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Your Guide to Kyrgyzstan’s Alpine Ala Kul Lake Hiking Trail

Ala Kul Lake, a jewel of the Terskey Alatau Mountain range in Kyrgyzstan, sits over 3,500 meters above sea level. This stunning alpine lake captivates trekkers with its vivid turquoise waters, set against a backdrop of dramatic mountain peaks. Its remote location adds to its allure, offering a serene escape into nature. 

The lake’s environment changes dramatically with the seasons, presenting a frozen wonderland in winter and a vibrant alpine ecosystem in summer, making it a focal point for those seeking solitude and unspoiled natural beauty.

Navigating to Ala Kul Lake presents its challenges, given its high-altitude location and the rugged terrain of the Terskey Alatau Mountain range. However, the path to this secluded gem, while demanding, offers an enriching experience filled with breathtaking scenery and a sense of adventure. 

This guide aims to simplify the planning process for your journey, offering key insights and practical advice to ensure you’re well-prepared for this remarkable trek. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or looking to embark on a significant adventure, the following sections will help you start planning for an unforgettable experience at Ala Kul Lake.

How to Get to Ala Kul Lake

Ala Kul Lake, situated in the heart of the Terskey Alatau Mountain range within the Kyrgyz Tian Shan, lies approximately 20 kilometres southeast of Karakol. This high-altitude, turquoise lake is a gem for trekkers, offering a journey through diverse and stunning landscapes. The distance and remote setting make it an enticing challenge for adventurers eager to explore Kyrgyzstan’s natural beauty.

  • Length: 55 km
  • Total ascent: +1500m
  • Total descent: -1300m
  • Max altitude: 3850m
  • Time:  3-4 days
  • Type: One-way 
  • Sleeping: Camping, yurts and/or guesthouses 
  • Start: Karakol Valley/Ak Suu Village
  • Finish: Ak Suu Village/Karakol Valley 

The Way There

Your first day of the Ala Kul Lake trek from Karakol Nature Park to the first checkpoint involves a scenic journey alongside the Karakol River through the Karakol Valley. The route starts on a flat jeep track, making the initial 15-18 km walk relatively straightforward. 

At 2950m from your starting point, you can find a yurt camp, commonly referred to as Camp 1, near a bridge across the river to rest for the night. If you’d like to press on a while longer, Sirota Camp, roughly 450m of elevation gain away, will be nestled in the forest 3km away, an old log cabin by a river.

You can reach Ala Kul Lake by your second day, though the ascent will require more care when hiking. The path consists of slippery rocks, mud, and exposed roots, making it an easy mark for tripping and slipping. Keep the river close and to your right, and climb up until you reach a waterfall, indicating that you are but a gravel path away from Ala Kul Lake.

At Ala Kul Lake, you’ll have no shortage of camping options, so take your pick! If you’d like somewhere more 

weather-appropriate, you can traverse to a spot that won’t be so exposed to the wind.

The Way Down

The journey from Ala Kul Lake to Ala Kul Pass is marked by a steep, challenging climb, offering breathtaking views of the lake and mountains. This segment demands careful navigation due to its slippery terrain. The descent from Ala Kul Pass to Altyn Arashan involves a steep, scree-covered slope, transitioning into an easier walk down the valley, where yurt camps and guesthouses await.

While Altyn Arishan’s guesthouses and yurts do come with meals to rest your weary soul, these accommodations cannot be booked online, so you may have to approach them on a first-come, first-serve basis. For the lucky travellers who do manage to secure their guesthouses, make full use of their hot spring pools to relieve your sore muscles from the hike!

After a refreshing night spent at Altyn Arashan, your last leg of the hike to Ak Suu will take you through a forest trail with little to no difficulty. Pat yourself on the back for a hike checked off your bucket list!

Safety and Things To Note

When preparing for the trek to Ala Kul Lake, prioritise safety and logistical planning. Ensure you’re well-equipped with essential gear, including suitable footwear, weather-appropriate clothing, and navigation tools. Considering the trek’s challenges, hiring a guide can enhance your experience by providing valuable insights and ensuring your safety. Respect the environment by following travel etiquette, such as leaving no trace and being considerate of wildlife and local communities. 

Packing List

  • Suitable footwear for rugged terrain
  • Weather-appropriate clothing
  • Navigation tools (map, compass, GPS)
  • Water purification method
  • First-aid kit
  • Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, sunscreen)
  • Emergency shelter (tent or bivvy)
  • Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries

Important Reminders

  • If you are new to hiking in general or unfamiliar with Kyrgyzstan’s terrain, you’re better off hiring a guide for enhanced safety getting to the alpine lake.
  • Pack or dispose of your waste at designated bin areas or carry them to the next checkpoint.
  • Be mindful of wildlife and maintain a safe distance.
  • Follow marked trails and check your map regularly to make sure you don’t lose your way.
  • Check weather conditions and trail updates before departure.

Ready to Hike?

As you set your sights on the trek to Ala Kul Lake, remember to gather more information to fully prepare for the journey ahead. One thing, in particular, would be securing appropriate travel insurance that will cover adventures like these. Comparing providers like FWD vs MSIG travel insurance can help you find the coverage that best suits your needs, ensuring peace of mind as you explore the rest of Kyrgyzstan’s breathtaking landscapes. Embrace the adventure that awaits and happy trails!

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