All you need to know to trek the Tian Shan mountains (from Karakol, Kyrgyzstan)

Thinking of doing a trek or hike in the Tian Shan mountains to get a taste of the stunning nature Kyrgyzstan has to offer? I’ve compiled some information for doing short treks (2-5 days) in Tian Shan from Karakol, might come in handy!


Having spent a fair bit of time preparing for my (completed) 5 solo day trek in Tian Shan, I thought I might be able to compile and share some of the information I have gathered. I’m no Tian Shan/ trekking expert, but hopefully this will save you some time if you’re planning to do a short trek/hike in Tian Shan (from Karakol) too. So here goes!


Why Tian Shan?

Fabulous snow capped peaks, alpine lakes, grassy valleys and pine forests far from the city, yet just a short hike from civilisation. Be it the Switzerland/ New Zealand/ Patagonia of Central Asia, Tian Shan is a little of each – and a little more. Trekking in Tian Shan is perfect for escaping the hustle and getting in touch with nature, yet knowing that the comforts of civilisation is never too far away. You can trek for as short as 2 days to as long as a few weeks. As a bonus, costs involved are very minimal.

Karakol Valley.
Karakol Valley.


What are the possible trekking/hiking routes from Karakol?

Here are some of the simpler and more popular options:

a. 2 days – To Altyn Arashan and back (night at Altyn Arashan)

b. 3 day – To Altyn Arashan, Altyn Arashan to Ala-Kul, and back (2 nights at Altyn Arashan)

c. 3 day – Karakol Valley – Ala Kul – Altyn Arashan (1 night at Sirota Hut or Karakol Base Camp, 1 night at Altyn Arashan)

d. 5 day – Jeti Oguz – Teleti Pass – Karakol Valley – Ala-Kul – Altyn Arashan

Longer/ more complex itineraries are possible, contact the local tourism office or check out trekking companies websites for more information (links below).

Ala-Kul, mid-June 2018.


What are the non-trekking/hiking options?

You can also get to Altyn Arashan by horseback or by 4WD buses organised by tour companies in Karakol. Horses can get you to the base of the Ala-Kul pass (side closer to Altyn Arashan) and from there you can get to the top of Ala-Kul pass on foot, then back down to get your horses.

To the base of Ala-Kul pass by horse.
To the base of Ala-Kul pass by horse.


Do I need a guide / Can I do it alone / Is it suitable for first timers?

The itineraries suggested above are the more straightforward and can be done without a guide and alone if you have done self guided treks before, know how to read a map, have a decent sense of direction, and are doing it in decent (summer) weather.

If you do not have much experience trekking/hiking/navigating on your own for days, the itineraries are listed in ascending order of difficulty. Much of the trail is not clearly marked and sometimes you have to rely on experience to know what may be a possible route. In the July/ August period there should be many people doing the 2 – 3 day itineraries and it will be easier to keep on track.

If you do not have experience and want to do it alone and without the guide I’d suggested keeping to the first itinerary (a). It should also be easy to find companions in Karakol or on the way to Altyn Arashan, if you want to reach Ala-Kul (b).

The mountain passes can be difficult to orientate and navigate in bad weather/ when there is snow.
The Teleti Pass can be difficult to orientate and navigate in bad weather/ when there is snow.


Must I bring a tent?

It is possible to do up to the 3 day treks without a tent, and a tent necessary for anything above 3 days. For the 3 day itinerary via Karakol Valley, Ala-Kul and Altyn Arashan, it will be a very long and tiring second day from Karakol Base Camp all the way to Altyn Arashan so I would not recommend it unless you are very fit and have a very small load.

Tent not required: option (a) and (b)

Tent recommended: option (c)

Tent required: option (d)

Camping next to a frozen waterfall.
Camping next to a frozen waterfall.


Must I bring food?

It is possible to purchase cooked food at the guesthouses at Altyn Arashan or at the yurts at Karakol Valley (when they are open). Therefore whether or not not bring food and cooking gear is similar to whether or not you need to bring a tent. However you’d still need to bring snacks/energy bars for the day time meals even if you decide not to bring cooking gear.


How much does it cost to sleep and eat in yurts/ guesthouses in Tian Shan?

Based on my experience at Karakol Base Camp and Altyn Arashan:

  • Karakol Base Camp
    • 1 night in yurt (probably 6 to 8 max) – 350 som/person (without fire)
    • 1 night in yurt (probably 6 to 8 max) – 400 som/person (with fire)
  • Altyn Arashan (VIP Guest House)
    • 1 night in yurt/ room (6 per room) with fire – 500 som/person
    • Access to hot spring (indoors, private, with shower) – 200 som/person
    • Breakfast – 200 som/person
    • Lunch/Dinner – 300 som/person
VIP Guest House at Altyn Arashan.
VIP Guest House at Altyn Arashan.


When should I go?

In terms of weather it’ll be best in July and August. To avoid the crowds the weeks just before or after that would be best, but weather may be less agreeable. When I did the trek in mid-June there was still snow on the passes and being any earlier I would very likely have had to give up the trek. Conditions change year to year though so it’ll be good to check with the tourism offices in Karakol especially if you intend to go pre or post season.

Nonetheless prepare for all weather no matter what season you make the trip in. Nights can get very cold in the mountains.


Is there cell phone reception on the trail?

There was none on the trail I did from Jeti Oguz to Altyn Arashan.

I spent my first night in the mountains with 2 friendly cowherds in their yurt. This is them the following morning riding their horses deeper into the mountains.
I spent my first night in the mountains with 2 friendly cowherds in their yurt. This is them the following morning riding their horses deeper into the mountains.


How to get to Karakol from Bishkek?

Take the mashrutka from the Western Bus Station in Bishkek. Purchase tickets from the smaller building in front of the main building. There is a counter for long distance domestic trips. It costs 350 som and takes 5 hours.


How to get to the trail head?

Got this information while at Duet Hostel.

To Altyn Arashan trail head (option (a) and (b):

  • Take marshrutka #350 bound for Ak Suu from opposite cafe Kench, which is near Victory Park (Park Pobedy). Approximately 42.486599, 78.408079 on Google Maps.
  • Also possible to take same marshrutka (#350 bound for Ak Suu) from other spots in Karakol such as from the bazaar
  • Leaves every 20-25 minutes, first there at 07:25, last one back at 18:30
  • 20-30 som
  • Ask the driver to stop at Altyn Arashan (bus stops at trail head, another 4-5 hours to get to the guesthouses/ hot springs)

To Karakol Valley trail head (option (c)):

  • Marshrutka #101 along Toktogul Street
  • 10 som
  • Take to last stop

To Jeti Oguz trail head (option (d)):

  • Marshrutka #355 from Torgoev/Aldasheva intersection. Approximately 42.491201, 78.383952 on Google Maps
  • Leaves when full, first one there at 10:00, last one there at 18:00
  • 30 som
  • Stops at Jeti Oguz village, have to walk or hitchhike 12km to trail head

When I was there a day after a public holiday the bus didn’t come for a long time so I took a private taxi around that area. Should be between 100-350 som per person depending on how many people are there going all the way to the trail head (Jeti Oguz Kurot (sanatorium).


Where can I get trekking/hiking gear in Karakol?

You can rent most of the equipment you need at the Ecotrek office. It is located a t116 Abdrahmanov Str./48 Koenkozov Str. Gas and maps are sold only. They also provide a range of related services. Here their pricelist as of June 2018.

  • Map (NOT waterproof – learnt it the hard way) – 350 som/sale
  • Sleeping bag down – 170 som/day
  • Sleeping bag synthetic – 130 som/day
  • Sleeping mat – 55 som/day
  • Tent 2-3 person Red Fox – 240 som/day
  • Tent 2 person Stoic/Kelty – 300 som/day
  • Tent 3-4 person Stoic – 340 som/day
  • Jacket – 85 som/day
  • Gas Stove (needed to screw on to gas cylinder and control gas flow) – 90 som/day
  • Gas Cylinder 200g (probably sufficient for 2 person for a week) – 400 som/sale
  • Gas Cylinder 2.5l (not for trekking/hiking)- 350 som/day
  • Plate/ Bowl/ Spoon/ Fork/ Plastic Mug – 7 som/day each
  • Saucepan – 30 som/day
  • Food for Tourists – 750 som/day
  • Trekking Guide – 2500 som/day
  • Trekking Porter (15kg max) – 1700 som/day
  • Cook – 2500 som/day
  • Cook Assistant – 1875 som/day
  • Horseman with Horse – 2500 som/day
  • Horse – 1000 som/day


Where can I get camping food in Karakol?

You can purchase fresh food, dried food, canned food and other food supplies at the market (approximately 42.490389, 78.393609) located on Jusaev St, opposite the food bazaar. I bought pasta, rice, canned fish, sausages, cucumbers, tea and other food items here. During the public holiday most shops were closed but those that were open were sufficient for me to get what I needed.


Where can I get camping attire in Karakol?

You can purchase outdoor clothes/ gear from Arashan Sporting Goods Store, which is located at the intersection of Tynystanova and Jusaev St. Approximately 42.488961, 78.396473.


How much does it cost to trek/hike in Tian Shan / Other costs for trekking/hiking in Tian Shan?

Other than the cost of food/ gear rental/ transport to and from trail all listed above, other necessary fees include:

  • National Park fee: 250 som per entry
  • Tent fee: 150 som per day


Where can I get more information on trekking/hiking in Tian Shan?

Before the trip I managed to get some information from Rakhat at Destination Karakol via their Facebook page. I was supposed to get more details upon arrival, but the office was closed on the public holiday I arrived, and Rakhat suggested I went to Eco-Trek’s office instead. Aidar from Eco-Trek was really helpful in putting those final bits together and in getting me the gear I needed. Both offices are within walking distance and can be found on Google Maps. I’d recommend checking both their websites out for more comprehensive information on trekking/hiking in Tian Shan from Karakol in Kyrgyzstan!


Destination Karakol:


My 5 day trek in Tian Shan (June 2018)

View of Ala Kul from the Ala Kul pass, June 2018.
View of Ala Kul from the Ala Kul pass, June 2018.


There’s all I have for now! Hope this has been useful. Do you have any questions on trekking/ hiking in Tian Shan that I’ve missed? Drop me a message in the comments below and I’ll try my best to answer them!

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