Ala Archa National Park in Kyrgyzstan: a travel guide
Ala Archa National Park is one of the best daytrips from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. It is only 40 kilometers south of the capital and therefore a very popular escape from city life for both locals and tourists that are looking for some fresh air and nature.
The name Ala archa translates as striped juniper and refers to the juniper forests that characterize this beautiful landscape. Ala Archa national park lies in the Ala Too range of the Kyrgyz Tien Shan mountains and is home to several glaciers and river gorges. Wildlife in Ala Archa National Park includes mountain goats, deers, marmots and the extremely rare snow leopard.
Ala Archa National Park is the perfect nature get away. Locals mostly come in the weekends to have a picknick and make leisurely walks along the rivers. However, there are some more challenging hiking trails as well that bring you to spectacular high altitude mountain sceneries.
My experience in Ala Archa National Park
I decided to go to Ala Archa one weekend in June. It was already getting pretty warm in Bishkek and finding some cooler air in the mountains was just what I needed.
I took the marshrutka that conveniently left us at the park gate. From here it was still another 12 kilometers to the Alplager where the hiking trails start. It was immediately clear that it was weekend. Although hitchhiking is pretty common in Kyrgyzstan most cars were stuffed with people, barbecues and food.
I ended up taking a taxi to the Alplager were the parking lot was also already full with cars. I wanted to make an easy hike and therefore opted for the Ala Archa river trail to the right.
In the beginning I met lots of big families having a picnic. I could smell the meat that was sizzling on the barbecues and the ladies were giving out bread and stews from large pots and pans. Some families waved at me and I am sure that if I had stopped I would have been invited over.
I wasn’t here to party though and really wanted to be in nature. The further I got into the park, the more quiet it became and soon it was just me, the river and the juniper forests. Only once in a while people passed me by.
It was a lovely day and before I knew it I had to get back to catch the last minivan back to Bishkek. Getting back to the park entrance was a bit of a challenge though. There were no taxi’s at the alplager and most cars were completely full. In the end we managed to find people that still had space in their car and were happy to give me a lift.
Things to do in Ala Archa National Park
Hiking to Ak sai waterfall
After the Alpger hotel there are two trails you can take. To the right is the easygoing Ala Archa river trail and to the left the more challenging hike to the Ak Sai waterfall.
This hike is around 5 kilometers and follows a ridge above the river. It takes about 2 to 3 hours before you reach the waterfall. An excellent day hike that involves some steep ascents. Here is an excellent post that goes through the Ak sai waterfall trail step by step.
Hiking to Ak sai glacier
After Ak sai waterfall the trail goed further up to Ratzek hut and Ak Sai glacier. Only for those that are really fit it is maybe possible as a daytrip, but you will enjoy the hike to Ak sai glacier much more if you stay the night at Ratzek hut.
From Ak Sai waterfall to Ratzek hut it is a steep climb as you go from 2800 meter to 3300 meter. It takes between 3 to 4 hours. There is no need for a guide, because the trail is quite obvious. Look out for the white with blue trail marks.
If you camp at Ratzek hut you do need to bring your own camping gear and enough food and water for 2 days. There are some bunk beds at Ratzek hut as well, but you still need your own sleeping bag. You can check this post from Moon & Honey travel for their experience hiking the Ak Sai glacier trail.
Hiking the Ala Archa river trail
The Ala Archa river trail, also called Ala Archa valley trail, is the easiest hike to follow in Ala Archa National Park and the one that I did. It is only 2 kilometers and takes about one hour one way.
You can continue for another 8 kilometer to reach an abandoned Soviet ski resort and even further up to some glaciers. I must admit that I didn’t get that far, but you can read a post here from someone that did.
Climbing Peak Komsomolets is an annual tradition on the first of May that is known as the Alpinada festival. Every year hundreds of people get up early to climb the 4200 meter young communist peak.
All kinds of people join this event. From children to old ladies. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, because you will have to ascend more than 2000 meters. As a tourist it’s best to join the Trekkers Union of Kyrgyzstan if you want to join this yearly festival.
The trail into the Adygene valley is about 300 meters back from the Alplager. This path sees much less visitors and is way more quiet, but certainly not less beautiful. The steep 7 kilometer hike ends at the Adygene glacier and takes about 3 to 4 hours.
Do I need a guide in Ala Archa National Park?
No, you do not need a guide in Ala Archa national park, unless you are really going to try to climb one of the peaks. The trails I mentioned in this post are quite obvious and marked and as long as you bring enough food and water with you, you will be fine on your own.
If you prefer not to hike alone I can recommend the Trekkers union of Kyrgyzstan. They organize very cheap hiking tours to several places around Bishkek including Ala Archa National Park.
Where to eat in Ala Archa National Park
At the Alplager is a rather overpriced restaurant and some shops that sell snacks and water. However, the choices are limited, because most locals bring everything along for their extensive barbecue picnics. Apparently live goats as well and the park has now put up signs that it is not allowed to kill sheep on the premises of the park.
In short, it is best to bring enough food and water with you from Bishkek. Consider bringing a water filter to fill up your water bottle in the rivers.
Where to sleep in Ala Archa National Park
At the Alplager are two options to stay. The moderately priced Alplager hotel and the cheaper Ala Archa hotel. Both are nothing to write home about and it is better to stay in Bishkek, unless you really want to guarantee yourself an early start on the trails.
If you want to do the Ak Sai glacier hike you can sleep at Ratzek hut that is at the foot of the glacier. The basic hut has dorm bunk beds where you will need your own sleeping bag. Also bring your own food and water.
When to visit Ala Archa National Park
Summer from June till September is without doubt the best time to visit Ala Archa National Park, especially if you plan to do high altitude hikes. Just keep in mind that it is much cooler in the mountains than in Bishkek. Even in summer its important to bring some warm clothes with you.
Spring and Autumn are also a great time, especially if you are taking the easier Ala Archa river trail or go to the Ak Sai waterfall. In autumn the fall colours give an extra bonus and in spring the blooming wild flowers.
As you can imagine winter brings a lot of snow which can compromise your hiking plans. However, the snow in Ala Archa has its own beauty and you can still visit the park to enjoy the magical winter wonderland. The locals do so too and you can still find families having a picnic with tea and vodka to keep warm.
Check this post from Sunrise Odyssey about what it is like to hike in the snow in Ala Archa. They still made it to the Ak Sai waterfall, that was frozen.
How to get to Ala Archa National Park
The best and easiest way to get to Ala Archa National Park is by arranging a private taxi to bring you there and come pick you up again at an agreed time. Expect to pay between 2000 and 3000 som for this. If you can find other people in your hostel to share the costs with it is not even that expensive
It is not possible to reach the Alplager by public transport, but you can use a combination of bus and hitchhiking to get there. Marshrutka 265 leaves regularly from Osh bazaar to the village of Kashka Suu for 25 som. For a small extra fee you can ask the driver to bring you a bit further to the park entrance.
From there you can either organize a taxi for the next 12 kilometers to the Alplager or try to hitchhike. especially in the weekends it gets pretty busy and it is not too difficult to find a ride.
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