Karakol Travel Guide
Once an outpost in Russia’s Central Asian regions, Karakol is now an emerging outdoor adventure destination.
From this city, you have numerous world-class hiking and snowsports experiences. Go now before the rest of the world catches on.
Come check out our Karakol travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan.
Soon after arriving in Karakol, make plans to check out Issyk-Kul Lake. It is one of the world’s largest lakes in several respects. For starters, it is the tenth largest in the world by volume and seventh deepest. After the Caspian Sea, it is the world’s second largest salt lake.
However, its salinity is mild compared to the ocean – only 0.6% versus the 3.4% salt content of seawater. This place is no Dead Sea – you’ll be disappointed if you try to read the newspaper while bathing.
In the summer, locals make use of its beaches. Outside of this season, snow-capped peaks make for stunning photo opportunities. With ample hiking trails, outdoor lovers will fall in love with this area.
The Karakol area is known for its natural beauty, but it does have cultural attractions of note. Start by checking out the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church. Imperial officials built it in 1869 to serve the needs of troops stationed in what was the frontier of the Tsarist Russian Empire.
An earthquake destroyed the first building, an unremarkable chapel, in 1889. The current structure took its place – upon its completion, it was the tallest building in Karakol at over 26 metres high. As a Russian Orthodox church, it stands out with its wooden construction and “onion bulb” domes. Do note that church officials bar all photography within – so keep your holstered, even amidst its beautiful paintings.
The Karakol area is also home to a population of Chinese Muslims, or Dungan. While you are here, make time to explore the Dungan Mosque. During the late 19th century, a war raged in Western China. Chinese Dungans fleeing the violence streamed through the mountain passes, settling in Karakol.
Not long after taking asylum here, they began work on what became known as the Dungan Mosque. Unlike traditional mosques, the Dungan Mosque shows the influence of their ancestor’s Buddhist roots in its design. From wooden pagodas to a “wheel of fire” patterned after prayer wheels, you’ll be able to see the connection.
Dress conservatively if you hope to enter the mosque. In addition to covering shoulders and knees, women should cover their head, as the caretaker may deny entry.
Learn about the Russian explorer that uncovered the mysteries of the Karakol area at the Nikolai Przhevalsky Museum. This scientist and geographer studied its flora and fauna, and launched expeditions into Tibet, China, and Mongolia from Karakol. He met his end in 1888, after contracting typhoid from contaminated water.
Inside, you’ll learn about his achievements, and get to check out artifacts and photos related to his life. Out back, visit this adventurous soul’s grave, who lived a life that many of us take for granted.
Feel like going on an epic backcountry trek? Centre your time in Karakol around Altyn Arashan. It takes three days to hike this spectacularly scenic alpine valley from one end to the other.
While its snow-capped mountains, gushing streams, and peaceful alpine lakes are amazing, a reward awaits at the end. Altyn Arashan is home to pocket-shaped hot springs that hang above one of its creeks. One takes on the shape of a heart – talk about an Instagrammable moment!
Issyk-Kul Lake may be stunning, but it isn’t the only one worth seeing in the Karakol region. If you have time, be sure to check out Ala-Kul Lake as well. Long ago, it formed as a result of a massive rock slide. Glacial meltwater pooled behind the natural dam, giving rise to Ala-Kul Lake.
Glacial slit called “rock flour” fills the runoff that flows into this body of water, granting its ethereal glow. If you want to visit, remember that it is in the backcountry. To access it, you must commit to a multi-day trek – it’s worth it, though.
Get a glimpse into the lives of Karakol area ranchers by attending the Karakol Animal Market. It’s at its best during the early morning, when bidding over livestock can hit a fever pitch. Watch as local herders move their acquisitions into vehicles as small as a Lada. It’s a sight that needs to be seen to be believed!
In winter, lay down some of the best tracks in Central Asia at Karakol Ski Base. It sits at over 3,000 metres – this elevation gives it great snow throughout the season. For this reason, it was here where Soviet officials trained athletes for the Winter Olympics.
Today, this resort offers plenty of shredding opportunities for intermediate and advanced skiers/boarders. For only $8/lift ticket, the value provided here is unbeatable.