Our original plan for our final day in Karakol was to hike to the stunning Ala-Kul Lake, a rock-dammed lake with a distinctive blue colour, located in the Terskey Alatau Mountains at an altitude of 3560 m. We had made a plan with a taxi driver, who would take us to the trailhead for 250 soms and from there, we were told the hike would be 15 km. each way, which should take about eight hours. But before we had even left Karakol, the taxi driver spoke to a tour guide, who told him that the hike was closer to 25 km. each way than 15 km. and that the area was covered in a thick layer of snow. Our chances of getting to the lake were not looking good. Instead, the taxi driver offered to take us to a small village, where we could start a 12 km. hike to the Altyn Arashan gorge. We decided to do that, thinking that it was a nature trail, but unfortunately, we ended up walking along a dirt road for 24 km. in all. The taxi driver dropped us off 10 minutes from Karakol and still charged us 250 soms, which was a bit of a rip-off, if you ask me.

The hike was beautiful; we followed the Arashan River the entire way and had stunning views of the mountains, but we were disappointed that we couldn’t get to Ala-Kul.

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On the way to the gorge, we met a few other hikers, two of which were on their way back after having hiked to Ala-Kul! We could see on the map that we were close-ish, but we didn’t know if it was realistic to hike there that day despite the snow, but we so wanted to give it a try. Unfortunately, the hikers told us that the lake was frozen (and therefore not much reason to go, as we wanted to see the blue colour and not just white frost), plus they had been hiking for 12 hours to get there in meter-thick snow. We had to – once and for all – forget about the lake, although we wondered if it would be possible to come back in June to do the hike if the snow had melted by then, revealing the stunning colour of the lake. Unfortunately, that turned out to not be the case.

Instead, we kept on walking to get to the gorge and after what felt like forever on an uphill dirt road, we finally got to a hill, where we could see the gorge and the guesthouse beneath us. We heard that there are some 50°C hot springs near the guesthouse, but neither of us had brought our swimwear, so we decided not to go.

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After 20 minutes of rest, it was time to head back to the small village, a hike that ended up getting the better of me. I was so so so tired and achy when we finally completed it (24 kilometres and 9 hours later), so we decided to get a taxi to take us to the main road in the larger village of Ak-Suu to catch a marshrutka back to Karakol, instead of walking the 3-4 kilometres.

We had really hoped to get to Ala-Kul Lake that day, but since that wasn’t an option, going to the Altyn Arashan gorge was a decent alternative. The nature there was absolutely breathtaking with the alpine pine trees, the snowcapped mountains and the river, but we weren’t impressed by the “trail”, which was just a dirt road. Basically, a car could’ve just driven us to the gorge and saved us walking 24 km. But never mind, not going to Ala-Kul Lake gives us a great excuse to come back to Kyrgyzstan someday!

Here’s some information on how to travel to the Altyn Arashan gorge:

  • Catch a marshrutka to Ak-Suu from the Victory Park in Karakol for 15 soms each.
  • Get off in the center of Ak-Suu and walk 3-4 km. to the small village at the end of the road or hitch a ride for 20-50 soms.
  • When at the village, walk towards the mountains and follow the dirt road for 12 km. You can also hitch a ride if there are any 4x4s passing by, which should cost you 100-200 soms.
  • You’ll be following the river all the way to the Altyn Arashan gorge, where there is a guesthouse, hot springs and plenty of hiking opportunities.

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