Located in the northeast of Kyrgyzstan, Issyk Kul Lake or Yssyk-Kol is a must-see in Kyrgyzstan. It ranks as the second largest lake of Central Asia, the second largest saline lake in the world and the seventh deepest lake. This place attracts numerous tourists with its magnificent equestrian and pedestrian itineraries in the surrounding mountains and its beautiful background of towering white summits.
Back in history
There are many big ancient cities buried under the waters of Issyk Kul. You can go diving to discover the walls of some of these citadels and ancient objects. The cities were all flooded many years ago. According to a local legend, wells in the area had not been closed and flooded the region until this formed Issyk Kul Lake. On December 8, 2006, archaeologists discovered for the first time objects from an ancient civilization that had existed for nearly 2500 years at the bottom of Issyk Kul Lake.
Historians also say that from the Issyk Kul Region came the black plague that disseminated Europe and Asia. The region has always been an important stop on the Silk Road.
Issyk kul nowadays
This small sea with fresh and crystal clear waters is one of the largest lakes in Central Asia and one of the oldest lakes in the world. Its name means "Warm Lake". Located at 1,608 m (5,276 ft) above the sea level, the salt in its water prevents it from freezing, despite the altitude and the cold winters it goes through. 182 km (113 miles) long and 60 km wide (37 miles), Issyk-Kul has its deepest point at 702 m (2,303 ft), making it also one of the world’s most voluminous lakes.
Many streams and rivers come to feed the water, mostly originating from glaciers. Nestled between high mountains of the Tian Shan, including the Khan Tengri Peak, Issyk Kul is known for its transparent water, like in the Baikal Lake. Around the Lake, many cities have been built including Karakol, Cholpon Ata and Balyktchy. Formerly, Issyk-Kul represented, on the Silk Road, a halt for the travelers moving towards the West.
Interesting fact, the level of Issyk Kul Lake changes regularly. It is probably due to seismic action in the region. If you visit the Prjevalski Museum in Karakol, make sure to look at this tomb. He was buried at the foot of Issyk Kul Lake, at his demand, so that the lake’s waves covered his feet. But today, you will see, the lake is in retreat, over 1km down from the great explorer’s tomb.
You’ll be seized by the contrast between blue waters of the lake and the snow-covered mountains in the background. The Issyk Kul Lake is the Kyrgyz’s favorite vacation destination. It also receives a lot of tourists from neighboring Kazakhstan and Russia. It is known for its various medical institutions fighting against tuberculosis, and the healing mineral sources you can find around the lake.
The Northern shore is more developed and you will find big resorts to relax. Many activities like boat rides, pedal boat, Jet Ski etc. are offered on these busy beaches.
The South shore is ideal for trekkers. Calmer, it only has small villages and wild beaches.
Many valleys around the lake offer great hiking spots. You can pitch your tent or spend the night in a yurt. Starry night skies offer great landscapes, and in the morning, you’ll be astonished by the contrasting colors of the valleys, the peaks and the water.
How to get there?
Many buses leave from Bishkek to one or the other shores of Issyk Kul Lake. It will take between three and six hours to reach your destination, depending on where you are heading.