All countries in Central Asia have a lot of natural capital, but none manage to present it as well as Kyrgyzstan.
The main 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 it isn’t so already.
- Explore Kyrgyzstan’s stunning mountains on foot, on horseback or on skis
- Stay in a yurt, meet the locals and get to know their semi-nomadic ways
- Watch a game of kok boru or see eagle hunters at work
- Chill out at a beautiful mountain lake like Song Kol, Issyk-Kul or Sary-Chelek
- Have a bowl of kymis (fermented mare’s milk)
Those are 5 quintessential experiences you are likely to have in Kyrgyzstan. It’s just a sample, though. We explore some more ideas in our list of 46 great things to do in Kyrgyzstan.
It makes little sense to try and propose a standard itinerary for Kyrgyzstan; hiking and staying in a yurt can be done in any part of the country, so it really just depends on your preference with regards to comfort, accessibility, other tourists and the landscapes on offer.
Also note: people with their own bicycle, motorcycle, jeep, or those with a tour company driver, will find it much easier to get off the beaten track compared to backpackers relying on public transport and shared taxis.
The map above highlights the most common tourist routes across Kyrgyzstan. The blue routes are accessible by public transport, for the red routes you need to have your own wheels, or get a driver.
If you are looking to book a horse ride or a yurt stay on the spot, this can be done in each of the towns on the map, the main tourist nodes of Kyrgyzstan.
Song Kul (4) is a bit special. It’s not the place to book anything, as there is no signal on this high mountain lake, but besides its status as a major attraction, it can serve as a kind of roundabout to cross from east to west. Backpackers relying on public transport usually go from the east of the country to the western Osh (6) / Pamir-Alay (7) area via Bishkek (1). It’s a long way overland, so the Osh-Bishkek flight is a popular alternative.
More independent travelers can use the lonely red routes.
North and East Kyrgyzstan
Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan, its biggest city and main transport hub. It’s unlikely to be the main reason you wanted to visit Kyrgyzstan, but it can teach you a lot about Kyrgyzstan’s recent past and tumultuous present.
The Issyk-Kul region east of the capital is the next logical move in many itineraries. Here you can find what Kyrgyzstan is all about in a small, easy-to-access area. Alpine lakes and mountain peaks, white water fit for rafting. Broad jailoo pastures with shepherds, horses and yurts.
With 1 or 2 weeks time, there’s no need to look any further if you are looking for a trekking holiday with a cultural touch.
To cool down from all the hiking and horse riding, Issyk-Kul has beaches. Karakol and Kochkor are the 2 main gateway towns to the lakes and mountains beyond.
Between the plains of the north and south, it’s all mountains. There are no big population centers here, only small towns and villages, and shepherd yurts on the high meadows in summer.
In the east, the Naryn region has not seen the same level of interest among hikers as other parts of Kyrgyzstan. The central Kazarman area is also one you have all to yourself.
Song Kol Lake on the other hand, smack-bang in the middle of the country at an altitude over 3000 m, is one of Kyrgyzstan’s biggest tourist draws. It is a beautiful area with glamping possibilities for those who enjoy it. If you don’t like the yurt camps on the lake shore, you can explore the surrounding mountains. Just follow the sheep trails.
On the western side of the lake, Suusamyr’s lower altitude green hills are known to produce top-of-the-range meat and dairy products.
At the edge of the Ferghana Valley, Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital, has been playing an important role in travel itineraries since the days of Silk Road caravans. Placed centrally between China and Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway to the east, and valley towns like Andijan, Khujand, Ferghana and Kokand to the west, it’s difficult to miss.
As a busy bazaar town, Osh is a good place to prepare for the next leg of your journey. But it can also teach you a lot about the history of Central Asia, and Kyrgyzstan’s current social and political challenges.
Beyond Osh, the mountains beckon once more. The Pamir-Alay range south of Osh gives travelers a taste of Tajikistan’s Pamirs. You can stop over for a night to admire 7134 metre-high Peak Lenin on your way to Tajikistan, or take a tent and spend 3-5 days (there’s always room for more) on foot or on horseback in some of Kyrgyzstan’s highest and most beautiful mountain territory.
Heading north towards Bishkek, Arslanbob is a fixture on the tourist route, thanks to a splendid homestay network in a wonderful setting. Between Arslanbob and Bishkek, there are detours for the more persistent, like the quiet beauty of the Suusamyr region, the Talas area, homeland of national hero Manas or the national park surrounding Sary-Chelek lake.
Off the beaten track
First-ascent climbers, dedicated trekkers, independent kayakers, hard-nosed cyclists and long-haul horse riders: Kyrgyzstan is your oyster. If you’re not outdoorsy but would like to simply experience Kyrgyzstan away from the famous sights: you can find a homestay anywhere. You just have to arrive; before you know it, you have become part of village life.
A rail connection exists between Bishkek and Moscow, and with Tashkent in summer. Bishkek is the country’s flight hub. Osh also hosts international flights. Several local companies offer inexpensive flights between Osh and Bishkek.
For all other places: if you do not have your own means of transport, you will be dependent on minibuses (marshrutkas) and (shared) taxis to take you places within Kyrgyzstan. They leave when full. If you want more comfort or leave earlier, pay for the other seats.
As soon as winter falls over Kyrgyzstan, many places hidden behind high passes become very difficult to reach over land because of snow. The passage to Osh and the Irkeshtam and Torugart passes to China can get blocked because of heavy snowfall or avalanches. Snow is cleared quickly on these main roads, but take possible delays into account when planning a winter trip. Song Kol and the Naryn-Jalalabad road are difficult to access in winter.
Mudslides in spring are not a problem, unlike in Tajikistan. Between May and October all parts of the country are usually easily accessible.
Have a look first to see if you need a visa for Kyrgyzstan. It is a pretty safe country, all things considered, with traffic as the main danger. We discuss possible concerns for various types of people in detail on the safety in Central Asia page.
Health-wise, there are a few things you could worry about: diarrhea, smog, altitude sickness, tick-borne encephalitis and rabies.
Generally speaking, food in the region is unhealthy and of little variety, based primarily on meat, fat, pasta and dairy products. Few tourists become fans of the tastes of Central Asia. Unless you are a vegan, you should at least try kymys (fermented horse milk) and kurt (salty cheese balls) in Kyrgyzstan, though. We discuss your options as a picky eater.
Exchanging money and using ATMs is easy in Kyrgyzstan. Paying by card, less so. Buying a sim card and getting mobile internet is also not an issue at the moment, and internet is almost fully accessible without VPN. More details in our articles on money and banking and communications.
When to go
The best time to visit Kyrgyzstan is the winter season from December to March, and the short summer during July and August.
In winter, you can ski or go horse riding while staying in yurts looking out over snow-blanketed landscapes with not a tourist in sight. In summer, all passes are snow-free for hikers, tourist events are held, and yurts are set up by shepherds.
The shoulder season is not the best time to be in Kyrgyzstan.
In spring (April-June) the snow has disappeared from the ski slopes, but the high passes are still covered, severely limiting your trekking options. The winter ski yurts are gone but the shepherd yurts of summer only set up in July and August.
Autumn (September-November) is the same. The yurts have gone, and the snow has started covering the passes, but not the slopes.
This is the time to visit Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – the perfect weather to explore their deserts, steppes and cities. A more detailed seasonal breakdown can be found at When to visit Kyrgyzstan, and our Kyrgyzstan events calendar.
Budget and accommodation
Kyrgyzstan has very affordable travel services. Count on 2-3$ for a basic meal, 5-10$ for a hostel bed, 10-15$ for a yurtstay with half board, and a double room in a decent hotel starting at 25$.
Villages have homestays, mountains have yurtstays. Cities have hotels and hostels aplenty, as long as you are not looking for a luxury experience. We give some more tips for finding the right place in the accommodation chapter.
We go in depth on the budget question at the Kyrgyzstan travel budget page.
Find out more about Kyrgyzstan’s different regions.
- 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.
- The Center: A huge mountainous area. Song Kul is the star attraction. Beyond, much more mountains, lakes, yurts and jailoos.