Issyk Kul Lake
As Karakol city itself does not really share shores with Lake Yssyk Kol, we recommend traveling to Marko Polo Beach. In finding the best place to swim near Karakol, we recommend our guests to relax at Marko Polo Beach. It is 45 km outside of the city, but it is the most beautiful, clean, safe, cozy beach that you can find nearby. No public transportation is available here and there is an entrance fee to Marko Polo Beach. You can spend half a day or a whole one by swimming, reading books, suntanning, etc.
Karakol Ski Base
At its peak of 3040 meters, this is the highest ski resort in Central Asia. The base camp at 2,300 meters (7,545 feet) is located approximately 12 km (7.5 miles) or 20 minutes from Karakol and offers downhill skiing as well as ski rental equipment. It is relatively warm during winter. You can enjoy the finest powder snow Issyk Kul has to offer. A hotel and cafe constructed in 2005 makes it a modern and pleasant ski and snowboard base. The ski season is crowded with skiers from neighboring countries riding up the five ski lifts. The winter season runs from November to the end of March. Skiing lessons with an instructor, sledding and snowboarding are also available. Ski lifts operate from 9:00am to 4:00pm and lift tickets cost about 950 soms per person per day. The link to their site is HERE
The valley offers some fine hikes although you really need to take a tent, stove and plan for at least one day’s hiking before the valley really reveals its charm. This is a beautiful National Park with wetlands that run along the Karakol river and is also home to many rare alpine plants like aconite in the season. There is an entry fee is and cost to tent camping. It takes about 5 hours on foot to trek to the Alpine base camp. We recommend also horsetrekking at Karakol Valley. The adventure begins with an exciting mountain road that winds through a fir tree forest and skirts between stunning rocks of the Karakol valley. The valley of Karakol river belongs among the top ten relatively large glacial rivers that flow down from the northern slopes of mountain range Terskey Ala-Too into the huge lake Issyk Kul.
Jeti Oguz and Broken Heart Ridge
On an easy half hour (35 km) drive west of Karakol, you can reach a truly unique geological formation. Jeti-Ögüz (Kyrgyz: Жети-өгүз) is famous for its large, red, sedimentary rocks at about 2,200 m above sea level. The tertiary red rocks have been carved out by a river from the Teskei Ala Too Mountains. Years of weathering split the rocks into seven parts and the area became officially recognized in 1975. The forms of the rocks are similar to the head of seven bulls so the name of the place is called “Jeti Oguz” – “Jeti” means seven and “Oguz” means bull in Kyrgyz. This parallels the story that seven calves grew big and strong in the valley’s rich pastures and eventually were laid to rest in the hillsides. It is said the number of rocks changes if a person who counts them changed (some people count 9 or even 11) as continued erosion has meant that the bulls have multiplied. Go and try to count yourself! They are best viewed from a ridge to the east above the road. Further up from that same ridge you can look east into Ushchelie Drakanov, the Valley of Dragons or Dragon Gorge.
One legend says that long time ago two noble and powerful khans ruled the area. One khan was particularly greedy, and he stole his neighbor’s beautiful wife. The other khan declared war and demanded his wife to be returned back to him. The evil khan’s decided to kill the woman and return her dead body to the husband – this way his wife will be returned to him, but he will never have her. Before killing the woman, the evil khan arranged a grand memorial feast in the mountains. Seven red bulls were killed to prepare a meal for the revelers. When the seventh bull was slain, the evil khan stabbed the woman in the heart. Hot crimson blood gushed from her wound and painted the mountains red. Together with the blood, boiling water started flowing out of the woman’s body, flooding the valley and exterminating all the guests and all the relatives of the murderous khan. Waves of the boiling water carried the bulls’ bodies away into the valley, where they lay until now.
On the way to the end of the Jeti-Oguz valley, the red sandtone will start appearing here and there on each side of the road. This beautiful gorge hides modestly in the mountains flanking the southern shore of the lake Issyk-Kul and is a part of Issyk-Kul natural reserve. At one point you will notice this huge rock in front of you that kind of resembles a heart that has splintered down. The reddish rock is shaped like a broken heart and named Razbitoye Serdtse. For this rock there are several legends, one of which is that: 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 fell 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. In summer, the places attracts some nomads with their horses, yurts and bees which provide quality mountain honey. Light for the Seven bulls is better in the late afternoon but for the Broken heart is would be better in early morning. It also grows even more gorgeous at sunset as the rocks get redder. The rock formation is a well-known landmark in Kyrgyzstan and is seen as a national or regional symbol, and hence is the subject of paintings, songs, and even music videos.
Kok Jaiyk (Valley of Flowers)
There is a beautiful green field called “kok jaiyk” as you head toward the mountains from the Jeti-Öghüz resort area. It follows an unpaved road (impassable with snow from November to April/May) that climbs through a dainty pine forest, crossing and recrossing a small brook over four log bridges. After around 4km the mountain road emerges onto a grassy mountainside with joyous Sound-of-Music like views.Looking south, alpine peaks form a splendid horizon across the deep, wide Kök-Jaiyk (Valley of Flowers) that lay before you. If you’re hiking from (and back to) Jeti-Öghüz in one day, use the limited time to explore the first area of mountain-view pastures. However, if you’re willing to spend more time in a decent 4WD jeep, you could descend steeply into the bigger transverse valley, then head right towards the obscure waterfall also called Gok Jaiyk or left across the ‘Fifth Bridge’ continuing several kilometers into the heart of the Valley of Flowers. The name is for a mass of poppies that turn the local “jailoos” (‘mountain pastures’) red in May. During flower season Chong Kok Jaiyk will be full of colorful flowers: silver edelweiss, alpine daisies and asters, poppies and golden root. The Soviet botanist, IV Vykhodtsev, even once described the multitude of spring and summer flowers of the regions around Karakol thus: A wave of tulips gives way to fields of scarlet poppies, … and cornflower- blue ixylirion and golden Arabian primroses … and pale pink eremurus form a veil on the foothills… Spring reaches the sub-alpine belt where the meadows turn into gorgeous, lush, green carpets into which are woven white anemones, blue forget-me-nots, orange and golden poppies, flaming flea- bane, lilac asters, deep purple geraniums
Kok Zhaiyk is a very famous field where people bring their livestock in the summer. You can also enjoy horse riding and hiking in the vicinity. Many people who have skin problems or arthritis, have been coming to Jeti-Oguz in hopes to get rid of these ailments. Hot mineral springs of the area are believed to have healing properties. Researchers found that these springs contain high amounts of radon – a radioactive carcinogenic (when used in high doses) element, which sometimes is the last hope for a person suffering from a terrible condition. This picturesque and romantic place with its healing thermal springs has become a great spa resort place of balneotherapy relaxation.
Santash – Counting Stones of Tamerlane
2 hours drive from Karakol in the far northeast of Kyrgyzstan, close to the Kazakhstan border lies a veritable piece of super-sized landscape art. San-Tash (‘counting stones’) is an evocative sight tucked away far up this beautiful Karkara valley of horses and horsemen. This burial mound complex, San Tash, is located close to the pass of the same name (2195 m) between Kungei and Terskey Ala-Too mountain ranges. There you can see 257 large and small mounds of rocks. According to estimates of archaeologists, more than 3500 cubic meters of stone were spent on its construction. And yet, there are NO other stones in the region for miles around! In the center of the complex there is a huge mound (measuring 4 m high & 56 meters across) covered with plenty of stones.San-Tash is an enigma. What can this pile alongside one of the ancient Silk Road routes possibly represent? Who placed them here, and why? People often tell the incredible legend that explains that the stones were deposited here by Tamerlane’s troops during his military campaign on their way to battle in China. In order to determine the number of his troops, the conqueror, Tamerlane, instructed each of his soldiers to bring a stone from Lake Issyk-Kul and leave it here, removing a stone on the way back if they had survived the conflict. There is a small hollow in the top of the pile, representing the comparatively very small number of people who returned. Thus the mound San Tash was formed when Tamerlane’s many soldiers threw their stones into a pile, never to return, and the mound got its name San Tash, which means “the counting stones” in Kyrgyz. But most of the stones are far too large to make this at all believable, and the number far too large – for an army to lose so many men in a battle, or even have this many men at arms to begin with, seems highly doubtful. A more likely theory is that they are the stones left over from the excavation of a large burial mound – the region abounds with large kurgani (tumuli associated with Saka warriors, otherwise known as Scythians) constructed around two millennia ago. These are likely graves of leaders of Saka tribes, dating back to 6th – 1st centuries BC. Either way, it is cool to ponder!