The main village between Balikchy and Karakol, this village-town marks roughly the halfway point along Lake Issyk-Kul's north shore and is by far the lake's most developed resort in terms of domestic (and Kazakh) tourism. The town, with a permanent population of around 8,000, is well known for its beaches and sanatoria, which developed during the Soviet period then subsequently declined following independence. In recent years there has been something of a tourism renaissance here, with new private hotels being built, and some of the older, larger sanatoria being taken into private ownership for refurbishment.
Cholpon-Ata is about as close as you can get to Cancun and still be in Central Asia. By day it’s a scene of tan bods, zipping jet skis and ice cream licking tots. By night it’s open air cafes, thumping discos and young lovers breaking social mores. Most of the visitors are wealthy Kazakhs and Russians from north of the border but outside high season (mid-July to August) you may have the place to yourself.
The resort was always popular with visitors from the former USSR, particularly Russians, who came here for sun, sea and sanatoria. It used to be rather an elite sort of place, with intellectuals and writers coming from all over the Soviet Union to take the waters here, and athletes coming to train and take advantage of its gentle summer climate and modest altitude. The town still has a large permanent Russian population and it is noticeably less Kyrgyz than many other settlements of its size around the lake - there is even a statue of Boris Yeltsin, who took regular vacations here in the past.
The town stretches along the main road for some considerable distance, with new housing stretching north towards the mountains, while south of the main highway roads lead south to hotels, a holiday complex, sanatorium, yacht club and the town's beaches. For visitors, the town's epicentre is the area along the main road just east of the bus station, where many of its shops, restaurants, services and accommodation options are located. Further east, beyond a park, is another area of activity with the El Noor bazaar, a bus stop and more bars and restaurants.
Sports teams from other Central Asian republics and Russia come to train at altitude and compete here in early September in track and field events and soccer tournaments. Besides the beach, the ancient rock inscriptions on the outskirts of town are the village’s main attraction. The sanatorium, formerly a retreat for the Communist Party elite, has fallen into disrepair, although it’s still operational.
Beaches aside, there are other good reasons to come here: Cholpon-Ata has the best museum in the Issyk Kul region, there is an excellent petroglyph site from the sixth to the first centuries BC just outside the town, the country's best horse breeding farm and the town makes a good base for local walks or visits to other villages along the north shore that lack Cholpon-Ata's facilities.
Orientation & Information - The town has two reference points: the El Nuur Bazaar and, 1km west, the cluster of shops around the post office. Both are on the main road.
Getting There & Away - Cholpon-Ata, being the premier resort town for nearby and comparatively wealthy Kazakhs, is particularly prone to fluctuating transport costs. During summer, shared-taxi prices are doubled for tourists and locals alike. Prices here are low-season rates. Buses run every hour from 7am to 7pm to/from Bishkek and continue to Grigorievka, Ananyevo, and Karakol. There are also minibuses and shared taxis, which depart from either the Avtovokzal bus station (west bound) or Astanorka bus stand near the bazaar (east bound). In summer, overnight buses run to Almaty around 8am.