Also known as ‘Central Asia|Asia’s Switzerland‘, but without the lederhosen, Kyrgyzstan is a country boasting unbeatable natural beauty and proud nomadic traditions. The Soviets deliberately closed the nation to travelers due to its uranium mines, strategic importance and closeness to the Chinese border. However, today, it is probably the most accessible and hospitable republic compared with many others in Central Asia. The people are truly friendly and welcoming, which makes traveling in this country an unforgettable and unique experience, even if it has an aversion to vowels in its vocabulary!

It is common for private citizens to rent out their apartments to foreign visitors and a simple but decent flat can be rented for a very reasonable weekly or monthly rate. More adventurous travelers might wish to experience staying in a yurta, which are nomadic boiled wool tents. Several tourist agencies in Bishkek can arrange this sort of unique accommodation, but be aware that you have to live the real nomadic lifestyle which includes eating their culinary ‘delicacies’. Should this scare you, in Bishkek as well as in other larger cities, you can also find hotels and western-style restaurants where the not-particularly-subtle national cuisine is not on the menu.

When to Go

Kyrgyzstan’s climate is incredibly diverse; in some areas it is sharply continental, while in other regions, it is close to marine. The largest part of the country experiences a temperate climate, while it is sub-tropical in the southern part. The seasons are clearly distinctive. The length of daylight in December is on average 9 hours and in June, 15 hours. There is significantly more precipitation in the mountainous regions and temperatures are lower here compared to those in the valleys.

Getting There & Away

Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines offer direct services to Bishkek’s Manas International Airport from Moscow and Istanbul respectively, though the former airline is well-known for its poor safety, cancellations and lack of refunds! In addition, British Airways offers flights from London to Bishkek (operated by BMed), with a short re-fuelling stop in Yerevan. The road network in the country is of poor quality. It is common for the locals to drive on the wrong side of the road if the ‘right’ side is damaged.

Health & Safety

Travelers will without a doubt be drawn by Kyrgyzstan’s amazing natural beauty, but traveling by car through villages and mountain passes is not recommendable. Some friction remains between the ethnic Russian population and the Kyrgyzian people, and if they mistake you for a Russian on these remote passes, you better have good car insurance as your vehicle might be stoned! In general, the Kyrgyzians are kind and welcoming people and you will not experience any hostility. The healthcare system in Kyrgyzstan has remained state-run following the Soviet Union’s dismantle. Health services offered to foreign visitors, with the exception of emergencies, require payment in cash and are rather limited. There is a serious shortage of basic medical supplies and travelers are recommended to bring along any necessary medicines.

Itineraries

Five days exploring Ala-Archa Canyon
Five days visiting the area of Lake Issyk-Kul
Fours days travelling along the Silk Road

Additional time
Four days visiting Bishkek and the nearby Ala-Archa Nature Reserve
Four days visiting Osh and the nearby Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve

Highlights

Bishkek: the friendly and green capital. Best spot to experience some of the country’s nightlife, but we advise you don’t try to keep up with the locals concerning the intake of alcoholic beverages!

Ala-Archa Canyon: a state nature park boasting dozens of trekking and walking options including adventurous hikes to glaciers, and for advanced mountaineers, treks to the highest peak in the region.

Lake Issyk-Kul: without a doubt the jewel in the nation’s crown. Located 1,600 meters (5,249 feet) above sea level, this saltwater lake never freezes despite its altitude.

The Silk Road: the principal attraction of this ancient trading route is the mind-blowing alpine scenery.

Osh: older than Rome, the republic’s second-largest city is situated near the Uzbek border in the south. The city has an atmospheric bazaar.

Kara-Kol: an attractive town with tree-lined streets and quaint traditional houses. It is located at Lake Issyk-Kul’s southeast end.

Activities

Touring the Silk Road: one of the most popular activities, with a growing number of travel companies offering tours.

Scuba diving: scuba-diving enthusiasts should definitely head to Lake Issyk-Kul, where they will be surprised by the spectacularly clear water.

Skiing: the republic’s mountainous terrain is excellent for skiing.

Souvenir shopping: the bazaars of Bishkek, Osh and Al-Medin are popular for sampling the local food and purchasing handicrafts.

Rock climbing: the landscape in Kyrgyzstan is entirely mountainous. Both advanced and beginner rock climbers will find great locations to practice their sport.