The border crossing at Kegen offers the traveller a more relaxed alternative when travelling between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Kegen is just over 100km from Karakol and almost 300km from Almaty.
The Border Crossing at Kegen will be open May 1 2018
I lived in Karakol in the summers of 2016 and 2017. I spent my time off finding ways to get around using cheap public transport.
In 2016 I travelled from Karakol to Almaty via Kegen and in 2017 I went to Kegen to get another 60 days in my passport.
Getting to Kegen from Karakol is not as bad as you will be lead to believe. You just need a bit of time. But if you want to take a taxi you can. Destination Karakol can organise one for you. In 2017 they were the cheapest by far. Figure on paying 3500 to 4000som. But this is the price to the border at Kegen. Taxi drivers will not take you to Almaty or even to Kegen Town which is 25km inside Kazahstan.
Any reference to a 'shared-taxi' below is not the same thing as getting an agency to organise you one. 'Shared-Taxis' are local drivers who are going that way and are looking to share the cost of the journey and also helping other locals when there are no marshrutkhas. The fare will be cheap.
Photo of an old Soviet map so you can get your bearings:
So these are your options for getting to the border crossing at Kegen, cheaply:
Marshrutkha to Typ, then hitchhike/shared taxi to any place along the route and finally to Kegen.
This is how I got there my first time I used the Kegen border crossing.
From Karakol's main Avtovokzal, take a marshrutkha to Typ. 30km. Fare is about 50som. Once there, shared-taxis will search you out and if no luck, walk the 700m down the road to the turn-off and wait. Any shared-taxi fare will depend on how far they are going but most aren't going very far. Expect to be asked for from as little as 20som to 300som. If they start quoting USD just smile politely.
I paid 50som to Typ, then 50som to a small village a long the way, then 300som to a place in the middle of no-where and then a free ride to the border, after a quite a bit of walking.
Marshrutkha all the way to Karkara, last village in Kyrgyzstan, 6km from the border.
If you tell anyone about this method, they will never believe you. They will say such a marshrutkha does not exist. So here is my photo of the said marshrutkha that goes to Karkara, the last village in Kyrgyzstan. Karkara is 2km beyond the road that goes to the border crossing.
The #211 to Karkara departs from the eastern side of Karakol's main bazaar GPS: N 42.4943516, E 78.3847016. The fare is about 200som. They gonna charge more for any massive backpacks. [This marshrutkha travels from Karkara in the morning at around 8 and goes back in the afternoon. So if coming from Almaty there is no chance to get this, the only 1 service of the day].
Be at the dusty parking lot at around 1pm. It leaves around 2pm but in any case will leave anyway by 2.30 as the driver wants to get home. The drawback of this method is that you won't get to the turn off until around 4:30pm and then it's a 1 hour walk to the border And you are still 279km from Almaty. More on getting to and from the border to Almaty below.
Marshrutkha to Sovetskoye then walking and hitchhiking up and over the Kizil Kiya Pass and further to Kegen:
This method is the way cyclists normally go. For a backpacker it's not the best way to get to Kegen but offers a nice alternative. It involves a lot of walking.
The #331 to Shakta Jargalan departs from the south side of Karakol's main bazaar on the opposite side of the road from where the #350 to Ak Syy / Altyn Arashan leaves from.
The timings are 08:30, 13:30 and 17:30 +/-. Fare to Sovetskoye where you need to get out is 80som and the ride takes about 2 hours.
Then comes the fun bit:
It's 13km up and over the Kizil Kiya Pass. It's not very high but for cyclists, the road is crap and for hitchhikers traffic is non existant.
Then you will be at San Tash, the road junction/police check point where you best wait for your next ride.
Details for Kegen to Almaty and vice versa:
As mentioned before, its 279km from the border at Kegen to Almaty.
So, once you are through immigration, it is 25km to the first big town in Kazakzstan, Kegen. Border guards will call you a friend of theirs and for about 10USD you have yourself a ride. The Kazakhs are a lot more amiable than the Kyrgyz so when hitchhiking, look for Kazakh plated cars. I got a free ride from before the border all the way to Almaty, riding in AC leather seated comfort with a guy who had studied about 1 hour from my home town. As always, agree on any fare that is required before getting in.
Any marshrutkhas from the Kazakh town of Kegen will generally leave early morning, so having gotten there late, you must hitchhike (it's a long way of nothing and scorching in Summer, freezing in Winter) or take a shared-taxi. The fare is 2000Tenge per person. (Marshrutkha fare is 1500Tenge). Shared-taxi drivers doing the run to Almaty like to stop a few kilometers before town and ask for more money to be taken into town. Call their bluff and get out and start walking. Pre load Google maps first!
Coming the other way, marshrutkhas and shared-taxis depart from the Sayakhat Bus Station which is near Almaty 2 Train Station. Go early to avoid being delayed.
This border is NOT open 24hr. 8am til 8pm ONLY!
If you are travelling from Karakol to Almaty or vice versa or just going to the border to get another 60 days, enjoy the ride!
Visa Policy of Kyrgyzstan
61 nations can visit Kyrgyzstan without a visa. This covers most backpacker nationalities. Always check before you go for the latest as things change.
A comprehensive guide to visas for Kyrgyzstan and much much more, can be found on caravanistan.com.
Registration is not required though they briefly introduced it 2 years ago but this policy was withdrawn fairly quickly.
Visa Policy of Kazakhstan
62 nations can visit Kazakhstan without a visa. 43 of them are under the 'visa-free program'. Always check before you go for the latest as things change.
Here's the wikipedia page for quick reference.
Registration is not necessary for those listed under the 'visa-free program' but Kazakh police are as corrupt as hell and will like you to pay a bribe for not having registered. It was always that 2 stamps on your immigration card meant you had been registered. I had two stamps and I got registered at the OVIR but others were told that they had been registered and no further need. This was on my first time there in 2015. If you are staying more than 5 days, to avoid being busted, go to the OVIR office. Get them to give you a prepared letter which states that you have visited the OVIR office and that registration is not needed. The address is Karasai Batyr St 109 but the entrance is between 61 and 63 Baytursynov Street. The blue building set back from the road.
Thanks to Ethno Café Dastorkon in Karakol.