Kyrgyzstan is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited. The Tian Shan mountains cover 80% of the country, making it a paradise for nature lovers.
No wonder that it’s known as the Switzerland of Central Asia! While hiking, you can also search for the elusive snow leopard, one of the few places on the planet where it remains.
If you’re coming in winter, it’s likely to ski. While I haven’t personally tried it, I can imagine that it would be fantastic! You’ll also want to keep an eye open for camels. They’re released into the wild every winter to look for a mate and can be aggressive if…well let’s just say if they don’t find a mate 🙂
Kyrgyzstan has a history of at least 200 years. Due to its geographic isolation from mountainous terrain, much of its ancient culture has been preserved. Try to time your visit with the World Nomad Games, held every two years in September. It’s a celebration of nomadic culture and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Despite its isolation, it lies on the Silk Road, so offers something for culture seekers as well.
Despite its isolation, Kyrgyzstan lies on the Silk Road, so it offers something for travellers interested in culture as well.
But rather than telling you how amazing Kyrgyzstan is, let me show you.
Photos That Will Make You Want to Travel to Kyrgyzstan:
The rugged peaks, mountainous landscape, and high alpine lakes make Kyrgyzstan a paradise for nature lovers. Less than 8% of the land is cultivated. Everywhere you go, you experience the same thing, silence. It’s one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been. Just being there seems to cultivate a sense of calm inside you.
Lake Issyk-Kul and its Beaches
Lake Issyk-Kul is the second highest alpine lake in the world.You’ll want to take a cruise on the lake. Surrounded by the Tian Shan Mountains, it’s stunning. Although it’s further away from the sea than any other country, the beaches along the lake will make you feel like you’re at the ocean. Yes, that’s right, beaches. While Kyrgyzstan probably doesn’t come to mind when you think beach holiday, you’ll find some surprisingly good ones there.
Horses in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz people were nomadic until relatively recently, and some still are. As a result, horses played a huge role in daily life. Today, many Kyrgyz are excellent horsemen and women. I was fortunate to see their skills on display at the World Nomad Games. I can’t think of a more beautiful place to go horse trekking as my friends Audrey and Sam did. I’m adding this to my bucket list the next time I’m back.
Cultural Highlights in Kyrgyzstan
The majority of people living in Kyrgyzstan are ethnic Kyrgyz followed by Uzbeks and Russians. Despite its 2000 long history, it only became a sovereign nation after the breakup the Soviet Union in 1991.
If you’re seeking culture, you’ll want to explore the Tian-Shan Silk Road, one of the country’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Also of significance:
Petroglyphs at Cholpan-Ata
These petroglyphs date between 2000 BC and 400 AD and mainly depict hunting scenes. There’s no information available on site, tourism is still very much in development mode in Kyrgyzstan, so I highly recommend going with a guide. This site also has more info on getting there and what to look for once you’re there.
Burana Tower (Ruins of Balasagun)
The ancient city of Balasagun south of Tokmok in the Shamshy Valley dates back to the 9th century. It’s one of the oldest settlements in Central Asia. Here, you’ll find the Burana Tower, petroglyphs, small hill hiding a palace and gravestones marking nomadic Turks who used to roam through the area. Visitors can explore the open-air archaeological museum.
Burana Tower is the most visible of the remains. Legend has it that a witch advised a king that his daughter would die when she was 18 years old. To keep her safe her, he hid her all alone in the tower, except for a servant who brought food. However, there was a poisonous spider hidden in the princess’s food. The princess died as predicted by the witch when she was 18.
Sleep in a Yurt and Support the Local Community
Yurts played a critical role in Kyrgyz nomadic life and thanks to Community Based Tourism; travellers have the option of staying in a yurt and eating traditional Kyrgyz food. While I ate in several yurts, I didn’t have the chance to sleep in one like my friend Leyla did. Read this, to see what it’s really like. I’d highly recommend sleeping in a yurt when travelling to Kyrgyzstan to get a better understanding of the culture. Besides, it’s a unique experience!
I LOVED getting to know the Kyrgyz people. Although shy at first, they are incredibly welcoming. This family runs a yurt camp through a community-based tourism project and went above and beyond to make us feel at home. Meeting the Kyrgyz people was also one of my highlights at the World Nomad Games. I had the opportunity to chat with a camel herder, and meet Zura, one of the most impressive women I’ve ever met anywhere. (You can read about it by clicking on the above link.)
Know Before You Travel to Kyrgyzstan
- Plan your trip between late June to late September. Due to its high altitude, snow arrives early and stays long into spring.
- On the other hand, if you’re into skiing, head to Kyrgyzstan in winter. Check out Stephen’s very thorough guide to skiing.
- Yurt camps are typically only open during the summer months so keep this in mind when planning your visit.
- Kyrgyzstan is still developing its tourism infrastructure. The easiest way to travel is with a guide.
- When planning to travel within Kyrgyzstan, schedule longer than you think you’ll need. Distances can be deceiving with the poor quality of roads in some parts of the country.
- Try to tie your visit around the World Nomad Games if possible. It’s held once very two years in Cholpan-Ata and is one of the coolest events on the planet in my opinion.
- Always travel with travel insurance. It’s especially important in remote countries like Kyrgyzstan and even more so if you’re doing any adventurous activity like horseback riding, hiking or skiing. I recommend World Nomads.
Note: My trip was organized in cooperation with Discover Kyrgyzstan, and made possible by the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). All opinions are my own.
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