Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan where most visitors end up when they arrive. Karakol is the most popular resort and a hotspot for hiking as well as winter sports. It is therefore popular for people to travel from Bishkek to Karakol.
The most convenient way to travel between Bishkek and Karakol is by marshrutka – a small minibus typically found in former USSR countries. It takes 6 hours and costs 500 KGS / 5.7$.
Read on to find the exact details of the journey from Bishkek to Karakol and back including other options to travel and sights on the way!
Bishkek to Karakol transport options
There are a couple of ways to travel between Bishkek and Karakol. Let’s take a deep dive into each option.
This is hands down the most convenient option to get from Bishkek to Karakol and back.
Marshrutkas leave from Western Bus Station in Bishkek (don’t make the mistake I made and think that since it’s going east, it departs from the East Bus Station).
There is no set timetable. They leave when they are full. Chances are when you arrive at the station someone will ask you where you’re going and then lead you to the marshrutka going your way. Pay the driver before the journey, but after the marshrutka is full.
As of 2023, the marshrutkas between Bishkek and Karakol cost 500 KZS / 5.7$. There’s one average of 1 marshrutka per hour. It takes 6-7 hours to reach Karakol.
Most marshrutkas take the northern route through Cholpon Ata (if you get off there, the price drops down to 400 KGS / 4.6$). You can decide to split the journey and spend a day there to visit the Petroglyphs. Make sure to sit on the right side of the minibus to enjoy the spectacular scenery of Lake Issyk Kul.
Few marshrutkas take the southern route through Bokonbaevo. It’s longer and more expensive. I don’t recommend it.
This option is very similar to a marshurtka. Shared taxis are smaller (fewer people, easier to fill up), a bit more comfortable to travel, but a tad more expensive at 700 KGS / 8$ per seat. They also depart from Bishkek Western Bus Station.
There is one daily bus at 10:00 and it costs 450 KGS / 5.2$. There are also overnight buses departing Bishkek at 21:00, 22:00, and 23:00, but I recommend the daylight bus for views, convenience, and a good sleep in Karakol afterwards.
Do you love trains? I love trains too. Unfortunately, Kyrgyzstan’s railway network is severely underdeveloped. Can you blame them? The country is 97% mountains!
Karakol doesn’t have a train station, so traveling from Bishkek to Karakol by train directly is not possible.
From Bishkek, you can get a train to Balykchy on the west coast of Issyk-Kul Lake. From there you have to take a marshurtka to Karakol. The train takes 4:30 hours for 180 km making it feasible only for the biggest train fans out there.
The train from Bishkek to Balykchy runs only in the summer. From 16 June to 30 July, it runs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. From 31 July to 31 August, it runs daily.
- Train No. 608 “Bishkek I – Balykchy” departs from “Bishkek I” at 06:25 a.m. and arrives at Balykchy at 11:20 a.m.
- Train No. 609 “Balykchy – Bishkek I” departs from Rybachye station at 05:08 p.m. and arrives at “Bishkek I” at 21:58.
The train costs only 69 KGS / 0.8$! The marshrutka from Balykchy to Karakol costs 400 KGS though, so you’ll end up paying almost the same at the end.
Karakol to Bishkek
Doing the reverse journey is more or less the same. There are regular marshrutkas, shared taxis, one daytime bus and a few overnight buses all departing from Karakol Avtovogzal. Prices are the same as the reverse journey.
What to do in Karakol
Karakol is Kyrgyzstan’s most popular tourist destination famous for its winter sports, hiking opportunities, food, and hot springs. You can check out these top things to do in Karakol to get an idea.
Some of the popular places to visit in Karakol include:
- Karakol Museum
- Ala-Kul Lake
- Ak Suu Arboretum
- Seven Bulls Rock and Jeti Ogyz Canyon
- Issyk-Kul Lake
- Hot Springs at Ak Suu Kench
Where to go after Karakol?
If you’re in Kyrgyzstan during the summer months, then the best place to go after Karakol is Kochkor to organize a hike to the amazing Song Kul Lake. This stops being a possibility sometime in October when guesthouses on the trails close and it becomes almost impossible to find a horse guide.
Another option is to go back to the capital in order to travel from Bishkek to Osh. Osh is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and is where Kyrgyzstan’s only UNESCO heritage site is located – Sulaiman Too.
From Osh, it is easy to travel over the Dostuk border into Uzbekistan. This is a popular route in Central Asia.