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Travelling in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is one of the most photogenic countries in the world. The following information will help you plan a vacation in
this beautiful nation while our photos and the travel report at this link
provide further guidance and details on recommended destinations.
Kyrgyzstan is located in Central Asia, south of Kazakhstan. It was part of the Soviet Union, but
for the landscapes and for the population the proximity to China is evident. The Kyrgyz people have in fact oriental features, rather dark skin,
and they live among imposing mountains that break with the flat expanses of the Russian steppe.
The wonderful mountains are the protagonists of a travel itinerary in Kyrgyzstan, also because it is the country in the world further away
from the sea. Western tourists are still few, while Russian tourists and
Kazakhs in summer are especially noticeable on the shores of Lake Issyk Kul.
After years of closure and tension, the government
now is focusing a lot on tourism and has eliminated
the need for a visa for several nationalities, so more tourists could come soon!
Travelers in Kyrgyzstan will encounter a rather poor country, but with really hospitable people
(it is very difficult to refuse a cup of tea offered by a Kyrgyz person!) and a capital (Bishkek) in rapid
development. A travel itinerary in Kyrgyzstan can be easily included into a longer holiday that also touches Uzbekistan, Tajikistan or Kazakhstan.
When to go to Kyrgyzstan
Unless you want to enjoy the slopes of one of Kyrgyzstan's ski resorts,
summer is the right season: ideal temperatures and sun almost always present. In winter it's too cold,
but also in the middle seasons the many roads closed for snow
would limit your travel itinerary.
The capital Bishkek is surprisingly animated and modern, but is usually used only as a transit point.
The great lake of Issyk Kul is the Kyrgyz sea, even if it is located at 1600 meters of altitude. It is the most visited tourist area,
with unique and different landscapes (from the red Skazka Canyon to the green mountains) and here the city of Karakol
is an ideal starting point for exhilarating trekking itineraries.
The Song Kul lake, at 3000 meters, is a jewel set in fantastic landscapes. Osh, in the south, is a characteristic city
surrounded by memorable mountains. In general, in Kyrgyzstan there is an infinite choice between natural landscapes
really photogenic and with a rental car any dirt road can give adventures and emotions.
How to travel in Kyrgyzstan
Until 2014 it was almost impossible to rent a car without a driver. Now you can, and it's not so difficult to drive in Kyrgyzstan,
because the traffic is really limited outside the capital. Obviously the rental car must be a jeep, because the roads are mostly
dirt. The italian driving license is sufficient, I think the same applice for other countries'. A known problem in these parts is police corruption,
that could make excuses to accuse you
of some infraction and then ask for a bribe of about fifty euros. It did not happen to us: even the policemen at the border
with Kazakhstan were kind and honest. The rental car allows tourists to complete a travel itinerary in just a few days
otherwise it would take weeks, not counting the possibility of going to beautiful places off the beaten track.
If your goal is trekking, you can instead consider the use, much cheaper, of public transport, taxi and hitchhiking (very popular).
In Kyrgyzstan, in fact,
there are several wonderful trekking itineraries that cross wonderful mountain ranges. The points of departure and arrival of these
routes are often in different valleys.
Costs of a trip to Kyrgyzstan
The country is (for now) very cheap. In the yurts, the typical fixed tents of Central Asia, a night with half board costs about 13 euros
per person. Obviously it is an accommodation to say the least Spartan, and the bathroom is no more than a hole in the ground
in the middle of the prairie. The rental car is, in the case, the most expensive part of the trip (50-60 euros a day for an ok 4x4, often
dated at least fifteen years). Public transport and taxis have really low prices for a western tourist.
The flight depends a lot on the season: in the most expensive periods you should not exceed 700 euros from Italy, but you can
go much better, around 400 euros (there are no direct flights, fly via Istanbul with Pegasus or Turkish or via Moscow).
Dangers and mishaps
Kyrgyzstan seemed very safe to us. Obviously the dangers are related more to activities such as trekking in remote places,
mountaineering, horse riding. Attention must also be paid to altitude sickness in Kyrgyzstan as mountains
often exceed 3000 meters above sea level. Driving is relatively more dangerous than in the West, but the fact that there is less traffic simplifies
life. The dated jeeps are a possible source of breakdowns and setbacks (and in the summer all 4x4s may be rented out in advance).
Knowing how to speak Russian would help a lot in certain circumstances, such as if you are in trouble with the police (problem
that did not happen to us).
We have not had any mishap with the local population, indeed very kind, during our trip,
even if it seems that in the south of the country they are more likely to trick tourists.
Some practical information
The local currency is the Som (1 euro = 78 Soms in August 2018) that can be changed in the main cities more so
conveniently at banks. Attention must be paid to the fact that in the center of Kyrgyzstan the beauty of nature is also due
to the almost total absence of banks and ATMs. In our travel itinerary we happened to find ourselves short of money:
in this case, after a bit of insistence a cafè or a yurt may accept euros as payment, changing them.
Hor lunch there is almost always some cheap cafè that offers
invariably mutton with vegetables. Gasoline costs around 40 euro cents / liter.
Everyone hitchhikes, it's a normal way to travel: if you have a car, you can take the opportunity to meet people;
if you travel by public transport, you can find someone that will give you a lift. We have accompanied Kyrgyz people and tourists.
To "navigate" you should use Google Maps, downloading the offline maps.
For further info, photos and details about the destinations,
you can read our exciting Kyrgyzstan trip report!
For many more photos of Kyrgyzstan, click on the images of the photogallery:
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