How to get to Sary Chelek, Kyrgyzstan
Updated July 2023, How to get to Sary Chelek, Kyrgyzstan was originally written in October 2017
The Sary Chelek Nature preserve is a true highlight for those exploring these southwestern reaches of Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan really is an up-and-coming destination. The only downside of destinations coming to prominence is that people know about it and then you have to share the sites with them. Kyrgyzstan is still far from crowded, and it is still possible to have many corners of the country to yourself. One of which being, Sary Chelek.
Start planning here: The Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide
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How To Get To Sary Chelek
With a direct minibus (nearly) to Sary Chelek, Osh is actually is the easiest to reach the lake from. Not to worry if you’re coming from Bishkek though, getting to Sary Chelek only involves one additional minibus.
Every day at 7:45 am a marshrutka (minibus) departs the new bus station on the northern outskirts of Osh to Arkit, a village near Sary Chelek (expect to pay 150-200 som for a taxi from the city center to the new bus station). The minibus makes stops in Jalal-Abad, Kotchkor-Ata (not to be confused with the other Kotchkor near Issykul), and Toshkomur en route.
A ticket from Osh to Sary Chelek will set you back 450 som.
Plan your visit to Osh: The Osh Travel Guide
Word to the wise: Get to the bus station early! The minibus arrived at around 6:50 am and quickly filled up. We pulled out of the station by 7:15 am. So if it’s a busy day, it may leave earlier than scheduled.
Expect it to take about 7-8 hours to reach the village of Arkit.
(as well as other cities and towns) get a shared taxi to Tashkomur.
Expect to pay 800 som for a seat in a shared taxi from Bishkek to Tashkomur. Shared taxis only leave when full unless you are willing to pay for the remaining seats, so just keep that in mind when budgeting time.
Make the most of your time in Bishkek: 10 things to do in Bishkek + travel guide
Next, you will take the minibus from Tashkomur (the same bus mentioned above that comes from Osh). It will arrive around noon. The bus will drop you off in Arkit village roughly 3 hours later.
Once You Arrive In Arkit
From Arkit it is possible to get a taxi to Sary Chelek but expect to be asked a pretty hefty price. At the time of my first visit (September 2017) the price was 1,500 som and the driver wasn’t really willing to negotiate.
You can, however, walk the 15 kilometers or plan to hitchhike. Hitching was easy in September, although deeper into fall and outside of summer, I wouldn’t count on hitchhiking as a viable option.
You will find cars full of locals and tourists alike heading out to picnic at Sary Chelek that will likely stop for you, although some will expect some kind of small payment. There are people in the area with work trucks that may be willing to pick you up as well.
Need help planning your trip to Kyrgyzstan? Pick up a copy of Bradt’s Kyrgyzstan
Info For Those Planning To Camp At Sary Chelek
There is a park gate as you enter the Sary Chelek Bioreserve. This is where you’ll pay your 400 som entrance fee. Ask for a receipt. This is also where you can pay for camping. The fee is 500 som per tent per night. If no one is at the gate you can just continue in, there is a ranger posted at the lake and will come to you when he spots your tent/s and ask for payment. If you’ve already paid, show him your receipt. If you did as I did and didn’t even think to ask for a receipt he can call back to the gate to verify you have paid.
For being a fairly unvisited spot Sary Chelek does have nice camping facilities. There is a public toilet, a few rubbish/garbage bins, as well as covered picnic areas and grills to barbecue on.
There are a few places to set up tents near the lakeshore.
Don’t Want To Camp?
There are a few guesthouses and CBT homestays located in Arkit You can contact CBT for more info and book them. You can also book this guesthouse in Arkit for 1,050 som per night for a dorm bed.
Getting Back From Sary Chelek
Unless you’ve arranged a taxi to bring you back to Arkit or beyond, get to walking. You could ask around the parking area if anyone is willing to take you back but if not, or no ones around just start walking back toward Arkit on the road and hitchhike.
Once you arrive back in Arkit there are a few CBT guesthouses and homestays, or this guesthouse, so plan to spend the night after you arrive back from the lake as the bus from Arkit to Tashkomur departs the village at 6 am.
Once you arrive in Tashkomur around 9 am, get dropped off by the bridge if headed for Bishkek or other communities. Here you’ll find shared taxi drivers headed to a number of places. If you’re headed to Osh, Jalal-Abad or other communities toward the Ferghana Valley stay on the bus.
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