There are so many possibilities for enjoying nature in Kyrgyzstan that I was a bit overwhelmed thinking of a few itineraries to recommend. The websites of tour operators as well as our own tours section showcase a lot of programs to get inspiration. I am focusing here on what is easy to do based on your starting point and mode of transport; what I think are ideal itineraries for the first-time independent traveler in Kyrgyzstan. The country has so many options though, you can mix and match to suit your particular wants and needs.
If you are a hiker, google up some pictures and routes for inspiration and have yourself dropped off at one of the areas marked with red polygons on the maps below. These represent some excellent and well-known trekking areas and routes; there are plenty of others if you care to dig deeper. Karakol is probably the best place to start if you are new here.
Kyrgyzstan on public transport
If you are flying into Bishkek with just a backpack, or planning to connect the neighbouring countries by public transport, some places will be difficult to get to. That’s of little consequence for first-time backpackers, though, there’s enough low-hanging fruit. From Bishkek, loop around Issyk-Kul, get transport to Song Kol and return to Bishkek. From there, get on the road to Osh. Best places in Kyrgyzstan are usually away from the towns and cities, on the passes and jailoos, so aim to spend most of your time there, independently or with an excursion.
Part of a bigger Silk Road trip
If you are going from Uzbekistan or Tajikistan to Kazakhstan or the other way around with your own transport: below are some superb routes. The blue route is a bit tougher with the Jalal-Abad – Naryn road that is in very bad state. The western green route takes in wonderful Arslanbob, Suusamyr plateau and then rejoins the other route on Song Kol.
Hard off-road for cyclists, bikers and 4WD
This is an itinerary for hardy cyclists and experienced motorbikers and 4×4 drivers with a lot of hard off-road bits. It visits many of the landscape highlights of Kyrgyzstan if you are just into driving. If you want to hike, just jump off into one of the many areas where the routes are plentiful and ready for the picking.
Flying in and out of Bishkek
If you want to get away from Bishkek but have little time on your hands and a little bit of money to pay for a driver, try one or a combination of the following: the Suusamyr plateau, Chong Kemin Valley and/or Song Kol. With more time, you can add a circumnavigation of Issyk-Kul to the itinerary. If you have even more time, add Tash Rabat, cross over along the Kazarman road and visit Osh and especially Arslanbob before heading back to Bishkek. This is a difficult plan if you are on public transport. In that case, see above.