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Backpacking Kyrgyzstan Globe

Backpacking Kyrgyzstan is often considered to be a highlight of travel through “The Stans and for good reason. The scenery is breathtaking, the people are warm and welcoming and best of all, there is no visa required to enter the country! Not only is it easy to get into Kyrgyzstan, but once you’re in, it is the easiest country in Central Asia to travel around thanks to community based tourism projects like CBT and Shepard’s Life. This guide will make things even easier with up-to-date information and useful tips to make the most of your journey backpacking through Kyrgyzstan.

Jump To: Must-see Places | Must-Have Experiences | Off The Beaten Path | Pros | Cons | Transport | Visas | Health | Weather | MORE KYRGYZSTAN BLOGS

How Much Will Kyrgyzstan Cost?

backpacking Kyrgyzstan budget
Budget For Kyrgyzstan

$63/day for 2 people.

The budget for backpacking Kyrgyzstan really depends on where you stay and what you do in the country. If you always stay in dorms and do few activities, you could probably live off of $50 / day for 2 people ($25 each). $63 / day will allow you to stay in nice double rooms in guest houses or homestays, eat delicious local food and go on plenty of excursions. It’s important to make the most of your trip to Kyrgyzstan and this budget will make for a comfortable and enjoyable trip.

Budget Accommodation: (Avg $18 / night)

Accommodation in Kyrgyzstan varies from nice double rooms in hotels, to tents outside and musty yurts on the steppe. CBT (Community Based Tourism) can set you up with some comfortable home stays for as little as $9 / night / person. These rooms are clean and you get to stay with a local family and often sample home cooked food! When you’re arriving in a village or city in Kyrgyzstan, contact CBT and check to see if they have registered homestays in the area, if so… book one!

Basically, you have three options for sleeping in Kyrgyzstan:

1. Homestays (most of which are not found in the cities)

2. Hotels – you can find these in Bishkek, Karakol, Osh, Cholpon-Alta, and more. Click here for rates and reviews.

3. There are hostels available in Bishkek and Osh, click here to check out Hostel World, the go-to site for backpackers.

Backpacking Kyrgyzstan - A Traditional Kyrgyz Yurt
A Traditional Kyrgyz Yurt

Eating: ($2-$7 / meal)

Backpackers in Kyrgyzstan will find good food in Bishkek, where there’s a wide variety of continental cuisines as well as some delicious local dishes. Outside of Bishkek there are not many restaurants that cater to tourists but luckily, you can eat locally in your village homestay!

Backpacking Kyrgyzstan Food Shashlyk - Traditional Kyrgyz Kabab
Shashlyk – Traditional Kyrgyz Kabab

Entrance Fees: ($1-3/person)

Entrence fees For Budget Backpackers in Kyrgyzstan

Probably the only time you’ll be paying entrance fees will be at National Parks & some museums in Bishkek. Entrance fees are very reasonable, even in the capital. Typical costs are between $1 – $3.

Alcohol: ($2 Beer, $4 Cocktails)

Backpacking Kyrgyzstan Beer A popular local brew is the Steinbrau, a German style beer that goes for a couple of dollars in stores. Most people backpacking Kyrgyzstan drink the Russian Baltika beer here and throughout Central Asia because it’s delicious and inexpensive, though it’s good to sample local brews as well. Outside of Bishkek, you probably won’t find any cocktails – just kumus! (keep reading to learn about this local drink)

Tipping:

Tipping Kyrgyzstan backpackers
Tipping

Tipping is not customary in Kyrgyzstan but services that cater to tourists will often expect a small gratuity. If you’ve hired a guide to take you trekking or horseback riding, it’s usually expected that you’ll tip a few som at the end. Similarly, if you are invited into a local family’s home, it’s nice to leave a small gift when you leave. Stickers, pens, notepads and pins from your home country make for great gifts.

Currency:

189px-100_Som_notesThe currency in Kyrgyzstan is called the Kyrgyz Som. The exchange rate at the time of writing was $1USD = 53KYG. Denominations are currently being printed in 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and recently 5000 som notes.

Must-See Places:

There are far too many “must-see” places while backpacking Kyrgyzstan to list here. We spent a lot of time in this tiny country and we still have much to see. Kyrgyzstan is a small alpine nation but there are many challenging treks, hikes and climbs just waiting to be discovered.

Jump To: Must-Have Experiences | Off The Beaten Path | Pros | Cons | Transport | Visas | Health | Weather | MORE KYRGYZSTAN BLOGS

Jyrgalan:

The number one best off-the-beaten path hiking, trekking, horse trekking and camping destination in the country. It’s a secret, but we’ll fill you in. Check out the “Off The Beaten Path” section below for more and check out our experience plotting and marking new trekking trails in Jyrgalan

Bokonbayevo:

Located on the southern shore of Lake Issyk Kul, if you’re looking for a more off-track, traditional and pristine part of this beautiful alpine lake, then look no further than Beltam Yurt Camp just outside of Bokonbayevo town. A spattering of 15 yurts are spread across the shore at this lovely, family run place. The food is fantastic and the family who own it really showcase what Kyrgyz hospitality is all about. Don’t miss it!

Bishkek (Бишкéк):

At 800 meters in altitude, the nation’s capital is a leafy, cool oasis that is easy to navigate and fun to visit. With a wide variety of local restaurants, some interesting squares and long shady streets, Bishkek is one of the nicest capitals in Central Asia. Here you can get settled for a few days while planning your trips around the country. Be sure to check out Ala-Too Square and the Dordoy Bazaar.

Backpacking Kyrgyzstan Bishkek - The Kyrgyz Capital
Bishkek – The Kyrgyz Capital

Issyk Kul (Ысык-Көл):

The second largest alpine lake in the world, Issyk Kul is a popular vacation destination for Kyrgyz people, as well as Russians and Kazakhs. Nestled between the snow-capped peaks of the Tian Shan Mountains, the lake is just 171km from Bishkek and is easily accessible via a 300 som bus ride to the main lakeside town of Cholpon-Ata. The lake is perfect for swimming, sun tanning, hiking, trekking, horse trekking, camping and more. This 663 meter deep body of naturally heated water is Kyrgyzstan’s main tourism draw card.

Cholpon-Ata (Чолпон-ата):

Cholpon-Ata is the main tourist village located on Issyk-Kul. With a beautiful sandy beach perfect for swimming (in the summer months) and views of the Tian Shan Mountains, there’s no doubt why this is the most popular town on the lake. There are also some good restaurants, lots of accommodation choices and excellent day treks and tours from Cholpan-Ata.

Backpacking Kyrgyzstan: Issyk Kul Lake As Seen From Cholpan-Ata Beach
Issyk Kul Lake As Seen From Cholpan-Ata Beach

Karakol (Каракол):

One of Kyrgyzstan’s prime trekking and hiking destinations, Karakol is the perfect place to set off on a multi-day adventure. BUT, there are loads of other non-trekking things to do in Karakol, so make sure you stick around for a couple of days. Located east of lake Issyk Kul, the village is most famous for the Altyn-Arashan trek, a 2 day climb that takes you over a 3,800 meter high pass and onto the shores of the dazzling Ala-kul Lake. There are many other treks in the area but the Ala-Kul adventure is by far the most popular.

Backpacking Kyrgyzstan Trekking Beautiful Ala-Kul Lake (3,560 meters)
Beautiful Ala-Kul Lake (3,560 meters)

If you’re interested in this trek, check out: Trekking Ala-kul & Altyn Arashan Without A Guide and A Hike To Remember: Trekking Altyn Arashan and Ala-Kul (with video)

Song Köl (Соңкөл):

At 3,016 meters, this alpine lake is a definite highlight of backpacking Kyrgyzstan and it makes for the perfect place to plan a multi-day horse trek. The lake is far away from sound and light pollution so the nights promise some of the best star-gazing imaginable.

Most treks, both on foot and on horse back, can be arranged in Kochkor, a small town about 60 km from the lake. CBT and other tour operators will offer great deals on horse treks, but they will charge you double the local rate for vehicle transport in and out of the lake. As most treks involve transport to a trailhead or back to Kochkor from the lake, it’s best to organize this part of the journey yourself to save money. There are plenty of rides leaving the lake each day.

**Goat Note: We recommend using Shepard’s Life in Kochkor to arrange your trek to Song Kol lake. The owner is friendly, honest and knowledgable and the guides and horses are great.

song kol lake kyrgyzstan
Song Kol Lake

Arslanbob (Арстанбап):

This is without a doubt the most scenic mountain village in the country. With dozens of day hikes, long distance treks and mountain summits right on its doorstep, Arslanbob is an action packed, outdoor destination and one that should be firmly on your itinerary when backpacking Kyrgyzstan. Hook up with CBT here for some great homestays (#12 is the best) and some amazing day trips around the village.

You can go on fishing trips, horse treks, waterfall hikes and more. Arslanbob is home to the world’s largest walnut forest which is an easy walk from the village center. We highly recommend going yourself and meeting some of the local families who sleep in the forest during harvest season (around August-October). Just talk to Hyat at the CBT office near the center of town and he’ll help you out with any of the day trips around the village.

Goat Note: There’s no need to pay for a tour to hike to the small and large waterfalls or the walnut forest because they are easy to find on your own (despite what CBT may tell you!).

A Viewpoint Over Arslanbob Village backpacking Kyrgyzstan
A Viewpoint Over Arslanbob Village

Osh (Ош):

Osh is the largest city in Kyrgyzstan and although there are a few places of interest, the city itself doesn’t have much to offer travellers and in our opinion, there’s no reason to stay here more than a couple of days. Don’t miss the Osh Market (the largest outdoor market in Central Asia) or a hike up to Sulayman Too for beautiful views of the city.

The main reason that travellers find themselves in Osh is either finishing or beginning a trip into the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan or a trip into the Fergana Valley. If you’re planning a trip into the Pamirs, head to Osh Guest House where you can find a huge whiteboard filled with other travellers’ planned trips. This is the best place to join a group or find information about this amazing journey.

Lenin Peak ( Ленин Чокусу):

This 7,000m high peak on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is a must-see mountain! Many people visit Lenin Peak via Sary Moghul at the beginning of their Pamir Highway trip, coming from Osh. If you’re not interested in travelling the Pamir Highway, you can make your way to Sary Moghul and speak with the CBT office there. There is a homestay, guides and a driver that would be able to show you to the mountain. For some easy trekking (on foot or on horse) around the base of Peak Lenin and for great views, this is the way to go. If you’re interested in summiting the peak, you’ll need to do your research and most likely join an expedition.

trekking peak lenin kyrgyzstan
Trekking around the base of Peak Lenin

Must Have Experiences

A Horse Trek:

Like in Mongolia and much of Central Asia, country life in Kyrgyzstan is closely tied to horses. There are lots of great places to saddle up and head out into the raw nature of alpine Kyrgyzstan but we think that the best horse trek in the country is from the small town of Kyzart, over the 3,700m pass and down to Song Kol Lake. In September, we had snow when we headed over the pass, but it only made the views of the aqua blue Song Kol lake more fantastic. This trip is highly recommended and can be arranged at CBT or Shepard’s Life in Kochkor.

Jump To: Must-see Places | Off The Beaten Path | Pros | Cons | Transport | Visas | Health | Weather | MORE KYRGYZSTAN BLOGS

Backpacking A Horse Trek To Song Kul Kyrgyzstan
A Horse Trek To Song Kul

Check out our video and article of Horse Trekking to Song Kol.

For new and offtrack horse trekking opportunities, check out the Village of Jyrgalan, which is just 45 minutes outside of Karakol. Contact [email protected] for information, and tell them GoatsOnTheRoad sent you!

Drink Kumis (Fermented Mare’s Milk):

Did you know that horses produce milk? Did you know that if you let the milk ferment for weeks in the heat, it turns into a vial cocktail that will either put hair on your chest, or peel paint from the walls? Kumis is the Kyrgyz drink of choice and if you can keep it down, you may find that you’ll have some great experiences drinking with the locals while they laugh at your grimacing face after every sip.

Drinking Kumis Backpacking Kyrgyzstan

Trek Over A Pass:

Kyrgyzstan is often referred to as “The Switzerland of Central Asia” and there is no better way to experience the nation’s alpine beauty then to lace up your hiking shoes and trek over one of the many mountain passes. 95% of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous so you have plenty of trekking routes to choose from! The best trekking areas are around the city of Karakol. Try the 2 day trek from Karakol to Altyn Arashan over the Ala-kul pass, or the NEW Keskenkija Trail trek in Jyrgalan (with “Goatasaurus” pass!). Other great trekking areas are around Song Kol, The Fergana Valley and Arslanbob.

Stay in a Yurt:

While Kyrgyz yurts are quickly being replaced by small wooden homes, you can still find these fascinating felt shelters dotted throughout the countryside. If you trek to Song Kol, you’ll be able to stay at a tourist yurt on the lake. Your guidebook may describe the yurts on Song Kol as an authentic local herding settlement but make no mistake, they are there specifically for tourists. You’ll have to find your way further away from the tourist trail to witness a real, traditional Kyrgyz yurt. Either way, they are a great insight into the country’s history and they are usually warm and comfortable.

Backpacking and Staying In Yurts In Kyrgyzstan

Go To A Market:

You’ll notice while backpacking Kyrgyzstan that the country still has a great market culture. The Dordoi Bazaar in Bishkek is one of the largest markets in Central Asia and there is a small market in Arslanbob. There is great Sunday animal market in Karakol that should not be missed. For sure the best market in the country is the largest outdoor market in Central Asia, the Osh Bazaar. Kyrgyzstan definitely has the best markets in the region.

Witness Kok Boru (Buzkashi):

Have you ever wondered why nobody has invented a sport where men ride on horses, battle over a dead goat carcass and try to score a goal by chucking it into a 3 meter cauldron? Well, man has invented it and it’s called Kok Boru! Traditionally played by Kyrgyz, Pashtuns, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks and Turkmens, this is surely one of the strangest games played anywhere on Earth. It may be a bit morbid, but consider yourself lucky if you have the chance to watch Kok Boru in Kyrgyzstan!

Backpacking In Kyrgyzstan and watching Buzkashi
Photo By: Gloriann Liu

Laze On The Beach

Just because Kyrgyzstan is further away from the ocean than any other county on Earth doesn’t mean that it’s lacking nice beaches! Head to Issyk Kol and laze on powdery sands with views of the mighty Tian Shan mountains in the background. Cholpan-Ata is a great place for a beach getaway, or head to the south of the lake around Ak Terek.

cholpon alta lake kyrgyzstan

Must Try Dishes:

Plate Road SignFood is a huge part of travelling to any country and backpacking Kyrgyzstan is no different. Although many dishes in the countryside lack flavour and seasoning, you can find some delicious local meals in villages and in the nation’s cities (particularly Osh and Bishkek).

Note: Islam is the dominant religion in Kyrgyzstan, so you won’t find pork in many, if any, meals.

Beşbarmaq (беcбармак):

Beshbarmak or Beşbarmaq  means “five fingers”, because the dish is meant to be eaten with your hands. Boiled meat is usually diced and mixed with boiled noodles, and spiced with a rich onion sauce.

Shashlik (шашлык):

The Central Asian version of Shish Kabab, the meat on these tasty sticks is usually spiced lamb or beef but sometimes you’ll find delicious chicken kebabs as well.

Kuurdak (куурдак):

The name means “roast fried” and refers to the method in which the dish is cooked. Usually made from mutton, it can be served with beef, lamb or chicken but of course not pork.

Off The Beaten Path In Kyrgyzstan:

Backpacking Off The Beaten Path In Kyrgyzstan
Off The Beaten Path In Kyrgyzstan

Let’s be honest, not many people visit Kyrgyzstan and by coming here, you’re already “off-the-beaten-path”.  If you really want to get away from it all, just go trekking around Kyrgyzstan for a while and you’ll find a profound connection with nature that will be hard to match anywhere else. Trekking to high altitude passes and meeting local families will make you feel like you’ve found a corner of the planet just for yourself, but be quick, Kyrgyzstan is a fast-growing tourism destination!

UPDATE JULY 2017: There is one true off-track spot that is a secret, but we’re going to tell you about it!

Jyrgalan

Seldom will you find an undeveloped, up and coming backpacker, trekking and camping hot spot like Jyrgalan. Get here before the crowds do! This is one of the most jam-packed adventure and outdoor activity spots in all of Central Asia and very few people have ever heard of it. There are great guest houses, delicious food, friendly people and did I mention trekking?

travel to jyrgalan kyrgyzstan trekking

Hop on a horse or head out on foot, hire a guide or do it independent following well-marked paths. These snowy peaks are at your fingertips when you stay in the small village of Jyrgalan, just an hour east of Karakol.

If you’re interested in one of the best (and newest) treks that Jyrgalan has to offer, check out our post about joining an expedition of mountain experts, local guides and foreign aid to help plot and mark the breathtaking Kesenkija Loop Trail.

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Pros Of Travel In Kyrgyzstan:

Thumbs Up RoadsignKyrgyzstan is an amazing place to travel and there are many reasons why Kyrgyzstan is outSTANDing. Most people who travel through Central Asia will list this as their favourite country in the region and after you go, you’ll probably agree.

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NO VISAS!

If you’re travelling around Central Asia you’ll start to get annoyed with all of the visa hassle and endless paperwork that comes with developing tourism in this post-soviet region. Kyrgyzstan is like a shining light in an otherwise dark, bureaucratic nightmare. Get your 30 or 60 day visa (depending on nationality) on arrival and enjoy Kyrgyzstan without the immigration hassle that you’ll find with its neighbours.

The People:

Kyrgyz people are warm and genuine. Tourism is still relatively new here and they are always happy to see foreign faces experiencing their beautiful country. Due to historical instability, Kyrgyzstan has managed to stay off the tourist radar, but now that things are peaceful, the country and its hospitable inhabitants are welcoming tourists with open arms.

Backpacking with The People In Kyrgyzstan

The Culture:

When you are this far away from mass tourism and western influence, traditions and unique cultural quirks continue to affect society. Bride kidnapping is a fascinating and often disturbing tradition that is still alive and well in Kyrgyzstan and if you talk to male elders, you can be certain that they kidnapped their current wives. The act of kidnapping women and forcing them to marry is technically illegal in present day Kyrgyzstan but it is still more common than proposals.

Games like Buzkashi also add to the interesting culture that makes up Kyrgyzstan and it’s these differences in customs social behaviour and overall perspective that make a foreign country interesting.

Ease Of Travel:

Largely thanks to CBT (Community Based Tourism) projects throughout Kyrgyzstan, visitors can take full advantage of this amazing country with ease. You can easily reserve seats in shared taxis, hire horses and guides and find maps to the most appealing corners of the country. CBT and Shepard’s Life make backpacking Kyrgyzstan easy. If only there was a CBT office in every village in every country around the world… travel would be even more fulfilling (not to mention sustainable).

Cons Of Travel In Kyrgyzstan:

Thumbs Down RoadsignWith a country so undiscovered by tourism, there are a few cons to travelling here. In all honesty, there aren’t many cons to Kyrgyzstan, but we’ve named a few.

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Dangerous Driving:

You’ll start to notice, like everywhere in Central Asia, Kyrgyz drivers hit the gas pedal with a death wish. Passing around corners and reaching speeds of 160km / hour is not uncommon and it’s an unavoidable problem for tourists and locals alike. The roads are not a safe place in Kyrgyzstan.

Language Barrier:

There's a language barrier when backpacking KyrgyzstanIf you don’t speak Kyrgyz or Russian, it can be difficult to communicate with the locals. In the capital you will find many people who speak English. Outside of Bishkek you’ll be forced to use charades, hand motions and drawings! It’s all part of the fun though. We suggest bringing along a Russian Phrasebook.

The Food:

Like most of the region, Kyrgyzstan is not a culinary hot spot. Traditional Kyrgyz food revolves around muttonbeef and horse meat, as well as various dairy products. The preparation techniques and major ingredients have been strongly influenced by the nation’s historically nomadic way of life. Thus, most meals are conducive to the long-term preservation of food, rather than overall taste and enjoyment.

Goat Note For VEGETARIANS: Travelling to Kyrgyzstan as a herbivore may be difficult but not impossible. Don’t let your diet deter you from visiting this country… although if you’re a vegan, good luck!

Some Of The Food In Kyrgyzstan Is Very Good. This Is A Delicious Soup In Bishkek
Some Of The Food In Kyrgyzstan Is Very Good. This Is A Delicious Soup In Bishkek

Drunks:

We travelled Kyrgyzstan for a month and never had an issue with drunk Kyrgyz men, but they are a common sight in the country and in Central Asia. Russian vodka is their fuel of choice but usually they’re more annoying then they are dangerous. Some travellers have complained about their aggressive behavior so beware.

The People In Kyrgyzstan:

The people you encounter while backpacking through a country can have a profound impact on the way you view a destination. Not only the local people, but the types of other travellers as well.

Types Of Other Travellers:

Types Of Other Travellers when Travelling Kyrgyzstan
Types Of Other Travellers

If you’re heading to Central Asia, you’re going for the same reason that everyone else is going, to find somewhere unique and off the beaten path. Other travellers in Kyrgyzstan can be a major highlight of your trip, with so many different backpackers on so many different adventures, you’re sure to hear many amazing stories at every hotel and hostel dinner table. We found the other travellers here to be mature, adventurous and inspiring!

The Locals:

The People Of Kyrgyzstan
The People Of Kyrgyzstan

The word Kyrgyz is an old Turkic work that refers to the unity of the 40 tribes that make up the population of Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz people find their earliest ancestral origins in modern-day Mongolia and although today they are a very different culture, you can still notice some similarities both in physical appearance and continuing traditions. Like Mongolians, Kyrgyz people are strongly tied to their horses, though this connection is slowly giving way to modern transportation. As a traveller you’ll find the Kyrgyz people to be kind, genuine and honest.

Religion In Kyrgyzstan:Religion

Islam is the dominant religion of Kyrgyzstan: 80% of the population is Muslim while 17% are Russian Orthodox and 3% practice other religions.

Communication In Kyrgyzstan:

Communication Backpacking KyrgyzstanKyrgyz is a Turkik language spoken by about four million people in Kyrgyzstan as well as China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Russia. The modern alphabet is an adaptation of Russian Cyrillic that was introduced in 1940 due to general Soviet policy. It’s worth trying to master the basics of written Cyrillic and maybe carrying a Russian phrasebook around with you. Communication can be difficult in Kyrgyzstan.

Some Handy Kyrgyz Phrases To Know:

Hello (informal): Salam

How are you? Kandaisiz?

Fine, thank you.  Jakshuh, rakhmat.

What is your name? Atyngyz kim?

My name is ______ . Menim atem______.

Nice to meet you. Siz menen tanyshkanyma kubanychtumun.

Please. Suranych/Otunuch.

Thank you. Rakhmat.

You’re welcome. Echteke emes.

Yes. Ooba.

No. Jok.

Getting Around In Kyrgyzstan:

Shared Taxis Backpacking Kyrgyzstan
Getting Around In Kyrgyzstan

Luckily, thanks to CBT, there are shared taxis for tourists that link many of the major cities and villages in Kyrgyzstan. Your best bet for transport is in Bishkek, where there are shared cabs and some buses to pretty much everywhere in the country. If you don’t want to head to the market and bargain for a ride (and probably pay tourist pricing), you may just want to contact the local CBT office and ask if there’s a car going to your desired destination. Either way, ALWAYS know the local price before bargaining for a ride.

Getting In & Out:

041736-yellow-road-sign-icon-transport-travel-transportation-school-bus2By Land:

Trains to Bishkek depart from Moscow (Kazanskaia station) a few times a week. The 3714km, trip takes more than 3 days and goes through Kazakhstan so don’t forget to get your Kazakh transit visa before hand. There are many buses to and from Almaty in Kazakhstan every day (5hrs=1,300KZT/$8.50) as well as shared taxis to the border going in both directions. Be aware that when you’re travelling to and from Bishkek and Almaty, drivers will usually abandon you at the border despite the fact that you paid to go all of the way. Luckily there are cheap minibuses that can take you into town from the border if you’re left behind.

Leaving Kyrgyzstan and heading to Tajikistan, you’ll probably be hiring a private driver from Osh to start the Pamir Highway journey. If not, you’ll have to take a local bus or shared taxi to the border with Tajikistan and then try to hitchhike the rest of the way through the Pamirs. When doing this trip, don’t forget to obtain your GBAO Permit beforehand!

There are 2 passes over the Tian Shan mountains from Kyrgyzstan to China. The Irkeshtam pass is the best choice for anyone wanting to get to China the easier way. For others, there is the Torugart pass.

To enter Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan, you have three options (keep in mind, these borders close often and without warning). Dostyk border crossing is the main one used by tourists and it is on the road between Osh and Andijon. Khanabad is on the road between Jalal-Abad and Andijon (currently closed) and Uch Kurgan which is on the road between Karakol and Namangan (probably the most reliable Kyrgyz-Uzbek border).

Goat Note: Give yourself plenty of time when crossing borders into Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan as the process can take up to 2 hours!

Plane Road SignBy Air:

Bishkek Manas Airport now has daily flights to Moscow, London (via Almaty) and Istanbul. Cheap Pagasus flights from Europe make Bishkek one of the best places to enter Central Asia by Air. There are also flights from Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Urumqui (China) and once weekly flights from Dubai. The airport is 30 km north of Bishkek City central and a taxi will cost about 500 som one way. Visas can be issued on arrival at the airport.

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Visa Regulations For Kyrgyzstan:

Backpacking Kyrgyzstan Visa
Visa Regulations

NO VISA NEEDED FOR KYRGYZSTAN! GET 60 DAYS ON ARRIVAL!

The Government of the Kyrgyz Republic allows citizens of 44 countries and territories to visit Kyrgyzstan for tourism or business purposes without having to obtain a visa. Beware, in February of 2014, the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs in Kyrgyzstan threatened to abolish the visa-free regime, but changes have yet to be passed and you can still get your visa on arrival.

Visa regulations are as follows:

Don’t Need Visa:

  •  Kazakhstan
  •  Moldova
  •  North Korea
  •  Russia
  •  Tajikistan
  •  Vietnam

Free Visa On Arrival Issued For 60 Days:

  • European Union European Union / EFTA citizens except Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania
  •  Australia
  •  Bahrain
  •  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  •  Brunei
  •  Canada
  •  Kuwait
  •  Monaco
  •  New Zealand

**Please Note: Visa regulations change very frequently. It is best to check appropriate government websites before visiting any country.

Health In Kyrgyzstan:

Health Road SignThe biggest health risk in Kyrgyzstan is probably food poisoning and traveller’s diarrhea. There are plenty of mosquitos but luckily no dengue fever or malaria have been reported. There are cases of rabid dogs and cats, so beware when entering anyone’s property. If there are barking dogs, try to tell the owner to tie them up and avoid petting stray animals. There is no risk of Yellow Fever in Kyrgyzstan.

Jump To: Must-see Places | Off The Beaten Path | Pros | Cons | Transport | Visas | Weather | MORE KYRGYZSTAN BLOGS

Phone & Internet In Kyrgyzstan:

Laptop Road SignThere is relatively good cellular coverage in Kyrgyzstan and you’ll find that even when you’re in a high altitude village, there are locals standing on a hill and holding their mobile phones up to find bars. Major service providers include Megacom and Beeline and with varying service in different regions of the country, it’s hard to choose the right one. Internet can be found in some guesthouses and hotels but you’ll rarely find wi-fi in a homestay. Most villages and towns have some sort of internet cafe or a place you can connect to the internet, though connections are often painfully slow and unreliable.

Good Movies & Books About Kyrgyzstan:

Movies:

Check out this documentary for an up close and personal look at bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. BBC also has an interesting documentary called Meet The Stans that can give you a good run-down on history and (somewhat) modern politics in the region.

Click Here For Some Of Our Kyrgyzstan Goat Shows

Books:

Kyrgyzstan by Claudia Antipina is a great book with fascinating photos of Kyrgyz people in traditional clothing and settings.

Jamilia by Chingiz Aitmatov is an emotional love story set in Kyrgyzstan’s rugged landscapes.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Kyrgyzstan?

Weather Road SignThe best time to visit is July to September, although camping and trekking are pleasant from early June through mid-October. From the end of June through to mid-August most afternoons will reach 32ºC or higher, with a maximum of 40ºC. Mid-May to mid-June is pleasant, though many mountain passes will still be snowed in.

Goat Note: Weather throughout the world is changing. You can’t even try to predict seasons anymore, but you can assume that Kyrgyzstan is mostly freezing after November.

Jump To: Must-see Places | Off The Beaten Path | Pros | Cons | Transport | Visas | Health | MORE KYRGYZSTAN BLOGS

Current Weather Conditions:

These are the current weather forecasts for all of the regions you are likely to visit in Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek is north, Naryn is relatively central, Osh gives an accurate weather forecast for most of the southern Fergana Valley, while Karakol shows east and Khujand shows western weather forecasts. As you can see, all of these regions have varying weather patterns.

 

Overall Rating:

8 Stars

We give backpacking in Kyrgyzstan 8 stars!

Kyrgyzstan is a true alpine paradise with so much for the intrepid backpacker to discover. Thanks to relaxed visa regulations and community based tourism projects, the country is easily accessible and easily navigated. You can find adventure all over this mountainous nation whether you’re trekking over a 3,500 meter pass or sampling food in a local market, there’s something for everyone in Kyrgyzstan.

Jump To: Must-see Places | Off The Beaten Path | Pros | Cons | Transport | Visas | Health | Weather | MORE KYRGYZSTAN BLOGS

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The Ultimate Guide To Backpacking Kyrgyzstan

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48 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide To Backpacking Kyrgyzstan

  1. What an awesome guide to a country that seems so wonderfully mysterious and quite intimidating. It’s great to have such a comprehensive and practice guide! thanks for this post!

  2. I’d love to take a horse trek here! How freakin’ awesome would that be.

    I was just about to ask what foods us veg-heads could eat, and BAM!, you answered my question. Great guide and thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Becci!

    Kyrgyzstan is actually a somewhat easy country to travel around, one of the easiest of the Stans that’s for sure! Central Asia can seem intimidating when reading about it on the internet, but once you actually get there, it’s fairly easy to navigate 🙂

    Thank you for commenting!

  4. Hey Greg! This was the first horse trek we had been on and although mine was quite stubborn, it was still an amazing experience 🙂 For vegetarians, the options are more limited, but it’s doable!

    Thank you for commenting.

  5. What an amazing guide! And you really tickled my curiosity, putting Kyrgyzstan well on my radar!
    Thanks for sharing all these valuable tips and information!

  6. Great, glad to hear it! Kyrgyzstan is filled with adventure, yet it’s easier to get around than the other Stans – still an intrepid traveller’s place though 🙂

  7. What a fantastic guide – indispensable!! There is not enough good information out there about the ‘stans’, but this is awesome!! Thank you! (Stunning pics too 🙂 )

  8. Thanks Tim!

    I agree. When we were planning we found it hard to find information online about this region. We recently just published the Ultimate Guide To Backpacking Tajikistan….with a couple more ‘stans on the way, as well as Iran and the Pamir Highway – stay tuned.

  9. Wow! Seriously guys, you are awesome!
    Always when I’m in trouble, your website seems to pop up and all of a sudden I have an answer to all of my questions 🙂

    We are now currently in Mongolia, thinking about if we should book a spontaneous ticket to Kyrgyzstan. Do you think that September is still a good time to get to all the mountains? And you say “bad roads”, but are they paved? Like here in Mongolia, the roads are so terrible! It would be a great thing, just knowing that they are paved over there, haha!

    Keep up the good work! 🙂

  10. Hello!

    Thanks for your comment, I’m glad that we can help in your time of need! haha. Our entire 3.5 week trip in Kyrgyzstan was spent in September, so you will be good 🙂 We had a very light skiff of snow when we were horse trekking, but nothing major. When we were trekking, it was very dry. And yes, there are real roads in Kyrgyzstan, but the drivers are insane!

    Enjoy!

  11. How did you find costs compared to Uzbekistan, was there less affordable accommodation or the same?

    I was in Uzbekistan last year and wrote and extensive blog about it (on a VERY slow laptop so forgive the spelling mistakes etc) and I found some places like Termez and Nukus expensive due to a lack of cheap accommodation?

    Thanks for any information.

  12. Hi, I hear a lot about the unsafe roads there. Though i am thinking to plan a self drive there, with a 4×4 of course, is that completely crazy? Or perfectly feasible? I consider myself an experienced yet defensive driver :). we are going this year from 1 to 16 september

  13. Hello

    i was wondering about the trek to Ala Kol lake , what time of the year did you go there?
    I will be in kyrgyzystan end May, but I am afraid it will be to early to take the hike

  14. What a very informative guide list. I wish I can visit Kyrgyzstan specifically in Karakol to experience mountaineering activities such as trekking, hiking and climbing. The karakol mountain peak is very tempting, I think the peak is perfect for an extreme outdoor and mountaineering activity.

  15. Here there!

    I’m planning a trip but I’m wondering about how safe it would be to travel just in the North-East with a friend.
    Is it touristic or do we have to be scared?

    Kind regards,

    Tom

  16. Hi there, thanks for the great post. I am wondering; do i need to book everything in advance? CBT for example offers great complete tours on their website. Or should i just book a flight to Bishkek and only arrange my first hotel night and see from there on.

  17. Hi, i find a lot of useful informations in your post 🙂 Could you tell me what is the best time to visit this country? Btw, i only have 5-6 days to spend time here. So wich places should i visit?
    Thanks for any information.

  18. Hi Minh,

    What you can do in 5-6 days really depends on what you are interested in! Hiking, visiting villages, doing a horse trek, etc. Check in with CBT (community based tourism) while there and they can set you up with some activities. June to October is the best time to visit. Enjoy!

  19. What a wonderful website.. I never came across this in years.. Good I found it now (from LP).. You guys seem fun and the detail at which each piece of information posted is amazing!

    Keep traveling and writing 😀

  20. Such a great resource as always!

    Just an update for travelers as I’ve been living in the region for the last few months- Kyrgyzstan is now requiring all tourists to register within 5 days or they will receive a fine of 10,000 soms (around $130). It is rather annoying (I have been to Kyrgyzstan 7 times over the last 4 years) and inconvenient, but the country is in dire times financially. If you leave on the 5th day, you’re fine. But anything longer than 5 and you must register at Prospect Mira 95 (open weekdays from 9am until 6pm). All websites direct you to register at Kievskaya 58, but the office will direct you to Prospect Mira 95 (and it is on the other side of the city). The cost to register is 120 som. This all went into effect 4 November 2016 (but do check to see if anything else has been updated before traveling there).

  21. Thank you for this detailed guide
    So many helpful tips and advices, I hope that I’ll be able to make it this summer!!

  22. Hi,

    I would also like to add Oromo (stuffed and steamed pasta) as a delicious dish, actually it was my favorite while visiting Kyrgyzstan. The nature is truly breathtaking, as a photographer / nature lover you could spend months there and never get bored. Karakol, Sonk kol lake and the area around Peak Lenin should definitely be on your list.

    I’ve written a short blog about my trip there for those that want more information.

    http://www.jacekoleksinski.com/blog/2017/1/19/they-call-it-the-pearl-of-asia

  23. Thanks for the comprehensive guide! Super helpful as I am planning to go this October.
    I was wondering whether you could tell me anything about camping there? Is it allowed to camp wherever you want or will you run into problems? Or is it better to not camp at all and stay in hostels, homestays, yurts etc. (we will probably stay in these kind of accommodations at times anyways, but especially out there in the nature we wanted to do some camping)
    Thanks for your help!

  24. I’m planning a trip to Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan next summer and now am even more excited to visit this country. The whole experience looks totally unique and the wild scenery is especially beautiful. Thank you for another detailed post and fuelling my wanderlust no end.
    Rakhmat!

  25. Awesome!! Glad to hear you’re planning a trip to some of the Stans Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful little country – don’t miss the new hotspot for trekking, Jyrgalan! Cheers

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