The flat, busy, agricultural land surrounding Bishkek and Talas in the north is a foretaste of Kazakhstan’s endless steppe. But you do not have to go far to get out of the city and into the mountains.
Leafy and laid-back, Bishkek has retained a provincial feel, despite its status as Kyrgyzstan’s capital. Bishkek is not the reason anyone comes to Kyrgyzstan; you come for the mountains, the nomadic heritage. But many under-30’s take a shine to the city. With lots of young people both foreign and local, as well as a low cost of living, Bishkek, like Karakol, is a good place to unwind from a tense trip in the mountains.
Ala-Archa national park, a mere 30 km from Bishkek, is the first port of call for those looking to get out of the city. Ala-Archa has some high trekking peaks, but is in the end limited if you are not a climber. For longer trekking tours, you need to head to the Issyk-Kul region east, Kyrgyzstan’s central massifs, or the Alay range in the south.
Like the other valleys south of Bishkek (Alamedin, Issyk-Ata,…) it’s a good place to get away from the boredom of the city for 2 to 3 days. Burana Tower is a lonely minaret. It is the only thing left standing from the empire of the Karakhanids, who ruled 1000 years ago.
Talas province sees few foreigners. Really, visiting Talas only makes sense to the few travelers that want to bypass Almaty as their entry in Kazakhstan, or for those looking for a really unexplored, DIY part of the Tien Shan. No foreigners, just yurts.
If you do straggle this way, you can also find reminders of different stages in Kyrgyzstan’s history: petroglyphs, Silk Road archaeology and the Manas mausoleum. The town of Talas was also the scene of demonstrations that started the 2010 revolution, tales of which still abound.
- Southern Kazakhstan: tulips and Sufi mausoleums.
- Almaty region: Kazakhstan’s most pleasant city, surrounded with a sample of the nation’s landscapes: deserts, canyons, steppe and mountains.
- Issyk-Kul region: Issyk-Kul and the mountains surrounding it have everything you need for a great outdoor holiday with a cultural touch.
- 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.
- The Center: A huge mountainous area. Song Kul is the star attraction. Beyond, much more mountains, lakes, yurts and jailoos.