Kyrgyzstan's Lake Issyk-Kul attracts more and more Central Asian tourists

By Aydar Ashimov

The beach on Lake Issyk-Kul in Cholpon-Ata is shown July 2. [Aydar Ashimov]

A tourist prepares to go parasailing in Cholpon-Ata on July 2. [Aydar Ashimov]

Vacationers enjoy the beach near Cholpon-Ata on July 2. [Aydar Ashimov]

Men play beach volleyball at the lake in Cholpon-Ata on July 2. [Aydar Ashimov]

Vacationers bathe in hot springs on the north shore of Lake Issyk-Kul near Cholpon-Ata on July 3. [Aydar Ashimov]

Tourists from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan hike at Skazka (Fairy Tale) Canyon on the south shore of Lake Issyk-Kul on July 3. [Aydar Ashimov]

Tourists arrive at the Chasha Manasa (Cup of Manas) waterfall after a challenging climb through the mountains in Barskoon Gorge, Issyk-Kul Province, on July 3. [Aydar Ashimov]

A woman paints next to the Chasha Manasa waterfall as other tourists admire the scenery in Barskoon Gorge, Issyk-Kul Province, on July 3. [Aydar Ashimov]

A guide and interpreter (centre) show souvenirs to French tourists at a gift shop in Skazka Canyon on July 3. [Aydar Ashimov]

Local boys offer horseback rides to tourists in Barskoon Gorge, Issyk-Kul Province, on July 3. [Aydar Ashimov]

A local resident demonstrates a horse riding stunt for tourists in the foothills of Barskoon Gorge, Issyk-Kul Province, on July 3. [Aydar Ashimov]

Horses rest in a field in Barskoon Gorge, Issyk-Kul Province, on July 3. [Aydar Ashimov]

Yurts where local residents live in Jeti-Oguz Gorge in Issyk-Kul Province can be seen on July 3. [Aydar Ashimov]

A tourist from Kazakhstan photographs an ancient mosque in Karakol, Issyk-Kul Province, on July 3. [Aydar Ashimov]

CHOLPON-ATA, Kyrgyzstan -- Issyk-Kul, a high-altitude lake known as the "Pearl of Kyrgyzstan", is cementing its status as the country's top tourist destination.

About 900,000 tourists visited Issyk-Kul last year. Eventually, the lake region might attract 1.5 million visitors annually, according to the Kyrgyz Tourism Ministry.

In a country with few natural resources, the tourism industry is vital to providing economic opportunities that reduce the appeal of extremism.

Planes, trains and buses

Easier transportation to the lake has helped boost tourism. On July 1, charter flights began operating every Monday and Friday from Almaty, Kazakhstan, to Issyk-Kul International Airport, which is situated 35km away from the resort city of Cholpon-Ata.


The north shore of Lake Issyk-Kul can be seen on July 2. Issyk-Kul, which is called the "Pearl of Kyrgyzstan," is a beautiful high-altitude lake and a major tourist attraction in the country. [Aydar Ashimov]

Now, only a 40-minute flight separates Almaty residents from a vacation at the mountain lake.

Meanwhile, charter flights from Tashkent to Issyk-Kul operate from June 27 to September 6. The US Agency for International Development helped to promote that route and trained travel agencies serving those passengers in accordance with international tourist industry standards.

Trains also are available from Tashkent to Issyk-Kul every Thursday during the summer. They make the trip from Issyk-Kul back to Tashkent on Saturdays.

This year, the first trip took place on June 6.

Intercity buses run from many cities in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to Issyk-Kul and usually take between 10 and 16 hours.

Residents of neighbouring countries have many options for getting to Issyk-Kul. For example, they can travel to the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and from there take a bus and a train, which requires about three to four hours.

Improved services

Murod Nabiyev, who travelled to Issyk-Kul from Tashkent, said he and his wife and three children are enjoying their visit to the lake.

"We came here by bus, and we'll be staying for 10 days," he said.

"The last time we were here was five years ago," he said. "We're seeing changes for the better. New guesthouses of different categories are opening, from very basic to luxury, along with lots of cafés and stores and water rides."

"There are noticeably more vacationers here since our last trip. We've already been here a week, and we're really pleased," said Nabiyev. Vacationers might be reacting in part to the heightened presence of police around the lake during the summer -- meant to protect tourists from predators.

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