The Most Beautiful Hike in Kyrgyzstan- Ala Kul Lake (2 day, 3 night) Without a Tour, Guide or Camping Equipment!

Hiking in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is filled with 1000’s of alpine lakes, beautiful valleys, and alpine treks. We have travelled to over 60 countries and we can honestly say that Kyrgyzstan is one of the most gorgeous countries in the world.

Kyrgyzstan is one of the best destinations for hiking, since 90{05563ee440b8691600683906a6c3c3b7991e5ec3c24fb480a28e674e62e87cf8} of its territory is above 1,500 meters. While trekking in Kyrgyzstan you will find remote and untouched mountains, and you will find with crystal clear alpine lakes.

Ala Kul Lake

Ala Kul, translates to Ala Lake. In the Kyrgyz language, ”kul” means lake, so the actual name of the lake is ”Ala”.

Ala Kul lake is one of the most beautiful places in Kyrgyzstan and it is located near the city of Karakol.

Ala-Kul is a rock-dammed lake in the in the Ak-Suu District of the Issyk-Kul Region in Kyrgyzstan. It lies at an altitude of 3,532 m. It is 2.8 km long and 600–700 m wide. 

The best time to visit Ala Kul is from the beginning of July to the end of September.

Hiking Statistics

  • Total distance: 57 km
  • Total trekking days: 3 days /2 nights
  • Maximum altitude: 3850 m
  • Elevation gain/loss: +2310m/ -2310m
  • Difficulty: medium-hard
  • Time of Year: July until mid-September 

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Trek Overview

  • It starts in the Karakol Valley and takes you up to the Ala-Kul Pass at 3900m altitude., the hike ends in Ak-Suu
  • If you are doing a 3 day trek in the summer months, you do not need camping gear.
  • The first night you stay in a local yurt camp at 3300 meters, and the 2nd night you stay in the hot spring village of Altyn Arashan
  • Dinner and breakfast are available in both the yurt camp and Altyn Arashan. Bring a lot of snacks, water and water treatment supplies.
  • Make sure you get your hostel or a company to book your accommodation prior. We used our hostel but the CBT in Karakol or destination Karakol can help.
  • Download Maps.me or 2GIS both these apps have good tracking along the route and will help you when the trail gets unclear.

2 night, 3 day Trek

The Ala Kul trek can be completed as either a 3 day or a 4 day trek. We chose to do it as a 3 day trek. Some people choose to do this hike over 4 days, but you would need to have your own camping gear. We did the hike to Ala Kul Lake without a guide and without a tent or sleeping bag in late Julu. We took the route from the park entrance outside of Karakol, past Ala Kul lake to Altyn Arashan village and then back to the road to Karakol over three days and two nights.

It’s a challenging hike, so it is important that you are relatively fit and that you are prepared for the hike. There is some scrambling involved and the elevation gain and loss over the 57km is quite substantial. The Ala Kul Pass pass goes over 3850 meters, so the weather can be unpredictable. Make sure that you have the appropriate gear!

Trekking Gear

As I said earlier we did not need to bring any gear for shelter or cooking. However, with any hike you need to be prepared. Appropriate clothing, safety gear, and hiking gear are still important. Check out my best travel hiking gear post for 2023.

Best Travel Hiking Gear of 2023

Independent/Guide/Tour?

There was 3 of us, so we chose to do the hike independently without a guide or a tour. We wanted to save the money and add the extra challenge of navigating it ourselves. The trail is pretty straight forward, but there are some parts that are misleading. Make sure that you download the trail maps on multiple devices and on multiple apps, better yet, bring a map!

If you would like to do the hike with a guide or group, you can easily arrange this in Karakol at the community based tourism office or at your accommodation. This hike is one of the most well known hikes in Kyrgyzstan, so you will not have a problem booking the hike.

Destination Karakol office

Shelter

If you are doing the hike independently, make sure that you book your accommodation in advance. We had our hostel in Karakol help us with this. It would be terrible to hike all that way with nowhere to stay.

There are permanent tents at the camp, but they are a lot colder than the yurts, however they are cheaper. But I mean, you are in Kyrgyzstan, so I wanted to make sure that I could get a yurt!

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike starts just outside of Karakol, at the entrance of the Ala-Kul nature reserve. It’s possible to take marshrutka 101 from the center of Karakol to the entrance of the park for 10 som. You can also take a taxi for about 150 som.

You always have to flag local transport
Local marshrutka

Day 1

  • Distance covered: 19km, 900m gain
  • Karakol to camp 2
Permit office at the start of the trail

The permit for the hike costs 250 som per person and you can buy it at the gate. After the entrance you will pass by a little village and you will find some 4x4s waiting on the side of the road. We saw the cutest boy and puppy!

You can skip about an hour of the hike (4km or so) by driving on the road to the first bridge. Transportation along this trail is pretty expensive, so we decided to walk. However, we were lucky and some other travellers who had a rented a 4×4 offered us a ride. I would usually hike the whole thing, but we had a really long day ahead of us, so we were happy for the ride. I also wanted to get first dibs on a yurt at camp!

Crazy 4X4ing

The part where you drive is pretty easy, and does not have a lot of incline. After getting dropped off at the bridge the hike starts out really scenic and easy. There are steady inclines and declines for a couple of hours. The trail follows the river for most of the way and will pass a beautiful meadow with wild horses. Every now and then you will also see Soviet-style 4×4s passing by, transporting supplies and people to the yurts in the mountains.

Many people choose to camp at the 16km mark if they have their own gear. There is a campsite called Sirota Bridge. Since we did not have our own gear, we kept on hiking to the yurt camp. This is the section where you started gaining some serious elevation. You will hike up about 700 meters over 4 kilometers in this section. You will then be greeted by a gorgeous yurt camp where a lovely Kyrg family lives. We were the first ones there, so we got to choose the yurt of our choice.

Yurt: 1000som per person (including sleeping bag)

Tent: 800som per person (including sleeping bag)

Camping: Free

Dinner and Breakfast: 500 som

Day 2

  • Distance covered: 15km, up to 3900m – 1000m ascent and 1400m descent
  • Camp 2 to Altyn Arashan

This day is the hardest day of the trek, and you might start feeling the effects of the elevation, especially when going over the 3900m pass. Everyone in our group was ok, but we did meet other hikers who had to turn around.

From the camp to Ala-Kul lake takes about 2 hours and it is completely uphill. It is hard due to the elevation gain and altitude, but the trail is pretty straight forward. This is a great spot to have a snack and to take pictures.

From the lake up to the pass is another hour or two and you are hiking right up above the lake. It is absolutely gorgeous.

Once at the top you will see 360 degree views of the valley, the lake, and the glaciers. It is worth it! We were lucky and had such amazing weather, and were just astounded by the beauty of the lake.

When heading down, you have to do some serious scrambling. We found it fun, but others seemed completely terrified.. At the bottom of the pass are two more yurt camps which you can stay at if the pass took longer than anticipated or you feel you can’t go further.

It is another 3 hours or so walk down to Altyn Aryshan and it is a steady descent. At one point you will encounter a river crossing. We just took off our shoes and waded through!

Little bridges along the way
River crossing

At the end of the valley you’ll see the welcome sight of the guesthouses and yurt camps at Altyn Arashan. Altyn Arashan is a valley famous for its sulfur springs that reach a temperature of 40-50°C.

Valley views right before Altyn Arashan
Altyn Arashan

Dorm bed: 300 som per person

Camping: free

Dinner: 200 som

Breakfast: 150 som

Day 3

  • Distance covered: 18km, 750m descent
  • Altyn Arashan — Hot Springs – Ak-Suu — Karakol

From the hot springs, the hike continues steadily downhill along the Arashan river toward the village of Ak-Suu, the endpoint of this trek. The hike is easy on this day, but it is long. It is about 15km or about three hours down to the main road where you can take marshrutka #350 (30 som) back to Karakol. If you’re with a group a taxi can be negotiated for about 200-300 som per car. We were lucky and the marshrutka was there when we got to the road, but I do not think it has a schedule.

You can also skip this day and take a 4×4 or one of the soviet vehicles along the road. The cost was about 1000 som! However, the hike is beautiful and most of it is off of the road, so I would recommend hiking it if you have the time.

If you want to do another beautiful hike while you are here check out my other blog post!

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


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