Why I loved traveling in Kyrgyzstan.
I’ve just returned from a unique trip to Kyrgyzstan and can’t stop raving about why I loved traveling in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country in Central Asia (one of the least touristy areas in the world) It’s a beautiful country with amazing people and (unlike some of the other countries in this region where it’s difficult to get a visa) its easy, affordable and safe to visit, even for solo female travellers. Check out the Discover Kyrgyzstan website to find out more.
Kyrgyzstan is one of the most exciting destinations for intrepid explorers, trekkers and nature lovers right now. One of the most exciting things for me about traveling in Kyrgyzstan is that the country is only just developing as a tourist destination so its still very offbeat, affordable and its easy to connect genuinely with local people.
One of my highlights traveling in Kyrgyzstan was hiking and horse trekking through the mountains, enjoying stunning views, without any other tourists, and staying in yurts with local nomadic shepherds! Read more here.
My photos really don’t do the amazing scenery justice – so if you want the full effect you’ll just have to visit yourself!
Here’s a few more reasons why I loved traveling in Kyrgyzstan
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Stunning Nature, Trekking, Scenery and the Nomadic Culture
Kyrgyzstan is located in the heart of Central Asia and 90% of the country is mountainous and packed with stunning scenery and natural wonders meaning that Kyrgyzstan is a paradise for nature lovers and those who love the great outdoors and there are more soaring peaks complete with breath taking views that you could possibly ever be able to conquer.
The Kyrgyz people were traditionally a nomadic race, which is why there are not that many historical buildings here, but there is a lot of stunning nature and one of the most interesting things for me was experiencing the nomadic lifestyle and culture.
In Summer, the mountains and valleys are home to gorgeous green summer pastures complete with fields of wildflowers, alpine lakes, flowing rivers, animals roaming free and shepherds yurts. It’s perfect for hiking and its also really easy to arrange horse trekking.
It’s also home to the gorgeous Issyk Kul Lake, the world’s second largest glacier lake and in Summer you can swim in the lake and relax on the beaches surrounding the south shore or party on the beach resorts on the north shore. I spent a lot of time exploring around Issyk Kul Lake and there are lots of cultural activities to do here. See more in my Guide to Issyk Kul Lake.
In the winter there is great skiing. Kyrgyzstan also has many unique natural wonders, canyons, waterfalls and interesting rock formations to explore and the nature is really raw, rugged and untouched.
After spending so much time in India I was amazed at how much space there is in Kyrgyzstan. The population of the capital Bishkek is only 1 million people and the population of the whole country is only about 6 million. You can really have a mountain trail all to yourself here and the country is so untouched by tourism.
Community Based Tourism and Homestays
Kyrgyzstan is only just developing a tourism infrastructure and most of it is Community Based Tourism Projects (CBT) where home stays and yurt stays allow you to really get immersed in the culture, to get a really personalised experience and to get to witness genuine local culture and get to know the local people – the Kyrgyz people are really genuine and friendly and you are sure of a warm welcome here.
The CBT projects are easy to organise at the local CBT offices and have really reasonable prices and also helps to supporting the local families and local economies. I loved staying at homestays with local families, I even helped to cook once!
I also stayed in a shepherds hut and a yurt at the top of a mountain while on a 3 day horse trek and it was really interesting to learn about the (pretty tough) life of the shepherds families.
It’s really a win win for both travellers and locals! Each region has a CBT office where it’s easy to drop in and arrange local tourism experiences. Find out more on the CBT Kyrgyzstan website.
The Friendly and Open Kyrgyz People
The Kyrgyz people are really open and friendly and the county is one of the most liberal and progressive in the region. They always seemed to be joking and laughing and happy to anything they could to help – even despite the language difference.
However, little English is spoken in Kyrgyzstan (many still know Russian though) so it’s best to take a phrase book or local guide to help translate to get the most out of your experience. I did have a local English speaking guide pretty much all the time to help translate so I could get to know people better as little English was spoken.
There’s a joke in Kyrgyzstan that everyone is a relative
Cheap, Easy and Visa Free Travel
Kyrgyzstan is also really quite cheap and easy to travel, even considering how untouched it is by tourism. This was a really pleasant surprise for me as I’d always been fascinated by the Central Asia countries but put off by the difficulty of obtaining a visa and the lack of tourism infrastructure and English speakers.
One of the things I loved about traveling in Kyrgyzstan is that I arrived at the airport and was stamped in for 60 days for free, no visa required, no hassles.
Since 2012 citizens from 45 countries don’t need a visa! If you are from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, most European counties, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and many Middle Eastern countries don’t need a visa to travel in Kyrgyzstan!
You can also get a free visa at land borders and if you are planning a longer Central Asia trip Bishkek is a good place to apply for visas for the other countries. Unfortunately Indian citizens do still need a visa, see more info here on how to get it.
It’s not to difficult to reach Kyrgyztsan. Bishkek is home to Manas International Airport (FRU) and has frequent flights to neighbouring countries and Russia, Turkey, Dubai and India and then its easy to get connections to everywhere else.
Even though Kyrgyzstan is really untouristy the local Community Based Tourism offices and Hospitality Kyrgyzstan made it easy to get connected with homestays, guides, tours and treks.
And traveling in Kyrgyzstan its really affordable! The currency is called the Kyrgyz Som and it was easy to change money. 100 Som was about £1.10, $1.45 or INR 92 when I went so it wasn’t too hard to figure out for me.
Although I haven’t (yet!) visited all the countries in Central Asia I’m told that Kyrgyzstan is the cheapest to travel in. Traveling in Kyzgystan as a backpacker you could get by on about 1,700 Som per day (thats about £20 or $25).
Local transport is cheap, there aren’t really many public buses in Kyrgyzstan so normally you’ll take a kind of minivan called a marshrutka. An average price from Bishkek to Karakol is about should cost about 400 som ($6) it takes about 6/7 hours. You could also take a shared taxi for about 2000 som ($30) See more tips here for getting around Kyrgyzstan.
A hostel bed in Bishkek is about 400 Som ($6) and hotel rooms start at around 2000 Som (about $30.) Homestays with CBT cost from about 450 Som ($7) to about 700 Som ($10) a night including local home cooked dinner and breakfast (usually shared bathrooms though but they do have hot water.)
As I was mainly staying in homestays where the meals where included I didn’t eat out very often but when I did I got a basic but decent and filling meal for about 100 som ($1.50) or 400 som ($6) for a good restaurant meal and local beers were also cheap.
Horse trekking with a guide, accommodation and meals is about 3,500 som ($50) per day or less, and of course in a country where the best thing to do is explore the nature, you don’t need to shell out much for attraction, sightseeing and admission fees.
For a full breakdown of the costs of traveling in Kyrgyzstan check out this post.
My amazing trip to Kyrgyzstan was made possible by Discover Kyrgyzstan with the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) The contents of my blogs are, as always, my own experiences and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.