For those of you who have limited time in Kyrgyzstan but want to have the best experience you can get in this country, I have a suggestion for you. The Ala Kul trek was by far the highlight of my trip in Kyrgyzstan and I would recommend anyone to do the trail if you are moderately in shape. The problem is that it requires at least 3 days to hike the entire trail and this might turn some of you off a bit.
What If I tell you that you can do the Ala Kul trail within 2 days AND all you need is only a day pack to do so. Forget about carrying tents and food supplies (snacks are still required). Within this guide, I will show you exactly how you can do it without the burden of carrying all your stuff and within a weekend.
See more: Looking for a full itinerary for Kyrgyzstan? Here is a complete guide to 3 weeks traveling in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan Travel Video
Ala Kul Trekking Map
Who is this for: A regular Backpacker who loves nature and is in good shape.
Difficulty: Moderate - Difficult
Duration: 2 days
When: July - August
Closest City: Karakol
Things to Prepare
In order to pull this off safely and responsibly, there are some prerequisite you have to follow:
- IMPORTANT! Timing: This guide is only possible during the summer season of July to August as the locals will be up there providing you food and tent rental only within those 2 months of the year.
- Snacks: Even though you don't need to carry food and stove, be sure to pack lunches and enough snacks for 2 days of hiking.
- Money: You will be paying for the tent on the night at the lake and for dinner and breakfast so prepare some money before you start the trail. The tent cost me 900 som single or 1500 som for 2 persons.
- Maps: Download Maps.me app and make sure you have the region saved offline. The app has the trail mapped and it will give you accurate general directions of which you should take. It is not uncommon to get lost along this trail so be sure to check the app every now and then.
- Water: At least 2 liters of water for the hike. You will be able to refill your water at one of the many campgrounds available along the route.
- Latest Information: Last but not least, ask for latest status of the trail at your hostel (Duet Hostel is the best place for that). Things change often in the untamed mountain of Kyrgyzstan. For example in my case, one of the bridge was broken so I had to walk an hour extra. Be sure to ask if the lake camp is available for you to rent a tent.
Where to Stay in Karakol
Karakol - Duet Hostel - 5 USD/Night (Great information hub for trekking to Ala Kul or elsewhere around Karakol)
How to get to Karakol
You can fly into Bishkek and then from Bishkek, go to the west bus station and take one of the many marshrutkas going to Karakol hourly. You should arrive at Karakol's bus station in 6 hours. For finding flights, I would recommend you to browse through Skyscanner or Momondo before to compare prices so you will get the cheapest flight possible.
If you are looking for travel insurance to go along with your trip to Kyrgyzstan, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need a travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
In order to get to the trail head, you have to arrange a taxi from Karakol to where the trail begins. Leave as early as you can (9AM) and pay the entrance fee when you get to the gate. Tell the taxi to take you further into the first bridge to cut around an hour of hiking time along the road.
From the first bridge, continue to walk along the walking/jeep trail by the river until you reach the opening where you will see the Karakol valley for the first time.
The entire first section of the walk will take you around 3 hours and by 12 PM, you should reach the end of the first section. You will know you are at the end of the first section when you arrive at a sign near a small bridge on your left. The sign will say that straight on is the first camping ground. We will not go that way. We will continue the trail by take sharp left toward the small bridge and cross the river.
From here, the trail will become tricky due to thick forest and multiple intersection you will come across. Be sure to check Maps.me for the general direction you should take.
From here on out, it is all up and up until you reach the lake. This second section will take you about 5 hours through many different terrains from thick forests to steep path across sea of boulders. In between, there will be camping grounds where you can refill your water and rest under a shade.
Once you reach the lake, you will have to walk along the side of the rocky mountain on the left side of the lake. For around 30 minutes, you should notice a camping ground on your right, almost right down to the lake. This is where you will spend your first night.
At this camp, they will provide you with sleeping bags, tents and fresh food at a reasonable price so you can rest comfortably. It is first come first serve, so the faster you get there the better chance you will acquire good sleeping bags and tents. Sleeping bags are essential if you are sleeping near the lake even in mid summer as it gets really really cold and windy at night.
The next day, start your hike early at 8 AM and make your way up to the Ala Kul Pass.
This is the highest point on the trail standing at 3800m and the view from up here is why this hike is worth doing. It is one of the view you will see in Kyrgyzstan.
If you think going up was challenging, going down from this pass is 10 times more. This is one of the steepest trail I have ever had the chance to go down. It was so steep, I had to literally crawled down with my hands out at the back and my butt as a foundation. I slid slowly down for 30 minutes as my foot buried in the half gravel half rocky trail. It was horrible.
Once you get down the steep part, you are only a few hours stroll away from Altyn Arashan. At one point, you will have to cross a river with your bare feet to the other side to continue the trail so look out for that crossing.
When you arrive in Altyn Arashan, you have a few options here. You can either spend an extra night here and relax in one of the hot springs, walk another 3 hours back to the end of the trail, or get a 5PM jeep back to Karakol. The entire jeep costed 4000 som, but if you find more people, you can split the cost. We paid 800 som each as there were 4 other people who wanted to go back to Karakol that day as well.
There you have it. Two days full Ala Kul hike with no compromise. Of course, the time it takes for you to hike the entire trail is up to how fast you hike but I am not a super fast hiker and I still made it to the end while having 2 hours to spare before the 5PM jeep so it is not impossible.
If you have any question about the trail, feel free to let me know in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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