Karakol - Kegen - Karakol: visa run to the Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan border, via Sovetskoye
I needed to do a 'visa run'. I am allowed 60 days in Kyrgyzstan. Trying to get a 30 day extension is a time consuming and frustrating process.
So here's the story with logistics thrown in for free on how I got from Karakol to Kegen, the border crossing to Kazakhstan and back in the same day. Having done just that, I don't recommend this crossing for a visa-run, unless you can stay in Kazakhstan for at least 24hours!
Last year I made the 900km round trip over a weekend to the Kordai border, just north of Bishkek. In July, this proved to be an insane indea. Summer temperatures in Bishkek hit 45deg C and even though the whole process to get another 60 days was easy, just cross the border and come back, I had no desire to repeat this trip.
At the end of last year I went back to Almaty via the remote border crossing at Kegen. It was a awesome trip and decided this time it was best to use this border crossing to get another 60 days in my passport.
Having spent some time researching on how to get to places of interest around Karakol without having to take a taxi, I found an alternative way to the border, the way cyclists usually go. Via Sovetskoye and the Kyzyl Kiya Pass. As shown on this old Soviet map.
I wasn't sure it was possible complete the round trip in a day. The marshrutkha to Sovetskoye was scheduled to leave at 8.30am. I also would need to hike the remote Kizil Kiya Pass, a distance of 13km and then try and hitch the remaining kilometers to the border from San Tash. After the border formalities I'd turn around and take the normal route back to Karakol. 250km maximum.
The #331 marshrutkha did indead leave at 8.30, from the bazaar in Karakol, where the Ak-Cyy marshrutkhas go from! Fare is 70c to Sovetskoye and from there you start walking.
I took my sleeping bag just incase, my water purification drops, an extra water bottle and some snacks. The only other prep was to make sure my toe tails were clipped short and feet clean having worn nothing but flip flops for the last 2months.
After 3 years and 7 months on the road, I have become inclined to believe that everything will work out and if it didn't I approached it with a big WHATEVER.
A typical B road in Kyrgyzstan. Better for hiking on, despite worn out running shoes, than a regular tarmac road. No shade, intense sun.
You can see the pass climbing to the left!
The Kyzyl Kiya pass is like a series of false summits before leveling out then climbing slightly again. The top, as pictured above is hardly the most beautiful of passes but hey!
Gps N 42.719994, E 78.922727 2176m asl. Google map makes the whole pass 13km. I walked it in 2 hours 30 including a few stops and going up the pass from the south took 1 hour 50.
Above, the turn off to Karkara where the 'pass' ends and where I waited an hour for a ride to the border. Last September I waited here too. The police guy there, possibly the only helpful officer in the whole of Central Asia, secured me a ride with guys who seemed reluctant to help me without his assistance. A big Kudos to him.
The ride took me to the border turn-off and I walked for 20minutes before the first car came along and I duly stuck my thumb out and the guys obliged.
The border to Kazakhstan, I took this photo on the way back, and is zoomed in as I didn't want to piss off the guys any more than I had done.
So this is how the visa-run went: I asked the Kyrgyz officer if he could stamp me back in without going into Kazakhstan. He said 'niet. 5 minutes Kazakhstan' Oh well.
30 meters further is the Kazakh control. Endless questions. Where I am going, what am I doing, all asked in broken English and with the help of Google Translate. They told me I had to stay out for 24 hours. Merde! Then they seemed to say 'no problem'. I was frog marched to the customs hut. My bag scanned. The guys there said '24hours'. In my bad Russian I said 'today, back Karakol'. 'Money, Dollars, Euros' I said Niet and offered the small coins that I had taken from my pocket. I had no Dollars. They didn't push it. I went back to the immigration and the guy reluctantly stamped be back out.
Back at the Kyrgyz immigration booth, the guy had changed his mind. 5 mins waiting had become 4 hours. That would be 8pm. Almost dark and definitely no more transport. He told me this wasn't his problem, Then he said Dollars. 50 of them. I told them 'Nietto Dollars'. 'Ok wait til 8pm'. Merde! then he came out, asked me to open my bag, asked me if I had and weed and said. 'welcome to Kyrgyzstan'.
Oh how tiresome Central Asian border guards are.
I hiked for 60 minutes and the first car was a taxi. $50 to Typ. Pfffff. The second car, stopped. Kazakhs. A family. Initially they were't gonna help me. They stopped 10 meters on and reversed, and said for me to get in. A sweet family. Mum, Dad and 2 daughters, only the youngest of which spoke any English. They drove me all the way to Karakol and then gave me a bag of food. Sweet. What a nice end to a crazy day.
Summing up, I do NOT recommend doing a visa-run to Kegen. The border once, pretty quiet is fast becoming a place to cross between the two countries and the border guards are adapting to sticking out their hands for BIG baksheesh.
• 90 minutes in a marshrutkha
• 2hrs 30 hike
• 1hr wait
• 20 km ride to the border turn off
• 20minutes walk, 4km ride
• 1hour lost at the border
• 1 hour walk, then 2 hours non stop to Karakol.
• Total transport cost 80som.
Extra notes. This was a one day round trip, I left Karakol at 8.30am. I was at the border at 2.30pm. I left the border at 3.30pm and was back in town at 6.30pm.
If you are coming from Almaty, You can get marshrutkha from Almaty to Kegen, the last town on the Kazakh side and then you'll have to hitch to the border or flash some cash. From the border you will need to hitch. There is public transport BUT this goes from Karkara , the tiny Kyrgyz village 8km from the border crossing, to Karakol only in the morning, so you wont be in time for that. Always agree the costs with any car who picks you up before getting in!
Take water and snacks. It's very dry out in the burning sun!