Questions About Kyrgyzstan: The Definitive Guide for Senior Travellers
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Questions we want to ask about Kyrgyzstan
Odyssey Traveller specialises in crafting unforgettable experiences for mature-aged travellers, providing adventure and educational programs to small groups since 1983. Odyssey has built up a reasonable knowledge bank to answer questions about Kyrgyzstan that travellers are likely to ask, as they make their plans to tour independently, or with us as part of a small group tour. We hope that this list of frequently asked questions and the answers we provide will help you with planning your next holiday.
Read on, but please do not hesitate to contact us via the website, or through email or chat if you have more questions about Kyrgyzstan or our other tours.
Kyrgyzstan (official name: Kyrgyz Republic) is located in Central Asia, bounded, northwest to west, by Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The capital is Bishkek.
Visit Kyrgyzstan for its breathtaking mountain ranges and landscapes, and for its historical significance as a stopover and trading post on the Silk Road.
Kyrgyzstan may not still be a popular travel destination, but it is an emerging tourism hot spot with its liberal visa policy and drive for community-based tourism (CBT), a model where remote mountain regions participate in sustainable ecotourism. The aim of CBT is to improve living conditions of remote regions without harming the environment or the region’s culture.
The official languages are Kyrgyz and Russian.
Kyrgyz is a Turkic language that is closely related to the Kazakh language spoken in neighbouring Kazakhstan. A sizeable minority speak Uzbek, also a Turkic language but belonging to a different linguistic branch. Like Kazakh, Kyrgyz is currently written using the Russian Cyrillic alphabet, although there are discussions to switch to the Latin alphabet.
Kyrgyzstan gained independence in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The nomadic Kyrgyz had been mentioned by Chinese and Muslim medieval sources back in the 7th century. The Kyrgyz’s history is unique in Central Asia as they remained “a people of the forest” even after overthrowing the Uighur empire in Mongolia. They lived in seclusion until they peacefully surrendered to the Mongols in the 13th century (thus avoiding destruction), and practised their tribal religion (e.g. totemism, shamanism) well into the 16th century while surrounding nations were being converted to Islam.
In 1876, the Russian empire invaded “Kirghizia”. Kyrgyzstan came under Soviet power in the 20th century until the Soviet Union’s dissolution.
Citizens of 45 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, can visit Kyrgyzstan for 60 days without a visa. Those from twenty more countries can obtain a visa upon arrival in Bishkek (the visa fee can only be paid in cash) or through the embassy.
Citizens of other countries will need to apply for a visa. This requires an authorisation letter from the Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic, which can be obtained with the help of your host or through travel agencies in Kyrgyzstan.
It is always best to check with your consulate before travelling, as visa rules can change.
The best time to visit Kyrgyzstan is during the warm months of May to October, as winter can hinder travel and outdoor activities, with snow covering the mountain slopes and at times grounding domestic flights. Rural accommodations may also be closed during the off-season (October to March). Of course, if your aim is to go skiing, January and February are the best months for you. The hot months of July and August are busy months for Kyrgyzstan, with tourists streaming in for their summer holiday and the country holding horse games and festivals.
As Kyrgyzstan is landlocked, the climate is continental, with cold winters and warm summers. The mountain valleys remain cool even in summer, and can be intensely cold in winter, with temperatures dropping to -30 degrees Celsius. In Bishkek, the capital, the average summer temperature reaches a high of 33 degrees, with a winter temperature of as low as -10 degrees in January.
Issyk-Kul Lake is the world’s second largest saline lake, after the Caspian Sea. In Kyrgyz, the lake’s name means “warm lake”, as it never freezes despite its high altitude (1600 m), offering a pleasant visual dissonance for swimmers with its surrounding snow-capped mountains. It is a popular vacation spot, even during the Soviet era, and was a stopover on the Silk Road. The lake was once in the domain of the Qing Dynasty, its beauty described in Chinese annals. Aside from a relaxing swimming spot, Issyk-Kul Lake is also a jump-off point for mountain hiking routes.
Also a Silk Road stopover is the Tash Rabat Cavaranserai, a 15th century stone roadside inn still standing in Naryn. Caravanserai, the name for the Silk Road roadside inns, was derived from the Persian compound word karvansaray (combining karvan “caravan” with saray “palace”–you can read more in our article on the Silk Road). Explore its many empty rooms and marvel at its history and location.
Another incredible alpine lake is Song-Kul Lake (also spelled Son-Kul), lying at double the altitude of Issyk-Kul Lake. During the summer, it is surrounded by lush pastures that are used as grazing ground for animals by the locals. Isolated and pristine, Song-Kul Lake is a perfect place to camp and go stargazing. The region is involved in sustainable ecotourism, and you can stay and dine with a family in a yurt (tent) camp. A jump-off point to the lake is the village of Kochkor, where you can visit a handicrafts shop to see how felt products are made. Felt is the chief material used in constructing yurts.
But your first stop will most probably be Bishkek, the capital, and its nearby sights. East of the capital is the 11th-century Burana Tower, located in what was once the ancient Sogdian city of Balasagun. (You can read more about the Sogdians in our article here.) Near it is an open-air archaeological and architectural museum.
South of the capital is Ala Archa National Park, a perfect place for various activities. You can go mountain hiking, skiing, or simply sit down and have a picnic surrounded by nature.
In Bishkek itself, visit Ala-Too Square, lined with monuments telling the story of the Kyrgyz people and their quest for independence. Stop at the colourful Osh Bazaar, one of the largest marketplaces in Bishkek, to try Kyrgyz cuisine and buy souvenirs for your trip. It is also near where you can take the marshrutkas (routed taxicab) that leave Bishkek to get to Ala Archa.
If you want a fully escorted tour to Kyrgyzstan, Odyssey Traveller organises a 27-day Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan tour especially designed for the mature-age travellers. This Central Asian tour is a small-group educational program visiting places off the mainstream travel itinerary, combining spectacular scenery and encounters with both ancient and modern history. The group size is limited to 16 participants and promises focused attention and camaraderie. Click through the link to see the itinerary and sign up!
Kyrgyzstan has the same variety of tourist accommodations as any other travel destination, with additional unique dwelling arrangements.
Among these is the yurt camps we’ve mentioned earlier. Yurts emerge on the Kyrgyz countryside during the summer, set up by local families to graze their animals on the mountain meadows. At Song-Kul, the yurt camp is set up on the bank of the lake. A yurt is more sophisticated than a tent, but still relatively basic accommodation. The yurt camps do not have shower facilities, but will have access to water and a private area for washing. The toilets are “outhouse” style, at a distance from the yurts – please ensure you bring a torch for night-time visits (head-torches are particularly useful!).
Kyrgyzstan is still quite a young travel destination, so you will be hard-pressed to find a grand hotel outside Bishkek or the other major cities. Within the capital you will find a range of luxury to budget accommodations, from hotels to Airbnb-type apartment rentals.
What you’ll wear will depend on your activities and the time of year you will be visiting Kyrgyzstan. The majority of the population follows Sunni Islam, but this does not translate to conservative clothing requirements. However, when visiting mosques, women must cover their heads, and all visitors must wear clothing that cover their knees.
In Bishkek, you can wear whatever is comfortable. Short-sleeve tops for women are not an odd sight in this cosmopolitan, European-influenced city. Consider packing something smart if you are planning an evening out. Wear warm layers (even during the summer) if you are heading to the mountains, and bring appropriate quick-dry hiking or rain gear to protect you from sudden changes in the weather.
If you want to learn more about Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, join our 27-day Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan tour especially designed for the mature-age travellers.
You can also read the following articles:
See our previously published articles with questions and answers that you may wish to read as well: