Places To Visit In Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan, with its unique scenic beauty, exciting culture and rich cuisine, is currently very popular with adventure tourists. After more than 2 weeks in the country, I have summarized in this article my personal best tips and sights in Kyrgyzstan – from the capital Bishkek in the north to the easternmost settlement of Jergalan.
When I received a request from USAID and Discover Kyrgyzstan at the beginning of the year asking if I would be interested in traveling to Kyrgyzstan, I had to do a little research at first, as I knew very little about the country. The more I learned about it, the more I realized that this is a destination I would like to visit.
After my time on the ground, I can highly recommend Kyrgyzstan to anyone looking for mountains and adventure off the beaten path – even if the infrastructure and logistics can be a headache from time to time. But in the end, that’s also the charm, isn’t it?
1) Hiking in the Tian Shan Mountains – e.g. Boz Uchuk Trek
Without question, it is the mountains for which you should come to Kyrgyzstan – the country is considered a true Mecca for mountain lovers. However, besides high alpine giants like the Jengish Chokusu (7439m) for experienced climbers, there are many other impressive day and multi-day hikes for normal hikers, mostly of medium difficulty.
An example of such a tour is the 3 day Boz Uchuk – Jargalan trek I did. The route leads through 3 valleys and over 2 passes to 2 idyllic mountain lakes, but also the panoramas you see on the way are not less impressive. The tour can be booked on this site(https://jyrgalan.com/tours/trekking-tours/) for a very good price, including transfers, porters, guide, cook & equipment already from 150€ per person!
Starting point for other hikes in the region is the city of Karakol, about the local tourist info you can both inform about routes, as well as guides incl. porters and cooks organize.
2) Horseback riding tours – e.g. in Jyrgalan or Bokonbaevo
Horses play a big role in the Kyrgyz culture, here you learn how to handle and ride horses from childhood on. Accordingly, tours with horses are easy and widespread – even rides of several days are feasible without any problems.
Since I am not a big horse enthusiast myself, I limited myself to day tours. On the one hand I was riding near the Issyk Kul Lake (near Bokonbaevo), on the other hand I did a horseback ride in the Jyrgalan Valley. Especially the latter I can highly recommend because of the diverse landscape.
3) Issyk Kul / Yssykköl – second largest mountain lake in the world
Although Kyrgyzstan has no access to the sea, it is home to the Issyk Kul, a very large saline body of water, which is also the second largest mountain lake in the world. Without question one of the most unique sights in Kyrgyzstan!
In summer the lake is extremely popular with locals, there are several beaches both in the north and south of the country. On the way to Karakol you should make at least a short stop at the lake.
4) Bishkek: modern Kyrgyzstan & monumental buildings
Usually the capital is the starting and ending point of any trip to Kyrgyzstan, at least a 1-day stay here is worthwhile. Both the architecture and the local life form a strong contrast to the rest of the country – the impressive buildings from the Soviet era are interesting photo spots!
5) Overnight stay in Yurt Camp
When traveling through Kyrgyzstan you should stay at least once in a yurt, which is called “Bos uj” here and is extremely cozy.
You will find different types of yurt camps in Kyrgyzstan – some are more luxurious than others, also the yurts differ in size and furnishing. I myself stayed at the Almaluu Yurt Camp at Lake Issyk Kul and can highly recommend it, especially the food is very good (but the sanitary facilities are outside and rather basic).
6) Rich dinner with Dungans
Kyrgyzstan is home to many different tribes and cultures. The Dungans are a Muslim-Chinese minority who have found refuge in Kyrgyzstan (especially in the Karakol area) and are known for their rich, extremely delicious dishes.
In Karakol, you can have Destination Karakol organize such a dinner with a Dungarian family, including transfers. I did this directly before my multi-day hike and could then tackle it appropriately strengthened. Highly recommended!
7) Jyrgalan Valley – Experience authentic Kyrgyzstan
The Jyrgalan Valley is one of the less known sights in Kyrgyzstan, here is much less going on and you have the chance to dive into the village life of Kyrgyzstan.
Jyrgalan is the easternmost village of the country and was in the past mainly known as a place for coal mining. The fall of the Soviet Union plunged the region into a severe crisis and caused a sharp decline in its population.
A few years ago, however, a few local families got together, opened guesthouses, marked hiking routes, and now offer a variety of activities combined with authentic accommodations in this beautiful area. The food is remarkable here. Everything is grown and prepared by themselves – if you like you can even try fermented horse milk, a Kyrgyz specialty!
8) Barskoon Valley
The Barskoon Valley or Barskoon Gorge is also recommended for hiking tours through its impressive surroundings. Here the Barskoon Waterfall is especially interesting, which falls over several cascades into the valley.
The hike to the highest cascade is a half-day tour with a difference in altitude of almost 700m – non-slip shoes are a must here, as the path is quite steep and sometimes slippery!
The Barskoon waterfall towers above the valley of the same name, which is another ideal hiking destination.
9) Food Tour in Karakol
In addition to the tours already described, Destination Karakol also offers a food tour with a total of 5 stops. This is a great opportunity to try a few dishes from different cultures of Kyrgyzstan and learn more about the history behind them.
Laghman, here in fried form, is the Kyrgyz pasta.
My favorite: Ashlanfu – a spicy, cold soup of the Dungars. Soo delicious!
10) Yurt Building Workshop
If you want to learn how a traditional yurt is made and build one yourself you should come to Kyzyl-Tuu. The place is located between Bishkek and Bokonbaevo and is considered to be one of the best places in the country for yurt building.
To learn more about yurt building and to make an appointment, contact Tulosun for a “Yurt building tour” by mail.
Arrival & Accommodation;
From Hamburg I flew with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul to Bishkek. Alternatively, there are connections from Germany via Moscow with Aeroflot. To get from Bishkek to Karakol, there is the option to organize a shared cab for about 10-15€ p.p. (e.g. via the hotel), I myself went with my own tour via the local tour provider CAT. However, I recommend 1 night in Bishkek after arrival and before the return flight, as the drive to Karakol takes 6-8h.
In Bishkek – I stayed at Hotel Shah Palace, a western standard hotel located right in the center with wifi and breakfast included. A solid choice: the rooms are modern, clean and quiet, the location is perfect for exploring the city.
In Bokonbayevo – I made a stopover. Almaluu Yurt Camp is located on Lake Issyk Kul (10min walk) and offers cozy, traditional yurts and a sumptuous dinner. However, the sanitary facilities are located outside. The operators are also the right people to contact for all kinds of tours (horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking) in the region.
In Karakol – I also stayed in a Yurt Camp, but there are sanitary facilities and showers in a separate building. The Happy Nomads Yurt Camp offers large yurts with 5-6 beds, but you can also book them with a lower occupancy – ideal for families! Again, breakfast and wifi is included, you can also request dinner. However, a short walk is required to the city center.
In Jargalan – however, I had, for good reason, the longest stay at Alakol-Jyrgalan Guest House. Emil and Gulmira have recently opened the B&B and put a lot of love and time into it. This goes for the rooms as well as the great traditional meals and tours they offer on site. Even if the WiFi is rather weak here, this is exactly the area where you can get to know the original Kyrgyzstan!