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).
Mountain view near Karakol
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.
There are limited tourist facilities for the discerning tourist, though there is much to be offered to the adventurous traveler.
Regular bus/Marshrutka and taxi services leave Bishkek in the morning for the 5–6 hour drive. The bus/Marshrutka fare is around 300 som (Dec 2011), and a seat in a taxi is 500–600 som (July 2012). If you go to Balykchy or somewhere on the lake's northern shore, these services might take you for a reduced fare.
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 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.
Dungan Mosque This is one of the few mosques that dodged Soviet destruction. It was built in 1910 by the local Dungan community (Muslim people from north-east China, who in the 19th century had escaped from oppression by the Chinese government on account of their religion) as a house of worship. Completely of wood without nails, it is painted in numerous colors. It is still used as a Muslim house of worship, and tourists are gladly welcomed.
Holy Trinity Cathedral This traditional Russian wooden cathedral with an onion dome has recently undergone extensive restoration work, paid for by the local Slavic community.
Regional Museum This museum hosts numerous archeological bits from the Scythian era and many stuffed animals, culled from the mountains. While there is much to see, little of the information available is in English, and the staff do not speak English. Still, the place is worth a visit.
Przewalski/Przhevalskiy Museum and Memorial Set a few miles outside the city, the museum hosts the life story of one of the world's great explorers, who died in Karakol in 1888. It is a true testimonial to Russian colonization of Central Asia. The staff here speak English. To the rear of his resting place lies the remnants of a Soviet torpedo testing facility. The museum can be reached by taxi, or by the very old-looking buses (often orange) that line up near the small park with the statue on Toktogula st.
Zoo, Near stadium. The Karakol zoo has many native species native to Kyrgyzstan such as bears, wolves, camels, and various hoofed creatures.edit
Victory Park (Park Pobedi), Telmana/Abdrakhmanova (Go all the way up Abdrakhmanova until it dead ends.). Classic soviet style park and monument. Nice trees and paths.edit
Animal Bazaar, (south of the city, along lenina). Mentioned in most guidebooks, this can be a very interesting affair. Starts early Sunday mornings. Regional herders/shepherds and farmers gather in Karakol to sell sheep, horses, dogs, goats, and other animals. edit
Slavyonski Bazar. This is a local flea market where one can find all sorts of household goods and soviet treasures.edit
Karakol Ski Base At 3040 meters, this is the highest ski resort in Central Asia. It is located approximately 30 minutes from Karakol and features 2 chalets and a hotel with a sauna. There are no chair lifts but several T-bars and rope lifts take you to some of the best runs. Lift tickets are only $8, and they recently purchased new ski equipment for rent.
Altyn Arashan Hot Springs Hot springs located within hiking distance from Karakol.
Jeti Oghuz Hot Springs An aging Russian sanatorium with radon treatment baths.
Karakol Canyon The Karakol Canyon offers excellent hiking. It's possible to hike to the beautiful Ala-Kul lake from this canyon. Arrange guiding in town at the Karakol's Community Based Tourism or CBT.
FGS : geo-physic station (2580 m.), Chong Kyzyl Suu, ☎ +996 312 564733. On the top of the Chong Kyzyl Suu valley, you will find an geo-physic and meteorologic station build in wood in 1948 by German builders. Families staying there all the year around will explain their activities and can guide you around the whole region. Possibility to sleep in the station. High routes going to Jeti Oguz through Archa Toer pass, to Kitshi Kyzyl Suu valley through Salvator pass, or Syrtha Ak-Shirak through Ashu Toer pass. Glacier lake Kashka Toer (3 hours walk), lake Shakartma (3 hours hike)250. edit
Hire a bicycle, Karakol Coffee. Karakol Coffee rents bicycles for 500 som for 3 hours or 800 som per dayedit
Banya, various. Karakol has numerous small and medium size banyas (saunas) around the city. For around 200 som per hour you can get an entire room for yourself or you and your friends/partner. Great way to get clean after a few days of skiing or hiking around. Working since 1954 is Монча #1 on Gebze street: 55744. Another further down Toktogula: 0771555255 . edit
Trekking. There's a standard 3day/2night trek that most people do. You can get a guide and porter from any of the travel agencies in town (CBT, Eco Trek, Yak Tours) but you can seriously do it on your own if you have camping gear (all of which you can rent if you don't have). In general the path is really easy to follow, and during most times of the year you'll see at least a few other people. You can buy a good topographical area map from any of the travel agencies, which should be enough. There's a 250 som entry fee to the park (per person), and depending on where you camp, there are also tent fees, which range from 50 som to 100 som per tent. At the middle of the trek is a mountain-top lake. At one end of the trail there are a series of guesthouses, one which has a hot spring you can go into for 250 som per person. Further downstream in the river are some natural (but cooler) hot springs, which you can use for nothing. There are three pools there; one of them is heart-shaped. Almost all the water on the mountain is safe for drinking without purification. The small streams are fine, but I wouldn't risk it on the lake or big river.edit
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.
Asman, Toktogula st (across the street from the megacom office). is the place for shashlik and has a DIY water-cooling feature (opposite the central park).edit
Yak Tours. If you're looking for a good home cooked Russian meal, try Yak Tours (in high season only!). The owner's wife is an excellent cook.edit
Fakir, Gorkovo st (Next to TSUM). Biggest restaurant in Karakol, good food, slow service.edit
Kalinka, Lomonosova St. (Behind the drama theater.). Russian style dining room with affordable, decent eats, though with middling service.edit
Lovely Pizza, Tynystanov st (Pervomaya st) (near the lenin statue, walk down the avenue). Pizza, beer, hookah, nice outdoor patio. Very slow.edit
Kench, (on Telmana (Karasaeva)). Perhaps the "fanciest" place in Karakol. Good food, but higher prices.edit
Live Bar, 78 Fuchika (Masalieva) (on the road to the ski base), . Drinks, steak, shisha, karaoke. A quality establishment of the Live Bar chain from Bishkek and Cholpon Ata. Not clear if this is still working in the summer time.edit
Salam Aleykum Cafe, (near Amir hotel). It's open only in the evenings, and you can see some show of dance, music, and Kyrgyz handicraft.edit
Zarina. Oigur and Uzbek Cuisine. Under renovations, expected to re-open in 2013edit
Karakol Coffee, 112a Toktogula (next to the 3 story building/Zarina restaurant). Fresh ground coffee and espresso, wifi, baked desserts, snacks, drinks, and some cocktails. The owner is a very nice woman. The sandwiches are especially good.edit
Amir Hotel is a nice hotel for someone who wants to have a comfortable stay at a regular-type hotel. It's clean and modern with friendly English-speaking staff.
Community Based Tourism(CBT) Karakol can arrange excellent home stays. CBT is in the city center on Abdrakhmanov Street.
Green Yard is a very nice guesthouse near the mountains. A room costs around 1200-1400 per night. Very nice accommodation, wifi, great breakfasts, and tea always available in the common dining room.
In front of Salam Aleykum, there is a yurt camp for 250 soms per night. Salam Aleykum is not the owner, but you can reserve there.
Yak Tours Guesthouse, Gagarina 10 (Just half a block away from the central bazaar). A nice guesthouse in an old wooden house. Beds are comfortable, rooms clean and the dog is very friendly. There is laundry service and a small restaurant within the guesthouse. However, the place only has one bathroom/toilet, so there might be some queueing in the morning. s: 350 som for a room, 100 som for a tent in the garden, it is from July 2013. edit
Hutorok (1790), Alybakova 63 (near Park Pobeda), ☎ +996 312 564733. Comfortable homestay in old style Karakol house. 2 Bathrooms, 10 beds, nice garden, good food, quiet, about 1.5km uphill walk from town near Park Pobeda. No English spoken. The houses are from 1938 and 1960. On the way to the ski resort of Karakol. Booking through Nomad's Land Ecotourism agency.650 per person. (42°28'47.70,78°24'21.31)edit
Yurt Camp, Toktogula 273 (Go south-east from the bus station, at traffic lights turn right and then 300 meters). Accomodation in real yurts, although above yurts are a non-authentic plastic covers. There are shared toilets and showers. The staff can sell you a detailed map of neigboring mountains.250 som per person (Aug 2010), don't afraid to bargain if they will you charge more. edit
Marzey Guesthouse, 6, Korolkova Street, ☎ +996 772 545620, . Lovely garden in the center of the town, in a quiet part of Karakol. All rooms are with attached bathroom. 700 soms. edit
Tagatai Hotel, Tynystanov St. More upscale, modern hotel on the quiet and tree-lined Tynystanova (Pervui Maya) street.edit
Ala-Kol Guesthouse, ☎ +996 555 900859. The guest house is located in a quiet area, and is close to the Karakol ski resort. It is owned by the couple that runs the guesthouse. It offers single, double, triple occupancy neat rooms with a fantastic view of snow covered mountain peaks opening up from the windows. Some rooms have rollaway couches. There is karaoke, sauna, video games, satellite tv, free wi-fi, transport to sights upon request. The owner's wife is an excellent cook, she prepares national meals, and serves very tasty breakfasts. As they ski, hike and paraplane themselves, the owner and staff of the house can be very helpful in advising the tours worth visiting and the sights worth seeing. Website www.alakol.kg, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Turkestan Yurt Camp, Torktogul 273, ☎ 996550234911. Clean dormitories, some in yurts, some in rooms. They also have double rooms which are more expensive. For a four person dorm it is 300som (May 2013). The bathrooms are not attached, but they are clean enough. In winter it's a little far to the bathroom. But the rooms are clean, and the manager is a nice guy, though he doesn't speak English. They offer breakfast for 50som extra which is a good deal. It is a ten-minute walk from the center.300. edit
Kyrgyz Tours Guest House, 130 Lenin Street (4 blocks up from central bazaar), ☎ +996552552529. checkin: 06:00; checkout: 24:00. The place is one of the best guest houses in Karakol. Located centrally, 4 blocks from central bazaar. Good option for backpackers. Have standard double room and rooms up to 5 beds. Yurt stay in a traditional Kyrgyz real yurt and camp site in garden. Car and bike parking. Laundry services. Free WiFi. Nearby Internet shop, computer services. Trekking gear for rent. Trekking information and possibility to hire professional staff for treks. Price for campsite 100som per person, rooms are from 400som depending what type of stay.from 350som. edit
OVIR Kushtobaev/Kutmanalieva, 50m NW of militsia/police
coordinates:42 29.908/78 23.971
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...)
Shared Taxis leave all day from outside the main bus station. Prices to Bishkek are 500-600 som, the trip takes 4-5 hours (and always stops for a snack outside of Balykchi). Taxis also leave for Cholpon Ata, especially during summer months.
Marshrutkas (shared vans) to Bishkek cost 300 som per seat (May 2013), and also leave all day from the bus station. A marshrutka stops more often and may take 6 hours. Buy your tickets at the каccа window, or occasionally from the driver.
Buses to Bishkek leave at 20:00 and 21:00 from the backside of the bus station and cost 330 som (arriving the next morning at 530-600. Choose whether you will go by southern (station is at easternsouth way from centre) or northern shore (from bazaar) of the lake. North is more frequented.
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.
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!