Kyrgyzstan Travel and Tourism

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All countries in Central Asia have a lot of natural capital, but none manage to present it so traveler-friendly as Kyrgyzstan. Travel in Kazakhstan takes too long, Tajikistan‘s too rough, Uzbekistan too expensive. But Kyrgyzstan?

Just perfect.

The main Kyrgyzstan tourism highlights are accessible and inexpensive, it’s easy to get away from the few places where tourists congegrate and authentic experiences of nomad life, post-soviet life and animal life can be had at every step. Ecotourism projects are running smoothly: hiking, horse riding and yurtstays can be arranged easily with the benefits going to those who need it the most.

With visa-free travel now available for citizens of most wealthy countries, and better flight connections with Europe and the Far East, Kyrgyzstan is poised to become the new darling of the outdoor community.

If they could just stop having revolutions.

North and East Kyrgyzstan Tourism

For most people coming to Kyrgyzstan, travel starts in Bishkek, the relaxed capital which surprises with its many parks and a cool, young vibe thanks to its massive student population. 30km from Bishkek, Ala-Archa canyon is a haven for hikers and climbers.

Alamedin canyon is equally beautiful but much less visited. Spas in Kyrgyzstan often exude a stuck-in-1978-feeling, and the ones at Alamedin and Issyk-Ata are no different. Further east, the Burana tower is a nice stopover on the way to the Chong-Kemin valley, which offers great possibilities for rafting, hiking and botanical explorations.

Next stop is the huge Issyk-Kul lake. The northern side has been developed for mass tourism from Kazakhstan, especially around Cholpon-Ata, but behind the shore there are petroglyphs and (you guessed it) good hiking and horse riding in places like the Ak-Suu valley and around Grigorievka.On the southern side of Issyk-Kul, there is a lot of underexplored terrain around Bokonbaeva.

Most foreigners end up on the western side in Karakol. Beautifully located and surprisingly interesting in terms of history and culture, it’s the perfect base for hiking (this is becoming a theme) in summer and skiing in winter.

There is a lot of trekking around Karakol: the Altyn Arasan walk dotted with hot springs is loved by beginners and veterans, while hardcore trekkers will want to attempt the high and remote reaches of the Inylchek glacier and Merzbacher lake.

Don’t miss the magnificent landscape of Jeti Oghuz if you are there, and for weird-sanatorium lovers, Tamga is the place to be. The Karkara valley is a scenic route to head into Kazakhstan through the backdoor from Karakol.

Further south, Kochkor and Naryn are centers for Kyrgyz shyrdak and felt production, and form convenient bases to strike out to the alpine Song Kol lake, the Tash Rabat caravanserai and further off across the Torugart pass to Kashgar or westward to Jalalabad across the Kazarmam pass, where lay the magical stones of Saimaloo Tash.

South and West Kyrgyzstan Tourism

While the south of Kyrgyzstan gets its share of visitors coming or going to Uzbekistan, the west sees very little people. Too bad, since the nature here is stunning too. Especially Sary-Chelek lake is worth a visit. Other points of interest in the west: Kol Tor lakes, Char valley and Suusamyr valley.

Further south, Arslanbob is a crowd favourite. Other little lovely towns in the area are Ortuk and Ak-Terek. Jalal-Abad offers another weird spa experience, while Ozgen bathes in history.

Osh is the second-biggest city in Kyrgyzstan, capital of the south and continually simmering from inter-ethnic tensions. The road to Osh from Bishkek is a major attraction in itself. The Uzbek part of the Fergana Valley is just over the border, while further east the town of Sary Tash connects Osh with Kashgar via Irkeshtam and Murgab via the Pamir Highway.

Special Interest Tourism

There are some reasons to specifically travel to Kyrgyzstan for. Hiking and horse riding – obviously. Its a pioneer skiing destination, but especially heli-skiing is quite unique here. Kayaking is pretty pioneering as well, but therefore all the more rewarding.

Botanical tourism and wildlife and birdwatching tours are another niche, as is health tourism (mostly Russians and Kazakhs though).

Finally, climbing attracts more adventurers than anything else. Main destinations: Pik Lenin, Pik Pobedy, Khan Tengri and Ala-Archa.

14 Comments

  1. Hi,

    We are planning a trip from the Netherlands to Middle Asia. The route as we planned it will be through Europe, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, boat to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and back through Turkey. At some point, when driving from Bishkek to Osh, the route seems to cross Uzbekistan. Or maybe it goes just along the border, i’m not sure.. Do i need to get an Uzbek visa for this part or is there an other way around it? Osh would be the starting point from where we’d like to drive the Pamir highway, somewhere around May or June, would that be the right time of year?
    Thank you for any thought and suggestion, and what a great website!

    regards,

    Jasper and Mette

    • Hi Jasper, no, the road does not pass Uzbekistan, it goes around. June is a good time to visit the Pamir Highway. May is also not bad, but not ideal – still very chilly up high.

  2. Hello,

    Is it possible to visit the Fergana Valley in March from Bishkek? I’ve heard that it has really temperate weather there. Are the Uzbek enclaves able to be visited at any time? Are they dangerous?

    • Hi Kurt, yes this is possible, it will not be very cold. I am writing when-to-go articles for different places as we speak. Kyrgyzstan is already online, not completely finished yet, but you can have a look. http://caravanistan.com/when-to-go/kyrgyzstan/ Check the Osh chart, the same weather applies in the Uzbek part of Ferghana Valley.

      The Uzbek enclaves are to be avoided, IMO. Locals have been killed on several occasions this year, and the visa and border situation is very confused. Unless you have a good reason to go, there is nothing noteworthy to see there.

  3. Hi my partner and I are arriving in Tashkent on 11 August 2014 and leaving Tashkent on 16 August 2014. In between this time I would like to visit the Pamir Mountains. Is it possible to drive from Tashkent to the Pamir Highway and back in 6 days? How much would it cost for a 4×4 and driver for this trip? Do you have any other suggestions for a 6 day trips around Tajikistan from Tashkent or to Kyrgyzstan?

    • Not enough time. Other suggestions: Fann mountains or mountains in Southern Kyrgyzstan. Sorry for the Brief answer, this is too big a question to answer. Am hoping to write some articles to guide people, perhaps next year.

  4. Hi!
    This country looks very promising to explore and I’ve heard of using highly recommended Community based travel in Kyrgyzstan. However there are a lot of testimonials suggesting the CBT was awfully organized. Even more extreme a member in the lonely planet forum said it was 3rd world service with 1st world price!
    Do you have any better suggestion for traveller who wants to explore the landscape and get closer to the locals? Thanks!

    • I replied you by e-mail.

      • We would also be very interested to know what you think of CBT as we are looking at a trip from Kashgar to Bishkek in July.

        • It’s quite good in terms of eco-ness, from where I am standing. Prices tend to be a bit higher than other operators, who offer very similar things with equal regard to locals and nature, but are less known. Here is a bit more on eco-tourism http://caravanistan.com/ecotourism/kyrgyzstan/

    • I’ve done many trips and homestays with CBT and always really enjoyed the experience (but it is basic in comparison to e.g. Thailand). You only pay around $4.50-$8.00 per night (or $10 for a yurt) and with all meals included it might cost around $10/day with $4 extra for horse riding. However you can cut costs by taking your own tent and opt for the no meat option for meals. You do get a genuine experience but with better food (CBT hosts are trained to provide vegetables, not just meat and bread). Ultimately getting closer to locals depends on your language skills – if they’re good, just roam the jailoo, find a wagonchik and ask if you can stay the night in exchange for a kilo of flour and sugar.:)

  5. Very interesting website. I really enjoyed all the information given here to the travellers. Kyrgyzstan is such a nice country to visit.

    • Thank you! Nice to hear that you find it useful.

  6. Many thanks for info, this morning my family and I are heading to Kyrgyzstan from Taskent.

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