The Kyrgyz Republic (Кыргызская рестублика), the official name of Kyrgyzstan (Кыргызстан), stands out for its beautiful landscapes – a postcard setting where semi-nomadic shepherds erect their yurts between mountains, jagged ridges and pastures (jailoo). Thanks to a dense network of homestay accommodation and the ability to travel without a visa, the country is also an ideal entry point to discover Central Asia.
The sites of interest are mostly isolated and at altitude, so you must choose carefully the period of your stay. Summer is perfect: hiking trails are open and roads generally passable. In the middle of summer, Russian and Kazakh tourists flock to the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, which never freezes. From October to May, most of the rural accommodations close and the yurts, which add charm to the landscapes, are put back. Forget the winter months, unless you want to go skiing or snowboarding… While waiting to launch you, here are our 5 Must-See favorites if you are going to discover Kyrgyzstan.
1. The starry sky and life in a shepherd’s yurt on the banks of the Song-Köl
The open horizon of the Song-Köl, bordered by a fringe of jagged peaks, reveals a sky perpetually in motion. Surrounded by green summer pastures, the waters of this lake of nearly 18 km by 29 km change from turquoise to indigo in a few seconds, according to the rays of the sun or thunderstorms. The sunrise is sublime, as is the night sky, spiked with myriad stars. The cold at 3,016 m altitude does not allow to live there year-round, but from June to September, yurts of shepherds scour every kilometer on the Meadows of the shore. Many of them are affiliated with community tourism programs , so the region offers a multitude of yurt accommodations, even at the last minute.On-site hiking and horseback riding (300/1, 000 soms per hour / day, 1, 000/1, 400 soms for a guide/guide on horseback), easier activities to organize in the tourist camps of Batai-Aral and Jamanetchki, but you can still arrange with the yurts if you speak a little Russian/Kyrgyz. Birds in the area include vultures, Raptors and waterfowl, including barred-headed geese. Unpaved tracks, sometimes little more than wheel tracks in the grass, connect the main summer yurt gatherings around the lake. Each camp is usually named after the valley or stream that runs through it ; the largest are named after their owner.
The road along the northwest shore of the lake becomes very difficult as it progresses. Take it only in 4×4 or with a seasoned driver. The weather is very unpredictable and it often snows. Adapt your plans accordingly, knowing that the time for excursions is only from mid-June to mid-September.
…in the Snowy Mountains overlooking the Alai Valley, on the road to China or Tajikistan, or, even more ambitious, the ascent of the 7,134 m of Lenin Peak !
Vast, eternally snow-covered massifs line the southern side of the Alai Valley. Its incredible width (up to 30 km) offers absolutely unforgettable landscapes – at least when the clouds hiding the surrounding peaks dissipate. Visitors en route to China via Irkechtam or to Tajikistan via Bordöbo will get a glimpse of the panorama from Sary Tach. However, it’s worth continuing to Sary Moghul and Daroot-Korgon for easy hikes to the lakes, week-long treks through the Alai mountains or a climb to Lenin Peak.
In the direction of Och, follow the paths marked by the CBT. They depart from the main road and can be traveled in a few hours or days.
3. On foot, by bike or on horseback, the discovery of the Tian Shan massif surrounding Jyrgalan, a village focused on ecotourism.
Former mining village, Jyrgalan has found a second breath as an ecotourism destination. The cozy little village allows you to immerse yourself in Kyrgyz rural life and is a good starting point to the mountains that begin at the door of your pension. Come for a few days, extend your stay, and without realizing it, you will be part of the village.
The destination jyrgalan association takes care of the tourist activities of the village and ensures that the whole community benefits from the revenue. Contact her to book a guide, a board or other services. Prices are sometimes higher than in other parts of the country, but the money helps to improve life in the village and allows sustainable management of Tourism. Destination Jyrgalan can arrange horseback rides and treks, often in short periods, in the jyrgalan Valley and beyond.
From Jyrgalan it is possible to make day trips to the beautiful Tulpar-Köl lake or the Kök-Bel waterfall (dried up in summer). The village is also an excellent base for a loop route or longer treks in the Ak-Suu area. Before becoming a mecca for hiking, Jyrgalan was already a popular place for winter sports, especially for off-piste skiing (season from mid-November to mid-April approximately). We now also come here for ski touring, snowshoeing and extreme sports. The snowmobiles and snowmobiles of the village make happy all winter.
4. The unforgettable beauty of Lake Köl-Suu
The beautiful lake Köl-Suu, isolated even for a country like Kyrgyzstan, stretches for 10 km in a steep gorge that almost reaches the Chinese border. Its vastness can only be measured when the boats taking visitors to the lake (from US $200 per person) seem tiny compared to the surrounding cliffs, once they reach the center of the lake. At an altitude of 3,500 m, the weather changes quickly; take warm clothes and extra provisions.
The lake, located more than 150 km from Naryn, is reached by increasingly bad roads and crossing two checkpoints. Starting from Jyrgal’s jailoo, the last 7 km would almost alone justify the journey : crossing the Kurumduk Valley provides a spectacular view of the peaks. It is possible to rent horses to cross the river that flows beyond Jyrgal or for the entire journey to the lake. With a good 4×4, determined drivers sometimes make it to the edge of the lake.
5. The diversity of cultures, accommodations and tables of Karakol
Karakol comes down to a checkerboard of tree-lined streets, but, despite the few places to visit, the city has no shortage of activities. It is an ideal base for accessing some of the best ski and Alpine treks in Central Asia. On a clear day, the snowy peaks bring out the old blue shutters and whitewashed walls of colonial-era houses. The latter are reminiscent of the Golden Age of the city under the Russian Empire.
The green areas of Karakol are perfect for relaxing between two treks. The newest Karakol Park is one of the most pleasant. Victory Park is also attractive. In addition to the usual victory statue commemorating the end of the Second World War, a monument to the memory of the victims of the Stalinist repressions (right on entering the park) and a memorial dedicated to the victims of the urkun, one of the most poignant in the country (further behind the Victory), were erected there.
For a more immersive experience of Karakol, the destination Karakol information desk, located next to the Fat Cat Cafe, offers various activities to immerse yourself in the local culture. Dinner with a doungane family is a memorable experience, but the city tour and the soothing sunset cruise are also worth a visit.
About 2 km north of the city center, early on Sunday morning, is one of the largest cattle markets in Kyrgyzstan. There you’ll see Breeders discussing the price of a thoroughbred or loading huge fat-tailed sheep into the back of their Lada. On a clear day, the mountains with snow-capped peaks are even more striking than from the city center.