Kolsai is a system of 3 lakes located a 300 km drive southeast from Almaty, at Kungei Alatau mountain ridge which is one of the ridges of the northern Tien Shan, that limits in the North the Issyk-Kul basin, and follows in the South the Zailisky Alatau ridge. These two great ridges are divided from east by the large valley of Chilik river. Kungei Alatau is famous for its lakes, which are the real gems of the Northern Tien Shan in Kazakhstan. The Kolsai lakes were formed due to a powerful earthquake that took place in the late 19th century. Huge amounts of stones and soil flooded the gorge in several areas and formed natural dams to the river that was running at the bottom of the gorge and thus creating the lakes. The color of all the lakes changes according to the weather from dark blue to turquoise or green and the water is very clear in all of them.
The first lake, called the Lower Kolsai lake is situated at the height of about 1800 m above the sea level and is 2 km in length and 80 m deep. If the weather is not very windy the lake resembles a spread mirror along the gorge mirroring the mountain forests from the surface. A steep path from the parking lot leads down to the lake between the steep mountain slopes that are covered with thick spruce forests. Many beautiful plants can be met in the slopes, including the specific bluish colored Tien Shan spruce. There is a path at the eastern side of the lake with some spots for tenting and you can also rent a boat for some rowing at the lake.
If you want to walk further to the second and lake you better have your passport at hand as there are reports of border guards who will want to see your passport as it is possible to cross to Kyrgyzstan from the pass after the third lake. According to the latest reports it is not allowed to travel to the third lake next to the Kyrgyz border. The marked trail uphill to the second (middle) lake “Manzhyly” starts at the right (West) side of the lake and goes along the spruce forest and later follows the river that runs between the lakes. After about 8 km hike the path leads to the second lake and largest lake of the three, located at the height of about 2200 m above the sea level. Even steeper cliffs on three sides surround the lake and almost all the slopes are covered with deep spruce forest interspersed with ash trees. There are good places for tent camping on the North coast of the second lake.
The third (upper) Kolsai lake situated at a height of 2800 m above the sea level. Its surface is less than half of the second lake. The original dam formed of huge boulders is now overgrown with forest. On the north shore of the lake there is a grove of juniper trees with the highest of more than 4 meters. At the highest areas the forests are already getting scarce here due to the altitude.
If you want you can go to the pass “just” above the lake (6 km further) you will find a great spot to see the Issyk-Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan to the South. We have no knowledge of the path to the pass but bear in mind that the pass is at the border of the two countries and the weather conditions can turn harsh quite quickly in the high mountain areas. The height of the Sary-Bulak Pass towards Kyrgyzstan is 3278 m so be sure the equip yourself with the proper equipment skill set before trying this one.
How to get to Kolsai lakes
Going to the Kolsai National Park by public transport is apparently not the best option. You can take a shared taxi going to Saty village, it is the nearest village to Kolsai lake in the Sayaha bus station in Almaty. A shared taxi will cost about 4000 tenge and take about 4 hours drive, about 280 km from Almaty with good asphalt road.
From Saty village you can walk 15 km in asphalt road to Lower Kolsay or ask the locals to take you with a 4×4 car as the road up is not that good. You can also try to hitchhike, there should be cars passing by. As soon as you reach to the first Lower lake you can hike to the second and third as well. There is an entrance fee to the lake area. Make sure to visit the Kaindy lake while in Kolsai lakes!
Sights near Kolsai Lakes
Page updated 16.6.2021