“Journey is the destination” as cliché as it might sound it perfectly encompasses travelling to Kel Suu. Many years ago when i drove to Kel Suu for the first time with friends we never made it to the lake. Came up 50 km short before realizing that we didn’t have enough gas to make it to Kel Suu and back to At Bashy where we’d find the first gas station on that stretch. Though we didn’t get to see the lake that day I was not disappointed at all. As a person who doesn’t plan his travels and loves road trips I had a blast. Enjoyed my friends company, loved driving on smooth asphalt that stretches till the Chinese border as well as barely visible treks after the turn from the highway. Still fondly remember me and my friends trying to start a campfire with dry yak dung by a river we couldn’t cross due to high waters. My point is this - when you take off to go to Kel Suu make as many stops as possible along the way, take small detours off the main road, try and take pictures of curious gazes of cheeky marmots.
Kel Suu located just 12km from the Chinese border and over 3500m above sea level Kel-Suu is also one of the countries most remote destinations. It takes about 12-13 hours to travel there from Bishkek. Requires a border pass and lodging can’t be booked online. Once you are there you can trek, enjoy horseback riding, or a trip on a boat. Now, let us tell you everything in order :)
1. How to get there?
The first and foremost thing to do is - get a border permit for going to Kel-Suu. You can get it by providing us with a copy of your passport. The process of obtaining the permit takes about 2 weeks, so make sure you contact us as soon as possible.
It's better if you travel there with your friends or a group of people - it can cut costs if are sharing a ride or safer if you’ve decided to rent a car and drive yourself.
There are two ways of getting there, the first going as follows - Bishkek>Naryn>Ak-Muz>Bosogo>Kynda Pass>Ak-Sai. The road takes about 12 hours, half of which is the road between Bishkek and Naryn on A365. We suggest not to rush through the first bit and plan to make stops along the way with an overnight stay in Naryn. There many opportunities for interesting detours along the highway: Burana tower, white water rafting on chu river, eolian castles, Orto Tokoy water reservoir with free roaming camels, salt mine in Kochkor that dates back to Silk Road era. Once you are in Naryn make sure to stock up on snacks, and beer. Sitting around a cozy bonfire with shining stars above you and mountains surrounding you’ll wish you’ve shopped like a toddler for your comfort food.
If you’ve rented a car and driving - fill up on gas in Naryn before you set off to Kel Suu. Perhaps, throw a can of petrol in the truck, just to give you more freedom to roam and ease of mind. It’ll take you around 6 hours to reach Ak-Sai valley. You will get checked twice by the border guards to verify your permits. You need a well-equipped 4x4 with enough ground clearance. There is no public transport there, so your options are:
Hiring a driver will cost 540$ roundtrip for the whole car. Includes: 4x4 vehicle, gas, drivers’ fee, and drivers’ expenses for two nights.
Renting a car will start at 60-80$ per day, not including expenses for gas.
Shuttle service costs 120$ per person for a roundtrip. Includes: 4x4 van, gas, drivers’ fee, and drivers’ expenses for two nights.
One more option is to go to Naryn first by public transport and hire a driver from there. We can help arrange a driver from Naryn to Kel Su. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a driver or any of the options above.
Now, the second road is: Bishkek>Naryn>Tash-Rabat>Chatyr-Kol>Torugart>Ak-Sai Valley.
This road takes a little more than 12 hours – around 13-14 hours. Instead of turning off the highway early on like the first option this route takes you around a loop which will you give you the opportunity to make a detour to Tash Rabat, an ancient caravanserai, and Chatyr-Kol, another beautiful lake along the way. Note that you can take this road only if you have a guide or a driver who has already driven on it. Tenti recommends you to take the first road – it's the most well-known and easiest to find and follow.
2. What to take with you?
You can find convenience stores and restaurants on the way from Bishkek to Naryn, but none on the way from Naryn to Kel-Suu. However once you reach yurt camps you can ask your hosts to cook meals for you and your group. If you need anything specific for a few days, we’d suggest you get them in Naryn. And, of course, basic things to remember: warm clothes and extra layers - temperature can dip below zero at night. Toss few 5 liter water jugs in the trunk, or better yet pack water bottles with filters on them. Your hosts will have limited options for vegetarians when it comes to hot meals and most likely none for vegans. If you have any dietary restrictions plan ahead and pick up something in Naryn, so you can cook a hot meal in case the hosts will fail to provide the necessary ingredients. Don’t forget to get enough cash. Your destination won’t have any cell phone signal let alone cashless payment system.
3. Where to stay and how to book?
There are two yurt camps in Ak-Sai valley about 7-8 km from the lake. One is Jyrgals’ yurt camp, the second is Meders’ Yurt Camp. In both places you pay around 700-800 KGS (breakfast is included). For lunch and dinner you pay separately – about 350-450 KGS. Most yurts will have a dorm style sleeping arrangement with 4-5 beds in yurt. Jyrgals’ yurt camp does have yurts with double beds, but will cost you extra.
Since there is no connection signal it can be hard to contact the yurt camps. The easiest way is to contact us, especially if you want to book in advance. Of course, you can also go straight there and try to find a place, but during the season it is better to plan ahead.
4. What activities can you do there?
When you reach your destination, you will find spectacular views and beautiful “untouched” nature. Walk around and take thousands of photos, believe us it won't be less :). To see the lake, you can either get there by car or rent a horse from the shepherds there. The cost for a guide/horseman will be around – 1000-1200 KGS. Guides speak only Kyrgyz and Russian. The cost of a horse to rent – 800 KGS per person for a day. It can take you about 1.30 - 2 hours to get to the lake on a horse. However you can drive all the way up to the lake.
Besides hiking and horseback riding you can also opt for a boat ride on the lake which can be arranged by your hosts.
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