Karakol is a lovely town on the eastern shore of Lake Issyk-Köl, evidently inhabited mainly by ethnic Russians. I only spent one full day there, as I had in mind to hike in the surrounding Tian Shan mountains. Just four hours up a dusty path near Karakol, one reaches a lovely village called Altyn Arashan (Golden Springs), where the handful of inhabitants manage some wonderful hot springs.
My hiking partners and I were fortunate that these hot springs are only accessible on foot, horseback or 4×4, as they remain little visited and consequently very cheap. For a mere 2€ I could spend all day in one of the baths. No doubt further development will bring more tourism here, and I expect Altyn Arashan to change immensely in coming years.
Because I wanted to see local colour and save a few euro, I foolishly chose to sleep in a yurt instead of in one of the guesthouses for climbers. It was unheated, temperatures dropped to near-freezing that night, and all I had was a thin summer sleeping bag. I was quite miserable, but the beautiful views once the fog lifted in the morning returned an idyllic atmosphere to Altyn Arashan.