Issyk-Kul is a legendary lake, imposing, naturally salty, never freezing, shrouded in legends and love of all who have ever been on its shores.
The lake is really unbelievable in size: its length is more than 180 km and width is about 60 km. This is an impressive size not only for Kyrgyzstan but for the planet as a whole. There are not so many lakes comparable to Issyk-Kul: it has an honorable place in the list of the biggest lakes in the world.
There are several versions of the lake’s name. One of the most popular ones refers to the Turkic roots of the word “Issyk-Kul” (“hot lake”). The lake, by the way, is really “hot”: owing to its properties, it doesn’t freeze even in winter. This is due to the salinity of the water, the large reserves of heat, which the water column retains and the relatively cold local winters. The second widespread version of the origin of the name belongs to Eduard Murzaev, a famous Soviet scientist, professor and doctor of geographical sciences. He believed that Issyk-Kul means “sacred lake. This may indeed be true – the local population treats their lake as the most precious thing they have.
Lake Issyk-Kul is located in the northeastern region of Kyrgyzstan between the Tien Shan ridges. The altitude is about 1.5 kilometers above sea level. Depending on the amount of rain and in a certain natural cyclicity, the water level in the lake changes over the years.
The expanses of the lake are home to at least 20 species of fish, most of which are peculiar to these places historically, and some were brought in separately from other regions. The most popular fish here is the Isyk-Kul chebak, a subspecies of roach.
During the periods of fall and spring migration of birds, the lake is a saving respite and resting place for many birds. Up to 50,000 birds stay at the lake for the winter.
Recreation at Lake Issyk-Kul
Issyk-Kul is rich in both well-equipped beach areas and secluded wild spots on the shore. The beach line of the lake is more than 600 kilometers. There are sand and pebble surfaces, in some places the shore is covered with boulders.
Among the most visited and developed places are Cholpon-Ata, Bosteri, Sary-Oy, Chon-Sary-Oy and Tamchi, located on the northern shore of the lake, and Kadji-Sai and Tamga, located on the southern shore.
The private beach in Cholpon-Ata, which belongs to the sanatorium “Blue Issyk-Kul”, is called the best beach of Issyk-Kul. People come here to relax with children. The Golden Sands beach in Bosteri is especially popular – those who want to have an active rest and entertainment like to come here.
In general, the coast of Issyk-Kul offers a lot of interesting pastime: water park, catamarans, scooters, walks on a ship or boat, hang gliding, parachuting, surfing and even diving (for example, to see the ancient ruins of cities under water).
Beach in Botezri on Lake Issyk-Kul – Google Maps panorama
The unique climatic zone established in Issyk-Kul thanks to the maritime climate and proximity to the mountains, the stunning beauty around, the incredible coniferous air of the mountain forests, the softness of the climate (there is no need for acclimatization, which is inevitable when you go to the sea), have long and firmly made this region a favorite vacation spot for both the Kyrgyz and a huge number of tourists.
The beach season on the lake is relatively short (from mid-June to early September), this is the period of the largest “influx” of tourists. However, the climate is very mild and allows you to have a great holiday in these parts at any time of year. The local climate is considered temperate marine – it is dominated by mild winters and rather cool summers. The average temperature in January stays around zero (-2 ° C … -6 ° C). Usual daytime temperature in summer months is around +20°C … +23°C, with light breezes, and in July often with thunderstorms. There is never a debilitating heat, although the number of sunny days a year is quite enough to get the right share of solar “vitamins”.
Water temperature in Issyk-Kul
The warmest water in July and August – the lake heats up to +18 ° C … +23 ° C. In winter the lake maintains a stable temperature of +4°C. In general, the swimming season here lasts up to six months, and you can have a great vacation all year round.
Mountain rivers that fill the lake constantly keep the water in Issyk-Kul clean.
The salinity of the lake (from 5.8 ppm at the surface to 18 ppm in the deep water) is a result of the composition of the river water that enters the lake. The unique composition of the mountain springs is essentially a special mineral water that fills the lake.
They are also responsible for the color of the water in Issyk-Kul – all shades of blue (from soft blue to deep blue, almost black).
For comparison, the water in the lake is much less salty than in our usual resorts. For example, going on vacation to the Crimea or Sochi, you get on average 3 times more salty water than in Issyk-Kul (17 ppm), and on the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean at least 6 times more salty (36 to 39 ppm). After bathing in the lake there is no need to take a shower. Moreover, after a few days of rest on the lake you will definitely notice the beneficial effects of water on your skin. In addition, there are no jellyfish or large fish, which are often characteristic of seawater.
Wild beaches of Lake Issyk-Kul
Sanatoriums and resorts
Rest on the shores of Issyk-Kul choose not only connoisseurs of good recreation, but also those who care about their health. Problems with the nervous system, musculoskeletal system, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory diseases, heart and vascular system, endocrine disorders, skin diseases, and much more are treated here. This is facilitated by the use of therapeutic mud (sulfuric and silt mud), medicinal colored clay, a special composition of air, as well as radon (enriched with radon hot springs). Local mineral water is similar in composition to such well-known waters as Narzan, Borjomi or Essentuki. It is used in the form of hot baths, massage showers and special irrigations.
The most popular health resorts in the region, offering exactly therapeutic programs: “Cholpon-Ata”, “Aurora”, “Kyrgyz seaside”, “Blue Issyk-Kul”. Often coming here for rest and recovery tourists choose to stay in one of the private boarding houses or small hotels surrounding the resorts – it gives the opportunity to choose the option of rest in comfort and affordability that you want for yourself, and to combine it with the procedures at the resort.
How to get to Lake Issyk-Kul
The lake is located 240 kilometers from the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek and 135 km from the regional center of Karakol.
The nearest local small airport “Issyk-Kul” is located near the lake in the village of Tamchi. Between June and September, it receives flights from Osh, Almaty, Tashkent and Novosibirsk.
You can also get to the lake by train only in summer. From Bishkek to the western shore of the lake (Balykchy station) a train is running. It departs from the capital of Kyrgyzstan at 6:25 and in 5 hours brings you to Issyk-Kul.
During the rest of the year regular buses and marshrutkas are available.
Buses Bishkek-Cholpon-Ata run between these cities all year round. Most often they leave in the evening (after 9 p.m.). Travel time is about 5 hours.
The Bishkek-Issyk-Kul shuttle goes to the lake several times a day. The trip takes about 5 hours.
Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan, How to get there from Moscow
Photo: Sabina Bakaeva / Gazeta.uz
How to get to the Issyk-Kul lake, what to do on vacation, what presents to buy and how much the trip will cost – in the article “Gazeta.uz”.
Kyrgyz lake Issyk-Kul is a crossroads of the elements. Here, the ripples of the azure shallows and blue depths shimmer in the sunlight. The mountain areas are rich in mushrooms and berries. The scent of pine spreads across the slopes, and the noisy rivers are home to fish.
The coastal villages have not developed a daily cultural life. But the all-absorbing beauty of these places will satisfy an urbanist’s hunger for endless starry skies and the grandeur of nature.
The Issyk-Kul guide tells you how to get to the lake, where to live, what to do and buy there. And most importantly, how much it costs.
When to go?
The summer season at Issyk-Kul opens in late June and ends in the first decade of September. At this time, the water has time to heat up to 20 degrees, and the prices for accommodation go up.
If you are a fan of skiing, the winter season lasts from November to March.
What do I need to know about Kyrgyzstan and Issyk-Kul?
Uzbekistan has a visa-free regime with Kyrgyzstan.
It is better to take dollars with you. Visa and Masrecard cards are not available everywhere. There are practically no ATMs in resort villages.
The country is high fines for throwing trash past the trashcan and for spitting – about $ 80. The mountains are very clean. Take care of nature.
For minor traffic violations (unbuckled belt, talking on the phone while driving, parking in a wrong place, speeding up to 20 km / h) drivers will pay 45 dollars. Pedestrians are allowed to pass. If you pay the fine within 15 days the offender gets a 50% discount.
Even in the summer season with be sure to bring warm clothes and closed shoes. At night the temperature can drop below +10 degrees.
Issyk-Kul is located at an altitude of 1600 m above sea level. Despite the mild weather here, the sun is aggressive. Do not forget to take sunscreen.
The water in the lake is salty. Because of the winds and salt your lips are cracked. You should moisturize your skin.
Democratic prices for products in chain stores “Globus”. There are markets too, but they are usually more expensive.
The road is broken in some places, as it is in all of Central Asia.
Hitchhiking on the Issyk-Kul coast is good. People are responsive, they stop often. Hitchhiking rules are the same as everywhere else.
Shuttle buses run between villages until late at night. The fare is $0.6. One cab ride within the township is $1.50.
The city infrastructure around the lake is weak. There are no sidewalks, no benches or public spaces in the townships. Don’t be afraid to ride your bike on the side of the road. Drivers are attentive.
Wi-Fi is not everywhere, but mobile Internet is very cheap and fast.
You have to bargain everywhere you can.
How to get there?
Bus to Bishkek and back to Tashkent costs only 240 thousand soums both ways. Every evening two buses leave from Tashkent bus station to Bishkek. The trip takes 12 hours if you are lucky enough not to stand in line at the Uzbek-Kazakh border. In Chernyaevka, you can wait a few grueling hours and stretch the time on the road up to 20 hours.
From Bishkek to Issyk-Kul you can get by bus (from $4), marshrutka ($5), cab (from $8). During the summer time, there is a train, which costs only 1 dollar. Travel time is 5 hours.
To avoid wasting time in Chernyaevka, you can pass the border on your own, and go to Issyk-Kul from the Shymkent bus station.
The travel company Asia Lux Travel organizes bus tours from Tashkent to the chosen boarding house and back for 60 dollars. The same company can help you rent a car from 30 dollars a day.
Train – from 612 thousand sums in a round trip. The train Tashkent – Rybachie runs every Thursday. The trip will take just over a day. The trains return to Uzbekistan on Saturdays. Shuttle buses from the city to the resort village of Cholpon-Ata take 1.5 dollars per person, and a cab – for $3.
A round-trip airplane will cost $260. On June 27, the national airline Uzbekistan Airways launched regular charter flights from Tashkent to Tamchi Airport, which is just a couple of kilometers from the coast. The flights run every Thursday. The flight time is one hour.
From the airport to Cholpon Ata, cab drivers offer a ride for $15. It is worth bargaining with the drivers.
According to the organizers of the flights, if the destination is popular, the prices of tickets will go down. For example, the tickets for the flight “Almaty-Tamchi – Almaty” in 2011 cost $300, but now – only $100.
By car . The closest way to the lake from Tashkent is through Kazakhstan. The road will take 12-16 hours. Cars are allowed at the border faster than buses. If you have enough time to rest, you can go to the Issyk-Kul lake through the Fergana Valley. The road through the mountain range with breathtaking views will take more than a day. You can make a halt at local guesthouses.
Service blablacar will help to find a car, which will take you to your destination. For drivers the service can help find a hitchhiker.
Where to live?
The coast of Issyk-Kul has 190 pensions for all budgets. The travel agency Inspiro Group has a list of most resorts. All resorts have inspiring nature. A lot of flowers and clean beaches. In the birch and coniferous groves live squirrels.
The northern coast of the lake is famous for good sandy beaches. In the south – more wild stony beaches. The mountain range is close to the southern coast, so precipitation is more frequent here.
There are many guest houses on the first coastline. The cost of living – from 8 dollars a day. In boarding houses you can rent a room from $20 per room in the summer season. On the second shoreline, behind the main highway, you can rent a room for $2 a night.
The houses of the locals are above the highway. Many of them have beautiful gardens with fruit trees and berry bushes. Rooms are rented in these houses. You can also rent part of the house or the whole house. You can negotiate the prices with the owners or find a place to live on the Kyrgyz bulletin board lalafo.kg, where there is a separate section about Issyk-Kul. You can stay with interesting people using couchsurfing.
The cost of renting a whole house on the lakeshore varies from $50 to $500 per day. In some resorts you can buy cottages to own.
Deserted beaches are the best place for tents. Some vacation homes offer overnight stays in yurts right on the lake shore.
In the mountain areas it is common to stay overnight in yurts, where a night will cost $10 per person. The higher into the mountains, the cheaper to live in, except in the villages near the ski resorts.
The administration of guest houses does not welcome self-cooking. In the luxury rooms of guest houses cooking is forbidden, although the kitchens are provided. If you do not want to deny yourself freshly cooked mushrooms and fish, it is better to rent a room or a house from locals.
What to eat?
There are many cafes in the resort villages, but no restaurants or bars. Almost all establishments offer the same dishes. It is worth trying Dungan cuisine, local kebab and trout on an open fire in the mountains. The service is lame. The average bill for a hearty meal is $10 per person.
What to do with the kids?
Children can be sent to children’s health camps, there are many on the coast. Some boarding houses give entire buildings to children’s camps. So you can live with children in one boarding house.
The camps offer transfers from Bishkek, three meals a day, games, educational activities. The prices for children’s rest start from 100 dollars for 10 days. In the Avrora+ boarding house, there are several groups of girls exclusively for gymnasts. The girls are trained intensively, and 10 hours a day are devoted to training there. A ten-day vacation for the gymnasts costs $190.
For out-of-pocket expenses at the camp, the children need on average $3 dollars a day.
Boarding houses also offer services of baby sitters. Entertainment from animators for older children is included.
Swimming and Entertainment
All beaches in Issyk-kul belong to the state. Most of them are free of charge. Boarding houses may rent beaches and therefore charge for admission. Fortunately, the cost of recreation at the best beaches is $2-3 per day for adults and $1-1.5 per day for children.
This includes a shuttle from the boarding house gate to the beach in an electric car. You can bring your own food and drinks, but you can’t take watermelons and melons, which bees swarm on.
Many beaches have volleyball and soccer fields, ping pong tables and long piers.
There are music, ethnic, theme and business festivals on Issyk-kul.
Boat rides . There are several yacht clubs on the coast. An hour boat ride will cost $5 for adults and only $2 for children. Swimming in the lake is allowed on the outings. Boat rentals are from $30 an hour.
Water activities . Resorts, yacht clubs and travel agencies offer scooter rides, water skiing, paragliding ($30) and parasailing ($25). In the resort village of Cholpon Ata, there is a small amusement park and water park on the lake. You can ride the Ferris wheel and ride the long slides into the lake.
Diving . Issyk-Kul flooded several ancient cities, including Sikul, Barshan and Chigu. Presumably the palace of Temur remained under water. The price of an hour of theoretical training and an hour tour of the underwater museum begins from $30, including equipment and an underwater photo shoot.
Some resorts specialize in hot springs and mineral waters. People come to Issyk-Kul for treatment of diseases of the cardiovascular, respiratory system and musculoskeletal system. Recreation in the winter season is cheaper. There are thermal springs all along the Issyk-Kul coast, that’s why the lake is called “hot. One hour of water procedures costs an average of $2.5.
Mud procedures are usually obtained in Dead Lake. The amount and intensity of taking procedures and mineral water is prescribed by the doctor.
The small Issyk-Kul region gathers all kinds of extreme recreation. The weather in the mountains is changeable. Short rains occur almost every day. In Bishkek you can buy all the necessary equipment for outdoor activities at affordable prices.
Bikers and bikers traditionally ride around the lake. The distance of 450 km is usually covered in a day. The mountains are well developed mountain biking .
The mountains are open to hikers . The mountains are full of mushrooms and berries, in the rivers there is fish. Locals offer horseback riding for $ 8 for a couple of hours. For lovers of rafting (rafting on kayaks on mountain rivers) organize tours from 20 dollars.
Snowboarders and skiers gather every winter in Jyrgalan valley and at Karakol ski base. You can stay in gest houses and hotels. There are many peaks in Kyrgyzstan. Mountaineers from all over the world come to conquer them. Climbing is organized by mountain climbers clubs.
At Issyk-Kul, only sport fishing is allowed. A three-day fisherman’s license costs only $7. It is allowed to catch no more than five fish. There are high fines for using nets and electrofishing rods.
What to see and where to go?
The Sarychat-Ertash State Reserve is located in the Issyk-Kul region and covers more than 130 thousand hectares. It is home to 25 species of mammals, more than 80 species of birds. The reserve is widely visited by tourists.
The town of Karakol is located on the southern shore of the lake. There are several museums and an interesting mosque in Chinese style. In the early morning you can go to the cattle bazaar. From the city, there are excursions to the Karakol National Natural Park. There are about 10 peaks over 4 thousand meters high and mountain gorges.
You can go to the canyon “Fairy Tale” and to Barskoon waterfall.
Ornok petroglyphs are more than 200 stones, which depict animals and life of nomadic tribes. The drawings date back to the Iron Age.
Falconry is usually shown in Kyrgyzstan. Tame birds are often seen in resort towns and in gorges. Locals offer to take pictures with them for $1.50.
The Nomad Games are held annually in Kyrgyzstan. Twice the country has become the world champion. The most spectacular game is considered to be goat-racing. Tourists from all over the world come to the competitions. The opening and closing of the games is held at the local hippodrome near Cholpon-Ata. And the games themselves are held in the Semenov Gorge on the northern shore of the lake.
In the village of Balykchi, or Rybachy, where the train arrives from Tashkent, you can touch the Soviet past and admire the carved casings of houses. With the collapse of the USSR, the industry on the Issyk-Kul coast also collapsed. A few abandoned giant factories remained, where urban-lovers can take a walk.
On the south side of the lake in Semenovsky Gorge is a small ethnic town, where tourists from Europe and the United States like to come. Tourists are offered lodging in yurts, koumiss treatment ($2 per liter of mare’s milk).
At the Rukh Ordo cultural center, named after Chingiz Aitmatov, modern art lovers can take a stroll in the park of modern sculpture. Masters from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, inspired by the works of Chingiz Aitmatov, presented works at sculpture symposiums in 2008 and 2017. You can also listen to the country’s history and wander the area listening to ethnic songs.
At the boarding houses, you can rent a bicycle to ride. It costs $2-3 per hour. Rental bicycles are not designed for long rides.
What can I buy?
Honey, mead and bee products in the mountains and villages. Fresh mushrooms and berries are sold there if you could not pick them yourself. Locals sell dried and salted mushrooms and jam. You’d better pick sea buckthorn after the first frosts. Also there is a lot of fresh and smoked fish, koumiss, homemade wine from different berries. As for souvenirs, you can buy felted goods and woven baskets.