We have been travelling and sending people to Kyrgyzstan for over 30 years and Paul Craven (with Steppes for over 25 of those) is the named Conde Nast Traveler chosen specialist for Central Asia and the Silk Route. Paul loves nothing better than getting truly off the tourist trail and embracing the unexpected surprises that this usually delivers.
Central Asia remains a fascinating and little-explored region of the world with each of the ‘Stans’ offering something different. Named ‘Top Emerging Destination for 2020’ by Wanderlust magazine, Kyrgyzstan is one of the least populated countries in the world and is a wonderful mix of fresh air, beautiful scenery, few man-made historic sites, nomads, giggling children and a laid-back capital – perfect for unwinding. Guides are educated, proud of their country, adaptable and just nice people who always go the extra mile to please. Some destinations just lend themselves to a more relaxed pace of travel; be it the environment, the people or the culture – Kyrgyzstan is one of those.
Below are our top five reasons to travel to Kyrgyzstan:
- Epic Landscapes
A land-locked country, Kyrgyzstan is made up of spectacular scenery – forested mountains, grassy steppes, alpine meadows, flower-filled pastures, glaciers and over 2,000 high-altitude lakes. The Tien Shan, or ‘Heavenly Mountains’, cut across the entire country forming a beautiful backdrop wherever you are. The abundance of space in Kyrgyzstan is available for all to enjoy; one can truly lose themselves amidst mountains and alpine pastures on anything from a simple day walk to more strenuous overnight trekking, horse riding, mountain biking, helicopter rides into the mountains or a self-drive 4×4 car journey.
2. Silk Route History
The towering Tien Shan mountains shelter the ancient Silk Route caravanserai of Tash Rabat. Located close to the border with China, and on the fabled Silk Route, it is thought to have been built in the 10th century to protect travellers and caravans from bandits and bad weather. In a beautiful mountainous valley dotted with livestock and yurts it feels hidden from the world. A backdrop to the city of Osh, Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain sits at an important crossroads on the Silk Route and has UNESCO World Heritage status.
3. Nomadic Culture
Nomadic culture is at the heart of Kyrgyzstan and a stay within a nomadic community is a fabulous way to experience the warmth and kindness of the Kyrgyz people and learn more about nomadic clans. Nomads lead a simple life herding livestock and are superb horsemen, with some still practising the ancient art of hunting with golden eagles. Stay overnight in a traditional yurt on the edge of a crystalline lake and watch a golden eagle hunter demonstration, learn about felt making or just sit and soak up the silence, space and sun.
4. Ancient Sites
Although not bursting at the seams with ancient sites like some of its neighbours, Kyrgyzstan’s historical sites cover a spectrum of eras. From ancient 8th century BC petroglyphs to the 11th century Burana Tower, plus the Chinese mosques and Orthodox churches of Karakol. The Magnanimous Manas statue in Bishkek honours a cornerstone of Kyrgyzstan’s cultural heritage: the Epic of Manas, a poem of more than 500,000 lines. This inspiring trilogy, which dates to the 18th century, is inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
5. Visa-Free Travel
Reached via Turkey in nine hours, a holiday to Kyrgyzstan also offers the perfect opportunity to stopover in Istanbul – a fabulous city where east meets west. Entry into Kyrgyzstan couldn’t be easier with a visa-free regime for citizens of more than 40 countries, including the United Kingdom. It is also easy to cross into neighbouring Uzbekistan – combining the breath-taking landscapes of Kyrgyzstan with enthralling Islamic architecture.
Plan a tailor-made adventure to Kyrgyzstan or cross borders and combine with neighbouring Uzbekistan. Whichever way, Paul highly recommends reading up on the region and its fascinating history before travelling. His personal favourites for an overview of the history and political intrigue between historical powers of the time are The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk and An English Lady in Chinese Turkestan by Lady Macartney .