Lakes of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is not only a country of mountains but also a country of alpine lakes.  The number of lakes on the territory of Kyrgyzstan runs to 1923. The origin of the lakes is different: tectonic  lakes , erosion lakes, glaciation lakes and karstric lakes. Some lakes reach the size of small seas but some are not even mapped because of their  tiny size. The beauty of many lakes is so unusual and marvelous, that local people living there from ancient times invented many legends about their origins.

But most mountain lakes are small  water bodies of glacier and erosion origin. The exceptions are large lakes in holes of tectonic origin. The three biggest lakes in Kyrgyzstan are Issyk-Kul, Son-Kul and Chatyr-Kul formed exactly by tectonic processes.   


In the north-east of Kyrgyzstan among mighty mountain ranges that make up the Nothern Tien-Shan is located a big hollow of the Issyk-Kul Lake sometimes called “Kyrgyz Sea” because of its size. The hollow stretches from west to east over 275 km, from north to south over 146 km. Lake Issyk-Kul (in Kyrgyz “hot lake”, in ancient Turkic “Holy lake”) is regarded as a pearl of the country and whole Tien-Shan. The first record of the Issyk-Kul  Lake is found in the Chinese chronicles of the end of II century B.C.  where it is called “Dje-Hai” (“warm sea”).  The lake is located in the north-east of Kyrgyzstan in a wide tectonic hollow formed more than 50 milliard years ago. 

The surface square of this lake located at the altitude of 1607 m above the sea level makes up 6236 According to its size it is on the 23th place among words biggest lakes. Moreover, it is one of the deepest lakes of the globe. It follows only the Baikal Lake, the Kaspian Sea, the Tanganika and Nyasa Lakes.  Issyk-Kul is the second largest mountain lake in the world after the Titikaka Lake in South America. Its length  is about 178 km, and its width makes up 60 km, the coastline reaches to 668 km and the maximum depth makes up 668 meters.  The coastline of the lake is much  indented – there are about twenty picturesque bays and creeks. 

A narrow lakeside plain adjoins straight to the lake crossed b many rivers.  The lake has no outflow, but about eighty rivers and brooks flow into the lake. That is why the water in the lake is a bit salty, (almost 6 gr/liter), not drinkable but very transparent.  The main sources supplying the water to the lake are the Djyrgalan , Tup, Karakol, Djuuka, Ton, Djety-Oguz, Chon Ak-Suu, Ak-Terek, Barskoon, etc.  rivers.  

As a result of the climate changing and increase in using water of the rivers flowing into the lake for irrigation, the water level in the lake has decreased recently, but, according to the latest information, this process has begun developing it the opposite direction.

The Issyk-Kul Hollow is encircled by two massive mountain ranges – Kungei Ala-Too in the north (length 285 km, Chok-Tal – 4771 m), the Terskei Ala-Too in the south  (length 354 km, Karakol – 5280 m).  The mountain ring seems to fence the lake hollow from penetrating of the cold air from the north and the hot air from  the deserts of Central Asia that is why the climate here is pretty mild and makes the Issyk-Kul lake one of the biggest holiday centers of Central Asia. The water temperature in summer reaches +224 degrees, in winter - +4 degrees Celsius   (this is the reason of its name’s origin). The famous Russian explorer Semenov Tien-Shanskii called Issyk-Kul  “Aquamarine in a silver frame of the mountains”.

The name of the lake means “hot lake”  because it doesn’t freeze up all year round. The climate of the lake hollow is warm, dry, temperate, mountain-sea, favorable for  and treatment in sanatoria and health resorts, having holidays, tourism, water and mountain-skiing sports: few rainy days, many sunny days, high level of ultraviolet radiation, ionized air, good sandy beaches,  clean air, comfortable temperature (air temperature is +22-28 degrees, water temperature is +19-24), medicinal mineral waters and mud, plenty of fruit and vegetables – all this will create wonderful opportunities for rest and health recovering.    Various sanatoria, health resorts and holiday hotel concentrated mainly on the northern shore of the lake enable this opportunity . Cristal pure water, mineral springs together with mountain and at the same time mild, almost marine climate, enable a unique opportunity for resort rest with mud and thermal treatment. Lake Issyk-Kul is a true pearl of Central Asia.


The Song-Kul Lake is situated in the heart of the Inner Tien-Shan 90 km to the west of Naryn Town. The hollow that is 57 km long and  29 km wide is located inside massive  mountain ranges.  In the center of this hollow is spread the second largest lake of Kyrgyzstan – Song-Kul.  Its length is 29 km and its width is 17 km. Its surface is located at the altitude of 3013 m above the sea level, the square of the surface is 270 km, maximum depth is 13.2 m. The lake is of tectonic origin filled with fresh water.

Eighty brooks flow into the lake but only one river- the Song-Kul River flows out of the lake. Only four rivers have permanent flow into the lake: Kum-Bel,  Ak-Tash, Tash-Tebe and Kara-Keche.  The coast line is variable. North-west part is cut by rocky bays, but the rest part has sloping shores with swampy  spots. In the valley of the Song-Kul River there are many thermokarst craters that have been formed as a result   of melting of permafrost located at the depth of 1.5 m. 4 km away from the water source the water stream is hiding to the rocky gorge as a cascade waterfalls – Kek Jerty.  The lake freezes up in the second half of October and ice begins to break up on the lake at the end of April.  In some years the ice can be 1 m thick.

Animal life is very variable.  Different kinds of ducks, seagulls, herons, and other kinds of waterfowl nest there in summer (66 species). Due to severe climate there was no fish in the lake before 1959. At present time osman, peled, cisco  has been  introduced into the lake.


The Chatyr-Kul Lake is one  of  the biggest inland water bodies of Kyrgyzstan.  The basin occupies the lowest part of the tectonic  hollow located between the ranges of At-Bashi and Torugart-Too at the altitude of 3530 m above the sea level. The lake size – length makes up 23 km, width is 10.5 km, square is 160 sq. km, depth is up to 16.5 m. The lake hollow is situated in permafrost area at the depth of up to 100 m, where thermokarst formations are common such as  water funnels , etc.  The climate of the Chatyr-Kul hollow is severe and acutely continental. The maximal temperature in summer is +24 degrees, in winter is – 50. In winter there is little snow.

Among 24 rivers that flow into the lake only one  has permanent flow – Kek-Aigyn that is 45 km. In winter the river beds freezes up totally . The water level in the lake decreases permanently due to high water evaporation from its surface. The lake water is low mineralized (0.5 G – 1.0. G/L).   There are seaweeds in the lake at the depth up to 10 m.  Dead seaweeds build picturesque islands from pressed stems.  They are beloved places for nesting among numerous Indian geese and ducks.

Two kilometers to the south from the Torugart-Too range lies the lake Small Chatyr-Kul that is connected to the main lake by a winding channel.  The level of this small water is about one and half a meter higher than it is of the surface of the Chatyr-Kul lake.  Not far from it there are mineral springs that resemble famous Caucasian “narzan” by their taste.

Besides there three biggest lakes in Kyrgyzstan you will visit almost unknown among tourists but not less interesting lakes located in the Chui Valley, two lakes in the Chon Ak-Suu Gorge on Kungei Ala-Too mountains range, the lakes of erosion types  - Djasy-Kol located in the alpine valley Arabel between the Terskei Ala-Too and Soyok mountain ranges at the altitude of 3800 m above the sea level, swim in the Salty Lake, located on the shore of the Issyk-Kul lake that  once used to be its bay but then lost the connection with it. As the result of step-by-step drying the concentration of salinity there is very high.  That is why the water there biter-salty and has a high density.  So, it is difficult to sink there.

You can see petroglyphes at Sang-Kul, visit small cave in the area of Tash-Tabat, feast upon the panorama of the lakes from the height of the bird’s eye prospective, get acquainted to daily life and traditions of modern nomads and try some dishes of their national cuisine.

So, friends, let’s go! 

Best time: the second half of June – first part of September 
Activity: historical-educational, cultural and regional studies program with day hiking to view and panoramic points.
Duration: 14 days

1.Day Bishkek. Manas Airport. Excursion to the lakes of the Chui Valley Hotel B/L/D 
2.Day  Transfer to the Issyk-Kul Lake.  Hotel B/L/D 
3.Day Transfer to Karakol. Excursion to the lakes of the Chon-Ak-Suu Gorge Hotel B/L/D 
4.Day Transfer to the southern shore of the lake to Tamga village Guesthouse B/L/D  
5.Day Transfer to the Arabel Valley. Visit to lakes Djasyl-Kel and Arabel.  Hotel B/L/D 
6.Day  Day for rest at the lake.   Hotel B/L/D  
7.Day  Transfer to Kochkor Village. On the way visit to the Kara-Kol Lake.   Homestay B/L/D  
8.Day  Transfer to the northern shore of the Song-Kul Lake  Yurt camp B/L/D  
9.Day  Transfer to the southern shore of the Song-Kul Lake.  Yurt camp B/L/D  
10.Day Transfer to Tash-Rabat. Yurt camp B/L/D 
11.Day Hiking to the Panarama Pass.  Yurt camp B/L/D 
12.Day Hiking to the neighbor gorge – Ikche.  Yurt camp B/L/D 
13.Day Transfer to Bishkek Hotel B/L/D 
14.Day Departure. End of the program.  ------------------ B/ 

Program: Bishkek - Bishkek
Date: End of June- August .
Activity : Historical and cognitive, cultural and regional studies program with a day trip to the scenic and panoramic point.
Duration : 14 days

Day 1. Arrival in Bishkek. Meeting in "Manas" airport. Transfer to the hotel. Rest. A tour to the lake located in the Chui Valley. Most of the lakes are artificial, formed by damming small rivers flowing through the valley. Here you will be able to see many waterfowl. (B/L/D).

Day 2. Transfer to the northern shore of Lake Issyk- Kul (240 km). Accommodation in the hotel. We will first drive through the fertile Chui valley, which is narrowing gradually and which will lead us into the Boom gorge, at the bottom of which Chu River carries its rapid  waters. This is the main waterway inf the north of our country. The road will lead us into a vast Issyk- Kul hollow in the center of which lies a Kyrgyz sea - blue Issyk -Kul. One more hour and we will come to the place of our first overnight stop, located on the shore of the lake in a comfortable place. Today you should definitely swim in clear blue waters of the lake and enjoy yourself laying on the hot sand (B/L/D).

Day 3. Moving to Chon-Ak-Suu. On the way we will stop at the petroglyphs of Cholpon- Ata. Then we will visit two mountainous lakes located in the forest area. Walk around the lakes. Then climb to Kum-Bel Pass (2375 m), and descend into the gorge Ak- Suu. Transfer to Karakol (215 km). Here we will visit Muslim mosque and Orthodox Church. Accommodation in the hotel (B/L/D).

Day 4. Moving to the shore of Issyk- Kul to the Gulf of St. Basil. Little trek and picnic by the lake. Transfer to Tamga village. Accommodation in a hotel (B/L/D).

Day 5. Moving to Barskaun gorge, hiking to the waterfall. We will come to a high mountain valley to the lakes Arabelle Dzhasyl-Kyol and Arabel, where numerous rivers originate and later form the main river in Kyrgyzstan - Naryn. The climate here is very severe and changeable. Almost constantly blowing strong winds. Glaciers are coming very close to the road. Then we will drive to the southern shore of Lake Issyk -Kul to Kaji -Say village, accommodation in guest house (B/L/D).

Day 6. Rest day on the lake shore or, if you prefer, you may hike in the mountains (B/L/D).

Day 7. Drive to Lake Kara-Kul (Salt Lake), located not far on the southern shore of Lake Issyk -Kul. The lake is famous for its water composition, which resembles the well-known Dead Sea in Israel. Swimming in it. Moving to the village Kochkorka, accommodation in a house of local family (B/L/D).

Day 8. Travel to the north shore of the lake Son- Kul - the second largest lake in Kyrgyzstan, walk around the area. Accommodation in yurt camp on the shore of the lake (B/L/D).

Day 9. Moving to the southern shore of the lake Son- Kul. Walk around the neighborhood, little hike to the hills where you will be able to see the ancient petroglyphs. Accommodation in yurt camp on the shore of the lake (B/L/D).

Day 10. Transfer to Tash-Rabat - ancient caravanserai on one of the routes of the Great Silk Road. Hiking around the place. Excursion to the caravanserai. Accommodation in yurt camp (B/L/D).

Day 11. Hiking to the pass Panorama (4000 m), located in the ridge At-Bashi. It offers a wonderful view of the third largest lake in Kyrgyzstan - Chatyr-Kul, located at an altitude of 3530 m above the sea level. From the pass you may climb a little up. From here the view is even better. On the background of the lake you will be able to see the highest point of the ridge - Torugart-Too peak of 5108 m. Return to the yurt camp (16 km) (B/L/D).

Day 12. Hiking to the neighboring gorge Ichke over the nameless pass (3512 m). On the way visit a small cave. Going back to the yurt camp, located in the valley of Tash- Rabat (B/L/D).

Day 13. Transfer to Bishkek (450 km) , hotel accommodation (B/L/D).

Day 14. Transfer to the airport. End of program (B/-/-)


 Useful information:

1. Kyrgyz Visa. You may find the information about Kyrgyz visa here.

 Clothing and Equipment:

- Toiletries
- Sunscreen (at least 20 SPF), lip stick
- Water Bottle
- Sunglasses with good protection
- A backpack with capacity of 25 liters for personal belongings
- Sleeping bag (temperature range -10 ˚ -15 ˚)
- Headlamp, extra batteries

- Clothes for hot weather in the valley
- Lightweight shoes for trekking and walking in the city (sneakers, sandals)
- Trekking boots
- Trekking pants - thin thermal underwear, or any other for the nights in tents
- Windstopper or any other thin jacket
- Waterproof jacket (preferably from Gore-Tech) or hooded raincoat
- Waterproof trousers (preferably from Gore-Tech)
- T-shirts -2 pieces
- shorts
- long sleeved T-shirt (optional)
- Fleece (Polar Fleece) jacket, and / or a jacket made of windstopper (optional)
- Wool socks - 2 pairs (for the night in tent), cotton -3 pairs of socks
- Wool or fleece hat
- Cap with a visor from the sun