We just returned from an amazing three-day trek to Song Kul (‘the Last Lake’) in Kyrgyzstan. We are not experienced trekkers, and we do not have our own camping gear, so we decided to do the trek with a guide through CBT Kochkor. Here is a quick run down on how to organise your own Song Kul trekking trip!
Getting to Kochkor
We arranged our Song Kul trek in Kochkor. There are a number of tour operators, guesthouses, and supermarkets here so it’s a great place to organise your trek to Song Kul. Getting to Kochkor is pretty easy:
From Bishkek – catch a mashrutka (200 som) or shared taxi (150-300 som) from the Western bus station to Kochkor. The journey takes around 3 hours.
From Cholpon Ata – catch a shared taxi to Balykchy (200-300 som) from the Cholpon Ata bus station then catch another shared taxi to Kochkor (150-200 som). The journey takes around 3 hours.
From Naryn – just grab a shared taxi for the 120km journey (around 200 som).
From Osh – don’t even bother . We were quoted an outrageous price for a private taxi for this route. Go to Bishkek first!
Arranging the trek with CBT Kochkor
As we mentioned above, we are not experienced trekkers and don’t have our own gear so we headed to CBT Kochkor (located at 22A Pionerskaya St, just off the main road) to arrange our trek. This is a very popular trek, and the lady at the CBT office had clearly organised a few of these trips before. It was very easy to arrange, and we were able to depart the next morning. The CBT office also has free wifi, which is very handy!
The total price for our 2 night/3 day trek was 8,900 som per person. This included:
- an English-speaking, female guide
- accommodation in yurt homestays
- 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 dinners
- private transport (both ways)
We gave our guide and driver a small tip, although this did not seem to be expected. We also chose to extend our stay at Song Kul for one extra night for 1,400 som per person. This included all meals and accommodation in a private yurt.
We also booked one night’s accommodation in a CBT homestay in Kochkor. This cost 500 som per person, including breakfast. Dinner was an extra 350 som per person. We had a twin room, wifi, hot showers and an outside toilet.
There is no doubt you can do this trek cheaper – we heard that other tour companies in Kochkor offer this trek for lower prices (although these companies have mixed reviews online). You can also do the trek and/or arrange your transport independently (more info below). However, we are happy to pay slightly higher prices if it means we have a good trek and there is minimal d*cking around with transport, inclusions/exclusions etc. We were very happy with our trip (especially our guide, who spoke near-perfect English), so we have no regrets over the price.
Our trekking experience
Day 1: Our driver picked us up from our homestay at 9am, then drove us to the CBT office to drop off our bags that we weren’t taking on the trip. Here we met our guide (Aruka – I’m sure I have spelled that wrong!). Aruka is studying English teaching in Bishkek, and works as a guide during her summer break. Aruka was perfect – great English, very friendly, told us about the local culture and tried to teach us Kyrgiz words, and walked with us the entire trek and checked that we were OK (because I probably looked like I was going to die). She even translated for other trekkers who we met during the trek and played the occasional Adele song on her phone.
The first day, we drove for around 1 hour before being dropped off at Km 46 on the Kochkor-Jumgal road. From there we headed south. In the morning you will cross the Chaar Archa pass, then descend into a valley for lunch. You then cross the ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ over a small river, before heading up the left-hand side of the valley across another pass. Heading downhill from the second pass, you will eventually cross a small metal bridge and veer right until you reach the small village of Kilemche. The total trekking time was around 5 hours.
We shared a yurt with our guide and another couple. The food was tasty, and they were happy to cook vegetarian meals.
Day 2: The next day we headed up the valley to the Jalgis Karagai pass, which we were told was at 3,600m above sea level. This is an incline of 800m in one morning so it was pretty challenging. The views of Song Kul and the surrounding mountains are spectacular from the pass. We descended to Jamanechki for lunch in a local yurt, before walking another 2 hours on flat terrain to the main yurt camp of Baltai-Aral. The total trekking time was around 7 hours.
We stayed in a yurt labelled ‘CBT Kochkor 1’. We had our own yurt and the food was great. The family were really friendly and happy to arrange horses at the last minute. We hired horses for 800 som per day. Baltai-Aral is sometimes referred to as ‘Yurt-Vegas’ because there are so many yurts. You should be prepared for tour groups!
Trekking to Song Kul independently
The route: It is certainly possible to do this trek independently. You should have a GPS on your phone and your own camping gear. There were quite a few tourists doing this trek by foot and horse, so it is easy to work out the route. There is also a GPS route in Wikiloc, and a decent description of the route in the Lonely Planet Central Asia guidebook (p275 in 6th ed.).
Accommodation: While there are plenty of yurtstays in Baltai-Aral, there are only a few in Kilemche. These seemed to be pretty much booked up by guided groups. Don’t bet on finding a bed last minute in Kilemche. It’s best to have your own tent just in case. It’s free to set up your tent and the yurt camps will provide dinner (for a fee) if need be.
Transport: You can find a gazillion taxi drivers in Kochkor willing to drive you to the trail head at Km 46. You should be prepared to bargain. It shouldn’t cost more than 1,000 som per car. There are also plenty of taxis at Baltai-Aral offering lifts back to Kochkor (around 1,000-2,000 som per car) or Naryn (3,000-3,500 som per car).
Self catering: If you are self-catering, bear in mind that there are no shops in Kilemche or Baltai-Aral. Buy everything you need in Kochkor.