How to spend 7 days in southern Kazakhstan - Part 4
Our article on the trip we did in Kazakhstan consists of 4 parts.
Start with Part 1 - the introduction to this article. Here you'll see our whole itinerary for the 7 days trip in Kazakhstan:
Part 2 describes the 3 days we spent in Almaty:
Par 3 talks about the 2 days we spent in the Shymbulak Ski Resort, which is the biggest Ski resort in Central Asia: https://steemit.com/travelfeed/@peterveronika/how-to-spend-7-days-in-southern-kazakhstan-part-3
Day 5 – 7
2 day trip to Kolsai Lakes, Kaindy Lake and Charyn Canyon
This part of the trip was my favourite. We saw the most beautiful sights during the whole trip here, had a very authentic experience with a chance to get a peek into the real Kazakhstani village life during these days.
First we went back to Almaty from Shymbulak for 1 night and stayed at Silk Way hotel, because the driver for this trip was picking us up at 8am the next day. This hotel was Ok. Although the receptionist spoke no English we managed to agree with her on an early breakfast.
I arranged the trip ahead of time with www.travelaroundalmaty.kz.
Yousuf, the man who runs the agency is reliable and very helpful, we can only recommend him for any trips around Almaty. He has a huge list of possible trips on his website. He speaks very good English.
Cost of the 2 day trip:
Usually 40 USD per person if there are at least 3 people in the car, but there were only 2 of us so we paid 120 USD for the 2 of us together. Accommodation is extra – 11 USD/person in a homestay in Saty (Yousuf arranges that), breakfast, lunch and dinner is cooked by the family you are staying with at the homestay (4 USD/meal/person), and entry fees for the different parks are also not included, those are about 2 USD/person/national park.
You can theoretically do this trip on your own, but it will not be easy, as many of the roads are not on google maps, and the roads are not sign posted.
The roads are in a very bad condition in some places, and you will not be able to get to Kaindy lake at all without the help of locals. The road that leads to it is an old dirt road full of pot holes, we even drove through a few lakes.
Yousuf arranged for an old Soviet truck to take us there.
First we drove to Charyn Canyon
It about a 4 hour drive from Almaty. You have to pay about 2 USD for entry at the ticket office in front of the canyon.
There is an outdoor toilet right behind, but no other facilities, so make sure to bring water and snacks. Many companies organise one day trips to this Canyon, so even if you only have time to see this place it is still worth it.
We spent about 2 hours in the canyon, hiking 2.5 km to the river and then back.
You’ll find a restaurant at the river, some yurts (about 65 USD/night)
that you can rent for the night and bungalows (20 USD/night). You can even bring your tent and camp here, we saw some people doing that too. Unfortunately you cannot book these online, you just have to come and see if they have anything available (usually they will, but depends on the season). This place is ideal to stay for the night if you are looking for quiet and solitude.
We took pictures at different spots in the canyon and we drove to Saty, the village where we were going to stay in a homestay for the night and had lunch.
It was about 3 pm by that time so we were pretty hungry. We were served a traditional homemade Kazakhstani meal, which was very tasty. Our room was basic but good enough for 1 night.
There are about 10 houses now in 2019 that rent out rooms to tourists. If you are going on a 2 day trip, your guide should book the homestay for you like Yousuf did for us. He said our homestay was one of the best in the village, as the others can be more basic, some don’t have water inside the house or are only equipped with an outside toilet. Make sure to check these details when you are booking a trip with an overnight stay in Saty. None of the homestay owners will speak any English, only Russian and Kazakh, so you either need a good translator or a guide.
After lunch we went to see Kaindy lake. We had to change cars for this drive, as the road leading to Kaindy lake is a dirt road leading through the forest.
Yousuf arranged for a local man to drive us there in an old Soviet van, which was an experience in itself.
There were a few times when I was scared for my life, but our driver seemed quite confident so I managed to relax at the end.
Here you will have to pay another 2 USD for entry at the ticket office. (TIP: keep the ticket, you will get a 50% discount for your ticket to Kolsai lakes).
The drive to the parking close to the lake took us about an hour (driving max 20 km/hour). From there it’s about a 30 minute hike to the lake, up and down the hills. This place has an elevation of 2,000 meters so hiking can get tough. We walked around the lake to see it from different angles, first this one:
And this was our very favourite spot:
This lake was created in 1911 by an earthquake which caused a landslide, and it is very unique because of the trees that are submerged in it. The area is also called a ‘sunken forest’.
We got back to our homestay around 6pm, and had a traditional dinner.
The house started filling up as new travellers showed up to stay for the night. There was a couple who cycled from China and they were going all the way to France, Saty being one of their stops on the way.
The next morning we started off at 9am to Kolsai lakes, which was just a 20 minutes’ drive from Saty. Here we only paid 1 USD entry fee each because we still had our tickets from Kaindy lake.
There are 3 Kolsai lakes, the first being the biggest one, the second one is a 9 km hike from the first and the third lake is off limits as it is too close to the Kyrgyzstani border. Even our guide has never been there. It is possible to swim in the lakes if you are brave enough, as the water never gets too warm. Obviously we didn’t swim.
We admired the first Kolsai lake, and then started the hike to the second one. I’d call it a difficult hike, as the elevation here is again above 2,000 m but also because the path is steep. There were times when I almost crawled on all fours to progress. And it was very muddy and slippery as it rains a lot in this area.
The path isn’t marked so you either need a guide who’s done it before or a reliable application that will get you there without getting lost in the woods. If you have neither of the two, you can still walk around the first lake and admire the view there.
The 9 km hike to the second lake took us about 2.5 hours.
We forgot our water in the car, but our guide said it was OK to drink from the lake, so we did and the water actually tasted very nice. I’d never drank directly from a lake before so I thoroughly enjoyed it, and we didn’t get sick from it.
The second lake isn’t as scenic as the first one but it’s still very nice.
By the time we got back to the car (around 3pm), I was totally exhausted. I used up all the energy I had. Again, bring some snacks if you can as there are no facilities at the moment.
You can stay here for the night in yurts, but it is only advisable to do so in the summer as it is quite cold at this altitude at night. You can’t book those online either.
We saw some people camping at the end of the first lake, and although it’s not allowed to make a fire here, it can be quite nice to stay overnight if you have a tent.
From Kolsai lakes we went back to our homestay for a well-deserved lunch that we devoured.
After lunch at around 4pm we started the drive back to Almaty, stopping at two more canyons on the way, but we didn’t do anymore hiking, we only took pictures here.
We got back to the city at 8pm, so we asked Yousuf to drop us off straight at the airport as our flight to Dubai was at 4:30am.
We checked in to the same hotel again, this time with an en suite toilet for extra comfort for 18 USD.
We got back to Dubai the next morning, exhausted but very happy that we chose Kazakhstan for this holiday.