The Altyn Arashan Trek in Kyrgyzstan: the best guide

The Altyn Arashan trek in Kyrgyzstan is one of the most popular things to do near Karakol. The beautiful Altyn Arashan valley is famous for its natural hot springs, alpine meadows, forested mountain slopes and views on the snow covered peak Palatka.

Altyn Arashan is a picture perfect scene and the Altyn Arashan trek is getting more popular every year. The 15 kilometer hike is not too difficult and the start of the trail is easy to reach by minibus from Karakol. Therefore, it’s excellent for travellers that prefer to travel on their own, because there is no need for a guide or an expensive tour.

And reaching the Altyn Arashan valley is just the beginning. A number of other exciting activities are waiting for you. Most fun are the hot springs to relax your muscles, but you can also go horseriding or sleep in a traditional yurt.

I can recommend to spend at least 2 nights in Altyn Arashan so you can do one of the day hikes to lake Ala kul or towards the foot of peak Palatka. The scenery is so beautiful that basically wherever you go, you are guaranteed spectacular views.

Altyn Arashan Kyrgyzstan
The Altyn Arashan Trek in October

My experience in Altyn Arashan

I did the Altyn Arashan trek twice. Once in October and most recently in May. Both times I was travelling off season and there were few other travellers around. However, I have seen how tourism has increased in the Altyn Arashan valley.

Back in 2014 during my first visit backpacking Kyrgyzstan there was just one single guesthouse. Almost everyone that finished the Altyn Arashan trek ended up at Valentin’s lodge. A very basic place, but with such a nice atmosphere that I felt at home immediately. In 2019 there was a much bigger choice in guesthomes and yurt camps.

The Altyn Arashan trek itself was easy and it took me about 5 to 6 hours with several small breaks in between to enjoy the views. The path is easy to follow and it would be difficult to get lost. It felt very safe for me, even as a solo female traveller walking on my own.

In October, the autumn colours made the hike even more spectacular and in my opinion this is the most beautiful time to come here. Although snow has made it already impossible to reach Ala kul lake.

Altyn Arashan Kyrgyzstan
Autumn on the Altyn Arashan Trek

The Altyn Arashan Trek without a guide

Don’t believe anyone that tells you that a guide is necessary or that its better to take a tour. The Altyn Arashan trek is one of the best hikes in Kyrgyzstan for independent budget travellers that don’t have their own camping gear.

Step 1 Marshrutka to Ak Suu village (Teploklyuchenka)

The first step is to get from Karakol to the start of the trail in Ak Suu village, also known as Teploklyuchenka. From Karakol center you need to take marshrutka number 350 to Ak Suu resort. They leave frequently throughout the day, but make sure you start early to be in the valley before dark.

Simply follow the instructions below and you should reach the start of the trail before you know it.

Step 2 Start of the Altyn Arashan trek

If you see the same sign as the picture below, it means the driver has dropped you off exactly where you need to be. Go to the road on the right and start your hike to the valley. Soon you will see the Altyn Arashan river and from now on its a simple matter of following the path next to the river.

Start of the Altyn Arashan trek
The start of the Altyn Arashan Trek

Step 3 Have a break at the picnic spot

After about 8 kilometers you will see a wooden gate. You are about midway here and it’s a perfect spot for a picnic break. After this you will see what looks like several paths, but they all go up the mountain where the path will continue along a ridge with the river below. After another 6 kilometers you will reach your destination.

Altyn Arashan Kyrgyzstan
Midway on the Altyn Arashan Trek

Things to do in Altyn Arashan

Altyn Arashan hot springs

After the Altyn Arashan trek there is nothing better than relaxing at one of the hot springs. Almost every lodge has access to its own hot springs. From outdoor pools where you can enjoy the spectacular views on the mountains to indoor pools with more privacy.

Altyn Arashan hot springs in Kyrgyzstan
The Altyn Arashan Valley

Trekking to Ala Kul lake

From Altyn Arashan you can hike up to the Alakul pass from where you have a spectacular view on Ala Kul lake (7-8 hours). The pass is at 3900 meters and the trekking season runs from June till September. Both times I was in Altyn Arashan there was too much snow and I couldn’t make it all the way to the lake.

You can also consider the 3 to 4 day hike to Ala Kul lake that starts in the Ala Kul valley and ends at Altyn Arashan.

Difficulty: medium – hard

On the way to Ala Kul lake Kyrgyzstan
Towards Ala Kul Lake in October

Trekking to the foot of Peak Palatka

Another day hike option is to simply follow the valley towards Peak Palatka. This makes for a scenic easygoing walk and you can go as far as you like. If you really want to climb peak Palatka it takes at least 6 days and you will need a guide.

Difficulty: easy

On the way to Ala Kul lake Kyrgyzstan
Hiking in the Altyn Arashan area

Staying in a yurt

Altyn Arashan is one of the best and most scenic places near Karakol to stay in a yurt. Most camps set up their yurts from late May to early October. Faciliuties are basic, but its a unique experience.

Altyn Arashan Kyrgyzstan
Staying in a yurt at Altyn Arashan

Horseback riding

Almost all yurt camps and guesthouses can arrange horseback riding trips into the valley and all the way up to Ala Kul lake.

Altyn Arashan Kyrgyzstan
Horse riding around Altyn Arashan

Altyn Arashan Travel tips

Where to sleep in Altyn Arashan

In summer you can choose between a number of guesthomes and yurt camps of which only a few remain open in winter.

Most of them do not have an online presence and I never booked anything in advance. Because I was travelling off season I never had any problems finding accomodation.

If you really want to book online beforehand you can make reservations at Ala kul guesthouse.

For accomodation in Karakol I can recommend Guesthouse Altay & Snow leopard hostel

Altyn Arashan Kyrgyzstan
Nowadays, there is plenty of accomodation in Altyn Arashan

Where to eat in Altyn Arashan

There are no official restaurants in the valley so its a good idea to bring some snacks and enough water with you. Consider bringing a water filter so you can fill up your water bottles from the river rather than adding up to the plastic waste problem.

For breakfast and dinner you can eat in your guesthouse. Expect basic Kyrgyz cuisine like plov or laghman. Most guesthouses can also make you packed lunchboxes. A good idea in case you want to make some day hikes or have a picnic on your way back to Karakol.

Altyn Arashan Kyrgyzstan
Autumn in Altyn Arashan

When to visit Altyn Arashan

Altyn Arashan is a year round destination and even in winter some lodges stay open to accomodate those travellers looking for winter adventures. However, if you want to do one of the day hikes or go horseback riding the season runs from May till October.

Personally I think Autumn is the best time to visit, because of the colours in the trees.

Altyn Arashan Kyrgyzstan
October is a great month to hike to Altyn Arashan

How to get to Altyn Arashan

The Altyn Arashan trek remains the best option to get to the valley, but not the only one.

If you really don’t want to hike it is possible to arrange a four wheel drive that brings you all the way up. Keep in mind that the road is very bumpy and it would be a scary experience. You can contact Destination Karakol if you want to organize this.

Sustainable travel in Altyn Arashan

Although Altyn Arashan is still an off the beaten path destination, tourism is increasing. While Tourism is a welcome source of income it can also have negative consequences. The trails become more crowded and pollution is a growing problem. Traveling sustainably to Altyn Arashan is essential to minimize your environmental impact and preserve the area’s natural beauty for future generations.

Leave no Trace principle: When hiking in Altyn Arashan, stick to designated trails to protect the fragile alpine ecosystem. Straying off the marked paths can cause soil erosion and damage to plant life. If you are lucky enough to spot wildlife, observe quietly from a distance to prevent disruption to their habitats and help maintain their natural behaviors.

At last, ensure you take all your trash back with you and dispose of it responsibly. In other words, leave no trace of your visit. Even better is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.

To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter. At last, use biodegradable and eco-friendly personal care products to minimize pollution of water sources.

Respect the culture: Besides environmental concerns it is also important to be sensitive of the community’s way of life. Kyrgyzstan is an Islamic country with a nomadic culture that is just opening up to tourism. Therefore, learn about the local customs and traditions beforehand and be mindful of your behavior.

People will appreciate it, if you dress modestly. Learning a few basic phrases in Kyrgyz or Russian, can go a long way in building meaningful connections and to learn more about the local culture. Not everybody is happy to have their picture taken. When in doubt, ask permission.

For more information about great outdoor destinations near Karakol you can read my posts about Jyrgalan, Jeti Oguz and the Skazka Canyon.

For more Kyrgyzstan inspiration read my posts about the best places to visit in Kyrgyzstan or my Kyrgyzstan itinerary.

Disclaimer: This post with a travel guide about Altyn Arashan in Kyrgyzstan contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!



3 thoughts on “The Altyn Arashan Trek in Kyrgyzstan: the best guide”

  • Hi Ellis
    Im going to Altyn Arashan i June this summer 2023. I will like to hike up there from trailstart in Ak Suu. Is it a well marked trail? Is there a possibility of getting lost from the trail or take a wrong trail and end up in a wrong place?
    Kind regards
    Lars

  • Wow your blog is super informative and helped me a lot!!! Just came back from horseback riding to altyn arashan and it was spectacular. Couldn’t make it to ala kul lake due to heavy snow already!

    Thank you again !!!

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