go to content go to search box go to global site navigation

Introducing Jeti-Öghüz

About 25km west of Karakol, at the mouth of the Jeti-Öghüz Canyon, is an extraordinary formation of red sandstone cliffs that has become a kind of tourism trademark for Lake Issyk-Köl.

Jeti-Öghüz village is just off the main around-the-lake road. South of the village the earth erupts in red patches, and soon there appears a great splintered hill called Razbitoye Serdtse or Broken Heart. Legend says two suitors spilled their blood in a fight for a beautiful woman; both died, and this rock is her broken heart.

The other side of the hill forms the massive wall of Jeti-Öghüz. The name means Seven Bulls (named after the seven main bluffs), and of course there is a story here too – of seven calves growing big and strong in the valley’s rich pastures. Erosion has meant that the bulls have multiplied. They are best viewed from a ridge to the east above the road. From that same ridge you can look east into Ushchelie Drakonov, the Valley of Dragons.

Below the wall of Seven Bulls is one of Issyk-Köl’s surviving spas, the ageing Jeti-Öghüz Sanatorium (9 37 19; s 170som, massage 200som; summer only), built in 1932 with a complex of several plain hotels, a half-empty, semiheated pool, a restaurant (meals 100som) and some woodland walks. Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin and former Kyrgyzstan president Askar Akaev had their first meeting here in 1991 – and it has been downhill ever since. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin also decompressed here. It’s the kind of place that’s full of history and makes you want to jam the chair under the doorknob when you sleep.

From here you can walk up the parklike lower canyon of the Jeti-Öghüz River to popular summer picnic spots. Some 5km up, the valley opens out almost flat at Svetov Dolina, the Valley of Flowers (Kok Jayik in Kyrgyz); it’s a kaleidoscope of colours in May when the poppies bloom. There are also said to be pre-Islamic petroglyphs up here, similar to those at Cholpon-Ata.

The Festival of National Cuisine & Folklore is held in the yurt camp in the Jeti-Öghüz gorge on the last Sunday in July. It is a good opportunity to sample Kyrgyz, Tartar, Russian and Dungan specialities.

Yurt camps include the pleasant Jenish Gol (per person US$10) on the left of the road, Ecotrek on the right and finally the pricier Saidahmat (bed & full board €20). All are normally accessible by car and offer a nice taste of the mountains if you are short of time, and a good base for day hikes if you have a couple of days. Karakol TIC and CBT can advise on prices and help with bookings. The upper valley is accessed by five bridges that sometimes get washed out so check the best route with locals before setting off.

Jeti-Öghüz canyon is one of several alternatives for treks to/from Altyn Arashan and Ala-Köl.