and set off on our hike to Kilemche. The first part of the walk crosses the Kyzyl-Kiya Jailoo, an enormous sea of flat grass which Kyrgyz shepherds take advantage of for summer grazing. We will continue on into the Chaar-Archa Valley where we’ll break for lunch beside the river. The holy Baba-Ata Mountain (4,450 m) will be our lunchtime backdrop. After lunch, we will cross the river at a natural ford and follow the trail over the verdant hills to Kilemche Jailoo (“jailoo” means summer pasture in Kyrgyz), where we will spend the night in a traditional Kyrgyz yurt. Each yurt has room for two people in twin beds, and all bedding and pillows will be provided. A basic long-drop toilet is located a short distance from the yurts.
Yurt camp, c. 2,600m altitude
After a cosy night under traditional felt, we will continue our walk this morning, ascending and crossing the Jaldyz Karagai Pass (around 700 m of ascent) which takes us up and over the Song Kul Range and into the lake’s basin. The morning’s climb affords wonderful views over the Kilemche Jailoo in one direction, whilst in the other we get our first glimpses of Song Kul. As we descend the mountain slopes the lake looms larger and larger until we reach its shores and our campsite for the night. The yurt camp here is a more permanent affair, with the same twin-yurt set up but with fixed, western-style toilets. This afternoon has been left free to relax in the atmospheric surroundings; alternatively, further walking is available or you can try out some horse riding. The shore of Song Kul is about 3 km from the yurt camp.
Yurt camp, c. 3,000 m altitude
After breakfast we will have some more free time at Song Kul. We will also have a chance to witness a demonstration of Kok Boru, a form of polo played with the carcass of a goat. This is a traditional Kyrgyz horse game which has remained hugely popular for centuries. After lunch, we will continue on to Kochkor, a village which is now synonymous with handmade felt carpets. Kochkor’s inhabitants have pledged to keep alive their regional traditions, and before dinner we will visit a woman’s cooperative which specialises in making shyrdak, a colorful, hand-woven felt carpet which is ubiquitous in the homes and yurts of Central Asia. We will spend the night in a hotel with private bathroom facilities in each room.
Hotel Nomad Lodge, c. 1,800 m altitude
After breakfast we will continue our journey to iconic Issyk Kul, the lake quite-rightly dubbed “The Pearl of Kyrgyzstan”. We will trace our way alongside its southern shores to the village of Kyzyl Tuu, one of the centers for yurt production. Here we will learn more about this traditional nomadic dwelling. Further along, we will meet an eagle hunter, who will give a demonstration for us. Our next stop is Skazka or “Fairytale Canyon”, so-called due to its bizarre landscape of intriguing rock formations, where we will have a walk. In the late afternoon we will arrive in the mountain valley of Jety Oguz, where we will have dinner and spend the night. Tonight’s yurts will be shared between two, with western-style toilets outside.
Yurt camp, c. 2,300 m altitude
Today we will embark on a four-day trek to Ala Kul and then from the lake further to the gorge of Altyn Arashan, where we will be rewarded with a dip in hot springs. After breakfast, we will set off for the Telety Valley. Our path will go along the river bank in a very narrow wooded gorge called Aiu Tor which will lead us to the alpine meadows. Here, on a carpet of flowers with beautiful views, we will have our picnic lunch. In the afternoon we will continue the trek to the foot of the Telety Pass. We will enjoy dinner together and spend the night in a tent camp.
Tent Camp, c. 3,000 m altitude
After breakfast we will trek over the Telety Pass (3,770 m). It will be not very difficult and the trail leads through a narrow path with a slight ascent. There are only two rather steep sections which require some effort. From the top of the pass we will enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view. The descent is fairly simple. We will go along a wide slope covered with talus, across alpine meadows with various herbs and flowers, and along the East Telety River. Later, we will hike through the forest along a trail covered with roots. We will have dinner and overnight in a tent camp in Karakol Gorge.
Tent camp, c. 2,600 m altitude
After a hearty breakfast, we will start our hike to Ala Kul. This lake is not far away in distance, but most of the route is a quite steep ascent. We will be in no hurry today, though, and will take plenty of breaks, capturing beautiful photos and catching our breath. Ala Kul is a mountain lake more than 70 m deep, and it is of incomparable beauty. From the shore of the lake, you can see the glacier which is its source. Dinner will be served and we will overnight in a tent camp near the lake.
Tent camp, c. 3,600 m altitude
This morning after breakfast we will climb further up to the Ala Kul Pass (3,860 m) (about 4 km, 2-2.5 hours) and enjoy breathtaking views of Ala Kul. Ala Kul means “Colorful Lake” in the Kyrgyz language, and from here you will appreciate why. Depending on the light, the water changes color: it can be emerald green, turquoise with white clouds reflected in it, light green, dark grey, or even black. We will descend from the pass along a talus slope and then cross the picturesque Keldike Valley with its stunning landscapes and herds of cattle and flocks of sheep grazing. Going through a forest we will end up in the Altyn Arashan Valley. This place is famous for its hot springs, the temperature of which is 50 Celsius. You can enjoy the naturally heated thermal baths in old-fashioned Russian houses. We will have dinner and once again spend the night in tents.
Tent camp, 2,500 m altitude
After breakfast we will get picked up by old Russian military trucks. They will bring us to the city of Karakol, where we will meet civilization once again. It is a distance of less than 20 km, but due to the terrible road condition, the ride takes about two hours. Our short city tour of Karakol will include the wooden Russian Orthodox Church and the Dungan Mosque, which is also made out of wood. Lunch will be served in the home of an Uighur family. In the afternoon, we will transfer in a much more comfortable minibus to Cholpon Ata on the northern shore of Issyk Kul and have free time on the beach. We will check in our hotel and have dinner in Cholpon Ata.
Hotel Raduga 3* or similar, c. 1,600 m altitude
Today we will drive back to Bishkek along the northern lake shore of Issyk Kul and through Boom Gorge. On the way, we will visit Burana Tower, the last surviving minaret of the ancient Silk Road town of Balasaghun. On arrival in Bishkek, we will have a short city tour of the Kyrgyz capital, including Central Square, Victory Square, and Osh Bazaar. Our farewell dinner in a restaurant will be accompanied by a folklore show.
Hotel Asia Mountains 3* or similar, 800 m altitude
Today it is time to say a fond farewell to Kyrgyzstan. Early in the morning you will transfer to Bishkek International Airport. We sincerely hope you will have enjoyed your trip and will return soon to explore more of Central Asia.