The city of Karakol is the real tourist centre of Kyrgyzstan. Tourists from all over the world come here every year, and this popularity is no coincidence. Besides the city’s impressive architecture and history, the surrounding natural attractions are also extremely popular: the huge Lake Issyk-Kul and the highest mountains of the Tien Shan range. For those travelling to Karakol for the first time, we have put together a special travel guide.
Karakol is strikingly different from all other cities in Kyrgyzstan because of its amazing Old Russian architecture, many ancient landmarks and amazing natural beauty, of which there are many around Karakol. It was founded in the 19th century and has long been the largest and most developed city in Kyrgyzstan. Today it is the authentic capital of the Issyk-Kul region, where the cultural characteristics of the different peoples come together, which is best seen in Karakol’s cuisine.
Karakol owes its distinctive architecture to the Russian settlers who founded the city in 1869. Most of the buildings in the historic centre of the city were built in the late 19th century and are in the classic Russian style, with whitewashed walls, high painted ceilings, carved facades and shutters. There is a whole block of these houses in the city, which are still used by residents or house institutions.
The most famous historical buildings in Karakol are the Trinity Cathedral, an old wooden Orthodox church, the Dungan Wooden Mosque, built in Chinese style and without a single nail, and the Merchants’ Lane with its cleared cobblestones, where the local museum is located.
Another special feature of Karakol is the large number of trees, including mighty poplars. There are several large parks in the very small town, and numerous trees grow on the properties of the farms, making the streets of Karakol fresh and cool even on the hottest days.
Karakol is located in a beautiful place, just below the high mountains of the Terskey Ala-Too range. It is one of the most geographically diverse places in Kyrgyzstan, housing a variety of natural beauties in a relatively small area, for which the majority of tourists visiting Kyrgyzstan come here. Here in Karakol, the blue waters of the high mountains of Ala-Kul, hot springs and breathtaking views of the Altyn-Arashan and Ak-Suu gorges, as well as challenging and beautiful trekking routes in the mountains of Karakol and the Jety-Ozuz gorge, attract travellers. It is a true paradise for lovers of mountain hiking and trekking.
The widely known Karakol ski camp is located in the gorge of the same name, where alpinists from many countries come to conquer the Terskei-Ala-Too Mountains. From Karakol, the trail begins to the most difficult to access areas of Kyrgyzstan – the Inylchek glacier and the high peaks of the Pobeda and Khan Tengry peaks.
It should not be forgotten that Karakol is very close to the pleasant banks of the Issyk-Kul, which is why many people come here to spend their summer holidays. Paragliding on the hills near the city is also very popular, and in winter Karakol becomes the centre of Kyrgyz skiing holidays with a well-developed ski station and great opportunities for freeriding and backcountry skiing.
The cuisine in Karakol is strikingly different from the rest of Kyrgyzstan, due to the large number of Dungans living in the city. So if you come to Karakol, be sure to try the local dishes, which are famous throughout the country and even beyond.
The signature dish of Karakol is Ashlyan Fu – a spicy Dungan soup served cold. The main ingredients of ashlyan fu are two types of noodles: plain noodles made from wheat flour and starchy noodles. The noodles are seasoned with cold broth, spicy laza spice and many herbs.
It is usually served with fried potato cakes and hot tea.
Also a traditional Dungan dish that has spread throughout Central Asia and is equally popular in all parts of the country. Lagman is made with a special technique of boiled noodles seasoned with steamed meat, vegetables and spices. There is also a type of lagman that uses rice instead of noodles, called ganfan.
Even the usual manty in Karakol can be quite different from all the others. Here, manty is traditionally served not only with meat, but also with various herbs – especially jusai. Manty in Karakol is also traditionally served with a spicy dressing, laza, made with hot pepper and garlic.
Of course, besides the typical dishes of Karakol, you can also try traditional Kyrgyz dishes such as beshbarmak, pilaf, kurdak, shorpo, etc. You can find a more detailed list of Kyrgyz dishes here.