Kow Ata is located in Turkmenistan, roughly 90km, or a 1 and a half hour drive, from the capital of Ashgabat.
Kow Ata is the largest underground lake in all of Central Asia, as well as the home of the largest colony of bats in Central Asia, which you’ll soon realise when you notice the bat droppings floating around in the water.
The lake is 55 metres deep and you’ll need to take a steep staircase to get down to it, 276 steps in total. The entire path and stairs are lit (except of course for when the power goes out), and there are changing cubicles near the bottom.
The swimming lake is also partially lit, usually with a rope part of the way across it saying do not swim past this, which very few locals seem to pay any attention to. If you are brave enough you can swim through the pitch black to the far end of the lake, which is roughly 80 metres.
The waters supposedly contain dozens of healing natural chemicals and are a very warm 36 degrees all year round.
Reasons to Visit
Who doesn’t love a good cave? Likewise, most people love swimming in hot springs. Well these two combine perfectly at Kow Ata.
Most importantly it’s one of the few chances you’ll get in Turkmenistan to see locals relaxing, and you’ll probably even have an opportunity to interact with them. Kow Ata is definitely a popular destination not just for those who live nearby, but also for day trippers from Ashgabat.
Some people love the smell of sulphuric mineral waters, while others say it smells like rotten eggs or pee, if you’re one of the former then this is the place for you.
Eating and Drinking
There are numerous small cafes surrounding the main carpark at the entrance to the underground lake. They all sell roughly the same products which are shashliks (meat kebabs). Here you’ll find chicken, beef, lamb and quail, and usually for around USD$1 per stick. The cafes also sell water, soft drinks (Coke, Fanta, Sprite) as well as local beers and vodkas. You can also buy grilled vegetables which include tomatoes, eggplants (aubergine), zucchini (courgette) and onion as well as basic salads which usually comprise of tomato, cucumber and onion – a classic Central Asian salad for anyone who has been to the region before.
What to take
Normally you would say bathers, but many Turkmen don’t own bathers and instead just swim in their underpants, jeans, shirt or dress. So if you want to feel like a local, then you don’t even need to bother about bathers. Make sure you take clothes that are easy to change in and out of as the changing cubicles don’t have anywhere dry to put your stuff. Make sure you take a towel and your own toilet paper.
There is an entrance fee for Kow Ata, it is roughly USD$15 to $20 depending on the exchange rate for foreigners travelling Independently. If you book your entrance fee through a travel agent, then its 40 manat, which is about USD$1.50.
If you’re on a tour, then hopefully your itinerary takes you there. If you happen to be travelling independently then you’ll either need to catch a bus or taxi there. There is no direct public transport, however there is a bus stop at the turn off to the underground lake. From the main Ashgabat – Balkanabat Road, it is then 7km up to the lake, which you’ll then need to hitchhike with someone driving the route.
Kow Ata is a feature on any SAIGA tour of Turkmenistan , so if you'd like to check it out, come join us!