Visit Lake Kol-Suu in Kyrgyzstan
All the information you need to access Lake Kol-Suu and organise a hike or horseback ride
Lake Kol-Suu sparkles bright blue, perched in the middle of high granite cliffs. Set at an altitude of 3,500 m, this lake is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the country. Although it attracts more and more visitors every year, its remoteness and the fact that a permit is required to access it, dissuades the majority of tourists. As you may have understood, the detour is well worth it, especially since the track to get there has been rebuilt recently.
In this article, we give you all the information you need to prepare your road-trip and to organise a hike or horseback ride to Lake Kol-Suu!
Lake Kol-Suu, the hidden gem
Lake Kol-Suu is probably one of the most beautiful lakes in Kyrgyzstan. The lake is intensely blue and weaves its way for about 16 km, between high granite cliffs. Only the clouds moving in the sky and eagles flying overhead animate this silent scene.
The lake was formed following a landslide, probably caused by an earthquake. Boulders torn from the cliffs have formed a natural dam that holds back the blue waters of the lake.
Located close to the Chinese border, the lake is quite remote and a border permit is required. It takes about 4-5 hours to drive from Naryn to the base camp in the Kok-Kiya valley. It is then a 4-5 hour round trip on foot or horseback to reach the lake from the Kok-Kiya valley.
Road-Trip to Lake Kol-Suu (4×4, van, motorbike or bicycle) from Naryn
Located about 200 km from the town of Naryn, Lake Kol-Suu is relatively remote but well worth the effort! The condition of the track has improved significantly since our first expedition to Kyrgyzstan in 2017. Although we saw cars or small 2×4 vans on the trail, 4WD is recommended as some sections can be muddy or damaged. Be especially careful at bridges, always get out of your vehicle to check their condition before passing.
As Lake Kol-Suu is situated in a restricted border area, you will need a permit to travel there. You can apply for a permit in Naryn or you can apply online here. To learn more about the areas that require a permit, read this article. Your permit will be checked at a military post located shortly after the Kindi Pass at 3,400m.
Before leaving for Lake Kol-Suu, check that your border permit doesn’t contain any mistakes: name, surname, date of birth, passport number, validity date. The slightest mistake and the military will not let you pass without a bakshish.
The last 10km of the track before the base camp reveals the Sary-Beles range. The views are beautiful, especially at sunset when the mountains light up. You will probably come across herds of yaks! The track ends in the Kok-Kiya valley where there are about twenty yurts at the foot of the mountains. This is the starting point for the hikes to Kol-Suu lake.
You should also be aware that there are no supplies between Naryn and Kol-Suu lake (no petrol station, no food shop). Bring water, food and fuel for the trip! Once at the Kol-Suu Lake base camp, it is possible to eat and sleep in one of the yurts at the camp.
To learn more about the routes to Kol-Suu Lake, the wild camping spots or the beautiful Kok-Kiya Canyon located not far from the lake, please refer to Route 17 and 18 of the book EXPLORE KYRGYZSTAN.
The map below is taken from the book. It is also available in foldable A2 format here.
Lake Kol-Suu on foot or on horseback?
Even though it is possible to continue to Lake Kol-Suu by four-wheel drive across the river, we strongly advise you to continue on foot or on horseback. Not only are there some difficulties (fording, muddy passage) but also the increasing number of cars passing by tends to spoil the landscape.
Hiking to Lake Kol-Suu
If you wish to hike to Lake Kol-Suu and back it is about 12 km in total (little difference in altitude). It takes 2 to 3 hours to reach the lake. The track is not clearly marked; the most important thing is to stay on the left bank of the river (i.e. the right-hand side during the ascent) until the river goes underground. At this point, you will be able to pass over it without having to get your feet wet. The track then joins a more clearly marked route.
Horseback riding to Lake Kol-Suu
An authentic experience to enjoy the breathtaking scenery around Lake Kol-Suu! The horseback ride to Lake Kol-Suu is suitable for both beginners and experienced riders. Kyrgyz horses have a very calm temperament and you will usually be accompanied. The ride to the lake takes about 2 hours.
To find horses, you need only ask in yurt camps. In 2019, it cost roughly 800 soms per person for a horse and 1,500 soms for a guide.
Find all our tips for horse riding in Kyrgyzstan in this article.
A lake that empties itself ?
Lake Kol-Suu is also called Kol Tethri which means “inverted lake”. From one year to another, the lake empties almost completely, leaving a vast cracked earth bed. This mysterious phenomenon takes place when a warm winter is followed by an arid summer. Every winter, the lake freezes almost completely. However, when the winter is too warm, the lake freezes only on the surface, and a large part of its water is drained by the Kol-Suu River. When spring arrives, the lake is normally fed by the melting snow from the previous winter and precipitation. During the winter, if the amount of snow on the peaks was insufficient and the summer does not bring any rain to compensate, the lake is dry. With global warming, the lake is unfortunately bound to disappear.
If you go up the grassy hill overlooking the lake on the right, you will be able to access a small cave hidden in the rocky cliff. The main cave has a narrow entrance that requires a little climbing. Firstly, you enter a large room whose floor is covered with feathers and bird excrement, then the cave goes down a long corridor. There are no stalactites, but the walls of the lower corridor are an interesting texture, similar to that of a coral reef.
Sleeping at Lake Kol-Suu
Sleeping in a yurt
It is possible to sleep in a yurt at the Kol-Suu Lake base camp in the Kok-Kiya Valley. The price for a night in a yurt with dinner and breakfast is 800-1000 som per person.
Camping at Lake Kol-Suu
If you wish, it is possible to camp at the foot of Kol-Suu Lake. We recommend that you bring warm clothes as the lake is at an altitude of 3500m! The nights can be very cold even in summer.
A few kilometres from Lake Kol-Suu is the beautiful Kok-Kiya Canyon. The eponymous river meanders through a series of narrow gorges and wider valleys where herds of yak graze. The area is virtually uninhabited, with only a few nomadic families settling here in the summer.
The track to the canyon is only accessible by equipped 4×4 with experienced drivers. However, if you are on a motorbike or a bicycle, access will be easier. See Route 17 in the book EXPLORE KYRGYZSTAN.
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