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KYRGYZSTAN TRAVEL GUIDE

What would become modern Kyrgyzstan was annexed by Russia in 1876 and became an independent country with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It has the most liberal tourist visa policy in Central Asia and one of the more progressive post-Soviet governments in the region.

 

Kyrgyzstan is one of the friendliest, warmest and most hospitable countries in Central Asia. The Kyrgyz welcome you into their country and homes with true nomadic spirit: for the nomads living in the mountains, life has not really changed since the days of caravans trailing along the Silk Route.

 

Kyrgyzstan has been called The Land of the Tian Shan – Oasis on the Great Silk Route because of its importance as a trading post between Europe and Asia. Though the country is still struggling to find its feet after the break up of the Soviet Union, modern Kyrgyzstan has done much to promote tourism.

COUNTRY PAGE
  • Capital: Bishkek
  • Currency: Kyrgyz som (KGS)
  • Area: 198,500 km2
  • Population: 6,316 million (2018)
  • Language: Kyrgyz, Russian
  • Religion:Muslim 75%, Russian Orthodox 20%, other 5%
  • Electricity: 220V/50Hz, European plug

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SEASONS AT A GLANCE

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Peak Season

Shoulder Season

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Climate Chart with avergae monthly temperatues and rainfall

BEST TIME TO VISIT KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan has four distinct seasons:

  • Winter (December-February) - During this time, temperatures can drop to well below freezing and heavy snowfall is common, making it ideal for winter sports such as skiing.
  • Spring (March-May) - The weather starts to warm up, and the snow begins to melt. This is a great time to visit as the scenery is beautiful with the snow-capped mountains and the colorful flowers starting to bloom.
  • Summer (June-August) - This is the warmest season, with temperatures reaching up to 35°C (95°F) in some parts of the country. It's the perfect time for hiking, trekking, and other outdoor activities.
  • Fall (September-November) - The weather starts to cool down again, and the leaves on the trees change color. This is also the time when traditional Kyrgyz festivals take place.

It's worth noting that Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country and the weather can vary greatly depending on the altitude and region you are visiting.

 

The best time to visit Kyrgyzstan depends on what you plan to do during your visit. If you plan to go hiking or trekking in the mountains, the best time to visit is from June to September when the weather is warm and dry. If you plan to enjoy winter sports, then December to March would be the best time to visit. In terms of cultural events, the traditional Kyrgyz festivals like the "Nomad Games" and "Kyrgyzstan Manas" happen in September.

BEST TIME FOR:

Kyrgyzstan may not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking of beaches, but it does offer unique lakeside shores worth visiting. For instance, Chatyr-Kul Lake, despite its high altitude, provides a serene beach experience. Visitors can enjoy the simplicity of yurts for accommodation and embrace the tranquil surroundings. This spot is ideal for those looking to combine a beach visit with the adventure of exploring Kyrgyzstan's beautiful landscapes.

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KYRGYZSTAN TRAVEL COSTS

The cost of traveling to Kyrgyzstan can vary widely depending on various factors such as your travel style, duration of stay, accommodation preferences, activities planned, and where you're traveling from. Here are some key expenses to consider:

  • Transportation: Flights: The cost of airfare to Kyrgyzstan will depend on your departure location, the time of booking, and the airline you choose. Flights from neighboring countries in Central Asia or Russia might be cheaper compared to flights from Europe or North America. Prices can range from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars for a round-trip ticket.

  • Visa Fees: Visa requirements vary depending on your nationality. Some nationalities may be eligible for visa-free entry or visa-on-arrival, while others may need to apply for a visa in advance. Visa fees, if applicable, can range from $30 to $100 or more.

  • Accommodation: Accommodation costs vary depending on your preferences. Budget travelers can find hostels or guesthouses for as low as $10-20 per night, while mid-range hotels typically range from $30-50 per night. Luxury accommodations can cost $70-150 or more per night.

  • Food and Dining: Food expenses can vary depending on where you eat and your dietary preferences. Street food and local restaurants offer affordable options ranging from $1-10 per meal, while dining at Western-style restaurants may cost $10-25 or more per meal.

  • Transportation within Kyrgyzstan: Public transportation such as buses and marshrutkas (shared taxis) is affordable, typically costing $1-5 per ride. Taxis for shorter rides within cities may range from $2-10. Renting a car can cost $30-50 or more per day, excluding fuel.

  • Activities and Excursions: The cost of activities and excursions in Kyrgyzstan can vary widely depending on the type and duration of the activity. Entrance fees to museums and sights are generally low, ranging from $1-10. Guided tours and outdoor activities like trekking or horseback riding can range from $20-100 or more per person.

  • Additional Expenses: Other expenses to consider include travel insurance, SIM cards with data for communication, souvenirs, tips, and any unforeseen expenses.

Overall, a budget traveler can expect to spend around $30-50 per day, while mid-range travelers may spend $50-100 per day or more, depending on their preferences and activities. Luxury travelers can expect to spend $100 or more per day. It's essential to budget wisely and plan ahead to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable trip to Kyrgyzstan.

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TRAVEL TIPS FOR KYRGYZSTAN

Here are some travel tips for visiting Kyrgyzstan:

  • Make sure to have a valid visa before traveling to Kyrgyzstan.

  • Bring warm clothing, as temperatures can drop significantly in the mountains.

  • Learn some basic Russian or Kyrgyz, as many locals may not speak English.

  • Bring cash, as credit card acceptance is limited outside of major cities.

  • Research the cultural customs and dress appropriately when visiting rural or religious sites.

  • Pack a first aid kit, as medical facilities can be limited in rural areas.

  • Respect the local wildlife and follow guidelines for responsible trekking and camping.

  • Consider hiring a guide to help navigate the country and make the most of your trip.

GETTING AROUND KYRGYZSTAN

In Kyrgyzstan, you have several options for local transportation, ranging from public buses and marshrutkas (shared taxis) to taxis and renting a car. Here are some common modes of local transport:

  • Public Buses operate in major cities like Bishkek and Osh, providing an affordable way to travel within city limits. However, routes may be limited, and schedules may not always be reliable.

  • Marshrutkas (Shared Taxis) are minivans or minibusses that operate on fixed routes between cities and towns. They are a popular and inexpensive mode of transportation for both locals and tourists. Marshrutkas can be crowded, but they offer flexibility and frequent departures.

  • Taxis are readily available in urban areas and can be hailed on the street or booked through ride-hailing apps. Negotiate the fare before starting your journey, or ensure the meter is used if available. Taxis are more expensive than buses or marshrutkas but offer convenience and comfort, especially for shorter distances.

  • Renting a Car is an option for travelers who want to explore Kyrgyzstan independently, especially in rural or remote areas where public transportation may be scarce. Several rental agencies operate in major cities, offering a range of vehicles from economy cars to 4x4s suitable for off-road driving. Be aware of road conditions and consider hiring a driver if you're not comfortable driving in mountainous terrain.

  • Shared Taxis, known as "Tazalyk," are a common mode of transport between cities and towns, especially in rural areas where marshrutkas may not operate. Passengers share the cost of the journey, and the taxi departs once it's full. Shared taxis are faster than buses but may be cramped and less comfortable for long journeys.

  • Hitchhiking is a common practice in rural areas of Kyrgyzstan, where formal transportation options may be limited. It's relatively safe and culturally accepted, but exercise caution and use your judgment when accepting rides from strangers.

When using local transport in Kyrgyzstan, it's essential to be flexible, patient, and prepared for varying levels of comfort and reliability. Additionally, consider the time of year and weather conditions, as road conditions can change, especially in mountainous regions.


REGIONS & HIGHLIGHTS OF KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan is a country of stunning natural beauty, with diverse landscapes that include snow-capped mountains, lush valleys, pristine lakes, and vast steppes. Each region offers its own unique attractions and highlights. Here are some of the main regions worth visiting in Kyrgyzstan and their highlights:


Issyk-Kul Region:

  • Issyk-Kul Lake: Known as the "Pearl of Central Asia," Issyk-Kul is one of the largest alpine lakes in the world. Visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and water sports during the summer months.

  • Karakol: A charming town near Issyk-Kul Lake, Karakol is a gateway to the surrounding mountains and offers opportunities for trekking, skiing (in winter), and exploring cultural sites like the Russian Orthodox Church and Dungan Mosque.

  • Jeti-Oguz: Famous for its "Seven Bulls" and "Broken Heart" rock formations, Jeti-Oguz is a picturesque valley ideal for hiking, horseback riding, and camping.

Tian Shan Mountains:

  • Ala Archa National Park: Located near Bishkek, Ala Archa offers stunning alpine scenery, hiking trails of varying difficulty levels, and opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife spotting.

  • Chon-Kemin Valley: A beautiful valley surrounded by mountains, Chon-Kemin is known for its horseback riding tours, homestay experiences, and traditional Kyrgyz hospitality.

Naryn Region:

  • Song Kul Lake: Situated at an altitude of over 3,000 meters, Song Kul is a high-mountain lake surrounded by expansive meadows where nomadic herders graze their livestock. Visitors can stay in yurts, experience traditional nomadic culture, and enjoy horseback riding and hiking.

  • Tash Rabat Caravanserai: A well-preserved 15th-century stone caravanserai located in the Tian Shan Mountains, Tash Rabat served as a resting place for Silk Road travelers. It's a fascinating historical site accessible via a scenic drive and short hike.

Osh Region:

  • Osh: One of the oldest cities in Central Asia, Osh boasts a rich history and vibrant bazaar. Highlights include Suleiman-Too Sacred Mountain, which offers panoramic views of the city, and Jayma Bazaar, a bustling market selling local goods and crafts.

  • Arslanbob: Known for having the world's largest walnut forest, Arslanbob is a scenic area ideal for hiking, horseback riding, and exploring waterfalls and fruit orchards.

Pamir-Alai Mountains (Batken Region):

  • Sary-Chelek Biosphere Reserve: A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Sary-Chelek is home to a pristine mountain lake surrounded by forests and wildlife. Visitors can hike, swim, and explore the reserve's diverse ecosystems.

  • Kyzyl-Oi: A tranquil village nestled in the mountains, Kyzyl-Oi offers opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and experiencing traditional Kyrgyz village life.


TRAVEL ITINERARY FOR KYRGYZSTAN

For first-time visitors to Kyrgyzstan, here are suggested one-week and two-week itineraries that encompass some of the country's highlights:


ONE WEEK ITINERARY:

Day 1-2: Bishkek
  • Arrive in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan.

  • Explore Ala-Too Square, Victory Square, and Oak Park.

  • Visit the State History Museum and the Osh Bazaar for a taste of local culture.

  • Enjoy the vibrant nightlife and dining scene in Bishkek.

Day 3-4: Issyk-Kul Lake
  • Travel to Issyk-Kul Lake, stopping at Burana Tower and Konorchek Canyon along the way.

  • Relax at Issyk-Kul Lake, swim, sunbathe, or try water sports.

  • Visit the petroglyphs at Cholpon-Ata and the Ruh Ordo Cultural Complex.

Day 5-6: Karakol
  • Head to Karakol and explore the town's Russian Orthodox Church and Dungan Mosque.

  • Take a day trip to Jeti-Oguz and hike to the "Seven Bulls" rock formations.

  • Visit the Issyk-Kul Nomad Museum and enjoy local cuisine.

Day 7: Ala Archa National Park
  • Return to Bishkek and take a day trip to Ala Archa National Park.

  • Hike one of the park's trails, enjoy a picnic, and take in the stunning mountain scenery.

  • Depart from Bishkek or extend your stay as desired.


TWO WEEK ITINERARY:

Day 1-2: Bishkek
  • Follow the same itinerary as the one-week itinerary for exploring Bishkek.

Day 3-4: Ala Archa National Park
  • Spend an extra day exploring Ala Archa National Park, perhaps trying a different hiking trail or enjoying more outdoor activities.

Day 5-6: Issyk-Kul Lake
  • Spend an additional day at Issyk-Kul Lake, exploring more of its beaches, villages, or trying additional water activities like sailing or kayaking.

Day 7-8: Karakol and Jeti-Oguz
  • Extend your stay in Karakol to explore more of the town and its surroundings.

  • Take a day trip to Altyn Arashan hot springs for a relaxing soak and scenic hike.

Day 9-10: Song Kul Lake
  • Journey to Song Kul Lake and spend a couple of days experiencing nomadic culture, staying in a yurt, and enjoying horseback riding and hiking.

Day 11-12: Tash Rabat and Naryn
  • Travel to Tash Rabat Caravanserai and explore this historical site.

  • Continue to Naryn and explore the town's bazaar and nearby attractions.

Day 13-14: Osh and Suleiman-Too
  • Fly or drive to Osh, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia.

  • Explore Suleiman-Too Sacred Mountain, the city's bazaars, and enjoy local cuisine.

  • Depart from Osh or extend your stay to explore more of southern Kyrgyzstan.

These itineraries offer a mix of cultural exploration, outdoor adventure, and relaxation, providing a comprehensive introduction to the diverse landscapes and cultural heritage of Kyrgyzstan.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN KYRGYZSTAN

WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN KYRGYZSTAN

When visiting Kyrgyzstan, there are numerous incredible sights and activities to experience, reflecting its rich cultural heritage and stunning natural landscapes. Here are some of the best things to see and do in Kyrgyzstan:

  • Trekking and Hiking:Explore Kyrgyzstan's vast network of hiking trails, ranging from easy day hikes to multi-day treks through mountains, valleys, and alpine meadows. Popular trekking destinations include the Ala Archa National Park, Tian Shan Mountains, and the stunning trails around Issyk-Kul Lake.

  • Nomadic Culture and Yurt Stays:Experience traditional Kyrgyz nomadic culture by staying in a yurt, the portable dwellings used by nomadic herders. Many communities offer homestay experiences where you can learn about nomadic traditions, participate in daily activities, and enjoy authentic Kyrgyz hospitality.

  • Issyk-Kul Lake:Relax and unwind at Issyk-Kul Lake, one of the largest alpine lakes in the world. Enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and water sports during the summer months, or simply admire the breathtaking scenery of crystal-clear waters surrounded by snow-capped peaks.

  • Song Kul Lake:Visit Song Kul Lake, a high-mountain lake located at an altitude of over 3,000 meters. Stay in a yurt camp, experience the traditional nomadic way of life, and enjoy horseback riding, hiking, and stargazing in this pristine natural setting.

  • Historical and Cultural Sites:Explore historical and cultural sites such as the Burana Tower, a minaret dating back to the 11th century; the ancient city of Osh with its bustling bazaars and Suleiman-Too Sacred Mountain; and Tash Rabat Caravanserai, a well-preserved Silk Road outpost in the Tian Shan Mountains.

  • Adventure Sports:Indulge in adrenaline-pumping activities such as whitewater rafting on the Chuy River, paragliding over the breathtaking landscapes of Ala Archa National Park, skiing and snowboarding in winter resorts like Karakol, and rock climbing in the Ala Archa and Chong-Kemin valleys.

  • Wildlife Watching:Discover Kyrgyzstan's diverse wildlife by visiting natural reserves and national parks such as Sary-Chelek Biosphere Reserve and Chon-Kemin National Park. Look out for rare species like snow leopards, ibex, Marco Polo sheep, and a variety of bird species.

  • Cultural Festivals:Attend cultural festivals and events to experience Kyrgyz music, dance, and traditional sports such as kok-boru (a traditional horseback game) and eagle hunting competitions. The World Nomad Games, held biennially, showcase the rich cultural heritage of nomadic peoples from around the world.

WHAT TO EAT IN KYRGYZSTAN

When visiting Kyrgyzstan, you should try some of the following traditional dishes:

  • Beshbarmak: This is the national dish of Kyrgyzstan and is made of boiled meat (usually mutton or horse), served with thin noodles and a sour cream sauce.
  • Lagman: This is a popular dish of hand-pulled noodles, meat, and vegetables. It can be served in a soup or stir-fry.
  • Plov: This is a rice dish that is typically made with meat and vegetables. It is a popular dish in Central Asia and is often served at special occasions.
  • Kyrgyz-style dumplings: These dumplings are called "manti" and are similar to Chinese dumplings, but are typically filled with meat or potatoes and often served with a sour cream sauce.
  • Shashlik: This is a popular grilled dish that is made with skewers of meat, usually lamb or beef.
  • Kyrgyz-style bread: The bread is made with a variety of grains, such as wheat, barley, and corn, and is often served with meals.
  • Kyrgyz-style yogurt : the yogurt is made from mare's milk and is often served with meals.
  • Kyrgyz-style tea: The tea is made with a special blend of black tea, milk and salt, it is a staple in the Kyrgyz diet and is often served with meals.

It's important to note that meat is a staple in Kyrgyz cuisine, so vegetarians may find it difficult to find meat-free options.

LGBTQ IN KYRGYZSTAN

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WHERE TO STAY IN KYRGYZSTAN

For a first-time visit to Kyrgyzstan, it's recommended to base yourself in Bishkek, the capital city, due to its central location, transportation connections, and abundance of attractions. Here's why:


Where to stay in Bishkek:

Bishkek is the cultural, economic, and political center of Kyrgyzstan, offering a blend of Soviet-era architecture, bustling bazaars, and green parks. Explore attractions like Ala-Too Square, Osh Bazaar, and Victory Square.

  • Budget: Capsule Hotel Technocave is a budget-friendly option offering dormitory-style accommodations with shared facilities, located in the city center near major attractions.

  • Mid-range: Smart Hotel Bishkek provides comfortable rooms and modern amenities with a convenient location in the downtown area, close to shops, restaurants, and public transportation.

  • Luxury: Hyatt Regency Bishkek offers luxurious accommodations with upscale facilities, including a spa, fitness center, and rooftop pool with panoramic views of the city.


Tip: Visit Bishkek during the summer months (June to August) for pleasant weather and outdoor activities, and consider booking accommodations in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons like the World Nomad Games.


Where to stay in the Issyk-Kul Region:

Issyk-Kul is the largest alpine lake in Central Asia, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and pristine landscapes, offering opportunities for swimming, hiking, and horseback riding.

  • Budget: Bel Tam Yurt Camp offers budget-friendly accommodations in traditional yurts with basic facilities, located near the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul.

  • Mid-range: Karven Four Seasons Resort provides comfortable rooms and resort-style amenities with direct access to the beach and recreational activities.

  • Luxury: Hyatt Regency Lake Issyk-Kul Resort offers luxurious accommodations with upscale facilities, including a spa, fitness center, and private beach access.


Tip: Consider visiting Kyrgyzstan during the shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) for milder weather, fewer crowds, and better rates on accommodations and activities.

For hassle-free bookings, use platforms like Booking.com for competitive rates or Holiday Swap for unique homes worldwide. Ensure to book in advance, especially during peak seasons, and align your preferences with nearby activities such as surfing, snorkeling, or cultural exploration.

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