Issyk-Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan
Tours, Attractions and Things To Do in Issyk-Kul
The pearl of the Tien Shan - Issyk-Kul is the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan. Issyk-Kul translates as "hot lake". The water temperature here does not drop to minus even in winter, so the lake never freezes. It is located at an altitude of 1,608 meters above sea level and ranks seventh in the list of the deepest lakes in the world.
Issyk-Kul is a favorite holiday destination for Kyrgyzstanis. Also, the coast is visited annually by thousands of tourists from the CIS and other countries of the world. The hottest tourist season in Issyk-Kul lasts from mid-June to the end of August. In summer, the northern shore of the lake is the most attractive for tourists. The most popular tourist places of Issyk-Kul are the city of Cholpon-Ata, the village of Bosteri, Bulan-Sogottu, Chok-Tal, Sary-Oi and Chon-Sary-Oi. Also in summer you can go to Karakol (Przhevalsk). In winter, thousands of skiers and snowboarders go to the ski resort in Karakol.
The main feature of Issyk-Kul is its mountainous and maritime climate. There are many sanatoriums and wellness centers where you can take treatment courses.
It should also be borne in mind that even in summer the weather on Issyk-Kul is quite capricious. During the day, it can change several times: sun, rain, sun again and rain again. Therefore, it is necessary to take warmer clothes with you.
Lovers of active recreation prefer traveling through the gorges Grigoryevskoye, Semenovskoye, Jety-Oguz and Barskoon. The Issyk-Kul coast holds many secrets and legends. There is also a lot of entertainment and delicious food.
Since 2014, the World Nomad Games have been held in Issyk-Kul. This includes various competitions in ethnic sports. For example, kok-boru (goat-picking), alysh (belt wrestling) and alchiki (a game using cattle bones). Nomad games attract players and tourists from all over the world.
History of Issyk-Kul
The lake is located between the ridges of the Northern Tien Shan - Terskei Ala–Too and Kyungei Ala-Too. There are two legends about Issyk-Kul. According to the first, due to a strong earthquake, one city completely sank underground, and the depression was filled with water. The girls who returned from gathering firewood found that their city was no more. They came to the lake every day and cried for their departed loved ones. There were so many tears that the lake became bitterly salty.
According to the second version, one ruler fell in love with a beautiful girl and forcibly brought her to the palace. She could not accept the separation from her beloved shepherd and threw herself out of the window. At the same time, streams of water descended from the mountains, flooded the palace, and a lake was formed there. According to historical information, Issyk-Kul was first mentioned in the Chinese chronicles of the II century BC under the name of the Zhe-Hai (warm sea). The study of the lake began only in the XIX century. And in 2006, as part of archaeological research under the leadership of Vice-President of the Academy of Sciences of Kyrgyzstan Vladimir Ploskikh, an ancient civilization that is at least 2.5 thousand years old was found at the bottom of Issyk-Kul.
The ruins of an ancient Armenian monastery were also found in the waters of Issyk-Kul. According to legend, it is there that the relics of the apostle Matthew, a disciple of Christ, are located.
Issyk-Kul stretches from west to east for 182 km, and from north to south for 58 km. The average depth is 278 meters, the largest reaches almost 700 meters. The water in the lake is blue and brackish.
Issyk-Kul is a transparent lake. In winter you can see fish swimming at a depth of 47 meters, and in summer this figure is about 20 meters. The length of the coastline is 688 kilometers. The lake has several bays and coves, for example, Tyupsky, Pokrovsky, Rybachy and Dzhergalansky (Przhevalsky). There are many settlements on the coast of Issyk-Kul, each of which is worth to visit.
What to Do in Issyk-Kul
Sights of Issyk-Kul
The sights of Issyk-Kul are located all along the coast. Perhaps the main attraction of Issyk-Kul is the lake itself. To come here and never swim in the lake is just a crime. Depending on the area and time of day, the waters of Issyk-Kul can be both very warm and quite cool. That is why the tourist season, which lasts from mid-June to August, is considered the most comfortable for swimming.
The Rukh Ordo Cultural Center, which is located in Cholpon-Ata, attracts hundreds of guests daily. Despite the fact that in fact it is a museum complex consisting of several small museums, Rukh Ordo is one of the main attractions of Issyk-Kul. Therefore, it is impossible to consider the complex only as a museum. There are five chapels of world religions in the open air: Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist; Kyrgyz village, exhibition hall, Chingiz Aitmatov Museum, treasury of knowledge, many sculptures and the most beautiful Issyk-Kul pier. Here you can spend the whole day: learn about the history, life and culture of Kyrgyzstan, take part in the Kyrgyz games and practice performing national songs. Concerts and cultural events are also often held at Rukh Ordo.
Trinity Church in Karakol is a place of pilgrimage for thousands of people. This wooden church was built in 1895. There are legends that it was erected without a single nail, but this is not so. Believers from the cities of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia come to Karakol on July 8-9. These days there is a celebration dedicated to the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos "Tikhvinskaya". This icon was painted by Athos monks specially for the Karakol temple in 1897. After the closure of churches in the 20-30s of the twentieth century, believers managed to hide the Tikhvinskaya so that it would not be burned. After a while, the icon was returned to the temple. The Dungan Mosque in Karakol also attracts attention. It was built in the style of a Buddhist temple at the end of the XIX century. I want to consider every detail of the exterior for a long time. Elaborately carved wooden figures and ornaments are perfectly preserved on the cornices. Another religious attraction is located in the village of Ananyevo. There is a cemetery here, where Schemamonk Irakli was buried in 1937. In 2000, he was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as a saint.
The holy place of Manzhyly-Ata, located between Bokonbayevo and Kaji-Say, has been known since the XVII century. Manzhyly-Ata is a valley that is mentioned in the famous epic "Manas" as a place sacred to the Kyrgyz. In the valley there is a labyrinth with shallow gorges in clay hills. There are also sacred willows and many springs. It is believed that the water in each spring has healing properties. The famous ski resort is located 7 kilometers from Karakol. Every winter thousands of fans of skiing, snowboarding and skating come here. During Soviet times, the country's Olympic team trained here. After reconstruction in 2004, the base is a modern ski resort now. Semenov Gorge is located 49 kilometers from Cholpon-Ata. There is a holy lake here, as well as many interesting places. Grigoryevsky Gorge is located 60 kilometers from Cholpon-Ata. It is worth going here to see the beautiful lakes and two mountain peaks that are covered with snow even in summer - Kum-Bel and Eshenbulak.
Inylchek Valley is located east of Issyk-Kul. You can get here by helicopter. Climbers usually come here. It is from here that the ascents to the mountain peaks of Khan Tengri, Pobedy and Lenin begin.
The Altyn-Arashan Gorge, 10 kilometers from Karakol, is famous not only for the Arashan mountain river. People from all over the CIS go to the Arashan thermal springs for treatment both in summer and in winter. Hydrogen sulfide and radon sources help in the treatment of diseases of the heart, liver, joints and digestive organs.
The Jety-Oguz Gorge is one of the most popular tourist spots, which is famous for seven red rocks that look like bulls. There is a sanatorium, hot springs, waterfalls and alpine lakes.
The Karakol National Park, located 10 kilometers from the city, will appeal to lovers of alpine meadows, lakes and small waterfalls. For example, Ala-Kul Lake is worth a day trip here. Also from here, novice climbers can climb to the mountain peaks of Fuchik, Przhevalsky, Zhukov, Telman, Gastello, Karakol and others. The height of the smallest peak – Fuchik - is 4210 meters above sea level.
The famous Zhyrgalan Valley is located 60 kilometers from Karakol. It is here that the most famous place where they treat with the help of koumiss is located. The canyon "Fairy Tale" is located near the village of Tosor on the southern shore of Issyk-Kul. The canyon of clay appeared here because of the incessant winds. It looks magical - like in movies about adventures and treasures.
The Barskoon Gorge is located 90 kilometers from Karakol. A beautiful cascading waterfall is located here among the forests. The Chon-Kyzyl-Suu Gorge is famous for the Big Red River, the beginning of the ascent to the Kolpakovsky Glacier and the physico-geographical station, which offers the best view of Issyk-Kul.
The village of Ornek, located between the villages of Chok-Tal and Chon-Sary-Oi, is known for ancient petroglyphs inscribed on hundreds of stones. There are also remains of buildings from the time of the Usuns and Saks.
The salt lake (also called dead) Tuzkel (Tuz-Kul) is located on the southern shore of Issyk-Kul. This is the saltiest lake in the country, and it is impossible to drown here. It is compared to the Dead Sea in Israel and people go to Tuzkel to treat skin diseases. The blue, black and green mud of the lake also have healing properties. The Park-reserve of N.M. Przhevalsky in Karakol is one of the main attractions of the city. Here is the grave of Przhevalsky, and from here you can enjoy picturesque views.
Museums of Issyk-Kul
In Cholpon-Ata there is a Museum of petroglyphs (stone garden). It is located in the open air. On the territory of 42 hectares there are hundreds of rock paintings. Excavations confirm that the first drawings appeared in the II century BC. The petroglyphs depict scenes of snow leopard hunting, the sun, animals and people. In the historical and cultural museum of Cholpon-Ata, you can look at thousands of exhibits. Historical artifacts, the life of Kyrgyz nomads, handicrafts and much more are presented here.
The Przewalski Museum in Karakol is dedicated to the activities of the famous geographer, after whom Karakol was once named. The museum presents his personal belongings, documents and photographs.
The Karakol Museum of Local Lore is located in Kupechesky Proezd - in a building built in 1887. The street has preserved the paved sidewalks and attributes of the XIX century. In the museum you can get acquainted with the history of Issyk-Kul and Karakol, learn about famous people who lived and worked here.
Entertainment and Shopping in Issyk-Kul
Entertainment on Issyk-Kul
The most famous place for entertainment is the Golden Sands beach in Cholpon-Ata. There is a Ferris wheel with amazing views of the lake, as well as a roller coaster, a small water park and other entertainment. There are also cafes where you can taste Issyk-Kul fish, ashlyam-fu and other dishes. One of the favorite entertainments of the guests of the Issyk-Kul coast is walking on yachts, motor ships and boats.
Diving is waiting for lovers of active recreation. You will be able to look at the settlements sunk about 2.5 thousand years ago and look for treasures. Cholpon-Ata and Bosteri are the best places for diving.
Thermal springs, therapeutic mud and koumiss treatment are waiting for lovers of healthy recreation.
In almost any resort town and village of Issyk-Kul, you can go boating (both conventional and motor), paragliding and parachuting, water skiing and fishing.
Falconry is another entertainment on the Issyk-Kul coast. It came to Kyrgyzstan in the XII-XIII centuries. Each hunter raises a chick for 3-4 years: feeds it, cares for it and talks so that the bird gets used to the owner's voice. Then the owner shows the bird the fur and skin of the animals it is supposed to hunt. Keep in mind that falconry is a spectacle for people with a strong spirit. You will see how a bird of prey attacks its prey and kills it.
Archery will appeal to those who want to test their dexterity. Horseback riding through the picturesque gorges of the Issyk-Kul region will be interesting not only for adults, but also for children. You can also take a helicopter ride on Issyk-Kul and see not only the lake, but also the surrounding mountains.
Shopping in Issyk-Kul
Every Saturday and Sunday are shopping days in Issyk-Kul. On weekends, there is a fair in the village of Bosteri, which attracts vacationers from all over the coast. In addition to clothes, you can buy smoked fish caught on Issyk-Kul (the most famous Issyk-Kul fish is chebak), pickled Issyk–Kul mushrooms, mountain honey, vegetables, fruits, berries (Issyk-Kul currant is especially famous), as well as various souvenirs. Products are best bought in the supermarket chain "Narodny". There is a branch in Cholpon-Ata and in Bosteri. There are many souvenir shops in Cholpon-Ata where you can buy handicrafts. In Karakol there is an antique shop by Alexander Korablev, as well as the Karakol Big Bazaar farmer's market and souvenir shops.
Food on Issyk-Kul
The most famous dish of Issyk-Kul is ashlyam-fu. This is a cold dish made of starch, meat, vegetables and vegetable broth. Karakol ashlyam-fu is recognized as the best in the whole CIS. Ashlyam-fu is prepared in almost all establishments of the Issyk-Kul coast, so you have the opportunity to try the dish in several places and compare. Other Kyrgyz dishes can be tasted in the restaurants "Lamb" and "At the fisherman" in Cholpon-Ata, as well as in the ethno-cafe "Dastorkon" and cafe "Nomad" in Karakol. There is also a cafe of European cuisine on Issyk-Kul.
Food for Vegetarians
There are no vegetarian cuisine establishments on Issyk-Kul, but you can taste meat-free dishes in a cafe of European cuisine.
Transport on Issyk-Kul
The transport infrastructure of Issyk-Kul is not as developed as in the cities of Kyrgyzstan.
Buses run from Bishkek to Issyk-Kul. They can also be used to move between the settlements of Issyk-Kul. The only drawback is that they go very rarely, and it is quite difficult to find out the exact schedule.
Taxi is the most popular mode of transport on the Issyk-Kul coast. There are several taxi services operating here, whose drivers can take you not only from one locality to another, but also carry out trips within a specific city or village.
Other Types of Transport
In the settlements of Issyk-Kul, you can travel by rented car. However, it should be borne in mind that car rental offices are located in the capital of Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek, which is far from Issyk-Kul.
How to Get to Issyk-Kul
The most convenient way is to get by car from Bishkek. Both special taxi services and private drivers go to Issyk-Kul. The road takes about 4 hours and passes through picturesque places.
You can also get to Issyk-Kul by minibus. They are leaving Bishkek's western bus station.
Bishkek-Issyk-Kul buses also run regularly.
In summer, the lake can be reached by train. However, the train only goes to Balykchi (Rybachye) - the city where Issyk-Kul begins. For example, it takes about 1.5 hours to drive from Balykchi to the tourist Cholpon-Ata.
There is also an airport in Issyk-Kul. It is located in the village of Tamchy (Tamchy), 35 kilometers from Cholpon-Ata.
Ural Airlines, Aeroflot, S7 Airlines, Nordwind, Air Astana and Uzbekistan Airlines fly to Tamchi. In summer, you can fly to Issyk-Kul from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Tashkent, Almaty and Nur-Sultan.
Spoken Languages in Issyk-Kul
The official language of Kyrgyzstan is Kyrgyz. But on the coast of Issyk-Kul, almost everyone speaks Russian - the language of interethnic communication. In hotels, as well as in tourist places, you will be spoken in English.
Currency in Issyk-Kul
The national currency of Kyrgyzstan is som. All operations are performed in it. However, all hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, beauty salons, gas stations accept Visa and MasterCard cards from any bank in the world.
It should be borne in mind that in markets, taxis and small shops, payment is accepted in cash.
The most popular currency in Issyk-Kul is the Kazakh tenge. In second place – the Russian ruble, in third - the US dollar. You can make exchange transactions in any bank of the Issyk-Kul coast, as well as in numerous exchange offices.
It should be borne in mind that bank branches, ATMs and exchange offices are not available in all villages of Issyk-Kul, so it would not be superfluous to have a pre-prepared Kyrgyz som with you.
Safety in Issyk-Kul
Cholpon-Ata is the largest and safest tourist city of Issyk-Kul. In the villages it is better not to walk in the dark. You also need to keep in mind that you should not leave your personal belongings unattended.