1. BURANA TOWER
When it comes to places to visit near Bishkek, the Burana Tower is what should be on top of your list.
Cynthia and I visited this ruin with our friend Aleksei from Kyrgyz Nomad. It’s one of Kyrgyzstan’s most famous historical sites and I would love to go back there again, even after visiting this place nearly 4 times.
This 25m high tower is all that remains of the ancient city of Balasagun, a once flourishing city that welcomed thousands of Silk Road caravans.
Although the tower itself might not seem very exciting to many people, for a history nerd such as myself, it’s quite a fascinating and mysterious place to visit.
It feels so crazy to imagine that this archaeological site where nothing remains used to be a huge city and was once considered the center of the world.
2. ALA ARCHA NATIONAL PARK
Ala Archa National Park is one of the few national parks that are easily accessible and fun to visit no matter what time of the year it is. It’s an Alpine National Park in the Tian Shan mountains, about 40km south of Bishkek. It’s a mountain park that is replete with long but easy hikes.
If you’re looking for some good hikes but you don’t want to go too far from the capital city, then Ala Archa is the place to visit!
3. SOUTHERN SHORE OF ISSYK-KUL LAKE
Cynthia and I explored many parts of Kyrgyzstan during the year we spent in the country but the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul is definitely one of our favorite destinations.
Lake Issyk-Kul is the seventh deepest lake in the world, the tenth-largest lake by volume, and the second-largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea. The southern shore of the lake is wilder than the northern side and there are so many cool ethnocultural activities to see and do there.
From beautiful canyons, pristine waterfalls, and some mighty eagle hunters to a gorgeous yurt camp right on the shores of the lake, you won’t run out of awesome places to visit. And that’s without mentioning the day hikes that you can do in the mountains surrounding the whole area.
In this article, we’ll tell you what are the top things to do around Lake Issyk Kul and give you a one-week itinerary around the lake.
4. SONG KOL LAKE
It’s hard for me to put in words how beautiful this lake is. I was charmed from the first moment I set foot on its shores! It’s not an easy place to access but any traveler worth his salt knows that the more challenging it is to reach a destination, the more rewarding it will be. This is exactly the case with Song K
I visited it for the first time with my brother after a long horseback trek through treacherous mountain passes covered in snow. Getting there wasn’t easy but when I arrived, I was left breathless by the vastness of the mountains surrounding it and by how pristine and untouched the area around the lake was!
Song Kol is the second largest lake of Kyrgyzstan and lies at an altitude of 3000m (9895 feet). The lake is surrounded by mountains and lush meadows. Nomads have used these meadows as pastureland for their flocks for hundreds of years and today there are still a lot of semi-nomadic shepherds who settle here for the summer and live in their yurts while tending to their herds.
It’s possible to reach this lake by horse almost throughout the whole year. Kyrgyzstan is a country better known for its horse culture and reaching this pristine lake by horse almost feels like the epitome of everything Kyrgyzstan has to offer.
5. ALA KUL
I’m at a lack of words when it comes to describing the beauty of this turquoise lake. It’s so beautiful that the locals often refer to it as the ‘pristine diamond of the Karakol Canyon’. The water of this glacier lake changes hourly from azure to violet, depending on the weather conditions and the time of the year.
Just as it’s the case with Song Kol, this lake is not easily accessed but getting there is absol
utely worth the long stren
uous two-day hike. The trek to Lake Ala Kul was by far the highlight of my one year stay in Kyrgyzstan and I would absolutely recommend anyone visiting the country to try hiking providing they are moderately in shape.
I explain how to reach the lake hiking from the Ala-Kul nature reserve in this complete guide to trekking to Ala Kul.
The lake itself is gorgeous but the whole trail that will bring you there is beautiful as well. Part of the hike to this lake reminded me of the Swiss Alps if it wasn’t for the yurts scattered here and there between the idyllic valleys.