Hiking near the hot springs of Altyn Arashan near Karakol

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
8
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
2
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
8
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
10
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
2
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
6
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
80 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia
country
Kyrgyzstan
Length of time
3-4 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 150
Time of year visited
September
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
40th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 20% SUMMARY RATING: World Class

Summary

Hiking in the Ak-Suu mountain region of Kyrgyzstan must be the highlight of Central Asia.  Snow capped mountains, remote lakes, thermal springs, great hiking routes, and a feeling of being in a place that the modern world has largely untouched as you still see farmers moving their animals to markets on the same routes you are hiking and people generally being open and friendly to help you.  Also, without the usual hoards of tourists for a place so beautiful  . . . I mean, how many people have Kyrgyzstan on their summer holiday list?!

 

As with all places in Kyrgyzstan, there isn’t really an established infrastructure to make things easy for you when you arrive, but this is all part of the charm and giving you that feeling of adventure.  So, I’ve added some tips below for how to get the most out of the trip

highlights

#1 Hiking through the beautiful valleys and stopping occasionally to look back at the mountain views

#2 Meeting some of the local people living up high in the mountain valleys

#3 Sighting the 14,000ft Palatka Peak looming at the end of the Arashan Valley

#4 Checking out the livestock market in Karakol with the backdrop of the surrounding mountains

#5 Warming up in the 50 degree Radon water of the thermal waters of the Arashan Valley after a long day of hiking

#6 Sheep in the boot, as one does

#7 Knackered, but happy, after one of the hikes up to the Ala-Kol pass

#8 Seeing some of the traditional clothing (and hats) the locals are still wearing on a day-to-day basis

#9 If you're heading to Kazakhstan, taking the Karakara Valley route through to Kegen rather than the long way round to Bishkek. Way quicker and more of an adventure

Travel Tips

  • Stay in Karakol at the lovely Jamilya’s B&B.  The rooms are nice and the views out the back are towards the mountains and the Karakol River Park nearby.  But the best thing is that the family here speak great English and are more than happy to help you out with arranging people to drive you around and take you up for the hikes
  • Head for a 2 day trip through the Altyn-Arashan area.  For your bearings, to the south of Karakol are three main river valleys that each have great hiking – the Karakol River, the Arashan River and the Ak-Suu River, with 2 passes linking up between the 3.  The Altyn-Arashan route is the most popular because it has the thermal springs around half way up the valley, has the two passes linking the 2 nearby valleys, and has great views of the 4,260m  / 14,000ft Palatka Peak at the end of the valley.  Jamilya’s B&B can help arrange this for you and the rough idea is that you take what looks to be an old Soviet people carrier (with what feels like 1950s suspension, so be prepared) up the valley to the springs where you can alternate between the 50 Celcius / 120 Fahrenheit water and the FREEZING glacial meltwater of the Arashan River.  You will hike around the area and set up in one of the shacks for the evening for food by the camp fire.  Next day hike up the Ala-Kol pass either for views back down the valley or to reach the pass for views down on the Ala-Kol glacial lake; and then back down to Karakol for the evening
  • Give yourself an extra day (or tagged on with you route up to Altyn-Arashan) to check out some of the more unusual rock formations around Karakol- in particular the Broken Heart and Seven Bulls of Jeti-Oguz to the South West of town
  • One of the things we really enjoyed was the livestock market in Karakol.  It’s not much of a market – basically an open field area surrounded by fences, but with what seems to be the whole town there buying and selling  and putting sheep into the boots of cars amongst the backdrop of the mountains.  One of the more unusual experiences at least!
  • Bear in mind that the hiking season is from May to October, but even in that time it can get very cold in the evenings so wrap up for your trip to Altyn-Arashan
  • Getting there and away – getting to Karakol from Bishkek or places you may be staying on Lake Issyk-Kol is always a little bit of an adventure as the buses don’t seem to have a set timetable (or at least didn’t when I was there!).  Again, all part of the charm, but just get the place you are staying to help you out.  May very well just tell you that Ivan down the road is driving that way anyway so jump in with them
  • As an extra tip –  if you’re enjoying the beautiful hiking around the Karakol area and want to head direct into Kazakhstan without having to travel all the way back and around to Bishkek, you can do so straight over the eastern border between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan through the actually quite beautiful Karkara Valley.  I did it myself and it was quite straightforward with a little basic planning and using a couple of taxis – do not try and do it with public transport.  Rather than listing out all the info I vaguely remember about it, I found the website Away with the Steiners Kegan border crossing pretty accurate.   Note that the border is only open May – October

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone