Discovering Kazakhstan wouldn’t be complete without seeing the magnificent Kolsai lakes. They are sometimes considered to be the real jewel of Alatau mountains in Almaty Oblysy (which means 'region'). The area is currently included into The Kolsai Lakes National Park, created with the purpose of keeping nature untouched. It is possible to reach the lakes’ location on foot starting from the Saty settlement, which is about 290 kilometers away from Almaty. To get there by car one needs to start on the road to Kegen, turning right before approaching the Charyn river and further through Zhalanash to Saty.
The park spreads on the northern part of the Tian-Shan mountains between Raiymbek and Talgar Districts 10 kilometers far from Kyrgyzstan. Apart from the captivating beauty of mountain lakes the great advantage is convenient access to the Sarybulak pass. Some years ago tour sellers used to offer hiking tours to Issyk Kul starting on Kolsai Lakes using the Sarybulak Pass in Tian Shan. It is necessary to mention that Issyk Kul is situated in Kyrgyzstan. Nowadays, due to legal restrictions the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan is closed so that one can pass only through existing frontier points so going through Sarybulak Pass is forbidden. The absence of transit backpacking traffic only makes the visit more comfortable and private.
Leaving Saty tourists must pay an entrance fee. The first lake on the way is the Lower Kolsai or Kolsai 1, that is situated 1,818 meters high above sea level.
Kolsai Lakes together with Koyandy Lake were formed as a result of tectonic ground slides that blocked the Kolsay and Chilik rivers and turned them into natural reservoirs. The events possibly happened in the end of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century. So the lakes are rather young in geological sense. That is why a number of dead tree trunks can be seen sticking out of waters of Koyandy Lake. These are the remains of the trees that used to grow on the banks before the lake was created.
Meanwhile, the location itself is considerably picturesque. The mountains are covered with fir trees. The water is of multiple unusual colors. Kolsay 2 is nearly 9 kilometers far from the first lake and several hundred meters higher. The second lake is the biggest, and maybe the most beautiful of all. Lakes are full of fish including trout. There is a certain kind of touristic facilities, such as camping sites, guesthouses and roads. It is possible to get natural dairy products from the nearby horse-breeding farm. The feature of local cuisine is kumis.
Not less exciting is climbing up to the smallest and highest lake located at the point of 2,800 meters above sea level. It takes about 3 hours to get there on foot, as the distance is only 5 kilometers. The Upper Kolsay is ice-cold due to the glacier that supplies the ground with its waters. It is the border of forest and meadow zones. Camping here is as gripping as challenging considering the low night temperatures.
The greatest impression on the visitor may be made by the variety of wild plants. Definite species of poppy, iris, edelweiss, rare kinds of willows, hawthorn and wild apricot grow among more than 7 hundred of plants species. Moreover, there are several rare and unusual animal species including bears and leopards. Unfortunately camping on one’s own has also been prohibited since 2008 when the National Park was established and most of the territory is thoroughly protected. Edited 2020apr28