Karakol, formerly Przhevalsk, is a city of about 75,000, near the eastern tip of Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan, about 150 km from the Kyrgyzstan-China border and 380 km from the capital Bishkek. It is the administrative capital of Issyk Kul Province. To the north on highway A363 is Tyup and to the southwest Jeti-Oguz resort.
A Russian military outpost founded on 1 July 1869, Karakol grew in the 19th century after explorers came to map the peaks and valleys separating Kyrgyzstan from China. In the 1880s Karakol's population surged with an influx of Dungans, Chinese Muslims fleeing warfare in China.
In Soviet times Karakol was named Prezhevalsk, after the Russian explorer who made several journeys into Central Asia and nearly reached the gates of Lhasa in Tibet, before contracting an illness - TB (Tuberculosis) or Typhoid, there seems to be some confusion - and settled in the area over looking the Lake to spend his remaining days. There is a museum dedicated to him on the site of the house which he built. Originally named Karakol, and in 1886 renamed Prezhervalsk; Lenin ordered the return of its original name in 1926 only to have Stalin rename it Prezhevalsk again in 1935 - Finally in 1991 it was renamed Karakol once more.
Nearby Lake Issyk-Kul was used by the Soviet military as a testing site for torpedo propulsion and guidance systems, and Karakol was thus home to a sizable population of military personnel and their families. Karakol continues to be a major hub for visitors of Issyk-kul lake.
Karakol is one of Kyrgyzstan's major tourist destinations, serving as a good starting point for the excellent hiking, trekking, skiing and mountaineering in the high central Tian Shan to the south and east.
The town itself contains a few things of interest for a visitor, such as a very pretty wooden mosque built by Chinese artisans for the local Dungans between 1907 and 1910 entirely without metal nails and a similarly appealing wooden Russian Orthodox church, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, completed in 1895, used as a club during Soviet times, but now being restored and in use again. The Regional Museum, following some sponsorship from the nearby Canadian gold mining concern, has exhibits on the Issyk-Kul petroglyphs, Scythian bronze artifacts, and a short history of the geology and mineral exploitation in the region. There also is a small section of Russian colonial "gingerbread" style residential buildings. The Sunday livestock market is a good place to see remnants of the traditional nomadic rural life.
There is a Regional Museum with a fine collection of musical instruments and the Sunday Animal Market, which attracts a large number of locals and tourists. With its large number of colonial style buildings ("chocolate box cottages"), shady, poplar lined streets, lively market, the oldest hippodrome in Central Asia, and overlooked by the Terksey ("Shady") Ala-Too Mountains, it can give the impression of a nineteenth-century Russian village.
However, Karakol is perhaps best known these days as a center for trekking, with a large number of well established routes in the valleys nearby. Near the city are Djety Orguz health resort and "Seven Bulls" rock formation, and the Valley of Flowers. Many trekkers visit the Ak-Suu (Tepliyekluchenki), Altyn Arashan and Karakol valleys. Karakol is also the last city on the way to Enchilek and the mountains Khan Tengriand Peak Pobeda.
There are a number of small guesthouses and hotels in Karakol and several local companies can offer tours and services in and around Karakol.