Journal of Nomads

How to visit the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy, The most beautiful lakes in Kazakhstan

This article covers all the information you need to know about visiting the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy, including how much it costs, how to get there from Almaty, where to stay, and what to do.

Kazakhstan is often described as a land of deserts, vast steppes, yurts, and camels. The country also gets associated with the old caravan routes of the Silk Road, along which were often little but dried-up steppes to keep the travelers entertained during their long journeys.

The overload of nothingness was exhausting while I was driving with my friends from West to East across Kazakhstan for more than 10 days in a row. I can only imagine how fried-up the brains of those travelers must have been as they had to cross the same distance on a camel or horse.

How to visit the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy, The most beautiful lakes in Kazakhstan

The Southeast region of Kazakhstan was a striking contrast to what we experienced on our road trip.

The natural diversity of this region is amazing – from arid deserts and scenic canyons to lush valleys, snow-peaked mountains and turquoise lakes. This territory is called Zhetisu, which means in Kazakh “Seven Rivers”.

A large number of rivers are flowing down the slopes of the Northern Tien Shan and Dzungar Alatau Mountains, forming stunning lakes along their way.

We visited a few of these lakes in the Kolsai National Park and the nearby sunken forest of Lake Kaindy.

These lakes are part of the “Golden Triangle”, a trio of major natural attractions in Southeast Kazakhstan, which also include the Charyn Canyon and the Altyn-Emel National Park.

In this guide, I focus on the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy, but I would also recommend reading my guide to Charyn Canyon as it is worth a visit on your way from or back to Almaty!

Map Kazakhstan - Kaindy Lake - Kolsai Lake - Journal of Nomads

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Kazakhstan Travel Essentials & Resources

  • 18 useful things you should know to visit Kazakhstan
  • Plan your trip:  Itinerary Planning for Kazakhstan
  • Tours & Experiences:  City Tours, Adventure Tours
  • Visa:   Check the required Kazakhstan travel documents!
  • Getting there:  Search for flights to Almaty or Nur Sultan
  • Where to stay :  Find a hotel, hostel, guesthouse or homestay in Kazakhstan
  • Travel Insurance:   Choose the best travel insurance for Kazakhzstan
  • Getting around :  Rent a car in Kazakhstan  or  travel by train

TABLE OF CONTENTS

An introduction to the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy

Why visit kolsai lakes national park.

The Kolsai Lakes National Park houses a system of three lakes, nestled among the hills of the Northern Tien Shan Mountains, approximately 300km east of Almaty.

They are also called “The Pearl of the Northern Tien Shan” and after visiting the lakes, you’ll totally get why! The 3 lakes are so clear that, when the sun is out, the surrounding forests, hills, and snowy mountain peaks are mirrored in the water.

Kolsai Lake - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake - first Kolsai lake - Journal of Nomads

The two lower lakes, Kolsai 1 and Kolsai 2 (easy to remember) are surrounded by spruce trees, alpine meadows and mountain pastures.

Kolsai 1 is at an altitude of 1000m while the second lake, being much higher into the mountains, is at an altitude of 2500m. Grassy slopes replace the spruce forests on the hills surrounding the third lake, which is at an altitude of 2700m.

Kolsai Lake - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake - second Kolsai lake - Journal of Nomads

The 26 most beautiful places to visit in Kazakhstan

Kaindy, The underwater forest Lake

Lake Kaindy is at an altitude of 2000m and geologically very young. This 400m long lake was formed in 1911 after an earthquake triggered an enormous limestone landslide, which formed a natural dam in the gorge that was covered by spruce trees.

Water started flooding the basin and submerging the forest. The dried-out trunks of the trees rise above the surface of the water, looking like the masts of sunken ships.

The lake is almost 30 m deep and if you look underwater, which is very easy because the water of the lake is very clear, you can still see the needles on the submerged trunks.

Due to the cold temperatures, the trees were naturally frozen and well preserved in the water. You could go diving in this lake to see its unique beauty, but brace yourself for the cold! The temperature of the lake is a maximum of 6ºC in summer!

Lake Kaindy - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake - Kaindy Lake - sunken forest - Journal of Nomads

Strangely enough, this uncommonly beautiful lake is still quite unknown. The Kolsai Lakes, which are about 36km from Lake Kaindy, are far more popular.

This is probably due to the fact that it’s pretty difficult to get to Kaindy lake if you don’t have a 4×4 at your disposal. But do not despair, I will tell you exactly how you can get there!

Lake Kaindy - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake - Kaindy Lake - sunken forest - Journal of Nomads

Don’t miss out on the Charyn Canyon on your way to or from the lakes!

How to visit the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy – Travel Tips

1. how to get to kaindy lake and the kolsai lakes from almaty.

It takes about 6 hours to reach the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy from Almaty.

How to get to Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy from Almaty - Journal of Nomads

1.1 How to get to the Kolsai Lakes from Almaty by public transport

Getting to the Kolsai National Park by public transport is probably not your best option.

There should be a bus going from Sayakhat bus station (Almaty) to Saty , the closest village to the lakes but nobody (even locals) seem to know when this bus leaves.

If you’re lucky enough to catch this bus (if you do, please let me know in the comments below), you have to get off in the village of Saty.

From there, it’s a 15km walk before you reach the entrance gate. You could always try to hitchhike that part of the way as there should be a few cars passing by.

Getting back on the same bus will be very hard if you were able to take this bus to get there in the first place!

Your best option to get from Almaty to Lake Kaindy and the Kolsai Lakes would be by shared taxi.

Go to Sayakhat bus station and search for the shared taxis that go to Kegen , the name of a village near Saty (the drivers will shout it).

Ask the driver to drop you off at the intersection with Saty (say “ stop Saty povorot ”). The costs of a shared taxi from Almaty to the intersection with Saty should cost $10 per person .

From the intersection, it’s another hour or two to Saty and the entrance of the National Park.

You can try to hitchhike the distance but know that some drivers will ask you for money. You shouldn’t pay more than 3000 tenge so make sure to be clear on the price from the start (so they don’t double or triple the price upon arrival.

Once you arrive in Saty, you can ask your driver to drop you off at the entrance of the park (which will cost you another 1000 tenge ) or you can hope to catch a free ride by hitchhiking.

Getting back from the Kolsai Lakes to Almaty shouldn’t be too hard. You can hitchhike back from Saty (or pay the driver) to Zhalanash or to the intersection with the main road.

Maybe you’re lucky and you’ll get a ride straight to Kokpek or Almaty. In any case, keep the following prices in mind:

  • From Saty to the intersection: 3000 tenge .
  • From the intersection to Kokpek (see map): 1000 tenge .
  • You’ll definitely find a bus or shared taxi from Kokpek to Almaty for 4000 tenge .

Note: these were the prices in 2019. The costs might have gone up since the inflation of 2022. If you have updated info on the price, please let me know in the comments below!

1.2 renting a car in Almaty

A more expensive option is to  rent a car .

If you’re willing to pay the price, you’ll get a lot more time and freedom to explore and drive around the canyon. Try to  rent a 4×4 car  as the road towards the Kolsai lakes is pretty bumpy and the road doesn’t go further than the first Kolsai lake. 

Friends of mine were able to rent a car for  $90 USD  through a local office in Almaty but you might find a cheaper deal online. 

You can also ask fellow travelers in your guesthouse/ hostel if they are up for joining you on this trip and share the costs.

Kolsai Lake 2 - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake - first Kolsai lake - Journal of Nomads

Almaty City Guide: The 19 best things to do in Almaty

1.3 Hitchhiking to the Kolsai Lakes

If you have the time, you can definitely get to the Kolsai Lakes by hitchhiking. It won’t cost you much and the trip towards the lakes will probably be an adventure on its own.

Take a mashrutka or shared taxi to get out of the city center and once you reach the highway (A-351), you can start hitchhiking towards Kegen. Don’t miss the turn to Zhalanash/Saty.

Make it clear from the start that you’re not paying for the ride, otherwise you might get some problems. Please read my tips on hitchhiking in Kazakhstan .

1.4 How to get to Lake Kaindy from Almaty

As Lake Kaindy is only 36 kilometers away from the first Kolsai lake, the information above is pretty much the same.

Lake Kaindy - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake - Kaindy Lake - sunken forest - Journal of Nomads

Instead of going all the way to Saty, you will have to turn left one kilometer before the village (see map below). The intersection is near a cemetery and you’ll also see a sign pointing you in the direction of Kaindy Lake.

The road towards the lake is very rough and is often partly flooded so you’ll need a 4×4 to get there. You can hike or try to catch a ride at the turn before Saty as there will be some cars passing by.

You might have to pay 2000 tenge for the ride or maybe you’ll meet a friendly driver who will bring you there for free.

Kolsai Lake - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake - Map to Kolsai Lake and Kaindy Lake from Saty - Journal of Nomads

1.5 Tours to Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy

The easiest way to get to the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy would be by booking a tour.

You can check at the offices of local tour companies in Almaty or you can also browse for tours online. Most tours offer a combination of visiting the lakes with Charyn Canyon and even Altyn Emel National Park, which I’d highly recommend!

You can also join my 10-day Best of Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan Adventure Tour as you’ll visit the Kolsai Lakes, Lake Kaindy, Charyn Canyon and many more!

Join the 10-day Best of Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan Adventure and visit Almaty, Charyn Canyon, Kolsai Lakes, Lake Kaindy, Karakol, Son Kul lake, and many more! 

Charyn Canyon in Kazakhstan -Tours Kazakhstan - Small group tour in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan - Kazakhstan tour - Kazachstan reis - Kazachstan rondreis

I also recommend the following guided tours, organized by local travel companies in Almaty:

Charyn Canyon - Kazakhstan -Valley of Castles -hiking trail - Journal of Nomads

Need help planning your trip to Kazakhstan? See my Central Asia Tour and Itinerary Planning Services!

2. How much does it cost to visit the Kolsai Lakes National Park

You’ll have to pay an entrance fee to visit the Kolsai Lakes and an entrance fee to visit Lake Kaindy, as they work independently.

Before reaching either lake, you will come across an entrance gate. The officer in the little kiosk will ask for your passport, and documents (if you’re driving) and will want to know if you’ll be camping there for the night.

The entrance fee without camping is 806 tenge per person and 100 tenge per car and, if you want to spend the night in your tent, you’ll have to pay another 350 tenge per tent (the prices tend to change, depending on the season). Keep the receipt with you as you’ll have to show it upon exiting .

When we arrived at Kaindy Lake, it was already late in the evening. We noticed that the park guard was drunk. His breath reeked of alcohol and he was having a hard time keeping our money in his hands as he was trying to count it.

He never gave us a receipt and the day after, when we wanted to leave the park, another guard stopped us and asked for it. We tried to explain in the little Russian that we know, that the previous guard hadn’t given us any proof of payment.

When we said that his colleague had been drunk the night before and probably put the money in his pocket, the guard eventually let us leave. Moral of the story: always ask for a receipt so you don’t have to pay twice !

Complete Guide to Travel in Kazakhstan - 18 things you need to visit Kazakhstan - Journal of Nomads

Kazakhstan Travel Guide: 18 useful things to know before you go

3. Hiking in Kolsai National Park

3.1 hiking to the kolsai lakes.

The first Kolsai lake is accessible by car and you can walk around it in just a couple of hours.

Hike to Kolsai Lake 2 - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes - Journal of Nomads

If you have more time and you’re up for a good hike, I would definitely suggest hiking up to the second lake and maybe even the third lake. The three lakes are connected by a well-maintained hiking trail, which takes you along meadows, dense forests and steep slopes.

Kolsai Lake 2 - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes - snowy hiking trail to Kolsai 2 - Journal of Nomads

It’s an 8 km walk from the first lake to the second one, which takes about 2 to 3 hours of hiking. Be aware that some parts of the trail are very steep.

Kolsai Lake - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake - hiking trail - Journal of Nomads

Once you reach the second lake and you still have some energy left (I didn’t), you can continue the trail on the left side of Kolsai 2 to the third lake, which is another 5km.

The third lake is only 6km away from the Sary-Bulak Pass (3278m) on the Kyrgyz border. I heard that you can hike up until there and get treated to some superb views over the blue Issyk-Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan.

You can hike to the second lake and back in one day, but it takes at least two days to do the whole trek to the third lake and back.

Most of the trail is very clear to follow with a few signposts and blue arrows here and there. When in doubt, look for horse tracks (and horse poo) to find the right direction (that’s how I did it).

If hiking isn’t your thing, you can always hire a horse  near the first lake for a day to take you up from Kolsai 1 to Kolsai 3. Please be accompanied by a guide, who can help you with getting the animals over any tricky and steep parts of the trail.

If you want to cool down after a long hike, you’re allowed to swim in the lakes.

Important Note : The start of the trail begins on the right side of Kolsai 1. You’ll see armed guards at the entrance and they will ask you to leave your passport with them.

The path leads to the Kyrgyz border and it’s their duty to prevent anyone from crossing this border illegally. Once you’re back at Kolsai 1, they will hand you back your passport. Some of the guards speak some English and they are really nice guys!

Kolsai Lake 2 - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes - entrance path to hiking trail - Journal of Nomads

3.2 Hiking at Lake Kaindy

Once you arrive at the car park of Lake Kaindy, you won’t have to walk far to see the sunken forest.

It’s about 10 minutes hiking from the car park to the lake but keep in mind that the trail is pretty steep. The lake is only 300 meters long so you can walk along its shore.

If you’re up for a multiple-day hike, you can connect Kaindy Lake with the 3 Kolsai Lakes. Take a topographic map so you won’t get lost!

Lake Kaindy - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake - Kaindy Lake - sunken forest - Journal of Nomads

Hiking in Almaty: The 5 best hikes in the Almaty Mountains

4. Where to stay at the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy

4.1 homestays and guesthouses near kolsai lakes national park.

There are two accommodation options near the Kolsai lakes. You can stay at the yurt camp near the first lake for 7000 tenge per person (breakfast included) or at one of the few homestays and guesthouses in Saty, the closest village near the lakes.

There are a few homestays in Saty where you can show up and ask for availability or you can book a room online to stay at one of the following two guesthouses in Saty:

  • Saty Guest House
  • Guesthouse Aisha

There are no restaurants or convenience stores near Kolsai 1, so make sure to bring enough food. Some homestays will offer lunch and dinner for 1000 tenge per meal .

Important note: The yurt camps and most homestays are closed from October to May .

There are no lodging options at the other two Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy, with the exception of camping.

4.2 Camping at the Kolsai Lakes

If you want to camp at any of the three lakes, you’ll have to pay an extra fee when you enter the park. The prices can change but we had to pay about 350 tenge per tent per night . Keep the receipt with you in case any ranger inquires for it on the campground.

During the summer, at the peak of the tourist season, rangers will show you to a designated camping area as you won’t be the only person camping there. If you prefer to be by yourself, you can always hike to the forest and find a camping spot there.

During the low season (from October to May) you’ll probably be alone as not many people are up for sleeping outdoors in the cold.

Be aware that you’re higher up in the mountains so the nights can be cold, especially if you decide to pitch your tent at Kolsai 2 or Kolsai 3.

We camped at Kolsai 1 in mid-October and the temperature at night dropped below freezing point.

You’re allowed to make a campfire around the lakes but it’s prohibited in the forest. Read my guide on how to prepare for camping in winter if you intend to do the same.

Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes - Camping at Kolsai Lake 1 - Journal of Nomads

4.3 Camping at Kaindy Lake

You can camp anywhere you want near Kaindy Lake. There is a space near the car park with a few outdoor toilets and picnic benches but you can also pitch your tent along the lake’s shore.

Just as with the Kolsai Lakes, prepare yourself for cold nights as you’re at an altitude of 2000m. Unfortunately, it’s prohibited to make a campfire anywhere near the lake.

Lake Kaindy - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake - camping at Lake Kaindy - Journal of Nomads

5. When is the Best time to visit Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake

The lakes are becoming more popular every year and you’ll find many fellow nature lovers there during summer, between the months of June and September.

Summer is also the best time to camp comfortably but you might have to share the space with others. It’s also the easiest time of the year to hitchhike or take a shared taxi to the lakes as there will be a lot more traffic.

If you want to enjoy the tranquility of the lakes but not freeze your ass off, it’s better to visit the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kainday in late May or late September.

It’ll be still warm enough to spend a lot of time outdoors and the yurts and guesthouses around Kolsai will still be open (they close from October on and open again in May).

There’s going to be a lot less traffic than during the summer but you should still be able to find a ride (paid or free) to the lakes.

There will probably be some snow along the hiking trails and the lakes might be frozen at that time of the year so I wouldn’t recommend camping there unless you’re well-equipped.

Winter (December – March) isn’t the best time to visit the lakes. Winter here is pretty rough and the roads and hiking trails are sometimes closed, due to heavy snowfall. It will also be very hard to find a homestay that is open.

My friends and I visited Kaindy and Kolsai in mid-October and although the weather was nice and sunny during the day, the nights were very cold (below freezing point). We also saw some snow on our way to the second Kolsai Lake.

If you don’t mind camping in these temperatures and you’re well-equipped, it is quite special to be here by yourself!

Kolsai Lake 2 - Travel Guide to Kolsai Lakes - Journal of Nomads

6. What to Pack to visit Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy

  • Bring enough food and water with you for the amount of time you’re going to spend near the lakes since there are only a few convenience stores in the nearby village of Saty.
  • Bring a water filter as you can get your water from the rivers and lakes (saves you the extra weight of carrying all those bottles of water).
  • Wear proper hiking boots and bring a raincoat in case of sudden showers.
  • If you’re planning to spend the night near the lakes, be aware that it can be pretty chilly. Bring a warm sleeping bag and enough clothes to keep you warm at night. You can find more tips about camping in winter here .
  • Bring eco-friendly toilet paper and wet wipes as some guesthouses don’t have showers.
  • Pack a first-aid kit and make sure to have good travel insurance .

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I hope this guide provided you with all the information you need to have a great time in this stunning area. If you have more questions, let me know in the comments below. Feel free to post tips, photos or stories of your own visit to the lakes.

How to visit the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy, The most beautiful lakes in Kazakhstan

More KAZAKHSTAN TRAVEL Resources:

  • The Travel Guide to Kazakhstan: 18 things you should know before you go
  • The 26 most beautiful and interesting places to visit in Kazakhstan
  • Is it safe to travel to Kazakhstan: 15 useful safety tips
  • Almaty City Guide: The 19 best things to do in Almaty
  • The 5 best and most beautiful hikes in the mountains near Almaty
  • Charyn Canyon Travel Guide
  • Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy Travel Guide
  • Sayram Ugam National Park Travel Guide
  • Turkestan Travel Guide: discover the spiritual center of Kazakhstan
  • Visiting the ship graveyard of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan
  • Trekking in Kazakhstan: 5-day hiking itinerary in the Northern Tian Shan Mountains
  • A beginner’s guide to skiing in Shymbulak, Almaty

30 thoughts on “How to visit the Kolsai Lakes and Lake Kaindy, The most beautiful lakes in Kazakhstan”

Hi! This is Clari from Italy and next month I’ll go to Almaty until July. I read that you can sleep in a yurta by Kolsai Lakes, but Ican’t find a website where I can book from. Do you have any information? That would be very helpful. Thanks so much!

Hi Clari, that yurt camp isn’t bookable online. You’ll have to see on the spot if they have availability. just remember that it’s a very touristic yurt…

I am planning to make a travel to Kazakh and Kyrgyz region and stumbled across with your vlog. Thank you for detailed explanation. I am planning to travel alone and rent an offroad car around next June. Is it safe to travel alone as a male traveller? Also wondering if there was a language barrier with locals? Will it be a good idea to learn basic phrases? Thanks in advance for your reply.

Hi Umutcan, yes, it is safe to travel alone in Kazakhstan. All people in Kazakhstan speak Russian so it good be helpful to learn some basic Russian phrases. Here’s a useful guide for it. Best wishes, Cynthia

Very well laid out information! I am visiting next week and this will certainly be helpful

Enjoy your trip Malik!

Hi, I’m planning to go to the lakes and canyon in 2 weeks. Do you know if you have to book the yurts by the lake in advance? And if so is there a website for them? Thanks so much!

Hi Hannah, I don’t have any online info for the yurts by the lake. You can always ask a tour provider in Almaty about them.

Hello! My boyfriend and I are planning to visit Kazakhstan the first two weeks of April. Do you know if it’s possible to do a day hikes (perhaps to lake 2 and maybe 3) during this time? I’d love to do an overnight, but it seems like the yurts and home stays won’t be open. Thanks – your information is great!

Hi! It’s hard to say as it will depend on the weather and snowfall. Hiking to lake 2 might already be possible and you’ll be able to visit Kaindy lake too but I don’t think lake 3 will be accessible yet in early April. Some homestays might already be open too, depending if there are already other tourists. And thank you 🙂

As always the guides are very detailed and well done ! We ended up staying at guesthouse Aisha and we have been very welcome and the rooms and food were great ! The entrance fee is now the same as Charyn: 806 per person 7 years old and up and 200 for the car. We started with Kolsai, and when we arrived to Kandy they told us the entrance fee covers both lakes, so that’s a good deal ! But don’t forget to keep the proof of payment they give you at the gate. At Kolsai, there was also boat for rent for half and hour or more. 5000 tenge for 30 minutes, the kids really liked it. Even though Kandy is complicated to get to, it’s REALLY worth your while ! After more than a month on Central Asia the whole family agrees it’s one of the most beautiful place we have been to.

Hi Jacquelin, thank you for all the updates! I’m very happy to hear you had such a great trip and that you love Central Asia as well 😀

Hi there Jacquelin – I assume you travelled to the area using a hire car – is that correct? If so what did you hire, from where – and can you remember how much it cost? Gareth

thank you so much for provided feedback. it was very useful considering that I plan to go there next week….

Great to hear Rati! Wishing you a great time at the Kolsai Lakes, it’s absolutely beautiful there!!

guys! How lucky I was to find your blog! so many amazing tips! we are now at Almaty planning our adventure in the east (canyons and the lakes) . Just thank you! Question: we dont want to rent a car so the entire trip will be by bus /hitchhike. Did you see any of this type on the way?

Hi Tais, sorry for the late reply (we were out and about in the mountains). I hope it’s not too late but you might have found your way to the canyon and lakes by now. There aren’t any buses going that way but you can take a shared taxi and/or hitchhike!

Amazing pictures and great tips! I am curious, did you manage to visit Altyn Emel National Park as well? If so what did you think of it? I am visiting Almaty in a couple of months and am definitely interested in visiting Kolsai, Kaindy and Charyn Canyon National Park. I would need an additional 2 days to visit Altyn Emel and I am wondering if it is worth it.

Hi Timothy, we haven’t visited Altyn Emel yet but friends of ours did and it’s apparently also very beautiful there. There’s a place in the park called Singing Dunes, which is quite special. If you have 2 extra days on your itinerary, I’d visit it 🙂

I think that the photos talks better that anything else. The crystalline water in contrast with the whitewashed mountains are have an immediate impact on me because is so similar of a lake here in my land in the northeast of Italy. How cool is to travel and find places that seems like your hometown. I love trekking and hope one day to have the chance to visit this amazing land. kisses Ale

We visited the northeast of Italy and saw some gorgeous lakes there also.We’re glad this reminded you of your hometown. Hopefully you have the chance to visit this part of the world one day, we know you will love it!

There’s a lot of beauty also to a deserted scenario, with nothing but plain flat land till the distance your eyes can see. The capture of the Kazakhstan plains with horses taking a run is brilliant and amazingly beautiful. It’s all so adventurous when you can trek, camp and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Thank you for sharing all the details and lovely pictures of the lakes. Now I know how to get there and will soon some day try to be there. Adding this place to my list of must visit 🙂

You are totally right! There is a lot of beauty in deserted and arid places. We both enjoy so much walking in the emptiest deserts. That is the beauty of Kazakhstan, we have access to those remote arid places and at the same time we can see beautiful cities, lakes and forests.

That lake is absolutely stunning, it looks like those lakes in Canada. I would never have thought that it was in Kazakhstan! Thanks for sharing such detailed explanations about how to get there. It’s always something that I appreciate. Hope I can make it there one day!

If you have the chance to visit this part of Kazakhstan, you will be happily surprised. The lakes here do remind us a bit of the ones in Canada.

The Kolsai and Kandy lakes look so ethereal, straight out of the realms of the imagination of a poet or painter. Definitely the stuff that dreams are made of. The landscapes of Kazakhstan are really stunning. Your pictures have captured the beautiful landscapes in stunning style

The landscapes here are indeed stunning! The best part is that in Kazakhstan it’s possible to find absolutely everything; lakes, forests, canyons and deserts.Definitely a place for artists, poets and painters 😀

This is unbelievable! I never quite imagined Kazakhstan had lakes, and that too such stunning ones…mind-blown! Thanks for sharing the details of hiking and camping at the lakes too, rather interesting that you only need to do a short hike of ten minutes to reach the sunken forests…

We were so surprised as well! 🙂 Before coming here, we had no idea that Kazakhstan had so many varied and different landscapes.

Thank you for the very helpful info. Your estimate of 2 hours to walk around Kolsay Lake 1 is about right but it’s worth mentioning that the well-defined path on the East side of the lake is pretty exposed and slippery in places so you need a good head for heights and, ideally, trekking poles. Plus you’ll need to ignore a sign at the North end prohibiting entry. You also need to wade the river at the South end. The main path goes along the West side and is straightforward.

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Backpack Adventures

Kolsai Lakes national park: the ultimate travel guide

This post is a travel guide about the Kolsai lakes National Park that includes lake Kaindy. They are the most beautiful mountain lakes near Almaty in Kazakhstan and relatively easy to visit for the independent budget traveller.

In this post I will try to answer all the questions you might have from how to get to the Kolsai lakes, how to hike to the second Kolsai lake and where to stay.

Why visit Kolsai Lakes National Park

When you think of backpacking Kazakhstan , you probably think of the vast steppes and not of alpine mountain sceneries. However, there is much more variety in the nature of Kazakhstan than you might think.

From the vast grasslands around Karaganda to the rocky mountains with snow leopards in Aksu Zhabagly , the red sandstone formations of the Charyn Canyon and the singing sand dunes of Altyn Emel .

Almaty lies in a small corner, bordering Kyrgyzstan and China, with some of Kazakhstan’s most diverse landscapes. And yes, there actually are mountains, like the Tien Shan mountain range surrounding the Kolsai lakes, that make you feel like you are in Switzerland rather than in Kazakhstan.

Almaty is a heaven for the outdoors enthusiast and the best national parks of Kazakhstan lie just around the corner. Wherever you are in the city, you will see the mountains waiting for you. The snow-capped peaks of the Tien Shan promise a wilderness where bears and snow leopards still roam around.

Kolsai Lakes National Park in Kazakhstan

My experience at the Kolsai lakes

I loved the Kolsai Lakes so much that I have visited them twice by now. As a solo backpacker you have several options to get to Kolsai Lakes National Park. Just keep in mind that public transportation is limited, distances are long and the roads are not the best.

Just before I left for my first trip to Kazakhstan, I watched the dutch version of the World’s most dangerous roads. They drove to the Kolsai lakes and lake Kaindy. Exactly the places I wanted to go to.

On internet I found stories of couples that went on adventurous journeys with a combination of shared taxi’s and hitchhiking. If I had a partner in crime, I would have been up for this as well, but as a solo female traveller I decided to play it safe. My first trip to the Kolsai lakes was with a tour through my hostel and on my second trip I decided to rent a car.

The road to the Kolsai lakes in Kazakhstan

The road to the Kolsai Lakes

On my first trip to the Kolsai Lakes in 2016, I experienced first hand, how Kazakhstan’s episode of the Worlds most dangerous roads was no joke. There was not much traffic, but what was there had difficulties driving in a straight line. Too much vodka, maybe? The gas station sold no snacks, but had an extensive collection of alcoholic drinks that were cheaper than water.

The fancy cars you see in the cities are nowhere to be found outside of Almaty. The countryside is like a museum of old lada’s and tractors who barely survived the Soviet times, some of them not able to drive more than 30 kilometers per hour.

Besides slow vehicles to watch out for, there is also the occasional loose horse, sheep or cow running around. Out of Almaty the road deteriorates. While our driver tried to avoid holes and cracks we had a few near accidents.

On my second trip, I was prepared for almost anything, but Kazakhstan has invested a lot in its infrastructure. The road to the Kolsai Lakes is now paved all the way and in a good condition.

The road to the Kolsai lakes in Kazakhstan

A break at Charyn Canyon

On both trips to the Kolsai Lakes I was as much impressed by the scenery along the way as I was with our final destination. The landscapes differ every hour and the vastness and emptiness have something beautiful. The rolling hills that keep changing colours as the sun and clouds play their games in the sky never get boring.

Midway on the road from Almaty to the Kolsai Lakes is the turn off to the Charyn Canyon. I can really recommend you to make a stop here on your way from Almaty to the Kolsai Lakes, even if it is just to see the viewpoint. However, it is best to take a couple of hours and hike into the valley of castles or even stay overnight in the ecopark at the bottom of the canyon.

Once you are in the canyon you might wonder whether you are still in Kazakhstan and the scenery is completely different from the grasslands above you. The signs in cyrillic are the only proof you are not in the Grand canyon. The Charyn canyon is maybe only 50 kilometers long but certainly not less impressive. For millions of years, winter and water eroded Charyn’s red sandstone in strange shapes and rock formations.

Read more in my Charyn Canyon travel guide .

The Charyn Canyon in Kazakhstan

Saty: the gateway to the Kolsai Lakes

From the Charyn Canyon it is another two to three hours to Saty and the Kolsai Lakes. Saty is a small rural village with a collection of small wooden farmhouses surrounded by green meadows and forests of pine trees. The gardens are full of old Russian tractors and farmtools still going strong, although the main mode of transport in the village was the horse.

Saty is also the gateway to the Kolsai Lakes and Kaindy Lake. On my first trip there were only a few homestays, but nowadays there is plenty of choice and it is even possible to book your accomodation beforehand. Although not necessarily the best homestay, Arcabay Karligash is the only one you can book online so far.

However, unless you travel in the weekends when it gets busy, you can easily turn up and arrange a place to sleep on the spot. The only options to stay directly at the Kolsai lakes 5 kilometer from Saty are the Jibek Joli cottages and several privately run yurts (summer only).

Saty village is the gateway to the Kolsai lakes in Kazakhstan

How to visit the Kolsai Lakes

The first kolsai lake.

The first Kolsai lake ( Nizhny Kolsai lake or lower Kolsai lake) is still about 5 kilometers from Saty. To get there you either need your own transport or take a taxi. The first lake is a beautiful sight. When the sun shines it has a deep blue colour, but even when it rains it does not fail to impress.

Weather is quite unpredictable in the mountains and on my first visit it was not in my favour. However I still enjoyed being in the mountains and the rain did not take away the beauty of the first lake.

On my second visit I was more lucky. The weather was great and with more tourist infrastructure than before, it is now possible to rent a boat or go horse riding around the lake. You could easily spent your afternoon just relaxing around the first lake.

The second lake is no longer accesible by car and you would need to hike.

Kolsai lakes on a rainy day

The hike to the second Kolsai lake

Let me be honest that both times I got far, but did not make it all the way to the second lake. It is only 8 kilometers, but it is a challenging hike that takes at least 3 – 4 hours up and 2-3 hours down. On my first visit the main culprit was the weather. It was drizzling outside, but dressed in a rain poncho and an umbrella I was ready to go.

It was a gradual climb and sometimes the snowcapped peaks became visible in the distance. Then, the drizzling turned into rain. Still, the scenery of the dense pine forests and the nearby stream kept me going. However, the higher I got, the more muddy and slippery the path became untill I had to walk through snow and ice. The second lake was still nowhere in sight, so I decided to turn back.

The second time we simply did not have enough time. I am a slow hiker and the steep climb up, took more time than planned. In the end, I decided to turn back so I would not miss out on lake Kaindy. However, I will describe the hike to the second lake step by step for those who are more fit than I am. There is also the possibility to rent a horse.

Misty clouds around the Kolsai lakes in Kazakhstan

The first part of the hike to the second lake

The hike starts along the right side of the lake. Go down to the lake where it sort of looks like the path ends. It doesn’t and will continue up again. This is a rather easy part of the hike with beautiful views of the lake.

Even if you do not intend to hike all the way up to the second lake I would recommend to hike at least this part of the trail. The first part will end where the river streams into the lake. This is also a really nice area to explore or have a picknick and a nice goal for a short hike around the first lake.

Kolsai lakes river in Kazakhstan

The second part of the hike to the second lake

The second part of the trail to the second Kolsai lake is another easy stretch with a gradual climb through pine forests and meadows alongside the river. This continues till you reach the first rest stop.

A yellow sign informs you that you are now at an altitude of 1882 meters and that you still have 3.5 kilometers to go. This might sound encouraging, but now the hardest part will follow.

First rest stop at the hike to the Kolsai lakes in Kazakhstan

The third part of the hike to the second lake

It is not for nothing that the first rest stop is after 4 kilometers of hiking, but that the second rest stop is only 1.4 kilometers from the first rest stop. It’s a though steep climb through the forest over boulders and tree trunks. It took so long that I thought we must have missed the second rest stop. But no, after an exhausting hour it was there, informing me I still had 2 kilometers to go.

This is where I realized that timewise it was either the second Kolsai lake or lake Kaindy and I decided to turn back. It was a bit of a dissapointment that both times I did not make it to the second lake even though I was almost there, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss lake Kaindy.

Second rest stop at the hike to the Kolsai lakes in Kazakhstan

The third and fourth Kolsai lakes

Yes, there is a third Kolsai lake and even a fourth one, but they are out of bound for travellers at the moment. The lakes are too near the border with Kyrgyzstan and the guards won’t let you travel beyond the second lake.

Lake Kaindy

From all the mountain lakes near Almaty, it is lake Kaindy that I find the most beautiful. Unfortunately it is a bit of an adventure to get there and the road is still in a terrible condition. Our car with high clearance struggled as we tried to avoid stones and holes and crossed several streams. The effort was totally worth it.

Lake Kaindy is an eery alpine lake with dead trees sticking out. The lake evolved after an earthquake in 1911 that caused a landslide forming a natural dam. The forest submerged of which the trunks still rise out of the water like spears of a hidden army.

Kaindy lake

Kolsai Lakes Itinerary

To see the Kolsai lakes and lake Kaindy with a quick stop at the Charyn Canyon you need at least 3 days. Below you see a sample itinerary. If you travel with shared taxi’s and hitchhiking you might want to add an extra day to include the Charyn Canyon and consider sleeping there the first night.

First day : Travel from Almaty to Saty with a stop at the Charyn Canyon (viewpoint & 3 kilometer walk through the Valley of castles). The road from Almaty to Saty is good, but it is still a 5 to 6 hour journey by car.

Second day : Visit the first Kolsai lake and hike to the second lake (6-7 hours)

Third day : Visit lake Kaindy in the morning and then travel back to Almaty.

If you have your own car it’s easy to combine the Charyn Canyon and the Kolsai lakes with Altyn Emel. Check my post with a one week Almaty roadtrip .

Interactive map of a one week Kazakhstan itinerary with a roadtrip around Almaty

How to get to the Kolsai lakes

You can visit the Kolsai Lakes on a tour or independent. To go on your own with public transport is not easy, but it is possible if you have the time. It requires patience and involves a combination of shared taxi’s and hitchhiking.

Public transport to the Kolsai lakes

In Almaty there is a bus at 6 AM to Saty, but the service is not very reliable and on my last trip I was told it was not running every day, because of a lack of demand. Therefore, your best bet is a shared taxi to Kegen. From there you can use your hitchhiking skills to catch a ride to Saty.

Just keep in mind that hitchhiking is not for free in Kazakhstan and you should contribute towards the fuel costs. For more information you can read the detailed description of travelbloggers who managed to get there independently on Lost with a Purpose and travels of a bookpacker .

Also keep in mind that Saty is still 15 kilometer from the lakes. You will need to book a taxi in Saty to bring you to the lakes or hitchhike. Don’t get out at the entrance gate where you will have to pay a park fee. From there it is also still 8 kilometers to the first lake.

The other options are to take a private taxi from Almaty or rent a car. If you have a group of people, both options might be more cost-effective and cheaper than an organized tour. I spoke to a couple that got a private taxi from Almaty to Saty for 10,000 tenge.

Kaindy Lake : Kaindy lake is probably the hardest to get to on your own as there is no public transport and the road is in a bad condition. However, in Saty it is pretty easy to arrange a taxi to Kaindy lake for the one hour drive. Most homestays will help you out.

Back to Almaty : It is much easier to travel back to Almaty. Most homestays can call the driver from the marshrutka that travels at 5 AM to Almaty. There is no bus station, but it picks up people door to door.

Tours to the Kolsai lakes

There are plenty of tour operators organizing tours from Almaty to the Kolsai lakes. Private tours can be pricy. If you are on a budget your best bet are community tours that are in the weekends. Local agencies like Steppe spirit advertise their weekend tours on their instagram sites in Russian. You can contact them for assistance in english.

Their prices are very cheap. However, do keep in mind that the weekends are not the best time to visit the Kolsai lakes. It can get pretty crowded with tourbuses dropping loads of tourists at the lake. Some of them leave Almaty friday evening travelling overnight. This is a pity as the scenery along the way is just as beautiful as the Kolsai lakes and you will probably not stop at the Charyn canyon or have enough time to hike to the second lake.

The first time, I organized a private tour with Almaty Backpackers Hostel and had a great time. I can recommend them both for accomodation in Almaty and tours in the Almaty region. It is easy to form a group with other travellers staying at the hostel to share the costs.

The second time I rented a car as I made a larger loop around Almaty including other stops such as the Charyn Canyon and Altyn Emel. We received several quotes from tour agencies and in the end renting a car with two people was cheaper.

Renting a Car to the Kolsai Lakes

There are several agencies in Almaty where you can rent a car. Make sure they allow you to travel outside of the city.

I often get the question if you need a 4WD to visit the Kolsai Lakes. My answer is no, but there are a few things to consider. The road to the Kolsai Lakes is paved, but the road to lake Kaindy is not. If you want to visit Lake Kaindy as well, you need a car with high clearance.

Another reason to hire a 4WD or car with high clearance is when you plan to combine a road trip to the Kolsai Lakes with Altyn Emel National Park. I rented a car with high clearance and visited Issyk Lake, Charyn Canyon, Kolsai Lakes, Lake Kaindy and Altyn Emel National Park.

Kolsai lakes in Kazakhstan

Kolsai Lakes Travel Tips

Accomodation at the kolsai lakes.

Saty offers plenty of homestay’s where you can sleep and eat for around 6000 – 8000 tenge per person per night (including food). One of the few homestays that you can book online is Arcabay Karligash . We stayed there on our last trip and thought it was ok, but the lady of the house was not necessarily the most friendly host. There is no need to book accomodation in advance, unless you travel in the weekends.

If you want to stay directly at the Kolsai lakes you can driver further to Kurmenty. Here you will find some privately run yurts (7000 – 10,000 tenge per night) and the Jibek Joli cottages .

Homestay at the Kolsai lakes in Kazakhstan

Where to eat at the Kolsai Lakes

When you are in Saty you will most likely eat at your homestay. Even though there is a simple restaurant, the food at your homestay will be, without doubt, much better. Expect local Kazakh dishes like plov, beshbarmak, laghman or dimlama. Any meal comes with salads, bread and unlimited tea.

If you plan to hike to the second lake, make sure you bring enough water, snacks and some food for a picknick lunch. There is a small store that sells snacks at the first lake, but it wasn’t open when I was there. In Saty is a bigger store where you can buy some food.

Kolsai lakes in Kazakhstan

The best time to visit the Kolsai Lakes

The season runs from May to October and summer is the best time to visit. However, summer is also the most popular time and the place can become crowded.

In winter it will be very cold and winters last long in the mountains. I was there in April when there was still snow and ice on the trail. Therefore I didn’t make it to the second lake. Spring also sees a lot of rainfall and there is the risk of ticks and mosquitoes.

In autumn temperatures cool down, but this is when the colours in the trees make the lake even more beautiful. If you want to avoid the crowds, but still have great weather, autumn is in fact a better time to visit than summer.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, especially in summer, it is best to avoid the weekends. If there is something like overtourism in Kazakhstan, you will find it at the Kolsai Lakes in the weekends. During the week you will have a more peaceful and quiet atmosphere.

Kolsai Lakes Packing List

Some warm clothes and a rain jacket : Because the Kolsai lakes are in the mountains you can expect any kind of weather. Even in summer it can get cold in the evenings and rain is possible any time of the year.

Sturdy shoes or hiking shoes : Proffesional hiking boots are not necessary. However, the trail to the lake can get muddy and slippery and requires a good pair of shoes.

Sun protection : The sun can be pretty strong at higher altitudes. Bring a hat and sunscreen to protect you from the sun

Mosquito repellent : Mosquitoes and ticks are plentiful in spring and summer, especially around the lakes. Read more about how to avoid mosquitoes and ticks when hiking .

Money : There are no ATM’s in Kolsai Lakes. Make sure you bring enough money with you.

Snacks : Even though there is a basic general store in Saty it is best to carry some snacks with you.

Water purification system : There is no need to add to the plastic waste problem. You can easily fill up your bottle with water from the lake and the river. However, do use a filter.

Toilet paper : Most toilets are of the drop down variety with no toilet paper in sight.

Your passport :There is now a checkpoint before you enter Saty. When we entered Saty there was actually nobody present. When we left, there was, but they didn’t ask for our documents. Still, it is better to be safe than sorry. The Kolsai lakes are close to the border with Kyrgyzstan so they do check you once in a while.

Sustainable Travel in Kolsai Lakes National Park

The Kolsai Lakes are in a remote part of Kazakhstan, but see more tourists every year. While Tourism is a welcome source of income for the local community it can also have negative consequences. Traveling sustainably in the Kolsai Lakes, involves conscious choices that minimize your environmental impact in these remote and pristine ecosystems.

Stay in small scale sustainable hotels : It is better to stay in locally-owned guesthouses or homestays to support the local economy directly. These accommodations often have a more positive impact on the environment compared to large hotels. I can recommend staying in a homestay for an authentic cultural experience. You might want to bring a small book with pictures of your family to break the ice.

You can try to look for guesthouses or homestays that prioritizes sustainable practices. That said, environmental awareness is still low. It’s up to you to use water sparsely, turn off lights, air conditioning, and heating when leaving your accommodation.

Leave no Trace principle : When hiking in the Kolsai Lakes, stick to designated trails to protect the fragile ecosystems. Straying off the marked paths can cause soil erosion and damage to plant life. If you are lucky enough to spot wildlife, observe quietly from a distance to prevent disruption to their habitats and help maintain their natural behaviors.

I encourage you to take all your trash back with you and dispose of it responsibly. In other words, leave no trace of your visit. Even better is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.

To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter that you can refill at your accomodation. At last, use biodegradable and eco-friendly personal care products to minimize pollution of water sources.

Respect the culture : Besides environmental concerns it is also important to respect the culture. Kazakhstan is an Islamic country with a nomadic past that is just opening up to tourism. Therefore, learn about the local customs and traditions beforehand and be mindful of your behavior.

People will appreciate it, if you dress modestly, especially at religious sites. Learning a few basic phrases in Kazakh or Russian, can go a long way in building meaningful connections and to learn more about the local culture. Not everybody is happy to have their picture taken. When in doubt, ask permission.

Disclaimer : This post with a travel guide about the Kolsai lakes and lake Kaindy contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!

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15 thoughts on “Kolsai Lakes national park: the ultimate travel guide”

Kazakhstan looks amazing. It reminds me so much on Mongolia. I’ve always wanted to go and explore the mountains in Kazakhstan! Your photos have reinforced this dream.

Really interesting post and experience. I don’t know much about Kazakhstan, but it looks beautiful.

This is awesome! I went on a Silk Road overlanding trip this time last year and we only spent four days in Kazakhstan. I feel like I missed out on so much and definitely want to go back and explore more…despite how difficult it seems. Your pictures are beautiful . What I would do for some laghman right now!

This is all kinds of awesome! This country has been high on my bucket list, but logistically, I couldn’t make it happen during my massive year long European/Asian tour. But yes, I have been quite curious about Kazakhstan and your blog has some great well-organized and well-detailed points that I’ll be sure to keep in mind!

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Thanks so much for all the information, can’t wait to go there.

Wow what a trip. I have never even thought about this area as a place to visit. Thank you. Kx

Hello Ellis! We are two hiking enthusiasts. We want to go to Kolasai Lake National Park near Almaty these days, but our expected trip is only two days, so we want to ask you, can we visit the three lakes in Corsept Lake National Park in two days(3 days is okay if necessary)? Also, do you have any recommended accommodation options on the way?

If you have your own (rental) car, 2 days is possible in theory, but I would not recommend it. Basically you would be in your car travelling from Almaty and back most of your time , with only a few hours at the Kolsai Lakes. You won’t have time to hike to the second lake, but you will be able to visit the first lake and enjoy the views. If you can, 3 days will be better. In Saty village there are a number of homestays where you can stay.

Thanks for you reply! Unfortunately we do not have a car and are just backpackers… I would like to ask you how should we arrange to visit Kolsai lake if we spend 3 days. Should we spend two nights staying at Saty and utilize the second day to complete the entire trek?

Kolsai Lakes is one of the few places that is a little bit difficult with public transport, therefore I booked a tour the first time and rented a car the second time. There should be a public bus/shared taxi from Almaty to Saty. From Saty it is still a bit far to the lakes. You might be able to arrange a taxi for that in Saty. So yes, you would need at least 2 nights in Saty to allow a full day to hike from Kolsai Lake 1 to the second lake and back.

Hello, may I ask where did you rent a car? WE are a group of 3 which is more cheaper renting a car or join a tour.

We rented a car in Almaty. You can find several options online. If you are with three people this will probably be cheaper than a tour.

Thank you for the travel tips, this is by far one of the best sites for roadtripping in Kazakhstan. I have one quick question – I am thinking of visiting Kolsai Lakes next year in late July, and I was wondering if you know how bad the mosquito and tick situation is over there at that time of the year?

I went in may and july. I was warned to look out for ticks so i wore long pants and checked my body after hiking around the lake. There were some mosquitoes, but nothing too bad.

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Kolsai & Kaindy Lakes with Charyn Canyon 2-day tour

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Description

TOURIST PLACES you'll visit:

  • Charyn Canyon "Valley of the Castles"
  • Black Canyon
  • Yellow (Moon) Canyon
  • Lower (First) Kolsai Lake
  • Kaindy Lake

Within 2 days you will visit the most famous places of Almaty region - Charyn Canyon, Kolsai and Kaindy Lakes. You will also axplore a very quiet place with landscapes of unearthly beauty - Yellow (Moon) Canyon. The itinerary is designed so that you can enjoy the tour without rushing and visit sites at the best time of the day at the best lighting conditions. Our tour guide will show you the best photo spots and tell you interesting information about the places.

An exciting journey awaits you to the most visited destination among all tourists in Kazakhstan - Valley of the Castles of Charyn Canyon, one of the side canyons of Charyn river. This is completed the ensemble of “palaces”, “towers” and ”minarets” formed by Pliocene deposits of red color, due to which this place is also called the Red Canyon. The canyon has a length of about 1.5 km and a depth of 150 m.

The next place you will visit is Kaindy Lake. An incredible scenery that you see above the water are the trunks of centenary spruce trees. And under the surface of the water, branches and needles of spruce trees were preserved in their original form due to the low temperature of the lake's water.

Picturesque Lower Kolsai lake - the most accessible one. The lake is located at an altitude of 1818 m. Today this place is very popular and receives thousands of tourists every day. Here you can take a walk, enjoy the view of the lake with a cup of coffee or take a boat ride.

Tour area on the map

  • 08:00 Pick-up and departure from Almaty
  • Yellow (Moon) Canyon, walking, visiting several spots
  • Short stop at Black Canyon
  • Lunch in the guesthouse
  • Trip to Kolsai Lake
  • Kolsai Lake, walking, horseback-riding or boating (optional), visiting several spots
  • 18:30 Hotel/guesthouse accommodation, dinner
  • 07:00 Breakfast, check-out
  • Trip to Kaindy Lake
  • Kaindy Lake, hiking or horseback-riding (optional), visiting several spots
  • Lunch in the guesthouse of Saty village
  • Leaving Kolsai Lakes National Park and trip to Charyn Canyon
  • Charyn Canyon "Valley of the Castles", visiting several spots, walking along the bottom of the canyon 1.5 km till Charyn river
  • Way back to Almaty
  • 20:00 Drop-off in Almaty

GROUP TOUR SCHEDULE 2022

Join our group tours.

❉ Small groups up to 10 tourists

❉ Perfect for couples and solo travelers

❉ Enjoying travel, having fun and meeting new people

❉ Budget savings and more travel

⚠️ [Visits to any of the tour sites may be canceled and their order changed in case of adverse weather conditions and other circumstances beyond our control]

GROUP TOUR SCHEDULE 2020

Group tour schedule 2020

PHOTOS OF OUR TOURISTS

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Options & prices.

⚠️ [If you are more people, contact us and we will make an individual calculation for you]

IMPORTANT INFO

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Average Travelers should have a moderate physical fitness level.

WE RECOMMEND TO TAKE WITH YOU: season/terrain-appropriate outerwear, cap, jacket, trekking boots/sport shoes, sunblock, personal hygiene products, some cash in KZT for WC/boating/horseback riding (from 10000 KZT per person depending on route/duration). !!! Kolsai and Kaindy Lakes are located in the border area with Kyrgyzstan. Be sure to have your passport (original, not a copy) with you in case of inspection. Border guards can fine you if you don't have it.

• Not recommended for travelers with serious medical conditions, high/low blood pressure; • Not recommended for pregnant women; • Not recommended for travelers with a fear of heights and who can not withstand long trips by car/long walks/hikes;

GROUP TOUR SCHEDULE 2023

Small groups of 5-15 tourists

Perfect for couples and solo travelers

Enjoying the trip, having fun and meeting new people

Budget savings and more travel

GROUP TOUR JOINING

[Here you can book your place on a group tour by yourself specifying the number of people and selecting an available tour date]

⚠️ [To accept online payment from your bank card, we use PayPal as a payment gateway, so you can securely pay with any international debit/credit card. No need to have or create a PayPal account]

PRIVATE TOUR BOOKING

[Here you can submit a request to book a private tour. We will try to respond to you within 24 hours]

BOOKING TERMS

Prepayment (30% of the tour cost for the Private tours, 20% for the Group tours) is required to confirm your booking. The remaining amount must be paid at the start of the tour. To accept online payments from bank cards, we use PayPal as a payment gateway, so you can securely pay with any international debit/credit card. No need to have or create a PayPal account.

CANCELLATION POLICY

PRIVATE TOURS

  • Customer can change the details or cancel the booking no later than 72 hours before the start of the tour with the possibility of a 70-90% refund of the tour cost. After this time, no refunds will be made.

FIXED-DATE GROUP TOURS

  • Customer can change the details or cancel the booking no later than (24 hours - for day tours; 72 hours - for multi-day tours) before the start of the tour with a full refund of the tour cost. After this time, no refunds will be made.
  • A minimum number of tourists and suitable weather are required. If these criteria are not met, the tour will be canceled no later than 48 hours before the start and you will be offered a different date/tour or a full refund.

Any tour/booking can be canceled in case of force majeure with a full refund.

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Kolsai Lake in Kazakhstan

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Suv trip to the kolsai lakes, the tour is very exciting, you will visit the almaty region one of the most beautiful places in kazakhstan, the most beautiful nature, coniferous forests, birch groves, mountains. kolsai lake is an ideal place for hiking, horse riding, for a camp in the mountains. our team kolsaitour.com will be glad to organize a great trip with a professional guide., tour highlights:, tour options: tour duration: 3 days / 2 nights tour format:   road trip / mileage on suv: 850 km tour itinerary: 3 canyons of the charyn river * valley of castles - *lunar canyon - *temirlik canyon (iron) - zhalanash valley - kolsai lake - kaindy lake (flooded forest) level easy / optional / customize the program   trekking: 5-12 km per day overnight in the canyon in a tent / campground comfort + overnight in kazakh yurt / optional / boat rental / cruise horseback riding: optional.

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KOLSAI LAKE, KAZAKHSTAN

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KOLSAI & KAINDY LAKES

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GOLDEN RING OF ZHETYSU

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Duration 3 DAYS 

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SEASON: APRIl-NOVEMBER

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A guide to Kolsai Lakes Kazakhstan

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A definite guide to the kolsai lakes, kazakhstan.

Often nicknamed the ‘Pearls of the Tien Shan’, the Kolsai Lakes National Park is unquestionably one of Central Asia’s best-kept secrets.

Situated in a region that is famed for its rough canyons, secluded desserts and vast steppe terrain, the Kolsai Lakes are completely the opposite and an astonishing place for you to disconnect and experience the Kazakh countryside.

The tranquil lakes are a popular stop along Kazakhstan’s famous Golden Triangle and are flanked by lush alpine forests and hillsides covered with wildflowers and berries, making it a haven for nature lovers and culture enthusiasts alike. 

Though it’s slightly challenging to get there on your own, given its location at roughly 300 kilometres east of Almaty, those who decided to make the relatively exhausting journey will certainly be rewarded.

In this guide, I’ve covered everything you need to know before setting off to the Kolsai Lakes National Park, including how to get there, what to pack and heaps of insider tips too.

Kolsai Lake National Park

Where are the Kolsai Lakes

The Kolsai Lakes National Park is nestled in the northern slope of the Tian Shan Mountain Range in southeast Kazakhstan, roughly 300 kilometres from Almaty .

The gateway to the national park is Saty, a small rural village situated just a short distance away from both the Kolsai Lakes National Park and the border with Kyrgyzstan .

Kolsay lakes National Park

Kolsai Lakes tickets | Entrance fee 2022

When I arrived at the Kolsai Lakes entrance – November 2020, the entrance fee to the Kolsai Lakes National Park was 778 KZT (€1,60) per person. 

As with many places in this region, I was offered to pay the entrance fee directly and unofficially to the guard, which saved me some money at 500 KZT (€1,-).

After the payment, it is normal that you receive a receipt, which you’ll need upon leaving the park. To avoid paying the entrance twice, make sure you ask for a receipt at the entrance.

Kolsai Lakes National Park

How to get to the Kolsai Lakes

Given its remote location in the southeast corner of Kazakhstan, the Kolsai Lakes National Park can be quite challenging to get to.

While I was fortunate enough to travel in a car with a local friend, I totally realize that this option isn’t available to everyone.

For that reason, I’ve listed down some of the best options to get to the Kolsai Lakes National Park.

JOIN A DAY TOUR | Sure, it’s quite an adventure figuring out how to travel to one of the most remote places in the country, but if you’re looking for a hassle-free option, joining a private day trip from Almaty is by far your safest bet.

Though guided tours are somewhat expensive by Kazakh standards, I sincerely believe that it’s one of the most comfortable ways to experience the Kolsai Lakes and Kazakhstan’s Golden Triangle.

While it’s totally possible to book a tour from one of the tourist companies in Almaty, I’d highly recommend sorting out a tour online and in advance.

For those interested, this 2-day tour brings you to the Kolsai Lakes, Lake Kaindy and Charyn Canyon and includes accommodation, air-conditioned transport, meals and entrance fees.

CAR | The Kolsai lakes National Park is located in Kazakhstan’s famous Golden Triangle, where you will also find some of the country’s other major highlights, including Kaindy Lake, Charyn Canyon and the Altyn-Emel National Park. 

Since public transportation is limited and tours are often on the higher price end, renting a car is by far the most convenient option – plus you have all the freedom to craft your hand-tailored Almaty region itinerary and travel at your own pace.

It is for this exact reason that I highly recommend renting a car here.

If you’re looking to visit the Kolsai Lakes National Park by car, I suggest combining your visit with both Kaindy Lake and the Charyn Canyon National Park.

If you’re planning to rent a car yourself, make sure you check out Rentalcars.com , as they have a broad range of cars on offer, additional insurance options, and brilliant overall service.

Upon arrival at the Kolsai Lakes National Park, you’ll have parking facilities free of use.

BUS | Getting to the Kolsai Lakes National Park from Almaty by public transport isn’t by any means a trouble-free experience.

Though it is said that a marshrutka (a local bus) leaves from Almaty’s Sayakhat bus station for Saty at 6 in the morning, there is only little information circulating in terms of the departure place, time schedule and reliability of this journey.

If you do manage to catch this bus (please let me know if it exists), you’ll need to continue the journey to Kolsai Lake by either taking a taxi or using your hitchhiking skills to get a ride from Saty. 

The return to Almaty is slightly easier, as most homestays have close contact with the marshrutka driver that travels back to Almaty.

All in all, I believe this option is quite a challenge, yet it will be quite rewarding for those that manage to complete the exhausting, yet adventurous journey.

Kolsa lake Saty Kazakhstan

What to see and do at the Kolsai Lakes

Take a walk around the first lake.

Whether you’re visiting in the morning or at noon, a walk around the clear blue waters of the first Kolsai Lake is an absolute must.

Start the hike by following the dusty path that runs over the slope on the right-hand side of the lake, and find yourself among lush alpine forests while being welcomed by several stunning vantage points along the way.

Though it’s totally possible to return via the other side of the lake, I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s significantly more challenging, since the trail on the left side is overgrown with all kinds of greenery.

All in all, you should note that the hike takes around 3 to 4 hours out and back.

Kolsai Lake Kazakhstan

Head out on the water

If you’re looking for a unique perspective of both the first Kolsai Lake and the surrounding peaks of the Tien Shan mountain range, make sure you rent yourself a boat and head out on the water.

For boat rental, simply walk down to the waterfront, where you’ll stumble upon a few vendors that will rent out boats by the hour at 10.000 KZT (roughly €20,-).   

The boats themselves are easy to navigate and a paddle around the lake is done in about one to two hours if you take it easy, which I highly recommend you to do. 

Do note that if you visit the Kolsai Lakes during the weekend, there might be a chance that you have to wait until there’s a boat available.

Boat rental Kolsai Lakes

Spent the night at the Kolsai Lakes

Whether you’re pitching out your tent next to one of the lakes, having a local experience in a traditional yurt overlooking the first Kolsai Lake, or staying in the Jibek Jolly Guesthouse, spending a night within the Kolsai Lakes National Park is in many ways an incredible adventure.

Off all of the above options, camping is by far the most popular option, especially among locals.

If you’re keen to go camping, your best option is to hike to the second lake, where you’ll find plenty of space to set up your camp. Alternatively, there are a few grassy areas around the first lake too.

It is worth mentioning that you have to pay a small additional fee at the entrance if you’re planning to go camping within the national park.

Alternatively, you will also find several private yurts on the hillside of the first lake, with prices ranging from 7.000 – 10.000 KZT (€14,60 – 20,90) per yurt per night. Do keep in mind that these yurts are most likely only available for rent during the summer months.

Those after some more comfort can also opt for the slightly more pricey Jibek Jolly Guesthouse, a cosy guest house nestled in the hills of the first Kolsai Lake.

Kolsay Lakes Kazakhstan

Hike to the second and third lake

While the first lake is usually spectacular enough for most of the visitors to the Kolsai Lakes National Park, there’s actually also a great hiking trail that brings you to lakes two and three. 

Running straight through lush alpine forests and hillsides covered with wildflowers and berries, this trail is truly a pleasure to follow.

However, hiking this gorgeous trail comes with a few side notes.

First, there is the time that you have within the park, given it takes at least three to four hours to get to the second lake.

Then there is the fact that this area is close to the border of Kyrgyzstan, which means you’ll have to obtain a special permit before making your way any further – so make sure you have one before starting the hike.

Don’t consider that you can easily hike the area without a permit, as there are guards that patrol the area between the second and third lakes.

All in all, the hike between the first and the second lake is extremely beautiful and a round trip should take around six to seven hours to complete.

Unfortunately, during my trip here, I had to discontinue the hike to the second lake midway due to the wintry weather conditions that approached from the mountains.

Kolsai Lake

Where to stay near the Kolsai Lakes

As mentioned before, the gateway to the Kolsai Lakes is Saty, a small rural village with no shortage of traditional Kazakh homestays. 

Though you will not find the most luxurious of stays in this neck of the woods, I can assure you that you will have one of the most authentic local experiences instead – which to me, made my trip to the Kolsai Lakes so much more memorable. 

Also, it is worth mentioning that the Kolsai Lakes are extremely popular during the weekends, so if you’re planning to make it there in the weekend, make sure you book your accommodation in advance.

If you’re looking to book your accommodation in advance, make sure you explore the available options in Saty on Booking.com .

Best time of year to visit the Kolsai Lakes

Given the Almaty region experiences fiery heat during the summer and freezing colds during the winter, I believe the best time to visit the Kolsai Lakes is during the shoulder months of April – June , and September – October . 

Besides the comfortable weather during these time frames, you will also have an easier time getting there by car or as part of a guided tour from Almaty.

I visited the Kolsai Lakes early in November and was fortunate enough to spend two days here, which granted me the opportunity to see it both on a sunny and a snowy day.

Kolsai Lakes National Park Kazakhstan

Best time of day to the Kolsai Lakes

As with most natural sceneries in the world, the Kolsai Lakes are stunningly beautiful at sunrise, meaning you might want to set off on an early morning adventure.

However, since the Kolsai Lakes are pretty far from Almaty, it is essential to visit the lakes as part of a multiple-day trip to reap the benefits of an early visit.

While it’s absolutely possible to visit the Kolsai Lakes at any time of day, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend visiting at noon – especially if you’re into serious photography, as the harsh light and reflections on the lake will make shooting here a tad challenging.

Also, given the Kolsai Lakes are part of Kazakhstan’s famous Golden Triangle, the lakes do become quite crowded during the weekends.

Kolsai Kazakhstan

What to pack for the Kolsai Lakes

As with any adventure in this neck of the woods, I believe it’s essential that you travel with the right type of kit.

To avoid surprises when travelling to this remote corner of the country, I’d highly suggest packing the following items:

REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE | One travel essential that I carry with me at all times is the Grayl Geopress . This reusable water purification bottle allows me to fill up water from nearly every water source, making it one of my best investments to date. 

HIKING BOOTS OR A GOOD PAIR OF SNEAKERS | The terrain at the Kolsai Lakes National Park can be a tad slippery and muddy. While you don’t necessarily need hiking boots, I’d highly recommend wearing a sturdy pair of sneakers.

WEAR LAYERS | Although it may be warm in Almaty, the weather out here in the mountains is a totally different experience. For that reason, make sure you wear layers just in case.

YOUR PASSPORT | From what I’ve heard, there is now a checkpoint at Saty where they will ask you for your documents before entering the village.

SNACKS | Since there are not many facilities within the national park, I suggest bringing lunch and a few snacks to fuel your adventures around the lakes.

CASH | Even though there’s only one restaurant in the area, it’s always good to carry enough money with you just to be sure.

SUN PROTECTION | Most parts around the lakes are fully exposed to the sun, and for that reason, I’d highly recommend packing yourself some sunscreen and a hat.

A CAMERA | It is safe to say that the Kolsai Lakes are one of the best things to see in Kazakhstan, so you’re going to snap loads of photos while you’re there. Make sure you see what’s in my camera bag .

LEAVE NO FOOTPRINTS | As always, remember to respect and appreciate the location, so keep your trash with you at all times.

Onward travel | What’s next

The Kolsai Lakes National Park is part of Kazakhstan’s famous Golden Triangle, a trio of major natural sights in southeast Kazakhstan.

Besides the Kolsai Lakes, this famous region is also home to the Charyn Canyon National Park , the Altyn-Emel National Park and the Kaindy Lake , which are all clearly worthy of your time too.

Stay safe in Kazakhstan | Travel insurance

Since travelling in Kazakhstan is all about hiking and off-the-beaten path adventures, I recommend everyone to sort out adequate travel insurance before setting out on their own adventure.

Where we prefer that everything runs smoothly during our travels, something unfortunate can happen at any moment, whether it’s a hiking injury, stolen goods or an accident on the road. 

For travel insurance, I use Heymondo , as they offer full covid-19 coverage, as well as a handy app with 24-hour medical assistance. Make sure you check it out – readers of WTSW receive 5% off any insurance policy too. Additionally, I also recommend World Nomads .

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RESTAURANT GLOBUS, Elektrostal - Restaurant Reviews & Photos - Tripadvisor

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