Kyrgyzstan, The horse is central to Kyrgz culture around Song-Kul(Lyn Hughes)

Kyrgyzstan


Overview

Kyrgyzstan travel information, including maps of Kyrgyzstan, food, drink and where to stay in Kyrgyzstan plus the best time to travel in Kyrgyzstan

Set in the heart of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has few historical sites, thanks partly to a nomadic culture – and thanks, too, to Genghis Khan.

But what it does have is mountains. Lots of them. More than 90% of Kyrgyzstan is higher than 1,500m, making it a paradise for walkers, trekkers, climbers, riders and anyone who loves epic scenery.

While there are only a few people left living a truly nomadic lifestyle, the yurt is still highly symbolic and families still spend their summers in the high pastures with their livestock. 

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Stay in a yurt near the shores of shimmering Lake Song-Kol in the high steppe.
  2. The horse is king in Kyrgyzstan – take to horseback, whether for an hour, a day or a week-long trek.
  3. Take a walk or ride through the alpine meadows of Jeti-Oghuz Canyon.
  4. Trek through the Celestial Mountains – the little-visited Tien Shan, with their alpine meadows, glaciers, summer pastures and snowy peaks.
  5. Cross the border into Kazakhstan to take a helicopter ride from Karkara basecamp into the icy heights of the Central Tien Shan.

Wanderlust tips

With the exception of hotels in Bishkek, and the very top yurt camps, toilets are usually longdrop and very basic. Take your own toilet paper and soap.

With the high altitudes and changeable climate, do take plenty of warm layers and a waterproof, even in the middle of summer.

Further Reading

Travel in Kyrgyzstan: vital statistics

  • Capital of Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek
    Population of Kyrgyzstan: 5.3 million
    Languages of Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyz, Russian
    Time in Kyrgyzstan: GMT+6
    International dialling code of Kyrgyzstan: +996
    Voltage in Kyrgyzstan: 220 AC, 50 Hz
    Visas for Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan visa 
    Money in Kyrgyzstan: Som (KGS). US dollars and euros are the most useful currencies. Credit cards are rarely accepted. Tipping is generally expected and very welcome as wages are so low.
  • Kyrgyzstan travel advice: Foreign & Commonwealth Office
  • Kyrgyzstan tourist board: Kyrgyz Embassy

When to go

The climate is continental and varies considerably according to altitude. In the summer temperatures in Bishkek can average in the mid/high-30°Cs, while in the mountains snow and rain can be falling.

Some of the mountain passes are inaccessible between October and the end of May. Average temperatures in the winter are 5°C in the lowlands and -30°C in the mountains.

International airport

Bishkek Manas (FRU) 30km from Bishkek.

Getting around in Kyrgyzstan

Buses run between the main centres but to get anywhere else you need to hire a car and driver. Note that both the roads and the general standard of driving are pretty poor. Although the country is only the size of Great Britain, distances are huge between key sites. Taxis are cheap and plentiful in Bishkek. 

Accommodation in Kyrgyzstan

Most accommodation is Soviet in style – don’t expect any boutique hotels here.

Yurt camp stays can be arranged through many companies. High-end ones have flush toilets, and a high (for Kyrgyzstan) standard of cuisine.

Community Based Tourism (CBT) is an organisation that can arrange homestays, yurts and B&Bs, some of them through an arm called Shepherd’s Life. They can arrange other tourism services too such as guides, horse-hire etc:  www.cbtkyrgyzstan.kg.

Food & drink in Kyrgyzstan

The cuisine is a mixture of Central Asian (mutton!) and Russian, although Korean food is widespread too. Popular dishes include plov (rice with lamb and vegetables or fruit), shashlyk (kebab), laghman (stew with noodles) and manty (mutton-filled dumpling). Salads and vegetable dishes are usually available as starters. Flatbreads are ubiquitous and very good.

Vegetarianism is not generally understood, but many of the restaurant starters are suitable or can be adapted. The better yurt camps can cater very well for vegetarians.

Tea (chai), either green or black, is the most common drink and is served in small bowls. Cherry and other fruit juices are widely available.

The main alcoholic drink is vodka (surprise, surprise). However, the wine is surprisingly good. It is mostly from Moldova, although Georgian is available too. Take your own bottled water and alcoholic supplies to yurt camps and guest houses.

Health & safety in Kyrgyzstan

Many travellers seem to experience stomach problems; watch hygiene and take the usual commonsense precautions. Don’t drink the water. Medical facilities are poor.

Kyrgyzstan is safe for visitors but, again take the usual commonsense precautions after dark in Bishkek, and guard against petty theft and pickpocketing, especially in the bazaars.