The 23 Absolute Best Things to Do in Kyrgyzstan (2021 Guide)

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After 8 trips to the country, we’ve finally released our expert guide to the best things to do in Kyrgyzstan!

There’s a reason Kyrgyzstan is known to be one of the planet’s top emerging destinations.

You’ve heard about it.

You’ve seen the pictures.

Glaciers tumbling down vast valleys.

Snow-capped peaks rising above ancient forests.

There’s a reason it’s called the Switzerland of Asia.

But thats not all.

Throw in an ancient, hospitable culture, Silk Road history, a bustling and vibrant capital, delectable cuisine and more adventure opportunities than Patagonia, and you’ll start to see why so many people are making a beeline for Kyrgyzstan.

So when researching all the incredible things to do in Kyrgyzstan, where do you even start?

Right here!

READ MORE: Don’t miss out on our additional resource on travelling in Kyrgyzstan.

This is a nation where nature is woven into the very fabric of its culture. Nomadic herders still take their sheep horses to graze on the jailoos (mountain pastures), and are supported by community-based tourism initiatives allowing travellers to stay in their yurts. 

This continually increases the number of things to do in Kyrgyzstan as new areas and regions become more accessible.

The first of the Central Asian nations to relax its visa policy has created a thriving tourism network.

Everyone who visits Kyrgyzstan dreams of returning.

Son Kul Yurt Sunset Things to Do in Kyrgyzstan
Staying in a yurt in Son Kul is a Kyrgyzstan experience you’ll never forget.

The Best Things To Do In Kyrgyzstan

The scenery across the country is nothing short of spectacular. As a result, don’t be surprised if you are struggling to decide on the things you want to do in Kyrgyzstan.

Rest assured, wherever you end up it’ll probably leave your jaw on the floor.

Based on our multiple trips to the country (hell, we even run tours there now, that’s how much we love it), we’re sharing our insider tips on all the top things to do in Kyrgzstan.

1) Take a Wander Around the Heart of Bishkek 

Ok, if you’re in Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek is probably not what drew you here.

However, Kyrgyzstan’s capital is blessed with plenty of opulent Soviet architecture, some lovely parks and quite a lot of foreign cuisine.

Trust me you will crave something more than plov and shashlik eventually! 

At the heart of the city is the huge Ala-Too square. At night it fills with kite fliers, inline skaters and locals hanging out. Come in the daytime and check out nearby Oak Park and Panfilov Park. 

If you fancy something a little different, head over the north of the city where you can check out the old circus that has fallen into a state of interesting disrepair. 

Ala Too Square in Bishkek at night
Kyrgyzstan’s capital is beautiful at night

2) Hike Around Ala-Archa, a Day Trip from Bishkek

One of the best things about Bishkek is that great hiking is on your doorstep. Probably the most well known of these is the Ala-Archa Canyon. 

With numerous hiking and mountaineering trails on offer, this is a great way to throw yourself into Kyrgyzstan’s spectacular scenery

The best way to get here is to take a taxi, or join a tour.

Most of the trails start at Alplager, not at the park gate. Naturally going into the park to Alplager will cost more. 

There are numerous trails to check out. However, most people visit as a day trip.

If you want to spend more time here then there are some basic accommodation options in Alplager. 

3) Check out the Burana Tower 

As a nation that has been largely nomadic throughout its history, it isn’t blessed with the same spectacular architecture as Uzbekistan to its west. 

The Burana Tower bucks the trend in a quite exceptional way. It is part of a Sogdinian citadel that was built in the 11th century.

The 24m high structure that remains is a result of Soviet restoration in the 1950s. It is possible to climb the tower from 9am onwards. 

You can visit the Burana Tower on a day trip from Bishkek, through a mixture of public transport from Bishkek switching to a taxi in Tomok. Alternatively, you can take a taxi all the way. 

Another option is to visit on the way to Issyk-Kol. However, you would need to take a taxi as marshrutka will blast past.

Also, it could be harder to get a marshrutka en route as they are often full or close to being full when leaving Bishkek. 

Burana Tower
The Burana Tower is one of the best places to visit in Kyrgyzstan, especially if you love historical sites.

4) Hike to the Hot Springs in Altyn-Arashan 

Lake Issyk-Kul is one of Kyrgyzstan’s most well-known destinations. The northern banks of the lake are popular with local Kyrgyz and Russian tourists. 

On the lakes western edge, the small town of Karakol is an excellent place to base yourself to take on some of Central Asia’s most spectacular alpine hikes.

Altyn Arashan is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the area. From the trailhead to the yurt camp and hot springs it’s approximately 5 hours.

After a tough hike into the valley taking a dip in hot springs to let your aching muscles heal. Be warned, they are piping hot and if you have never visited a hot spring before, it may be a little too hot. 

The view after the final climb, looking down over the yurt camp area is absolutely spectacular. 

Beyond the hot springs, it is possible to hike to the Palatka Glacier in roughly 5 hours.

It is also possible to extend the hike from Altyn-Arashan to Ak-Suu, the Karakul Valley, Jeti-Oghuz or Kyzyl-Suu.

However, these routes being open is dependant on the winter months. If the previous winter is a long and harsh one then even in June the trails may be inaccessible. 

Hiking a rugged trail to Altyn Arashan
One of most popular things to do in Kyrgyzstan is to hiking to Altyn Arashan

5) Check Out the 7 Bulls and the Breathtaking Alpine Scenery at Jeti Oguz 

Accessible as a day hike, as I did, or from trails in the Karakol Valley or Altyn Arashan, Jeti Oguz is simply breathtaking.

Sitting on the edge of the hills looking out over the alpine scenery is one of my fondest memories from my time in Kyrgyzstan. 

If taking on Jeti Oguz as a day hike then you will pass the 7 Bulls at the trailhead. The 7 red sandstone formations are a lovely contrast to green fields and hills that surround it.

Jeti Oguz literally means 7 Bulls in the local language, so now you can understand the connection.

The hike through to a hard-to-find waterfall is absolutely spectacular (maps.me has this hiking trail marked). There are some steep parts however the views will make those achy knees worthwhile!

The country is known for its multi-day treks. However, this epic one day hike is one of the best things to do in Kyrgyzstan. 

Stunning views in Jeti-Orguz
Probably the best one day hike in Kyrgyzstan!

6) Take a Dip in the Freezing Issyk-Kul 

The world’s second-largest alpine lake, Issyk-Kul, is one of Kyrgyzstan’s most well-known locations. 

There are numerous spots along the north shore where it’s possible to take a dip. However, these can be rather busy. 

We stayed in the tiny hamlet of Tamga located on the edge of the lakes southern shore.

Incidentally, this is a great place to stay if you want to visit the Skazka Canyon! 

The scenery surrounding the lake is rather lovely. However, be warned that it is a little bit on the nippy side. I visited in June and it was a very refreshing experience. 

However once you’ve warmed up enough to truly appreciate the surrounding scenery, you will know that this is truly a once in a lifetime experience. 

If you’re really not sure what to do in Kyrgyzstan then heading to Issyk-Kul is a pretty solid start.

As well as the lake itself there are oodles of trekking opportunities, particularly around the town of Karakul.

Views from the shore of Issyk-Kul
A beautiful, but freezing place for a dip

7) Be Dazzled by the Skazka Canyon 

Also known as the Fairy Tale Canyon (skazka means fairy tale in Russian), this rather spectacular spot sits close to the southern shore of Issyk Kul near the tiny hamlet of Tamga. 

You could spend most of the day wandering around the spectacular geological formations here.

Paths wind through the formations offering spectacular views of the canyon and lake Issyk-Kul. 

Of all the things to do in Kyrgyzstan, this is probably one of the funnest ones if you like soft adventure and unique landscapes.

8) Be a Quintessential Kyrgyz by Going on a Horse Trek to Song Kul 

Being a culture that for large parts of its history were nomadic, horses a crucial part of Kyrgyz culture.

Naturally one of the most popular Kyrgyzstan activities is horse trekking, with Song Kul being the best place to saddle up. 

Song Kul in possibly Kyrgyzstan’s most spectacular lake. (Although Kol Ukok and Kol Suu could certainly compete for this crown.)

The most popular trek in the region is a 3 day, 2-night option. 

The trail goes from the north side of the lake, crossing a couple of passes before reaching the lake itself. After spending the second night in a yurt camp close to the lake you will follow a trail along the lake’s edge before taking on your third mountain pass followed by a steep descent. 

I did this trek and can 100% attest to both the beauty and aches that come with it. It is completely worth it!

The first day was pretty spectacular with the trail winding its way through lush green jailoos before ending at a yurt camp on the edge of the valley. 

The second day was breathtaking. Beginning with a steep climb to the second pass which required some rather pretty amazing balance skills from both myself and Gluk, my noble steed.

The view at the pass can only be described as otherworldly, with amazing views of both Song Kul and the snow-capped peaks that surround the lake.

We spent the afternoon hiking around our yurt camp, soaking up the sun and enjoying breath-taking views of Song-Kul and the snow-capped mountains. 

The trail back, whilst being only slightly less spectacular, offered an extremely steep descent which on horseback definitely gets your heart racing. 

If you have never ridden before then prepare to ache in places you never know you could ache. However, I can promise you that it is absolutely worth it!

The view from a horse trek to Song Kol
Absolutely one of the best things to do in Kyrgyzstan is to take a horse trek to Song Kol

9) Take on the 2-day Hike to Kol Ukok 

Another awesome thing to do in the Kochkor area is the epic 2 day Kol Ukok trek.

If you have a tent you can go a little further. However, most people will hike to the yurt camp which is 2 to 3 hours from Kol Ukok itself. 

The views at Kol Ukok are simply breathtaking and are well worth the aching knees you will no doubt be feeling. 

The hike to the yurt camp gets better the further you get from the trailhead, as the rocky scrubland is replaced by lush green jailoos.

You can either hike to the yurt camp on the first day and then hike to Kol Ukok and back to the trailhead on the second day or the other way round. 

Let the weather be your guide here. We had grey skies when hiking up to the yurt camp which parted in the late afternoon.

However we had spectacular blue skies for almost the entirety of our second day, the exception being the final 30 minutes.

This is hands down one of the best things to do in Kyrgyzstan! 

The morning view at Kol Ukok
A beautiful morning at Kol Ukok

10) Enjoy the Stunning Scenery Around Kol Suu

Kol Suu is off an off-the-beaten-track destination in an off-the-beaten-track country. The journey to the Kol Suu is as spectacular as the lake itself. 

You’ll need to hire a driver for the two-day trip which can be done through various tourist agencies in the town of Naryn. Although it would probably be best to book ahead rather than booking in Naryn itself. 

Expect a long drive to the yurt camp itself where you can spend the afternoon exploring and hiking around the area before hiking up to Kol Suu early the next morning. 

As you hike to Kol Suu make sure you keep to the right of the river until you are able to cross. Sadly on our trip, we encountered a snowstorm (in the middle of June) as we began to ascend to the lake itself.

That, coupled with there being no obvious place to cross the river due to rainfall the previous day, meant that we had no choice but to turn back.

The scenery was definitely worth the journey and hopefully, you will have better luck!

Mountains close to Kol Suu
MountainPossibly one of the most beautiful places in Kyrgyzstan

11) Learn How to Build a Yurt

Let’s face facts – if you’re visiting Kyrgyzstan, you’re 100% going to spend at least one night in a yurt at some point.

These traditional Central Asian domiciles are a huge part of the Kyrgyz identity, and you’re going to love staying in one.

But just how the hell do the locals build these?

Well you’re in luck – in the town of Kyzyl-Tuu on the south shore of Issyk Kul, you can actually learn how to build one yourself!

This village is the most popular manufacturing places for yurts in the country, and a couple of families now welcome visitors to see just how they’re done.

The whole process only takes about an hour, and you’ll basically learn how to put together an entire yurt, what the individual parts are, and even enjoy some snacks at the end.

To book in for this experience, get in touch with the guys at Destination Karakol. Tell them that NOMADasaurus sent you for special treatment.

12) Stargaze Before Retiring to Your Yurt 

Something that never failed to amaze throughout Kyrgyzstan is the night sky.

As the sun sets at the end of the day, the sky becomes one of the best things to see in Kyrgyzstan.

Away from Bishkek, you are almost guaranteed some pretty amazing star gazing opportunities. This is especially true if you are staying in one of the jailoos.

As the sun begins to set find yourself a decent spot and get ready for a spectacular night sky. 

13) Visit the World’s Largest Walnut Forest in Arslanbob

Close to the Uzbek border, nestled amongst the Babash-Ata Mountains, is the small town of Arslanbob. Home to the world’s largest walnut forest, there are plenty of hiking trails weaving through the forest. 

Trails range from short day hikes to multi-day treks into the mountains, which can be arranged by the local CBT (community-based tourism) office or through guesthouses. 

If you’re in Arslanbob in mid-September you may be able to join in the nut harvest where the town empties into the forest to harvest walnuts, apples, pistachios and cherry plums. 

14) Be Astounded with the Hiking around Jyrgalan

We have a number of amazing posts on hiking around the Jyrgalan region of Kyrgyzstan. East of Karakol, towards the Kazakh border the Jyrgalan valley is home to some of the best trekking in the country. 

This region of the country has only begun to open up in the last few years, with Jarryd and Alesha working with the local tourism board to map treks across the region! 

You will not regret a visit to this spectacular region of Kyrgyzstan. 

Here are a few of our favourite Jyrgalan treks:
* Day Hikes from Jyrgalan
* Boz Uchuk Trek
* Keskenkija Loop Trek
* Bulak Ashuu Lakes Trek
* Truly Nomadic Land Trek
Keskenkija Loop Jyrgalan Trek
The kind of views you can expect when you go hiking in Kyrgyzstan.

15) Check out the Desolate Caravanserai at Tash Rabat 

The south of Kyrgyzstan rises into the Tian Shan that make up the far western border of China. As a result, this is one of the most spectacular parts of the country. 

Nestled amongst the rolling jailoos with snow-capped mountains rising from behind, the deserted caravanserai of Tash Rabat is must visit on your way to or from the Tourgat Pass. 

A former rest stop of the old silk road that stretched from China to Europe, it’s a homage to this epic trading network that brought riches, science and culture across the Eurasian continent.

However, sadly the Tourgat Pass is a border that still retains many of those bureaucratic nightmares that made land border crossing in Central Asia particular frustrating. 

It is possible to visit as a day trip, with Naryn being the nearest major town.

16) Hang Out with a Real Eagle Hunter

The Kyrgyz eagle hunters are almost the stuff of legend, and images of these stately men in traditional clothes with a majestic golden eagle hanging from their arm seem to appear straight from an issue of National Geographic.

The eagle hunters aren’t a myth though, nor are they impossible to find.

In fact, if you’re travelling around Issyk Kul, you have an incredibly good chance to actually meet one and learn about their ancient craft.

There are a number of eagle hunters on the south shore (including the world champion) who are more than happy to show their skills, and eagles, off to curious visitors.

The most famous eagle hunting demonstration is run by the team at Salburuun Federation out of Bokonbaevo, but there are a few others you can book in to see.

After showing you how they hunt with their eagles (warning, they may use a live rabbit for this), they’ll do some horse athletics before letting you pose for a photo with their eagle!

It truly is a unique Kyrgyz activity that you’ll never forget.

You can organise this through many yurt stays and guesthouses around the south shore, or ahead of time with the team at Feel Nomad Travel.

Eagle Hunter Kyrgyzstan
Ruslan with Karakuz, he’s gorgeous golden eagle, galloping across the Kyrgyz landscape.

17) Test Your Bargaining Skills at Osh’s Bazaar 

Kyrgyzstan’s second city of Osh is nestled in the heart of the mountains, a mere stone’s throw from Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley.

The locals say that the city is older than Rome, and this is demonstrated in the fact is far more “traditional” than the capital of Bishkek. 

The city’s bazaar is one of Central Asia’s largest and is a great place to test out your bargaining skills! 

Incidentally, there are quite a few cheap flights into Osh via Turkey and Dubai which could help to manage your budget.  

18) Enjoy Spectacular Views from the Crossroads at Sary Tash

The south of Kyrgyzstan is full of snow-capped mountains, breathtaking scenery and some of the worlds highest border crossings. 

Sary Tash sits at a convergence of roads leading to Osh, Murgab in Tajikistan, the start/end of the Pamir Highway and Kashgar in China via the Irkeshtam pass.

This tiny village has minimal infrastructure; a couple of homestays and a truckers cafe.

However the views are breathtaking, and it’s a great place to pick up riders heading to the Chinese border and onto Kashgar and Xinjiang. 

19) Stare in awe at Lenin Peak in Sary-Mogol

Just 30km to the west of Sary Tash is the slightly larger village of Sary-Mogol. The infrastructure here is slightly better with a CBT homestay operating in the heart of the village.

From here guides and horse treks can be arranged. 

One adventure that is very much worth doing is the 7-hour trek to the yurt camp at Lake Tolpur.

From here the views of Lenin Peak and it’s base camp Achik-Tash are simply incredible. 

Best of all, this is the closest you can get without needing a border permit!

Peak Lenin
Hiking towards Traveller’s Pass, with Peak Lenin towering above.

20) Cross at Some of the World’s Highest Border Crossings

Many travellers have great tales of chaotic overland border crossings (Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan being my personal go-to-tale over a couple of beers).

If you’re the kind of person that loves a bit of a challenge, and wants their own crazy stories to tell around the campfire (don’t worry, it’s safe, just difficult), then Kyrgyzstan is home to some of the most spectacular border crossings on the planet. 

The country’s southern region is home to three big border crossings:

  • Tourgat and Irkeshtam Passes heading into China
  • Kyzyl-Art Pass at Bordöbo heading into Tajikistan

Although things have gotten easier crossing into China in recent years, there is still a nice dose of Chinese and Kyrgyz bureaucracy that’s likely to raise the stress levels.

However, the views will certainly make it worthwhile. 

Heading into Tajikistan is a much smoother process, with many travellers doing this as part of the Pamir Highway.

This means that travel on both sides of the border is covered.

If you’re looking to travel overland through Central Asia, these border crossings will sure be some of your favourite tales!

A horse grazes in the valley at Kol Suu
This is the sort of scenery you can expect as you head towards the Chinese border

21) Inylcheck Glacier 

Located on the edge of the fabled Tian Shan in the country’s east is the Inylcheck Glacier. 

There are a number of trekking opportunities in the region. However, because of the remoteness and challenging terrain, it’s one of the more expensive trekking options in the country.

The being said, this is one of the longest non-polar glaciers in the world and it truly is a spectacular sight. 

The peaks of Pobedy and Khan Tengri are particularly awe-inspiring! 

The vast majority of treks here are multi-day options, especially when heading as far as the peaks mentioned above.

Make sure you have good boots and a well-charged camera!

22) Go Skiing or Snowboarding at Some of the World’s Cheapest Ski Resorts

Did you know that Kyrgyzstan is home to some of the cheapest ski resorts in the world?

Well, it is. How does $17 lift tickets sound?

But cheap doesn’t mean bad. In fact quite the opposite.

Karakol Ski Resort is home to some of the best lift-accessed terrain you can imagine, and having spent years carving the slopes of western Canada and Japan, Karakol delivers on all accounts.

With great snow coverage, steep and consistent runs and decent groomers, there’s something for the whole family.

If you prefer your skiing and snowboarding to be on the advanced side, you should check out the backcountry and freeriding options Kyrgystan has to offer.

Want to know more? Check out our detailed guide on snowboarding and skiing in Kyrgyzstan.

Snowboarding What to Do in Kyrgyzstan
Bottomless pow, anyone?

23) Climb to the Summit of Lenin Peak

One of the highest points in Central Asia, Lenin Peak straddles the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. As you would expect the views are epic. 

If you want to get a little closer than the hiking opportunities in Sary-Mogol will allow, it is possible for non-climbers to hike to the base camp of Achik-Tash.

However, you will need permits which can be organised through various trekking agencies. Be sure to give them at least 1 month’s notice to process.

Want to tick off the most badass adventure in all of Kyrgyzstan though? Why not attempt to summit this 7134m high peak!

It’s known to be the easiest 7000+m peak in the world, but don’t let that reputation fool you. Hundreds of people have died trying to climb it, and it’s currently sitting at less than a 50% success rate to reach the top.

Unless you are a very, very experienced mountaineer, you will have to join a guided expedition.

Still, for bragging rights, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Check out our guide on hiking to the Peak Lenin Base Camp.

Peak Lenin Base Camp Trek
Amazing views to be enjoyed on the Peak Lenin Base Camp trek.

24) Squeeze into a Marshrutka 

Marshrutka are the lifeblood of Kyrgyzstan’s transport network. These converted transit vans take people and goods to the far corners of the country. 

From the bustling bus station to the north of the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek to flagging one down at the side of the road, it is very likely you will encounter on of these Soviet marvels at some point. 

Since the drivers earn their money from the number of people they take, there is certainly an incentive to pack the van as much a possible. Therefore it pays to get to bus stations early to claim your space. 

Get ready for a squeeze as the driver plays and usually succeeds at Kyrgyz tetris, as they cram an unfathomable amount of stuff into their converted ford transit. As Kyrgyzstan activities go, this is something you won’t soon forget. 

Although it may be a squeeze at times, the scenery does make it a little bit easier and it’s a great opportunity to meet somebody new.

25) Chow Down on Shashlyk 

Central Asian cuisine is not something that gets a lot of love. Now, this is not due to the quality of the food itself.

But more the fact that you can end up eating a lot of the same fare: plov, manti, samsa, lagman and shashlyk being the main go-to’s or the only things that some restaurants have. 

Whilst Kyrgyzstan’s cuisine is not the reason people visit, the shashlyk on offer here is probably the best in Central Asia (apologies Uzbekistan, but you win on the plov front). 

After a tough day of hiking, tucking into a huge lamb shashlik is the perfect way to end the day!  

26) Get Lost in the Chong Kemin Valley 

Just under 150km east of Bishkek is the Chong Kemin Valley that runs for 80km. 

This area has numerous trekking options including an epic 6-day route that takes you over the 4062m Ak-Suu Pass and then down towards the northern shore of Issyk-Kul at Cholpon-Ata. 

Public transport options to the valley itself are thin on the ground from Bishkek’s main bus station. Therefore, you may need to get a private or shared taxi.  

About the author

Richard Barnes

Richard Barnes is our resident China, New Zealand and Central Asia expert, having spent more time than just about anyone backpacking and travelling around there. He is also one of half of the British-Chinese couple that make up abearandapig.com, a blog focusing on travel, life as a local and an expat in the middle kingdom and Chinese social media.

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