Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide
Updated April 2023, The Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide was originally written in April 2018
Kyrgyzstan is a highlight for many travelers that head to Central Asia with its alpine sceneries, fascinating culture, and its relaxed visa policies for many countries. Not to mention Kyrgyzstan is an easy and fairly inexpensive destination to visit thanks to community based tourism projects.
The Kyrgyz Republic sits smack in the middle of Central Asia at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road. The entire country is pretty mountainous with nearly 90% of its land being dotted with the Tien Shan Mountains. So if you want a taste of nomadic life, high altitude peaks, and warm traditions, Kyrgyzstan is the perfect trip for you.
Here is what you’ll find in this Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide:
- Bishkek & Around
- Northern Issykul
- Southern Issykul
- Central Kyrgyzstan
- The Kyrgyz Fergana Valley
- Southeastern Kyrgyzstan
- Alay Valley
Need some visual inspiration? 34 Photos That Will Make You Book a Ticket to Kyrgyzstan
The official currency of Kyrgyzstan is the Kyrgyz Som (KGS). The current exchange rate (March 2023) is:
$1 USD = 87.42 KGS
ATMs are widely available in Osh and Bishkek. Many ATMs dispense both KGS and USD.
Tipping isn’t something that’s widely taken off in Kyrgyzstan, although people who work in the tourism sector will probably expect a tip. Restaurant bills will typically add a 10-15% service charge onto the bill as well, so tipping in restaurants is not usual.
Kyrgyz and Russian are the official languages of Kyrgyzstan. Uzbek and Tajik are spoken in the Fergana Valley. You can find Dungan speakers scattered about the country in Sokuluk, Ivanovka, Karakol, Osh, and Bishkek.
I highly recommend learning some basic Russian and/or Kyrgyz phrases, as well as learning to read the Cyrillic alphabet. Grab the Lonely Planet Central Asia Phrasebook to help you learn some useful phrases on the road.
Islam is the dominant religion in Kyrgyzstan with 80% of the population practicing the religion. Christians, of mostly Russian Orthodox faith, make up 17% of the population and 3% of the country’s people practice all other religions. The majority of Kyrgyzstan’s Muslims are non-denominational.
Plan the perfect trip: A two week Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan itinerary
What To Wear
As Kyrgyzstan is mostly an Islamic country, conservative dress is the best practice especially in rural parts of the country. Women do not have to cover their hair, and you will see many Kyrgyz women without any sort of head covering out and about. The only time you need to cover hair is when entering a mosque.
In cities like Bishkek and Osh people wear clothing seen in many other western cities.
How long to spend in Kyrgyzstan is largely up to you and what your plans are. Many nationalities get 60 days visa-free giving you roughly two months to explore.
One of the nice things about Kyrgyzstan is that it’s not huge and many of the hotspots most who visit Kyrgyzstan want to see are easily reached by public transport (shared taxi or marshrutka).
Summer is by and far the most popular time to visit. From June to September is when alpine treks are the most accessible. Kyrgyzstan can also make for a great winter destination with several ski resorts around the country.
The most common way for getting around in Kyrgyzstan is by shared taxi (marshrutka). These are 15 passenger minibuses that leave when full and pick up people along the way, so sometimes they get quite crowded. There are some shared taxis and 4×4’s that will act as shared taxis as well.
Hitchhiking is simple in Kyrgyzstan, however, you’ll probably have difficulty finding a free ride as most anyone with a car in Kyrgyzstan is a taxi driver. So do expect to pay something if hitchhiking.
Most enter the country by plane through Osh or Bishkek, or by land from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, or China. You can read up on Kyrgyz border crossings (as well as the whole of Central Asia) on Caravanistan. Make sure to check the forums for information from recent travelers.
Note that as of 2022 all Tajik-Kyrgyz border crossings are still closed to foreign travelers owing to the Vorukh Conflict.
Kyrgyzstan has the most relaxed visa policy of all of Central Asia with many visitors being able to visit visa-free.
Check out the Central Asia Visa Guide for more info
Kyrgyz food is similar to its Central Asian neighbors, very meat-centric, and can be somewhat bland in taste to some. Generally, food isn’t a highlight of traveling Kyrgyzstan or the region, but that isn’t to say that there’s no good food in Kyrgyzstan.
A great way to introduce yourself to Kyrgyz food is at the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, where you can find just about any Kyrgyz food being served up.
The best meal I ever had in Kyrgyzstan was a feast put on by a Dungan family in Karakol (you can also find great Dungan dishes at Dordoi Bazaar, just outside Bishkek).
In Bishkek and Osh, you can expect to find Kyrgyz dishes as well as International food served up at restaurants. Outside cities you can expect to find a lot of the following foods.
For the best food in all of Kyrgyzstan read why Foodies Should Flock to Karakol
- Plov– Essentially a plate of greasy fried rice that is dished up all over Central Asia. Typically will have mutton or beef, shredded carrot, and garlic fried up in it. Sometimes you’ll see it with onions, peppers, garbanzo beans, and more.
- Non– Non is a flatbread that accompanies just about every meal in Kyrgyzstan. You can buy fresh non with pretty designs in bazaars in the cities and towns.
- Baursok- Delicious little fried pieces of bread commonly served as an appetizer.
- Manti– Manti are dumplings served up all over Central Asia, Russia, Caucasus, and Western China. Typically they are stuffed with spiced meat and onion, sometimes even some other vegetables. Sometimes you can find manti being served with mashed potato or even pumpkin for a change and for those vegetarians and vegans wanting to visit this corner of the world.
- Besbarmak– boiled meat and noodles with an oniony sauce served over it that is typically eaten with your hands.
- Shashlik– Skewers of meat, typically mutton or beef cooked over a grill. Widely available throughout Central Asia. Sometimes you can find chicken or even veggie shashliks.
- Kuurdak– Usually made of mutton, mutton fat, and onions. Kuurdak translates out to ‘roasted fried’ in Kyrgyz.
- Shorpo– A Central Asian soup of meat broth from mutton or beef, spices, and various vegetables- usually potato and onion.
- Lagman– A Chinese noodle dish that is very popular in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Xinxiang, and Kazakhstan and considered a national dish of the Uyghur and Dungan peoples.
- Ashlan Fu— A spicy, cold noodle soup brought to Kyrgyzstan by the waves of Dungan people who escaped over the mountains from China over the years.
- Kurut– Dried yogurt balls you’ll find sold all over the country.
- Kumis– An alcoholic drink of fermented milk.
- Fruits– In summer try melons, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, apricot, plum, and nectarine.
*If you’re a vegetarian plan to eat A LOT of potatoes, non, tomatoes and cucumbers. Kyrgyz eat a lot of meat, actually more than almost anywhere else on Earth. With that said, it’s not impossible to travel to Kyrgyzstan as a vegetarian or vegan but it will be difficult at times. I traveled Kyrgyzstan with a vegan and a vegetarian on my first trip, they survived.
Where To Go In Kyrgyzstan
The most popular places to visit in Kyrgyzstan are Bishkek, Osh, Issykul, and Song Kul. There are tons of trekking (and horse-trekking) opportunities in the country that you could easily stay the entire 60 days of your entry and still have more to do.
Bishkek & Around
If you are only visiting Bishkek on a brief trip to Kyrgyzstan there are several things you can go do around Bishkek to fill up your time. Naturally with Bishkek being the capital city, it is also the largest in the country.
Bishkek isn’t the most exciting city, but that’s a part of its charm. Traveling extensively in Central Asia can be exhausting, so the fact that Bishkek doesn’t have 1,001 attractions makes it a great city to relax in.
A few things to check out while in Bishkek include Osh Bazaar, Ala-Too Square, Dubovy Park, and the State Historical Museum (whenever it opens up again). If you haven’t gotten your fill of Lenin Statues in Central Asia there is one located right behind the State Museum (he used to reside in Ala-Too Square until 2003). There are several other parks within the city, as well as a couple of western-style shopping malls.
Check out: 10 Things to do in Bishkek
Make sure and pay a visit to Osh Bazaar while you’re in Bishkek as it’s a great place to try out local Kyrgyz dishes. Popular Central Asian restaurants to try in Bishkek are Navat and Chaikhana Jalalabad. If you’re tired of the typical Central Asian fare, grab some great Korean food and coffee at Chicken Star, a pizza from Dolce Vita, or Pur-Pur for Georgian food.
For places to stay in Bishkek I can personally recommend Viva Hotel, and Hotel Asia Mountains 1. Hotel Asia Mountains 1, is located a bit south of Chuy Avenue but is in a quiet neighborhood near the train tracks. The same owners have another similar hotel called Hotel Asia Mountains 2 nearby. Another highly recommended hostel in Bishkek is the Apple Hostel.
Where To Stay In Bishkek
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Hotel Asia Mountains 1
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Just a quick 30 km drive south of Bishkek will take you to Ala Archa National Park. There are several treks that can be done ranging from day trips or longer. There is an 80 KGS entry fee for foreigners at the park gate.
There are marshrutka that leave from Osh Bazaar, look for Marshrutka #265. It will take you to the park gate in the summertime (outside summer it usually stops about 7 km before in Kashka-Suu). Marshrutka #265 to Kashka-Suu will set you back 30 KGS (each way), but if you are wanting to go to the park gate and it doesn’t appear that the marshrutka will continue on, you can usually talk the driver into taking you there for another 50 KGS.
The first marshrutka from Osh Bazaar departs around 8 am, and the final one returning from Ala Archa departs at 5:30 pm. You can also arrange a taxi for 2000 KGS, which can be split amongst other travelers.
Alamedin Valley & Tyoplye Klyuchi
A great alpine valley perfect for a day or overnight trip from Bishkek. There is no entry fee to visit the valley. On the walk out to Alamedin Valley just after the end of the road, you can make a stop for Tyoplye Klyuchi for a soak in the mineral baths (150 KGS pp).
Take Marshruka #367 from the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek (25 KGS), and then find a taxi in Belogorka Village (750-1,000 KGS) to reach Sokuluk Canyon. The canyon is known for its 60 meter waterfall.
The not-so-famous leaning tower. Burana Tower is an 11th-century minaret that stands (leans) about 24m high. Originally Burana (then Balasagun) was the ancient Sogdian capital.
Take Marshrutka #353 from the Bishkek’s East Bus Station to Tokmok Village for 40 KGS. Once in Tokmok, find a taxi driver to take you to/from Burana (plan to pay no more than 300 KGS roundtrip).
The entrance fee is 150 KGS for Burana Tower, open 9 am-5 pm. Don’t miss the field of balbals from the 6th-10th centuries. Balbals are ancient Turkic gravestones that bear some similarity to North American Totem Poles. Burana can be easily visited as a day trip from Bishkek, or as a stop en route to Issykul.
Plan a day trip to Burana Tower & The Sunday Tokmok Animal Market
Issykul is the second largest alpine lake in the world behind Lake Titicaca. The Lake never freezes due to its small percentage of salinity and thermal activity underneath, which is why it was given the name Issykul, meaning ‘hot lake’ in Kyrgyz. The northern coast of Issykul has numerous places of interest for most tourists.
With great trekking and beautiful sceneries, Chong Kemin Valley will be well worth the visit. Chong Kemin is one of Kyrgyzstan’s national parks and runs 80 km in length. Several treks can be done in Chong Kemin ranging from day hikes to 6+ days.
Activities to do in Chong Kemin Valley include trekking to Jasy Kul, Kul Kanur, or Kul-Tor; white water rafting, bicycling, horseback riding, and steaming it up in an old Soviet-style banya.
You can take a marshrutka from the East Bus Station in Bishkek to the village of Kaindy in Chong Kemin Valley for 120 KGS. You can book homestays in Chong Kemin Valley through CBT (Community-based Tourism in Kyrgyzstan). There are guesthouses available in Tar Suu starting at 1,780 KGS per night per person.
There is a 3 day, 2 night trek that can be done from Baikishi-Jailuu to Kul Kanur and Kul Tor lakes up through 3400m Tamchy Pass to Achyk Tash Jailoo and finally to end at Tamchy Village, just 35 km west of Cholpon Ata.
By summer Cholpon Ata is Kyrgyzstan’s premier beach resort. The main activities to do around Cholpon Ata is swimming in Lake Issykul, jet skiing, and relaxing.
The main attraction for most tourists are the petroglyphs dating back to the late Bronze age. From Cholpon Ata center walk up Akmatbay Ata to the end of the asphalt and veer left onto Almakuchov and walk past the iron gate.
Marshrutka in the summer connect Cholpon Ata with Bishkek several times per day from Bishkek’s East Bus Station to the Avtovokzal in Cholpon Ata for 250 KGS. Marshrutka bound for Karakol leave from the Karakol Bus Stand for 120 KGS.
There is a wide range of accommodation choices in Cholpon Ata, shop them here.
The first three World Nomad Games took place just outside of Cholpon Ata in 2014, 2016, and 2018. This biennial event is basically the olympics of Central Asian nomads. The first World Nomad Games took place in 2014 and has grown in popularity over time.
The 2020 games (now postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic) will be held in Turkey, location TBA. But, if the World Nomad Games ever return to Cholpon Ata, its a spectacle not to be missed. I was blown away by the 2018 games.
Where To Stay In Cholpon Ata
Apple Hostel Cholpon Ata
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| Booking.com |
Kapriz Issykul Resort
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Chong Ak-Suu Valley
35 km east of Cholpon Ata is village of Grigorievka. The main highlight here is to leave north from the village to Chong Ak-Suu Valley. In the summertime you will find yurtstays along the valley and horse trekking is a popular activity.
Karakol itself isn’t the most exciting town, but it is a great place to base yourself between trekking or skiing destinations in the area. If you happen to be in Karakol on a Sunday, do pay a visit to the Animal Market that takes place from dawn until 10 am with locals selling livestock.
Other popular spots around Karakol to check out are the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Dungan Mosque, and the Ak-Tilek Bazaar.
Make sure and sample some Dungan foods at the Ak-Tilek Bazaar, and if you’d like to go to a Dungan house to experience a family dinner definitely opt to set up a dinner tour with Destination Karakol here. Trust me, the 1,400 KGS per person is well worth the experience as I found Dungan food to be the absolute best dishes I had in Central Asia.
Plan your visit: The Karakol Travel Guide + 13 Things To Do In Karakol
Drool over Karakol’s Best Dishes & plan your food tour of the city
From my own personal experience, I can recommend Hotel Amir and Memo’s Guesthouse for accommodations. You can shop for additional Karakol accommodations here.
Karakol is a transport hub on Lake Issykul. Several buses, minibusses, and shared taxis per day depart Karakol along the northern shore to Bishkek (300-600 KGS) and stopping in Cholpon Ata (100-300 KGS).
From Karakol along the southern shore to Balykchy buses, minibusses, and shared taxis stopping in/near Bokonbayevo, Barskoon and Tamga depart a few times per day.
Transport to Balykchy should cost between 200-400 KGS, Barskoon (80-200 KGS), and Tamga (80-200 KGS).
A visit to Karkara Valley is a perfect stop for those traveling between Karakol and Almaty via the border post at Kegen. There’s no public transport, so you will need to arrange drivers (on either side of the border).
Karkara Valley can be used as a base camp to visit South and North Inylchek Glaciers, Khan Tengri Peak, and Pobeda Peak.
Activities include trekking, horseback riding, watching migratory birds, mountain biking, and more. If you happen to be in the valley in late August, definitely check out the Shepherd’s Festival near Char-Kurduk village where you can watch eagle hunting and horse sports. Note that the area is usually open from May until late October.
Read about how you can cross the Karkara Border between Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan here
Altyn Arashan & Ala-Kul Nature Reserve
Altyn Arashan is a settlement set in the stunningly beautiful Anyior Valley that is easily accessed from Karakol. There are numerous hot springs developments in the valley that can be used for 200 KGS.
There are plenty of trekking opportunities in Altyn Arashan, including the 5 hour trek to reach the face of Palatka Glacier. Another great trek is from Altyn Arashan up and over Ala-Kul Pass to reach Ala-Kul Lake and beyond to the gate of Ala-Kul Nature Reserve.
There is a 250 KGS entrance fee per person for the Ala-Kul Nature Reserve, and a 100 KGS fee per tent per night.
To reach Altyn Arashan you can do so by arranging 4×4 transport to either bring you to Altyn Arashan for 400 KGS, or take the Marshrutka #350 from Karakol that drops you at Ak-Suu Sanitorium and trek the remaining 14 km between Ak-Suu Sanirotium and Altyn Arashan (the road is one of the worst on Earth and trekking takes about the same amount of time as driving). Marshrutka #101 runs between Karakol and the gate of Ala-Kul Nature Reserve. There are rooms for rent in Altyn Arashan.
If you want to get off the beaten path when you’re already traveling an off the beaten path country like Kyrgyzstan, then Jyrgalan is the perfect place to explore.
Trekking into the beautiful valley, unique cultural experiences, and Kyrgyz yurtstays all await you here in Jyrgalan. If you want to find out more and arrange treks, tours, and more in the Jyrgalan area, head to Destination Jyrgalan to start planning.
Southern Issykul is less touristed than the northern side of the saline lake. The south is equally as scenic, but will have a more deserted feel to it, especially in the summer.
This is Switzerland meets Utah if that could ever exist. With green alpine forests and burnt red rock cliffs, Jeti Oguz is definitely one of the most striking parts of Kyrgyzstan. Visiting Jeti Oguz can easily be visited from Karakol as a day trip, or can be made into a multi-day trek to connect with Altyn Arashan and Ala-Kul.
Don’t miss the ‘Seven Bulls’- the rock formation Jeti Oguz was named after. Broken Heart is another famous sight from Jeti Oguz. Continue from Jeti Oguz to arrive at Kok-Jaiyk, the valley of flowers which will have you thinking you really are in alpine Europe as you trek across the valley of flowers.
If you want to sleep in Jeti Oghuz but don’t want to tent it, try Emir Guesthouse. There is also the Sanatorium that will set you back 800 KGS for a double.
Marshrutka #371 runs between Jeti Oguz Village and Karakol several times per day for 100 KGS. There is another, Marshrutka #355 that runs between Korort and Karakol usually leaving in the morning from Korort. Getting a car to take you between Jeti Oguz Village and Korort will only cost 120 KGS for the entire car, and 1,000 KGS between Jeti Oguz Village and Karakol if you don’t want to wait on the marshrutka.
Plan your own visit to Jeti Oguz here
The little village of Barskoon is a great jumping-off point into the Barskoon Valley, Tamga, and Tosor. If you’d like to arrange horse treks into Barskoon Valley you can easily arrange them from the village.
There is a waterfall worth checking out in Barskoon Valley. The road out here can get quite dusty from the nearby goldmine.
Turn off the main road at the Soviet-era plane (trust me, you won’t miss it) and drive about 2km in to reach Tamga. One of the most fascinating things about Tamga is visiting the cemetery in the town, with a stunning backdrop of the Teskei Ala-Too Mountain Range in the distance.
Tamga is a great jumping-off point for trekking and horse trekking adventures into the Teskei Ala-Too Range. You can arrange 1-3 day treks to Ochincheck Lake and Tamga Gorge, and even a 4 day trek to Chakury Kul. A good option to sleep as well as arrange horse and trekking trips from is the Tamga Guest House.
Red and orange eroded spiny rocks with Issykul in the distance is the attraction to Skazka Canyon, nicknamed Fairytale Canyon. You can easily walk back from Skazka Canyon to nearby Tosor as they’re only about 3.5 km apart, but walking from Tosor to Skazka without a local guide isn’t recommended.
For those wanting to stay beachfront, Tosor is an alternative to Tamga, and just a few km apart. Try Eldos-Ata Eco Hotel.
Bokonbayevo is southern Issykul’s largest town, but the main reason most tourists pay a visit is to meet an eagle hunter ( the same can be said about nearby Kaji-Sai).If you happen to be around the area in mid-August it would be worth it to make the stop for the Birds of Prey Festival at the yurt camp. Try Meiman Ordo Yurt Camp if planning to spend the night. Treks can be arranged from Bokonbayevo into the nearby mountains as well.
Central Kyrgyzstan is one of the best regions for exploring Kyrgyzstan’s Central Tien Shan and Teskei Ala-Too Mountains. Tourism in the area is centered around Lake Song Kul, which is a highlight for many traveling in Kyrgyzstan.
Kochkor isn’t much to look at itself but is a great jumping-off point to the nearby mountains as well as Song Kul.
Do make a stop in at Altyn-Kul to purchase felt and handmade crafts from around the Naryn Oblast. You can even get a demonstration of how the women make the felt and even try your hand at it. Altyn-Kul is located right next to Kochkor’s CBT office.
A mirror-like lake surrounded by green summer pastures, yurt camps, Kyrgyz horse riders, and jagged peaks. Song Kul is the postcard picture that people know of Kyrgyzstan. The yurt camps are around Song Kul from mid-July to mid-September and outside that time the lake is a ghost town.
Be aware that snow can fall any time of year at Song Kul. There are several routes into Song Kul, so you should choose according to your plans and what you’d like to do out there.
The easiest access to the lake is from Kochkor by car. If planning to trek in independently arriving from Kyzart Tuz-Ashu, and from Klemche. Other hikers will opt to trek in from Kyzart and Jumgal, but a local trekking guide is recommended through here. If planning to stay in Kochkor try Gulnara Guesthouse, the family is very friendly and makes good meals.
You can shop other Kochkor accommodations here.
If you happen to be in the region in July or August and you’re looking for an alternative to Song Kul, Kul Ukok is a great option. The trek to Kul Ukok can be done on horseback or on foot if wanting to arrange a guide you can set one up through CBT in Kochkor.
The trek begins from Kupke which can be reached by taxi from Kochkor for 150-200 KGS to arrive at the trailhead, which is just past Isakaev Village. You can expect to reach the beautiful glacial lake in 6-8 hours depending on your speed and fitness level.
Kyzyl-Oi is a Kyrgyz mountain village of red clay homes surrounded by jagged peaks. It’s a good jumping-off point for trekking, horseback riding, and river rafting in the Ala-Too Mountains.
Kumbel Pass, Balyk Kul, and Char Valley are a few of the excursions you could go on from here. Check out CBT Kyzyl Oi for more information and to set up homestays. Elvira’s Homestay in Kyzyl Oi is recommended.
There’s not much in way of must-see sites in Naryn, but it’s a good place to arrange adventures into the mountains and lakes nearby. It’s also a good place to meet other travelers to split costs on activities or transportation as it is a hub for those headed for Osh via Kazarman, Tash-Rabat, and the Tourugart Pass into China. Search Naryn homestays and hotels here.
To get out of Naryn you’ll find minibus and shared taxi headed for Bishkek (400-600 KGS), Karakol (400-600 KGS), and Kazarman (800-1100 KGS). If you plan to head to Tash-Rabat you’ll need to charter your own taxi (which can obviously be split amongst a group of travelers) for about 3,500 KGS. There is a CBT office in Naryn where you can arrange tours, treks, homestays, and cultural experiences.
Kazarman is set with a picturesque backdrop around the not-so-picturesque buildings in town. The main reason most stop in through Kazarman are those getting between Naryn and the Fergana Valley, as well as those headed to Salimaluu Tash.
Usually, Kazarman is only reachable in the summer months as heavy snow blocks both passes connecting it to Naryn and Jalalabad.
A couple shared taxis depart in the morning for Jalalabad on most days taking about 4 hours for 600 KGS. Shared taxis to Bishkek leave in the mornings for 1200-1500 KGS, taking about 12 hours. Cars bound for Naryn don’t leave every day, usually only 1-3 per week. A seat in a shared taxi will usually go for around 800 KGS and take about 5 hours.
If you don’t have time to spare and it looks like the shared taxi isn’t going to fill you can always pay the full 3200 KGS to charter the entire car. You can arrange homestays in Kazarman via CBT Kazarman.
Sailmaluu Tash is one of Central Asia’s best collections of petroglyphs. You will need to buy an entrance ticket to the park from the Sailmaluu Park office in Kazarman for 100 KGS.
Usually, the trip to Sailmaluu Tash is done as a long day trip from Kazarman with a two hour 4×4 ride (each way) and then a steep 6-hour hike to reach the petroglyphs. You can arrange a guide as well as transport through CBT in Kazarman, Guides typically go for 1,000 KGS for the trip.
The Kyrgyz Fergana Valley
The Kyrgyz Fergana Valley will feel like a completely different country from Bishkek and Issykul for those that have begun their Kyrgyz travels in the north or east. The Fergana Valley can be a bit tumultuous at times when tensions rise between the Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tajiks that all inhabit this region with haphazardly drawn borders.
You’ll likely notice that the Kyrgyz Fergana Valley is much hotter than the remainder of the country and has a less Russified feeling and appearance.
Osh is mainly a jumping-off point for travelers headed to take on the Pamir Highway south into Tajikistan, those headed toward either China or Uzbekistan, or for further trekking adventures south into the Alay Valley, or into the Fergana Valley. With that said there are a few sites of interest around Osh to keep you occupied for a couple of days.
Osh is Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city and has over 3,000 years of history. A few things not to miss while in Osh are: Suleiman Too- the impossible to miss craggy mountain smack in the middle of the city with a museum, the Dom Babura, and giving panoramic views of Osh from the top.
The Bazaar, one of the largest in all of Central Asia and the best place to pick up just about anything. The Lenin Statue in the middle of the city is one of the largest in all of Central Asia. And of course, there is the Sunday Animal Market where shepherds bring sheep, goats, cows, and donkeys to sell.
If you’ve been traveling Central Asia for some time and want something different, try Izyum. They have a huge international menu, my favorite is the butter paneer. If you’re looking for a good Central Asian restaurant try Ala-Too. It’s more of a chaikhana style restaurant, I recommend ordering the laghman. You won’t be disappointed.
Plan your stay in Osh with my Osh Travel Guide
Where To Stay In Osh
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Silk Way Boutique Hotel
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Jannat Resort Osh
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For cheap accommodations with a friendly and helpful staff stay over at Osh Backpackers. For those with a slightly higher budget, you can opt for the comfortable Silk Way Boutique Hotel. Shop more Osh accommodations here.
Note that when leaving Osh there are several bus stations and taxi stands that transport departs from. To read a more thorough guide to transport in Osh, and the rest of Kyrgyzstan, head here.
Jalalabad is Kyrgyzstan’s third-largest city. The only reason that brings most to Jalalabad is a stopover between Kazarman and Osh, Osh and Arslanbob, or Osh and Sary Chelek. You can shop Jalalabad accommodations here.
The draw to Arslanbob for most tourists is trekking and horseback riding into the Babash-Ata mountains, as well as being home to the largest walnut forest in the world. Arslanbob is mostly an overgrown Uzbek village giving you the opportunity to experience shepherding and rural life.
You can arrange different activities and homestays through CBT Arslanbob. You can reach Arslanbob by marshrutka from Osh directly for 200 KGS, they depart at 8:30 am and 2:10 pm, but I would recommend arriving at the bus station early. They leave from the new bus station on the northern outskirts of Osh.
If you are coming from Jalalabad you will need to take a marshrutka to Bazarkurgan, and then another from Bazarkurgan to Arslanbob, the entire joinery shouldn’t cost more than 120 KGS.
Sary Chelek is a beautiful mountain lake in the Kyrgyz Fergana Valley that can be reached in about a day from Osh. There is an Osh to Arkit direct marshrutka that leaves from Osh’s new bus station on the northern outskirts of the city at 7:45 am every day for 370 KGS. I recommend arriving at the bus station by 7 am, because the day I went the bus did leave early.
You will need to either pay an extortionate amount of money for a taxi from Arkit to Sary Chelek, hitch a ride on one of the passing UAZ dump trucks, or hike the road to the shore of the lake. There are CBT homestays in Sary Chelek, or you can plan to camp at the lake (there is a fee). From Sary Chelek it is possible to do trekking further into the nature reserve.
Read: How to Visit Sary Chelek
There’s not much to note about Batken, aside from it being the border for the Kyrgyz/Tajik Fergana Valley where you’ll cross to reach Khujand. Minibus #537 departs Osh for Batken for 300 KGS from the Batken minibus stand at 7:15 am, 8:30 am, 10 am, and 12 pm typically.
The corner of Kyrgyzstan nearing the Chinese border.
Usually is only visited as a quick stop en route between Naryn and Tash Rabat. Koshoykurgan is home to what remains of the walls from the powerful 10th-century city.
Tash Rabat is a small 15th-century caravanserai that was once an important stop along the Silk Road. Tash Rabat can be used as a base for treks into Chatyr-Kul and Kul-Suu, although a border zone permit will need to be arranged through CBT Naryn at least 5 days in advance to trek to both these locations.
There is a yurt camp in Tash Rabat that you can usually sleep at. It is possible to rent horses and ride to Chatyr-Kul and Kul-Suu.
Chatyr-Kul is an alpine lake located near the Chinese border.
A 6-hour hike from Tash Rabat will bring you to the top of the ridgeline overlooking the lake, and another 2 hours down will bring you to the Chatyr-Kul Yurt Camp at the shores of the lake. You can arrange to stay at the yurts at the lake by speaking to the owners of the yurts in Tash Rabat.
In order to visit Chatyr-Kul, you must obtain a border permit from CBT Naryn, which takes about 5 business days (1,000 KGS) for them to process. All you will need to do is contact CBT Naryn and send a copy of your passport info page and they will arrange the permit and have it waiting for you at CBT you arrive. It is possible for 1,700 KGS to get a permit issued in about 1 business day.
Kul-Suu is a lovely turquoise lake set in a rocky canyon near the border with China, that is fairly off the beaten path.
In order to visit Kul-Suu, you must obtain a border permit from CBT Naryn, which takes about 5 business days (1,000 KGS) for them to process. All you will need to do is contact CBT Naryn and send a copy of your passport info page and they will arrange the permit and have it waiting for you at CBT when you arrive. It is possible for 1,700 KGS to get a permit issued in about 1 business day.
The best way to get to Kul-Suu is by getting a taxi to Tash Rabat, then combining a trip to Chatyr-Kul Pass and Kul-Suu, using the Tash Rabat Yurt Camp as a base. You can make a day trip up to Chatyr-Kul Pass and back to Tash Rabat one day and then another day trip to Kul-Suu and back. To arrange trips and tours to Kul-Suu contact CBT Naryn.
The Alay Valley is the last bit of Kyrgyzstan before the Tajik border and onto the Pamir Highway with views of the ominous Peak Lenin situated right on the border between the two countries. Using Sary Tash as a jumping-off point into the region there are plenty of opportunities for yurt stays, camping, trekking, horseback riding, and more.
Sary Tash is a small village with great views of the mountains all abound and sits at the crossroads of the Irkeshtam Pass into China, the Kyzyl-Art Pass into Tajikistan, and the road north onto Osh and Bishkek. There isn’t much in Sary Tash per se, but there is a decent trucker style cafe as you pass through town that will take payment in Chinese Yuan and Tajik Somoni (sometimes they can even exchange money).
Shared taxis bound for Osh depart most days for 350 KGS, the Irkeshtam border for 300 KGS, and taxis toward Sary Mogul for 700 KGS. For accommodations, if you plan to spend the night in Sary Tash, try Hostel Muras or Pamir Extreme Hotel.
Head to Sary Mogul, just 30 km west of Sary Tash to take in views of Peak Lenin and around, as well as organize trekking to Tolpur Kul, and trips to Peak Lenin base camp, and more. If going beyond Lake Tolpur, you are supposed to get a border zone permit for 2,054 KGS, which can be arranged by CBT or trekking agencies.
Much like the Chinese border zone permit, these can take time to process, so best to get in contact well in advance so that you can pick up the necessary permit.
Peak Lenin is the highest peak in the Pamir-Alai Range, and one of the most accessible and popular 7,000 meter summits in the world. Most who do summit Peak Lenin do so from the Kyrgyz side of the border because it is more straightforward and there aren’t the fees you’d incur if climbing the Tajik side.
Note that you are supposed to have the border zone permit to visit Peak Lenin or the base camp at Achik Tash, so arrange that with CBT to avoid any troubles.
The trekking opportunities in Kyrgyzstan are endless. Here are just a few of the treks that can be taken in the country and links to more information on them.
- Ala Archa National Park 1-2 day treks.
- Alamedin Valley 1-2 day treks.
- Altyn Arashan to Ala Kul 3-5 day trek.
- Archa Tor Pass 3-5 day trek.
- Keskenkija Loop in Jyrgalan 4 day trek. There are also other treks to take on Jyrgalan.
- Chong Kemin Valley 1-6 day treks
- Karkara Valley to Inylchek Glacier 10 day trek.
- Ak-Suu Traverse 6+ day trek that starts near to Jeti Oghuz.
- Jeti Oguz Several 1-7 day treks.
- Tamga Gorge & Ochinchek Lake 1-3 day trek, Tamga Guesthouse can arrange horse trek or local guide.
- Tamga to Chakury Kul 4 day trek, Tamga Guesthouse can arrange horse trek or local guide.
- Kyzart to Song Kul 2-4 day trek.
- Kyzart-Tuz-Ashu to Song Kul 1-2 day trek.
- Klemche to Song Kul 2 day trek.
- Jumgal to Song Kul 2 day trek.
- Kochkor to Kul Ukok 2-3 day trek.
- Kyzyl Oi to Balyk Kul 1-2 day trek.
- Arslanbob to Kol Mazar 4 day trek.
- Arslanbob Waterfalls 1-2 day trek.
Alai Valley & Southeast Kyrgyzstan
- Tash Rabat to Chatyr Kul 1-2 day trek.
- Tash Rabat to Kul-Suu 1-2 trek.
- Sary Mogul to Tulpar Kul or Peak Lenin Base Camp (Achik Tash) 1-2 day trek. Note that you can actually drive to Tulpar Kul and Achik Kul.
- Peak Lenin Base Camp (Achick Tash) to Advanced Base Camp 2 2-4 day trek, not including the time needed for acclimatization.
- Summiting Peak Lenin Roughly 21 days to reach the top of Peak Lenin and return.
Kyrgyz Festivals & Events
- Uzbek Cuisine Festival– Held in mid-July in Jalalabad, celebrating traditional Uzbek cuisine.
- Yak & Horse Games Festival– Held in late July in Sary Mogul. Come watch ulak-tartysh, kyz-kuumai, tyin-enmei, and er-enish games. Sample traditional Kyrgyz cuisine as well.
- National Horse Games– Held in late July in Song Kul. Watch on as athletes compete in Kyrgyz horse games in the high pasture.
- National Horse Games Festival– Held in late July in Kyzyl Oi. Watch on as horse games are competed and learn about Kyrgyz traditions.
- Birds of Prey Festival– Held in mid-August in Bokonbayevo. Watch golden eagle hunting demonstrations, sample Kyrgyz cuisine, and see work from some of Kyrgyzstan’s best artisans.
- World Nomad Games– Held in early September in Cholpon Ata for the last three games (they are held every other year). This was Kyrgyzstan’s largest event celebrating nomadic sport and culture but will be held in Turkey in 2020, location TBA.
These are rough estimates based on different styles of traveling.
1,710 KGS/$25 USD per day
This is assuming you will be staying in hostel dorms and homestays, using marshrutka, eating at local chaikhanas and taking unguided treks.
2,738 KGS/$40 USD per day
Staying in decent double rooms in cities and yurt or homestays in rural areas, traveling by shared taxi, and taking guided treks periodically.
6,845 KGS/$100 USD per day
Sleeping in boutique hotels when possible, eating at finer restuarants, traveling by private car hire, or taking a tour of the country.
Here are a few items I recommend for traveling in Kyrgyzstan.
- The Inreach Explorer+. A GPS & SOS beacon, that can also send and receive text messages. Can be handy if planning on doing more remote treks and/or mountaineering. Delorme/Garmin offers some good monthly plans when in use.
- A solar charger can be a great way to keep your electronics and batteries charged when hiking around in areas where you may go a bit without electricity.
- An external battery pack can also help you out in a pinch when batteries are dead and you’re in the middle of nowhere.
- I use the Osprey Ariel 65L backpack and recommend Osprey’s products because of their guarantee. Shop backpacks here!
- A tent is handy if you plan to do any trekking, or are planning to cycle or hitchhike the Pamir Highway. I use the MSR NX Hubba-Hubba solo tent and love it.
- A sleeping bag can prove useful if you’re going to be doing any camping, especially at higher altitudes and in the fall or spring. I use a Nemo sleeping bag cold rated to 20ºF/-7ºC.
- A good pair of hiking boots. My personal favorite is the La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX hiking boot.
- If planning on trekking/camping and you like to enjoy a warm meal I recommend a lightweight cooking camp set.
- I personally use the Katadyn water filter. Tap water in the entire country is unsafe for drinking and natural water sources can be contaminated.
- A headlamp will come in handy!
- Don’t forget the sunscreen! Don’t let the cold fool you.
- Mosquito Repellant can prove handy in springtime at lower elevations, although I’ve personally never run into many bugs out here in my late summer and fall adventures.
- The Bradt Kyrgyzstan Guidebook and the Lonely Planet’s Central Asia Guidebook can come in handy, as well as their phrasebook.
Internet & Mobile service
You can expect to find decent working wifi in most hotels and hostels in Kyrgyzstan’s cities. Mobile service is surprisingly good, I use O! when traveling in Kyrgyzstan as they have cheap data plans.
In general, Kyrgyzstan is a safe country to travel in. Likely your biggest dangers will be hazardous driving, being injured while horseback riding, or having an accident in the mountains while on a trek.
Theft does happen, but it’s not an incredibly common occurrence. There is some corruption present in the country and you may be bribed or hassled by border guards or police (although, I’ve not personally ever had a run-in with these problems on either of my trips into Kyrgyzstan).
There are reports of police extorting bribes out of tourists (typically men) at Osh Bazaar in Bishkek.
Have Any Questions About This Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide?
Ask your Kyrgyzstan travel questions in the comments section below.
Planning a visit to the other ‘Stans? Read: A Beginner’s Guide to Central Asia Travel
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10 thoughts on “Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide”
Kyrgyzstan has the most liberal visa policy of any Central Asian country, making travel to the country easier and more straightforward than ever. Upon arrival, citizens of a number of countries (mostly Western or developed nations) are granted a 30- or 60-day visa. This country, territory, or region should not be visited. Your personal safety and security are jeopardized. If you are already there, consider leaving if it is safe to do so.
Nice article with useful details !!!
I want to Travel this year in September, and Kyrgyzstan is opening borders https://pegas-adventure.com/tours This company informed me anyone crossed border this summer.
Please if you’re crossed, please inform me
Hi Alex, I did see an article just this morning stating that Kyrgyzstan had opened its borders to 31 nationalities. It did sound like those trying to get from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan have been turned away at border crossings though from what I read here, but I have not heard yet on others trying to enter, so it is hard to say if you will be able to enter or not (in theory if you’re on the 31-country list you should be able to). I’d also recommend keeping an eye on the Caravanistan Forums for other travelers updates on the matter.
Thanks for a great post. I am going to Central Asia in April (to Astana) and I am wondering which countries to visit in 17 days that I have there. I’ve always wanted to go to Kyrgyzstan mountains, but I am aware that this is not the best time. Would you still recommend going and if yes in which area? Alternatively, I was thinking about Uzbekistan and area around Almaty. Many thanks!
I’d say Uzbekistan is probably a better bet in April (heat isn’t boiling yet). Kyrgyzstan is doable though if you’d like to get into the mountains it could be a bit messy! Almaty and it’s surroundings are beautiful and you can easily spend a week or more exploring around there.
I’m happy I came across your blog. I have wanted to visit Central Asia for quite some time now and I think 2019 will be the year. This page on Kyrgyzstan has been so so helpful.
I hope you enjoy Kyrgyzstan, I actually am about to head back in a couple weeks myself. Let me know if you have any questions
Im glad to have stumbled across your blog and photos. Thank you for returning my email so quickly the other day, and directing me to this guide here. Has been very helpful, my only problem is now I need to decide what all I want to do. I plan to go in August, can’t wait!
I hope you have an amazing time in Kyrgyzstan! Let me know if you have more questions.