The Ultimate Travel Guide to Backpacking in Kyrgyzstan

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Backpacking in Kyrgyzstan

 

This is a complete guide for the independent traveler with everything you need to know about backpacking in Kyrgyzstan.

 

In this article you will find info about:

  1. Visa & Registration
  2. Entering and exiting Kyrgyzstan by air or by land
  3. Required vaccinations
  4. What you need to bring on your trip
  5. The best time to visit
  6. Getting around
  7. Accommodation
  8. Food and drinks
  9. Religion
  10. Culture
  11. Language
  12. Travel and hiking safety
  13. Other useful things to know
    13.1 Drinking water
    13.2 Bathroom facilities
    13.3 Corruption & bribes
    13.4 Internet
    13.5 Useful apps for traveling in Kyrgyzstan

 

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads

 

The Kyrgyz Republic – or simply Kyrgyzstan –  is a small landlocked country in Central Asia. The country is defined by the beautiful Tien Shan mountain range which occupies 90% of the country, lush valleys and hundreds of crystal-clear alpine lakes. Kyrgyzstan is a land of nomads who still strongly value their centuries-old nomadic traditions. They are expert horsemen and national games in which they demonstrate their equestrian skills, such as Dead Goat Polo, are an integral part of the Kyrgyz culture.

 

If you like being in the wilderness and you’re interested in learning more about the nomadic lifestyle in Central Asia, then you’ll absolutely love Kyrgyzstan! It’s one of the few off-the-beaten-path countries where you can still get a taste of the authentic nomadic culture!

 

 

Yurt - Traditional clothes of Kyrgyzstan - National Games Festival in Kyrgyzstan - Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads

 

 

We’re organizing two awesome adventures in Kyrgyzstan this summer!

Look here for more info and details!

 

1. Do you need a visa for Kyrgyzstan

 

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 visit the country up to 60 days without a visa.

 

Citizens from Mongolia and Ukraine can stay up to 90 days without a visa and citizens from Malaysia and Turkey are allowed to stay visa-free in Kyrgyzstan up to 30 days. Travelers from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cuba, Georgia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, North Korea, Russia, Tajikistan, and Vietnam can stay for an indefinite time!

 

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.

 

 

How to renew or extend your visa for Kyrgyzstan?

There are three options if you want to stay longer than your allotted (visa-free) time:

 

1) You can apply for a 3 months visa at the Kyrgyz Embassy or Consulate. You can find more info about this here.

2) If you’re a citizen of a country that gets a free visa on arrival, the easiest and cheapest way to renew this visa is by doing a border run into one of Kyrgyzstan’s neighboring countries a few days before your visa expires. You can stay there for a day or two and upon return, you’ll receive a new (free) visa. You can easily continue doing this for 6 months up to one year as long as you state that you’re visiting Kyrgyzstan as a tourist.

This is how we’re able to stay for such a long time in Kyrgyzstan. Every two months we do a visa run and stay for a few days in Kazakhstan. You could return the same day but we wouldn’t recommend this as the border officials might question you.

3) If you’re a citizen of a country that doesn’t get a free visa on arrival, you’ll have to apply for a new visa in a Kyrgyz Embassy outside of the country. Almaty in Kazakhstan is probably the best place to apply for a new visa.

 

 

Do you need to register upon your arrival in Kyrgyzstan?

About two years ago, all foreigners that visited Kyrgyzstan for more than 5 days had to register at the Migration Police (OVIR). Since January 2017 this law changed and the citizens of 91 nationalities don’t have to register anymore. If you’re entitled to a free visa, you don’t have to worry about getting registered even when you do a border run to renew your tourist visa. Just double-check this list on Caravanistan to make sure. If your country is not on the list, you still need to register at the OVIR within 5 days. You’ll find more info on the registration procedure here.

 

The Kyrgyz police aren’t always up-to-date with this new registration law so make sure you know your rights! We once had a bad encounter with two cops who tried to get a bribe from us. They told us that we had to pay them a fine because we weren’t registered. As Belgian and Canadian citizens, we didn’t need to register but the cops didn’t believe us. The best way to get out of a situation like this without having to pay a bribe is to tell them you’ll call your embassy. As soon as you (pretend to) call, they will back off. So always have the phone number of your embassy with you for situations like these!

 

 

2.  Entering and exiting Kyrgyzstan

 

2.1 By plane

There are 2 international airports in Kyrgyzstan:

 

1) Bishkek Airport also called Manas (FRU)

Bishkek is the capital city of Kyrgyzstan and this is the country’s main international airport so this will probably be the one that you enter or depart the country from.

 

How to get from the airport to Bishkek?
A taxi from the airport to Bishkek city center costs 500 KGS. There’ll be many taxi drivers upon your arrival but don’t let them take you to the city for more than this price! The ride takes about 30 minutes.
You can also take marshrutka #153 or #380 (minibus) from the airport to Bishkek. They run daily from 6.30 am to 8 pm, the ride to the city center takes about 50 minutes and it costs 40 KGS.

 

How to get from Bishkek to the airport?
By taxi: Ask your hostel/hotel to call a taxi or order one on the Namba Taxi app. It costs 500 KGS to go from the city center of Bishkek to the airport.
By marshrutka (mini-bus): Mashrutka #153 and #380 run daily from 6.30 am to 8.00 pm to and from the airport. Ask your hotel/hostel where you can take them from or look on the app Bus.kg to find their route. One ticket costs 40KGS.

 

 

2) Osh Airport
Osh Airport is a small airport with about 30 international flights per week, mainly to and from Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Moskow (Russia).

 

How to get from the airport to Osh?
The airport is very close to the city center of Osh so a taxi from the airport costs 300KGS. Many drivers will eagerly welcome you upon your arrival and don’t let them make you believe that it costs more than 300KGS!
Marshrutka #107a and #142a go daily from the airport to the city center and it costs 10 KGS.

 

How to get from Osh to the airport?
By taxi: Just wave down any taxi in the city center. Don’t pay more than 250KGS!
By marshrutka: marshrutka #107a and #142a go daily to the airport until 7.30pm. You can catch them at the bazaar in Osh. One ticket costs 10KGS.

 

 

2.2 By land

You can enter Kyrgyzstan overland from China, Kazakhstan (read the border report here), Uzbekistan (report coming soon) and Tajikistan.
For more info about the different border crossings, go to this page on Caravanistan.

 

The Ultimate Travel guide for backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - landscapes in Kyrgyzstan

 

 

3. Which vaccinations are required for Kyrgyzstan? 

 

You don’t need any compulsory vaccinations to travel in Kyrgyzstan. However, vaccinations for Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended, especially if you are staying with friends or relatives, visiting smaller cities or rural areas, or if you are an adventurous eater.
The government of Kyrgyzstan requires proof of yellow fever vaccination only if you’re arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever.

 

 

4. What you need to bring to go backpacking in Kyrgyzstan

 

4.1 Money

The official currency Kyrgyzstan is the Kyrgyzstani Som (KGS). 1USD is about 68 KGS (March 2018). ATM’s are very easy to find in the cities and towns but make sure to bring cash money when you visit remote villages and regions. There are also plenty of exchange offices, especially in the capital Bishkek, in case you want to exchange some dollars or euros.

 

 

4.2 Travel Insurance for Kyrgyzstan

It’s not mandatory to have travel insurance if you are traveling to Kyrgyzstan. However, if you’re planning on doing activities such as horseback riding and doing some treks in the mountains, it’s always a good idea to have international travel insurance!

 

If you don’t have travel insurance yet, I suggest to sign up for the travel insurance provided by World Nomads! Click here for more information and prices.

 

 

4.3 Power adaptor

The power sockets in Kyrgyzstan are of type C and F. The standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.

 

 

 

4.4 Which clothes do you need for Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan has a continental climate with hot summers and cold winters but because it’s a mountainous country, the weather varies a lot depending on where you are. It can be very hot in the summer (35°C) in the lower areas such as the capital Bishkek, but as soon as you go into the mountains, the temperature can go down to 15°C. In the same way, winters at lower elevations are much milder (-10°C) while in some mountain passes, the temperature can get as low as or lower than -30°C.

 

Pack appropriate clothes for the period in which you’re traveling. In winter you should always bring warm clothes, a down jacket, a hat, a scarf, thermal underwear, warm boots and maybe a few lighter clothes for the mild days in Bishkek. The summer in Bishkek and other cities located under 1000 meters can be very hot so bring light clothes. If you’re planning on hiking and camping in the mountains during the summer, you should also bring warm clothing as the temperature at night can drop to 0°C!

 

Women shouldn’t wear miniskirts, short shorts, and revealing tops. With the exception of the capital city where the young people follow the latest Western fashion, most people are still very traditional and will take offense if you show a lot of skin. T-shirts with short sleeves and knee-length skirts, dresses, and shorts are okay, except for when you visit religious buildings and sites. There you should cover your arms and wear a long skirt or trousers.

 

 

 

5.  What is the best time to visit Kyrgyzstan?

 

You can visit Kyrgyzstan the whole year round, depending on what you want to see and do during your trip.

The period between May and October is the best time to visit Kyrgyzstan if you want to do some hiking and horseback treks in the mountains and meet the Kyrgyz nomads. They stay in the towns and cities during the winter but as soon as spring arrives, they move back to the valleys and mountains where they set up their yurt camps so their herds of sheep, goats, horses, and cows can graze freely in the wild.

 

There are also many special events and festivals during the summer time. This calendar is a great guide to find out where and when you can attend cultural events and festivals, such as the National Horse Games Festival.

 

If you get the chance to attend the World Nomad Games, it’s definitely worth it! These games are held every two years in September in Cholpon-Ata, a small town near the South Shore of Issyk-Kul lake. These Games showcase the sports, culture, and lifestyle of the Central Asian nomads. This year, the World Nomad Games 2018 are held from the 2nd to the 8th of September. For more information, click here.

 

The Ultimate Travel guide for backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - Kok Boru - nomad games in Kyrgyzstan

Kok Boru (Dead Goat Polo) is the main event of the World Nomads Games. Read more about this horse game here.

 

 

The winter (November – March) might not be a very attractive time to visit Kyrgyzstan as it’s very cold (down to -30°C or lower) and dangerous to hike in the mountains. Even the nomads return to their towns and villages during this time of the year. But if you can handle the cold, you like skiing and you love snowy landscapes, then traveling in Kyrgyzstan during the winter will be a unique and magical experience!

 

The Ultimate Travel guide for backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - Kyrgyzstan in winter

 

 

There are about 20 ski resorts in Kyrgyzstan with Karakol ski resort being one of the best ski resorts in Central Asia. For more information and details about skiing in Kyrgyzstan, check out this article.

 

The Ultimate Travel guide for backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - skiing in Kyrgyzstan

Skking in Karakol

 

 

Some areas might be harder or impossible to access when it snows, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do in Kyrgyzstan during the winter. Niko went on a horseback trek to Son Kul lake in December and it was a spectacular experience (watch the video here)! This is also the period in which you can see the mighty eagle hunters in full action! The hunting season starts late October and lasts until the end of February. In this article, we tell you more about where to visit the eagle hunters in Kyrgyzstan.

 

 

 

 

6. The best ways to get around in Kyrgyzstan

 

6.1 Traveling in Kyrgyzstan by public transport

You can get around in Kyrgyzstan by marshrutka (min-bus), bus, (shared) taxi, train, and airplane.

 

  • Getting around by marshrutka

A marshrutka is a minibus that looks like a van and it’s the cheapest and most popular means of transport for the locals to travel in Kyrgyzstan. It’s very easy taking a marshrutka to get around in a city or town or to travel between two different towns. However, it’s not the fastest way as they stop everywhere but it’s definitely a cultural experience!

 

Taking a marshrutka within a city
Every marshrutka has a number and it can sometimes be a little confusing which one you have to take. You can ask your hostel or hotel which one you need or you could use the apps Bus.kg and Maps.Me. The first app tells you the route of each marshrutka, with the second app you type in the name of your location and destination and it will give you which marshrutky are going there.

 

The marshrutky don’t have a fixed time schedule but you’ll find them everywhere! Just stand on the side of the road and wave them down. The driver will stop for you. You pay the driver as soon as you’re in the van. The standard price for a ride within a city or town is 10KGS. If you want to get off, move towards the front of the minibus (use your elbows if needed as it can get very crowded in there) and ask or sign the driver to stop.

 

Tip: When you see someone visibly older than you getting on the marshrutka, give up your seat voluntarily if you want to avoid a scene. Especially the old ladies can give you a lot of trouble if you don’t want to stand up for them. They might look old and sweet but they can be fierce!

 

The Ultimate Travel guide for backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - people of Kyrgyzstan

The Kyrgyz women are the sweetest until you refuse to give up your seat for them…

 

 

Taking a marshrutka between towns and cities
If you want to travel between towns and cities, you can take a long-distance marshrutka. You can find them at the bus stations. Just go to the station and say where you want to go. People will show you the ticket office where you have to pay for your ticket and they will also point you in the direction of the marshrutka you need. The prices depend on how far you want to go and how popular the route is but the average price is around 300KGS for a 4-hour ride. After paying for your ticket, you’ll receive a receipt that you have to show the driver before you get on the marshrutka. The minibus leaves when it’s full.

 

 

  • Getting around by bus

The only places where you can take a bus in Kyrgyzstan are in the cities of Bishkek and Osh. They are generally less crowded than the marshrutky, slightly cheaper (8KGS) and slower. You pay the driver once you get off the bus.

 

 

  • Getting around by (shared) taxi

Taking a (shared) taxi is more expensive (about twice or triple the price of a marshrutka) but a faster way to get around. Sharing a taxi means that you share the car with other people and you split the costs so you pay per seat. Some taxi drivers like to double the rate for unwary tourists so if you don’t want to get ripped off, make sure that 1) you make it clear that you want to share the taxi (say ‘taxi sovmesti’) so you don’t pay the full price and 2) ask your hostel/hotel about the rates or ask the other passengers how much they pay.

 

The standard price for a long distance ride should be between 800KGS and 1200KGS per person.
The best way to get from Bishkek to Osh (or vice versa) is by shared taxi. For this 12-hour ride, you pay around 1500KGS per person.

If you want to take a taxi within Bishkek and you can’t be bothered by bargaining for the price, use the Namba taxi app. This app works similar to Uber.

 

This blog post by Monday Bazaar is a great guide to the taxi systems of Kyrgyzstan!

 

 

  • Getting around by train

There are very few trains in Kyrgyzstan due to the mountainous terrain of the country. There’s a railway route that goes from Bishkek to Balykchy (Issyk-Kul). It’s a very scenic train ride that brings you to the western shore of Lake Issyk-Kul but it’s very slow (5-6 hours) and only runs during the summer. For prices and timetables, check with the train station in Bishkek.

 

 

  • Domestic flights in Kyrgyzstan

If you’re in a hurry and you don’t want to make the long drive from Osh to Bishkek or vice versa, then there’s always the option of taking an airplane between both cities. There are daily flights between Bishkek and Osh, the flight itself lasts 50 minutes and a one-way ticket costs around $40 – $50. You can book tickets on this website.

 

The Ultimate Travel guide for backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - landscapes of Kyrgyzstan

 

 

6.2 Hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan

Hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan is quite common among the locals. You’ll see a lot of people standing on the side of the road, waving cars down as a sign that they want to get a lift but it’s standard to pay the driver to share the costs of the petrol for the journey (very similar to taking a shared taxi). So it’s not really hard to hitchhike in Kyrgyzstan, the challenge is in finding a FREE ride.

 

 

 

6.3 Driving in Kyrgyzstan

Self-driving in Kyrgyzstan is definitely an option if you want to travel to remote places. It’s often difficult to reach certain mountainous areas and alpine lakes by public transport.
You have to drive on the right side of the road. The state of the roads is generally good although I would recommend renting a 4×4 if you’re planning on driving in the mountains. Iron Horse Nomads is the best car rental service to contact.

 

Be careful on the road as some Kyrgyz drivers love to push the gas pedal and overtake other cars in the craziest ways! Going on a road trip through Kyrgyzstan is definitely worthwhile as long as you’re an experienced and confident driver! You’ll be able to reach very remote places and camp under the stars!

 

 

 

 

7. Accommodation in Kyrgyzstan

 

Whether you want to camp in the wild, sleep in a hostel or hotel, spend some time with a local family in a homestay or even experience how it is to stay in a yurt with the Kyrgyz nomads, it’s all possible in Kyrgyzstan!

 

7.1 Camping in Kyrgyzstan

Wild camping is allowed in Kyrgyzstan as the camping spirit in the country is omnipresent, it’s the Land of Nomads after all! You don’t have to worry about wild animals such as bears or wolves unless you’re far off in the mountains. Tip: Always put your food in a sealed bag and hang it on a tree or put it somewhere at a safe distance from your tent so you don’t attract unwanted visitors.

 

In certain areas, such as Arslanbob, you might have to register at one of the local CBT (Community Based Tourism) offices and pay a small fee if you want to camp there. However, don’t worry too much about this, just set up your tent and if you’re supposed to pay, someone will come and tell you.

 

The Ultimate Travel guide for backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - camping in Kyrgyzstan

Camping at Lake Issyk-Kul

 

 

7.2 Hostels, hotels and guesthouses

There are plenty of hostels, hotels, and guesthouses in the big cities and towns. Hostels are the cheapest option, starting from 5USD per night for a bed in a dorm. You can also find a nice private room, starting from 10 USD per night. We always use booking.com to find the cheapest deals.

 

 

7.3 Homestays & Yurts

Staying with a local family in a homestay is a great opportunity to learn more about the Kyrgyz daily life! Kyrgyz families open their homes to foreigners who can stay for a night or more in one of the shared rooms in exchange for a fee, which is around 400 KGS per person per one night. Don’t expect too much luxury, it’s a family home after all so it’s very likely that you’ll sleep on thick comfortable blankets on the floor like the Kyrgyz people do.

 

How can you find these homestays? Well, they will probably find you first because as soon as you arrive in a town or village some women will approach you to ask if you want to stay at their house. If nobody invites you, just ask around and people will show you the way to one of the homestays.  Just remember that, even if someone invites you to stay at their home, they will expect some kind of payment, whether it’s money or a gift.

 

The Ultimate Travel guide for backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - homestays

 

 

You can’t leave Kyrgyzstan without spending at least one night in a yurt! During summer you’ll find many yurt camps across the Kyrgyz countryside. Some of them are ‘tourist yurts’ but if you are traveling to remote places, you’ll definitely come across several authentic yurt camps of nomadic shepherds. Very often they will give you a cup of kymys, fermented horse milk that has some alcohol in it, and they’ll invite you to spend the night in their yurt. They won’t charge you money but it’s common to give them some kind of payment (money or a gift) in return as a sign of respect. If you don’t have any idea what or how much to give, pay these people the same as you would pay for a homestay (400KGS).

 

National Games Festival in Kyrgyzstan - Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads

 

 

8. Food and drinks in Kyrgyzstan

 

The food in Kyrgyzstan is hearty and delicious. Most meals consist of mutton, beef and chicken meat, served in dumplings, on top of noodles or rice or alongside potatoes. If you’re a vegetarian, it will be challenging to find some typical Kyrgyz dishes without meat. However, it’s not impossible and you can definitely ask for meals without meat. Just expect to get some weird looks. Vegans, on the other hand, will have a very hard time as nearly all the dishes contain animal products.

 

The Ultimate Travel guide for backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - food in Kyrgyzstan

 

 

But do not fear! If you’re traveling during summer, you’ll find your dose of vitamins in the wide variety of yummy fruits and vegetables on the markets. In winter time there’s less choice but you’ll still be able to find tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, apples, pears, etc.

 

The food is mainly served with water or soft drinks. Soft drinks are served by the bottle, not by the glass. Tea is available everywhere but if you’re a coffee lover, you’ll have to be satisfied with instant coffee. However, in Bishkek and Osh, you can find some good coffee bars but expect to pay more when you order a proper espresso or cappuccino.

 

Despite being a Muslim country, alcohol is omnipresent in Kyrgyzstan and especially vodka is a very popular drink (Kyrgyzstan used to be part of the Soviet Union). It’s so cheap here that the people even use it to defrost the windshield of their cars in winter…

 

Don’t leave Kyrgyzstan without trying some kymys. This is a very popular drink among the nomads and it’s made of fermented horse milk. It tastes very sour and it contains some alcohol.

 

 

9. Religion in Kyrgyzstan

 

The vast majority of the Kyrgyz people are Muslims, but the Islamic religion came late to the area. The practice of the religion differs in the northern and southern regions and is in general not so strict. You won’t see many women wearing a hijab and the majority of the men won’t say no to a good shot of vodka or cognac. Kyrgyz Muslims practice their religion in a specific way, influenced by earlier tribal customs.

 

 

10. People & Culture

 

The Kyrgyz people are descendants of ancient Turkic 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. If there’s one thing that you should definitely do, then it’s spending a few days with a nomadic family in the mountains! You can go independently to any yurt camp and ask the family if you can spend some time with them. In exchange give some money and/or help them out with their daily tasks. Now that would 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 most likely invite you for a tea or a meal (bread and homemade jam are very popular) in their home and take plenty of selfies with you.

 

The Ultimate Travel guide for backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - people of Kyrgyzstan

 

 

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.

 

You don’t have to worry about giving a tip because most restaurants include a 10% service charge in the bill. If there’s no service charge presented on the bill, there’s no need to tip but of course, they will appreciate it if you do.

 

Funny fact: Blowing your nose in public is considered to be rude in Kyrgyzstan but spitting on the floor is absolutely fine…

 

 

11. Which languages are spoken in Kyrgyzstan

 

Russian and Kyrgyz are the two official languages of Kyrgyzstan. It’s one of the two former Soviet republics in Central Asia that continued using Russian as the official language. After the independence of the country in 1991, Kyrgyz was designated as the second official language and is now the most widely spoken language in the country. It’s a Turkic language and has a lot of similarities with Kazakh and Turkish.

 

English is spoken, but only by the younger people who live in the capital. If you want to be able to talk with the locals, I’d suggest you learn some Russian.

 

We learn Russian by using the audio classes of Pimsleur. This is a great learning method to study a new language. Click here for more information.

 

A phrasebook will definitely be useful. I recommend the Lonely Planet Russian Phrasebook & Dictionary.

 

 

12. Is it safe to travel and hike in Kyrgyzstan

 

Kyrgyzstan is one of the safest countries in Asia! You don’t have to worry about your personal safety at all! Only watch out for pickpocketers in crowded places. The Osh Bazaar in Bishkek is notoriously known for this.

 

Never go hiking in the mountains without proper equipment, and preferably, don’t go alone. The mountain regions are sparsely populated, there are wild animals, you can easily get lost and if something happens, there’s no-one around to help you. Be adventurous but don’t be stupid! Find a local guide who knows all the paths and dangers. Our friend Aleksei from Kyrgyz Nomad can assist you with this.

 

For more information on trekking in Kyrgyzstan, read this complete trekking guide by our friend Joan from Against the Compass!

 

The Ultimate Travel guide for backpacking in Kyrgyzstan - Journal of Nomads - landscapes of Kyrgyzstan

 

 

13. A few more useful things to know before you go backpacking in Kyrgyzstan

 

13.1 Drinking water

I wouldn’t advise you to drink the tap water in Kyrgyzstan. Buy bottles of water in the local supermarkets or bring a LifeStraw Water Filter Bottle. This is a reusable bottle that filters water using a microfiltration device. When you drink tap water using this bottle, any dirt, bacteria or parasites will be trapped in the fibers of the filter, while the clean water passes through.

 

It’s not only good for your belly and wallet, it’s also great for the environment because you don’t have to buy any plastic bottles of water! They are very light to carry and super useful for when you go trekking in the mountains. You can use it to drink the water from the rivers and lakes without becoming sick! Click here for more info and prices.

 

 

 

Another tip we got from a local friend is to drink one or two shots of vodka after every meal. The vodka helps with killing the bad bacterias and will also prevent you from having a bad belly. Now you got a great excuse to drink alcohol…

 

 

13.2 Bathroom facilities

Along the road and in remote areas, there are no western-style toilets. Even at the gas stations or road restaurants, you’ll have to feel comfortable with a squat toilet. With the exception of the guesthouses where you’ll have a hot shower and western-style toilet, most toilets will be outside in the form of a separate small building with a hole in the ground. Sometimes there’s toilet paper but it’s better to bring a roll (or two) of toilet paper with you on your travels.

 

 

13.3 Corruption & Bribes

There’s not that much corruption in Kyrgyzstan as there used to be, but if you travel around the country with your own car, you can expect that the road police will stop you very often and try to find any reason to fine you. This happened a lot to us when we were driving around the country with two English friends. Cops stopped us 5 times per day, trying to get some money by telling us that we weren’t wearing our seatbelts, that we were speeding and once there was a cop who just plainly told us to give him $50 without giving any reason why…

 

How to deal with bribes and corruption?

First of all, don’t panic, get angry or be impatient. Stay calm and friendly, keep smiling and act like you have all the time in the world. Most officials only speak Russian so even if you understand the language a bit, pretend that you don’t. If the official happens to speak English, you suddenly don’t speak English anymore. Talk to them in a foreign language, pretend that you have no idea what’s going on, give them the wrong papers,… Just mess around with them for a while. They soon will realize they aren’t going to get any money from you and that you’re wasting their time. They will eventually give up and let you go. That’s how we NEVER ended up paying any bribes.

 

 

13.4 Internet

High-speed wi-fi is available in all the big cities in Kyrgyzstan. If you’re a digital nomad like us and you need to work online, you can count on the internet in Bishkek, Osh, and Karakol. It might be a bit slower in some hostels but in general, it’s reliable and fast.

 

You can get also get local sim-card. We use Beeline KG and are very happy with its coverage. However, don’t expect to go online when you’re in remote areas.

 

You can buy this sim-card in many shops around the country and if you arrive in Kyrgyzstan by plane, they might even give you one for free. You’ll have to top up your phone weekly. For 80 KGS you get 10GB of mobile internet. You can buy credit in a shop or outlet where they advertise Beeline or you can go to a blue or orange booth (you can find one at every big supermarket) where you recharge your phone credit using the self-service terminal. You have to enter your mobile number and feed the booth with coins and notes. The language is mainly in Russian but it’s quite easy to figure out what you have to do with the help of the graphical elements on the screen.

 

 

13.5 Useful apps in Kyrgyzstan

This is one of the most practical apps you could use in Kyrgyzstan. You download the map of the country so you can use it offline. It gives you very accurate directions and shows you where you can find the nearest restaurants, bus stations, ATM, hotels, places with wi-fi, points of interest,… It also tells you the number of the marshrutka you need to take when you travel within a city.

 

This is very similar to Maps.Me but only works for big cities such as Bishkek and Osh. You can download the map of the city for offline use. This app only works in Russian but it’s the most popular and accurate navigation app in Central Asia.

 

For this app, you’ll need internet but it’s a great tool to find (last-minute) accommodation in the country.

 

Useful app to find out the routes of the city marshrutky and where to catch these minibusses

 

Great app to use if you want to take a taxi in Bishkek without getting ripped off. All the Namba taxis have a meter so you’ll always know how much to pay. It works very similar to Uber. Just enter your location and a taxi will arrive within 5 to 10 minutes.

 

 

I’m wishing you an amazing time in Kyrgyzstan! I’m sure you’ll love the country as much as Niko and I did! If you still have questions about your upcoming journey, let us know in the comments below or send us an email.

 

Find more inspiration and useful resources for your upcoming trip to Kyrgyzstan here.

Don’t forget to check out our Travel Videos of Kyrgyzstan!

 

 

Burana Tower - Kyrgyzstan - historical monument - Landmark - Silk Road - Journal of Nomads

The Burana Tower, one of the few UNESCO Heritage sites in Kyrgyzstan. Read more about it here 

 

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of the links, we get a commission at no extra costs to you! See it as a small donation to keep this blog going. Thank you!

 

Follow Cynthia:

Writer, photographer and co-founder at Journal of Nomads

I have Belgian roots but the world has been my home for the past 7 years. I'm an artist at heart and often get lost in my thoughts. I like to create some-thing out of no-thing and once I feel inspired, I'm unstoppable. I love telling stories and taking photos, showing the beauty and extraordinary of the world around me. Oh, and I love making the impossible elegantly probable. Once you realize that you're a creator and the world is your playfield, there's no limit to what can be done!

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