Kyrgyzstan’s 7 most impressive lakes
Country of the Celestial Mountains (Tian Shan), Kyrgyzstan is an ideal destination for travelers who love mountaineering, treks, or wild nature landscapes. More than 90% of its territory is covered by high mountains, whose summits climb above clouds and reach 7000m altitude.
The small but magnificent landlocked country of Kyrgyzstan also counts more than 2000 mountain lakes, including a few that are known around the world for their unique beauty. Take your eyes off the white and vertiginous peaks to admire the green, turquoise and blue colors of the lakes they hide. You can plan your trip in Kyrgyzstan to discover these lakes, enjoy a swim in the fresh mountain water, take out a kayak or simply hike around the lakes.
Here are some of Kyrgyzstan’s most beautiful lakes, all worth a visit.
Issyk Kul: Kyrgyzstan’s largest lake
If you only have the chance to see one lake in Kyrgyzstan, then go to the Issyk Kul Lake. This huge alpine lake is the world’s second largest. It stretches over an import part of the territory. The lake is so big that you cannot see the opposite shore, and only the tall snow-capped mountains that surround it will remind you that it’s not a sea.
Located at 1608m above sea level, the Issyk Kul Lake has a maximum depth of 702m. It’s splendid and full of mysteries. The lake shrinks year on, as you can see when visiting Nikolai Prejvalski’s tomb near Karakol. This great explorer and lover of Kyrgyzstan had asked to be buried, in 1888, right at the lake’s bank, so that waves would touch his feet. Head there today and you will see that the water is nearly one kilometer lower.
By diving in the lake, you might have the chance to observe the walls and artefacts of an ancient city submerged by the lake’s water.
Slightly salted, the Issyk Kul Lake never freezes, regardless of its high altitude and the harshness of Kyrgyz winters. This is what gave it its name, as “Issyk Kul” in Kyrgyz translates as “the warm lake”. You’ll be amazed by how clear the water is.
Travel around the Issyk Kul Lake to enjoy the great beaches of the North shore, visit its historical sites, hike in the surrounding valleys and discover the local culture in the small villages of the South shore.
Son Kul: summer jailoo
The Son Kul Lake, nestled at 3016m of altitude, offers a unique landscape of a vast pastoral valley surrounded by beautifully shaped mountains and inhabited by nomads, their herds and yurts. In fact, it’s often this lake that you’ll see on Kyrgyzstan postcards and tourist guides.
Son Kul is a summer pasture for nomadic shepherds and their herds of sheep, horses and yaks. They head up to the lake for three or four months, when the temperatures get warmer. Even though a majority of the Kyrgyz population nowadays is sedentary, shepherds continue to practice the transhumance in the spring, to give fresh grass to their animals, who roam freely in the valleys.
The Son Kul Lake (Song Kol) is very isolated from the rest of the country and any sign of civilization. You won’t find any electricity, Internet or mobile phone connection, or any houses. Locals sleep in yurts during the season, and you’ll be able to spend the night in one of them as well. The roads to go up to the lake are blocked by snow and ice most of the year.
Son Kul is Kyrgyzstan’s second largest lake, but it is only 13m deep. It lies above a glacier, and its water is always very cool.
Ala Kul, for a great trek
This small glacial lake can only be reached with a certain effort. It takes around three days to trek to the Ala Kul Lake from Karakol, with a stop at the Altyn Arashan hot sources before going back down to the city. The Ala Kul Lake is a splendid mountain lake located at 3560m above sea level, in the region of Karakol, east of Issyk Kul. It’s among hikers’ favorite destinations in Kyrgyzstan.
Nestled in between vertiginous peaks, the Ala Kul Lake is quite small, with a total surface of 1.5km2 only. But it’s one of Kyrgyzstan’s most charming lakes thanks to the summits that surround it, the glacier that nourishes it and its stunning and bewitching color. Climbing up to Ala Kul, you’ll be able to enjoy a panoramic view on the lake and the mountain range, and glance at the second lake shaped like a heart.
Merzbacher: at the glacier’s heart
The Merzbacher Lake is one of Kyrgyzstan’s most enigmatic and mysterious spot. Located at the crossroads of the Inylchek South and North glaciers, at the frontier with China and Kyrgyzstan and just a few kilometers away from the world-famous Khan Tengri (7010m) and Pobeda Peaks (7439m), the Merzbacher Lake has fascinated scientists from around the world for decades.
The Merzbacher Lake empties entirely and suddenly once or twice per year, in July or August. Scientist still do not understand how this process is launched, and how the water empties.
The lake is stunning full, with its pure water that covers huge blocks of ice, and empty, when it reveals perfectly white icebergs.
To get the chance to see this beautiful lake, and maybe even this captivating phenomenon, you’ll have to trek on the Inylchek glacier, or book a helicopter flight to the Khan Tengri base camp.
Chatyr Kul: absolute calm
Chatyr Kol is Kyrgyzstan’s third largest lake. It is located at the border with China, near Tash Rabat. The lake has a pale blue color, which offers a surprising contrast with the high mountains that surround it.
Located at around 3500m altitude, the Chatyr Kul Lake is one of Kyrgyzstan’s most isolated sites. In winter, temperatures drop below 50°C. The lake’s shores are very marshy and dangerous for travelers and herds. It’s also at a border zone with China, and can only be reached with a border permit.
A few shepherds still come here with their yurts in the summer. Although the lake is difficult to access, it’s worth the efforts for the feeling of absolute calm you’ll enjoy on its shores. If you don’t have a border pass, you can hike up to a pass at around 4000m altitude to admire the lake from above. From Tash Rabat caravanserai, this hike takes around 8-9 hours to and back.
Its name, Chatyr Kol, translates from Kyrgyz language as “the celestial lake”. It’s a home to many rare bird species, including the golden goose. There are no fish in the lake, but many shrimps.
Kel-Suu, for an exclusive adventure
The Kel-Suu Lake, located in the Naryn region, is hard to access. But its green water surrounded by steep cliffs is really worth the visit. You’ll need a good 4WD car to reach it, as well as a border permit.
The lake is around 12km long and crisscrosses around the high mountains and cliffs that surround it. It is dominated by the Sary-Beles Summit, at 4726m altitude. A few shepherds come near the lake during the summer, and you’ll be able to stop by their camp to sleep or eat.
The Kel-Suu Lake sometimes disappears during winter. It is covered by a thick layer of ice, on which some people like to drive. The lake fills up in the spring, when snow melts, although sometimes it is still empty in the summer. If this is the case during your visit, don’t worry: you’ll then have the opportunity to explore the numerous caves that are usually underwater.
You can discover this wonder of nature with our program “Adventure to Kel-Suu Lake”.
Sary Chelek, on foot or by horse
The Sary Chelek Lake is located in the west of Kyrgyzstan, in a region that was long isolated, and nowadays predominantly Uzbek. A trip to Sary Chelek will allow you to discover a new culture on top of going on extraordinary hikes in the wilderness or horseback riding. During the Soviet Union, the access to the lake was forbidden. It is still rarely visited today.
The main lake is at around 1800m above sea level and can simply be reached by car, from the small village of Arkyt, where you can spend the night in a guest house. You can go for a short hike or long trek around the lake, to visit the large forest and the other lakes that surround it.
This little lake of 7.5km of length is around 350m deep, which makes it Kyrgyzstan’s second deepest lake. It was formed after a terrible earthquake, and the stunning landscape around it still bears the marks of this disaster.
If you’re looking for adventure and trekking opportunities, join our original trek from Talas to Sary Chelek.