7th February 2019
If you speak to anyone who has been to Kyrgyzstan they will probably tell you that it's one of their favourite places in the world. Exactly why this is can be difficult to narrow down because there are so many reasons why you should be adding this amazing country to your bucket-list. That said, I've managed to whittle it down to the five below...
Despite hosting the World Nomad Games in 2018 and a gradually increasing reputation in travel circles, Kyrgyzstan is still relatively unknown to most travellers - perhaps unsurprising considering it has only been an independent nation for 28 years. This means if you go in the next few years, you'll manage to avoid the overtourism that is starting to plague many of the world’s most iconic sites. You can trek for days in the Tian Shan, or 'Mountains of Heaven', without seeing another soul and spend time with some of the last remaining nomadic people of the Central Asian Steppe. It's the perfect place for a little technological detox.
It would take a writer far better than me to describe the natural beauty of Kyrgyzstan in words alone. The soaring ‘Mountains of Heaven’ live up to their billing, while the ruggedness of Son Kul - one of the world's highest lakes - is quite something to behold. Not to mention the largest walnut forest in the world at Arslanbob, or the picturesque beauty of Issyk Kul, once a popular beach resort for well-to-do Soviets. As we travelled from place to place the desire to take photos of the ever changing, but always impressive, scenery was replaced by an attempt to just sit back and take it all in while we could.
There is so much to do in Kyrgyzstan for the adventurous traveller who likes to get their heart racing. The country’s horses are rightly famed and provide an excellent way to see the country in the same way countless generations of nomadic people have done for millennia. We were also fortunate enough to be spectators at a demonstration of expert local horsemanship which including picking up a bank note from the ground at full gallop, kok-boru (sheep carcass polo) and horseback wrestling. There’s also the opportunity to enjoy stunning views in some of Central Asia's best trekking, particularly in the mountains (which make up 95% of Kyrgyzstan's landscape) where we traversed the epic 4100m Ton Pirival Pass.
Despite being a relatively little-known country, Kyrgyzstan is actually a fairly straightforward destination to visit. Flights from Western Europe are around 8hrs and usually come via Istanbul or Moscow. As a bonus, visitors from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and much of the EU can enter without a visa for up to 60 days.
The traditional nomadic culture of the steppe is still an important part of Kyrgyz national culture and although many have left their rural lives behind, the nomadic principle of hospitality remains. I can’t count the number of times members of the groups were invited into homes or to parties often with the promise of vodka, tea or food. Everybody was so friendly and despite the language barrier – my Russian and Kyrgyz needs a lot of work – you could tell that you were genuinely being welcomed.