The 5 Most Beautiful Lakes in Kyrgyzstan

There are almost 2000 lakes in Kyrgyzstan; between its multitudes of lakes and rivers, it’s certainly the lushest of all the Central Asian countries. The lakes, rivers, and waterfalls of Kyrgyzstan frost the already beautiful mountain landscape like exquisite pieces of jewelry decorating various regions. You might be thinking “well, if I visit one or two, that’ll give me a good enough idea what they’re all like.” You’d be surprised. 

What makes the alpine lakes of Kyrgyzstan so distinctive is that yes, while they’re all lakes, each one displays its splendor and personality differently. Here’s a list of what I think are the 5 most beautiful lakes in Kyrgyzstan: Lake Chatyr-Kul, Sary-Chelek, Issyk-Kul, Kel-Suu, and Son-Kul. 

Lake Chatyr-Kul: Frozen in time

Chatyr-Kul’s name means “celestial lake” or “lake on the roof.”  It’s 181 square km and 3530m high, holding the record for the highest alpine lake in Kyrgyzstan. From October to April, the surface of the lake freezes over and the warmest temperature you’ll find in summertime is 24 degrees Celsius. It resides in the Tien Shan Mountains in At Bashi close to the Chinese Border along the ancient Silk Road routes. Its yellowish-green waters cast a timeless ambiance into the surrounding area, which incidentally is still a natural habitat for Marco Polo Sheep as well as many rare species of birds. 

Lake Sary-Chelek: Wild

Lake SaryChelek is the pièce de résistance in a group of lakes scattered about in the Sary-Chelek Biosphere Reserve located in the Chatkal Mountains 500km from Bishkek and 300km from Osh. This reserve holds over 1000 plant species, 160 different kinds of birds, and 34 mammals, including the endangered snow leopard. Lake Sary-Chelek sports the same untamed feel as the rest of the reserve. Its secluded waters glisten a crisp greenish blue and while wild, still give off the feel of a safe haven from the rest of the world.

Lake Issyk-Kul: Commanding

Lake Issyk Kul is the “Pearl of Central Asia” and is the most visited lake in Kyrgyzstan. It’s the second largest alpine lake in the world, measuring 6,236 square kilometers. The first time I saw Lake Issyk Kul, it actually gave me the impression of an ocean, except I could actually see mountain peaks in the distance. Almost like a king, Issyk Kul’s expansive waters stretch out over the northern part of Kyrgyzstan, claiming dominion over the entire area with the snowcapped mountains of the Tien Shan as its throne. Issyk Kul definitely isn’t secluded; its comfortable summer temperatures, swimming and water sports potential tend to draw people to its shores. 

Lake Kel-Suu: Mysterious

Kel-Suu is a brilliant turquoise lake trapped between sheer rock cliffs in the Sary-Beles Mountains close to the Chinese border. It’s high (3514m), remote and hard to reach, accessible only from July to August.  Due to its extreme isolation and the various caves that appear out of nowhere in the face of the cliffs, mystery hangs so thick in the air, you feel like you can almost touch it.

Lake Son-Kul: Tranquil

Lake Son-Kul is nestled into a valley between two different mountain ranges in the region of Naryn. It lies in modest beauty in the midst of a quiet pasture used by nomads in the summer. While Son-Kul is the 2nd largest lake in Kyrgyzstan (278 square km), it’s not crowded or overrun with people. You’ll see some yurt camps and herds of animals being taken care of my shepherd boys, but that’s mainly it. Its waters look blue or purple depending on the weather. Horses often drink and wade in the water’s edge.