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Originally founded as a Russian military outpost in 1869, Karakol is the fourth largest city in Kyrgyzstan and the administrative capital of Issy Kul province – a great base for planning hiking expeditions into the mountains and gorges of the surrounding countryside. Owing to its popularity during Soviet times, it has one of the few remaining large Slavic communities in Central Asia. Historically, explorers mapped out the terrain along the China-Kyrgyzstan border in the 19th century, and Karakol’s population grew in the 1880s with a surge of Dungans (Chinese Muslims) fleeing warfare in China.
Karakol is the last resting place of Nikolai Przewalsky, the famous Russian explorer and naturalist. He died in 1888 while preparing for a journey to Tibet. Afterward, the city was renamed Przhevalsk in his honour, but protests led to the original name returning to the city in 1921. Then, in 1939, Stalin changed the name back to Przhevalsk in celebration of the centenary of the explorer’s birth. Upon Kyrgyzstan’s independence in 1991, the city’s name was once more switched back to Karakol. Przhevalsky’s grave as well as a museum dedicated to Russian explorations in Central Asia lie north of Karakol at Pristan Przhevalsky.Read more
The city of Karakol has a handful of modest attractions, including a wooden mosque built without metal nails by the Dungan people, and the Holy Trinity Cathedral, a wooden Orthodox church. The city’s Regional Museum contains petroglyphs and bronze-age artefacts recovered from the ancient civilisation at the lake, well worth a look. Above all else, the mountains remain the city’s prime draw with outdoor adventures running the gamut from trekking to skiing to mountaineering. The Karakol Ski Base is famous among skiers and snowboarders from Central Asia and beyond. The ski resort is just outside of the town and provides better services at a cheaper cost than Almaty’s Shymbulak resort.