The 3-day Ala-Kul trek is one of the most popular treks in Kyrgyzstan and it is easy to understand why, as the surroundings are beautiful.
The blue alpine lake is just stunning, located at 3500 meters, and surrounded by majestic mountains.
It is a fairly hard trek but doable for almost everyone.
The scenery you see along the trek is simply breathtaking and the best part is that you don’t need a guide, to own a tent, or be an experienced mountaineer.
This guide contains everything you need to know for trekking to the Ala-Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan.
For a generic guide to trekking in the country, including tips + packing list, read my hiking guide to Kyrgyzstan
In this trekking guide to Ala-Kul you will find:
Before your trip, remember to get a few good books about the region, and here you can check the best books on Central Asia & the Silk Road
Introduction: about the Ala Kul trek
The Ala-Kul trek is named after lake Ala-Kul.
Actually, in the Kyrgyz language, ”kul” means lake, so the actual name of the lake is ”Ala”.
It starts in the Karakol Valley, takes you to beautiful meadows, through the forest, up to a rugged high-altitude landscape, and finally up to the Ala-Kul Pass at 3900m altitude.
If you are in Karakol and are hungry for adventure and nature, then this hike is perfect for you.
It is a three-day trek and a tent or camping gear is not necessary.
For the first night, you can stay at a yurt camp which is the second camp on the trail.
The second night is in Altyn Arashan which has plenty of guesthouses.
Dinner and breakfast are available in both the yurt camp and Altyn Arashan.
It’s a challenging hike, and this was the first time we had ever done an overnight mountain trek, so we had zero experience. Experienced or not, this is an amazing trek for anyone wanting adventure.
Georgia is also an amazing trekking destination. Read:
Everything you need to know for hiking in Georgia
How to prepare for trekking to Ala-Kul & Altyn Arashan in Kyrgyzstan
Ala-Kul trek overview
- Duration: 3-day, 2-night trek
- Highest point: Ala-Kul pass, 3900m
- Start: Karakol Valley
- End: Ak-Suu village
- Distance: 55km
- Difficulty: medium/hard
- Best time: June – September
If you are not into trekking but still want to see an impressive alpine lake take a day trip to the Big Almaty Lake, located just outside Almaty
Quick tips for trekking to Ala-Kul
- Check the weather forecast beforehand – The weather changes quickly in the mountains. We recommend this website for the most accurate forecast at Ala-Kul. There are also some trekking offices in Karakol that can advise you on the weather forecast but, personally, we didn’t find them very helpful.
- Download Maps.me and download the Kyrgyzstan map – All the trails are on there and it works offline too. We had our phones on “airplane mode” the whole time to save battery.
- In high season, book accommodation on the trail in advance – We recommend doing this through any hostel.
Packing list for trekking to Ala-Kul
Make sure not to bring too much; it’s only 3 days and you will be carrying everything on your back.
Since the nights and mornings are cold, layers of clothes are necessary; it gets pretty cold at 3900m altitude!
For a complete packing list, don’t forget to check my trekking guide to Kyrgyzstan
Travel insurance for trekking the Ala-Kul in Kyrgyzstan
Like most treks in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, the Ala-Kul trek is an actual mountain adventure, so make sure to buy proper insurance, like a proper plan that provides cover for trekking at high altitudes and stuff like that (not all insurance companies will cover you for that).
Moreover, we are in the middle of a global pandemic, so you should also look for travel insurance that covers everything related to COVID-19. For that, SafetyWing is one of the very few insurance providers with COVID-19 coverage:
Medical expenses in case you get sick, free testing if prescribed by a doctor, repatriation, etc.
Trekking to Ala-Kul & Altyn Arashan: how to complete it in 3 days
Here’s the day by day itinerary.
How to hike the Ala-Kul trek: Day 1
- Distance covered: 19km
- Altitude: 1070m at the second camp.
- Entrance to national park — First bridge — Second bridge/first camp — Second camp
The marshrutka from Karakol left us at the entrance of the National Park in the Karakol valley.
We jumped out and got our Ala-Kul park permit – ready to start out 3-day adventure!
From the entrance of the park the first leg of the hike is 16km with a 650m elevation increase along a river, crossing two bridges.
There is a camp by the second bridge where you can choose to spend the night.
But, since the second day is without a doubt the hardest, we recommend not doing that and continuing towards the second camp located at 2900m altitude (3km and 450m up).
Because we started the trek a bit late, around 10 in the morning, the trail was almost empty, we barely passed any people. The sun was out, and it was peaceful, walking next to a river and through beautiful forest.
We felt we were in heaven, going on a real trek like proper adventurers in these beautiful surroundings.
Only a few cars drove past us, dropping hikers off at the second bridge. It is possible to take a taxi to the second bridge in order to make the first day easier. But, in our opinion, you are missing out on too much by doing that.
After walking for about an hour the valley suddenly opened up in front of us, showing breath-taking scenery.
Second Bridge/First camp
It took us 3 – 4 hours to reach the second bridge. We decided to eat our lunch there and fill our water bottle from the river next to the bridge and we enjoyed the wilderness.
It is possible to camp here for the night, just 100m or so from the bridge.
It is tempting to stop here for the day, if you have a tent. But it is better to keep going and take a sharp left, over the bridge to the yurt camp, as the next day will be the hardest day on the trail, and you will want to save as much energy as you can.
Tip: when we checked there were no yurts at the first camp. So, you have to bring your own tent.
The trail to the second camp is only 3km, but goes up a steady 450m. This is a lot of elevation gain in a short amount of distance. It goes through a thick forest and feels like a fairy tale.
The hike up there is, as you can imagine, quite hard after a full day of hiking. But it is a super nice way to end the day as it is well worth the climb and the views just get better with each step, don’t forget to look back!
Second camp (2900m)
After a final exhausting stretch, we made it to the camp.
A small, cozy yurt camp, managed by an older, strong Kyrgyz woman. The camp has a few small yurts that you can sleep in and one big yurt for group dinner.
Be prepared to squeeze in with other people, room is limited so every inch is being used. You can stay in the yurts and pay for both breakfast and dinner.
It is even possible to buy some snacks and beer, something that we were not expecting at this altitude! Next to all the yurts, there is also a small area for tents. If you are camping you can pay for dinner and breakfast in the yurt.
Tip – During high season you should book a place in advance because they fill up fast. It would be a shame to hike all the way up there and have nowhere to sleep! Most hostels offer to book them in advance
How to hike the Ala-Kul trek: Day 2
- Distance covered: 15km
- Altitude: up to 3900m – 1000m ascent and 1400m descent
- Second camp — Ala-Kul lake — Ala-Kul pass — Altyn Arashan
This day is, in our opinion, the most challenging day of the hike.
Basically, you go from the second camp (2900m) to Ala-Kul lake and over the 3900m pass, ending the day in the hot springs in Altyn Arashan.
It’s best to wake up early to have enough time to walk to Altyn Arashan before dark because, even though it is not that far kilometer-wise, the trail ascends very fast and is steep.
The hike from the camp to the pass is only 5km, but ascends 1000m. From there it is another 10km and a 1400m descent before reaching Altyn Arashan.
For the first bit, we walked up along a river and came across a few waterfalls. We stopped a few times just to catch our breath and admire the scenery.
After a long hard walk, we peeked over the edge and saw the blue corner of the Ala-Kul lake, we made it! It was a very cool moment, seeing the impressive blue Ala-Kul lake in all its glory.
The scenery so far was breathtaking but as soon as we reached the lake it changed completely.
We felt like proper mountaineers, reaching an alpine lake nestled in between rugged mountains.
We continued along the trail and found a perfect spot where we could eat lunch, overlooking the lake. From this point you can see the pass in front of you, the thought of going all the way up to 3900m is super exciting!
First time we would ever go this high.
Ala Kul travel tip: the Ala-Kul pass goes to a proper high altitude and the weather here can be extremely unpredictable. It changes from one second to another and we got first-hand experience of this. It was sunny, beautiful blue skies the whole time we had been hiking this day. When we were about one third of the way up the pass, in the blink of an eye, everything became very dark and overcast. The wind picked up and it started to hail but, fortunately, it didn’t last for very long. Here you can check a complete packing list.
After continuing for a bit, we came to the foot of the pass.
From there it was almost a straight path up to the pass. It feels like you can almost reach for the top, but it was much further away than it seemed. Slowly but steadily we inched closer.
Once we reached the top of the pass, it felt like being on top of the world. Our bodies were completely empty from the climb but got full of adrenaline standing on the edge of the mountain at 3900m.
We had never trekked so high, we felt tired and sweaty but never felt as good.
After being satisfied with the amazing views we started the trip down. It goes down very fast and the track is covered in loose rocks making it super slippery.
At the bottom of the pass, there is a small yurt camp with a bunch of horses, it is possible to rent them and ride to Altyn Arashan. A pretty fun option if you’re into horse riding!
From the pass, it is a 10km downhill walk to Altyn-Arashan.
The path is a bit unclear at some points here, just make sure you have Maps.me. The trail splits a few times but it always comes back to the same trail.
After a beautiful hike, we made it to the village in Altyn Arashan, which is famous for its hot springs.
We stayed at Elza’s guesthouse, one of the first ones you come across when entering the village.
Every guesthouse has their own little hot spring with the possibility to book a 30-minute time slot. So, you have the place for yourself.
As you can imagine, the first thing we did was to book a time for the hot spring. We ate a good, hardy Plov for dinner (typical Central Asian dish) and dipped in the hot spring for dessert. This was an amazing, and a perfect end to a very challenging but beautiful day.
How to hike the Ala-Kul trek: Day 3
- Distance covered: 18km
- Altitude: 2500m – 750m descent
- Altyn Arashan — Hot Springs – Ak-Suu — Karakol
The secret hot springs
We had heard about some secret natural hot springs outside Altyn Arashan, located next to a river.
These hot springs are located on the edge of a hill, overlooking a big river. It is very secluded and beautiful. There is room for about 3-4 people in the big one.
How to get there
Unfortunately, they are not that big a secret anymore, but most people we met on the trail hadn’t heard of them. They are located just outside Altyn Arashan. The main road/trail out of the village goes uphill, here you can take a small path to the left going down towards the river. Follow this path for about 15 minutes and you will come across the hot springs.
Note: They are very well marked on Maps.me
The walk back to Ak-Suu is 15km, mostly downhill with stunning views. If you’ve had enough walking at this point, it is possible to catch a 4×4 from Altyn Arashan to Ak-Suu.
From Ak-Suu village, you can catch a marshrutka back to Karakol.
How much does trekking to Ala-Kul cost?
These are the detailed costs:
- Marshrutka #101: 10 Som
- Park permit: 250 Som
- Night in a yurt at second camp: 1200 Som (incl. dinner and breakfast)
- Beer at second camp: 150 Som
- Guesthouse Elza, Altyn Arashan: 500 Som
- Dinner and breakfast Altyn Arashan: 450 Som
- Hot springs Guesthouse Elza: 200 Som (30 minutes)
- Marshrutka #350: 50 Som
- Snacks: 250 Som
Total costs 3-day Ala-Kul Trek:
3,060 Som – 39€
How to get to the starting point and go back
It’s very easy:
- From Karakol to the Entrance of the National Park: Marshrutka #101
- Marshrutka leaves in front of Duet Hostel
- From Ak-Suu to Karakol: Marshrutka #350
- There is a clear bus stop at the end of the trail just before entering Ak-Suu
Where to stay during the Ala-Kul Trek
Budget: Duet Hostel: An affordable hostel with a big common area. They are very helpful and it´s a perfect place to meet trekking buddies.
Mid-range: Riverside – An ideal place for couples. This lovely guest house is run by a Dutch/Kyrgyz couple. It has very comfy beds, an awesome breakfast, and the owner is a very kind man who really knows what travelers need.
First night: Second camp
There are yurts and places to pitch your tent. It is possible to book the yurts in advance; Duet Hostel offers to book the yurts. I recommend booking the yurts in advance, especially during high season as they fill up quickly.
Second night: Altyn Arashan
There are plenty of guesthouses to choose from, we stayed in Elza’s guesthouse and it was great. The food was perfect, and they lit up a woodstove in our room in the evening. It is possible to book them in advance (find them on Facebook).
In Karakol, another great, more offbeat alternative trek is the Archa Tör Pass trek
For a very detailed packing list, check my packing list for trekking in Central Asia
Don’t forget your travel insurance and, for Kyrgyzstan, I strongly recommend World Nomads
What more about Kyrgyzstan? Check:
- Tips for traveling in Kyrgyzstan
- Backpacking in Kyrgyzstan: The ultimate travel itinerary
- Horse riding in Tash Rabat
- A beginner’s guide to trekking in Kyrgyzstan
- China-Kyrgyzstan border crossing
- Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border crossing
- 10 Reasons to visit Kyrgyzstan
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