There are endless reasons to add Kyrgyzstan to your travel itinerary, but here are some of the reasons Goats on the Road returned to this country twice, and plan to go again...
Kyrgyzstan is an outdoor lover’s playground filled with endless trekking spots. Some of the routes are already plotted, while others remain raw – waiting for intrepid travelers to come and carve out their own paths.
Although it might be tempting to take off into the mountains on your own, I recommend having a guide for the following treks, unless you are a seasoned trekker and are familiar with solo backcountry hiking and GPS coordinates.
Note: The trekking season in Kyrgyzstan generally runs from May–October. You can expect some rain in May–June, and snow in mid-October, particularly at higher elevations.
Located just 45 minutes from the town of Karakol, this is one of the up and coming destinations for trekking in Kyrgyzstan. The village itself is home to around 1,000 people, plus numerous chickens, goats, cows, and horses. This is a proper mountain village, complete with a couple of dirt roads, a school, a mosque, and a cemetery.
Until recently, there was only one guesthouse for travelers to stay in. However, since the initiatives put into place by USAID BGI and Discover Kyrgyzstan in 2016, there are now five guesthouses available.
Recently, the new Keskenkija loop trail has been plotted, which is around 40mi (64km) long and takes in some spectacular scenery. If you’re looking to trek and camp along a new route, this one is for you. Jyrgalan is an excellent trekking destination, with many new trails on offer.
If you have your own plans and ideas for where you want to go, head to Jyrgalan and speak with the tourism office there and they’ll help put together an itinerary for you and assist with logistics.
Not into trekking on foot? You can opt for a day trip, or a multi-day horse trek instead! Plus, there are mountain bike trails around Jyrgalan.
This is one of the more popular trekking routes in Kyrgyzstan, and for good reason. Leaving the town of Karakol by local bus, you’ll arrive at the start of the trek. Hike alongside the beautiful Karakol River, before ascending straight up the mountainside. Arriving at a small cabin in the woods, you’ll set up your tent here for the night.
The following day you’ll climb another steep hill to arrive at the star of the trek, the dazzling Ala-Kul lake and the towering Ala Too Mountain Range.
After two full days of hiking you’ll head back down the other side of the Ala-Kul Pass where you’ll be rewarded with soaking your aching muscles in the Altyn Arashan hot springs. This is the best way to end this exhausting (but stunning) hike.
This is another gorgeous area of the country for hiking. Here you can go on multi-day treks from Jyrgalan to Boz Uchuk, which is around 33mi (53km) long and takes in the Terskei Ala-Too Range of the Tian Shan Mountains.
Another option is to trek from Boz Uchuk to Altyn Arashan on a strenuous multi-day hike.
If hiking on foot isn’t your thing, consider taking a multi-day horse trek to Song Kol Lake. You’ll ride through some picturesque mountain scenery, sleep in traditional yurts and enjoy the beauty of lake Song Kol. The trek starts in the small village of Kyzart and ends at the lake.
You’ll ride the horse for two days, and spend one night in the mountains in a traditional yurt, and another night lakeside in a yurt at Song Kol.
One of the highlights of backpacking Kyrgyzstan is meeting the nomads and learning about their way of life. During the summer months, many families live in the jailoo (pastures) while tending to their livestock. If you’re hiking, you’ll definitely come across herders and families living in yurts, which are traditional homes that are assembled and taken down as needed to move with the seasons.
Kyrgyz people are hospitable, curious and welcoming. If you’re invited into a yurt, definitely accept the offer! Not only would it be a bit rude to decline, but the experience will be like no other. You’ll most likely be given tea and some snacks – homemade bread and jam, and maybe some dairy products. Seeing the intricate interior design of a yurt and visiting with the nomadic families is a must-have experience in Kyrgyzstan.
To make your stay even more rewarding, make sure to bring a phrasebook or have a translation app on your phone so you can communicate with the hosts. Better yet, if you’re trekking with a guide, he or she will be able to translate for you.
If you have a chance, make sure to see the World Nomad Games, which happen every two years. The next one is in the summer of 2018. During these “Nomad Olympics” you’ll see traditional sports such as wrestling, falconry, horse racing, archery, and kok-boru – which is basically polo, but is played with a dead goat carcass.
This is a country where the people have strong ties with horses, mountains, eagles, and family. Try to witness the games if you can, but if not, you can see traditional eagle hunting around the south shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. Ask your hotel or yurt stay for details.
During my first trip to Kyrgyzstan in 2013, I was impressed with the food. But, after my recent visit in June of this year, I’m now blown away by the cuisine! I definitely missed out on some dishes during my first trip.
Make 100% sure that you sample the Dungan food. Dungan people are Chinese Kyrgyz and their food is amazing. You can actually go on a “tour” near Karakol, which includes a trip to a Dungan museum to learn about the history, followed by a sit-down eight course meal with a host family.
Apart from Dungan food, make sure to try ashlanfu (tasty cold noodle, meat and veg dish), shashlyk (meat kebabs), manti (meat dumpling), lagman (noodle soup or stir fry), and of course, the fresh bread.
Not only is this country easily accessible to travelers (free 60 day visa on arrival for many countries), but the cost of traveling here is very low. For around US $10/night, you can stay in a homestay room, or a hostel, and you can eat for around US $2–5 a meal. The cost of trekking guides varies, but are around US$30–40/day. A couple traveling in Kyrgyzstan can expect to spend around US $65/day.
As with many places in the world, Kyrgyzstan is starting to be discovered by adventurous travelers. In my opinion, this is a positive thing and can be very beneficial for the people of Kyrgyzstan.
More travelers equals more job opportunities and employment for the Kyrgyz people. Jobs in the trekking sector are being created, locals are opening up guesthouses and restaurants, and many programs are in place for rural areas.
With more travelers interested in culture and the outdoors, this will employ more local people. If you’re searching for an off-track destination filled with natural beauty and interesting culture, look no further than Kyrgyzstan.
Get ready to do battle on Kyrgyz roadways! It can be quite a trying time navigating the underdeveloped road system and dealing with aggressive drivers who are largely ignorant of traffic laws.