Karakol is a true gem in the rough, just awaiting a master jeweler to polish her 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 (region).
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, the famed 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, while there is much to be offered to the adventurous traveler.
Regular bus/Marshutka and taxi services leave Bishkek in the morning for the 5–6 hour drive. Bus/Marshutka fare is around 300 soms (Dec 2011), and a seat in a taxi is 500–600 soms (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.
Taxis costs between 50 and 60 soms.
There are also local mini-buses that ply planned routes.
Dungan Mosque This is one of the few mosques that dodged Soviet destruction. It was built in 1910 by the local Dungan community that escaped Chinese oppresion as a house of worship. Completely of wood without nails, it is painted in numerous colors. It is still used as a house of worship, are tourists are gladly welcomed.
Holy Trinity Cathedral This traditional Russian wooden cathedral with an onion dome has recently undergone extensive restoration work, payed 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.
Przevalski 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.
Zoo, Near stadium. The The Karakol zoo has many native species native to Kyrgyzstan such as bears, wolves, camels, and various hoofed creatures.
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 ageing Russian sanatorium will greet you here.
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.
Hire a bicycle, Ecotrek tourism. Around 600 Som per day for a fairly decent mountain bike - good for exploring the local area.
In the town centre, there is a local Tsum, opened only until 5PM. They have a limited selection of outdoor goods and souvenirs. 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.
Local Honey can be purchased at the bazaar.
Sea Buckthorn products can be purchased seasonally.
Karakol is known throughout Kyrgyzstan for its Dungan specialty Ashliam-fu. This is a dish of cold noodles in a spicy vinegar sauce. The best place to eat is near the bazaar in the shed-like building across the street from KICB bank.
Asman is the place for shashlik and has a DIY water-cooling feature (opposite the central park) . Fakir restaurant for decent Central Asian Cuisine. Kalinka, a Russian restaurant, also offers affordable, decent eats with horrible service. Kench, on the outskirts of town, offers probably the best dinner option for the biggest price. It should still be very cheap by western standards.
If you are vegetarian or looking for cheap western-style food, check out 'Lovely Pizza, in the corner of Prvomajsa (1-May) and Moskovska (near the university, behing the park). They serve delicious pizza and cold beer in their outside terrace or in the cosy interior.
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.
The Salam Aleykum cafe just opened near Amir Hotel. It's open only in the evenings, and you can see some show of dance, music, and Kyrgyz handicraft.
Karakol is probably the only place in country, where you can have goulash.
Karakol Coffee has real coffee, wifi, some snacks, and drinks. On the main street next to the big restaurant Zarina.
Vodka, vodka and vodka...
Amir Hotel is a nice hotel for someone who wants to have a comfortable stay at a 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 Abdrakmonov Street.
Green Yard is a very nice guesthouse near the mountains. A room costs around 1200-1400 per night. Very nice accomodations, wifi, great breakfasts, and tea always available in the common dining room.
In front of Salam Aleykum, you have a yurt camp for 250 soms per night. Salam Aleykum is not 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: 300 som, it is from September 2009.
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)
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.
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.
Tagatai Hotel, Tinistanov St. More upscale, modern hotel on the quiet and tree-lined Tinistanova (Pervui Maya) street.
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 an 15som fee for the transaction.
Back at the OVIR you’ll get your passport back, but you’ll be asked for another 153som 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) cost 250-300 som per seat, 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 leave at 20:00 and 21:00 from the backside of the bus station and cost 330 som (arriving in Bishkek 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.
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!