Near the eastern tip of Issyk Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan, about 150 kilometres (93 mi) from the Kyrgyzstan-China border and 380 kilometres (240 mi) from the capital Bishkek. It is the administrative capital of Issyk Kul Province. To the north, on highway A363, is Tyup and to the southwest Jeti-Ögüz resort.
Karakol is one of Kyrgyzstan's major tourist destinations, serving as a good starting point for the excellent hiking, trekking, skiing and mountaineering in the high central Tian Shan to the south and east.
The town itself boasts a number of places that would be of interest to tourists, such as a very pretty wooden mosque built by Chinese artisans for the local Dungans between 1907 and 1910 entirely without metal nails and a similarly appealing wooden Russian Orthodox church, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, completed in 1895, used as an officer's club during Soviet times, but now restored and in use again. The Regional Museum, following some sponsorship from the nearby Canadian gold mining concern, has exhibits on the Issyk Kul Lake petroglyphs, Scythian bronze artifacts, and a short history of the geology and mineral exploitation in the region. There also is a small section of Russian colonial "gingerbread" style residential buildings. The Sunday livestock market is a good place to see remnants of the traditional nomadic rural life.
Przhevalsky's grave, a memorial park and a small museum dedicated to his and other Russian explorations in Central Asia are some 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) north of Karakol at Pristan Przhevalsky, overlooking the Mikhailovka inlet of Issyk Kul Lake where the former Soviet torpedo testing facilities were located. Facilities themselves are still a closed, military area.
Karakol is famous among skiers and snowboarders from former USSR for its ski resort. Situated just 20 minutes from the town, the Karakol Ski Base provides services significantly better than those available at Shymbulak, a resort outside Almaty, and has cheaper prices. Unlike Shymbulak resort, the riding at Karakol includes forest areas as well as cleared trails.