Many people we know haven’t heard of Kyrgyzstan, they don’t even know it exists. After visiting the country and seeing how amazing it is, we want to shout from the rooftops about it.
It’s an interesting country full of beautiful landscapes, intriguing culture and the friendliest people you will find.
Here are our top 10 reasons on why you should consider visiting Kyrgyzstan.
1. Visa – free for 61 countries.
Visas can be a pain to obtain, expensive and a restriction to many people wanting to travel the world. Thankfully, Kyrgyzstan offers entry visa-free for 30 days to citizens of 61 nations.
Visa the Kyrgyzstan Embassy website for more details.
2. Visit one of the largest salt lakes in the world – Issyk-Kul
Issyk-Kul is an endorheic lake in the northern Tian Shan mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan. It is the fifth largest endorheic lake in the world. (Endorheic meaning that the lake has no outlet other than evaporation.) Issyk-Kul is translated to “Warm Lake”, because even though it is surrounded by snow-topped mountains, it never freezes.
Travelling around Issyk-Kul Lake is full of activities to keep you busy for weeks. The lake is huge and varies so much as you travel around there is always something new to see.
Cholpon-Ata is a beach-side town popular with tourists in the high season. In the summer months, make sure to head down to the beach early to reserve your space. If basking in the sun isn’t for you, check out the local history museum or the yacht club which are both beach-side attractions. There are also some magnificent ancient carvings at the Open-Air Petroglyph Museum, just a short taxi ride away.
Where to stay: Apple Hostel is ran by volunteers (& always on the look-out for more!) It’s a simple hostel but with everything a backpacker could want, in the centre of town. You have full use of the kitchen and it’s the perfect place to meet other travellers.
How to get there: Marshutkas or taxi from Bishkek (Western Bus Station) or Karakol (Long distance Bus Station).
Karakol is the biggest town on Issyk-Kul Lake. This town is a hub of activity as it is the starting point for many treks in the region.
The huge main bazaar has everything you could think of. It’s full of character and great for an afternoon stroll. It’s also the perfect place if you need to pick up any bits and bobs for your trip. The animal market every Sunday is not to be missed, head to the reason Number 10 to find out why.
Local food: The local dish is Karakol is Ashlan-Fu. A cold noodle dish with two types of noodles in a vinegar chili sauce traditionally eaten with some deep-fried bread filled with potatoes called Piroshky.
Where to stay: Duet Hostel is a modern and friendly hostel perfect for backpackers. It has one 12-bed dormitory with the option of staying in a Yurt too. Wonderfully clean and comfortable facilities with a kitchen you can use. Next door to a bar/coffee shop/creative space ran by the same owners. A great place where travellers can relax, also a lovely suntrap in the evenings!
How to get there: Marshutkas running regularly to Karakol from Bishkek (Western Bus Station) and other major towns around the lake. Journey time from Bishkek – 6 hours, Cholpon-ata – 2 hours, Bokonbaevo – 2 hours and Balkychy – 4 hours.
Jeti-Oguz and the Seven Bulls Rock Formation
The Seven Bulls is a famous rock formation in Kyrgyzstan and one of legend. These magnificent red rocks protrude out of the land and look like they are charging towards you. We could have sat and marvelled at them all day.
You can walk down through the valley at Jeti-Oguz, when you have crossed 5 bridges, you will reach the Valley of Flowers where it opens up to beautiful alpine forests and view of the mountains. Continue up the hill to a waterfall and more spectacular views of the mountains. A great idea would be to take a horse-ride to the waterfall, it’s a much more fun way to see the landscape.
It is possible to visit Jeti-Oguz as a day trip from Karakol but if you would like to stay the night, guesthouses are available just below the Seven Bulls.
How to get there: Marshutkas run regularly from Karakol, near the Main Bazaar and take only 30 minutes. You will then need to take a taxi to the resort at Jeti-Oguz.
Fairytale Canyon also known as Skazka Canyon.
This flaming red canyon is something to be marvelled at on the Southside of Issyk-Kul. The zig zag canyon is great fun as you can wander up and down, in and around the canyon as you like. A natural pathway in the valley with high walls looking similar to the Great wall of China. Climb to the top and you can see great views of the lake and the mountains on the North side of it’s a clear day.
Entrance fee: 50SOM (£0.50)
How to get there: Take a marshutka or taxi (or hitch-hike) to Karakol or Bokonbaevo, depending on which way you are travelling around the lake and ask to get off at the Skazka Canyon.
Where to stay: Bel-Tam Yurt Camp is a lakeside haven. A relaxing and peaceful camp where you can stay in a traditional yurt for 850-950SOM (£8-9 a night). For an additional cost, the campsite offers delicious meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can also camp in your tent for 250SOM (£2.50 a night). The Fairytale Canyon can be visited as a day-trip from Bel-Tam Yurt Camp.
How to get there: Set right by the lake just under 1km walk from the small village of Ton and a 10 minute drive from the town of Bokonbaevo.
3. Explore incredible scenery
From canyons, lakes and waterfalls to alpine forests and magical mountains ranges, Kyrgyzstan has it all. 90% of the country is about 1500m high so wherever you look you can see dramatic, beautiful scenery. The best time to visit is late May – early September as that’s when many of the roads are open and not blocked by snow.
You can see this scenery by car, bicycle, by foot or even by horse. Take your pick and enjoy the view!
4. Perfect for trekking
Trekking is one of the most popular reasons people visit Kyrgyzstan. You can find trekking routes throughout the country, from day treks to 5 day treks. You can walk to high-altitude lakes like Ala-Kol Lake, 3500m high and a 2 day walk from Karakol. Or you may just want to enjoy the alpine forests and hot springs. Take your pick!
Wild camping is allowed in the majority of the country. Make sure to camp responsibly, tidy up after yourself and don’t disturb the locals.
5. Cheap and easy to travel about
It’s very safe and easy to travel around Kyrgyzstan. There is a strong public transport infrastructure throughout the whole country. Whether you are travelling 12 hours across the country from Osh to Bishkek or even going down the road, there will be local transport called Marshutkas available as well as private taxis which are more expensive. If not, feel confident enough to hitch hike although be aware that local people might ask for money for the ride, usually the same price you’d pay for a taxi. This is because they need extra money. If this is the case, hold tight and wait for a free ride or pay the local price, either way you should get a nice conversation with a local.
Marshutkas are the most popular wheels of transport because they are cheap, often standard pricing and convenient. They depart from designated bus stations so make sure you go to the right one.
Locals use them too so you can feel confident that you are in good hands. If you are backpacking, the drivers sometimes want extra money for your baggage. Refuse to pay or at least barter for a cheaper price, nobody else is being charged for their bags!
6. Try local foods
Kyrgyzstan food is similar to that all over Central Asia. It’s generally quite greasy and meat-based. If you are vegetarian or vegan, be prepared to taste some local, fresh meat or have a tough time confusing the restaurant staff. Saying that, many homestays seem to be quite aware that tourists may have an aversion to meat.
Popular dishes include –
Plov (Osh) – Rice dish cooked in oil with beef, carrots and spices.
Samsa – A puff pastry pasty with meat filling. Potato and veg pasties can be found. They are very popular and can be found in many shops in towns and villages across the country.
Sashlik – Barbecued meat kebab. You will see this being cooked on the streets outside of restaurants, not just in Kyrgyzstan but it’s just as popular in Uzbekistan too.
Kumiz – Fermented horse milk is a very popular drink in Kyrgyzstan. You can buy it on the streets in the cities and in all shops around the country.
7. Go horse-riding in lush green valleys and meadows
Horses are very popular in Kyrgyzstan. When we first entered on the road from the Tajik border to Osh, the fields were lush and the filled with horses. From that moment, we knew we would love Kyrgyzstan.
Horse-riding is the thing to do in Kyrgyzstan. You can arrange horse – trekking tours through many tour companies when you are in the country or if like us you don’t want to go through an agency, get chatting to some local people and arrange it first-hand. It’ll a lot cheaper and way more fun!
8. Meet friendly Kyrgyz people
Kyrgyz people are some of the most friendly we have ever met. They are very generous and welcoming of tourists. From friendly chats in the local marshutka to strangers greeting us in the street, you will feel safe and welcomed in Kyrgyzstan.
9. Experience living in a Yurt
A yurt is the traditional home of a Kyrgyz family and can be found all over the country. They have become a popular tourist attraction, so you will be able to find many yurt camps where you can stay the night. Some are more expensive than others because they come with heating and proper bedding. It all depends where you are and what you are looking for.
10. Visit the famous animal market on Karakol every Sunday
This is a market like no other. Bazaars are a popular place of interest in Central Asia. However, the animal market is Karakol is something else.
Every Sunday morning from 2am – 10am, local farmers are selling their cattle, sheep and horses. You can get in amongst the hundreds of animals being sold and the many eager buyers.
Arrive around 6:30am for the peak time to see the market is full swing. Not to be missed.