Issyk-Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan

Issyk-Kul is the second largest alpine lake worldwide, located at an altitude of 1609 m (5,279 feet). Although it is mountainous, Issyk-Kul never freezes, so its name in Kyrgyz means “heat lake.” The lake itself is surrounded by marshlands, two mountain ranges, and numerous popular sites such as Karakol and Cholpon-Ata.

There are many archeological remains around Issyk-Kul, including the Cholpon-Ata Petroglyphs to houses and towns below the seas (the depth and shape of the lake has changed over history because of earthquakes). The Issyk-Kul banks were well populated and known among travelers and traders. Although Issyk-Kul was unknown in the west until Russia’s explorer arrived in the 1800s, Chinese travelers wrote accounts of the visit to Issyk-Kul in the 1st century BC. Issyk-kul has also been a common stop on the Silk Road (near Barskoon, on the south shore).

As the Silk Road declined, Issyk-Kul lost much of its importance from 1400s onwards. The two-year expedition of Pyotr Semeyonov-Tian-Shansky took him into the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, making him famous in Russia. In Soviet times, the East End was used by the army and several resorts were opened on the beaches, Issyk-Kul regained prominence.

The Ala-Too mountains are located to the north of the lake, while the Ala-Too mountains are to the south. A few popular gorges are around the lake, such as the Boom Gorge which crosses the road from Bishkek. Grigorevka Gorge, Kyrkyn Gorge and Barskoon and Fairytale (Skazka) Canyon are located to the north of the lake. Jeti Oguz, a prominent red sandstone formation, is near Karakol, on the eastern end of the lake.

Many stretches of the coast are sandy beaches, so many fly to Issyk-Kul Lake in summer (the region tends to be a little cooler than Bishkek, providing relief from the summer heat). The Issyko-Kul lake is a protected marshes and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Some areas are also marshlands. There are also thermal springs and a salt lake on the beach, common with those looking for wellness and spa treatments. On the southern coast, Sandy Lake is famous for its extremely saline waters (like the Dead Sea), where people float and use it for medicinal purposes.