Kyrgyzstan is a stunning mountainous country in the heart of Central Asia. It is one of the world's finest gems just waiting to be discovered by the intrepid traveler and is bursting with adventures and eye-watering natural scenery. While its Kazakhstan neighbor to the north is dominated by the unending Central Asian steppe, Kyrgyzstan is dominated by continuous mountain ranges filled with spectacular valleys.
Kyrgyzstan: The Facts
Population: 6.5 Million
Capital And Largest City: Bishkek
Tourist Visa Requirements: 2 Months Visa Free For Most Passports
Official Languages: Kyrgyz And Russian
The people in Kyrgyzstan are incredibly friendly and welcoming to tourists. The country is just made for those looking to explore the magnificent mountain ranges of Asia.
In the past, the Kyrgyz people were nomadic people (much like the Mongols but in the mountains instead of the Mongolian steppe). It was also part of the famous silk road bringing the riches of China to the Middle East and further on to Europe. Today in Bishkek you can still feel this history.
Recommended Kyrgyzstan Organizer: Central Asian Tour Guide (For All Activities And Accommodation - Linked Below)
Historically the lives of the Kyrgyz people were on the backs of horses moving through these mountainous valleys. While today everyone lives in settled homes, you will still see many yurts all through the country (Yurts are the traditional tent/homes they lived in as they moved with their flocks across the land). Outside of the cities, horses remain a very common site.
Horse Trekking In Kyrgyzstan
Do: Guided Horse Treks
Where: Trekking Through The Mountains In Kyrgyzstan
Stay: In Guesthouses And Yurts
Duration: Varies But Often 5 Day Treks
When: After The Snows Melt - In Late Spring Through Summer
Kyrgyzstan is home to Lake Issyk-Kol. This was an ancient stopover on the Silk Road. It is the seventh deepest lake in the world and the tenth-largest by volume. Its waters are incredibly clear, blue, and pure. It is flanked by snowcapped mountains on all sides all around the lake. Even though temperatures plummet during the winter, the lake never freezes. This great alpine sits at an elevation of 5,272 feet or 1,607 meters above sea level.
When To Visit Kyrgyzstan: Late Spring, Summer
Kyrgyzstan was a part of the Soviet Union. So they have inherited the Russian liking for saunas. These are very hot and as the temperature in the saunas becomes unbearable, you plunge yourself into cool waters and when you cool down you return to the sauna. Normally, men and women are separated and bathing is done completely naked. These saunas are called by the Russian name "Banya" in former Soviet countries.
What To Do In Kyrgyzstan
Saunas or "Banyas" In Bishkek To Visit:
- Semeynaya Banya "7 Chuvstv"
- Bath of Aphrodite, Baytur
- Semeynaya Banya "Semeynyy Par"
- Semeynaya Banya "Domashniy Uyut"
Kyrgyzstan has numerous sanitoria. This was a Soviet holiday destination and many people would come to bath and relax in its many mineral hot springs. Complete with scrapping, massages, etc. To the Western traveler, these sanitoria may seem a little odd, but they are an immense amount of fun and very relaxing. Like the sauna, one is normally completely naked and the sanitorium is divided into the men's and women's parts. In many cases, you can also pay for a private sauna or sanitorium.
Sanitorium Hot Spot - The Town Cholpon-Ata On Lake Issyk-Kul
Do: Numerous Large And Small Sanitoria (public and private)
Visit: 2000 Petroglyphs Dating From 800 BC to 1200AD
See: Unforgettable Views Of The Lake And Rugged Mountains
Mountaineering is another major attraction for Kyrgystan as its peaks are among the highest in the world. It is common for mountaineering enthusiasts to come and hire a professional mountaineering guide in Kyrgystan.
- Highest Peak: Jengish Chokusu 24,406 feet or 7,439 m
Hiking is another great activity to enjoy in Kyrgystan. You can select from day trips through to multiday trips (often staying in guesthouses along the way). One of the best organizers of hiking trips (and all trips in Kyrgystan) is Central Asian Guide - their Instagram account is linked below.
If you are looking for the epic alpine road trip of a lifetime, consider traveling along the Pamir Highway. This road runs from the Kyrgystan city of Osh on the border with Uzbekistan then through the remotest parts of Tajikistan. The road then snakes along the border with Afghanistan and down to the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe. This is a trip everyone should do if given half a chance. The best way to travel this is to hire a driver/guide who will arrange everything for you including homestays and food.
Pamir Highway In Brief
Duration: Around 8 Days (Depending On The Option Chosen)
Cost: Around $2,500 (Including the driver, food, and accommodation)
Countries Traveled: Kyrgyzstan (Visa Free), Tajikistan (Very Simple eVisa)
Highest Pass: 15,300 feet or 4,650 meters
Kyrgystan offers many places to stay. Everything from international hostels (in Bishkek, Apple Hostel is recommended) through to luxury hotels. In Kyrgystan accommodation is generally very affordable and dorm beds can cost as little as $5 per night. Hostels are excellent for backpackers and those looking to meet up and travel with fellow intrepid travelers.
- Recommended Hostel In Bishkek: Apple Hostel
Food And Shopping In Kyrgystan
The food in Kyrgystan is also very delicious. Traditional food includes:
- Samsa - A Central Asian Sort of Pie
- Lagman - Central Asian Soup
- Shashlik - BBQ'ed Meat on a Stick
- Konina - Traditional Cental Asian Horse Meat
- Plov - A Type of Fried Rice With Meat
- Horse Milk - It Tastes Very Strong
While In Bishkek be sure to go shopping in the Osh Bazaar - is this one of the best in the world offering the best of the Silk Road. You will be spoiled for choice with all manner of fruits, nuts, local foods, Soviet uniforms, locally made Kygryz merchandise like hats, knives, carvings and so, so, so much more.
In short, it is a puzzle why Kyrgyzstan isn't better known in the world. It really is one of the world's best-kept secrets and is bursting with things to do and places to explore. So much so that we can only just scratch the surface here.