ala kol lake horse trekking kyrgyzstan

Horse-Trekking to Hidden Ala Kul Lake – Kyrgyzstan

With my guide Chinggis – and his horses, we rode into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.

Climbing thru grasslands and pine forests, edging along peaks and glaciers, winding into deep valleys to find the hidden, high-attitude lake of of Ala Kul.

Panorama of Ala Kul lake from the pass
Panorama of Ala Kul from the pass – where we had a picnic.

SKIP TO: Travel Advice for horse trekking to Lake Ala Kul

Earlier, we’d set out from Karakol, a town near Lake Issyk Kul, in Eastern Kyrgyzstan, and for an amateur like me (I’d ridden some years ago in Colombia & Mongolia), these 4 days were the most challenging horse trek yet.

views of mountains on horse trek to ala kul lake
Views on route. RIGHT TOP: valley of hot springs village – Altyn Arashan; RIGHT BOTTOM: Leaving our horses behind to scramble up scree slopes to the lake.

My horse, a large and tall 7-year-old male, was a little naughty – always stopping to munch grass or scrub. And sometimes, not so sure-footed in his fatigued-state during the late afternoon of each day.

But mostly, he was reliable.

And, I didn’t fall off.

hore trekking to ala kul lake in Kyrgyzstan
The first day of the horse trek to Ala Kul was gentle – grasslands and forest. TOP: Our campsite the first night. BELOW: Getting there; MRP posing.

The first day was an easy, hilly climb thru open pasture – avoiding crazed nomad dogs and their packs of roaming horses – and pine forest.

That night, we camped within a grassy valley and watched sunset over the forested slopes high above the distant waters of Issyk Kul.

Sunset looking to Lake Issyk Kul
First evening: Sunset looking to Lake Issyk Kul.

Continuing up this valley the path became steep scree and then the path was lost.

The winter last year had destroyed the way.

This pass was no longer passable.

panorama of mountains on ala kul trek by horse
Riding up the valley, facing back towards Karakol. LEFT: the hidden lake of Ala Kul – but this path was blocked, and we detoured around the mountainside. NOTE: Chinggis with horses at center of pic.

We dismounted again and lead the horses. Sliding down some 200 meters of scree and loose boulders to another valley, circling around on a high slope into another valley.

Before plunging down, way down again, to a river valley meadow, where we camped that second night in the hot springs village of Altyn Arashan.

Into the valley and village of hot springs village of Altyn Arashan
Into the valley and hot springs village of Altyn Arashan. Having dinner, as a couple of locals come to chat.

On the third day, we followed a swift river for some hours, climbing thru forest and rocky valleys back towards Ala Kul Lake (from the opposite direction that we’d originally traveled).

Hours later and within reach of the lake, we left the horses behind.

It was impossible to take then any further as we scrambled up a steep slope of sand and stone – on all fours; dog-like – over the Ala Kul Pass to gaze at the surrounds of snowy peaks and the calm turquoise waters of Lake Ala Kul.

ala kul lake view from the mountain pass
Partying at the Ala Kul Pass. TOP LEFT: My local guide – Chinggis; BOTTOM RIGHT: MRP – lovin’ it!

Standing upon the wondrous, scenic saddle of the Ala Kul Pass, at 3860 meters, I opened a bottle of vodka, which we drank with salami, cheese and bread, as freezing winds rushed around.

Made it !!!

Nothing could wipe the grin from my face. Elated.

Travel advice for horse-trekking trips to Ala Kol Lake in Kyrgyzstan.


Ala Kul Lake is at 3500 meters but highest point is the Pass at nearly 3900 meters.

Distance: 55 +/- km

Best time to do this trek is June to September.

Note: “Kul” in the Kyrgyz language means lake, so the name of the lake is ”Ala” but it’s referred to as “Ala Kul Lake” by travelers.

Get a guide and horses thru the local-community-based homestay office. They’re helpful and only take a small percentage – as most goes to the local guides.

The cost of a horse trek trip to Ala Kol Lake is around $US 35-40 per day, and should include everything.

Horse trek prices break down like this:

  1. You pay his guide fee of $20 per day, including his horse.
  2. Your own horse costs $10-15 per day
  3. Food for both of you at $10-20.
  4. Tent, sleeping bag and mat – these cost a few bucks per day (hired from office).
  5. Park fees (if hiking 250 Som; doing the route I took by horse excluded this fee).

Also: You’ll want to tip him upon the completion of an excellent trip.

Costs will vary depending your trip duration and a route BUT it will still be much cheaper than a pre-organizing trip from your home country.

Take all necessary food and cooking kit with you (the guide with have the kit and usually buy agreed food items at market at local prices).

The horse trek to Ala Kol Lake – the detour around a ridge as the mountain pass was blocked by a landslide.

But it’s also best to bring extras that you like: such as extra cheese, snacks, salami, chocolate, vodka, etc.

What clothing and gear do you need for the Ala Kul trek?

Firstly, obviously mountains mean even in summer you need to carry warm, rain-proof gear such as a fleece jacket with a Gore-Tex outer shell.

What’s more, a warm hat, gloves, thermals, sun-hat & block is essential. When using a horse, everything is within saddle bags so just a day pouch or pack is enough for stand-by stuff like a camera, water bottle, sunglasses, jacket, etc.

Drinking water is often available on route via clean mountain rivers.

BUT check beforehand, and always carry a few liters.

Check out details here (2020 info) if you want to do the Ala Kul Lake trek by foot.

Travels in Kyrgyzstan – 2011

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