Dominating the east of Kyrgyzstan is chimeric Issyk Kul Lake. Around 113 miles (182km) in length, it’s the second largest mountain lake in the world after Titicaca, and one of Central Asia’s most spellbinding sights. In fine weather, the surrounding curtain of snow-capped mountains is reflected to magical effect in Issyk Kul’s glassy water, which despite its proximity to the Tianshan range, never freezes, even in the depths of winter. In wilder weather, surprisingly large waves can form, making the lake feel like an inland sea.
It’s possible to complete a circuit of Issyk Kul by car. We particularly love the section of road skirting the southern shore, which affords superb views of the Tianshan peaks and passes a spot where you can watch local Kyrgyz men hunt with trained eagles. Side routes peel away to various other wonders including the Skazka ‘Fairy Tale’ Canyon, where outcrops of red and ochre-tinged sandstone have been worn into phantasmagorical shapes.