While Central Asia has a lot of mountains, and thus, a lot of opportunities for rafting and kayaking, most mountain rivers remain the preserve of experienced whitewater enthusiasts. Streams are often too wild, steep and remote for inexperienced tourists.
But there are opportunities for beginners! And they are already a lot of fun.
If you are a team of serious kayakers looking to mount a self-sufficient expedition, Central Asia has a lot to offer: remote and extreme water, technical challenges and a pure nature experience. We recommend you have a look at the river guide of Kayaking.su, which discusses the rivers of the Altai, Tien Shan, Pamir and Pamir-Alay mountain ranges.
If you are instead looking to join an organised rafting or kayaking tour in one of the Stans, read on. As a side note: we don’t discuss the Russian Altai on Caravanistan, but it’s a really good place to join a rafting tour.
Kyrgyzstan has the most developed outdoor industry in Central Asia, but rafting is still in its infancy. We only know of one tour operator, the Silk Road Water Center, but they are experienced, well-organised and inexpensive, so we are happy to recommend them. They offer rafting tours from 1 to 3 days.
At Gregorievka on the north shore of Issyk-Kul, Bel-Zhan yurt lodge has a couple of kayaks if you want to paddle across Issyk-Kul.
Kazakhstan has excellent whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities in the Altai range in the northeast and the Tien Shan mountains in the southeast, as well as some more relaxed paddling opportunities on its large lakes and slow-flowing steppe rivers. Because of the size of the country and the relative lack of organised tourism, there aren’t many tours yet.
The Kazakhstan rafting federation offers day trips and 2-day tours on the Chilik, Turgen, Koksu and Charyn rivers in the Almaty area, and might be able to direct you to tour operators in other parts of the country.
Day trips for rafting around Almaty are also offer by other tour operators; check tour booking platforms or get in touch with us. Be warned: this might entail quite a bit of driving and not so much rafting.
Paddling the Ili river used to be a thing, but we haven’t heard of anyone organising trips there for years, so we are not sure if there are still commercial tour operators doing these trips.
Contrary to popular belief, Uzbekistan is actually the best country to join a rafting tour in Central Asia. The edges of the Tien Shan and Zerafshan mountain ranges offer whitewater just as wild as elsewhere. Sadly, the once-popular Chatkal run across the border into Kazakhstan is off-limits since independence.
Still, there are enough good options. Asiaraft organises trips of up to 8 days on the Chatkal and Zerafshan rivers.
So many mountains, so many rivers. But there are no commercial rafting or kayaking tours in Tajikistan yet. At the moment, only independent expeditions with their own gear can explore here.
We can’t help you with gear and guides, but we can be of assistance with the logistics for an expedition. Get in touch if you are interested.
We can be brief here. There are no rafting opportunities in Turkmenistan.