Introducing Lake Issyk-Köl
Over 170km long and 70km across, Lake Issyk-Köl (Ysyk-Köl, Issyk-Kul) is the world's second-largest alpine lake after Lake Titicaca in South America. The name, meaning ‘hot lake’, is something of an exaggeration. A combination of extreme depth, thermal activity and mild salinity do indeed ensure the lake never freezes, even in the fierce Central Asian winters, despite lying at an altitude of over 1600m. And the mysteriously temperate waters create an ever-mild microclimate. But the brave summer tourists who swim in the vivid blue waters, find views framed not by palms but by the remarkable backdrop of the snow-dappled Ala-Too mountains.
Indeed, while beach 'resorts' attract Kazakh visitors and can make for amusingly discordant photos, the foreshores are often rather mucky with rubbish and the main attraction for Western travellers tends to be the accessible mountain hiking. Parts of the central Tian Shan range accessible from the lake settlements comprise some of the finest trekking territory in Central Asia, with the most popular routes being hops between the valleys south of Karakol.