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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Kyrgyzstan: Hiking to Ala-Kul Without a Guide

I first heard of Kyrgyzstan as a hiking destination during a road trip through Armenia. A UK couple who was also traveling through educated us on what we were missing out. Three months after that, I was landing in Bishkek.

Compared to some of the more "established" hiking destinations, Kyrgyzstan is still in its infancy, which means that even during peak season the crowd density is relatively low. I went in early July and barely saw anyone on the trails (most of the people I encountered were at the camps).

So, onto Ala-Kul, which is one of the more popular hikes and relatively accessible. Most will do this across three days / 2 nights, some will do it over 2 days / 1 night, and a few will do it in one day.


The trail: the typical route goes like this - Karakol - Sirota Hut/Camp (night one) - Ala-Kul - Altyn Arashan (night two) - Karakol

How to get to the trail head: assuming you're already in Karakol (check out Destination Karakol for instructions on how to get there), you'll need to hop onto marshrutka #101. According to wikivoyage, the marshrutka's route is: Zhamansariev Str. - Toktogula - Lenin street - Kapacaeba - Masaliev Str. down to the entrance of the park

How to get back to Karakol: about 3 hours or so after leaving Altyn Arashan, you'll eventually hit tar again. If the marshrutkas are still running by the time you get there, the #350 will take you back to Karakol. For me, I bumped into a local who was tinkering around with his car and negotiated a ride back to Karakol as I didn't know when the next marshrutka would come by (if at all)

Can this be done in 3 vs. 2 vs. 1 day(s): this will largely be dependent on three factors

  1. Weather and trail conditions: mountain weather can change at the drop of a hat, and will either slow you down or help you along.
  2. Your own fitness and ability (mental and physical): some part of the trail is pretty laid back and you can do it without breaking a sweat. Other parts of it will require a bit of stamina to get through. I finished the first day portion of the trail in about 5 hours; and wrapped up the second day relatively quick as well, so decided to tackle the third day's portion on the same day.  
  3. Your route: the time can be truncated if you take a few shortcuts. In particular, you can hire a car to drive you past the early section of the trail (which takes about 1-2 hours of walking). You can also skip the third day's hike by taking one of the shuttles from Altyn Arashan. I don't know much about these, but saw a number of them driving past me!

How to book your yurts if you're not camping: I contacted Destination Karakol to help with the bookings. It was pretty straightforward. There is one yurt (Sirota) before the hike up to Ala-Kul, and plenty at Altyn Arashan. If I were to do it again, I would have brought a tent and camped up at Ala-Kul (the weather would have been a chillier but the setting would have been unbeatable)

How much does it costs:

  • Marshrutka #101 to the trailhead: 10-20 SOM
  • Park entrance: 250 SOM per person + 150 SOM per tent if you're bringing one in
  • Marshrutka #350 to Karakol: 30-50 SOM
  • Taxi to Karakol: 400 SOM
  • Yurts: 1000-1250 SOM per night (including dinner and breakfast)
  • Snacks: well, that's up to you and how much you want to carry

How to not get lost: the majority of the trail is pretty straightforward. For the rest, download maps.me to follow the trail. It worked like a charm for me offline

My top tip: start as early in the day as you can. I had blue skies and sun on both mornings, but by the time the afternoon came around, it changed it dark clouds and plenty of rain

For more photos: follow me on Instagram @minhchau.me

Remember: hike at your own risk as your safety is your responsibility.


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