Kyrgyzstan is a rare country in that most of the country is covered in pristine, untarnished wilderness expanses. Elevated above other Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful haven preserved in the Tien Shan Mountains boasting countless gorges, valleys, meadows, waterfalls, mountains, and alpine lakes not to mention numerous state reserves, national parks, and biospheres.
Travelers desiring to experience nature in its purest form can easily take tours of the country either by foot, bicycle, or horseback. In fact, most Kyrgyz still use horses as a regular means of transportation around the mountainsides, so horseback tours are very popular. As far as plant and wildlife, Kyrgyzstan is home to several rare species of plants and animals that travelers can see in their natural habitat. For example, the endangered snow leopard, Marco Polo sheep, and Siberian Ibex still make their homes in the high altitude mountains of the Tien Shan. Kyrgyzstan also contains a large number of plants and flowers that have yet to even be named. Traveling in the mountains in spring will give you a rare glimpse into the rare and varied variety of flowers and plants they may never even have heard of or seen. Since the history of the Kyrgyz people is a nomadic one, many people still live in yurts (round felt tents), making a living off the land and livestock. People traveling across the country can enjoy accommodation in yurt camps if desired, or spend nights camping in tents underneath the stars. It’s a great place to relax and reconnect with the simplicity and beauty of nature and get acquainted with the rich, nomadic heritage of the Kyrgyz people along the way.
Kyrgyzstan makes a great destination for ethnographic tours as it contains both a unique culture and history which, combined, make Kyrgyzstan a fascinating country to visit.
Kyrgyzstan is saturated with nomadic heritage and traditions that weave their way into the everyday lives of Kyrgyz people. Many nomadic families still live in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, keeping the old customs and ways of life. Some people have moved into cities, but still exhibit nomadic practices. Everywhere you go in Kyrgyzstan, nomadic ancestry still influences the lives of Kyrgyz people today.
Travelers interested in pure nomadic life can find a wealth of opportunities to learn more about and participate in the lives of Kyrgyz nomads.
Kyrgyzstan’s history is extremely diverse. The Kyrgyz Republic is most famous for being a major stepping stone along the trade routes of the ancient Silk Road. Travelers interested in the Silk Road can visit an ancient caravanserai (inn used by merchants and travelers on the Silk Road), minarets, and bazaars still in operation from the times of the Silk Road.
You can also visit caves, petroglyphs, and burial grounds from ancient times. Explore various museums that showcase Kyrgyz history, including a museum dedicated to a legendary Kyrgyz hero who is said to have brought unity to the Kyrgyz tribes. You can find more than 5,000 historical and cultural sights of Kyrgyzstan’s past all around the country. Each one brings new insight and perspective into understanding what makes Kyrgyzstan the extraordinary place that it is.
Popular destinations: Burana Tower, Tash Rabat, Osh Bazaar, Suluman Too, Cholpon-Ata’s open air petroglyph museum, Manas Museum, Frunze Museum, Tamga Tash, San Tash, the Dungan Mosque, Kyzyl Tuu, Jaman-Echki Jailoo, Sarala-Saz Jailoo, Nomad University, At-Bashi Yurts
Due to Kyrgyzstan’s nomadic heritage, horse breeding and riding have been an integral part of Kyrgyz culture and livelihood since ancient times.This makes Kyrgyzstan an ideal place to go horseback riding. Not only are there horses all around the country, but everyone in the rural areas know how to ride and take care of them.Since horses are so closely tied to the country’s culture, horseback riding tours are a great way to see the country in a way that will help connect travelers to that culture. Tours are available for novice as well as advanced riders and the duration of horseback tours can range anywhere from a couple hours to a couple weeks. It all depends on the desires of the traveler. Here are some examples of the kinds of horseback riding tours that are available.
Travelers interested in simply reveling in the beauty of Kyrgyzstan’s landscape can take tours that focus on traveling to various destinations in the countryside/mountains. Some people like to ride through gorges, some through mountain passes, and some to alpine lakes. Whatever the destination, there’s no way to go wrong with a scenic tour of Kyrgyzstan via horseback.
Travelers interested in experiencing more of nomadic culture can go on tours that include visits to yurt camps where they can see the famous hospitality of nomadic families and try Kyrgyzstan’s national drink (fermented mare’s milk called kymyz) straight from the mountain pastures where it’s produced.
Travelers interested in learning more about the country’s history can take horseback tours that include visits to historic sites. Kyrgyzstan is most famous for its position along the ancient Silk Road, so Silk Road sites are popular destinations for tours, but there are an abundance of other historical sites to visit as well.
Kyrgyzstan’s mountain-saturated landscape makes it an ideal location for skiing and snowboarding in the wintertime. The Tien Shan Mountain Range meanders majestically through the country, providing both calm and challenging slopes. More skiers and snowboarders are coming to Kyrgyzstan for winter sports because of its unrestricted atmosphere and opportunities to enjoy different kinds of skiing/snowboarding. Options available:
Heli-skiing & Heli-snowboarding
Ride via helicopter to a staggeringly high peak and get dropped off at the top on your skis or snowboard for an adrenaline-filled ride down the mountainside. Heli-skiing and snowboarding have become much more popular in Kyrgyzstan because of the wealth of prime peaks/mountains available in the country for this kind of activity. Heli-skiing and heli-snowboarding in Kyrgyzstan are generally available between December and April depending on the location of the drop. Elevations range from 3,000-4,500 meters.
Popular destinations: Suusamyr, Talas mountains, & Karakol
Freeriding is also an option for skiers and snowboarders. If you want to escape the confines of the conventional ski resort slopes, Kyrgyzstan has a lot of good opportunities available for off-piste skiing.
Also, the scenery surrounding Kygyzstan’s freeride bases is spectacular. Kyrgyzstan is known as “a land of celestial mountains” because the high mountain peaks are often topped with white, puffy cumulous clouds while still being sunny, creating a paradise-like atmosphere to bask in while freeriding down the mountainsides.
Popular destinations: Suusamyr, Karakol, & Arslanbob
If you’re looking for a relaxing place to hang out and ski/snowboard, Kyrgyzstan currently has over a dozen ski resorts with well-developed infrastructure, modern equipment, and surprisingly affordable prices. Sizes and accommodations vary, but in general, ski bases have a relaxing atmosphere in Kyrgyzstan and don’t feel overcrowded. They’re a great place and relax and enjoy skiing and snowboarding at your own pace.
Most resorts, guesthouses, and hotels in Kyrgyzstan are located around Lake Issyk Kul, the largest alpine lake in Kyrgyzstan and the second largest alpine lake in the world (6,236 sq. km). Lake IssukKul is a popular area because of its extensive shoreline, brilliant blue waters, and snowcapped mountain backdrop, earning itself the name “the Pearl of Kyrgyzstan.” Summer temperatures are much more comfortable at the lake than in other major cities around Kyrgyzstan and there are a number of activities to take part in around the area such as swimming, water sports, hiking, cycling, and horseback riding. Resorts around the lake provide a variety of activities/services to guests including swimming pools, massage parlors, tennis, volleyball, and basketball courts, spa services, bowling centers, and saunas. Here are some popular resort towns around the lake:
Karakol is a city off the eastern shore of Lake Issyk Kul. It’s the 4th largest city in Kyrgyzstan, so there are plenty of places to stay as well as lots of restaurants and shops. Some of the most popular places to visit in the city are the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox church, a Dungan Mosque, built without the use of a single nail, as well as several museums and bazaars.
Cholpon-Ata is a city on the lake’s northern shore. Cholpon-Ata has a large outdoor petroglyph museum and a cultural center called Ruh Ordo. The cultural center features a building that represents the beliefs from 5 different religions in one place. Cholpon-Ata is one of the larger resort areas around the lake and as such, provides a wider range of restaurants and accommodations.
There are several villages with nice resorts around the lake. These villages don’t provide as much variety in the way of restaurants and shops as the larger cities, but they do provide a more down-to-earth experience of life in Kyrgyzstan and lots of good national cuisine. Villages offer a quieter, more peaceful environment for a vacation and allow travelers a chance to see more traditional Kyrgyz culture when they explore the area. Some villages scattered around the lake are: Sary-Oi, Kara-Oi, Bolon-Sogotu, Bolon-Dolonotu, Chok-Tal, Tamchy, Bostery, Tamga and Darkhan.