Few people could tell you much about this former Soviet republic in Central Asia, but Kyrgyzstan is, quite simply, among the most beautiful places on the planet. Bisected by the Tianshan, or ‘Celestial Mountains’, it forms a rugged buffer between the great Eurasian Steppe to the north and deserts of Chinese Xinjiang to the south. Around 90% of the country lies above 1,500m, and more than a third of it is permanently snow covered. From the foot of its ice-encrusted summits roll pristine forests of fir and spruce, wind-eroded canyons, and expansive grasslands cradling vivid blue lakes.
For thousands of years, these contrasting landscapes supported populations of semi-nomadic herders, who grazed their goats, sheep, horses and yaks at altitude during the summer months, sleeping in felt yurts and migrating back down the valleys in winter. Decades of Stalinist rule left this age-old way of life in sharp decline, but pockets have endured, and today these form the basis of a unique travel experience.
Unlike neighbouring Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan is not somewhere to come for monuments or remnants of elite culture. But for anyone wanting to gain a sense of what life on the old Silk Road may have been like between the great bazaars of Bukhara and Samarkand; the yurt camps, astounding scenery and welcoming people of this surprisingly little-visited country will provide plenty of inspiration. Whether a memorable interlude in long overland journeys through the Stans, or as a stand-alone destination in its own right, Kyrgyzstan is a country ripe for exploration.
Suggested tours to Kyrgyzstan
Nomads and Mountains: Kyrgyzstan
Tailor-made Tour 16 days from £3795 per person
One of our absolute favourite tours in Asia is this adventurous route trip through the wilds of Kyrgyzstan. It involves a memorable, and at times strenuous, 5-day trek, for which you’ll need to be in good physical shape. Once you’ve savoured the di...
Ultimate Silk Road
Tailor-made Tour 28 days from £7500 per person
For anyone hooked on the romance of the ancient Silk Road, this epic, month-long tour has it all. You get to experience the full gamut of exotic landscapes explored by Sven Hedin and Aurel Stein, and visit all the legendary bazaar cities that once f...
Legends of the Silk Road
Tailor-made Tour 23 days from £6595 per person
Follow in Marco Polo’s footsteps on a journey from the imperial heartland of China’s eastern seaboard to the dry, dusty capitals of Central Asia – Kashgar, Bukhara and Samarkhand – whose names are synonymous with the ancient caravan trade across the...
Kyrgyzstan Places and Experiences
A city of wide, tree-lined boulevards and marble-fronted municipal buildings, Bishkek retains the feel of a Soviet-block capital circa 1990, though it makes an engaging place to find one’s feet before heading into the nearby mountains. To...
Dominating the east of Kyrgyzstan is chimeric Issyk Kul Lake. Around 113 miles (182km) in length, it’s the second largest mountain lake in the world after Titicaca, and one of Central Asia’s most spellbinding sights. In fine weather, the s...
This high-altitude lake in central Kyrgyzstan is one of our very favourite destinations in the region – a spot that has everything you come to this part of the world to see, in abundance. Framed by a backdrop of snow peaks, its turquoise w...
At the eastern end of Issyk Kul, Karakol was created at the end of the 19th century as a Russian military garrison town, and is today the region’s main hub. A sleepy grid of down-at-heel wooden houses, the place springs to life on Sundays ...
Balasagun and the Burana Tower
Rising from a grassy plain against a backdrop of windswept ice peaks, the Burana Tower in the Chuy Valley forms a superbly iconic spectacle. The remains of a minaret that once stood 45m (145ft) tall, it is virtually the sole surviving vest...
In the annals of Central Asian travel, the bleak, windswept, snow-prone Torugart Pass looms large. Forming one of only two crossing points in the Tianshan range between Kyrgyzstan and the Chinese province of Xinjiang, it stands as a gatewa...
If any sight in Kyrgyzstan could be said to encapsulate the atmosphere of the ancient Silk Road, it’s this mysterious monument in the lap of the Tianshan mountains. Enfolded by denuded, snow-streaked hillsides, the building was originally ...
Trekking and Horse Riding in Kyrgyzstan
For the most vivid experience of Kyrgyzstan’s dramatic mountain landscapes, it pays to venture away from road level and up to the remote ‘jailoos’ where the region’s nomads look after their flocks and herds during the summer months. Our tr...
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