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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Almost all yurt camps and guesthouses can arrange horseback riding trips into the valley and all the way up to Ala Kul lake.
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.
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 central asian dishes 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.
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.
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.
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Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.