A Two Week Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan Itinerary
A Two Week Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan Itinerary was originally published in October 2020
Looking to take in two ‘stans on a limited time frame? No problem! Keeping it moving, you can squeeze in the best highlights of two Central Asian nations in this two week Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan itinerary.
Two Week Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan Itinerary
Table of Contents
Hike To Kolsai Lake
Karkara Border Crossing
Altyn Arashan-Ala Kul Hike
A Two Week Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan Itinerary
Almaty – 2 Days
Almaty is the lush and green former capital of Kazakhstan, situated in the south of the country. With hip cafes and great restaurants, museums, parks, and plenty of landmarks, Almaty makes for a good start to your trip. While you’re here don’t miss out on the bird’s eye view of the city from the top of Kok Tobe, grabbing a drink at the historic Hotel Kazakhstan, and make sure to relax at the Arasan Baths in the heart of the city. Feeling adventurous? Order a taxi via Yandex and make a short trip just outside the city to beautiful Big Almaty Lake.
Where To Stay In Almaty
Looking for more ideas? Check out my Almaty Travel Guide
Altyn Emel & Charyn Canyon – 2 Days
The great thing about starting from Almaty is that the city is the perfect jumping-off point for further exploration into southeastern Kazakhstan. Famous for its unusual Singing Dunes and the colorful mineral-laden Aktau Range, Altyn Emel National Park is somewhere truly unique and not to miss. As you transit out of the national park, make sure to pay a visit to Charyn Canyon’s impressive Valley of Castles, reminiscent of scenes right out of the Grand Canyon. For this section and the next (Altyn Emel, Charyn Canyon, Lake Kaindy, and Kolsai Lakes), I recommend booking a four day tour including all these stops as certain parts can be difficult to visit using shared taxis. If you are self-driving, don’t sweat it- you can arrange your own visit.
Where To Stay
You can opt to stay back in the main village of Basshi, nearest to Altyn Emel National Park, but if you don’t mind roughing it a bit you can camp inside the park. For Charyn Canyon you can camp in the area, or you can opt to sleep in Saty Village near to Kaindy and Kolsai Lakes.
Everything you need to know before you go: A guide to Charyn Canyon
Lake Kaindy & Kolsai Lakes – 2 Days
Lake Kaindy and Kolsai Lakes are easily my favorite part of southeastern Kazakhstan. Lake Kaindy is one of the most unique lakes, the world over, owing to its strange and unusual sunken forest. The icy-cold waters of earthquake-created Lake Kaindy are home to what appears to a forest of upside-down trees rising from the depth of the lake and above its surface. Kolsai is a chain of three beautiful lakes, nicknamed the ‘pearls of the Tien Shan’, two of which can be visited by a day hike (out and back). If you’re not up to spending a whole day hiking don’t worry- Kolsai Lake I is located just a short jaunt downhill from the parking lot at the end of the road.
Plan your visit: Lake Kaindy & Kolsai Lakes Guide
Where To Stay
Saty Village is the nearest place to stay to both the lakes, making it a perfect place to base yourself for the couple of days you plan to be out here exploring the lakes. If you have your own tent it’s entirely possible to camp at both Lake Kaindy and over at Kolsai Lakes too.
Kyrgyzstan is up next! Start planning with my full-on Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide
Karkara Border & Karakol – 1 Day
After you wrap up your visit to Lake Kaindy, get an early morning start to head to the town of Kegen, the nearest town to the Karkara border crossing between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. If you aren’t traveling by your own transport you can get a taxi from Saty to Kegen and then once to Kegen grab another taxi to the border. I recommend contacting a hotel or guesthouse in Karakol to book and have them arrange a car to meet you at the border to take you down to Karakol, as you can expect to not find cars waiting on the Kyrgyz side of the border.
Karakol is a culinary gem in the east of Kyrgyzstan thanks to influences that arrived in the city from several cultures including, Kyrgyz, Dungan (Hui), Uyghur, Tatar, and Russian. I highly recommend either going on the Karakol Foodie Tour or attending a Dungan family dinner, both of which can be arranged through the tourism office of Destination Karakol. If you aren’t feeling up to either of those, at very least head over to Ashlan Fu Alley at the Bugu Bazaar (I recommend Ashlan Fu Saida!) to try a delicious cold bowl of Ashlan Fu.
Make sure to visit the Dungan Mosque, Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Soviet Antique shop, and Karakol’s several museums.
Karakol is a foodie paradise
Check out my must-eat guide to Karakol
Where To Stay In Karakol
| Booking.com |
Karakyz Yurt Camp
located outside of Karakol in Kara Kyz
| Booking.com |
Plan your time in Karakol: The Karakol Travel Guide
Altyn Arashan To Ala Kul Hike – 3 Days
Dramatic green valleys, snow-dusted peaks, a glacial lake, and a hot spring? The Altyn Arashan-Ala Kul Hike is a two night, three day, 38 kilometer stunner that takes in some of the most gorgeous scenery Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan has to offer.
Check out this guide to the Ala Kul Hike by Jack & Jill Travel, but do note they kick it into high gear and fast forward this hike to complete it in two days. Several local operators around Karakol offer guided hikes to Ala Kul as well.
There are yurts available for rent at Sirota Basecamp near Ala Kul, and cabins for rent in Altyn Arashan. Don’t miss out on taking a dip in the hot springs at Altyn Arashan too! Not to worry though, if you have your own tent it’s possible to camp along the trek as well.
Also note: the road out of Altyn Arashan is not for the faint of heart- you’ve been warned.
Jeti Oguz – 1 Day
Jeti Oguz is one of my favorite stops along Issykul. It’s a photographer’s paradise with red-burnt rocks set in a green valley. Several interesting rock formations can be found, including the famed ‘Seven Bulls’ and the ‘Broken Heart Rock’. Another not-to-miss is the trek over to the nearby Kök Jaiyk, better known as the Valley of Flowers.
You can easily spend the night here in Jeti Oguz. You could try Nomads’ Eco Lodge, however, there are several guesthouses for rent in the village of Jeti Oguz. There are also yurts available to rent in the Valley of Flowers.
Looking for more info? Check out my guide to Jeti Oguz
Skazka Canyon & Southern Issykul 1 Day
Skazka Canyon is truly a highlight as you round Issykul Lake toward Bishkek. Skazka, which is commonly referred to by its nickname of ‘Fairy Tale Canyon’ features unusual orange-and-red rock formations worth a trek around. The most notable being a narrow spine of rock that reminded me of a stegosaurus.
Continuing along the southern coast of Issykul, other notable stops include Bokonbayevo to check out an eagle hunting demonstration, and further adventures from Tamga, and Barskoon.
You could make a beeline and get to Bishkek in the evening, or you can opt to spend the night en route.
Bishkek – 2 Days
Round off the end of your two week Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan itinerary in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. Bishkek has a handful of things to do, but it’s not overwhelming- and that’s what I love about it.
While there aren’t too many things to do in Bishkek, there are still a few must-see stops while you’re here. I recommend visiting the Osh Bazaar, it’s massive and sprawling and I honestly get lost there for an entire day every time I’m back in Bishkek. Ala-Too Square along Chuy Avenue is a must-see, as well as a stroll along green-and-leafy Erkindik Park.
If you’re looking to get one more ashlan fu fix before you leave Kyrgyzstan, a visit to Dordoi Bazaar, located northeast of the city is in order. It’s also worth mentioning that Bishkek does have a nice array of foreign as well as Central Asian restaurants to try. Bishkek also has an emerging craft beer and brewery scene, as well as a scattering of fun coffee shops, and vibrant nightlife.
Looking for more ideas? Check out my top things to do in Bishkek + travel guide post
Where to stay in Bishkek
Have any questions about this two week Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan itinerary?
Ask in the comments section below.