- Almaty: 5 hr drive by minivan, flights (1hr) also available.
- Osh (12 hr)/ Kashgar via Irkeshtam (easy China border): only shared taxis or flights. More info.
- Karakol (5 hr) / Issyk Kul region: By minivan or shared taxi. Drivers take the faster, northern route if heading to Karakol. For destinations on the southern shore, ask for Bokonbaevo.
- Kochkor (4 hr) / Naryn (7hr): Only minivan or shared taxi.
- Dushanbe: Overland via Osh, or via airplane.
- Shymkent: By train (see train chapter) or by bus. By bus, take a taxi or marshrutka from the eastern bus station to the border. Once past the border, you can get on a big bus towards Shymkent.
- Tashkent: Via airplane. Overland 2 options: Osh – Andijan – Kokand, or take a marshrutka to Osh and get out at the border with Uchkurgan; continue towards Namangan – (Ferghana Valley cities) – Tashkent.
Manas is not a big, modern airport, but it is clean and functional. ATMs and currency exchange are available in the arrival hall, and little cafes and shops with tired food and staff are open 24/7 (overpriced, no credit card). Some slow wi-fi can be caught.
Luggage storage is available if you are venturing out for a day on a layover. If you plan to catch some sleep, you will rejoice over the seats without arm rest, and the laid-back security which keeps the place quiet and does not hassle you. Also, it’s warm in winter!
There is an information counter, open during office hours. If you are a business traveler, don’t expect much from the lounge.
When arriving, keep your baggage tag receipt with you as your receipt may be checked by airport security to make sure you have picked up the correct baggage.
Airport to the city center
Depending on the time of day, there are a number of options to reach the city center.
Cheapest is the minibus. Marshrutka 380 departs from outside the airport terminal and goes to central Bishkek (intersection Chuy ave/Jash Gvardiya Blvd), between 6.30am and 8-9pm. The fare is 50 som (0,5 euro).
There are many aggressive unofficial taxi drivers awaiting all incoming flights. We advise to ignore them, as they have been known to scam passengers, by working with a fellow “passenger” who stops the car between the airport and the city and extorts money from you to complete the journey.
Better is to pre-book with your hotel, or book at the taxi offices in the arrivals hall. Manas Taxi and Super Taxi come recommended, with Super Taxi giving a receipt. The normal rate charged by the major taxi companies to the city centre is 500-600 som (January 2015).
If you do decide to go for an unofficial taxi driver, catch one on the second floor (departures), where passengers are dropped off, and you can get a price below 500 som.
There are 2 main bus stations in Bishkek, plus an important taxi stand (see map for locations). The smaller Eastern Bus Station (vostochniy avtovakzal, crossroads of Jibek Joly – Osmonkula) is primarily the terminal for marshrutkas to various destinations within or just beyond the eastern suburbs, such as Kant, Tokmok, Kemin, Kegeti, Issyk Ata, or the Korday border crossing.
Long-distance regular bus and minibus services to all parts of the country, as well as to Almaty, Tashkent (runs until the border of Chernyavka, via Taraz and Shymkent in Kazakhstan) and Kashgar (via Osh – Irkeshtam pass), run from the newer Western Bus Station (zapadniy avtovakzal), at the crossroads of Jibek Joly and Kulieva.
For Osh, you can try the western bus station, but better is to for the bus stand south of Osh Bazaar to find marshrutkas and shared taxis going to Osh. Here you can also find minibuses to destinations west such as Sokuluk, Tash-Bulak, Kashka-Suu and Chong-Tash. Buses 160, 169 and 177 go several times a day to Kashka-Suu, close to the entry for Ala-Archa National Park.
Bishkek train station (Tel: 300 209) is a bit south of the city center at the crossroads of Erkindik Boulevard and Lineinaya (map). There are 3 trains from and to Bishkek.
Trains are definitely not the fastest way to get around, they are often more comfortable though, and tend to cost less than other forms of transport.
- Moscow – Bishkek train: This train transits Kazakhstan, but not Uzbekistan, as some sites suggest. It also doesn’t pass Almaty, but goes directly to Taraz – Shymkent – Arys – Kyzyl Orda and then up to Aqtobe – Orenburg – Samara to arrive at Moscow Kazanski station around 3 days (74 hours) later. For current prices and timetables, check with the ticket office. Timetable info on the website gives an indication.
- Bishkek – Balykchy (Issyk-kul) train: A very scenic train ride through a mountain pass that ends up at the western shore of Issyk-Kyl lake. It is slow, taking 5-6 hours, but it costs around 1$, around 10 times less than a marshrutka or taxi. It runs daily in summer, not at all in winter – check at the train station for current timetables. A lovely report from the ride can be found at Global Voices. The train station is outside of the town centre of Balykchy, from where you will still need to take a marshrutka or taxi to a more pleasant place along Issyk-Kul.
- Bishkek – Tashkent – Samarkand train: There is no direct train connection to Kyrgyzstan and Bishkek from Uzbekistan. Your only possibility is the Moscow – Bishkek service, which runs through Kazakhstan, where you can get off at Shymkent and then take another Tashkent-bound train or a bus or taxi to get to Uzbekistan (take a bus or taxi, it is much, much quicker). From Tashkent you can continue your journey to Samarkand, Bukhara, … If you do not want to cross Kazakhstan, you need to go south to Osh, cross at Uchkurgan, or fly to Tashkent.
Bishkek – Ekaterinburg and Bishkek – Novosibirsk are advertised by the rail company, but check if they are actually running.
Getting around in Bishkek
Bishkek is served by a dense network of speeding minibuses called marshrutkas. These roam town and stop at designated bus stops, but it is also possible to hail them in between (just wave your arms). A few bigger buses also drive around.
To find out which bus to take, ask a local or use bus.kg, a handy website and smartphone app in English. Prices are minimal. Payment happens on entry for marshrutkas (usually), on exit for bigger city buses.
Marshrutkas are often very crowded, and it will be hard to make out where exactly you are as you often have no decent window view. Long-term residents of Bishkek are experts at recognizing different kinds of pavement. A gps-enabled smartphone can work wonders. To get off, shout astanavitsa, pazhalusta (stop, please – stress is on the bold syllables).
The problem of crowded marshrutkas presents the traveler with another conundrum: who should get the seat? A complicated hierarchy exists in Kyrgyzstan; keep this flowchart at hand in case of need.
If you pick up a taxi off the street, bargain hard. Finally, don’t attempt to flag down non-taxi cars within city limits. There are enough taxis in Bishkek that regular cars aren’t looking for extra passengers and most rivers would probably just be confused. This is different from the rest of the country (including village-suburbs a few miles out of town) where any car is a potential taxi. But in the city, stick to regular cabs with meters, and try to arrange to call a cab ahead of time rather than picking one up off the street.
Bishkek is not exactly a bicycle friendly place, but cycle tourists are hardy creatures and the majority survives. For bike rental, try Gecaen. No word on the quality of these bikes, reports are welcome!