Tosor: Kyrgyzstan’s stunning beach town in the mountains
As I walk with my bare feet through the sand of Tosor beach it almost feels like I am on a sunny beach holiday. Who knew you can also go on a beach holiday when backpacking Kyrgyzstan?
Why visit Tosor?
Most people imagine mountains, yurts, horses and nomads when they think about Kyrgyzstan and that is indeed what the country is all about. However, in Tosor you have all of the above and on top of that a perfect sandy beach with crystal clear waters.
Tosor is a small village at the shore of lake Issyk kul in Kyrgyzstan. It is the second largest high altitude mountain lake in the world. Let me be honest that swimming in lake Issyk kul was a very cold experience. While the summer sun is nice and warm, the water remains icy cold throughout the year.
But then, where can you swim with such spectacular views on the snowcapped peaks of the Tien Shan mountains? In Tosor you can sleep in a yurt, go hiking in the mountains in the morning and then lie on the beach in the afternoon for a wonderful sunset over the lake.
Travelling off the beaten path
Tosor is not the only beach town along the shore of lake issyk kul. Although I loved Tosor a lot, not everybody feels the same. I did meet tourists that thought Tosor was very boring and there was nothing to do.
Tosor is indeed a sleepy Kyrgyz village along the main road running south of lake issyk kul from Bishkek to Karakol. A few dusty streets run towards the lake where they merge with the beach.
Unlike the famous beach town of Cholpon Ata, Tosor receives few tourists. In Tosor there is no nightlife, no restaurants and no bars. Tosor is all about soaking up the rural atmosphere and walking along the beach to enjoy the mountain views.
Most likely you are the only person around. Tosor is the perfect destination if you want to escape the crowds and you prefer a nice and quiet place.
Gateway to Issyk kul’s Southern shore
Because of its proximity to Bishkek and Kazakhstan the northern shore is quite popular among Kazakh and Russian tourists. Personally I didn’t like the resort towns, like Cholpon Ata, that much. There are great facilities, but little charm.
If it comes to cultural and natural attractions the Southern Shore of Lake Issyk kul has much more to offer and Tosor could be a nice place to base yourself. It has a convenient location on the road between Karakol and Bokonbaevo and is therefore easy to reach by public transport.
Not far away you can visit the alpine meadows of the Barskoon valley and the Barskoon waterfalls that are so beautiful that Yuri Gagarin spend his holidays here after he returned from space. Also nearby are the red rock formations of the Skazka canyon and the Soviet sanatorium town of Jeti Oguz or the sacred valley of holy springs in Manjyly Ata.
Those that say there is not much to do in Tosor must have been unaware of the hidden gems within its reach.
The most beautiful beach at Lake issyk Kul
During my two trips to Kyrgyzstan in which I spent considerable time travelling around lake Issyk kul I visited several towns on the shores of the lake. Now, this might be personal, but in my opinion, Tosor has the most beautiful beach.
Not only is there nice powdery sand and crystal clear water, but also some of the best views you can get. Right behind you are the snowcapped peaks of the Tien Shan and far beyond the horizon of the lake you can even see the mountains of Kazakhstan.
The best place to swim in lake issyk kul
Swimming in lake Issyk kul is not for the faint of heart. Even though issyk kul means warm lake, its not warm by any standards. It certainly is possible, but even in summer it’s a cold experience.
However, there is no better place in Kyrgyzstan to take a dip in the worls second largest high altitude lake then Tosor with its spectacular mountain views.
The best sunsets in Kyrgyzstan
One of the best times to enjoy the views is in the late afternoon. Because of the reflections on the lake you will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful sunsets in Kyrgyzstan.
The best place to get a sense of Kyrgyz rural life
Cute little farmhouses with nice gardens and orchards is what defines the little village of Tosor. Walking through the dusty streets is just as enjoyable as walking along the beach.
People are somewhat used to the occasional tourist in town, but remain curious and friendly. Everywhere you go you will be greeted with a smile.
The best place to stay in a yurt on the beach
Where else in the world can you sleep in a traditional yurt right on the beach? Probably not a lot of places, but Tosor is one of them.
The welcoming Tonya Yurt camp is right at the beach. from the gate it is only a couple of meters to the shore of the lake. It’s the best place to stay to see the beautiful sunset over the lake
Tosor Travel tips
Where to sleep in Tosor?
I already recommended Tonya Yurt camp. This is my personal favourite place to stay in Tosor. However, there are also several homestays in town. Most of them do not have an online presence, but if you ask around you will soon find a family that is more than happy to host you.
Where to eat in Tosor?
There are no restaurants in Tosor, but you can eat at your guesthouse. With the homecooked food at Tonya yurt camp that wasn’t too bad. Expect basic Kyrgyz dishes like plov, laghman, dimlama or pelmeni.
When to visit Tosor?
The views from Tosor beach are beautiful year round, but winters are very cold and most homestays and guesthouses will be closed.
If you want to swim in lake Issyk kul summer is the best time to visit Tosor. The tourist season in Tosor runs from mid may till mid september.
How to get to Tosor
Tosor has a convenient location on the road that runs from Karakol to Bokonbaevo. There is frequent public transportation in the form of minibuses and shared taxzi’s. Hitchhiking is also very common, but it is expected you pay the equivalent of what a shared taxi would have costed you. Public transportation in Kyrgyzstan is very cheap, so that is not a lot.
From Tosor it is about 2 hours to Karakol and 45 minutes to Bokonbaevo. Other nearby attractions include Jeti Oguz (1.5 hours), Barskoon (45 minutes), Skazka Canyon (10 minutes) and Kadji Sai (30 minutes).
Sustainable Travel in Tosor
Although Tosor 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. Visiting Tosor sustainably will help preserve the pristine beauty of this remote village in Kyrgyzstan and support the local community.
Leave no Trace principle: Tosor is famous for its natural beauty, and it’s crucial to keep it that way. To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter that you can refill at your accomodation. At last, use biodegradable and eco-friendly personal care products to minimize pollution of water sources.
When exploring the area around Tosor, stick to designated trails when they are there, avoid disturbing wildlife or picking plants, and leave no trace of your presence. Ensure you take all your trash back with you and dispose of it responsibly. Even better, is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.
Respect the local 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.
I highly recommend staying in a homestay for an authentic cultural experience. You might want to bring a small book with pictures of your family to break the ice.
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