Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan, detailed information

Lake Balkhash

Lake Balkhash is located in the eastern part of Kazakhstan and is the second largest undrained saline lake in the world.

Balkhash occupies the thirteenth place among all lakes in the world and is the largest body of water in the country – its area is more than 17 thousand square kilometers. The average depth of the lake is 6 meters and the deepest place is 26 meters. The travelers passing by on the car confess that there is neither end nor edge to the lake, because it spreads over the steppe for 600 kilometers. Balkhash has a crescent shape, but in the middle of it narrows into a small strait about three kilometers wide. This strait connects two different parts of the lake – fresh and salty, which never mix with each other. Because of this feature, Balkhash is recognized as the only lake on the planet that has two kinds of water. Scientists have not been able to explain this phenomenon, as well as the fact that it is unclear why such a large lake appeared in the middle of the steppe, where there is little precipitation.

The local Kazakhs have been passing down an old legend about the lake from generation to generation since ancient times. A strong and powerful Khan Balkhash, who had no children of his own, took a little girl and named her Ili. The daughter grew up and became the first beauty in the aul, but she was not happy about her beauty: the khan’s daughter fell in love with a poor man, Karatal, and her father would not let the poor man become a son-in-law of the khan. Grooms from all sides came to ask for the hand of Or, to choose a worthy husband for his daughter, the khan arranged baiga – a competition on horseback, which lasted several days and nights. The poor Karatal won, but the khan was still against their love and decided to turn to black magic. Ili and Karatal found out about it and decided to escape from the evil khan. They rode the same horse across the steppe, and Balkhash chased them. The chase went on for a long time until the cunning khan realized that the strength of the lovers was in their unity, then he turned into a lake and water separated Ilie and Karatal, turning them into two rivers, flowing into Lake Balkhash from different sides. The tears of the Ili flow into the smaller half of the lake, that’s why it is so salty. The Ili River actually flows into Balkhash from the Tien Shan Mountains, and Karatal flows into the lake from the opposite east side.

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The weather in Lake Balkhash corresponds to a sharply continental climate – it is very hot in summer and freezing in winter. The lake is covered with a thick layer of ice and thaws only in the middle of April. But in summer one can swim in Balkhash, because the water on the shore gets warm to 28 degrees. Around the lake there are about 60 kinds of rare plants, which had adapted to the life in water and had no roots. There are more than 20 different species of fish in the waters of Balkhash, so when going to the lake, don’t forget to take a fishing rod. Most of the fish are found in the northern fresh part of the lake, but the salted part will pleasantly surprise the fishermen. Thanks to the abundance of fish, there are many beautiful birds that feed on it: ducks, geese, pink and curly pelicans, white-tailed eagle, swan, spoonbill, chomga and others. Recently, underwater hunting in special equipment with an underwater gun has become especially popular. And the traditional recreation on the seas and lakes here in general is common. At the special centers on the beaches of Balkhash you can rent catamarans, boats, kayaks and other equipment for swimming. For tourists who come to the lake in winter, skiing, skating and snowmobiling are organized.

There is a small town called Balkhash on the northern shore of the lake, where travelers can stay during their vacation. There are a lot of private houses and small hotels in the town and neighboring villages, you can stay in a real yurt, although the most adventurous tourists stop with tents right on the shore of the lake. In the town you may also sign up for excursions around the lake and its vicinities: you may ride to the picturesque Bektau-Ata natural boundary, look at the ancient mounds and nomad camps near the lake, visit Balkhash Local History Museum. And for the richest and most extreme tourists helicopter excursions over the lake are organized.

Lake Balkhash

Balkhash lake, located in the east of Kazakhstan, is the largest lake of the republic, stretched with a crescent for 600 kilometers. Balkhash is the only lake on the planet with a different composition of water: its western part is freshwater, and east – salty. Thanks to the narrow strait and the Saryesik Peninsula, the waters of the lake do not mix.

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Balkhash salty waters and its mineralized hydrogen sulfide mud are therapeutic and beneficial for human health.

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Video: Lake Balkhash

Climate and weather

The climate in the Balkhash Lake area is deserted, sharply continental. In July it is hot here, up to +30 °C, in winter it is cold up to -15 °C. The lake is well heated in summer, up to +28 ° C, in December and January the temperature of the reservoir is about zero. In November Balkhash freezes, and the ice holds on the lake until early April. Precipitation is extremely low: the average monthly figure does not exceed 11-12 mm. The wettest month for this region is May, when up to 16 mm of precipitation may fall.

Geography and general information

The area of the lake is about 17000 sq. km, it is the second largest in Central Asia after the Aral Sea.

The northern shores of the body of water are rocky and high, while the southern ones are low and sandy, covered with reeds. The winding coastline is indented with bays and gulfs. The average depth of Balkhash is about 6 meters, maximum depth is 26 meters. The width of the lake is from 74 km in the western part to 3 km in the narrowest place of the eastern half. There are few islands on the reservoir, the largest of which are Basaral and Tasaral.

The lands of Pribalkhash are deserts and steppes, covered with stones, clay and rubble. However, some plants have adapted to survive in difficult conditions. About 60 species of rare plants without roots and growing right out of the water serve as a kind of decoration of the lake.

The coast of Lake Balkhash City

The main source that feeds Balkhash is the Ili River, which originates in the glaciers of Tien-Shan and flows into the reservoir from the west. From the east, the lake is replenished by the less full-flowing Karatal, Aksu, Lepsy and other rivers.

Balkhash has no streams, the water level in the lake varies greatly at different times of the year and depends on the amount of snow in the mountains and the intensity of evaporation from the surface of the reservoir.

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Balkhash lake from space

On the northern shore of the lake is the town of Balkhash, founded in the 20s of the last century.

Kazakh people created a beautiful legend about the origin of the lake. The sorcerer Balkhash was looking for the strongest and richest groom for his daughter Or. Many worthy aspirants vied for the hand of the beauty, but her heart was given to the poor chaban Karatal. Not wishing to marry a rich man who was unloved, Ili ran away with Karatal from her father. The evil sorcerer bewitched the young people, and they became two rivers rushing towards each other. But, not wanting the lovers to join together, even though they were rivers, Balkhash turned into a huge lake between them.

Balkhash never ceases to amaze by its mysteriousness. Scientists still can’t explain the geographic paradox of appearance of a semi-aquatic water reservoir among steppes, in the area of dry climate and small amount of precipitation.

Rest on Lake Balkhash

Numerous sandy beaches of Lake Balkhash are perfect for beach rest. You can swim in the reservoir from the end of May to the middle of September.

The rich flora and fauna provides exciting pastime for the fishermen and hunters.

You can take a fishing rod to the fishing bases in Pribalkhashia, which provide the guests with accommodation and the necessary equipment. No fisherman, even a beginner, does not leave without a good catch. The best time for fishing is spring and July-September. In April begins the spawning run of the famous Balkhash roach. As soon as the lake warms up, the crucian carp, carp, catfish and asp aspirin wake up. There are more than 20 kinds of fish in the pond. If you’re lucky, your fishing rod may catch a snakehead – a predatory fish of intimidating appearance, very tasty and has no specific smell.

Fishermen at the northern shore Fishing at Lake Balkhash

Be careful – the local fish marinka (kara-balyk) is primarily poisonous, you can’t eat its caviar and milk. Before cooking marinka should be well gutted and carefully remove the black abdominal membranes. Fish meat is fatty and very tasty.

Duck, goose, grouse, hare, wolf, fox and pheasant can be hunted in Pribalkhashie. Hunting season opens in mid-September, when the lake is full of waterfowl. There are several species of birds that are prohibited for hunting on the lake, as they are included in the Red Book: pink and curly pelican, white-tailed eagle, whooper swan, spoonbill. Those who want to get a bigger trophy are offered wild boar hunting, which is open from October till the end of December. Specially trained dogs track the animal and drive it out of impenetrable reeds. Since January it’s allowed to shoot fox, wolf and hare.

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Lake Balkhash in spring

Recently, underwater hunting has become popular, for which it is enough a special gun and a mask and snorkel.

Vacationers can enjoy a variety of fun and exciting activities on the water: boating, yachting, scootering, swimming, surfing and diving. On Balkhash is often held sport competitions on kayaking and fishing, in which all those who are confident in their abilities can take part.

If you come to the lake in winter, you can go skiing, windsurfing on the ice, snowmobiling.

Unforgettable will be rides on horses and camels around the lake.

If you want to admire the beauty of Lake Balkhash from the height you can take part in a helicopter trip. The prices for the flight vary from 26 to 38 thousand rubles for 3.5 hours of flight, depending on the type of aircraft. You can sign up for the tour at the recreation centers and hotels.

What to see

The picturesque Bektau-Ata natural tract is a natural landmark in the vicinity of Lake Balkhash that is 70 kilometers away from the lake and rises above the Kazakh steppes. The bizarre cliffs alternate with deep gorges. Many of the cliffs have names: “Mushroom”, “Turtle”, “Trunk”. The natives consider the surroundings of the tract to be holy ground. In one of the gorges there is a mysterious cave Auslie with pure water, which the locals consider healing.

There are a lot of archeological monuments around Balkhash Lake, which are protected by the state and are opened for visiting. Ancient burial mounds and sites give an idea of the life and customs of ancient settlers. The most impressive sites are the Aktasty and Klysh barrows, groups of barrows near the wintering area Karasu and in the Ken Dara Gorge, Dermen and Dongal sites, Aidagarly cave. A pilgrimage place for tourists is a model of cult architecture Mazar Ak Beket of XVIII century. Mazar is a construction in the form of a round yurt at the burial site.

Those tourists who are interested in culture and history of local people can visit museum of local history of Balkhash city.

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Bektau-Ata Mazar Ak Beket Pribalkhash


There are tourist centers and vacation houses in Torangylyk, Rembaza, Shubartubek, Lepsy and Chubar-Tubek settlements, which offer their guests varying degrees of comfort. The conditions at the bases are more ascetic: here you are offered small rooms in wooden huts without any conveniences. You will find a common bathroom and toilet at these rest areas, so you can place your lavatory, shower and washbasin separately. Prices for accommodation start from 150 rubles per day per person.

The hotel “Doszhan”, located in Shubartubuk, has a higher level of service. The rooms have everything you need, as well as satellite TV and upholstered furniture. The hotel has its own beach, gym, tennis court, volleyball and basketball courts. The room will cost from 500 to 1000 rubles per room for two. The price includes breakfast.

Recreation area Riva Lepsy in the village of Lepsy, offers the most comfortable accommodation – rooms of the complex are equipped with amenities, three meals a day is provided. In addition, guests can take advantage of Oriental mud procedures, massages and peeling. Among the entertainments: water skiing, billiards, outdoor cinema, disco. There is a separate playground and inflatable pools for children on the territory of the complex. Rest in “Riva Lepsy” costs from 600 to 2000 rubles for a double room, depending on the category and time of year.

Balkhash lake, early autumn, coastal reed sunset

Those wishing to improve their health may use “Balkhash” sanatorium in Priozersk offering mud treatment, balneotherapy and climatotherapy.

On the shores of the lake are many villages and hamlets that are happy to give shelter to travelers. You can rent an apartment for any period of time. You can choose from a wide range of apartments: from a modest room in a hostel to a detached house. The price starts at 200 rubles per person per day. Those who like local color can stay in yurt camps on the coast of Balkhash.

How to get there

Take a flight from Astana to Karaganda, from where Zhezkagan Air flies to Balkhash city three times a week.

From Astana to Balkhash you can travel by train, which will take a day or 10 hours by bus.

Most of the bases and hotels are located 6-12 km from the city and can be reached by cab or bus.

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