Lake Issyk-Kul: We Came, We Saw, We Had Food Poisoning

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Lake Issyk-Kul is a special body of water in the Northeast of Kyrgyzstan. Set between the two towering Ala-Too mountain ranges (which form the northern part of the Tian Shan mountains), this stunning lake is the second largest alpine lake in the world! Astonishingly, due to thermal activity and the depth of the lake, it never freezes.

lake issyk kol
Beautiful Lake Issyk-Kol with the Tian Shan Mountain Range in the distance

We’ve seen some beautiful lakes during our travels, and on this trip alone, we’ve managed to add many more to our list of most beautiful lakes in the world. Lake Baikal in Russia was stunning, Tsagaan Nuur in Mongolia was a great place to relax, Big Almaty Lake in Kazakhstan was a breath of fresh air, and now we were heading to the holiday hot-spot for the Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs and Russians, Cholpon-Ata.

Lucky for us, we would be arriving in the shoulder season, so there wouldn’t be many tourists there at all.

cholpon ata
Hardly any tourists at Cholpon-Ata! Beach to ourselves

We took a 4 hour marshutka (mini-bus) ride from Bishkek to the lakeside town of Cholpon-Ata. During hour 2 of the bus ride, my stomach started to cramp up…and I mean really cramp. Sharp pains shot through my stomach for about 10 minutes straight before easing off, only to return about 10 minutes later. This horrible cycle felt all too familiar – I had food poisoning!

bus from bishkek to cholpon ata
Taking a break on the ride from Bishkek to Cholpon-Ata

Anyone who has had food poisoning before knows that the last place you want to be is on a bus. I knew I would be erupting at any moment, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. After an excruciating bus ride, we arrived in Cholpon-Ata. We made a bee-line for the first guesthouse we saw and asked to use the toilet. The Russian woman replied “nyet!” Even though I was keeled over in desperate need of one, she wouldn’t let me use it.

Moving on, Nick sat me down next to the bags on the side of the road so he could run off and try to find our elusive guesthouse we had booked. Two minutes later I became frantic, searching and scanning for any sight of something I could use to relieve myself in. It looked like the only option was the bushes. Oh God, I thought, this can’t be happening. Luckily like a beam of white light, a gate opened up right across from me and a woman stood there, I yelled “Toilet!!” with such urgency that she knew I wasn’t messing around. She immediately waved me in and I was so glad, I couldn’t have waited a second later.

If Nick came back from finding our guesthouse and I told him that I shit in the bushes, I’d never hear the end of it!

Our guesthouse in Cholpon-Ata was wonderful. We had a double room at Galina’s Guesthouse (formerly called Angelina’s Guesthouse) with a private bathroom for $13/night. The courtyard was surrounded with leafy apple, plum and apricot trees and the gardens were stocked with bright flowers.

cholpon ata guesthouse
Enjoying the sunshine at our guesthouse

I attempted to wander around the town and check out the beach with Nick, but the cramping was so bad that anything could happen at any minute, so I turned back to the guesthouse while he went out to explore.

He came back with photos of a clear-as-can-be lake, that looked like an ocean, with towering mountains as a backdrop. He told of jet-skis, parasailing, people in bikinis and speedos, beers on the beach and sunshine…which sounds more like Russia than Central Asia!

I was jealous of him being able to see all of that while I was dying a slow death in bed. As it would turn out, Nick had stomach issues later that night. The next day I was better and he was bed-ridden! So in the end, we each went to the beach, swam in the crystal clear waters and ate some local food…separately.

guesthouse cholpon ata
Our bed at Galina’s Guesthouse, we spent a lot of time here…

After 2 nights, we were feeling 100% again and decided to move further east along the lake to the city of Karakol. It was time to trade in our bathing suits for our trekking gear!


cholpon ata to balykchy
Our marshutka from Cholpon-Ata to Balykchy

Have you ever had food poisoning while on the road?! Tell us about it….

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Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

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12 thoughts on “Lake Issyk-Kul: We Came, We Saw, We Had Food Poisoning”

  1. I’ve never had food poisoning on the road, but Jim has. Being sick while traveling is the worst, but unavoidable. Glad it was all over quick and you were able to find a great guesthouse!

  2. That really sucks! I always seem to get food poisoning at the most inopportune times, like just before a flight or the latest bout in Croatia on a deserted island where I did have to resort to bushes. 🙁 Glad to hear you at least both were well enough at some point to explore. Looks gorgeous!

  3. Ugh, food poisioning! You could win a $5 million jackpot lottery, be resting lazily in your new penthouse apartment and getting food poisoning would still be a terrible ordeal. Having it on a bus? I’m so sorry for you!

    I had food poisoning on one trip – oddly enough it was in Las Vegas. We got it on our first night of my first trip there. At least we had many bathrooms at our disposal (no pun intended!).

    I’m glad you are both feeling better.

  4. That seems to be exactly how it works for us too; one gets ill first, then the other gets the same thing a few days later. Of course this sucks because it means we can’t do any of the nice things we want to do together (Speedo sightings, you say?), but at least it means the one who isn’t ill can capably look after the one who is. Sigh.

  5. I got food poisoning on the flight from Dehli to Katmandu in 1988.. I made it to the guest house and I was so bad off the guest house took me to hospital. I initially refused..After some ivs and meds, I insisted on leaving and not staying in the hospital.. I recovered..after days in bed..

  6. I did say Speedo sightings….spark your interest? haha
    You’re right though, luckily we’ve never both had food poisoning or been ill at the same time (weird, actually), but it means that we’re able to take care of one another…which is oh so important when you’re feeling like you’re dying a slow death!


  7. Urghhh, the tales of food poisoning coming out of India are some of the worst! Nick was really sick there as well one time. Luckily you had a guesthouse that took care of you. I can’t say I blame you for not wanting to stay in the hospital in Nepal, I wouldn’t have either…

  8. Hi! In terms of sharing food poisoning experiences, I had an absolutely terrible on in Japan, right before a hiking trip on the beautiful island of Yakushima, a place that looked like straight of Jurrasic Park. And I have to admit in shame that I had to relieve myself in the bushes, as there are no toilets in the forest on a 5 mile hike. It was grim.

    I’m now in Almaty and I’m planning to visit Cholpon-Ata in a few days (that’s how I run into your blog). I was really encouraged with the description of Galina’s Guesthouse, but can’t find any details of it online. Could you point me in the right direction? Do you think the place still exists?

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