Kolsai is a succession of 3 alpine lakes between altitudes of 1700 – 2650m. The 3 lakes are exceptionally clear and lie in an idyllic location, surrounded by massive cliffs and mountains with snowy caps and wooded slopes. Seeing how it is a long way there, it is good to take at least 2 days (3 days for those who know how to relax) to enjoy the place. Kolsai lakes combines beautifully with Charyn Canyon.
Hiking and horse riding at Kolsai lakes
The Kolsai lakes are supremely suited to hiking and horse riding. You can rent out horses for the day to take you up from Kolsai 1 up to Kolsai 3. If you go hiking, take the path right of Kolsai 1 for a 9km hike to the middle lake at 2250m (the most beautiful one in my opinion). Then take the path left of Kolsai 2 for another strenuous 6km to reach the top lake at 2650m.
The 3 lakes are more or less aligned. You can check out a topographic map of the access route and of the lakes including Kaindy if you want to connect it all on paper. Renting a horse for a 2-way trek from lake 1 to lake 2 will cost 6000 tenge (2015).
6km more and you are at the Sary-Bulak pass at the Kyrgyz border, at 3278m height. There is no border control, so if you want to continue down to lake Issyk-Kyl, you will need to arrange with a tour operator to get your passport stamped on arrival, if that is at all possible.
Descending on the Kyrgyz side, there is little Lake Kolsai-4, a pretty moraine-dammed lake located in the empty wilderness. Another cool trek goes from the Kolsai lakes to lake Kaindy, another beauty.
Kolsai lake 1 and 2 offer excellent trout fishing. The local species is rainbow trout. Lake 3 apparently is not very populated, perhaps due to the height. If you are interested in birdwatching or seeing other animals, there are lots of them hiding in the surrounding forests. Examples are ibex, fox, badger and deer.
Kolsai lake tours
Several tour companies organise Kolsai lake tours and accommodation. They will provide you with transport, a place to stay, meals and all you need for fishing, hunting, hiking and horse riding. Some companies provide multi-day trekkings as well.
- Budget 2 or 3 day tour to Charyn Canyon, Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy lake guided by a local guide.
- Weekly 3 day trekking tour to Kolsai and Kaindy lake from a local tour company
- Cycling tour in Almaty region that offers 2 day cycling on Kolsai lakes.
- Golden ring of Zhetisu tour with 2 days on Kolsai Lakes.
Accommodation and camping
Jibek Joly operates a rather pricey hotel. Cheaper options include yurt stays and camping organised by tour companies.
For independent travellers, there are ecotourism homestays available in Saty. The price is between 2000 (no meals) and 3500 tenge per person per night, with 3 meals included. The season runs roughly from May to October, but at 2000m, dress warm in the evening. You can call Elchebai at +7 72777 27718 (no English spoken) or arrange via the Ecotourism office in Almaty. Or just show up. You can also go wild camping in the forest.
There is little in the way of food outside of the homestays, so bring plenty of supplies.
How to get there from Almaty
The Kolsai lakes are a 295km drive from Almaty, but due to the road conditions, it will take you around 5-6 hours to get there. There is a park fee levied for entry to the national park: 500 tenge per person, 1000 tenge for a car.
With your own transport
Don’t drive too fast, there is a danger for speed control for the first 100 km.
From Almaty, head for Chilik – Kegen – Narynkol on the main road east out of the city. After about 120km, you pass Chilik. Keep going on the main road towards Kegen and Narynkol for another 70 km. After 190 km from Almaty, you see a sign pointing to a turn-off on the right for Zhalanash.
Turn right, where the road gets worse. Pass Zhalanash, and you will pass another village before you cross the Chilik river. Next up is Saty, where there are options for homestay. 1 km past Saty is a cemetery. If you turn right there, and follow the very bad dirt road, you get to Kaindy lake (4WD necessary). If you go straight, you will arrive at lower Kolsai Lake after 15 km. You will pass a barrier first, where you need to pay the park fee to the ranger.
By bus or shared taxi
There is an early bus leaving for Saty every morning from Sayakhat bus station at 7am, but you should come early to secure a seat. It goes from Saty to Almaty at 5am. Alternatively, there are buses going to Kegen and Narynkol from Almaty’s Sayakhat bus station. Get off at the turn-off towards Zhalanash and stick out your thumb to get a ride to Zhalanash and then to Saty.
Better is to track down a private taxi at Sayakhat, cost is 12000 tenge for a full car to Saty. From Saty, if you don’t feel like walking, a taxi to the first lake is 1000 tenge per person one way.
There is also an option to hire “Travel taxi” from a local tour guides cooperative. You hire a car with a driver who will get you to a Kolsai Lakes & back and stay with you for 2 days. Price for 6 people for 2 days – 320 euros. (53 Euro per person), 3 days – 380 euros (63 Euro per person). Keep in mind that accommodation, entrance fees, food, camping gear has to be arranged by you. Further drive to lake Kaindy will cost you 60 euros.