Kyrgyzstan is a stunning destination to visit all year round. Here are a few reasons why you should absolutely visit Kyrgyzstan in winter.
Nowadays more and more people know about visiting Kyrgyzstan and especially during summer. It’s a country that has breathtaking mountains, millennia-old shepherding traditions, and hospitality that is rarely seen elsewhere.
There are horses all over Kyrgyzstan during summer and nomads spend that time in yurts to follow the grazing of their cattle. Life in the countryside of Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful thing to witness during the summer.
What not so many people know is that it’s equally super awesome to visit Kyrgyzstan in winter.
The landscapes become incredibly majestic, the country’s valleys fill up with snow and become perfect for backcountry skiing and you can also enjoy a horseback riding adventure in a completely unique setting!
If you want an adventure that is totally off-the-beaten-path, you should definitely visit this Central Asian country during the coldest months of the year!
Here are six reasons why you should visit Kyrgyzstan in winter!
1. Perfect skiing destination
During summer, Kyrgyzstan is a fantastic destination for hikers. The country is filled with high peaks, thousands of alpine lakes, beautiful valleys covered with flowers and an infinite amount of trails.
In winter, this mountainous environment becomes the perfect destination for ski enthusiasts.
I spent my teenage years skiing in Canada and often thought that no other place in the world could compete with the wild backcountry slopes we have there.
But lo and behold, after a whole winter in Kyrgyzstan, I can tell you this country has some serious ski potential!!
In Kyrgyzstan, you can look forward to some adrenaline-filled days on more than 93 kilometers of marked slopes as well as thousands of backcountry trails.
If you love winter sports, go check out my post on Everything you need to know about skiing in Kyrgyzstan to find out where all the best ski resorts are.
2. Best time to warm up in the 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 health.
They were used extensively all over the Soviet Union for their healing properties and they remain quite popular in Kyrgyzstan.
While you can enjoy them all year round, they’re particularly pleasant in winter. There’s nothing like relaxing in hot water while surrounded by snow-covered mountains.
My favorite hot springs in Kyrgyzstan are the Altyn-Arashan hot springs located in the valley by the same name.
They’re the perfect way to relax after a long day of backcountry skiing or snowshoeing.
How to reach the Altyn Arashan hot springs in winter
It’s possible to backcountry ski or snowshoe to the Altyn Arashan valley and its famous hot springs from Teploklyuchenka (this town is also more commonly called Ak-Suu).
If you want to start this winter trek from Ak-Suu, you’ll have to reach this small village first by public transport or with your own car from Karakol.
The starting point of the trail to the hot springs is located at the south of Ak-Suu. It follows a road that is used during summer to reach the springs when it’s not completely covered in snow as it is during winter.
The first part of the trail will take you along the beautiful Arashan river. You’ll be skiing or snowshoeing next to a gushing river that never completely freezes.
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.
Some of the hot pools of water are located inside cabins like this one…
Along the way to the hot springs, you might come across mountain goats and horses. Snowshoeing or backcountry skiing there takes about 4 hours.
If you don’t have backcountry skis or snowshoes, you can rent them in a shop called Extreme Tours in Karakol. I explain where the outdoor equipment store is located in this article.
In the Altyn-Arashan valley, you can also find hot springs next to a gorgeous river…
Planning to visit Kyrgyzstan in winter?
3. Enjoy a unique horse riding experience
Kyrgyzstan is the land of horses. For millennia, horses have played a significant role in the lives of Central Asian people.
Shepherds used them to follow their cattle, move their yurts around, and travel from one valley to another. These majestic animals are such an important part of the Kyrgyz culture that no trip to the country would be quite complete without going on a horseback adventure.
While this is more common in summer, Kyrgyzstan also offers the possibility of going on some pretty unique winter horse-riding adventures!
A few years ago, my brother and I went on a horse-riding trip to lake Song-Kul in winter.
It was an intense journey through mountain passes covered in snow. Getting there was relatively challenging but it made the experience so much more special and fun.
We were attempting to reach this lake at the hardest time of the year when all the mountains were covered in sheets of ice.
Kyrgyzstan in winter is magical…
When we arrived though, we were left breathless by the beauty of the surrounding mountains and by how untouched the region around the lake was! The challenge of reaching this lake by horse in winter was totally worth it!
Watch this video to see how much of an adventure it was to reach this beautiful lake in winter.
If you would like to organize a horse riding adventure in Kyrgyzstan during winter, I would suggest reading Going on a Horse Trek to Song Kol in Summer and Winter – Everything you need to Know.
4. Admire frozen waterfalls
Winter in Kyrgyzstan also offers a lot of exciting opportunities for alpinists. Summits are hard to access, but you could try ice climbing the many frozen waterfalls or glaciers around the country.
The southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul is replete with waterfalls. One of the most popular is Barskoon waterfall.
Barskoon waterfall is actually not just one waterfall but three. The first one is easily accessible and is reached after hiking for 20 minutes on a small path in the forest. The other two waterfalls are located a bit higher and can be reached on foot or by horseback riding.
Photo of the Barskoon waterfall by Kyrgyz Nomad…
These three waterfalls freeze during winter and transform themselves into spectacular works of art!
You can admire their beauty from December until March in the gorges of the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. These frozen waterfalls are popularly called “Tears of the Snow Leopard”.
In the article Top things to do around lake Issyk Kul, I explain how to reach them during summer and winter by public transport.
5. The landscapes are stunning during winter!
If you think the Kyrgyz landscapes are breathtaking in summer wait till you see them transform into a winter wonderland. Kyrgyzstan becomes stunningly beautiful at that time of the year!
Have a look at a few of the landscape pictures I took there in winter…
These are some of the incredible landscapes you can see in the Boz-Uchuk region…
Horses are everywhere in Kyrgystan and they add the perfect touch to any winter picture…
More horses on the Southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul…
6. Get amazing pictures of Eagle Hunters in winter
Central Asia is the birthplace of the ancient tradition of eagle hunting. The nomads who roamed the Central Asian steppes began to tame these birds of prey thousands of years ago and this tradition is still passed on from generation to generation.
Although this remarkable tradition of the Kyrgyz nomadic culture is slowly dying, there are still a few hunters in the Issyk-Kul region who do their utmost best to keep the tradition going and pass on their skills to young disciples. They are part of the Salburun Federation.
This federation often organizes festivals and eagle hunting demonstrations in the fall and winter. After seeing different eagle hunting demonstrations, I think that winter is the very best time to attend one.
Eagle hunters and their eagles look absolutely majestic in winter…
You’ll have gorgeous snow-covered mountains as a backdrop to your pictures, and the eagle hunters will be wearing colorful winter clothes and fur hats.
On top of that, the contrast created by white snow and the brown eagles definitely make great photos!
Have a look at a few of the pictures I took during a winter eagle hunting demonstration in Kyrgyzstan…
The contrast between this eagle hunter and the snow is absolutely stunning…
I hope these pictures of mighty eagle hunters inspire you to visit Kyrgyzstan in winter…
Learn more about the Ancient Tradition of the Eagle Hunters in Kyrgyzstan
Have you visited Kyrgyzstan before? Would you visit this country in winter? Let us know in the comments below!
In case you’re also planning on visiting more places, definitely check out our other guides on Kyrgyzstan!
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, skiing and horseback riding in Kyrgyzstan:
- The Complete Guide to Trekking in Kyrgyzstan with 14 of the most beautiful hikes of the country!
- 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
- Hike Independently to Song Kol Lake in Kyrgyzstan with Two Itineraries
- Everything you need to know about Skiing in Kyrgyzstan – A Comprehensive Guide
- 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:
*This publication is made possible by the Sustainable Winter Tourism Development Project financed by the Government of Switzerland through the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and implemented by Helvetas Kyrgyzstan as well as by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Competitiveness, Trade, and Jobs Activity in Central Asia. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Nicholas Danis Bertrand of Journal of Nomads and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of Switzerland and Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation or USAID and the United States Government.