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Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country in Central Asia, bordering Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China. We started our travels in Bishkek and traveled to Karakol with the intention of hiking. Unfortunately, we had to cut our trip short due to health problems. Definitely read our Bishkek City Travel Guide to find out where to stay, where to eat and what to do. We’ll return to this beautiful country someday to finish what we started. Below, you’ll find our future 20-day itinerary, with helpful tips and additional resources, which we assembled while planning our trip.

 
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Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide - Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide Overview

  • Kyrgyzstan Travel Basics
  • 20 Day Kyrgyzstan Itinerary
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Bishkek Travel Guide, Kyrgyzstan | Moon & Honey Travel

Kyrgyzstan Travel Basics

Official Name: Kyrgyz Republic

Capital: Bishkek

Government: Unitary parliamentary republic

Regions: Kyrgyzstan is divided into seven regions, known as oblasttar (singular: oblast). 

Population: 6 million

Language:  The official languages are Kyrgyz and Russian.

Currency: Kyrgyz som

Tipping Etiquette: Tipping isn’t common. In restaurants,  a 15% service charge is automatically added to bills.

Water Quality: Even though the tap water is chlorinated, it’s not very good quality. You should boil water, or drink bottled water. 

Something Interesting: 70% of Kyrgyzstan is covered in mountains. 

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Travel Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

20 Day Kyrgyzstan Itinerary

Season: Summer, Early Fall (mid-June - mid-September)

As stated in our introduction, we left Kyrgyzstan early for health reasons. This is what we intended to do with our time but only made it to Karakol. We’ve collected all our notes here so that it might help you plan your trip to Kyrgyzstan. We hope to do this 20-day itinerary someday in the future.

Days 1 – 2: Bishkek

  • Kyrgyzstan’s capital city is easily explored on foot. We spent a week hopping around Bishkek, but you only need 2 days to get a good feel for the city.
  • During your visit, you can shop at Osh Bazaar, bathe at the Russian-style public bathhouse Zhirgal Banya, see an opera or ballet at the Kyrgyz National Opera and Ballet Theatre, and sample national Kyrgyz drinks on just about every street corner. Read more about these experiences in our Bishkek Travel Guide.
  • Stay in Viva Hostel – clean, comfortable hostel located 5 minutes away from Osh Bazaar.

Day 3: Bishkek Day Trip: Ala Archa National Park

  • Ala Archa National Park is located 40 km from Bishkek and makes for a perfect day-trip destination from the capital. You can picnic in the valley, walk along the Ala-Archa River, or hike to the Ak-Sai Glacier.
  • Stay in Viva Hostel – clean, comfortable hostel located 5 minutes away from Osh Bazaar.

Day 4: Bishkek – Karakol Travel Day

  • The journey to the city of Karakol takes 6-7 hours. Head to the Western Bus Station in Bishkek to catch a Karakol-bound mashrutka (minivan). Don’t worry about finding the right van. The drivers will direct you to where you need to go. The vans leave when they fill up, so depending on when you arrive, you could depart in five minutes or in an hour. The ride costs 400 som per person. The van drops you off at the Karakol Main Bazaar. From there, you can grab a taxi, or walk to your accommodation.
  • Stay in Riverside Guesthouse. This might be the best guesthouse we’ve ever stayed in. The guesthouse is run by a Kyrgyz and Dutch couple who go out of their way to help you organize your trip and answer your questions. They also serve a delicious breakfast.

Days 5 – 9: Karakol & Around

  • Use Karakol as a base to explore the many hiking options in the area. Most of the hikes are multi-day treks and require camping equipment. You can rent gear in Karakol. Depending on your expertise, you may need to hire a guide for some of these treks.

Karakol Trekking Options

  • Archa Tor Pass Trek (3 Days). This hike starts up the road from the town Kyzl-Suu, traverses the Archa Tor Pass and ends in Jeti-Ögüz.
  • Ala-Kul Lake to Altyn-Arashan (3-5 Days). This beautiful hike takes you to the gorgeous Ala-Kul Lake, over a high mountain pass and to Altyn-Arashan, where you can soak in hot springs. As long as there isn’t too much snow on the pass, you can hike this independently.
  • Ontor Pass (3 Days). Off-the-beaten-track trail for advanced trekkers.

Day 10: Karakol – Fairy Tale Canyon – Kochkor

  • Skazka, aka Fairy Tale Canyon, is located near the southern shore of Issyk Kul Lake. From what we gathered, you can get on a Balykchy, or Bokonbaevo-bound mashrutka and get off early, at the turnoff to the canyon, N 42.1745694, E 77.3526889. After exploring the canyon for 1-2 hours, head back to the road and hitch a ride to Balykchy, or if you’re lucky Kochkor.
  • In Kyrgyzstan, it’s expected to pay for rides even when you’re hitchhiking. So, make sure to agree to the price of the ride, before getting in. If you can’t get a direct ride to Kochkor, you’ll need to get to Balykchy, where you can grab a mini-van to Kochkor.
  • If this sounds like too much of a hassle, take a mini-van from Karakol to Balykchy and another one to Kochkor. There’s no direct Karakol-Kochkor transit line from our understanding (but please double check).
  • Stay in Kochkor 

Day 11 – 13: Kochkor – Köl Ükök Lakes

  • Köl Ükök is a mountain lake, located about 17 km from Kochkor. From Köl Ükök, it’s possible to hike to another glacial lake called Köl- Tör.
  • We didn’t plan this out in detail. We were hoping to do a combination of horse trekking and hiking here. We also wanted to overnight in Yurts. Reach out to Köl Ükök in CBT (Community Based Tourism) Kochkor to help plan your trip.

Day 14: Kochkor – Naryn Transit Day

  • TBD
  • Stay in Naryn

Day 15: Naryn – Tash Rabat Transit Day

  • The next segment of the trip should be organized ahead of time through CBT, or another tourist agency. You’ll need to hire a driver (4WD only) to take you from Naryn to Tash Rabat to Köl-Suu (also spelled Kel-Su, Kel Tetiri) Lake and back to Naryn. Whoever you work with will need to organize a border-zone permit (1,000 som) for you so that you can venture to this region close to the Chinese border.
  • Transit: Private Driver (4WD)
  • Stay in Tash Rabat Yurt Camp

Day 15: Tash Rabat – Chatyr Kol Day Hike

  • Day Hike to Chatyr Kol – 8 hours round-trip
  • Stay in Tash Rabat

Day 16: Tash Rabat – Köl-Suu (Kel-Su, Kel Tetiri) Lake

  • Transit: Private Driver (4WD)
  • Stay in Yurt Camp near Köl-Suu 

Day 17: Köl-Suu

  • Option (1) Hire a guide and horses and take a horse trek to the lake. Option (2) Hike to the Lake.
  • There’s an option to take a boat ride, but you’ll need to organize that in advance.
  • Stay in Yurt Camp near Köl-Suu 

Day 18:  Köl-Suu – Naryn

  • Transit: Private Driver 
  • Stay in Naryn

Day 19:  Naryn – Bishkek

  • Transit: TBD
  • Stay in Bishkek at Viva Hostel – clean, comfortable hostel located 5 minutes away from Osh Bazaar.

Day 20: Bishkek

  • Depart Kyrgyzstan
 

Kyrgyzstan Travel Resources

@moonhoneytravelers
  • Overnighting in Austrian Mountain Huts - Corona Measures 2020  @alpenverein just published a few rules for hikers who are planning on overnighting in huts this summer:  1. Only visit mountain huts when you're healthy.  2. Bring your own face mask.  3. Make reservations for overnight stays in advance. You can't stay in a hut without a reservation.  4. Bring your own sleeping bag and pillow case.  Note: a sleeping bag liner is not sufficient, as blankets will not be distributed in the huts this summer.
  • Austrian mountain huts are slowly opening up for the hiking season and we‘re ecstatic.  This is the cozy interior of Neue Seehütte in the Raxalpe in Lower Austria (very close to Styria).
  • There’s something terribly wrong with this photo. Can you guess what it is?  Kati took this photo of me during our trek across Triglav National Park (Slovenia), one of our favorite hikes of all time.  When I look at this photo, I can keenly recall this particular morning in the Seven Lakes Valley. I remember the stillness and the mountain reflection in the lake, but I also remember the discomfort of carrying that backpack.  Kati and I aren’t “gear people.” We kinda just use what we have until it falls apart. So, in this photo, I’m hiking with my Osprey Farpoint, an excellent travel backpack but a TERRIBLE hiking backpack.  The problem with this pack is that you always feel like you’re falling backwards. The weight of the pack works against you, making steep ascents and descents particularly uncomfortable and even dangerous.  I learned my lesson the hard way. Investing in the right pack is essential for a safe and comfortable multi-day hiking experience.  I now use my Osprey Kyte 36 religiously for hut to hut hiking, and convinced Kati to buy one too.  If you don’t want to make the same mistakes we have, you can read our complete hut to hut hiking packing list (link in bio). This post is not sponsored in any way.
  • Last week, Kati and I went on a day hike in the Rax, a mountain range close to Vienna. We talk a lot when we hike. Okay, maybe I do most of the talking. About 5 hours into our hike I had a brilliant idea: What if I took a vacation?  You might be thinking, that’s silly - you’re always on vacation. The fact is I haven’t taken an intentional vacation, or rest day in years. And when I do rest, I usually feel guilty, buying into that American belief that worthiness is tied to productivity.  Kati has no problem resting. She can detach from work and her “to do list” effortlessly. And, I’ve envied her for years.  So, for the first time in 5 years of knowing Kati, I thought I’m giving myself permission to do the same. I’m GOING ON VACATION and I’m going to do whatever the hell I want. So, in the last few days, I devoured Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by @lbardugo (any YA fantasy fans out there?) and then I read Untamed by @glennondoyle . I have so much to say about this book, but I think you just have to read it. It’s like inhaling fire and falling into the sea at the same time.  For most of us, vacation is a place, a destination far far away. We have to get away, or go somewhere, in order to relax, rest, and detach from the endless “to dos” of our lives. But what I’m finding is that vacation is just a state of mind. It’s permission to stop, to pause, to do something fun, and to do something that’s not productive.  While we’re settling into our new normal lives, I hope you can find moments to “go on vacation” without actually going anywhere. I highly recommend it. 
xoxo
Sabrina
  • Lockdown over...in Austria.  We’re so excited to get back outside and start exploring our neighboring mountains: “Wiener Hausberge.” 🏔 The last few weeks have been long and taxing at times, but rewarding in so many ways as well.  We’ve baked more than we ever have (shout out to @lazycatkitchen), we’ve read a lot (thank you @katecraigbrown and @sigrids.sonnenherz for your book recommendations), we’ve established some healthy routines, and prioritized learning over doing.  Cheers to new beginnings.  Photo of Kati in a neighborhood field. Haircut by Sabrina 👍😆
  • Happy Earth Day! So grateful to call this beautiful planet home. 🌍