Ala Archa NP, located just outside of Bishkek, is the number one place to visit when in the city. The park is accessible all year round and offers breathtaking views of the Tian Shan (天山 – “heavenly mountains”) range. The mountains live up to their name, and the park provides an easy place to explore them on a day trip from Bishkek proper.
Taxi to the park
Map of the park trails
I went to the park with fellow Midwesterner and long term traveler, Karl (@wanderbadger on instagram, highly recommended), from the hostel and hiked around for a couple hours. Right by the beginning of the trail we encountered the fluffiest and friendliest squirrels I’ve ever seen, that kept climbing or attempting to climb up us both. Further along, the trail runs along a rocky river with a few haphazard bridges to cross it. It was still really snowy everywhere but it was hot enough that even just wearing a T-shirt was too warm. I stupidly forgot sunscreen and became a tomato (in case you didn’t know, eyeball sunburn is a thing and not a fun one), but it was so nice to feel the sun and be in the mountains after being in the frozen and cloudy steppe. The walk to the marshrutka station was less fun, as after the park entrance gate it was just flat asphalt walking for kilometers. The only interesting part of that return journey was meeting a bunch of middle aged guys parked on the side of the road taking shots to celebrate one of their birthdays.
To get to Ala Archa, the quickest, easiest, and most recommended way is by taxi. For about 2-2.5k som the driver will take you round trip and wait for a few hours while you hike. If you are cheap, there is a marshrutka stop about 10km away from the entrance that you can walk to and from. Having done a combination of them both and feeling miserable because of it, take the taxi round trip and spend the extra few dollars.
There’s not so much more to say about the park, so I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.
My first trip out of Astana was to the popular nature destination of Borovoe (or Burabai in Kazakh). Located just a short three hour train ride away, this is a pretty popular weekend getaway for residents of Astana. There are plenty of resorts and hotels around the lake which are full during the summer months. I went with two classmates and we headed out on the first train north, which left sometime around 6 AM. The train cost only about $3 each way and ran fairly regularly all day. Once we arrived at the train station in the town nearest to Borovoe, we hired a taxi to take us to the end of the hiking route so that we only had to walk into the town instead of doing the same trail there and back.
Now, the thing about Borovoe is that the weather is entirely unpredictable. Unlike everywhere surrounding it which is endless steppe, Borovoe has mountains and forests that contribute to its erratic climate. According to most of the forecasts, the weather was supposed to be fine the entire day, and many friends of mine had been there the previous day with beautiful weather. When we arrived, it was cloudy and much colder than Astana (which isn’t so surprising considering its proximity to the border with Russian Siberia). Since there was a cafe at the beginning of the route, we stopped for hot drinks before heading out on the walk.
Unfortunately, during the time we were inside getting warmed up, it started raining outside. It was only a light rain and we hoped it would stop after we started walking, so we began the trek into a forested area nearby. The scenery was lovely, and there were tied rags which are used for religious rituals on many of the trees. After getting turned around in here, we made our way toward the town. Of course, the rain came down harder and harder during the next 3 hours to the point that everything was pretty well soaked through by the time we arrived in town.
Once we managed to find a restaurant and get food (and have a few incidents along the way) we made the journey back to the train station and to Astana. The train station for Borovoe is incredibly cold for being indoors, so we ended up drinking a lot of hot chocolate from a vending machine to keep warm with all the wind coming inside and hitting our still pretty wet clothes. The train back was pretty late in the evening, and we got stuck with very loud and inebriated soccer fans from a city on the other side of the country who were singing their team’s anthem for hours. Overall though, even with pretty much everything going wrong that could go wrong, it was still a beautiful trip and definitely one I will remember.