Natural Attractions in Jalal-Abad
From alpine lakes to walnut forests, there's a lot of untouched nature to explore.
The Jalal-Abad region of Kyrgyzstan certainly has no shortage of natural attractions, diverse landscapes and pristine nature to explore. Snow-covered mountains, turquoise lakes, dramatic gorges, walnut and juniper forests, lush green valleys, breath-taking glaciers, and deep rivers all can be found within this one region. And as Jalal-Abad region is still a relatively undiscovered destination in Kyrgyzstan, you’ll likely have this nature and adventure much to yourself.
Jalal-Abad region’s location in the Ferghana Range of the Tian Shan Mountains makes it an ideal destination for nature lovers, trekkers and outdoor adventurers. The region’s strength is the diversity of experiences and landscapes – from the deep alpine lakes of Sary-Chelek and Toktogul Lakes to Arslanbob’s dense walnut forest to dramatic Chychkan Gorge -- you can encounter in the course of short visit.
Accommodation near natural attractions: Many of the natural attractions listed below have villages or small towns nearby that can serve as the jumping off point for exploration or to embark on a trek or other outdoor activity. We provide details on where the closest accommodation options would be to visit the natural attraction. Most of the accommodation in the towns and villages are family homestays or guest houses. This means that you have an opportunity to stay with a family and enjoy local hospitality and home-cooked meals. You can find all accommodation options and details in the region here.
Transportation: We've provided basic transportation to these natural attractions. Visit the Jalal-Abad Transportation page for detailed information on how to navigate the region from Jalal-Abad city and other towns via marshrutka, shared taxi, or private transportation. Your costs will vary when booking transportation to a guest house or from a starting point other than Jalal-Abad city. Use the maps linked below to locate these cultural, historical and religious sites in Jalal-Abad region.
Map of Natural Attractions: To help you plan your visit to and itinerary around Jalal-Abad region we assembled a Google Map incorporating the main natural attractions and historical sites in the region. This should make it easier for you to see how you can combine different types of landscapes, nature reserves, treks and other experiences into your Jalal-Abad itinerary.
Tucked into the western edge of the Tien Shan Mountains at the foot of the Chaktal Range, Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve has been a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1978 in order to protect and conserve its vast diversity of birds (157 species), flora, mammals (40 species), and large walnut and fruit forests. The highlight for travelers is Sary-Chelek Lake, a beautiful alpine lake located at an elevation of nearly 2,000 meters. The lake was formed as result of an earthquake, which led to a landslide and rockslide that blocked the stream of a mountain river to create a huge (470 hectares) and deep (245 meters) lake. Depending upon the light, the lake will appear either a deep turquoise color or act as a mirror to reflect the blue skies, greenery and snow-covered slopes of the surrounding mountains.
If you visit in autumn, Sary-Chelek Lake appears yellow as it reflects the golds and reds of the surrounding forest. This is how the lake got its name, Sary-Chelek, as this means “Yellow Bucket” in the Kyrgyz language. There are six other smaller alpine lakes at Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve that are more remote, but some of them can be visited on a multi-day trek or horse trek.
How to visit Sary-Chelek Lake and Nature Reserve
The village of Arkyt serves as the jumping off point to the lake and for visits to the reserve. This is also where most transport will drop you off. From Arkyt village, Sary-Chelek Lake is another 17km away. Many people choose to walk this as either a day hike or to camp overnight by the lake, since it’s a pleasant hike through the forest. However, it’s also possible to go to the lake by local taxi from Arkyt, either as a shared taxi (100 KGS/person) or private taxi (1,500 KGS for the entire car, round-trip including waiting time at the lake).
What to do at Sary-Chelek Lake and Nature Reserve
Most visitors to the lake, foreign travelers and locals alike, just enjoy relaxing by the lake and taking in the views. Near the parking lot there is a recreation area with a few local outlets to buy snacks and drinks, and areas for families to enjoy picnics overlooking the lake. It’s also possible to hire a boat to take you across and around the lake.
If you want to explore Sary-Chelak Lake and Nature reserve even further we recommend the 7-Lakes Day Hike (8-11 km, 4-5 hours). There are also several options for multi-day treks or horse treks that take you further into the reserve and to other lakes. Another popular multi-day trek is the 4-day trek from Sary-Chelek to Talas. Check with the Destination Jalal-Abad Tourism Information Center located near the first park entrance in Arkyt (May - October) or the local CBT Sary-Chelek office (actually located in Kara-Suu village) for information on treks, finding a local guide, hiring a horse, renting a tent, sourcing accommodation and anything else you might need to get the most out of your visit.
Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve Entrance Fees
The entrance fee to the Reserve is 400 KGS/person for foreign visitors, 100 KGS/person for Kyrgyz citizens and 150 KGS for a vehicle. If you want to camp at the lake, the fee is 300 KGS per tent per night. Be sure to ask for a receipt and keep it with you as you may be asked by park rangers to show it later.
Best time to visit Sary-Chelek Lake and Nature Reserve
April – October
Where to stay at Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve
If you want to spend several days exploring Sary-Chelek the best place for accommodation is the nearby village of Arkyt which has options including a hotel and family guest houses which serve home-cooked meals. In the summer months you might also find yurt stays as well. You can find more information on accommodation near Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve.
How to get to Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve
From Jalal-Abad City to Sary-Chelek by marshrutka is a little complicated and long as you first need to go to Osh (1.5 hours) and then catch the marshrutka (7:40 AM) from Osh to Sary-Chelek (6.5 hours). A private taxi from Jalal-Abad will cost around 5000-6000 KGS one way.
From Osh there is a daily marshrutka (minibus) leaving early each morning (7:40 AM) from the new northern bus terminal, including a stop in Jalal-Abad city along the way. Or, you can take a shared taxi for around 500 KGS/person. The journey takes around 6-7 hours.
The Toktogul Reservoir is the largest reservoir in Central Asia at almost 300 square kilometers. It's also the location of the country’s biggest hydro-electric station. The reservoir is sourced from the Naryn River, whose waters flow from the northern part of Jalal-Abad region. The deep turquoise color of the water is a stunning contrast to the red clay hills around.
Given its location on the Bishkek-Osh highway that connects the two biggest cities in the country, Toktogul Reservoir is a popular stop to enjoy views and take photos of the reservoir from the highway (insider’s tip: here’s one of the best spots to take photos of the reservoir). Although most visitors just stop at Toktogul Reservoir for a quick visit and photo, it’s worth spending a bit more time here to go down to the reservoir and enjoy the water and the surrounding nature.
What to do at Toktogul Reservoir
During the summer months the shores of Toktogul Reservoir become a popular holiday spot for locals. You can enjoy swimming in certain permitted locations in the reservoir as the water warms up to around 28 degrees Celsius. In addition, you can rent a small boat and driver to take you around to appreciate the size and beauty of the reservoir. For even more panoramic views of the lake you can take a short hike up to Toktogul Kyzyl-Too Panoramic View (around 6km one way). The local guide, Malik (+996 704 050 353), can help organize boat trips and treks.
Contact CBT Toktogul for information on possible treks, horse treks, finding a local guide, accommodation, and anything else you might need for your visit.
If you really want a bit of adventure, check out our Arslanbob to Toktogul Horse Trek Tour (4 days).
Best time to visit Toktogul Reservoir
All year round for the views, but for swimming and trekking the summer months of June-August are best.
Where to stay near Toktogul Reservoir
Nearby Toktogul town has several hotels, guest houses and hostels available. There is also Kok Bel Hotel located just near the reservoir. Check out the accommodation page for more details. The town also offers a variety of local restaurants and cafes.
How to get to Toktogul Reservoir
Since the reservoir is almost halfway between Bishkek (300 km) and Osh (400 km) you should be able to ask to be let off here if you are taking a marshrutka or shared taxi between the two destinations. From Jalal-Abad city you can take a shared taxi for 1000-1200 KGS/person. You can ask the driver to drop you off at the road across from the reservoir or in nearby Toktogul town. From Toktogul town you can get a local taxi for around 200-300 KGS. Or, as the distance isn’t so far (around 8km), you can also walk from town to the reservoir.
One of the great legends in Kyrgyzstan takes place at Arslanbob walnut forest: Alexander the Great took walnuts from this forest in the 4th century as he returned from Asia to Europe. These walnuts were planted in Greece and eventually spread throughout Europe. A more recent, intriguing legend involves Churchill, Stalin and Rolls-Royce. Today, Arslanbob walnut forest is still famous as the world’s largest walnut forest (11,000 hectares) and the largest single source of walnuts in the world, with an estimated harvest of around 1,000-1,500 tons each year.
This ancient forest, estimated by scientists to be 50 million years old, is also home to 130 varieties of other nut and fruit trees. Some of the trees are upwards of 1,000 years old. Located between 1,500-2,000 meters in altitude, Arslanbob forest is a cool, green oasis in the Fergana and Chatkal Ranges of the Tian Shan Mountains. The lush forest contrasts with the white dolomite of the surrounding mountain ridges and peaks.
During the summer months, Arslanbob walnut forest is popular for locals who want to escape the heat of the nearby Fergana Valley. Travelers have the opportunity to explore the forest and surrounding mountains through several different day- or multi-day treks on foot or on horseback. The most popular day hikes include walks out to the 25-meter high Small Arslanbob Waterfall (1.5 km one-way, 10 KGS entrance fee) and the 80-meter high Big Arslanbob Waterfall (7-8 km one-way, 50 KGS entrance fee). The Small Arslanbob Waterfall is also a sacred site featuring adjacent, small prayer caves, including the Cave of 40 Angels which is said to guard this special place. Local taxis can also drive you if you prefer not to walk.
Autumn is another interesting time to visit Arslanbob walnut forest as locals from nearby villages go into the forest for several weeks to collect walnuts, fruit and other nuts. Families set up simple camps and work together for the walnut harvest. If you visit during this time you might be able to join the harvest and experience a bit of local hospitality.
What to do at Arslanbob Walnut Forest
Trekking and horseback riding are the most popular activities around Arslanbob during the summer months. In the winter, freeride skiing is also possible in the nearby hills.
Check out our most popular day and multi-day trekking tours and horse trek tours around Arslanbob. We take care of all the logistics and guiding so you can just focus on enjoying the surrounding mountains, valleys, forests and alpine lakes.
Best time to visit Arslanbob Walnut Forest
April – October
How to organize treks and activities at Arslanbob Walnut Forest
The local CBT Arslanbob office in Arslanbob village can organize treks, guides, horse rental, accommodation, camping gear rental, and anything else you might want to make the most of your visit to Arslanbob.
Where to stay near Arslanbob Walnut Forest
Most travelers stay in the village of Arslanbob since it's the jumping off point for the forest. The town offers all necessary tourism services as well as a selection of family guest houses where you’ll be able to experience local Uzbek hospitality and home-cooked meals. There are other smaller villages around the forest -- Ortok, Kara-Alma and Kyzyl Unkur -- that can also offer basic accommodation for trekkers and the more adventurous. Check with CBT Arslanbob for information on available accommodation and how to book a room. Here is a listing of guest houses in Arslanbob.
How to get to Arslanbob Walnut Forest
From Jalal-Abad city to Arslansbob village, you can take a marshrutka to Bazar-Korgon village (40 KGS). From there, you will need to change to a marshrutka going to Arstanbap (60 KGS). Alternatively, you can directly go from Jalal-Abad city by private taxi for 1000 KGS one way (1.5 hours). From Osh, there is a marshrutka that leaves daily at 13:30 and takes around 4-5 hours.
One of the unique, natural beauties of Jalal-Abad region – and Kyrgyzstan as a whole – is Chychkan Gorge. This long and dramatic gorge, with the Chychkan River flowing through it, is located on the 240th kilometer of the Bishkek-Osh highway, just after the Ala-Bel Pass at 2,200 meters. It's also not far from Toktogul Reservoir. Although it’s possible to enjoy a panoramic view of Chychkan Gorge from the highway, it’s even better to stop for a day or two to explore the gorge more deeply with a trek. This also helps break up the long journey between Bishkek and Osh.
One of the things that makes Chychkan Gorge unique is that it is a wooded gorge whose slopes are covered with Tian-Shan spruce, juniper trees and other local species. The gorge is also home to dramatic waterfalls, high cliffs and two alpine lakes located above 3,000 meters. This makes Chcyhkan Gorge an ideal place for outdoor adventurers and nature lovers. Some of the popular day treks and natural sights include: Ak Kol Lake for dramatic turquoise waters over 3,000 meters, Kyzyl-Kol Lake (Red Lake) with mineral reflections giving the lake a reddish color, and the mysterious underground Lake Mutzor. Climbs up to Ashuu-Bulak (3,100 m) and Kazy-Jar (3,483 m) are also possible for adrenaline-lovers and adventure-seekers.
Chychkan Gorge honey is also famous thanks to the combination of trees and berry bushes adorning its slopes. Be sure to pick up a jar of honey from one of the stands near the highway to taste for yourself.
What to do at Chychkan Gorge
Trekking and horseback riding are the main activities here, and allow you to get up close to the gorge’s stunning alpine lakes and waterfalls. Chychkan Tourist Complex and Guesthouse (+996 558 802 052) can help you organize treks or horseback riding into the gorge.
Best time to visit Chychkan Gorge
April – October. (You can admire the panoramic views from the highway year-round.)
Where to stay at Chychkan Gorge
Chychkan Tourist Complex offers accommodation if you want to stay in the gorge. Otherwise, there is a choice of accommodation in Toktogul town around 20 km away.
How to get to Chychkan Gorge
If you are coming from either Bishkek or Osh you can ask them to drop you off at Chychkan Gorge as it is on the way. From Jalal-Abad city to Chychkan Gorge you can take a shared taxi going towards Bishkek and ask to be dropped off at the gorge (around 1,000-1,200 KGS).
Surrounded by mountains at the start of Kok-Art Valley, Kara-Alma walnut forest is the second largest wild walnut forest in the region. The forest forms a green corridor in the southern part of Jalal-Abad region and is considered a less visited alternative to Arslanbob walnut forest. It is also home to the sacred Emchek-Unkur cave where people come to pray, especially couples who want to have children.
In the summer months you’ll find shepherds with their animals on the high pastures in the surrounding mountains, which provides trekkers the opportunity to learn about traditional Kyrgyz nomadic culture. Most families who live in nearby Kara-Alma village make their living harvesting walnuts. If you visit in autumn you might be able to join a family as they go into the forest to collect walnuts and enjoy traditional Kyrgyz hospitality of drinking tea and breaking bread together.
What to do at Kara-Alma walnut forest
There are day treks and horseback riding tours that will take you into the forest and surrounding mountains. The most popular day trek will take you to Emchek-Unkur cave (12 km from village). Contact CBT Kara-Alma for information on treks, finding a local guide, accommodation and anything else you might need.
Best time to visit Kara-Alma walnut forest
April – October
Where to stay near Kara-Alma walnut forest
There are several family guest houses available in Kara-Alma village where you’ll be able to enjoy traditional Kyrgyz hospitality and cooking.
How to get to Kara-Alma walnut forest
You can get to Kara-Alma from Jalal-Abad city for 1000-1500 KGS by private taxi for one way (approximately 1.5 hours).
Jalal-Abad Region is often referred to as a sacred valley or green valley. The Padysha-Ata Reserve and its sacred mazar (mausoleum) of the same name are the reasons for this. The reserve was created in 2003 to protect the rare juniper forests and endemic Semenova pine trees and preserves over 30,000 hectares of green – and aromatic – forest for visitors to enjoy today. The endangered snow leopard has also made Padysha-Ata Reserve its home, but it is very rare for humans to see them as they are so elusive.
At the upper edge of the reserve is a sacred cemetery of Mazar Padysha-Ata in which the ashes of Saeed Kama al-Din Salmani al-Farsi, a holy envoy of the Prophet Muhammed, are kept. This is located around 28 km from Kerben village and can be reached by local taxi from Kerben (1,000 KGS one way). Local pilgrims and the devout often visit the mausoleum to pray and to pay their respects.
What to do at Padysha-Ata Nature Reserve
In addition to enjoying the green and quiet of the forest, it’s also possible to do treks and horseback riding trips in Padysha-Ata Nature Reserve (entrance fee is 400 KGS for foreign visitors). There are also day hikes to the nearby Jylandy Mountains. Contact CBT Padysha-Ata for information about treks and horse treks, finding a local guide, booking accommodation and anything else you might need to enjoy your visit.
Best time to visit Padysha-Ata Nature Reserve
April – October
Where to stay Padysha-Ata Nature Reserve
There are two guesthouses near Padysha-Ata in Kashka-Suu village where you can enjoy staying with a family and eating hearty, home-cooked meals.
How to get to Padysha-Ata Nature Reserve
The easiest way to get from Jalal-Abad city to Padysha-Ata is by private taxi for 5,000 KGS (one-way). By public transport from Jalal-Abad city, you need to take a shared taxi first to Kerben village (400 KGS) and then to Padysha-Ata village by local private taxi for around 1,000 KGS.
Besh-Aral State Reserve is a biodiversity hotspot with its wide array of mammals (46 species), birds (150 species), plants (1,500+) and medicinal herbs. In addition to the endangered Menzbier’s marmot, an endemic animal of the Western Tian-Shan Mountains, you can also find wild boars, ibexes, hares, wolves, foxes, red marmots, porcupines and other wild animals.
Located in the southwestern part of the Chatkal Valley, and surrounded by the Pskem, Chandalash, Talas and Chatkal Ridges, Besh-Aral State Reserve is quite remote and can only be accessed through the Kara-Buura (3,305 meters) mountain pass in Talas Ala-Too or the Chapchama pass (2,840 meters) in the Chatkal Ridge. This remote location means that not a lot of travelers visit here. Those who do visit are rewarded not only with the beautiful landscapes, animals, birds and flora, but also with waterfalls, caves, natural springs, and unusual rock formations.
What to do at Besh-Aral State Reserve
Trekking and horseback riding are available to go into the reserve and visit nearby natural attractions. The administrative office for the State Reserve grants visitors permission to enter. It collects entrance fees (400 KGS for foreign visitors, 100 KGS for Kyrgyz visitors, 150 KGS/car and 300 KGS per tent per night). They can also help by providing information on trekking routes and other activities. You can also contact them in advance for information and assistance (Raikhan, +996 777 320 724).
Best time to visit Besh-Aral State Reseve
April – October
Where to stay at Besh-Aral State Reserve
The State Reserve has a small guest house called Besh-Aral Hotel where visitors can stay. In addition, the nearby village of Jany-Bazar has a local guest house. See the accommodation listing for more details.
How to get to Besh-Aral State Reserve
From the city of Jalal-Abad to Besh Aral you need to take a taxi to the village of Ala-Buka (500 KGS). From there to the village of Jany Bazar by taxi is 250 KGS. From there, you must negotiate with local taxi drivers to the reserve. Alternatively, you can take a private taxi from Jalal-Abad city for 10,000 KGS for one way.