Karakol is a true gem in the rough, just awaiting a master jeweler to polish it up. It holds great potential as a future tourism destination, offering year-round trekking, mountaineering, skiing, and spaaing opportunities, set in a picture-perfect setting of traditional Russian homes.
This town was formerly called Przhevalsk (Пржевалск) during the Tsarist and Soviet era. It is located at the far end of the Issyk Kul, nestled in the Tian Shan mountains, and is the capital of the Issyk Kul Oblast (province).
The city was originally founded by Russian Tsarist troops as a military outpost, and it is the resting place of Nikolai Przewalski (Przhevalskiy), the famed Polish-Russian explorer and naturalist. It is a city of traditional Russian houses, nestled between the Tian Shan mountains and Lake Issyk Kul.
Karakol was originally a Russian settlement, and it's still one of the few remaining large Slavic communities in Central Asia. Unfortunately, unemployment and the resulting alcoholism have left a toll, as many young people have left, and the soaring crime rate has made it rather dangerous at night.
From Bishkek Regular bus/Marshrutka and taxi services leave Bishkek in the morning for the 5–6 hour drive. The bus/Marshrutka fare is around 300-450 som (April 2014), and a seat in a taxi is 500–800 som (April 2014). If you go to Balykchy or somewhere on the lake's northern shore, these services might take you for a reduced fare.
From Kazakhstan Regular buses and taxis leave for the Kazakh border to Kegen regularly, although the border crossing at the Karkara Valley is currently closed.
From Tamchy (Issyk Kul) Airport Tamchy is approximately 2½–3 hours away, and taxis can be arranged locally. Tamchy has limited air service on SCAT airways during the summer travel season.
Karakol Airport Karakol has an airport, largely used for charter service and located on the northern edge of the city. In 2011 Almaty-Karakol flights flew once a week during the ski season and schedules may be reinstated again in 2012.
In December 2012 the company Avia Traffic announced that it would be running flights from Bishkek to Karakol, though as of spring 2013 these have not materialized.
Taxis cost 80 som per stop (December 2014) within the city.
There are also local mini-buses (marshrutkas) that ply planned routes 10 SOM.
Ski vans collect every morning in the winter on the main street near the Turkish fast food place 150 SOM.
Issyk-kul Central Mosque of Karakol city named after Ibrahim Aji was built by initiative of Ibrahim Aji. His given name is Ma - Yoo - Ton. He invited the famous Beijing architect Chou Seu and 20 carvers with the skills of traditional Chinese architecture and composition techniques for building the mosque. In the construction of outbuildings and other work were involved local craftsmen. Construction of the mosque began in 1904 and completed in 1907. Ingenious system allows builders to build the mosque with no metal reinforcement tools. The mosque holds 42 based pillars. Encircling of the building is multi-tiered wooden cornice, decorated with images of plants like grapes, pomegranates, pears and peaches. From 1929 to 1947 during the Soviet era mosque was used as a storehouse. In 1947, the building was given to the Muslim community and to the present day function as a mosque. Besides it the mosque is registered as a historical monument and protected by the law. Today mosque operates successfully and opens for everyone who visits our city. Address: Abdrakhmanova/Bektenova Working hours: 4am-10pm
The story of the church goes back to July, 1869, when Karakol was basically a garrison town established as an outpost on the edges of the Tsarist Russian Empire. The Karakol church, however, was destroyed in an earthquake in 1889 which caused havoc in the town and took several lives. It took six years to complete, and was finally consecrated in 1895. During the period of construction, a yurt served the congregation as a church. It has seen considerable service, not just as a church. Over the years, particularly following the Revolution in 1917, it has been used as an educational centre housing a school, ladies’ gymnasium and an institution of Higher Education; a Sports Hall; a Theater; a Dance Hall and even as a Coal Store. Then, in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Independence of Kyrgyzstan, the local authority once again gave the building back to the church, with the proviso that all further restorations were their responsibility. Address: Gagarina/Lenina Working hours: 8am-5pm Sat &Sun closed
This small museum was the pre-revolutionary summer home of the Iliana merchant family. During the turbulent years of 1918-20 the building earned its socialist stripes as headquarters of the Regional Revolutionary Committee, and was subsequently transformed into a museum by order of the Soviet Council of Ministers in 1948. Scythian artifacts include enormous bronze pots retrieved from Lake Issyk-Kul, displayed alongside exhibits on petroglyphs in the area. Besides a comprehensive display of traditional Kyrgyz punched leather work, felt wall hangings and woven yurt decorations, the museum has a colorful collection of national costumes, examples of finely worked silver jewellery and a good exhibition of Kyrgyz applied art. One hall covers the region's flora and fauna - much of which is endangered and listed in the 'Red Book' (a Soviet inventory of protected species). The museum is also worth visiting to gain a Soviet perspective of history in the region. A couple of walls relating to Kyrgyz union with Russia and the subsequent revolution are now historical artifacts in themselves. Address: Gagarin/Jamansariev Working hours: Mon-Sun 9am-5pmTicket cost: 70 SOM
Nikolay Mikhailovich Przhevalsky is one of the first Russian Scientist-Geographer who started studying in details the geography, flora and fauna of the Central Asian countries. Beginning from 1870, he arranged 4 large expeditions to Mongolia, China and the Tibet. During his expeditions he revealed the exact directions of the mountain ranges and borders of the Tibet Mountains. He described the nature, relief, climate, flora and fauna in the territories under his study and discovered over 200 plant species. Przhevalsky also collected an enormous zoological collection which comprised several thousand of species of plant, animals, birds, fishes and insects. In the year of 1888, he died from typhoid fever on the eve of his fifth expedition to Central Asia; he was buried on the Issyk-Kul lakeside not far from the city of Karakol. The Memorial Museum of N. M. Przhevalsky was opened on 29 April 1957 in Karakol.Address: Village Pristan Prjevalski Working hours: Mon-Sun 9am-5pm Ticket cost: 120 SOM
Karakol Zoological Park was founded in 1987. This is only zoo in Kyrgyzstan. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the economics of the country quickly fell into disrepair, and it concerned the newly created object culture. In 2001, there was a question about closing the zoo. However, there were found sponsors and it allowed not only to preserve the wildlife area, and keep it in a relatively prosperous state. Nowadays the buildings, cages and cells are not new, but in very good condition. There are Japanese macaques, bears, wolf, deer, camels, Prjevalski's horse, peacock and many others.Address: Koenkozov/Parkovaya Working hours: Mon-Sun 9am-5pm Ticket cost: 50 SOM
Early on Sunday mornings one of Kyrgyzstan’s biggest animal markets takes place around 2km north of central Karakol. Typical of such markets, you’ll observe scenes at once sad and comical, with locals improbably bundling voluptuous fat-tailed sheep into the back seats of Lada cars. The setting amid semi-derelict flour mills might seem unprepossessing, but on clear days the backdrop of white-topped mountains is more striking from here than from the town center. A series of earthen unloading plat¬forms lead north. Jostle through the chaos to reach a bigger main compound one block north, where you’ll find horse sales and vendors of beautiful embossed leather saddlery. On foot the bazaar is about 25 minutes’ walk from City Center. (Resource: Lonely Planet) Address: Lenina Working hours: 05am -10am, only on Sunday
Jeti-Oguz is famous for its large, red sedimentary rocks, about 2,200m. The rock have been carved out by a river from the Terskey Alatoo mountains. Years of weathering have split the rocks into seven parts. The forms of the rocks are similar to the head of the seven bulls, “Jeti”-means seven and “Oguz”-means bull in Kyrgyz. Another beautiful place to see is Broken Heart. This is a reddish rock shaped like a broken heart. For this rock, there are several legends: long ago a king who was very rich and had many wives went hunting. One day he saw a beautiful girl with black long hair. He fall in love with her at first sight, and wanted to marry her. However she was from a poor family and was already engaged. Her family ran away from the king when they learned that he wanted their daughter. But the king caught them, killed her fiancé and her family. Her heart was torn by sadness and the Broken Heart appeared in that place. Transportation: From Karakol to Jeti-Oguz Sanatorium/Broken Heart take a private Taxi for 600 SOM, the shared Taxi for 150 SOM per person (35km) from Karakol’s Aktilek Bazaar.*Beware that after 5pm it will be hard to find a shared Taxi. Address: Jeti-Oguz valley Working hours: 8am-5pm
Barskoon waterfall is a geological protected area located in Jeti-Oguz District of Issyk Kul Province of Kyrgyzstan in 90 km to the south-west of Karakol on one of the tributaries of Barskaun River. It was established in 1975. Within the Barskoon valley there are two waterfalls on top of the mountain and the mountainside. At the foot of the mountain you can enjoy the beautiful river of Barskoon. During the summer time there yurts built. At the yurt you try Kyrgyz traditional drink Kymys while enjoying the beauty of the landscape. Transportation: From Karakol to Barskoon waterfall (100km) pivate Taxi cost 2500 SOM per car or you can take Marshrutka from South Shore Bus Station to Barskoon village for 100 SOM and walk 10 km to the waterfall.*Beware that after 5pm it will be hard to find a Marshrutka / Taxi. Address: Barskoon ValleyWorking hours: 9am-5pm
The canyon was named because of its bizarre rocky landscape, which for many years has been transformed by wind into amazing sculptures and formations. Some formations look like The Great Wall of China and you can also find other formations that look like snakes, dragons, sleeping giants and even whole castles. From here opens unusual view on a majestic panorama of lake and blue caps of mountains. It’s an excellent destination for children and adults alike and makes for an easy hike close to the lake. Transportation: From Karakol to Fairy Tale Canyon (112km) pivate Taxi cost 2000 SOM per car or you can take Marshrutka to Balykchy or Bokonbaevo and ask driver to stop at the canyon for 100 SOM. Address: 4 km from the village of Tosor Working hours: 9am-4pm
The salty lake known as a “Dead Lake of Kyrgyzstan”. The lake was opened as a tourist destination in 2001. The water is so salty that one can read a newspaper while floating on the surface. The water contains about 132 gram of salt per liter. This lake is also popular as a “medical tour”. Mud is superheated deep beneath the earth’s surface. Many locals believe that it has healing properties. Transportation: From Karakol to Salty Lake (134km) pivate Taxi cost 3000 SOM per car or you can take Marshrutka from South Shore Bus Station to Balykchy for 170 SOM and ask driver to stop in the village Kyzyl-Tuu and walk 400m towards to the Lake Issyk-Kul.*Beware that after 5pm it will be hard to find a Marshrutka / Taxi. Working hours: 8am-5pm Sat &Sun closed
In the town centre, there is a local Tsum that is open until 1700. They have a limited selection of outdoor goods and souvenirs. It is recommended to check prices at local bazaars, where you can buy everything. On the main street next to Caravan you will find the One Village, One Product store run by JICA. They have a variety of locally made products and handicrafts. Interesting soaps, jams, and felt products!
There is an antique shop down the main street (south) towards the bazaar, and a honey cooperative across the street.
Local Honey can be purchased at the bazaar or the Beekeepers' Cooperative.
Sea Buckthorn products can be purchased seasonally.
Karakol is known throughout Kyrgyzstan for its Dungan specialty Ashlian-fu. This is a dish of cold noodles in a spicy vinegar sauce. The best place to eat it is in the shed-like building across the street from KICB bank and the small bazaar or within the large bazaar. It usually costs around 25 som, with bread 8-25 som.
OVIR Kushtobaev/Kutmanalieva, 50m NW of militsia/police coordinates:42 29.908/78 23.971 9am-5pm 1 month visa extension at the same day Bring your passport, two passport-pictures, one copy of the relevant pages in your passport and fill out two forms. Go to the RSK Bank (Toktogul 271, near Turkestan yurt camp, coordinates: 42 29.696/78 23.895), go to the counter on the right, write on a pice of paper your name and the sum you have to pay (1000 som, 8/2001): then you’ll get a form and can pay the money on counter „1“. Simple, isn’t it?!? There is a 15-som fee for the transaction. Back at the OVIR you’ll get your passport back, but you’ll be asked for another 153-som fee for the sticker. (niet receipt, certainly...)
Jeti Oghuz and the Valley of the Flowers: You must take a bus from the bazaar to the town of Jeti Oghuz which costs 25 som. Then take a taxi from the town to the sanatorium, which costs 100-150som (I paid 120). Then from the sanatorium you can walk to the Valley of the Flowers, which is about 2 km. It is worth a day trip, but be prepared if you go in May, because it was freezing outside. There is no electricity out there, or even food or water to buy. So go prepared. The yurt should cost 250som. It is worth staying a couple of nights if you want to do some hiking.