Here’s a list of the best and most beautiful places to visit in Kyrgyzstan, including detailed info on how to get there and where to stay in each location.
Kyrgyzstan is a pristine mountainous country that will charm hikers and nature lovers from all over the world. It’s defined by the beautiful Tien Shan mountain range which occupies 90% of the country, lush valleys and thousands of crystal-clear alpine lakes. It’s a country with a nomadic culture that still preserves and values centuries-old nomadic traditions.
If you like being in nature and you’re interested in learning more about the nomadic lifestyle of Central Asia, then you’ll have to travel to Kyrgyzstan! It’s one of the few off-the-beaten-path countries where you can still get a taste of the authentic nomadic culture!
Cynthia and I spent almost one year in Kyrgyzstan during which we had the chance to discover so many beautiful regions and places. We went on a lot of hikes around the country and we completely immersed ourselves in the culture.
It was hard to make a selection of the best and most beautiful places to see in Kyrgyzstan because there are so many of them!! But after a year of living and traveling around the country, we came up with this list of the most beautiful places to visit in Kyrgyzstan.
Don’t forget to read:
1. Burana Tower
When it comes to places to visit near Bishkek, the Burana tower is what should be on top of your list. Cynthia and I visited this ruin with our friend Aleksei from Kyrgyz Nomad. It’s one of Kyrgyzstan’s most famous historical sites and I would love to go back there again, even after visiting this place nearly 4 times.
This 25m high tower is all that remains of the ancient city of Balasagun, a once flourishing city that welcomed thousands of Silk Road caravans.
Although the tower itself might not seem very exciting to many people, for a history nerd such as myself, it’s quite a fascinating and mysterious place to visit. It feels so crazy to imagine that this archaeological site where nothing remains used to be a huge city and was once considered the center of the world.
Another remarkable sight is the collection of ancient bal-bals in the field near the Burana Tower. The bal-bals are gravestones, carved by the nomadic Turkic tribes who used to roam around Central Asia in the 6th century.
These gravestones were initially erected as a representation of slain enemies and later became memorials for the ancestors of the people who sculpted them. They are oddly proportioned, with strange heads and short torsos.
How to get from Bishkek to the Burana Tower by public transportation
You can easily visit the Burana Tower as a day trip from Bishkek or on your way towards Lake Issy-Kul. The Burana Tower is about 8 km from the town of Tokmok. There is no direct marshrutka (minibus) going from Bishkek to the Burana Tower but if you follow my instructions, you should be able to get there in two hours.
First, you’ll have to take a city marshrutka or a taxi to the Western Bus Station. This is where this station is located in Bishkek:
Look in the bus station for the marshrutka that goes to Tokmok. A ticket will cost about 300 som.
The marshrutka stops a couple of kilometers outside the center of Tokmok. You can see a huge monument with the town’s name on it as you arrive in this village.
Once you’re there, you got 3 options:
The first option is to take a taxi. Burana Tower is a popular destination, so there will be a lot of taxis heading in that direction. If you can, find a taxi driver who is willing to take you there and back for a maximum of 300 som (wait for the next one if they ask for more money). I would suggest asking the driver to stay and wait there while you visit the tower. One hour is more than enough to visit the whole site.
You can always try and hitchhike. Hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan is very easy and you won’t have to wait for very long, the only problem might be getting a free ride (we give great tips on hitchhiking in Kyrgyzstan here). It’s very common to pay for a ride in Kyrgyzstan however don’t pay more than you would for a one-way ride to the Tower with a taxi (around 150 som)
There are also a few mini-buses that run between Tokmok and Burana. You can ask a few locals about where you can take this marshrutka if you speak some Russian.
How to get to the Burana Tower with your own car
If you have a car, reaching the old tower will be much easier. From the city center of Bishkek, drive towards Jibek Jolu Av. Keep driving on Jibek Jolu until you reach highway A365. Continue following this highway until you reach Tokmok. Once you are in this small town, you will find an exit leading to the Burana Tower.
Visiting the Burana Tower with a local guide
If you prefer to go with a local tour guide, we suggest you contact our friend Aleksei from Kyrgyz Nomad (you can also contact him on his Facebook page). We met Aleksei in our first week in Bishkek and he’s been an invaluable friend and ally! He knows the country very well, speaks perfect English and we guarantee you’ll have a fun trip with him!
Where to stay in Bishkek when you visit the Burana Tower
Visiting the Burana Tower is better done as a day trip from Bishkek. Since there aren’t many cheap and comfortable lodgings in Tokmok, I recommend returning to Bishkek at the end of your visit and staying there instead. There are a few good budget hostels and mid-range options where you will find a comfortable bed, a hot shower and a relaxing atmosphere.
Here are the places we recommend in Bishkek:
- Budget ($5 – $10 per person per night):
- Mid-range ($12 – $40 per room per night):
2. Ala Archa National Park
Ala Archa National Park is one of the few national parks that is easily accessible and fun to visit no matter what time of the year it is. It’s an Alpine National Park in the Tian Shan mountains, about 40km south of Bishkek. It’s a mountain park that is replete with long but easy hikes.
If you’re looking for some good hikes but you don’t want to go too far from the capital city, then Ala Archa is the place to visit!
Find out more about the hikes in Ala Archa in
It’s a very trendy destination, not only for travelers but also for locals. We visited this park on a sunny weekend and we were surprised to see so many locals there having a picnic and spending family time cozily nested under the trees of the park.
The accessibility of this park (it’s located only an hour drive away from the city center of Bishkek) and the fact that it’s at the base of the beautiful Tian Shan mountains makes it the perfect place to escape the crowds and smog of the Capital.
This National Park is the perfect introduction to the beauty of the Kyrgyz Mountains and a great place to acclimatize to high altitudes if you just arrived in the country and want to prepare for some serious mountain treks.
The weather in Ala Archa is always slightly cooler than in Bishkek so it’s better to bring a warm sweater in case the temperature would drop suddenly. If you visit this park in winter, bring a good pair of winter boots (the trail can easily be covered by a few feet of snow).
How to get from Bishkek to Ala Archa by public transport
To reach the Ala Archa National Park, you will have two options. You can either take a taxi directly to the Alpager base (where the hiking trails start) or you can take a mashrutka (shared minibus) to the entrance of the national park and then hitchhike or take a taxi to cover the remaining 12 km of asphalt road to the Alpager base.
- How to reach Ala Archa by mashrutka
In Bishkek, you’ll have to hop on mashrutka 265. This shared minibus can be found at the bus stop at Moscow Street 229 (near the entrance of Osh Bazaar). Keep in mind that this minibus will only leave once it’s completely full so this option won’t be the best one if you’re in a hurry to get to the park.
This is the location of the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek
-> If you have an android phone, install the app Maps.me, type in ‘mashrutka 265’ and the app will show you exactly on the map where to find the bus stop.-
The marshrutka will bring you for 25 som all the way to Kash- Kasuu, the nearest village to Ala Archa. You can also ask the driver if he can drop you off at the entrance gate of the National Park for an additional 50 som. Once you’re at the entrance of the park you’ll have to pay 80 som to get in. At the entrance, you can catch a taxi that will bring you to the Alpager base for 500 som.
You could also hitchhike the remaining 12 km. If you’re there in summer, there will be a lot of cars with tourists and locals passing by and they’re likely to give you a lift for free.
- How to reach Ala Archa by taxi
If you want to get early to Ala Archa and not waste time (the mashrutka only leaves when it’s full), you could get a taxi from Bishkek all the way to the entrance gate of the park for 500 som.
If you want the taxi to drop you off at the Alpager base (At the beginning of the hiking trails), you’ll have to pay the entrance fee for the car (400 som) + an additional 500 som for the taxi to drive you that extra 12 km.
How to reach Ala Archa with your own car
If you have your own car or if you are renting one, getting to the park from Bishkek will be very easy. The drive is also a very pleasant drive and you’ll have the added freedom of being able to stop whenever you want along the way to take some pictures.
To get there you’ll have to drive south from the city center on Dooronbek Sadyrbayev Street until you reach the park. The distance to the park is 40 km from the city center and it should take an hour to get there with your own car.
→ You could also book a day trip to Ala Archa with Kyrgyz Nomad. Click here to read more about this trip!
Where to stay in Bishkek when visiting Ala Archa
It’s very convenient to do a quick day trip to Ala Archa and come back to the capital city at night if you don’t plan to camp in the park or go on a multi-day hike there.
In Bishkek, we recommend staying at Friends guest house & Hostel because it’s located very close to the bus stop where you will find the mashrutka going towards Ala Archa national park.
3. Southern Shore of Issyk-Kul Lake
Cynthia and I explored many parts of Kyrgyzstan during the year we spent in the country but the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul is definitely one of our favorite destinations.
Lake Issyk-Kul is the seventh deepest lake in the world, the tenth largest lake by volume, and the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea. The southern shore of the lake is wilder than the northern side and there are so many cool ethnocultural activities to see and do there.
From beautiful canyons, pristine waterfalls, and some mighty eagle hunters to a gorgeous yurt camp right on the shores of the lake, you won’t run out of awesome places to visit. And that’s without mentioning the day hikes that you can do in the mountains surrounding the whole area.
4. Song Kol Lake
It’s hard for me to put in words how beautiful this lake is. I was charmed from the first moment I set foot on its shores! It’s not an easy place to access but any traveler worth his salt knows that the more challenging it is to reach a destination, the more rewarding it will be. This is exactly the case with Song Kol Lake.
I visited it for the first time with my brother after a long horseback trek through treacherous mountain passes covered in snow. Getting there wasn’t easy but when I arrived, I was left breathless by the vastness of the mountains surrounding it and by how pristine and untouched the area around the lake was!
Watch this video to see how beautiful the lake was in winter.
Song Kol is the second largest lake of Kyrgyzstan and lies at an altitude of 3000m (9895 feet). The lake is surrounded by mountains and lush meadows. Nomads have used these meadows as pastureland for their flocks for hundreds of years and today there are still a lot of semi-nomadic shepherds who settle here for the summer and live in their yurts while tending to their herds.
It’s possible to reach this lake by horse almost throughout the whole year. Kyrgyzstan is a country better known for its horse culture and reaching this pristine lake by horse almost feels like the epitome of everything Kyrgyzstan has to offer.
Check this video out to see what a horse trek to Song Kol looks like:
If you like mountain hikes, it’s possible to reach the lake from a small village called Kyzart. We describe this trek through the mountains in The Complete Guide to Trekking in Kyrgyzstan.
How to get to Song Kol lake by public transport
A great option is to take a mashrutka from Bishkek to Kochkor and then hitchhike or take a taxi from there to Kyzart. You can easily get to Kyzart by shared local taxi for less than 2 USD. If you want to go by private taxi, you will pay at least 10 USD.
Kochkor is one of the biggest towns near Song Kol and it’s easily reached from Bishkek. You can get a shared taxi or a Mashrutka to this town from the western bus station in Bishkek.
A mashrutka ticket from Bishkek to Kochkor should cost around 350 som and the journey to get there from the capital should take less than 3 hours.
Once in Kyzart, you can hike to the lake of Song-Kol over the course of two days. We explain how to reach the lake here.
How to get to Song Kol lake with your own car
If you have your own car, it’s not too complicated to get to the lake. Just remember that you will need a 4WD as it will be a bumpy ride. The following road (see map below) is only accessible during summer and even then, the large potholes that you might drive across could potentially puncture your tires, crack a rim, or screw up your car’s alignment. Drive on this road at your own risk.
How to reach Song Kol lake with a local guide
Song-Kol is quite a remote lake and definitely not the easiest one to access. I would suggest contacting Aleksei from Kyrgyz Nomad to organize a horseback trip there.
–> If you would be interested in doing this trek with a group of travelers from all over the world, join our 2019 Adventure Trek.
Where to stay around Song Kol Lake
There are many yurt camps spread around the lake, operated by different travel organizers and families. You can arrange your stay in these yurt camps ahead of time or directly with the yurt owners upon arriving there.
If you prefer to arrange your stay ahead of time you could book a yurt in Yurt Camp Azamat.
5. Ala Kul
I’m at a lack of words when it comes to describing the beauty of this turquoise lake. It’s so beautiful that the locals often refer to it as the ‘pristine diamond of the Karakol Canyon’. The water of this glacier lake changes hourly from azure to violet, depending on the weather conditions and the time of the year.
Just as it’s the case with Song Kol, this lake is not easily accessed but getting there is absolutely worth the long strenuous two-day hike. The trek to Lake Ala Kul was by far the highlight of my one year stay in Kyrgyzstan and I would absolutely recommend anyone visiting the country to try hiking providing they are moderately in shape.
I explain how to reach the lake hiking from the Ala-Kul nature reserve in this complete guide to trekking to Ala Kul.
The lake itself is gorgeous but the whole trail that will bring you there is beautiful as well. Part of the hike to this lake reminded me of the Swiss Alps if it wasn’t for the yurts scattered here and there between the idyllic valleys. You can see the beauty of the valley in this video:
How to get to Ala Kul
It’s impossible to reach this lake by car or by public transport. The only way to get there is by hiking. Reaching Ala Kul can be done independently or with a guide. To get there, you will need to reach the Ala Kul Nature Reserve first and hike from there.
From the center of Karakol, you can take marshrutka 101 to the entrance of the park. You can also take a taxi for 400 KGS that will stop between the entrance and a broken bridge farther along the trail saving at least 1 hour of walk.
Once you have reached the park, you can follow the day by day instructions on how to hike to the lake here.
Tip → Download the Maps.me app and get a map of the region. The app has the whole trail mapped and is really useful. People occasionally get lost along this trail so check the app to stay on the right track.
If you don’t want to hike there by yourself or if you’d rather go with a mountain guide and a fun group of international travelers, join our Adventure Trek this summer!
Where to stay in Ala Kul
If you have your tent, it’s possible to camp around the lake in various areas where the terrain is flat. There are also a few different companies that rent out tents directly at the lake. The tent should cost around 900 som for a one person tent or 1500 som for a tent for two.
Would you like to join us this summer on the hike to Ala Kul Lake?
Check out our Adventure Tours!
6. Altyn Arashan
Altyn Arashan, which means ”Golden Spa” in Kyrgyz, is a lush green valley near Karakol and Lake Ala Kul. The place is famous for its pristine untouched landscapes and natural hot springs. It’s also a very popular trekking destination and attracts hikers and mountain enthusiast from all over the world. It’s a valley in which I have hiked many times while in Kyrgyzstan.
Walking there always feels very soothing and it seems to recharge my soul and spirit with so much energy. The valley is breathtaking and could easily be used as a picture for a postcard.
This environment is ideal for camping, horseback riding and hiking in nature. The area is a pristine nature reserve but the main attraction of the place are the natural hot springs that can be found there. It’s the ideal place for hikers to relax their muscles after long difficult walks in the mountains.
6.1 Altyn Arashan Hot Springs
Kyrgyzstan is a prime location for alpine glacial lakes but if you prefer warmer water, you’ll be happy to hear that this Central Asian country also has tons of natural hot springs! Some of them are very popular because they’re very beneficial for the health.
Locals often visit the hot springs to treat diseases and this is the case for the ones found in Altyn Arashan. They became so popular that a small resort consisting of small pools in private cabins have been built to accommodate the many visitors. If you would prefer to be in a more natural setting, it’s also possible to find small pools near the river where you can enjoy the hot water for free (watch this video).
The hot springs of Altyn Arashan are probably the most famous springs in Kyrgyzstan. The water is generally around 50 ºC and is known to help with diseases related to the nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems.
6.2 Horseback riding in the Altyn Arashan Valley
Altyn Arashan valley is ideal for horseback riding since it’s has a very gradual inclination and no dangerous terrain. Regardless of whether you are a very experienced horseback rider or an absolute beginner, you’ll have a great time there.
It’s possible to rent horses with local tour guides in Ak-Suu village at the beginning of the valley or you could also contact Kyrgyz Nomad to arrange your horseback trek in the Altyn Arashan valley.
You can also hike to the hot springs and then rent some horses there to visit the rest of the valley.
How to hike and trek in the Altyn Arashan valley from Ak-Suu
It’s possible to reach the Altyn Arashan valley and its famous hot springs from Ala Kul lake or from Teploklyuchenka (this town is also more commonly called Ak-Suu).
If you want to start the trek from Ak-Suu, you’ll have to reach this small village first by public transport or with your own car from Karakol ( see below).
The starting point of the trek to the hot springs is located at the south of Ak-Suu. The first part of the trek will take you along the beautiful Arashan river. You’ll be walking along pastures filled with flowers and grazing horses.
A few kilometers later you’ll start seeing the beautiful snow-capped mountain peaks that dominate the valley. At this point, the trail becomes steeper and steeper and goes through patches of pine forest before finally reaching an open area where the hot springs are located.
Along the way to the hot springs, you might come across mountain goats, horses and groundhogs.
Another way to reach the hot pools of water is with a 4×4 car. The road is very bumpy so I wouldn’t recommend this option to people suffering from motion sickness.
How to reach the Altyn Arashan valley from Ala Kul lake
It’s also possible to reach the valley coming north from Ala Kul lake as part of a 4-day trek. You can read how to reach this valley from the alpine lake here.
How to reach the Altyn Arashan valley from Karakol by public transport
From Karakol, you can take a mashrutka or a shared taxi to Ak-Suu. You’ll have to look for a mashrutka that has a sign with ”Kurort Ak-Suu” (Курорт Аксуу) from the main mashrutka station.
The price to reach Ak-Suu from Karakol will be around 15 to 25 som per person. Once you reach the town of Ak-Suu you will have the option of hiking to the valley or organizing a jeep ride or a horseback trek directly in town.
How to reach the Altyn Arashan valley from Karakol with your own car
If you have your own 4 wheel drive car, it will be very easy to reach the Altyn Arashan valley from Karakol. You will need to drive first from Karakol to Ak-Suu.
Ak-Suu is located only 12 km away from Karakol and getting there should take about 16 minutes.
From Ak-Suu, you’ll have to head south on Gagarin street and then continue on Lenin street and through the rough bumpy mountain road until you reach the hot springs.
Where to stay in the Altyn Arashan valley
If you have your tent, the best thing to do is to camp in the valley. You can camps almost anywhere in the valley during summer as the weather is really ideal and there are tons of gorgeous flat areas where you can pitch camp.
There are a few yurts where you can stay in the valley and a few lodges and guest houses next to the hot springs. If you travel there during the low season you can show up and book your stay on the spot but if you visit this valley during high season, you’ll have to reserve online ahead of time.
We recommend staying at the Ala-Kul guest house in Altyn Arashan. It’s a guest house where it’s possible to stay in a room or in a yurt. The owners are very helpful and can give you tips on reaching Ala Kul, they can also help you organize horse treks in the region.
Jeti Oguz is the name of a valley but also of a stunning sandstone rock formation about 25 km southwest of Karakol. It’s a very calm place and it was a perfect getaway from Karakol on the two occasions I visited it. This sandstone crag used to resemble 7 bulls and that’s where its name comes from. It was a sacred place for the original inhabitants of the area and once you see it, you’ll totally understand why.
The original formation was eroded with time and there are now 9 or 10 different reddish bluffs that overlook the valley below.
Jeti-Oguz is a very popular day trip from Karakol. People go there to see a few other rock formations apart from the seven bulls such as one called the broken heart which is the source of many tragic love stories. In summer, you’ll also come across plenty of beekeepers in the area who bring their beehives to the valley filled with flowers around the protruding rocks.
If you’re visiting this destination with your own car it’s fairly easy to visit all the main sights in one day. If you want to stay there a bit longer, the valley is the perfect destination for picnics, camping and sampling delicious honey.
How to get to Jeti-Oguz from Karakol by public transportation
If you are going to Jeti-Oguz with public transport, you’ll have to make sure you reach Jeti-Oguz Kurort, a small village beside the seven bulls and not the town of Jeti-Oguz, which is located 12km away from the stone formation.
To get to Jeti-Oguz Kurort from Karakol, first go to the Ak-Tilek Market in Karakol. From there, you’ll need to catch mashrutka 355 to Jeti-Oguz Korort.
The mashrutka doesn’t have a fixed schedule and departs only a few times a week from Karakol, typically late morning and possibly mid-afternoon. It costs 100 som and takes about 45 minutes to reach Jeti-Oguz Korort from Karakol.
A much better option to reach the seven bulls rock formation would be to take a shared taxi from Karakol to Jeti-Oguz Korort.
A taxi going there should cost, at most, around 150 som per person. You’ll have to make it clear with the driver that you are going all the way to Jeti-Oguz Kurort and not Jeti-Oguz town.
How to get to Jeti Oguz from Karakol with your own car
If you have your own car and want to drive to Jeti-Oguz Kurort from Karakol, take highway A363 going west from Karakol. You’ll have to drive first towards Jeti Oguz village and then head south towards Jeti-Oguz Kurort.
The distance between Karakol and Jeti-Oguz Kurort is 31 km and driving there should take about 37 minutes.
Where to stay in Jeti Oguz
There aren’t many guest houses or hotels in Jeti-Oguz Kurort. If you want to stay in a place that offers a fantastic view of the seven bulls, we recommend staying in Guesthouse Emir. It’s located literally just below the Seven Bulls, with a view of it out of almost every bedroom window.
The view of the rock formation is quite spectacular in the morning from this guest house. They have an amazing breakfast served every morning on location and the guest house is also located very close to shops and restaurants. If you would like to cook your own meal, the kitchen is available.
8. Jyrgalan Valley
After hiking on many different trails and in various mountain parks in Kyrgyzstan, I have to say that this beautiful valley is by far my favorite place to hike in the country.
This gorgeous valley is located to the east of Lake Issyk Kul. If you’re a lover of simplicity, quietness, and untouched natural surroundings, then Jyrgalan valley is the place for you.
It is nestled between snow-capped mountains and it’s probably one of Kyrgyzstan’s most picturesque regions. Right in the center of this valley, there is a small village with the same name.
Jyrgalan used to be a small coal-mining town. It was thriving at first under the Soviet regime but things changed after the fall of the empire. Many families abandoned the town in search of work elsewhere. What was once a booming center quickly became a ghost town.
Luckily things have been changing a lot for this region in the last few years. There are now 6 guest houses in town. New hiking trails, some horse treks, and even mountain biking routes are being developed. Jyrgalan valley is becoming the next best hiking destination in Kyrgyzstan.
When it comes to Jyrgalan valley, the question isn’t whether or not you should trek there but rather which day trek or multi-day trek will inspire you the most. There are plenty of awesome treks to choose from and they cover a wide range of difficulty levels. Whether you have been hiking for years or you are an absolute beginner, you’ll find something that will be appropriate for your level in this untouched environment.
They go from short half-day hikes to multiple days treks that climb almost up to 4000 meters. I cover a few of them in the best hikes in Kyrgyzstan.
Have a look at this video to see a few of the hikes I did there with a group of awesome travel bloggers:
How to get to Jyrgalan valley from Karakol by public transport
There are mashrutkas that go from Karakol to Jyrgalan. They leave from the Ak-Tilek Market three times a day. The cost of a ticket from Karakol to Jyrgalan is about 80 som per person.
Another way to get there is to take a shared taxi to Jyrgalan. This can be done by visiting Destination Karakol offices. They can help with arranging a taxi to the small idyllic town and provide information on all the various treks you can do in the valley.
This is where the Destination Karakol offices are located in Karakol:
How to get to Jyrgalan valley from Karakol with your own car
Jyrgalan is located just 60 km from Karakol and getting there is easy enough since the road between the two locations is in a good state. To get there follow highway A363 north for a bit more than an hour as shown in this map:
Where to stay in Jyrgalan valley
There are now many guest houses in Jyrgalan. The one I absolutely recommend is Alakol-Jyrgalan Guest House. I stayed there with a group of travel bloggers and the place was fantastic!! The owners are very knowledgeable about all the hiking trails in the region and I really felt at home there.
The owners made everyone feel welcome and after long days of hiking in the mountains, we would return to the guest house to be treated to the most sumptuous meals. It was the perfect place to relax and discover the region at our own pace. The location is also ideal as the guest house is located where many of the best hiking trails in the region begin.
This guesthouse also features a traditional Kyrgyz Banya (Russian sauna) where I relaxed my legs after intense hikes around the valley.
9. Kel Suu
Although this fantastic canyon lake is hard to get to, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country. It was formed thousands of years ago when part of the mountains around it collapsed and created a massive natural reservoir. The lake is surrounded by cliffs so tall that it defies the imagination. there are numerous caves and alcoves in the rocky crags around Kel Suu that you can explore on foot and there’s a small island in the center of the lake that you can reach by boat.
There are plenty of fun activities to do in the vicinity of the lake. The whole area can be explored on foot, on horseback or by boat. If you want to explore the farthest parts of the lake, you can rent a boat from the locals. If you like horseback riding, you can always rent a horse from the local shepherds. You could also go for a swim, however, the water is very cold (around 6ºC)
This natural gem is considered to be one of the most beautiful and spectacular mountain lakes in the Kyrgyz Republic and it’s also one of the highest lakes in the world. It’s located in a valley called Kok-Kiya at about 3,520 meters of altitude and not too far from the Chinese border. The lake is really high but the air there is so pure and crisp. You can occasionally see wild eagles flying over the mountains and herds of wild yaks grazing in the distance. This is a place that would fit very well the description of untouched nature.
Since this lake is not completely closed off, its water level tends to vary considerably throughout the year. When we went there on our Overland Adventure last year, Kel-Suu was empty but it was still beautiful and we enjoyed walking in the dry lake bed.
Reaching this lake requires a border permit that you can get by contacting the local CBT office in Naryn. The lake is also so remote that you will need a 4×4 vehicle to get there.
You can join us this summer on an Expedition to Kel Suu lake!
Click here for more information!
How to get to Kel-Suu lake
This lake is very remote. The road to get there is very rough and bumpy and there are many river crossings where there is no bridge. Even with a 4×4 car, the water level in these rivers might be higher than the floorboards. There are no local Mashrutkas that go there either so I would advise contacting a local tour company to arrange transportation to this lake.
Where to stay near Kel-Suu lake
There is plenty of space to camp in the valley near Kel-Suu lake. There are also a few yurt camps around Kel-Suu. You can arrange your stay there upon your arrival at the lake or you can book your stay there ahead of time online. One yurt camp that we recommend is Yurt Camp Jyrgal, Kol-Suu. This camp is owned and operated by a lovely local family that will help you organize treks from there to explore the whole region.
Here you will be served typical shepherds meals that consist mainly of meat. The beds in the yurts will probably some of the most comfortable ones you will sleep on in Kyrgyzstan. They have clean bedding, two solar-powered light bulbs for when it gets dark and they will light the stove for you at night so you stay warm.
10. Tash Rabat
Tash Rabat was a very important place during the period when the Silk Road was used actively by Asian traders and merchants. Its a place known as a Caravanserai, a roadside inn where the merchants could stop and rest for a few days. On top of being the perfect place to rest for travelers, it was also a place where the various animals transporting the wagons along the silk road could be well fed and taken care of.
Caravanserais were scattered all along the silk road and were providing shelter in isolated regions from the hostile environment and from bandits.
What is so interesting about Tash Rabat is the unusual architecture of the place which leads many researchers to believe it was originally a Buddhist monastery before being used as a caravanserai.
This unusual building really stands out against the green mountains that surround it. It gives the place a very peaceful and calm energy. The whole area is very quiet and the silence is only occasionally broken by herds of horses running down from the hills. Travelers coming here can spend a few days relaxing in the yurt camps nearby and go for a few hikes in the quiet mountains around the caravanserai.
When we were there with a group of travelers on our Overland Expedition last summer, I got up before sunrise to explore the mountains around the site. It was so beautiful to see the sun rising and slowly bathing the caravanserai in a golden color.
If you are more adventurous, I would recommend renting a horse from one of the camps to go explore the valley more in-depth and spend some time on the trails that used to be part of the silk road. You can rent a horse for about 3 USD an hour at the yurt camps and go ride by yourself or you can go on a longer guided tour to some of the more remote peaks of the region.
How to get to Tash Rabat with local transport
There are no shared buses or Mashrutkas going to Tash Rabat. The best way to get there is to take a shared taxi from Naryn. You can do so by contacting the local CBT offices and arranging a taxi with them.
The distance between Naryn and Tash Rabat is 117 km and getting there by shared taxi should cost around 3000som.
You could also visit Tash Rabat by joining our 2019 overland expedition in Kyrgyzstan.
How to get to Tash Rabat with your own car
Driving from Naryn to Tash Rabat should take a bit more than 2 hours. The road between the two locations is generally well maintained. You might encounter some potholes and bumps here and there along the way.
To get there, follow highway A365 south from Naryn.
Where to stay near Tash Rabat
Tash Rabat is the ideal place to pitch your tent if you enjoy camping. There are a lot of flat areas in the valley near this archaeological site and you should be able to camp there without being bothered.
If you do not have a tent, you could rent one with the Trekkers Union of Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek before heading to Tash Rabat. Renting camping equipment (tent, floor roll-up mattress, sleeping bag, and cooking stove) can be done with them and usually doesn’t cost much.
We cover the prices of all the equipment they rent out in our Guide to trekking in Kyrgyzstan.
If you would prefer to have a typical Kyrgyz experience, you can sleep in a yurt in one of the various yurt camps that you will encounter near the caravanserai. They charge around 800 to 1000 som per person and dinner and breakfast is included in this price. You can arrange your stay in the yurts by walking directly to the camps and talking with the owners.
Osh is a melting pot of so many things. It’s a place where you can taste traditional food, listen to music and admire clothes from many different traditions. It’s a mix of Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Tajik cultures. While Bishkek is the official capital of Kyrgyzstan, Osh is very often considered the cultural capital of the country. This city has such a vibrant underground art culture that it’s often called “The Berlin of Central Asia”.
The city is home to vibrant bazaars and markets, a sacred mountain, and cultural diversity that is very hard to find anywhere else in the country.
Cynthia and I visited this city last summer. Our initial plan was to stay there only for a couple of days but we ended up extending our visit to a whole week. We were surprised by how underrated this city was. Osh is filled with fun activities to do and sights to see, Uncornered Market has a great guide on all the awesome things you can do there.
How to get from Bishkek to Osh with local transport
The road between Bishkek and Osh is a long one but it takes you through what is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful mountains passes in the country – The Ala Bel mountain pass. Since the road between the two cities is really winding and quite narrow in certain areas, it’s inappropriate for large vehicles such as buses.
The only way to get there by local transport is by shared taxi, mashrutka or by taking a cargo van. Driving there is probably not the best option however as getting there by shared taxi alone can take up to 14 hours. I would much rather suggest flying there from Bishkek (see below) if you don’t have much time.
If you feel adventurous, you can hop on a shared taxi or a Mashrutka in Bishkek at the Western bus station or at the bus stand south of the Osh Bazaar.
This is where the Western bus station is located in Bishkek:
And this is where you will find the Osh Bazaar:
A shared taxi between the two cities should cost between 1000 and 1200 som.
Another way to reach the southern city is by a cargo van. They are much more comfortable than shared taxis or Mashrutkas and they have bunk beds. They run overnight from Bishkek to Osh starting the journey between 3 and 6 pm.
This is where you’ll find Dordoi market in Bishkek:
How to get from Bishkek to Osh with your own car
The distance between Bishkek is quite big (727 km) and driving there takes a bit more than 12 hours. If you have your own car or if you are renting one, I would suggest doing this journey in two parts and stopping in a town along the way.
A small town where Cynthia and I stopped on our way to Osh is called Karakul. It’s a small town in the Jalal-Abad Region of Kyrgyzstan not far from Toktogul reservoir. Another place where I highly recommend stopping along the way for the incredible mountain panorama you’ll get there is the Ala Bel mountain pass (see below)
Taking a flight from Bishkek to Osh
With really cheap flights between the two cities, the easiest and fastest way to travel to Osh is to fly directly from Bishkek.
There are many flights linking the two cities throughout the day and travel time is very short. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the southern city by plane so it’s a great option if you’re on a tight schedule. The airport in Osh is not very far from the city center and you can reach the city center for about 250 som.
Where to stay in Osh
Osh is the second biggest city in Kyrgyzstan and the number of high-quality guest houses and hotels operating there is increasing every year. This destination offers a good quantity of budget hostels for backpackers who want to save money to explore during the day and swap stories with fellow backpackers in the shared kitchen or bar in the evening.
If you are looking for more comfort and a place to wind down after the long journey there, the city also offers some fancy but affordable hotels.
These are the hostels, guesthouses, and hotels we recommend in Osh:
Apple hostel is one of the top hostels we would recommend in Osh. It’s a bit outside of the city center but not too far from it. If you stay here you will have the advantage of being in a quiet part of the city while not being completely remote from everything. This hostel is ideal for backpackers wishing to continue their journey towards the Pamir mountains. The owners are very knowledgeable on the subject and can even help you plan a trip there.
This hostel has a garden and some outside showers for the hot summer heat. The property also has excellent wifi that is accessed from every room.
This is another highly recommendable hostel in Osh. It has a kitchen that is equipped with plenty of pots and pans and it is the perfect place if you want to cook your own meals. This hostel is owned and run by a local family that can help you visit all the interesting sights of the city.
The rooms here are very comfortable and quiet and the hostel is particularly popular amongst cyclist doing the Pamir highway circuit.
If you are looking for more comfort than what is usually provided by hostels, I would recommend Rayan hotel. This superb hotel is extremely comfortable and will make you feel like royalty.
This hotel has a delicious restaurant where you can enjoy a breakfast buffet. All rooms come equipped with air conditioning which is especially good for the hot weather that usually plagues the city during summer. The rooms also have a flat-screen TV with cable channels, a kettle, a shower, free toiletries, and a desk.
If you need to work online while you are in Osh, you will also find excellent wifi at Rayan hotel.
12. Peak Lenin
We could say that peak Lenin is a bit like the Kyrgyz version of the Everest. This mountain is one of the highest climbable peaks in Kyrgyzstan. It’s sometimes called ”the easiest 7,000m mountain in the world”. Don’t be fooled by this title though, reaching the summit is far from being easy and will require a lot of preparation and a good level of fitness.
This mountain attracts people from all over the world who are in pursuit of high peaks, challenge, and adrenaline. The peak is located right on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan so getting there will require getting a border permit (see below).
To be ready to reach the summit of this mountain, a few acclimatization hikes are required. Reaching the top generally involves taking part in a 3-week guided trek to nearby peaks to ensure adequate fitness level. We talk more about this trek to the summit of peak Lenin in this guide.
Getting a border permit to visit Peak Lenin
Since Peak Lenin is located on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, getting there requires a border permit. There are a few military checks on the road to the base camp of the mountain and you will be required to show your permit to proceed.
It can take anywhere between 10 days to 3 weeks to get the permit and you can do so by contacting CBT Osh. You can either phone them at the following number: + 996 (0555) 07 76 21 (mobile) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is better to get the border permit through the CBT office instead of through a travel agency because most travel agencies will tell you that you have to organize an official tour there with them to get the permit which is absolutely not the case.
How to get to peak Lenin from Osh by local transportation
The base camp of Peak Lenin is a cozy little yurt camp located next to a lake called Tulpar lake. Getting there from Osh is possible by taking a mashrutkas and hitchhiking or solely by hitchhiking all the way.
First, you will need to get a Mashrutka from Osh to Sary Tash. These shared vans leave at two PM every day from the old bus station (staryi avtovokzal or Старый Автовокзал in Russian) and a ticket costs between 250 and 350 som. It takes around 3 hours to get from Osh to Sary Tash.
This is where the bus station is located in Osh:
From Sary Tash, you will have to continue towards Sary-Mogul. The two villages are just 30 km away from each other and regular traffic between the two places makes it easy to hitchhike there. Stand on the side of highway A371 and you should be there in no time.
From Sary-Mogol, Tulpar lake is just half a day’s walk away. This lake is located at the base of Peak Lenin. Walk towards the lake and on its shores, you will find a yurt camp where you can spend the night before starting the ascent.
How to get to peak Lenin from Osh with your own car
Driving from Osh to Sary-Mogul should be relatively easy. If you don’t have a GPS it will be tricky to get from that town to Tulpar lake.
To reach Sary-Mogul from Osh, you’ll have to follow highway M41 as shown on this map:
The distance between Osh and Sary-Mogul is 219 km and driving there should take about 3 hours.
Where to stay near Peak Lenin
You can stay near Tulpar lake in a yurt that was installed there by the local CBT. The price for a night is around 10 USD and this includes dinner and breakfast. There is no need to book ahead of time if you visit the area in the low season. You can just walk right up to the camp and organize your stay there with the owners.
If you are going in the high season, it might be better to book your stay at the base of Peak Lenin ahead of time online.
If you have your own tent, you can camp almost anywhere you want around the base of the mountain.
13. Arslanbob (during the harvest of the walnuts)
Arslanbob is a village tucked in a lush valley in the Chatkal mountain range in the south of Kyrgyzstan. It’s a destination that is popular for its hikes, horseback riding, and skiing but more than anything else, it’s a village popular for its production of walnuts.
Photo by Stephen Lioy – Travel Photography
This village is home to some of the friendliest people in all of Kyrgyzstan. They live a simple but peaceful life amidst the mountains and beautiful natural surroundings.
Next to the village is a forest that looks almost like it came directly from a fairy tale. This is the world’s largest natural walnut forest and is the livelihood of the 16000 ethnically Uzbek people living there.
Families in Arslanbob spend fall harvesting nuts in this forest and it’s very interesting to be there and take part in the whole process. They will be more than happy to welcome you and show you how the walnut harvest is done if you offer a helping hand.
During the harvest period, hundreds of families install themselves in handmade shelters in the forest for easier walnut collection. Walnut harvest in Arslanbob feels almost like a festival or a carnival. Families share food and snuggle around campfires at night to sing, share stories and a glass of vodka together.
How to get to Arslanbob from Osh by local transportation
Since Osh is the biggest city close to Arslanbob this will probably be your starting point when visiting this village.
There is a direct mashrutka for Arslanbob that leaves Osh every morning around 7 and it reaches the small village a bit before noon. The taxi leaves from the new bus station in Osh and a one-way trip costs 200 som.
The new bus station (Oshskiy Avtovokzal or Ошский Автовокзал) is located near the Uzbek border, on the corner of Lenin and Kasymbekova streets.
How to get to Arslanbob from Osh with your own car
Driving from Osh to Arslanbob will take you across some of the most beautiful mountains Kyrgyzstan offers and through some interesting towns along the way such as Jalal-Abad and Abdraimoz.
Follow highway A370 from Osh to Uzgen. Once you reach Uzgen, take the highway in direction of Abdraimoz. I highly recommend a stop along the way in Jalal- Abad as this is a beautiful city with a rich history.
From Abdraimoz, follow the highway R-191 to reach Arslanbob.
Where to stay in Arslanbob
Arslanbob has a great selection of guest houses and homestays. Most of them cost around 500 som per night but this doesn’t include meals. One guest house that we recommend is Friendship Guesthouse. This property is run by a local family. The father and son both speak very good English and can help you plan tons of fun activities in and around the village. This guesthouse has a beautiful peaceful garden filled with apple trees and vegetables.
14. Kol-Tor lake
Kyrgyzstan has some of the most beautiful alpine lakes in the whole world and Kol-Tor lake is pretty high on that list. This lake is quite similar to Ala-Kul in terms of colors. It shines in a bright turquoise shade and adopts different tones of blue throughout the day. Kol-Tor lake, however, is much easier to access than Ala-Kul and won’t require the same level of fitness.
Photo by Stephen Lioy – Travel Photography
This lake is located at an altitude of 2700m above the village of Kegeti, around 92 km outside of Bishkek.
The two-hour hike to the lake will take you across some gorgeous alpine meadows and coniferous forest. Although the trail to the lake is relatively short, I would suggest wearing good hiking boots to get there.
This lake is very popular and easily accessible from Bishkek so it can get a bit crowded during summer. It’s still possible to access the lake throughout the rest of the year and it’s especially beautiful in winter. Our friend Stephen Lioy has a great photo report of his hike there in November when the mountains surrounding the lake were already covered in snow.
Depending on whether or not you start hiking early, you could reach the lake in one day and be back in Bishkek in the evening. If you want to stay longer near the lake, you can also sleep in a mountain hut owned by the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan. You can reserve this cabin by contacting TUK ahead of time and sleeping there will cost 600 som.
How to reach Kol-Tor lake from Bishkek by public transport
The hiking trail to Kol Tor lake starts in Kegeti gorge so you’ll have to reach this village first. You can hop on the minibus 303 from the Eastern Bus Station in Bishkek to get there. The bus leaves at 9:30 Am and takes about two hours to reach the small village.
Here is where you’ll find the Eastern bus station in Bishkek:
What could be a bit harder is returning to Bishkek by public transport since the last mashrutka from Kegeti Gorge leaves at 3:30 pm. You could either stay in Kegeti if it’s late during the day or try to hitchhike back.
How to reach Kol-Tor lake from Bishkek with your own car
To drive from Bishkek to Kegeti gorge where you can start the hike to Kol Tor lake, follow the highway A-365 towards the east. The distance between Bishkek and Kegeti is 78 km and driving there should take one hour and a half.
Where to stay near Kol-Tor lake
Apart from the cabin owned by the Trekkers Union of Kyrgyzstan near the lake, there are a few guesthouses where you could stay in Kegeti. We recommend staying in Guest House Kegety. The rooms in this guesthouse are very spacious and they offer nice views on the surrounding mountains. The owners speak English and can help you learn more about the whole region surrounding the lake.
15. Ala Bel Mountain pass
This very high pass (3,175 m) is on the mountainous road connecting Bishkek to Osh. It’s one of the most beautiful mountain passes in Kyrgyzstan and it’s easily accessed by car. What is great about Ala Bel is that it is located above two gorgeous valleys and the whole panorama there is truly a feast for the eyes. From one side of the pass you can admire Chichkan Valley and from the other side, you can see the Susamir Valley.
This place starts to look really incredible in winter. The whole area becomes buried under unbelievable amounts of snow and looks like a vast white desert. The road can be a bit dangerous if you drive there when there is a lot of snow (read: Is it safe to travel to Kyrgyzstan?) so drive with caution. In spring, the alpine meadows that are visible from the pass are blooming with more flowers that the mind can imagine and it’s likely you’ll see shepherds moving their animals across the pass in fall.
The first time we crossed the Ala Bel mountain pass, Cynthia and I were left completely speechless by the majestic mountains and the beautiful views that extended in every direction.
How to reach the Ala Bel Mountain pass from Bishkek by public transportation
Getting to the Ala Bel pass by public transport from Bishkek can be done by taxi and Mashrutka. You can hop on a shared taxi or a Mashrutka in Bishkek at the Western bus station or at the bus stand south of the Osh Bazaar.
This is where the Western bus station and the Osh Bazaar are located in Bishkek:
The Osh Bazaar:
You will need to take a shared taxi or a Mashrutka going in the direction of Osh or Jalal-Abad to reach the Ala Bel pass.
How to reach the Ala Bel Mountain pass with your own car
If you have your own car and if you’re not afraid of small narrow roads in the mountains, driving to Ala Bel from Bishkek can be a fun adventure. You’ll have the freedom to take amazing pictures from tons of viewpoints in the mountains and you won’t be squeezed in the back of a shared taxi or Mashrutka. Although the road there is beautiful, some parts can be slightly slippery and dangerous. I would recommend buying a good travel insurance before driving in Kyrgyzstan.
To get to the Ala Bel pass from Kyrgyzstan, you’ll have to follow the highway M41 south of the capital city.
The distance from Bishkek to the mountain pass is 207 km and driving there should take around 4hours. I would strongly suggest verifying the state of your car and tires before driving on these mountain roads.
Where to stay near the Ala Bel pass
Since Ala Bel is a very high mountain pass, staying there is practically impossible. There aren’t any hotels or hostels and camping there could be hard because there isn’t much flat ground in the surroundings. What I would recommend is to continue your journey from the Ala Bel pass towards the south until you reach Toktogul. This town is located 65 km south of the pass and it’s on the shores of the beautiful Toktogul reservoir.
There are a few guesthouses in Toktogul but the one we absolutely recommend is the RAHAT Hostel in Toktogul. This place is owned and operated by a sweet elderly couple who will do their utmost best to ensure you have a comfortable stay. Maria cooks very delicious traditional Kyrgyz food and we’re sure it will be some of the best you have in Kyrgyzstan. The location of this hostel is very good. It’s located right on the main street, three minutes from the bus station and five minutes from the bazaar.
This is our list of places that we love and absolutely recommend in Kyrgyzstan. We hope you feel inspired now to discover this mountainous oasis of Central Asia!
For more ideas on where to go and things to do in Kyrgyzstan:
Are there any places you would add to this list? Are you having plans to travel to Kyrgyzstan soon? Let us know in the comments below!
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KNOW BEFORE YOU GO – KYRGYZSTAN TRAVEL TIPS:
- Everything you need to know about traveling independently in Kyrgyzstan (visa, how to get to and around Kyrgyzstan, where to stay,…):
- Kyrgyzstan travel costs:
- Plan your trip to Kyrgyzstan:
- Hiking and horseback riding in Kyrgyzstan:
- The Complete Guide to Trekking in Kyrgyzstan with 14 of the most beautiful hikes of the country!
- Hiking to Lake Ala Kul
- Hiking near Osh in Kyrgyzstan – Be a Nomad hike
- The Ultimate Packing List for Trekking in Kyrgyzstan + What you need to know before you go hiking
- Going on a Horse Trek to Song Kol in Summer and Winter – Everything you need to Know
- Things to do around Bishkek: 8 great day trips and hikes
- Top things to do around Lake Issyk Kul
- Hiking independently to Song Kol Lake
- Border crossings
KYRGYZSTAN TRAVEL RESOURCES:
- Accommodation & Lodging in Kyrgyzstan: Booking.com
- Car rental in Kyrgyzstan: Iron horse nomads
- Travel Insurance for Kyrgyzstan: World Nomads
- Books and guides about Kyrgyzstan: