13 September 2017
If you’ve spent even a few days in Kyrgyzstan, you’ve most likely already caught a glimpse of Jeti-Oguz. The Seven Bulls, protrusions of deep red rock rearing from the alpine forests, make up one of the country’s most beloved natural landmarks and evidently, few bus stops escaped being plastered with its signature image.
Just a short 40-minutes from Karakol, verdant countryside gives way to snow-capped mountains, and the chiselled, burnt red rock face that forms the namesake of the region appears as if from nowhere.
While this first glimpse of the bulls seems to be where many visitors put away their cameras, for us this was just the start of the area’s appeal.
Jeti-Oguz is a popular day trip from Karakol and if visiting with your own transport or as part of a tour, it’s fairly easy to tick off all the main sights in one day. But for those looking to kick back and enjoy yet another charmingly sleepy Kyrgyz village, with afternoons spent strolling through pretty valleys, picnicking on lush summer pastures and sampling locally-produced honey, then a multi-day visit is probably for you.
Whether you’re here for one day or five, these are the best things to do in Jeti-Oguz.
As such an iconic sight, how could gazing over the mighty bulls possibly not top this list.
To get the postcard-perfect shot of the vibrant red rock line, follow the dusty road that winds up the hillside behind the village. From the top, you’ll see rolling hills to one side, the eroding marbled canyon on the other and the impressive seven bulls to the front – so don’t forget your camera.
In late summer we found early morning was the best time to visit when the red mounds burned brightly in the dawn light. By late afternoon, the entire formation was plunged into shadow.
You can reach the top easily in less than 30 minutes, and if you’re up for some extra exploration, there are some small trails that zigzag the escarpment giving stunning views over the rolling hills. From this high vantage point you’ll also see some tiny trails leading directly up to the bulls across the village – something to bookmark if you fancy exploring the area further.
The broken heart, formed by a cleft at the back of the bulls, is another iconic sight in the area and, unsurprisingly, is the source of many tragic love stories.
Simply follow the main road for back out of town for about 20 minutes and remember to look back.
In summer you’ll pass by a number of bee keepers showing off their apiaries made of fading repurposed wood and selling pots of delicious, locally-produced honey by the roadside.
An easy hike from the village on a rocky track that zigzags the river leads to the very picturesque, Valley of Flowers.
Among the dewy green fields hugged by pine forests, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d strolled right into the Swiss countryside rather than a remote valley in Kyrgyzstan.
Only the collection of yurts and men on horseback shepherding their cattle give away that in fact, you’re still among the nomads of Central Asia.
The lush high-altitude pastures make for a perfect place to picnic – it’s a favourite activity among locals – just be sure to mind the cattle poo.
As the name suggests, in spring this area is rumoured to be blanketed with wildflowers, though even in late summer when blooms are replaced by simple shades of green, it’s an exceedingly lovely place to spend an afternoon.
The hike to the fifth bridge is 6km and can be reached in around 1.5 hours. The road continues a further 6km up the valley which we decided was a little far for a return day hike, but there is a fair amount of car traffic here so you may be able to hitch a ride, though some drivers may ask you to pay.
Many of the yurts set up in the valley offer accommodation and meals to visitors so ask around if you’re looking to spend the night.
Winding uphill from the Valley of Flowers, a narrow and dusty trail leads through alpine forests to the cool, shaded area beneath the Devechi Kosy waterfall.
You can reach the falls in less than an hour by foot, though many opt to go by horse.
The trail isn’t marked but once you’re on it, you can’t go wrong. Maps.me has the route listed if you have trouble finding the trailhead.
Our first impression of the Sanitorium, the ‘Jeti-Oguz Resort’, was that it was most likely an abandoned hospital or at the very least a little haunted. Certainly not a centre for wellness and relaxation.
Its crumbling facade and sterile treatment rooms make it look downright creepy and a quick peek at its hot springs did little to change our minds.
By all accounts though, it’s a perfectly pleasant place to visit with sprawling gardens, private rooms and decent remedial treatments.
We just couldn’t shake the feeling it was the kind of place you walk into never to be seen again. But hey, that’s just us.
For many, that’s probably entirely its appeal.
A trip to the hot springs here will set you back 100 som ($1.50) for 15 minutes, while basic doubles with private bathroom rooms cost 740 som ($10.80) per person.
Possibly the most popular trek in all of Kyrgyzstan, the hike from the Karakol Valley to Ala-Kol and Altyn Arashan, can be extended by a day or two by starting (or ending) in Jeti-Oguz.
If you just can’t get enough of Kyrgyzstan’s stunning mountain scenery, this is a great little add on that sees far less foot traffic than the usual 3-day trail.
Not travelling with your own camping gear? Check out this post about where to rent equipment in Karakol.
Though there is a marshrutka to Jeti-Oguz (#355) that leaves from the Ak-Tilek Market in Karakol sometime around 9:30 or 10, its departure times were a little vague and we found taking a shared taxi to be the easier option.
A taxi should cost, at most, 150 som ($2.20) per person, though some drivers may start the bargaining as high at 350 som.
Be sure to insist that you are paying to go all the way to Jeti-Oguz Kurort, the village beside the seven bulls, not Jeti-Oguz town, which is some 12km away. Many taxis will only have passengers heading to Jeti-Oguz town so you may be told to change cars here. In this case, your first driver should pay the second.
To leave Jeti-Oguz, marshrutka 355 heads to Karakol at 8:30 via the centre of town before terminating at the big bazaar. The journey takes around 1 hour and costs 100 som ($1.50).
Otherwise, you’ll almost always find a car waiting near the bridge to take passengers back to Karakol.
Nestled right up against the bulls, Emir’s Guesthouse undoubtedly has the best location in town. Waking to see the morning light trickling down the craggy red rocks from the huge bedroom windows is not a sight you’ll forget in a hurry. There is also a guest kitchen available.
Private rooms cost 1,230 som ($18) with an optional breakfast for 200 som ($2.90). To check availability or make a reservation, check here.
Other options include the Kok Jaiyk Guesthouse which is a few doors before reaching the bridge and likely where your taxi will drop you off. Private rooms cost around 650 som ($9.50) or 800 som ($11.60) with breakfast. You can also stay in the garden yurt for just 400 som ($5.80) per person.
Then, there’s the Sanitorium.
Jeti-Oguz Kurort is a tiny village and as far as eating out goes, it’s pretty slim pickings.
You’ll find a hot meal and some chai at the large shop, about three doors down from the bridge, for around 130 som ($1.90), but what you get all depends on what is left.
There are also a couple of yurts around town with posters of the most popular Kyrgyz dishes, but every time we tried to pop by we were told they were closed.
There are also two small shops in town selling all the basics, but if you’re planning on spending a few days here, you’ll be better off stocking up in Karakol before you arrive and catering for yourself.
** Please note that this post includes affiliate links and any purchases made through these links will earn us a small commission at no extra cost to you. **