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Driver recs in Almaty to Karakol to Bishkek

Posted: Fri Aug 09, 2019 8:28 pm
by northinsouth1
My wife and I are going to be in CA for a couple months next year and part of the trip will be from Almaty to Altyn Emel, Charin, and Kolsai. We then want to cross over to Karakol and spend a day or two in town before doing a three day trek to Alton Aroshon via Alokol. We then want to go back to Karokol for the night before going to Bishkek. All told, I'm thinking we'll need between 11-14 days.

I'm going back and forth between self-driving from Iron Horse Nomads, or hiring a driver. However, this is my first time in CA, and I'm not sure where to begin to procure a driver for two weeks and what a reasonable rate is.

FWIW, I've driven on and off road in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, so I'm comfortable with somewhat difficult driving, but not sure if it's better to just bite the bullet and get a driver.

Any recommendations and/or experiences?

Much thanks,


Re: Driver recs in Almaty to Karakol to Bishkek

Posted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 11:09 am
by AreWeThereYet?
I've done the Kegen border. From a technical point of view, starting from Almaty to the last city in Kazakhstan the road is great. If you also make a detour to Charyn then you'll also have new tarmac (laid down last year).

From Karkara in Kakakhstan to the border the road was rough gravel (a new road was being built, I suppose that either it's completed or almost).

From the Kyrgyz border for more or less 20 km the road is gravel/old tarmac; think like the B-roads in Atacama or Iceland. Not off-road, but neither a road on which to go faster than 50km/h.

From there to Issyk Kul or Karakol the roads are reasonably smooth; a bit worn out but not bad.

In terms of traffic, Almaty at peak time can be a bit of a mess, but in general I've seen worse driving in Tajikistan, Iran or Peru. Cops in both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan can be hit and miss but won't be as crooked as the ones in Tajikistan, in my little experience. Fuel price is better in Kazakhstan, by the way. Signs were mostly in Cyrillic if I remember well, perhaps less so in Kyrgyzstan.

By the way, I used Iron Horse too. Would I do it again? Perhaps no. It was my most significant half's first time in Central Asia and wanted something nice and reliable. They said they'd get a driver with a Ford Explorer-kind of vehicle and who spoke some English; we had a driver who had neither and whose car broke down on the way out of Bishkek. Happens and they were on it to keep us informed, but in fairness it wasn't what I was expecting, especially for the prices they charged. Had I been on my own I probably would've hitch-hiked.

Re: Driver recs in Almaty to Karakol to Bishkek

Posted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 7:03 pm
by northinsouth1
Thanks so much for the info, AWTY. This is really helpful. May I ask, how did you get a driver through Iron Horse and what was the going rate? I have a quote from them for $225 per day w/ $35 per person extra if we want them to take care of our housing and food, but on first blush, it appears attached to prepackaged tours, which I'm trying not to do so much (though am in the Pamirs TBH). I'm corresponding w/ them now to see if they might be willing to work on a more individual level with me, but $300 a day 11 days is not cheap, though not prohibitive.

Re: Driver recs in Almaty to Karakol to Bishkek

Posted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 8:30 pm
by AreWeThereYet?
Well it was last year and I've the memory of a goldfish but... it was through their website, obviously, and the price was for just two individual days, not for the whole trip; basically it was for him to take us from A to B to C. The cost was per kilometre if I'm not mistaken. $35/day for food and lodging isn't bad, $225 for transportation feels a bit steep but it depends on how far you're driving every day and how how much you don't want to be fussed with shared taxis, trains and such.