Have you ever heard of Karakol? It is the most popular hiking destination and ski resort in Kyrgyzstan. It is also the biggest town on the shore of the Issy-Kul Lake. Karakol is surrounded with high Tian Shan mountains, so a walk around the streets offers so many incredible views of snowy peaks. But don’t just look up, also watch where you are walking, because a lot of streets in the town are not pawed. So, what is a must see and do in Karakol and surrounding area beside hiking and skiing?
5 best things to do in Karakol
1. Visit Holy Trinity Cathedral
Russian Orthodox Church of Holy Trinity Cathedral was built in 1869. After 20 years it was destroyed in an earthquake, but they beautifully rebuild it. Still today it is an impressive wooden building, full of interesting details with nice roses in the front of the church. Inside you can also see some special icons.
2. Admire Dungan Mosque
Dungan Mosque is as no mosque you have seen before. The building is colourful, full of carved details and made from wood without the use of nails. The wood was specially designed so the pieces fit together like puzzle. In front of the building there is a blue pagoda instead of minaret. The mosque was built in 1910 for the local Dungan community – Chinese Muslims that fled warfare in China at the end of 19th century.
3. Walk around the Russian Quarter
Karakol’s Russian Quarter features many carved wooden gingerbread houses that were built in the last two centuries by the rich Russian merchants. You can walk around the town and admire their colourful architecture, which is a remain of the Karakol’s interesting history as the frontier town on the edges of the Russian empire.
4. Relax in the city parks
Although Karakol it is not big, it has a few parks so you can sit in the shade of old trees and relax in the green environment. Visit Victory Park for some Soviet era and Kyrgyzy monuments, there is also an abandoned Soviet amusement park. In the town center you will find Tsentral’nyy Skver named Omuken Seylakunov. There are also Pushkin Park and Karakol River Park.
5. Shop for local souvenirs and stop for some traditional food
Being the biggest town in the region is also the best place to buy some local souvenirs. We visited Issyk-Kul Brand Souvenir Shop, which benefits a rural women’s development project, and bought seabuckthorn jam, honey, yurt model and bookmark made from wool. There are also two bazaars in Karakol and some occasional markets. The town is also full of cafes, we loved Fat Cat Café, and restaurants. It is a great place to try some delicious local food. We ate amazing lagman at Ethnic Cafe Dastorkon and many more amazing homemade dishes, as we stayed at local homestay.
2 day trips to make
The mountain valley of Altyn-Arashan is a popular hiking destination on 2400 meters above the sea, located around 30 kilometers south of Karakol. But if you do not have time to visit it by foot, you can rent an old Russian military truck with a driver and have a two hours (one way) ride of your life. The road is full of big rocks and steep climbs, so you are completely shaken by the end. But once you arrive to this idyllic mountain valley it is all worth it. You see a green valley, full of yurts, horses and cows, with mountain river stream and high snowy peaks in the distance. There are also three natural hot springs and getting in the hot water from the outside cold is really a joy. As it is having a lunch in a yurt.
2. Jeti-Ögüz Rocks & Kok-Jayik
28 kilometer west of Karakol on the foothills of the Terskey Ala-Too Mountains Jeti-Ögüz Rocks are situated. They are known for interesting rock formations “Seven Bulls” and “Broken Heart”. Not far away along the stream of a river Kok-Jayik Valley also known as the Valley of Flowers lies. It offers amazing views of snowy mountains and green scenery with yurts. We also did a short hike to a nearby waterfall.
Visited: August 2019