On this page you can find all the information you need to know about backpacking in Kyrgyzstan.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find all the articles we've written about this country.
Kyrgyzstan is a republic in Central Asia. The country became independent in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. That's why Russian, together with Kyrgyz, is the official language spoken in Kyrgyzstan. There are about 6 million people living in Kyrgyzstan. Besides Kyrgyz, the country's population includes minorities of Russians,Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Kazakh,...
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country, defined by the beautiful Tien Shan (Heavenly Mountains) range, which occupies 90% of the country. Kyrgyzstan is also home to lush valleys and hundreds of crystal-clear alpine lakes, the largest being Lake Issy-Kul in the northeast of the country.
The summers are hot, the winters are cold, but due to the huge differences in elevation, the weather can vary a lot. The summers can get very hot in the lower areas (40°C) but if you're at higher altitudes, the nights get very cold (5 - 10°C). In the same way, winters at lower elevations are much milder (-10°C) while in some of the mountain passes, the temperature can get as low or lower than -30°C.
The best time to visit Kyrgyzstan is between May and October, as all the lakes and roads are then accessible.
Kyrgyzstan Visa Information
Kyrgyzstan has the most liberal visa regime in Central Asia. Citizens from Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Brunei, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE and Saudi Arabia can all visit the country up to 60 days without a visa.
If you want to stay longer than your allotted visa-free time, you can apply for a 3 months visa at the Kyrgyz Embassy or Consulate. Another way is to cross the border into one of the neighboring countries, stay there for a few days and come back in. Your visa will be renewed for another 60 days. You can easily do this for 6 months up to one year, as long as you're visiting as a tourist and aren't working in the country!
All the other countries have to obtain a visa. Check this website to see what visa you're eligible for. Since 1 September 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan has launched the e-Visa system, for which you can apply here.
Kyrgyzstan is a very budget-friendly country. The currency is the Kyrgyzstani Som (KGS). Count on a daily budget of $15 - $20. The cost of an average meal is about $5 and a bed in a budget hostel costs $5.
Transportation in Kyrgyzstan is also very cheap; you'll generally pay around $5 for a 5-hour ride in a mashrutka (minibus) and covering the distance between Bishkek and Osh in a shared taxi costs $10.
Hitchhiking and Camping in Kyrgyzstan
It might look as if many locals are hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan, but don't be mistaken. It's common to ask for a ride by standing on the side of the road and waving your hand up and down, but it's custom to offer the driver some money.
If you don't want to pay for the ride, make sure that you can explain this before getting in the car. Read this guide first, in which we share everything you need to know about hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan.
Camping in Kyrgyzstan is a must! Imagine waking up in the middle of the mountains, next to a crystal-clear alpine lake. Sounds like a dream but in Kyrgyzstan, it's a reality! And you don't even have to pay for it. With the exception of a few National Parks, you can hike and camp anywhere you like without paying for a camping fee.
If you want to go off-the-beaten-path, let someone know your plans and route and contact the local CBT . You could wander for weeks in the mountains before you see a living soul. So be responsible and careful!
Getting around Kyrgyzstan by public transport can be an adventure in itself. The most common ways are taking a shared taxi or a mashrutka (minibus).
The shared taxis are the most comfortable way to get from one city to another. You share the taxi with 4 to 6 other people and you pay per seat. The shared taxis leave when full. It's good to ask a local person or the hostel receptionist for the right price as the drivers might try to sell you a seat at a 'tourist' price.
Taking a shared taxis is more expensive than taking a mashrutka but it's a faster and more comfortable option, especially for long distances. A shared taxi from Bishkek to Osh costs around 1600 KGS and the journey takes 10 to 12 hours with a couple of toilet and food stops.
Mashrutkas are minivans that act as public transport. They can be very crowded in cities, especially in Bishkek and Osh, but they are also super cheap (10 KGS for a ride).
The long-distance mashrutkas are also cheap but the journey will take longer than by shared taxi. They leave from the bus stations where you can buy a ticket at the ticket office. The prices are often printed next to the ticket office so no need to bargain for a price or being afraid that you're paying for the 'tourist' price.
Places to see and things to do in Kyrgyzstan
We're currently exploring Kyrgyzstan and its neighboring countries in Central Asia. We'll make a complete guide about places worth visiting in Kyrgyzstan once we finish our travels here - we like to write from experience, not from what we've heard or read. In the meantime, check our articles below as we're slowly but surely covering the (unique) places we're exploring.
The Kyrgyz people are descendants of ancient Turkish tribes and have been nomadic cattle breeders for centuries. Nowadays, a large part of the population remains semi-nomadic, which means that they live in yurts during the summer months and return to their houses in the towns and cities during winter time.
It's a wonderful experience to spend a few days with a semi-nomadic family in the mountains. You can book an organized tour with the Community Based Tourism Association or just go independently to any yurt camp and ask to spend the day with the family. In exchange give them some money and/or help them out with their daily tasks. Now that will be an experience to remember!
The Kyrgyz people are in general very hospitable people, especially in small villages where they aren't used to seeing foreigners. They will probably invite you for a tea or a meal in their home and take plenty of selfies with you.
However, in more touristic destinations the people are used to being hospitable in exchange for money. They will welcome you in their home to spend the night but will expect a payment in exchange. Don't feel offended or abused when this happens, see it as a way of helping out the locals. 300 - 400 KGS per person is the average price for a night in a homestay so even if the family who invited you isn't a 'legal' homestay, give them this money as a way of saying thank you.
The common greeting is a handshake but is used by men mostly. Men shake hands to greet and congratulate each other and also to say goodbye. Typically men do not shake hands with women.
If a man extends his hand first to a woman, a woman is supposed to shake it. If a woman extends her hand first to a man, the man will shake it but this is not a very common thing. So if you're a woman, just wait until a man initiates it and don't be offended if he doesn't. It's after all part of the culture.
The vast majority of the Kyrgyz people are Muslims, but Islam came late and fairly superficially to the area. Kyrgyz Muslims practice their religion in a specific way, influenced by earlier tribal customs.
The practice of Islam also differs in the northern and southern regions of the country and is in general not so strict. Many women don't wear a hijab and the majority of the men won't say no to a good shot of vodka or cognac.