Karakol is at the far end of the Issyk Kul, nestled in the Tian Shan mountains, and is the capital of the Issyk Kul Oblast (region). One of the most visited destinations in Kyrgyztan, it functions as a base for year-round trekking, mountaineering, skiing, and spa opportunities.
This town was called Przhevalsk (Пржевалск) during the Tsarist and Soviet eras. It was constructed by Tsarist troops as a military outpost, and it is the resting place of Nikolai Przewalski, the famed Russian explorer and naturalist after whom this town was named. It is a city of traditional Russian houses, and contains one of the few Slavic populations remaining in Central Asia.
There are a number of tour companies, hostels and cafes, but most of the action is outside of town.
Regular bus/marshutka and taxi services leave Bishkek in the morning for the 5–6 hour drive. Bus/marshutka fare is around 350 som (June 2018), and a seat in a taxi is 500–600 som (July 2016). If you go to Balykchy or somewhere on the lake's northern shore, these services might take you for a reduced fare.
Regular buses and taxis leave for the Kazakh border to Kegen regularly. The Kegen border crossing is open during summer (May - September/October).
From Tamchy (Issyk Kul) Airport
Tamchy is approximately 2½–3 hours away, and taxis can be arranged locally. Tamchy has limited air service on SCAT airways during the summer travel season.
Taxis costs between 70 and 80 som, but you shouldn't need one unless you have baggage.
Local mini-buses on planned routes cost 10 som within the city.
- 101: Zhamansariev Str. - Toktogula - Lenin street - Kapacaeba - Masaliev Str. down to the entrance of the Karakol valley
- 102: Zhamansariev Str. - Toktogula - Gebze - Salieva
- 350: Zhamansariev Str. - Toktogula and east to the city of Teploklyuchenka, where the bus passes the entrance to the Altyn Arashan valley (signposted, 30 Som)
- 1 Dungan Mosque, Abdrakhmanova/Bektenova, ☎ . 06:00-21:00.
- 2 Holy Trinity Church (Orthodox Church), Gagarina/Lenina. 08:00-17:00.
In July 1869, when Karakol was a garrison town on the edges of the Tsarist Russian Empire, the first church was built here. The Karakol church, however, was destroyed in an earthquake in 1889, which caused havoc in the town and took several lives. It took six years to complete, and was consecrated in 1895. It has seen considerable service, not just as a church. Over the years, particularly following the Revolution in 1917, it has been used as an educational centre housing a school, ladies’ gymnasium, an institution of higher education, a sports hall, a theater, a dance hall, and as a coal store. Then, in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Kyrgyzstan, the local authority gave the building back to the church. The paintings and symbols inside the church are different from churches in Europe and interesting. Free.
- Karakol Regional Museum (Karakol Historical Museum), Gagarin/Jamansariev, ☎ . Daily 09:00-17:00. The museum is housed in a pretty chocolate-box cottage in central Karakol. It was the pre-revolutionary summer home of the Iliana merchant family. From 1918-1920 the building earned its socialist stripes as headquarters of the Regional Revolutionary Committee, and in 1948 was transformed into a museum by order of the Soviet Council of Ministers. The museum has several interesting displays (labeled in English, Russian and Kyrgyz). Scythian artifacts include bronze pots retrieved from Lake Issyk-Kul, displayed alongside exhibits of petroglyphs. Besides a comprehensive display of traditional Kyrgyz punched leatherwork, felt wall hangings and woven yurt decorations, the museum has a colorful collection of national costumes, and examples of finely worked silver jewelry. One hall covers the region's flora and fauna - much of which is endangered. The museum is also worth visiting to gain a Soviet perspective of history in the region. A couple of walls relating to Kyrgyz union with Russia and the subsequent revolution are now historical artifacts in themselves. There are many stuffed animals inside, and great pictures by Ella Millart, a famous Swiss traveler. 70 som.
- Przevalski Museum and Memorial (Przhewalski Museum), Pristan Prjevalski Village. Daily 09:00-17:00. Nikolay Mikhailovich Przhewalsky was one of the first Russian geographers who started studying in detail the geography, flora and fauna of the Central Asia. Beginning in 1870, he arranged 4 large expeditions to Mongolia, China and Tibet. During his expeditions he revealed the exact directions of the mountain ranges and borders of the Tibetan Mountains. Przhewalsky collected an enormous zoological collection, which comprised several thousand of species of plant, animals, birds, fishes and insects. In the year of 1888, he died from typhoid fever on the eve of his fifth expedition to Central Asia; he was buried on the Issyk-Kul lakeside, not far from the city of Karakol. The museum has more than 8 works of Przhewalsky published between 1883 and 1947, and 30 photocopies and photos. Today there are personal things, documents photos and articles of Przhewalsky kept there. Not far from the museum there is the traveler’s tomb and monument. In 1998 Hussein Karasaw, a famous Kyrgyz linguist, was buried there too. Przhewalsky is one of the first Europeans to discover Karakol and the mountains. To the rear of his resting place lies the remnants of a Soviet torpedo testing facility. 120 som.
- [dead link] Karakol Zoo (Bugu-Ene Zoo), Near stadium (Koenkozov/Parkovaya), ☎ . Daily 09:00-17:00. Karakol Zoological Park was founded in 1987. This is the only zoo in Kyrgyzstan. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the economics of the country quickly fell into disrepair in 2001, there was a question about closing the zoo. However, sponsors were found to preserve the wildlife area and keep it in a relatively prosperous state. There are many local bears, wolf, deer, camels, Prjevalski's horses, peacock and many others animals. 70 som.
- Karakol Animal Market, Udilov Str. at Lenin Str.. Su 01:00-10:00. Early on Sunday mornings one of Kyrgyzstan’s biggest animal markets takes place around 2 km north of central Karakol. Typical of such markets, you’ll observe scenes at once sad and comical, with locals improbably bundling voluptuous fat-tailed sheep into the back seats of Lada cars. The setting amid semi-derelict flourmills might seem unprepossessing, but on clear days the backdrop of white-topped mountains is more striking from here than from the town center. A series of earthen unloading platforms lead north. Jostle through the chaos to reach a bigger main compound one block north, where you’ll find horse sales and vendors of beautiful embossed leather saddles. On foot the bazaar is about 25 minutes’ walk from the city center. free.
- Barskoon Waterfall (Barskoon Valley), ☎ . Daily 09:00-17:00. Barskoon waterfall is a geological protected area in Jeti-Oguz District of Issyk Kul Province 90 km to the south-west of Karakol on one of the tributaries of Barskaun River. It was established in 1975. Within the Barskoon valley there are two waterfalls on top of the mountain and the mountainside. At the foot of the mountain you can enjoy the beautiful river of Barskoon. During the summer time there yurts built. At the yurt you try Kyrgyz traditional drink Kymys while enjoying the beauty of the landscape. There are three amazing waterfalls that can be seen within a few hours of hiking. Make sure to bring a lunch and hiking boots. Free.
- Fairy Tale Canyon (Skazka Canyon) (4 km from the village of Tosor). The canyon was named because of its bizarre rocky landscape, which for many years has been transformed by erosion into amazing sculptures and formations. Some formations look like the Great Wall of China and you can also find other formations that look like snakes, dragons, sleeping giants and even whole castles. From the canyon you can see a majestic panorama of Lake Issyk-Kul and snow caped mountains. It’s an easy hike close to Lake Issyk-Kul. On the way back to Bishkek, it’s really worth a stop because of the view of Issyk Kul Lake and the view of the mountains. 50 som.
- Jeti-Oguz (Seven Bulls), Jeti-Oguz Valley (from Karakol to Jeti-Oguz Sanatorium/Broken Heart 35 km 35 min). Jeti-Oguz is famous for its large, red sedimentary rocks, about 2,200 m. The rocks have been carved out by a river from the Terskey Alatoo mountains. Years of weathering have split the rocks into seven parts. The forms of the rocks are similar to the head of the seven bulls, “Jeti”-means seven and “Oguz”-means bull in Kyrgyz. Broken Heart is a reddish rock shaped like a broken heart. For this rock, there are several legends: long ago a king who was very rich and had many wives went hunting. One day he saw a beautiful girl with black long hair. He fall in love with her at first sight, and wanted to marry her. However she was from a poor family and was already engaged. Her family ran away from the king when they learned that he wanted their daughter. But the king caught them, killed her fiancé and her family. Her heart was torn by sadness and the Broken Heart appeared in that place. Free.
- The Salty Lake (Dead Lake of Kyrgyzstan). The salty lake is known as a “Dead Lake of Kyrgyzstan”. The lake was opened as a tourist destination in 2001. The water is so salty that one can read a newspaper while floating on the surface. The water contains about 132 grams of salt per liter. This lake is also popular as a “medical tour”. Mud is superheated deep beneath the earth’s surface. Many locals believe that it has healing properties. 50 som.
- Karakol Ski Base. At 3040 meters, this is the highest ski resort in Central Asia. It is located approximately 30 minutes from Karakol and had 2 chalets and a hotel with a sauna. There are no chair lifts but several T-bars and rope lifts take you to some of the best runs. Lift tickets are 1200 som, and there is ski equipment for rent.
- Altyn Arashan Hot Springs: Hot springs within hiking distance from Karakol. Hostels, yurts (800 Som p.P.), food (250-300 Som for lunch/dinner) available.
- Jeti Oghuz Hot Springs: An ageing Russian sanatorium.
- Rent a bike: local tour companies rent mountain bikes which are good for exploring the area. Bike rental nice: 500 som/day +deposit, Ecotreck 600 som/day.
- Karakol Canyon The Karakol Canyon offers excellent hiking. It's possible to hike to the beautiful Ala-Kul lake from this canyon.
- FGS : geo-physic station (2580 m.), Chong Kyzyl Suu, On the top of the Chong Kyzyl Suu valley is an geo-physic and meteorologic station build in wood in 1948 by German builders. Families staying there all the year around will explain their activities and can guide you around the region. It is possibile to sleep in the station. High routes going to Jeti Oguz through Archa Toer pass, to Kitshi Kyzyl Suu valley through Salvator pass, or Syrtha Ak-Shirak through Ashu Toer pass. Glacier lake Kashka Toer (3 hours walk), lake Shakartma (3 hours hike) (updated Jul 2018)
- Trek Jeti-Oguz-Altyn-Arashan, Karakol City, Highest point: 3820m. Lowest point: 2286m. Total elevation gain: 1534m. Total elevation loss: 2160m. Level of difficulty: Medium/Difficult. Total hours hiking: ~22. Avg number of trekking days: 5. Trekking distance: ~62km. Be aware that the Alakul pass is very steep with many loose rocks and can be dangerous.
- Trek Chon-Kyzyl-Suu - Altyn-Arashan, Highest Point: 3820m Lowest Point: 2176m Total Elevation Gain: 1644m Total Elevation Loss: 1830m Level of Difficulty: Difficult Total Hours Hiking: ~26Avg Total Amount of trekking days: 7 Approximate Trekking Distance: ~78km
- Trek Enilchek-Base Camp, Highest Point: 4000m Lowest Point: 2630m Total Elevation Gain: 1370m Total Elevation Loss: 1370m Level of Difficulty: Difficult Total Hours Hiking: ~49Avg Total Amount of Trekking days: 11 Approximate Trekking Distance: ~83km
- Trek Atjailoo-Merzbacher, Highest Point: 3550m Lowest Point: 2630m Total Elevation Gain: 920m Total Elevation Loss: 920m Level of Difficulty: Medium / Difficult Total Hours Hiking: ~31Avg Total Amount of trekking days: 7 Approximate Trekking Distance: ~76km
- Trek Echkililitash-Atjailoo, Highest Point: 4001m Lowest Point: 2630m Total Elevation Gain:1471m Total Elevation Loss: 2021m Level of Difficulty: Medium / Difficult Total Hours Hiking: ~39Avg Total Amount of Trekking days: 8 Approximate Trekking Distance: ~92km
- Trek Karakol gorge-Altyn-Arashan. Highest Point: 3860m Lowest Point: 1750m Total Elevation Gain: 2200m Total Elevation Loss: 2200m Level of Difficulty: Medium Total Hours Hiking: ~17Avg Approximate Trekking Distance: ~53km The cost to enter the park is 250 som, 100 som per tent. Doable in three or four days, the difficult part is reaching the lake as it is steep and rocky, information/maps/tours available at local tour offices. 250 som park entry, Accomodation varies. (updated Apr 2016).
- Air rifle shooting: In a shipping container in the main bazaar you can shoot air rifles for 3 som a pellet, challenge a local kid if you're a dead eye!
- Sunset cruise on Issyk-Kul Lake. can be booked at the Destination Karakol office (near the church, signposted)
In the town centre, there is a supermarket and corner stores open later, souvenir shop, limited outdoors supplies. The main bazaar has everything but don't expect quality goods. On the main street next to Caravan you will find the One Village, One Product store run by JICA. They have a variety of locally made products and handicrafts. Interesting soaps, jams, and felt products.
There is an antique shop down the main street (south) towards the bazaar.
Local honey can be purchased at the bazaar.
Sea Buckthorn products can be purchased seasonally.
- EcoTrek Trekking and Travel, Karakol City, 116 Abdrahmanov str/48 Koenkozov str,, ☎ , toll-free: . 9am to 5pm. A good place to rent trekking equipment in Karakol: sleeping pads, sleeping bags, 2 person 3 person 4 person tents, gas for sale, gas stoves, maps, bikes, and can help you with any questions you have about trekking in Karakol.
- Destination Karakol, knowledgeable local tour agency, hiking advice, maps etc, next to fat cat cafe.
Karakol is known throughout Kyrgyzstan for its Dungan specialty Ashliam-fu. This is a dish of cold noodles in a spicy vinegar sauce. The best place to eat is near the bazaar in the shed-like building across the street from KICB bank, or in the main bazaar for only 40 som.
Asman is the place for shashlik and has a DIY water-cooling feature (opposite the central park) . Fakir restaurant for decent Central Asian Cuisine. Kalinka, a Russian restaurant, also offers affordable, decent eats with horrible service. Kench, on the outskirts of town, offers probably the best dinner option for the biggest price. It should still be very cheap by western standards.
If you are vegetarian or looking for cheap western-style food, check out 'Lovely Pizza, in the corner of Prvomajsa (1 May) and Moskovska (near the university, behing the park). They serve delicious pizza and cold beer in their outside terrace or in the cosy interior.
The Salam Aleykum cafe just opened near Amir Hotel. It's open only in the evenings, and you can see some show of dance, music, and Kyrgyz handicraft.
Karakol is probably the only place in country where you can have goulash.
- 1 Ethno Cafe Dastokon, Przewalski 107 st., ☎ , , , , e-mail: email@example.com. 11:00-00:00. Dastorkon's highlight is a traditional cuisine of eastern people, which are prepared according to the national recipes with fresh vegetables, herbs and juicy meat.
- [dead link] Karakol Coffee, 112a Toktogula. 08:00-22:00. Coffee, desserts, snacks, beer, pizza, Wi-Fi.
There are several karaoke bars of little interest, and several hostels have their own bars (sun hostel, duethostel). The supermarket has a good liquor supply and vodka can be as cheap as 160 som a liter in smaller shops.
- Duet Hostel, 150 Telman Street (Russian: Ул. Тельмана 150), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. New hostel with comfortable beds (each with duel power socket and light), lockers, hot showers, good wifi, free coffee & tea, cooking facilities, extremely friendly and helpful owner with loads of information on what to do in and around Karakol. US$7.
- SunHouse Hostel Karakol, 3, Novostroika str. (1.5 km from Pobedy Park), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Offers a shared lounge, a shared kitchen and a tour desk. Free Wi-Fi access is available. The property features bright dormitory rooms. US$10-15.
- Amir Hotel is clean and modern with friendly English-speaking staff.
- Green Yard is a very nice guesthouse near the mountains. A room costs 1200-1400 som per night. Very nice accommodations, Wi-Fi, great breakfasts, and tea always available in the common dining room.
- In front of Salam Aleykum, you have a yurt camp for 250 som per night. Salam Aleykum is not owner, but you can reserve there.
- Yak Tours Guesthouse. A nice guesthouse in an old wooden house. The place only has one bathroom/toilet so there might be some queueing in the morning. s: 600 som, it is from September 2015.
- 1 Guest house Hutorok (1790), Alybakova 63 (near Park Pobeda), ☎ . Comfortable homestay in old-style Karakol house. 2 bathrooms, 10 beds, nice garden, good food, quiet, about 1½ km uphill walk from town near Park Pobeda. No English spoken. The houses are from 1938 and 1960. On the way to the ski resort of Karakol. Booking through Nomad's Land Ecotourism agency. 650 som per person.
- Yurt Camp, Toktogula 273 (Go south-east from the bus station, at traffic lights turn right and then 300 meters). Accommodation in real yurts, although they have non-authentic plastic covers. There are shared toilets and showers. The staff can sell you a detailed map of neigboring mountains. 250 som per person (Aug 2010), don't afraid to bargain if they will you charge more.
- Marzey Guesthouse, 6, Korolkova Street, ☎ . Lovely garden in the center of the town, in a quiet part of town. All rooms are with attached bathroom. 700 som.
- Tagatai Hotel, Tinistanov St. More upscale, modern hotel on the quiet and tree-lined Tinistanova (Pervui Maya) street.
- Ala-Kol Guesthouse, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The guest house is in a quiet area, and is close to the skiing resort Karakol. It is owned by a couple who runs the guesthouse. It offers single, double, and triple occupancy neat rooms with a fantastic view of snow covered mountain peaks opening up from the windows. Some rooms have rollaway couches. There is karaoke, sauna, video games, satellite TV, free Wi-Fi, transport to sights upon request. The owner's wife is an excellent cook who prepares traditional meals and serves very tasty breakfasts. The owner of the house and the staff are very hospitable and helpful. As they ski, hike and paraplane themselves, they can be very helpful in advising the tours worse visiting and the sights worse seeing. Room US$8-15 per person, breakfast included.
- 2 Bed & Breakfast Nice, 81a Abdrahmanova st. (next to "Pobeda" Park), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 13:00-22:00, check-out: 11:00. There are 6 rooms. The place is run by a friendly English speaking family. Easy access to public mini-buses. US$12 single, $18 twin, $20 double, $26 triple (shared bathroom); $22 double (private bathroom); $5 breakfast.
- 3 [dead link] Hostel Nice, 76 Gebze st. (next to "Pobeda" Park), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 13:00-22:00, check-out: 11:00. Clean and cheap, Prices include free use of Wi-Fi, big kitchen, Netflix movies, luggage storage, hot showers, summer terrace and any fruit you can find in the garden. Washing machine 100 som. Camping available. US$3 place for tent, US$5-6 dorm, US$6 yurt (shared bathroom); breakfast not included.
Unfortunately unemployment and the resulting alcoholism have left a toll, as many young people have left, and the soaring crime rate has made it rather dangerous at night.
OVIR Kushtobaev/Kutmanalieva, 50 m NW of militsia/police coordinates:42 29.908/78 23.971 09:00-17:00 1 month visa extension at the same day Bring your passport, two passport-pictures, one copy of the relevant pages in your passport and fill out two forms. Go to the RSK Bank (Toktogul 271, near Turkestan yurt camp, coordinates: 42 29.696/78 23.895), go to the counter on the right, write on a piece of paper your name and the sum you have to pay (1000 som, Aug 2001) then you’ll get a form and can pay the money on counter "1“. There is an 15 som fee for the transaction. Back at the OVIR you’ll get your passport back, but you’ll be asked for another 153 som fee for the sticker. (no receipt, certainly....)
- To Bishkek. Shared taxis leave all day from outside the main bus station for around 500-600 som, the trip takes 4-5 hours (and always stops for a snack outside of Balykchi).Marshutkas (public minivans ) leave frequently and cost 250-350 som, but they stop often and can take 6 hours. They might try to overcharge you. Buses to Bishkek leave at 20:00 and 21:00 from the backside of the bus station and cost 330 som (arriving in Bishkek the next morning at 05:30-6:00. Choose whether you will go by southern (station is at easternsouth way from centre) or northern shore (from bazaar) of the lake. North is more frequented.
- Cholpon-ata. Taxis leave from the main bus station in summer.
- Jyrgalan. A remote and empoverished eastern village quickly becoming popular as a winter and hiking destination. Take bus 331 to "шахта" from the main bazzar at 08:30, 13:30, 17:30. 80 som.
- Ak-su. Take one of the many east-bound marshutkas, useful for those entering Altyn Arashan independently.