Kyrgyzstan: Around Issyk Kul

Around Lake Issyk Kul

Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk Kul is the second largest saline lake in the world (after the Caspian Sea), the second largest mountain lake in the world (after Titicaca), and the tenth largest lake in the world by volume. This huge body of water nestled between mountain ranges in the Republic of Kyrgyzstan’s northeastern quadrant is that country’s most popular tourist destination. The lake and surrounding mountains are a haven for outdoor recreation drawing visitors from the entire region. During the summer, beach-goers flock to massive resorts along the lake’s Northern shores. In the winter, skiers visit the town of Karakol for some of the best skiing in the area. Here are some spots you won’t want to miss if you are planning a trip to Lake Issyk Kul.

Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan at Sunrise
A pier lined with small, private sauna’s in one of Issyk Kul’s many resort areas.


Top Sights Around Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk Kul

1. The Stone Garden

Cholpan Ata, Kyrgyzstan
Petroglyphs carved onto boulders in the “Stone Garden” near Cholpan Ata, Kyrgyzstan

On the northern shore of the lake, near the resort village of Cholpon Ata, petroglyphs cover the rocks of a boulder field left behind by receding glaciers. The drawings usually depict animals, and hunting scenes. They were created using stone and metal tools and range in age from 4000 years old to 1000 years old. The practice of rock drawing faded as Islam spread through the area during the middle ages, but many of the symbols lived on in the geometric patterns used to decorate jewelry and carpets in traditional Yurts.

Read more about the Cholpon Ata petroglyphs at the advantour website.


2. The Przhevalksy Museum

The Przhevalksy Museum on the shores of Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan
The Przhevalksy Museum on the shores of Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan

If you’ve never heard of the 19th century Russian explorer Nikolay Przhevalsky, you are not alone. Przhevalsky  made several expeditions through Central Asia, eventually venturing as far south as Tibet before succumbing to Typhoid (or some other illness) and returning to Issyk Kul where he died. The museum, is situated on a pleasant, forested hill overlooking the lake just outside of Karakol. It has numerous artifacts and huge maps showing the different expeditions he made through the region. The extent of his travels through uncharted territories of Western China and Central Asia is somehow made impressive by this small museum on a hill over looking the lake.


3. Karakol

Dungan Mosque in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan
The Dungan Mosque in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.

If you want to know what I really think, read my post about bad wine and good company in Karakol. The real attraction of the town (besides the university) is its proximity to fabulous natural resources in the form of mountains seemingly built for trekking, skiing, some natural hot springs, and (of course) the lake.

While you’re there, don’t miss the Dungan Mosque – a colorful peg-and-beam construction that seems oddly out of place in spite of it being almost as old as the town itself. You’ll also want to check out the Church of the Holy Trinity, A wooden orthodox church that has a unique, rugged beauty.


4. Jety-Oguz: 7 Bulls

Well, its called the 7 bulls, but that all depends on how you count. The place is named for the red-colored sandstone formations that protrude dramatically from the hills and there are some interesting legends (all of which end in death) to go with the formations. You can read more about some of the legends at

Whether you count seven formations depends on where you stand and what you choose to count.  How many do you count?

The Seven Bulls, on the southern shores of Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan
The Seven Bulls, on the southern shores of Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan

5. Barskoon Waterfall

I once met a photographer who didn’t really like waterfalls. “They’re all the same,” he complained in a thick Irish accent. “Just water…falling.”

Personally I love waterfalls. Not only do I find them unique from each other, I also find them different from themselves. It is astonishing how different a waterfall can look with even small environmental changes – like a gentle breeze, or with slightly more or less water than the last time. To me, waterfalls are ever new, ever different, and always beautiful.

All of that to say: if waterfalls are your thing, you might want to check out the Barskoon waterfall. It lies about 90 kilometers from Karakol south of Lake Issyk Kul’s southern shore.

Some VUW’s (Very Useful Websites) Although the English could be cleaned up a bit, this website has information about trips into the various mountain gorges near the lake as well as lots of factual information about the lake itself. has some information about the Alytn Arasan hot springs near karakol. has information about the skiing available at Karakol including cost, trail maps and difficulty.

Tour Operators

If you have some spare cash and want to pay someone else to do the planning for you, here are some tour operators with compelling itineraries:

Silk Road Explore offers trekking, climbing, horseback riding, and cultural tours in Kyrgyzstan. It will cost you, but you are sure to have an unforgettable experience.

Trip to Kyrgyzatan partners with several tour operators to offer a wide range of tours for a wide range of abilities. They offer 3-14 day trekking tours, numerous cultural tours of varying lengths, weekend trips, off-roading, cycling, horseback riding, and many more. If you are just trying to get an idea of what is possible in Kyrgyztan, this is a great website to begin with.


The Church of the Holy Trinity in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan
The Church of the Holy Trinity in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan
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