Cholpon - ata
Cholpon Ata is the touristic center of the northern side of Issyk Kul. The town is quiet for most of the year but during the summer months it wakes up due to the number of tourists in the Issyk Kul area. According to statistics, about 1 million people visit the Issyk Kul region every year. The town is located about in the middle of the northern shore of Issyk Kul and the mountains between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan rise almost immediately next to the town to the north.
There is a legend about Cholpon Ata meaning the father of Cholpon in the Kyrgyz language. If you stand at the shoreline of Issyk Kul in Cholpon Ata and look towards the mountains in the North you can see the face of a girl’s father whose tears flow down the mountainside to add to the salt waters of the lake as he weeps for his beautiful daughter who threw herself from a window to her death rather than succumbing to the will of the evil Khan who ruled in the region.
In Cholpon Ata and surrounding areas, you can find small and big hotels or residents and lots of homestays especially in the hot season which takes place in July-August. During the high season period locals, Russians and Kazakhs gather to spend time in the more cool climate of Issyk Kul valley to run away from the 40 C in lower areas.
Cholpon Ata is a good base for exploring the whole northern side of Issyk Kul, but it does not offer that much itself to a foreign tourist and can be even costly compared to many other better standard beach locations. It can still be nice to spend one day on the beach between the mountain adventures.
Another major base for exploring the Issyk Kul area is Karakol, which is located in the South-East of Issyk Kul. Cholpon Ata can be reached from Bishkek by taxi and marshrutka. The travel takes about 3-4 hours or even less as the road has been improved lately in many sections. A private taxi without sharing from should be about 1000 som and a shared taxi 300 to 400 som. The trip by marshrutka is about 200 – 250 som. If you want to add a little bit of soviet exotic taste to your trip, you can take a train from Bishkek to Balykchy which is a town located at the west end of the Issyk Kul. The train is considerably slow (about 5 hours) and stops in each village on the way but it is a good way to see the real Kyrgyz village life. The train option is only available in the summer high season time. The price of the train is about 100 som so it is a budget choice.
Cholpon Ata SIGHTS
Cholpon Ata Historical Museum
The historical museum of Cholpon is small but covers well the history of Issyk Kul lake area. The succession of rulers, including Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, is all chronicled. There is a big section on the orally-transmitted epic poem Manas. The nomad lifestyle and traditions are covered, including musical instruments, jewelry author Chingiz Aitmatov, yurts and so on. You can also find a nice model of the lake. The English descriptions are quite limited though.
Cholpon Ata Petroglyphs museum
Museum of petroglyphs offers you 42 hectares open air area with thousands of ancient stones depicting scenes of hunting, normal life and wars. Some of the petroglyphs are told to date from as far as between 4000 – 2000 BC and are of Scythian style but there have been also doubts that quite a lot of them are not authentic. The bulk of the stones are from 7th to 3rd centuries BC. The cost to enter the museum is 80 som (about 1 €).
There are two routes you can select from, the longer (upper) one has a better selection of balbals, which are burial stones from the 6th to 19th centuries portraying people with distinct features related to the person that was depicted. More balbals are presented in the Burana tower area nearby Bishkek. More petroglyphs can be found in Ornok, where about 2000 stones have different kinds of ancient figures inscribed on them. Ornok outside the museum is situated in the Northside of Issyk Kul and West from Cholpon Ata and a little bit higher and further away from the lake.
Rukh Ordo is a little bit absurd exhibition venue at the shore of Issyk Kul but still worth visiting. In English, it is translated something like “The spirit center”. It offers 10 “mini-museums” about different religions and Kyrgyz culture and folklore. They have dozens of paintings and sculptures including few quite peculiar ones. Be sure to take a guided tour in order to understand what you are seeing. Inside you can also learn a lot about Chyngyz Aitmatov, the most famous author of Kyrgyzstan. The fee to enter Rukh Ordo is 400 som.
Cholpon Ata hippodrome
Cholpon Ata Nomad games stadium (hippodrome) is located east from Cholpon Ata at the outskirts of the town. It was built to host the World Nomadic games which is like the Olympic games of Nomadic sports that were organized several times in Kyrgyzstan.
Nomadic culture and civilization center "Kurmanjan Datka"
This center for nomadic culture was built in 2017 west from Cholpon Ata nearby the small village of Ornok by the northern beach of Issyk Kul. It houses the works of leading artists, sculptors, architects and designers from amending from the nomadic culture of Kyrgyzstan, Bashkortostan, Khakassia, Tatarstan, Mongolia and Moldova.
The main purpose of the Nomadic culture & civilization center is to unite the cultures of nomadic peoples and their historical contribution to the development of the whole region. The architectural concept of the Kurmanzhan Datka Center for Nomadic Civilization aimed at creating a modern unique museum complex and landscape-park space. The museum also aims in demonstrating the cultural heritage of nomadism and raising it as a form of civilization.
Nature destinations near Cholpon Ata
There are several nice gorges in the mountains nearby Cholpon Ata. The most popular one is the Chon-Ak-Suu or Grigoriev gorge. The gorge can be best reached by SUVs as the roads going up the mountains are in general not in the perfect condition but normal cars will survive as well in the most popular gorges. During the holiday season it is easy to find service providers with experienced drivers to take you to the gorges for a day.
In the most popular gorges there are cafes and other services available and quite often the drivers seem to be having deals with certain places meaning that they will gain something from taking tourists to certain places. If you are looking for more adventurous way of spending time try horseback riding in the mountains. Scuba diving is also possible, the water in Issyk Kul is quite clear but the underwater nature is not that spectacular or colorful.
We recommend tasting the local fish – river trout. Since locals most probably won’t speak English, you can ask for “forel“. It can be fried or cold smoked which makes it especially good with beer. Do not buy the fish from the roadside sellers as they do not have any refrigeration and the quality of their fish is not the best.
There are few roadside places though where they have the proper systems to keep the fish refrigerated so we suggest to try those ones in addition to the grocery shops or meat shops. The best fish will anyway be the ones freshly prepared in the yurt villages within the mountain valleys of in the restaurants of Cholpon Ata.
Hot Springs in Issyk Kul
Several hot springs, man-made or natural, can be found in the Issyk Kul area. Hot springs in the Northern Issyk Kul area are mostly man-made as the hot mineral-rich water is lead up through pipes from deep underground. Some of them are located not far from the lake itself and are easily accessible but others can be located high in the mountains and are only accessible by trekking or horseback.
There is an area east about a 1-hour drive away from Cholpon Ata that has few artificial hot spring places by the shoreline of Issyk Kul. More famous hot springs are located on the South-East side of the lake called Juuku or Kyzyl-Suu hot springs. The latter one is said to include radon along with other substances.
How to reach Cholpon Ata
Cholpon Ata can be reached from Bishkek by taxi and marshrutka. The travel takes about 3-4 hours or even less as the road has been improved lately in many sections. A private taxi without sharing from should be about 1000 som and a shared taxi 300 to 400 som. The trip by marshrutka is about 200 – 250 som. If you want to add a little bit of soviet exotic taste to your trip, you can take a train from Bishkek to Balykchy which is a town located at the west end of the Issyk Kul. The train is considerably slow (about 5 hours) and stops in each village on the way but it is a good way to see the real Kyrgyz village life. The train option is only available in the summer high season time. Price for the train is about 100 som so it is a budget choice.
Where to stay in Cholpon Ata
There is also an abundant amount of shops and restaurants in the Northern shore area and during the high season it can be quite cramped resulting in higher prices especially for accommodation. The prices can reach up to 120$/night in better quality hotels and residents. During off season the prices can be less than half compared to high season. Less expensive homestays and cheaper hotels and hostels are still available all the time. Activities like water jets, paragliding, party boats and so on can be found most likely in the Cholpon Ata area or nearby beaches. In addition to the obvious beach life and night life in the hot season in Cholpon Ata there are also some cultural sights and nature nearby.
Bear in mind that majority of the beaches are private and only accessible if you are staying in the residence or hotel. Some places might allow access to their beach or pool in more quiet times with separate payment.
Sights near Cholpon-Ata
Page updated 11.6.2021