Central Kyrgyzstan is determined by dramatic vistas of mountains and high lakes. Sparsely populated, it is a dream for anyone who loves to feel close to nature.
Getting there is another matter. There is very little public transport available, so you need to come under your own steam, or organise private transport.
Center: Kochkor, Song Kul, Suusamyr & Kazarman
Kochkor, a market town of 10 000 souls, is the gateway to Song Kul. You can also visit other lakes and trekking routes surrounding the town. It has an active tourism scene with homestays and competing companies – you can organise a trip quickly here in summer.
Song Kul is Kyrgyzstan’s biggest tourist attraction. Camps of up to 10 yurts are dotted around the lake, leaving plenty of space in between for tourists to take in the majestic landscape.
From Song Kul, you can cross through to the beautiful Suusamyr valley, great for hiking as well as skiing. You can also head south across a rough track to Kazarman, a mining town that guards the entry to the little-visited petroglyphs at Saimaluu-Tash.
East: Naryn and around
Naryn is a town to get away from as quick as you can, but many end up hanging around longer than planned to organise themselves. Tash Rabat is an old caravanserai. It’s nothing extraordinary, but the setting is nice (though even colder than Song Kol). Continue from here along the restricted Torugart Pass, and you will come to Urumqi.
The mountains beyond see few explorers. Only the savage Ak-Sai valley near the border with China sees some intrepid climbers and adventurers, as well as weekenders going up to Köl-Suu lake.
The Eki Naryn valley is a wonderful, off-the-beaten-track alternative to reach Issyk-Kul across the Tosor pass. The road to Jalal-Abad over Kazarman, winding across the mountainsides of central Kyrgyzstan, is another very beautiful ride that sees very little traffic.
West: Toktogul, Sary-Chelek & Besh Aral
Relaxed Toktogul is not a town anyone has ever raved about. However, its central location across from the pretty Toktogul lake makes it a good stop-over from Bishkek on the way to Arslanbob or Osh. If you are willing to make a detour, you can drive, hike or horse-ride to pristine Sary-Chelek lake.
Further east lies the Besh Aral national park. It looks really nice from the pictures: very few people make it this far.
- Issyk-Kul region: Issyk-Kul and the mountains surrounding it have everything you need for a great outdoor holiday with a cultural touch.
- The North: Bishkek and the mountains around. No one goes to Talas (yet).
- The South: Osh is the second capital and the gateway to China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Arslanbob is a highlight. Beyond, there’s more stunning mountain scenery.