Top Hike in Kyrgyzstan, Kel Suu Lake, Overnight Hike, Without a Tour or Guide

Kel Suu Lake

There are hundreds of hikes in Kyrgyzstan and one of the most popular ones is Kel Suu. If you do any searches on Kyrgyzstan and hiking, you will definitely see pictures of this gorgeous lake. With it’s beautiful blue water and jagged rock ledges, this hike will not disappoint.

Kel Suu is pretty secluded, so it still pretty untouched. The lake is in the Kakshaal Too mountain range in the At-Bashy district of the Naryn region, and it sits close to the chinese border. Due to its proximity to China, you will need to apply for a permit beforehand.

This hike is an out and back trek, so all statistics are based on a round trip from Kok Kiya Valley. This valley is where the yurt camps are all set up in the summer months and where you can stay for the hike.

Hiking Statistics

  • Difficulty Level: Low/Intermediate
  • Altitude: 3510 meters
  • Total Elevation Gain ~300 meters
  • 18 kms
  • Best season: late June – mid-September

Kel Suu Lake

Lake Kel-Suu in translation means “incoming water,  since the lake can disappear into the underground caves and grottoes. We were lucky to see the lake in all of its glory, but it was really bizarre to look up pictures when the lake was barren. It literally looks like a scene from Mars.

Kel Suu Lake sits at an altitude of 3514 meters and it is about 10km in length. The emerald lake is surrounded by gorgeous mountains that are over 5000 meters tall. It is a young lake, as it was formed in the 1980s as a result of a powerful earthquake and it is surrounded by crazy jagged clifffs that give it a very unique look.

Small boats are available to rent at the lake, but we just wanted to go and enjoy the picturesque beauty of the lake. From what I heard the price varies and is a bit expensive.

Directions to Kel Suu Lake

In order to get to Kel Suu Lake, you will first need to get to the Kok Kiya Valley. The road used to go almost all the way to Kel Suu, but due to environmental degradation you can no longer drive past the Kok Kiya Valley.

The Kok Kiya Valley itself is amazing and really remote.The views here are unreal due to the mountainous peaks and rolling rivers that flow through the valley. It is also where all of the nomadic Kyrg people set up yurt camps for themselves, and just recently for tourists.


Getting to the Kok Kiya Valley (start of the hike)

Most people fly into Bishkek and from here to Kel Suu lake, which takes over 10 hours. You will need to get to the city of Naryn first, as it is the gateway to the start of the hike. From Naryn, you will need to get a private driver or book a tour to Kel Suu.

We used marshrutkas to get to Naryn from Bishkek on our journey. Marshrutkas are shared taxis that operate out of former Soviet countries and are usually Mercedes vans. The fares are cheap, and they run fairly often. It is hard to get their exact schedules, so you just have to ask your guesthouse and/or tour companies where to flag one down. There are marshrutka stops in some places, but we mainly just flagged them down on the side of the road.

Naryn to Kel Suu Lake

Once in Naryn, there is no public transportation to the Kok Kuya Valley, where you will stay for the hike to Kel Suu Lake. You will need to arrange a private driver or join a tour.

We decided to not join a tour in order to save money, as we were in a group of 4. We used the Community Based Tourism (CBT) office in Naryn to arrange our private driver. Note, the transportation is a bit expensive because it takes 5 hours to get there along a gravel road. You will need a 4×4 to get there and it cost us 13,000 som for the drive in August 2022, which included getting there and back. The driver stays at the camp too, so make sure that the price includes everything like the driver’s accommodation, food, and gas.

We left Naryn around 11 so that we would arrive in camp before sunset and have enough time to wander around before dinner. The road is really bumpy and there is a police check along the way that will check permits.

Obtaining a Permit for Kel Suu Lake

Kel Suu Lake and the Kok Kiya Valley are located in the border zone near China so you have to get a permit in advance. Ours took 48 hours to process and it cost 1830 som each. You can get it up to 2 weeks in advance. They need copies of your passport for the registration, and you can submit everything online. You can get the permit in either the Bishkek or Naryn CBT office. I believe it was cheaper if you didn’t need it in a hurry.

Best Time of Year to Hike

Mid-June until late September is the best time to visit, as the yurt camps will be set up. Gettint there in off season will be hard due to the snow, and you would not be able to sleep or eat in the yurt camps. You can go out of season, but you have to be prepared with your own camping gear, food, etc.

Yurt Camp

In the summer season, there are several yurt camps that are set up in the Kok Kiya Valley. We saw about 5 different options. The yurt camps include breakfast and dinner, and fires are made at night in your yurt, so it is quite lovely.

We were not able to book in advance with the yurt camps as they do not have reception. However, the CBT office in Naryn let us know that there was availability in a couple of the camps, so the 4 of us just showed up. We chose the camp in the middle of the valley, and we had an amazing stay. It cost 1900 som each for a shared yurt, breakfast and dinner.

Food in the Yurt Camp

The food in the yurt camp was really good. We had a rice plov dish and soup for dinner. We chose to eat vegetarian, but there were meat options. It came with bottomless tea and little candies for dessert. The breakfast was bread and eggs with a tomato and onion salad. They were able to prepare the breakfast for us after our sunrise hike which was really awesome.

Hiking Gear


The Osprey 50 Liter Backpack make great backpacking backpacks. I love Osprey products as they are high quality which means they last a long time and have a great warranty. It’s very comfortable, has plenty of pockets and makes packing really simple!

Day Backpack

I like to keep things light, so the Osprey Daylite Daypack is perfect for travelling. It is 13 liters and fits a CamelBak or tablet. If you need a bigger bag, Osprey has other options too. These backpacks last so long, I love them. This one in particular is really light and fits easily into a big pack for when it is not in use.

Sleeping Bag Liner

They are not able to do a lot of laundry at the camp, so I highly reccommend the Silk Sleeping Bag Liner, by Mountain Warehouse. It is lightweight, small, and comfy.

Water Filters

The Grayl water bottle is absolutely amazing. It lasts for about 150 liters, and filters out practically everything. It has a higher price tag, but I think it is really worth it to have.For something smaller and more simple, my go to is the LifeStraw . It is always handy to have because it is small and fits anywhere. It is also great for travel and day trips from camp.

Water Reservoir and Bottles

CamelBak Water Bladder are awesome for backpacking and travelling! They are the easiest way to stay hydrated, and I typically always bring one with me. I recommend getting one that has at least a 2-liter reservoir.Prior to buying the Grayl, I have always liked the Nalgene 1 Liter Water Bottle They are cheap, durable, and I like the 1 liter measurement on the side, so I can keep track of how much I drink.


Being prepared for injuries and emergencies on the trail and when travelling is important.Travel Size First Aid Kit Always, always have a first aid kit and appropriate medications packed.DEET Free Bug Spray Bug spray can be a life saver in certain areas, I like to always have one on me that is DEET free.This Microfiber Travel Towel is great and packs down small.I have had the same Petzl Headlamp headlamp for over 10 years, and it has never failed. You should always have one on you when hiking and travelling.


Rain Jacket: I never travel without a good quality jacket. I recommend spending a bit more on this, as it will keep you dry and comfortable, and it will last a long time. If you can’t afford a good quality jacket make sure to have a good poncho as a back up. I reccommend the The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket North Face products hold up in extreme weather, and do not have the high range price tags like some other brands.Waterproof Backpack Cover: If your backpack does not already come with one, it is important to have a good rain cover. My backpack comes with one, but I have heard great things about these Waterproof Backpack Rain Cover from Amazon, and they come in different sizes


Whenever I hike, I always make sure to have a good hat, sunscreen, a UV shirt and sunglasses. These are my go to’s. I love Goodr glasses because they are polarized and stay on your head! The UV shirts from amazon are great, and have a low price tag. I recently started wearing UV shirts and I love them because I hate having alot of sunscreen on when I am on overnight hikes and they really protect your skin from the sun. This shirt is really great and I find it is breathable even when there is alot of sun exposure. Also, a good hat and good quality sunscreen are key!


Compression Packing CubesI never travel without packing cubes, as it is important to stay organized and pack small. I love these Compression Packing Cubes because it keeps all of my belongings neat and you can compress them to make them to fit more in your bag!

Trekking PolesI like to hike with lightweight anti-shock Trekking Poles like these ones. They really save your knees during a hike.

The Hike

We woke up bright and early to start the hike as we wanted to be the first one’s there. It was mainly tour groups at the camp and they were all having breakfast and then leaving. We chose to hike and then have breakfast when we got back, and I was so happy we did this.

The start of the hike is really gradual and easy and it is super beautiful. You follow the river the whole way, so you can’t get lost. The colours in the sky and the views were magical in the morning, so I would highly recommend going early if you can! We passed by wild horses and yaks!

After the 7km mark you start to ascend uphill and you will pass some gorgeous waterfalls and viewpoints.

Once you reach the lake it is absolutely breathtaking. The jagged mountain peaks and emerald coloured lake really blew me away.

We hung out for a couple of hours in peace and walked along the shore and hilly sloped water’s edge. We were the only ones there and it was really peaceful. There are boats to hire but we were there to early to see the hustle and bustle. The lake is actually really long (10km), so it might have been cool to go on a boat ride, but we were happy with our experience. Somethin else to note is that sometimes the lake dries up fully or partially and you can hike into the canyon. Personally we were excited to see the blue lake, so check with the CBT offices about the lakes status before your hike if thats important to you.

We got back around 9:30am for breakfast and had a nice afternoon prior to heading back to Naryn.

Check out our feature on why you need to visit Kyrgyzstan asap on the 2024 travel hotlist at Uproxx.

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