Delve into Kyrgyzstan
Heralded as the ‘Switzerland of Central Asia’, Kyrgyzstan is a land of celestial mountains and rolling pastures, where yurt-dwelling nomadic spirits roam free. Wander amongst remote natural beauty and learn about Kyrgyz culture and time-honoured customs through immersive homestays.
A well preserved ‘caravanserai’ –a roadside inn where weary travellers once rested along the Silk Road. In its heyday, the site would have catered for both humans and animals; offering accommodation, food, opportunities for trade and religious rituals. Feel the energy trapped within its walls as you explore the mysterious stone rooms and domed centre.
Cross the heavenly Tien Shan Mountains through Irkeshtam Pass to arrive at a beautiful town nestled among dreamy landscapes dotted with horses. Meet Kyrgyz people while staying in local homesteads. No stay would be complete without tasting Kumis (fermented mares milk), a firm favourite amongst natives.
The drive from Sary Tash to Osh is one you’ll never forget! Soak up the mesmerising scenery before exploring the urban side of Kyrgyzstan. One of Central Asia’s oldest cities, dating back 2500 years, its home to the region’s largest outdoor market. Wander in the bazaar to pick up a traditional Kyrgyz hat, smell the sizzling shashliks (kebabs) and devour crumbly samsa (pastries).
A favourite vacation spot for Russians, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz tourists, the glistening alpine lake is a crystalline turquoise respite among the mountains. Despite an altitude of 1600m, the lake never freezes.
Wander down wide boulevards with endless statues and soviet architecture. Head to the Hippodrome to take in a sporting event. If you visit during Independence Day, don’t miss an eye-opening game of buzkashi (goat carcass polo) – a unique and sometimes violent game devised by Genghis Khan.
Drive past rural villages in the foothills on the way to the snow-capped mountains. Experience a Kyrgyz alpine adventure on a peaceful and rewarding trek to rushing rivers, waterfalls and glaciers. The park is high altitude and much cooler than Bishkek – to fully enjoy it, you’ll need to bring proper footwear and clothing.
Capital city: Bishkek
Population: 5.5 million
Language: Kyrgyz, Russian
Currency: Kyrgyzstani Som (KGS)
Time zones: GMT+06:00
Electricity: Type C (European 2-pin)
Dialing code: +996
Most nationalities do not require a visa to enter Kyrgyzstan as a tourist for a stay up to 60 days, including Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, Ireland, USA and Switzerland. As visa requirements can change without notice, we recommend you contact your local consulate to ensure a visa is not required for your journey.
Please go to http://www.kyrgyzvisa.com to see whether you require a visa to enter Kyrgyzstan and to check visa application fees.
Travel Insurance is mandatory for all group journeys and Sundowners Overland strongly recommends travel insurance for all other journeys. You must ensure that your insurance policy covers you for the entire duration of your journey, for all activities you will be participating in and that you have purchased the highest level of cover available to you for medical emergencies (including repatriation/evacuation cover) which are relevant to ALL the destinations that you will be visiting. Contact us for further information and quotes.
If you are taking special medication, it is a good idea to carry a letter from your doctor to show authorities if necessary.
Since some medications can also be affected by changes in temperature or require special care, we recommend you discuss this with your doctor before departure.
In the landlocked nation of Kyrgyzstan the climate varies between regions, ranging from dry continental to polar conditions high in the mighty Tien Shan mountains, and subtropical in the Fergana Valley. Like most of Central Asia the most popular time to visit is spring and autumn when the steepe is carpeted in blooms and the markets are bursting with freshly harvested produce. Quite a spectacle to behold is the National Horse Festival held in July and the Birds of Prey Festival in August.
Unique to Kyrgyzstan is the Kyrgyz Kochu Festival, celebrated in August to mark the annual migration of nomadic herders and their flock from the summer pastures to the winter lowlands. National games, horse racing, eating and drinking, traditional music and dancing occur to celebrate the significant occasion.
The local currency is the Kyrgyzstani Som. Credit cards are widely accepted in large hotels, major stores and restaurants in Bishkek, they are of little value outside the city. ATM access is limited but can be found in Bishkek. We suggest you carry cash when venturing beyond the city.
The USD is the most recognised and accepted of all foreign currencies. It is vital that you obtain USD notes in good condition (not torn or too worn, with no stamps, ink or other marks) and issued after 1996 as older or damaged USD notes are not accepted. Smaller denominations are less frequently needed now, and we would recommend you carry a mixture of $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills.
- Bus or metro ticket in Almaty USD $0.50
- Decent meal and drink in a simple restaurant USD$7-10
- Samsa (flaky pastries stuffed with meat and/or vegies) from USD $0.50
- Local beer USD $1.00
- Cup of coffee USD $1.50
- A bowl of plov (traditional rice dish) or lagman (noodles, meat and vegies) at a local restaurant from USD $2.00
*Prices are approximate average costs based on prices at 11/03/17 and are based on the equivalent amount of local currency.
Land border crossings are often fascinating especially when the crossing in such a remote region with such diverse landscapes. Border crossings can take time with numerous security checks, immigration procedures and custom formalities – remember to pack your patience.
You will usually need to walk between no-man’s land when entering and exiting Kyrgyzstan, we suggest keeping your luggage as minimal as possible. Here is the test: after you have packed your bags, try carrying them up and down a flight of stairs. If you are comfortable with that, then all is well. Otherwise, start culling!
- Respect and manners go a long way in any culture. Learning a little of the language, reading as much about the history and culture of the region and observing local gatherings is a great way to start.
- Hospitality is a significant component of Kyrgyz life and guests are highly honoured, especially in rural areas. Eating and drinking are taken very seriously and guests at a Kyrgyz dinner will be overwhelmed with food. If you are invited to a family home or yurt a small gift is appreciated. Shoes should always be removed at the threshold.
- Food is eaten with the right hand only.
- Kyrgyz’s consider bread to be sacred; serving bread is a sign of respect.
- One particularly unusual activity, not to be missed if the opportunity presents itself, are horse games like Kok Baru. Watching two teams of horsemen fight over a stuffed goat carcass should be one of the highlights of your Central Asia experience!
Mobile phone coverage is limited throughout Kyrgyzstan, even in city centres. Ensure you have global roaming activated with your service provider or purchase a local SIM card. You will need to make sure your device is unlocked to accept a foreign SIM card.
Internet access is available in main cities and towns, but will be hard to find in rural areas.