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A hidden enclave of heady alpine beauty, where nomads cross the land on horseback, and ancient cities mark the course of the Silk Route through the country…

Kyrgyzstan is a vision of incredible mountain landscapes with soaring peaks that give way to idyllic pastures, creeping glaciers and vast lakes.

Completely landlocked, it resembles Switzerland in aesthetic appeal, but with a more rugged edge and a unique, remote allure – Kyrgyzstan is the Scottish Highlands meets the Andes meets the Middle East with a hint of Soviet history and a legacy dating back even further…

 

An Indian woman drying a colourful saree under the sun

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Top holidays in Kyrgyzstan

Culture and history

In the centuries before the Kyrgyz borders were even defined, the land had been invaded and colonised many times, originally by the Scythians and then by the Turkic clans, during which trade from the Silk Route brought an age of prosperity.

The Arabs arrived for a brief period in the 8th century, and then the region fell under the sway of the Karakhanid Dynasty. Around 200 years later the Kyrgyz tribes migrated here from Siberia, only for the country to be devastated by Genghis Khan and his raging hordes of Mongols.

In the 19th century the land was colonised by the Russian Empire and, despite a disastrous revolt in 1916, the country remained under the sway of Russia and would eventually become the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union. This would last until the USSR dissolved in 1991, paving the way for Kyrgyz independence the same year.

Around 80% of people are Muslim, with large minorities of Christianity and Russian Orthodox making up 17%. Religion doesn’t really play a big role in politics, but you should be respectful when visiting mosques or churches and keep your shoulders and legs covered.

Things to do

The main draw of Kyrgyzstan is the natural beauty – much of the country lies in the shadow of the Tien Shan, or ‘Heavenly Mountains’, which act as the mountainous spine dividing the country from China.

National parks like Ala-Archa will blow you away with eye-popping scenes of distant, snow-crowned peaks rising above vertiginous pine forests and fragrant juniper thickets, while a hike through Barskoon Gorge will unveil fast-flowing waterfalls that tumble onto rocky valley floors.

Lake Issyk-Kul (the second-largest alpine lake in the world after Lake Titicaca) is known as the ‘warm lake’ because of its tendency not to freeze in winter – so don’t go dipping your toes thinking it will be bath temperature!

Also, slightly bizarrely, it’s home to a number of high-altitude ‘beach resorts’ and acts as a bit of a tourist hub from where the intrepid set off in search of adventure.

Ancient cities like Balasagun, where all that remains is the striped Burana Tower and a handful of carved headstones known as bal-bals, offer insight into a past of Silk Route trading, raiding hordes and ancient kingdoms. While in the capital, Bishkek, you can enjoy the hectic bustle of traditional Osh Bazaar.

Flight time

There are currently no direct flights from London to Bishkek.

It takes approximately six hours and 30 minutes to fly to Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, from the UK.

From Astana you can fly to Bishkek in approximately one hour and 45 minutes.

Currency

Kyrgyz som -

The currency is Kyrgyzstan is the Kyrgyz som (KGS), divided into 100 tyin.

The easiest currency to exchange is US dollars, and some ATMs in Bishkek even dispense them instead of som.

Credit cards are accepted in big hotels and restaurants, but hardly at all outside the large cities, and ATMs can be few and far between.

Passports and visas

A full passport valid for three months is required. British nationals don’t need a visa unless staying for longer than 60 days.

Visit GOV.UK for more advice on passports and visas.

Timezone

Kyrgyzstan is six hours ahead of GMT, and five hours ahead of BST.

Electricity

Mains voltage is 220 volts AC (50 Hz cycles). Round, two-pin continental plugs are used, so you'll need an adaptor – remember to take one with you, as these are not widely available.

Language

Kyrgyz -

The official language is Kyrgyz, but Russian is widely spoken too. An adapted version of the Cyrillic alphabet is used.

English is understood by people involved with tourism.

Tipping

As a guideline, the average amount for good service is $2-4 per person, per day for your tour manager and $2-3 per person, per day for coach drivers.

Climate

Kyrgyzstan’s climate varies depending on the region. Typically continental, expect hot summers and cold winters. In the lowlands the temperature can sometimes soar into the low 40s and drop to around -6ºC in winter.

However the highlands are much cooler – temperatures can drop to as low as -30ºC in winter and only manage to make it up to 12ºC in summer. The mountains are generally a lot wetter than the plains and pastures, so make sure you bring enough warm clothes and some waterproofs.

Health

If taking prescription medicine with you it’s recommended that you bring it in the original packaging and carry the doctor’s prescription with you too.

If travelling in the more mountainous parts of the country, particularly of elevations higher than 2,500 metres above sea level, altitude sickness can become an issue. Symptoms can include headaches and nausea, but usually subside when you reach lower ground.

Flying insects, including mosquitoes, can be a feature of this part of the world during the warmer months and you may find it helpful to wear long-sleeved tops and full-length skirts or trousers, and to use mosquito repellents on exposed areas of skin. Those in which DEET is an active ingredient are thought to be the most effective.

As health information can change at any time, we’d advise you to consult your GP at least 12 weeks before departure.

Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad.

Population and size

5.7 million people live in Kyrgyzstan, which is about 3 million less than the population of London.

Kyrgyzstan is completely landlocked, sharing borders with Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It measures just under 200,000 square kilometres – about 40,000 less than the UK.

Smoking

As a guideline, the average amount for good service is $2-4 per person, per day for your tour manager and $2-3 per person, per day for coach drivers.