I recently finished a two-day one-night hike out to Altyn arashan in the mountains behind Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. This hike could easily be extend another day and night by hiking a very popular route, or you could stay in Altyn Arashan and do a day hike to lakes or up another canyon. It is also possible to just spend the day relaxing in the beautiful valley soaking in hot springs, and watch the local nomads, the various animals, and the lines of backpackers file through the valley.
Because of a lack of suitable footwear, and a lingering stomach bug, we decided that instead of the three-day two-night trek that ends up at Altyn arashan on the final night, we would just hike up to Altyn arashan for the night. This meant we could bring smaller packs, allowing us to enjoy the scenery and take our time.
The scenery throughout the hike did not disappoint. Even though some reviews say parts of the hike are boring, I found it all incredibly beautiful. The best part about this trek is that is can be done without bringing a tent, sleeping bags or a stove and cook wear. In the valley there are multiple guesthouses and yurts where you can sleep, and it’s possible to have dinner and breakfast made for you. Of course, if you are looking to save money, you can always bring along your own food, or buy something cheap at the store. But even if you bring up food for dinner, breakfast, and snacks for hiking, it still makes for a light pack. The only other thing you need is a jacket and long johns for the cool evenings.
The best part of the hike is the hot springs along the river. You can soak after you finish the long hike up! Most of the guesthouses have personal hot spring, which are included in the price of accommodation, as well as others at an extra cost. There is also a “wild” hot spring located as you enter the valley. These hot springs are on the river and much cooler than the private ones found at each guesthouse. Although I didn’t venture down to the wild hot springs, they were in a nice location right as you entered the valley.
The hike is 14km from the start of the trail to the valley. The trail is really a 4×4 road, and you will see old Soviet era trucks and jeeps shuttling people up and down from time to time. But for the most part during the hike my husband and I were the only ones around. Taking one of the off-road vehicles is an option if you don’t want to make the hike up, but the cost is pretty high ~5000 som just to get up the hill, and more to wait and take you back. The trek isn’t really as strenuous as it is long, and there are only a few really steep uphill sections, and those come at the very end.
Once you have made it to the top of the steep parts, you are rewarded with views of the valley below, and snow capped mountains in the distance. Throughout the hike you are constantly surrounded by tree-covered mountains on either side of the rushing turquoise river that you follow all the way to the valley. I was there in July and saw many different kinds of wildflowers, and in the distance you could see purple or orange patches on the hills. You will probably also encounter some farm animals, mainly horses, cows, and possible sheep. The only other wildlife I saw was bird, including a lot of hawks, as well as a few garter snakes and many butterflies.
- Take minibus #350 from outside the main Bazaar. It costs 30som/person. Tell them Altyn- Arashan and they will tell you when to get off, and point you in the right direction. You can catch the #350 from the city center, but getting on at the bazaar will allow you to get a seat.
- Take lots of water for the hike up, it was really hot in July, and it’s 14km to the valley. There are streams you can drink from if you bring water purification tablets or a water purification device. Once you get to the valley, there is drinkable water from springs.
- Wear good shoes! The road can get really rocky and muddy, so having good ankle support and waterproof shoes can be really helpful.
- Bring a hat and sunscreen. The sun in the mountains is really intense.
- It will get pretty chilly as soon as the sun leaves the valley, so make sure to bring warm layers.
- Bring a towel for the hot springs, and a bathing suit if you plan to use the free wild hot spring. Most of the guesthouses have private bathes you can use, so you wont need a suit for them.
Have you hiked to Altyn arashan, or anywhere in the mountains surrounding Karakol? What was your favorite part of the trek?