Imagine you wake up in a yurt. You step outside your humble shelter to an unspoiled landscape of mountains and lakes waiting to be explored. This is Kyrgyzstan – a landlocked country in Central Asia that features some of the best mountain landscapes in the world and is home to various ethnic groups and traditional culture.
The capital Bishkek is a charming city and the cultural hub of Kyrgyzstan. Located in the heart of Bishkek, Ala Too Square is a popular place for festivals and celebrations. The square previously had a statue of Lenin, which was later replaced with a statue of Manas – an important figure in Kyrgyz history. Victory Square, Oak Park and Bishkek’s central market – Osh Bazaar are some of the city’s must-visit sites. Bishkek has some great nightclubs and restaurants that offer mouthwatering Kyrgyz cuisine, most of which are meat-based, so vegans and vegetarians should check the menu carefully.
Shared between China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Tajikistan, the Tien Shan mountain range is one of the largest in Asia and offers plenty of hiking and trekking opportunities. Kyrgyzstan’s fourth largest city Karakol is the base to explore the Tien Shan Mountains. From Karakol, you can go on a motorbike trip to Issyk Kol – the world’s second-largest alpine lake or trek to the breathtaking Ala-Kol lake – which is one of the most scenic trekking experiences that you can have in Kyrgyzstan. Apart from Issyk Kol and Ala-Kol, the country has several other picturesque lakes like Son Kol, Kol Tor, Kol Suu. You can reach Son Kol on horseback and stay overnight in a yurt to experience Kyrgyzstan’s nomadic life.
Located in western Kyrgyzstan, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve listed Sary-Chelek is worth adding to your itinerary and is a great place to encounter rare flora. The nature reserve features seven mountain lakes including the prime highlight Sary-Chelek lake.
Kyrgyzstan’s oldest and the second-largest city Osh has a lively bazaar, which is one of the biggest in Central Asia. In the southern region of Osh province lies Alay Valley – one of the finest hiking and trekking sites in the country. This high-altitude Alay valley offers jaw-dropping mountain views and is dotted with yurts and turquoise lakes, but sees few visitors, which is good if you want to go off-the-beaten-track.
As a travel destination, Kyrgyzstan’s sole purpose seems to be to lure nature lovers with its abundance of natural beauty and so far it has been a win-win for both the Kyrgyz as well as visitors. Most of the rural roads close during the winter, so plan your visit during the summer months.
Issyk Kol in Kyrgyzstan is the world’s second-largest alpine lake.