Are you about to visit Kyrgyzstan for the first time and look for fantastic sights to visit? No need to look further cause this Kyrgyzstan post will cover them!
From snow-capped mountain ranges to turquoise alpine lakes and fairytale-like canyons, this country in Central Asia will surely enchant you!
A Brief Overview of Kyrgyzstan
The Switzerland of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country in Central Asia. It’s nestled between Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. In total there are 88 major mountain ranges that occupy over 90% of the country – a paradise for any hiker!
With its visa-free policy, developed network of yurt-like homestays and affordable prices the country is often the first Central Asia destination for many.
It’s a place where you can be in a desert-like canyon and see snowcapped mountain ranges and an alpine lake at the same time. Not possible? Keep on reading!
They also call it the Land of the Last Nomads and rightfully so, a big part of the population lives semi-nomadic to this day! Shepherds still spend the summer months up on the meadows of higher altitudes, living in yurts and tend to their animals.
Believe me, you will encounter the most amazing things to visit in Kyrgyzstan!
Map of unique sights and places in Kyrgyzstan + where to stay and where to eat!
The 13 Unique Sights to Visit in Kyrgyzstan
1. Osh Bazaar
If you start your trip through Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek, you will not come around the most popular to visit. It’s one of these unique places in Central Asia that one just has to see. Osh Bazaar is an authentic and original Bazaar that’s not only a place to buy & sell, but also to socialize.
It is here where you can find a Green Market with fresh vegetables, next to the Kiyal Market – Handicraft Market with national souvenir figures and miniature yurts. A few other sections included military supply and of course, anything you could need to care for a horse!
It’s free to visit and never too croweded. However, I suggest you take extra care of your belongings.
How to get there: it’s best to take a Yandex Taxi I ~ 2 USD. Alternatively, I’d recommend booking an organized sightseeing tour to explore and learn about the best things in Bishkek!
Opening times: Tuesday – Sunday, Monday closed I Free to visit!
Where to Stay in Bishkek: My absolute favourite places to meet people and still have the luxury of my own room was at People Hostel. Book ahead as it’s in demand!
Check out all hotels in Bishkek here!
2. Issyk Kul Lake
Lake Issyk is the second largest high-altitude lake in the world, just after Titicaca Lake. You can reach the lake on an easy 3-hour drive in a Marshrutka from Bishkek. It sits at 1608 metres above sea level and serves as a popular resort destination for local Kyrgyz as well as Russians in summer.
The most popular places for tourists to stay in are Cholpon-Ata, the village of Bosteri, Bokanbayevo, Chok-Tal, Sary-Oi and Karakol.
As I visited one of the traditional festivals, I stayed in a village called Tamchy. It’s a tiny place with a few local guesthouses, a beach bar and a nice and clean beach. The vibe is really relaxed and despite Kyrgyzstan having Islam as their main religion, it’s fine to go swimming in a bikini/bathing suit.
If you have more time I suggest that the southern side of the lake is one of the most beautiful areas to visit when in Kyrgyzstan.
How to get there: Take a Marshrutka Van from Bishkek Western Bus Terminal I ~5 hours
Cost: 400-500 Som (4-5 USD) depending on the city you go to
If you’re short on time and only up for a day trip, check out this tour to Issyk Kul Lake and the famous Burana Tower!
The city of Karakol in eastern Kyrgyzstan is a melting pot of the various cultures that left their mark on it. Their culture and culinary history is a mix of Kyrgyz, Russian, Dungan, Uighur, Uzbek and more.
Undeniable, Karakol is one of Kyrgyzstan’s prime hiking hubs – perfect to plan one of the many day or multiple-day hikes in the area. The nearby Tian-Shan Mountain Range is the most notable feature of the city and boasts over 20 marked hikes.
It’s also a great starting point for any car adventures near the Chinese border.
How to get there: Take a Marshrutka Van from Bishkek Western Bus Terminal I ~5 hours
Cost: 500 Som (5 USD)
To make the most of your trip, you can also take an adventure-filled 4-day organized tour from Bishkek to Lake Issuk Kul and Karakol!
Where to Stay in Karakol: Hotel Caravan is great option for a more luxurious stay in a modern setting
4. Dungan Mosque
In the 1880’s Karakol’s population increased due to an influx of Dungans, Chinese Muslims that flew warfare in China. In the end, it was Chinese artisans who built the Dungan Mosque in 1907 for the local Dungans and it’s a gem to visit! The beautiful wooden mosque was built without the use of nails and features a wooden pagoda.
The Dungan Mosque is very much a unique thing to visit when in Kyrgyzstan! Check it out.
Entry is by donation and women will need to cover up to enter.
How to get there: you can walk from your hotel, the city isn’t too big otherwise take a Yandex for 1 USD or 100 Soms
Cost: 50 Som (0,50 ct USD) donation
5. Jeti Oguz
Jeti Oguz is a village 28 km west of Karakol and makes a great day trip! The place is famous for its red rock formations that remind of Bulls ‘The Seven Bulls’ and the ‘Broken Heart’ Rock. It lies in a green valley and hosts a sanatorium, which was popular for hot spring treatments in Soviet times.
If you’re lucky you’ll also see some boys showing off their Eagle on their bare arms!
From the village and viewpoint, you have the choice to keep on walking to the Valley of Flowers. Make you way along the river and keep walking through the Jeti Oguz gorge. You will come across a spring to fill up your water, and some nice resting areas.
It’s a rocky but easy 6km path along the river, leading you past dewy green fields. Immersed in pine forests, you think you’re in Switzerland after all.
If you are near Karakol, I’d definitely recommend this place as one of these fantastic 13 Kyrgyzstan sights to visit!
How to get there: Take a Marshrutka Karakol or Private Taxi
Cost: ~900 Som (10 USD) for the transport I Village is free to visit!
6. Maiden Tears Waterfall
The famous Maiden Tears Waterfall is located right in the ‘Valley of Seven Bulls’ , at an altitude of 2500 metres. If you decide to go for a hike starting in Jeti Oguz you’ll eventually arrive at grand The Valley of Flowers. Remember they aren’t in bloom all the time, but it still makes a great photo location!
Local kids offered us a horse ride up to the Maiden Tears Waterfall, the main attraction of this area. This could be a good choice if you want to tick off horseriding in Kyrgyzstan!
The valley and yurt village is the starting point for the 2.5 km hike to the Maiden Tears Waterfall and should take about an hour.
You can stay in a night in one of the yurt camps as it makes for some breathtaking views.
From there, you surely can catch a ride back into Jeti Oguz or right to Karakol. We managed to hitch a hike with a family and paid 300 Soms each (3 Euros/Dollar).
How to get there: Hike from Jeti Oguz village for about 6 km
7. Ala Kul Hike
This one must be the most sought-after place to visit in Kyrgyzstan for hikers. The Pearl of Tian Shan is an alpine lake some 35oo metres above sea level. It can only be reached by foot and is considered a difficult hike. Most people seem to hike it in 2 days but you can take your time in do it 3-4 days.
Even in summer, the conditions in this area seem to change all the time and people I met got surprised by a hail storm while on top. Definitely prepare properly for this hike!
How to get there: You can start the trek in Karakol Valley and or from Altyn Arashan Valley. Just take a local Marshrutka for about 100 Som (1 USD)
Cost: 250 Som (2,50 USD) for the National Park, 100 Som for Tent
8. Altyn Arashan Valley
If you aren’t a pro hiker like me, this place might be your next best choice! Altyn Arashan is a splendid valley at an altitude of 2500 metres and surrounded by the most breathtaking scenery. It’s also called ‘Golden Spa’ and refers to its many natural hot springs that are dotted throughout the valley.
What better way to get some fresh mountain air than staying the night in a mountain cabin? I decided to take a jeep from Ak Suu Village to Altyn Arashan for 1000 Som. You can take a marshrtuka to Ak Suu Village for 50 Som.
The road from Ak Suu Village to Altyn Arashan is only 15km but it will take you a good 2 hours. Be prepared to be shaken through, it’s only passable by 4WD – and best, by old Soviet military cars.
I stayed in Elza Guesthouse and really loved the experience. They got a cosy hut that fits some bigger groups as well as individual travellers. One night costs 700 Soms, 500 Soms for dinner and 300 Som for breakfast. There were no cooking facilities but I saw people having their own stoves.
To spend a night up there is one of these places you have to visit when in Kyrgyzstan!
How to get there: Karakol to Ak Suu Village with Marshrutka or taxi + Soviet Jeep from Ak Suu Village to Altyn Arashan Valley
Cost: 50 Som (0.50 ct) for the Marshrutka, 1000-1500 Som (10-15 USD) for the Jeep
Where to Stay in Altyn Arashan: Check out all hotels in Karakol and Altyn Arashan
9. Traditional Kyrgyz Festival
You cannot visit Kyrgyzstan and visit a place for traditional Eagle Demonstration or Horse Games, it’s just an absolute unique thing to attend!
I suggest you keep checking the events calendar from the Kyrgyzstan Community Based Tourism Organisation for upcoming festivals.
Central Asia is the birthplace of the ancient tradition of eagle hunting and falconry. It is pretty much a trademark of the Kyrgyz nomads.
Since ancient times, birds of prey were tamed and used by hunters and warriors. The Golden Eagles and Falcons were trained and treated as a member of the family. Nowadays I’ve been told, they train and participate in hunting demonstrations with the birds for only one year and then led the birds free again.
The Golden Eagle can have a span width of 2.3 metres and can weigh between 3-7kg. This beauty will compete in the World Nomad Games in Turkey this year. The event (similar to the Olympic games) is held every 2 years and sees 3000 athletes from 102 countries competing in national sports from nomadic people around the world.
Kok Boru is a traditional Kyrgyz Horseback competition that requires teams to throw a dead sheep or goat into their opponents well on the playing field. The main goal in the past was to train for fighting, the men and horses were taught to be fearless.
It looked super though, imagine grabbing a 30kg dead animal body
Another game you might see is Er Oordarys. Its a traditional struggle of horsemen where each participant maneuvers his horse and tries to throw the opponent to the ground.
There are other villages around Issyk Kul where you can book a demonstration on request also.
How to get there: from Bishkek Western Bus Terminal
Cost: 350-500 Som (3-5 USD) depending on the village I 1000 Som (10 USD) for the Festival incl food
Where to Stay in in Issyk Kul Lake: Check out all hotels around Issyk Kul Lake here!
10. Skazka Canyon or Fairytale Canyon
A jaw-dropping place you need to visit when in Kyrgyzstan is Skazka Canyon. It is only 30km away from Bokonbayevo and makes a great half-day trip.
Download Map.Me for an easier overview of the area and where the best viewpoints are.
The well-known Fairy Tale Canyon was one of my favourite spots on this trip. The mini canyon with its yellow stripes glows the best closest to sunset. I just loved that you could wander around the area freely – how many places, that are that little commercialized still exist?
I ventured off to the right and found these amazing yellow/brownish rocks that remind me of Peru’s rainbow mountain. To be honest, the whole area makes an ideal photo spot.
Yellow, orange and reddish rock towers, narrow paths that wind through the canyon and invite you to get lost it (actually happened to me). The gravel is super slippery so take care when going down any of them!
I arrived to Fairytale Canyon at 5.30 pm and unless you don’t have your own car, I wouldn’t go much later. I spent like 1.5 hours there and caught a ride back to town.
No wonder Skazka Canyon is also known as Fairy Tale Canyon. All the shapes and forms of the yellow & orange coloured rocks remind you of dragons and mystical creatures.
How to get there: Bokonbayevo Centre, take a Marshrutka that leaves towards Karakol & tell the driver to let you out at the entrance
Cost: 100 Som (1 USD) Marshrutka I Entry: 50 Som (0.50ct) to the Canyon
11. Sleeping in a Traditional Yurt
Another one of these things you just need to try when in Kyrgyzstan is sleeping in a traditional yurt. There is no experience that’s more authentic in my opinion. It will be possible only in the summertime, that you can sleep in a yurt under the stars. And, you will be happy because in the mountains it gets cold also in summer!
In the yurts, you traditionally sleep on small mattresses called “toshoks” on the ground. There are some yurt camps where they might offer you palette beds for a bit more comfort.
Sleeping in a yurt in the mountains is a great opportunity to get a glimpse into the real shepherd’s life. You can see the women milk their cows, take care of water supply, prepare food and care for their horses.
I’d recommend heading to Son-Kul Lake to visit an authentic Kyrgyzstan Yurt camp.
How to get there: by hike or horse trekking from Kyzart for example
Cost: ~1000 Som per night + 500 Som breakfast/dinner
12. Son-Kul Lake
Son-Kul Lake is a picturesque alpine lake at an altitude of 3000 metres, in the middle of the Tian Shan Mountains. It’s the country’s second-largest lake and the destination of choice for many Kyrgyzstan visitors. And rightfully so, it’s like straight out of a painting!
It’s surroundings consist of plain meadows, petroglyphs from ancient times and shepherds with their yurt camps and animals.
To really explore this region you would either go on a multiple-day hike or try horseback riding. All in all, it makes one of the most beautiful places you can visit in Kyrgyzstan and a trip serves as a real adventure!
If you’re interested in horse trekking, read my post on what to expect & see during a 3-Day Horse Trekking Trip to Son-Kul!
How to get there: by hike or horse trekking from Kyzart for example
13. A Handicraft Workshop
This was one of the places that struck me most, the workshop of Altyn Oimok. In the small village of Bokonbayevo, there is this social enterprise lead by Kyrgyz woman Janyl. She has been making handicrafts for over 12 years and used to employ 35 women in her workshop.
Altyn Oimok works with single mums, women from poor families and such that have been abused and provide training, and a safe space. It’s fantastic to see how this place gives these women a chance to develop new skills, and earn income and respect within their families and communities.
You can visit the workshop and see the traditional felt handiwork such as Shyrdaks and Ala Kiyiz, as well as slippers, necklaces and other souvenirs.
If you want to support a fantastic cause, do pay this place a visit when in Kyrgyzstan.
How to get there: Bokonbayevo is a small village and it shouldn’t take long from your hotel
Where to Stay in Bokonbayevo: Guesthouse Altyn Oimok really was such a gem with fantastic breakfast, this beautiful workshop and in walking distance to restaurants and shops!
Kyrgyzstan, what a surreal place. You can be in the midst of the desert while seeing in the distance, the snow-covered Tian Shan mountain range bordering Kazakhstan, and the blue alpine Lake Issyk.
Kyrgyzstan is nothing but full of surprises, the feel of the nomadic lifestyle visible no matter where. The ancient hub of the silk road is as enchanting now as it was back then. I hope you get to go yourself one day and discover all these magical things for yourself!
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