If you have ever been curious about trying horse trekking, then heading to Son-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan is a must! If there is one activity that is most representative of the nomadic past of Kyrgyzstan it’s this.
In this post I want to share my 3-day horse trekking experience to Son-Kul Lake with you, how to get there, what to remember to bring and what to expect!
Since ancient times, horses have played an important role in the nomadic life of people in Central Asia. For many of the nomads, their horses are indispensable companions and helpers in everyday life. Even nowadays, babies will sit in a saddle before they can walk, hence the relationship between horse and human is a strong one!
When you travel through Kyrgyzstan you will see people offering you horse rides on more than one occasion. Whether it’s for a strenuous 4 hours hike up Ala Kul, a short trek to a waterfall or multiple-day trekking like I did to Son-Kul Lake.
The Kyrgyz horse is a traditional breed of small horses, very strong and calm. Should you ever have thought about horse trekking, Kyrgyzstan and Lake Son-Kul is the best place!
3-Day Kyrgyzstan Horse Trekking Itinerary & What to Expect
Son-Kul is a picturesque alpine lake in the Tian Shan mountains, right in the Naryn region. Although it’s possible to get a car to one of the yurt camps, I’d say that hiking or even better, a horse trek is one of the most authentic things you can do in Kyrgyzstan.
Trekking on a horseback through the mindblowing landscapes, it evokes the feeling of being a nomad. Simultaneously or specifically because of this reason, the tours to Son-Kul are designed to let you experience the real nomad life. You will sleep in a shepherd’s yurt at 2500 metres, you can experience how people milk their cows or make food.
If you’re short on time I recommend checking out this 2-day horse trekking trip to Son-Kul lake!
Where to Start your 3-Day Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan
In order to experience horse trekking to the Son-Kul Lake, you would need to get to the village of Kyzart by 1 pm first. From Bishkek, there are daily Marshrutkas to the nearby town of Kochkor. I suggest you don’t leave later than 8 am as the trek will start around 2 or 3 pm.
The drive is around 2.5 hours and costs around 400 Som (5 USD). You can also take a taxi and split the cost. This option might be around 1500 Som (15 USD) for the whole car. Once you are in Kochkor, you would need another taxi to drive towards Kyzart.
The roads are in bad condition, so the drive can take up to 2 hours and costs around 1200 Som (12 USD) per car.
Day 1 Bishkek via Kyzart to Shepherd’s Camp
Once you made it out of Kochkor you can experience a wonderful drive past dry steppe scenery and interestingly shaped mountains. Oh, and you might pass by some wild camels!
In Kyzart you will gather at a guesthouse of your agency’s choice for a typical Kyrgyz lunch. This is also where you’ll meet your guide for the next few days. This guide will be by your side to help you with the horse and makes sure you’ll have a safe and enjoyable trip. From here you will get ready for your horses. Ask ahead of time if the tour includes things like a helmet, a horseback bag for your belongings.
As far as I know, you shouldn’t bring a bag heavier than 12kg.
This is also the moment where you should dress appropriately. I suggest wearing long leggings or anything that is stretchy and comfortable. As it gets very hot and sunny in this region, you should wear a blouse or t-shirt. Also, don’t forget to wear sunscreen!
Once in the saddle, you’ll slowly make your way out of the little village, if your horse wants to. Mine wasn’t too keen on walking, or listening – so my guide had to help. After all, these beautiful creatures have a mind of their own and it was amazing to see, how used you get to them.
Kyrgyz horses are incredibly resilient and strong, quite obedient and small.
Halfway through the 4 hours ride, we stopped for a break. This is something I’d encourage you to research and hold the guides accountable for. For horse trekkings to be of an ethical nature, this is so so important. I know that people in Kyrgyzstan have a strong connection to their horses and they were all well cared for. I cannot speak for other countries, but it’s something to be aware of.
After passing the most amazing landscapes and rock formations, we arrived at our camp at around 6 pm. The local family greeted us warmly and showed us our yurt. In a real nomad manner, we were sleeping on matrasses on the floor, an oven was also around.
There is free time for you to explore the surroundings, say hello to the free-running turkeys or play with the children.
Dinner time is around 8 pm, and you’ll be glad it’s inside the yurt. Temperatures in this region are still low once the sun goes down – even in summer!
From personal experience, I’d recommend not eating the fruits without washing them yourself.
Day 2 Kilemche via Zhalgiz Karagay Pass to Son-Kol Lake
On the 2nd day, you will trek over the Zhalgiz Karagay Pass to Son-Kul Lake
You made it through the cold night – and you start with a typical breakfast. In the morning there is usually serviced bread, jams, something hot like a crepe or semolina porridge. Oh, and not to forget litres of hot chai tea!
Around 9 am you will start the first part of the journey. Your guide will take care to prepare the horses every morning, so you don’t need to worry about anything. The trek will lead you up the Zhalgiz Karagay Pass at an altitude of 3400 metres. That’s one of the hardest parts for the horse (and for every hiker we passed).
It takes about 2.5 hours and the views just get better and better. Looking around me, I couldn’t help but feel small, and grateful to be able to experience this. Every country has this ONE thing that makes it so special and what really represents its spirit.
I feel horse trekking was it for me in Kyrgyzstan. It’s the ultimate way to experience ancient nomad life.
What to See During Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan
Herds of Yaks
This area is especially exciting for the chance to see yaks! These unique animals are domesticated in all of Kyrgyzstan and usually live between 2000 and 5000 metres. They are just wonderful to encounter. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never come close to one before riding past this herd up the pass.
Zhalgiz Karagay Pass
About 2.5 hours later you and the horse have made it to the top of the pass. Once on top, is the time for a 20-minute break for the horse. I’d suggest for you to stretch a bit to relieve some of the pain that naturally comes when you aren’t used to sitting in the saddle. Now, pause and take a look around. You can see the jewel of Son-Kul shimmering in the distance.
Along the journey you will encounter many shepherds with their cows, sheep and horses that live in these regions during summer. Not all of the yurt camps are for tourists, although it’s normal that people who pass through can seek shelter there.
Throughout the 3 days, you won’t stop thinking how the scenery just looks like straight out of a painting. Dry, yellow and brownish-looking meadows around the lake, great plains with cattle and snow-covered mountains in the distance.
This whole region of Son-Kul lake is known to make a fantastic spot for night photography. With no city nearby and no electricity in the camps, there is literally zero light pollution!
If you get the timing right, you might very easily see the Milky Way at night.
Our visit coincided with one of the Supermoons, so we did see an outstanding moon, yet no stars.
Arrival at Son-Kul Lake
The picturesque Son-Kul Lake is a high mountain lake at an altitude of 3000 metres and stretches over 275 square kilometres. The lake is frozen for more than half of the year and only during the summer months, do semi-nomadic shepherds visit.
After a well-deserved break at the pass, you slowly ride down – with the next yurt camp as your final destination of the day. It took us about an hour to reach, passing grassland and sceneries that could have been a painting.
That day’s yurt camp was an upgrade from the night before. It had a real toilette, enough water to wash your hands, a main yurt that served as the dining yurt and pallet beds in our yurt. There were many more groups that day and the atmosphere was cheerful.
Dinner in the yurt camps usually consists of some sort of meat, potatoes and cabbage. Often they also serve vegetable soup and bread. The table is generally supplied with cookies, marmalade, and sugar crystals for the obligatory chai. Be prepared to drink a lot of chai on this trip, the staff is eager to fill your cup of chai as soon as you finished it.
In August the water of the Son-Kul lake even seemed enjoyable and my two friends from the tour plus the guide took a plunge! After 2 days without a shower, this seemed like a smart decision.
Enjoy the free time on the lake, connect with the horses, have a little stroll or take some photos – it’s a relaxing place to really stand still.
Day 3 Son-Kul Lake to Kyzart to Bishkek
The last day came quicker than anticipated. You will have an early breakfast and leave for Kyzart before 10 am. The ocean-like Son Kul lake next to you, it’s a wonderful ride and something for the books! Once again you can see how Son-Kul Lake is encircled by peaks that exceed 4000 metres in altitude. It’s one view for the books!
The great plains will lead you back towards the mountains is an excellent place to try trotting or galloping with your horses. Your guide happily will encourage your horses.
Everyone from our group has never galloped before, so it was an absolutely exhilarating experience. At this point, it’s definitely required to wear your helmet!
From the flat plains, it’s a slow and easy walk up to the mountain range. You and the horses will take another break. It’s a great place rest, from the top you can spot Son Kul Lake one last time from one side and the Kyzart village down below on the other side.
Here it was about time to go down, the most nerve-wracking part of the trip. It’s a steep, windy and rocky path down. Our horses kept slipping and stumbling quite a bit. In these moments you need to be relaxed as much as possible and literally, lean back to help your horse stabilize.
It took us over an hour to make it back down into the valley. Once we were back on solid and flat ground, we passed a few remnants from past Silk Road times and headed towards Kyzart. Eventually, we ended our trip back in the same guesthouse we started off. Lunch was served!
We officially completed our horse trekking trip in Kyrgyzstan, what an experience!
Where to go after your Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan – Son-Kul Lake
Once back in Kyzart you would be smart to arrange a taxi in advance that takes you back to Kochkor or directly to Bishkek. The price needs to be negotiated but for three people you can expect to pay 2400 Som (24 USD) for the car to Bishkek.
There is also a Marshrutka that goes directly back to Bishkek and it’s wise to reserve your spot. Be mindful though, it leaves at 1 pm and you have to leave the Son-Kul camp early enough to make it in time!
If you want to head to Osh you also need to return to Bishkek, there is NO direct way from Kyzart, Lake Issyk area or Naryn.
Check out my other blog post about 13 Fantastic sights to Visit when You’re in Kyrgyzstan for the First Time!
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