Unsurprisingly, Altyn Arashan Valley is the most popular of the valleys near Karakol © Laurence Mitchell
Boasting lush meadows and silver streams, the ‘Golden Spa’ Valley is probably the most popular of all in Kyrgyzstan.
Running parallel to the Karakol Valley to the east, but separated from it by the ranges of Kara-Beltek, Aylanysh and the high 4,000m-plus peaks of the Terim-Tor, is the Altyn Arashan (‘Golden Spa’) Valley. Of all the valleys which lie close to Karakol, this is probably the most popular overall, and with good reason. Even by Kyrgyzstan’s high standards, the valley is extraordinarily lovely, with silver threads of streams trickling down to join the Arashan River, lush meadows sparkling with wild flowers, and smooth green slopes cloaked by dense stands of conifer higher up.
Heading up the valley, the view is dominated by a picture-perfect view of the snow-topped 4,260m Palatka (‘Tent’) peak that lies far to the south beyond the Altyn Arashan hot springs that give the valley its name. Bears are said to inhabit the area, although there does not seem to be any record of attacks on humans in the region. The area includes the Arashan State Reserve, a botanical research preserve. The valley begins close to the village of Teploklyuchenka, to the east of Karakol town. Just south of the village the road splits, veering left to reach the spartan Ak- Suu sanatorium and continuing straight on for the Altyn Arashan springs, along a steep, and extremely rough, 12km track through pine woodland close to the Arashan River. The road is only suitable for a really tough 4×4 vehicle and is such a slow, uncomfortable drive that walking may be the longer but more appealing option.