This lake is probably the most iconic place in Kyrgyzstan and I believe it’s the second largest alpine lake in the world (behind lake Titicaca). The nice thing is that it doesn’t get too cold due to some sort of geothermal activity. On the north shore of the lake is where the Kazak and Russian tourists like to hang out, while the south shore is much more remote and quiet. I was on the bus and decided to hop out at a place in the north called Tamga, which is supposed to have a nice section of beach to rest my old bones.
When you walk down the main street almost every single house has a sign saying комната, which means 'bedroom' in Russian. So I just chose one that looked good and made my way to the beach. It was mostly families and kids, but it was nice to get some sun and go for a swim. As far as I could tell I was the only western tourist, so there wasn't exactly a lot for me to do. I was back on the bus the next day towards the town of Karakul.
Karakul is the biggest city in the region, located on the far eastern edge of the lake, and it's the main jumping off point for tourist activities, mainly hiking. There’s plenty of good routes for some backcountry camping, but by far the most popular is a 3 or 4 day hike to Lake Alakul. At the hostel I stayed at there are lot of people either starting or finishing the hike, so it’s easy to find a group to hike with and good information on the trail. Although I decided not to go with the group because I kind of hate hiking with large groups of varying fitness (ie fat people). I already had all my equipment in backpack, so I just had to pick up some food and I was all good to go. The hiking trail even showed up on the app maps.me (similar to google maps), which made life real simple. If you download one app when you’re traveling, make it maps.me. It rules.
I started at 9 am and got to campsite around 3pm. It wasn’t particularly scenic and I’d having nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon, so I decided to plow onwards (well mostly upwards) to the lake. This was not the best decision! It was very steep uphill and the altitude was now starting to kick my ass. Gaining 2,000 meters (6,000 feet) in one day is not recommended. Despite having to rest every few minutes and feeling a bit lightheaded I finally got to the lake and set up camp around 7pm. And I was glad I did! The view over the lake as the sun sets is splendid. I ate my noodles and promptly passed out from exhaustion for the next 12 hours.
The next day you hike along the lake and then have to trudge over a fairly steep pass to get back down. But then after that it’s all smooth sailing downhill towards Altyn Arachan, which has an actual shop and restaurant, and most importantly: hot springs! Nothing like a relaxing dip after a good day of hiking. I camped out there and then hiked out the next morning. So it was a grueling day, followed by a pretty easy day, followed by a really easy day. But it’s the only way to do it if you want to do it in 3 days and be able to camp at the lake and the springs…
Then it was one more day in Karakul, one day on the south shore of Issyk Kul in a yurt camp. There are no shortages of yurts in Krygyzstan!