Article cover image

8 Experiences to Best Explore Asia's Hidden Gem: Kyrgyzstan


| 8 mins read

Kyrgyzstan, officially known as the Kyrgyz Republic, is a small, landlocked country in Central Asia with enchanting landscapes, rich heritage, well-preserved nomadic culture and warm hospitality. With a diverse plethora of experiences to offer, Kyrgyzstan has a lot to offer and yet remains one of the least explored places in the world. Here are the best experiences that will allow you to beautifully capture the essence of this underrated destination.

Stay in a Yurt Camp and Learn How to Build One

If there is one symbol recognised as “theirs” by all of the Kyrgyzstanians, it is the yurt, a traditional, portable, circular structure with a collapsible wooden frame covered by felt or other fabric. The pattern of the tunduk, the circular top of the yurt seen from the inside, is even on the Kyrgyz flag! 

Although they look similar to tents, yurts are super comfortable to stay in and (like a TARDIS) are bigger than they seem from the outside! Most of the accessible yurts can be found around the alpine lakes of the country, and with the help of your local guide, you can not only camp in the starlight but also learn how to build a yurt, which is harder than it seems! A traditional yurt for 15 people can take upto 2 hours to build!

If you do not want to get your hands dirty and just want to relax in a yurt, do not worry! As the summer starts, the people following a nomadic lifestyle will set up camp in the jailoos (alpine meadows) near Lakes Issyk-Kul and Song-Kul, where you can do just that. 

Participate in the Ancient Tradition of Eagle Hunting

Another persisting relic of the age-old nomadic culture of Kyrgyzstan is the art of Eagle Hunting, which originated from Central Asia at a time when the adaptation of these birds of prey in hunting for food and furs was essential in the harsh winter months. Although the art of Eagle Hunting is slowly fading in the wake of modernism, you can still witness and learn about this exemplary representation of the harmonious relationship between humans and birds in the country with the help of a local guide. 

The popular guided tours happen around the south shore of Issyk Kul. Moreover, there are dedicated local festivals celebrating the tradition of Eagle Hunting (which happens mostly during the month of August). Big events like the Eagle Hunting Festival in Bokonbayevo village can get crowded and cater mainly to tourists. Local guides can take you to these events, where the nomadic communities from worldwide come dressed in traditional attire to witness and participate in activities like eagle hunting (of course!), horseback archery, wrestling, and the notoriously intense regional team sport, Kok Buru.

Take a Hike Among Some of the Most Beautiful Mountains

More than 90% of the country is at least 1500m above sea level. With an abundance of snow-covered valleys, clear blue lakes, gorgeous lush greenery, and a backdrop of some of the most beautiful mountains, the hiking, trekking, and horse riding trails of the country aren’t like anything you have experienced.

Kyrgyzstan caters to hikers of every level, from beginners to professionals. Travellers looking for a relaxing time often head to one of the three most popular hikes - Kel-Suu Lake, the Seven Lakes In Sary Chelek Nature Reserve (belonging to the Sary Chelek Nature Reserve, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve declared in 1978), and the Ak-Sai Waterfall In Ala Archa National Park. These hikes are accessible to anyone with relatively lower fitness levels. For those looking to exert their inner adventurers, the Lenin Peak Base Camp and Traveler’s Pass Day Hike and the hike to Kol-Tor Lake in the Chui Region pose a challenging but rewarding time.

These are the five most popular treks in the country, but there are more than 14 treks, and many unnamed, hidden gems only local guides would know, that are regularly embarked on! Additionally, you can enjoy the beauty of Kyrgyz mountains through a horseback riding experience on the same routes ancient nomads used to follow!

Enjoy the Local Dishes

As they say, the way to the heart of any person is through the stomach. Paraphrasing that, the way to know the heart of a country’s hospitality and culture is through its food! Take a guided food tour in Kyrgyzstan, enjoying some Beshbarmak (boiled meat served with noodles and a sour cream sauce) in the capital city Bishkek, or Kyrgyz-style dumplings, bread, and tea, and Shashlik (grilled skewers of meat, usually lamb or beef) in Osh! Wandering through the local markets, like the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, the city's biggest local food and goods market, savouring these dishes and soaking up the ambience will give a feeling of authenticity in the journey.

Admire the Alpine Lakes and Hot Springs

Kyrgyzstan is home to some of the most stunning and secluded alpine lakes in the world, where the daring of the heart can brave the cold and swim or take a boat excursion to enjoy the scenery. The famous Issyk-Kul Lake seems as though it can compete with the size of an ocean! Son Kul and Sary-Chelek are the two other most popular lakes in the country, with hundreds of unnamed smaller ones tucked away from the general eye, known only by the local guides who are always happy to share their knowledge with travellers.

For those looking to relax with a hot soak, the Altyn Arashan and Issyk Ata hot springs provide perfectly warm waters, which will feel like heaven after a hard day’s hike. Legends say that these hot springs contain magical healing powers and are renowned for being able to cure many ailments.

Learn about the Silk Road

Central Asia has a fascinating history attached to the Silk Road, as the region was right in the middle of the route and served as the crossroads for one of the largest trade routes in human history. Take a guided tour of the places on the Silk Road in Kyrgyzstan to visit locations like the Burana Tower (a restored minaret that was a part of the city called Balasagun), Tash Rabat ( a well-preserved 15th-century stone caravanserai in At-Bashy District), and Osh (the second largest and the oldest city in the country), with each offering a unique perspective of the historical route.

The best time to visit Kyrgyzstan for a Silk Road tour is during the spring (May-June) or autumn (September-October) months. This shoulder season offers comfortable temperatures ideal for exploring historical sites and outdoor activities. Summer (July-August) can be scorching hot, while winters (November-April) are frigid, with mountain passes often inaccessible.

Go on a Helicopter Ride to See Khan Tengri

A chopper ride to Khan Tengri and the Enylcheck Glacier is an epic experience worth having in Kyrgyzstan. The view of the near-pyramid shape of the summit as the sun shines on its face is breathtaking, and being in the air, isolated and closer to the skies, only makes it all the more profound. Often, the guided tour can also be extended to visit the Enylcheck Glacier, one of the largest non-polar glaciers in the world, where you can walk on the frozen glacier!

The tour typically starts in Karakol, a hub for adventure travel in Kyrgyzstan. From there, board the helicopter and embark on your odyssey. The best time for this helicopter tour is during the summer months, from June to September. The skies are generally clear, offering unobstructed views of the mountains. However, be aware that these months also see the most tourist traffic. If you prefer a quieter experience, consider shoulder seasons like May or October, but be prepared for the possibility of colder temperatures and occasional cloud cover.

Explore the Magical Canyons

Kyrgyzstan boasts some of the best landscapes accessible to travellers in the world, one of which is its colourful grand canyons. The Skazka Canyon, located to the south of Issyk Kul, is even called the “Fairytale Canyon” because the rock formations of the canyon often resemble the shapes of animals and fantastical castles! The red, pink, orange, and yellow colours of the rocks only make the visiting experience more gorgeous, making one feel as though they have stepped into a magical place.

Another major attraction is the Jeti Oguz, a beautiful red sandstone canyon (with a dormant volcano!) some 25 km southwest of Karakol. The drive to Jeti Oguz is as stunning as the place itself, with the views of the Broken Heart rock formation and the stunning Dragon Gorge. 

Finally, a hidden gem of a place is the Konorchek Canyon, known as the ‘Grand Canyon of Kyrgyzstan’, located between Bishkek and Issyk-Kul.

For those planning a hiking or trekking trip to Kyrgyzstan, the best time to visit is from June to September, when the weather is warm and dry. For winter sports enthusiasts, December to March would be a good time to partake in cultural events. The traditional Kyrgyz festivals like the "Nomad Games" and "Kyrgyzstan Manas" happen in September. Plan your trip with these things in mind, or just wing it and visit at any time of the year - one thing is for sure: Kyrgyzstan will not disappoint!