For the last few years, Kyrgyzstan has been making waves as a new "off-the-beaten-track" travel destination, appearing prominently in numerous top ten travel lists. Therefore it surprised no one when, after investing heavily in its tourism infrastructure and successfully hosting the 3rd official World Nomad Games, Kyrgyzstan appeared in the number 5 spot on Lonely Planet's 2019 "Must Visit Destinations" list. To aid travelers heeding Lonely Planet's advice to visit this amazing country we call home, we decided to take things a step further and compile our own "Top 10" list featuring some of our favorite destinations around the country. After consulting our staff, our most experienced guides, and our friends, we feel this list truly highlights the best places Kyrgyzstan has to offer and will have you booking your ticket in no time.
10. Song Kol.
Facts about Song Kol
Height: 3016 meters above sea level
Size: 39 km long, 18 km wide.
Shortest distance from Bishkek: 290 km
Song Kol, located just over 3000 meters above level and nestled between soaring mountains, offers travelers unblemished tranquility and an ideal escape from the stresses of everyday life. Nothing beats stepping out of your cozy yurt early in the morning, with a cup of hot tea in hand, to watch the sun rise over the snow-capped peaks. For a particularly unique and rewarding experience, forgo modern transportation and embrace the life of a nomad by riding to the glistening lake on horseback. The staggering, almost overwhelming beauty of the journey creeps up on the adventurer in the form of a pleasant tired feeling, promising travelers a deep, restorative sleep. Spending the night embraced by the crisp mountain air, snuggled under heavy blankets by this stunning lake, practically guarantees the fatigue of your previous year will be stripped away.
Stargaze, take a stroll by the lake, ride horseback, learn how to cook a traditional meal by helping your host, herd sheep, make cheese balls (kurut), go swimming (If you dare!).
Private car - Economy: 230$ (roundtrip)
Private car - Comfort: 305$ (roundtrip)
9. Tong. South Shore of Issyk Kol.
Presently, most travel blogs and platforms recommend a visit to Bokonbaevo village, as a base to organize treks, horseback tours, trips to Fairytale canyon, etc. While the town paints a quaint picture of a small, modern, Kyrgyz settlement, we wouldn't say its a must go destination. Instead, venture past Bokonbaeva to the village of Tong and the handful of yurt camps set up near the banks of Issyk Kul. From here, Tenti or your hosts can arrange the aforementioned activities while you relax lakeside. Grab a book and head to the beach to unwind. Let the lulling sound of gentle waves soothe you, as you bask in the glory of the glimmering giant, Issyk-Kul.
Go swimming, hike the Fairytale canyons, trek up the panorama hill, learn how to make felt handicrafts, stay longer (lodging & meal free) with a family.
Disclaimer: It seems many people confuse the region of Bokonbaevo with the town of the same name. The town, in our opinion, doesn't have much to offer. Hence our encouragement to dispense with Bokonbaevo as a base camp and head to the surrounding villages.
Private taxi - Economy : 168$ (roundtrip)
Private taxi – Comfort: 226$ (roundtrip)
8. Saz - Kel, Itagar/Chychkan Valleys (42.168674, 72.813793)
Probably the most underappreciated destination on our list, Saz-Kel is hidden among lush greenery and towering spruces. It is currently frequented by the special few that are lucky enough to be let in on the secret of the existence of this location, but we want to change that. Such a miraculous place can't stay hidden forever. Trek to the shore of the lake for a picnic surrounded by the comforting embrace of mother nature. On a clear, calm day the surface of the lake is so reflective, you may be unsure which way is up. Venture from the lake back to the Bishkek - Osh Highway where you can admire the rest of Chychkan Valley. About halfway between the two capitals on the eponymous river, there is a comfortable road-side rest area with some of the best food in the country. No matter what you do in this area, Saz-Kel and Chychkan Valley won't disappoint.
Go hiking, fishing, horseback trek, climb “Wizard” and “Ulan” peaks, sauna.
Private taxi - Economy : 131$ (roundtrip)
Private taxi - Comfort: 237$ (roundtrip)
7. Sary Chelek
The journey to Sary-Chelek alone deserves a spot on this list with its twisting mountain passes and vast arid expanses. As you approach this World Heritage Biosphere Reserve you can feel the surge of euphoria, as all your worldly cares melt away. No matter how you get to this alluring lake the awesome views and jaw-dropping scenery the trip will not be in vain. When you finally arrive Sary-Chelek seems to peek out from behind the ridge, surrounded by towering mountains rising out of the watery depths. Take advantage of the 23,000-hectare natural playground with a hike to through the reserve that features not only Sary-Chelek but the six other lakes in the region. If you're lucky you may spot some of the protected fauna that calls this area home. Sary-Chelek is truly a gem.
Go hiking, fishing in the many springs and lakes surrounding Sary – Chelek (fishing within Sary-Chelek itself is banned.), horseback trek, go on a motorboat tour, go out for a swim.
Private taxi - Economy : from 310$ (roundtrip)
Private taxi - Comfort: from 390$ (roundtrip)
6. Arslanbob Arslanbob or "King of the Forests" truly lives up to its name. The ancient and sprawling forest covers over 600,000 hectares, with the village of the same name sitting at the center. The towering trees that surround the village create a fairy-tale atmosphere that one must see to believe. It is no secret therefore that this area is steeped in Kyrgyz legends. One such legend says that the prophet Mohammad, sent his subjects far and wide searching for paradise on earth. One of his subjects found the perfect land in the area of Arslanbob, but there were no trees. Mohammad inspired by the tales of beauty gifted the man seeds from many fruit trees to be scattered as far as the wind would blow them. Thus the paradise that is Arslanbob was born. A later legend says that Alexander the Great of Macedon once set up camp under the canopy of Arslanbob following a long campaign. Amazed by the walnuts supposed healing powers, he insisted they be brought back with him to Greece, bringing walnuts to the rest of the world. Whether you believe the legends or not, this sprawling forest is truly a place to behold. The predominately Uzbek population wholeheartedly embraces the culture of hospitality, creating the atmosphere that one could set down roots here, just like the ancient trees. Whether you come during the summer to explore the pristine nature or wait till mid-autumn to join the yearly walnut harvest Arslanbob is surely a sight to behold.
Activity ideas: Wander the walnut forest, hike to “Small” and “Big” waterfall, visit the old amusement park on the outskirts of town, help with the annual walnut harvest.
Private taxi - Economy : from 420$ (roundtrip)
Private taxi - Comfort: from 540$ (roundtrip)
We’ve always felt Bishkek is extremely underappreciated by travelers. In fact, the reason we created the Tenti Events Page was to prove that the city can and should be considered its own destination. Our close friends have dubbed the city "The Berlin of Central Asia" because of its frequent art exhibitions, underground alternative music scene, and the ever-growing number of reformist bars. When you're in Bishkek don't rush, there are many hidden secrets that you can discover if only you take the time to let them reveal themselves. We recommend you start your day with a trip to Osh Bazaar before the chaos of the day ensues. Make your way through the center aisle to the area where bread is made and grab a few hot loaves ("Issyk Naan" in Kyrgyz) fresh from the clay ovens. After grabbing your hot bread you have to get some fresh cream from the stalls across from the dried fruit section. Pair the two with a cup of your favorite coffee and watch as the bazaar picks up into full swing for the day. When you're done with your day's planned activities head to Erkindik Park for a stroll along with the Bishkek residents. Grab a cone of delicious ice cream from the many vendors that line the park and soak up the atmosphere. (I recommend the Fresco truck, but there are plenty of places to choose from.) Walk to the southern end of the park where the brutalist designed train station stands amid fancy modern high-rises, reminding visitors of Kyrgyzstan's former Soviet influence. Pop inside and look up at the ceiling for a quick treat. If you're lucky or have great planning skills, be sure to join Rahat on one of her "Bishkek Walks" tours for an interesting and in-depth look into the history of the city. They are truly fascinating and Rahat really knows her stuff! As the daylight begins to fade pick between one of the many dimly lit, cozy bars or a fashionable new rooftop restaurant to celebrate your time in Bishkek.
P.S. don't forget to drop by to say hi or to share a lunch with us
4. Altyn Arashan and Ala- Kol Lake
Located just outside of Karakol City, Altyn Arashan Park is another must-visit destination that has been topping itineraries in recent years after numerous travel bloggers introduced it to the world outside Kyrgyzstan. This culmination of towering mountains, expansive pine forests, and relaxing hot springs is any nature lover dream. There are many ways to experience this splendid area. You can take an old Soviet 4x4 truck from the entrance of the park all the way up to the hot springs, or if you're looking for a real challenge you can combine a day at the hot springs with the Ala-Kol Lake trek. The approximately 3-day long trek is said to be one of the most rigorous but rewarding treks in all of Kyrgyzstan. Very few places can beat the majestic views from the top of the pass.
A true off the beaten path destination, and a place only a few travelers set foot in each year. In an effort to create jobs, a locally born philanthropist and businessman opened a milk processing plant and cheese factory in this gorgeous pasture landscape. He has since expanded the second floor of the cheese factory to include overnight accommodations. In the summer they set up a yurt camp for visitors so you can experience Kyrgyzstan the way it was meant to be.
“The Alaiku valley is a stunning region with stark contrasts between bright green grass and shifting hues of red and black stone. The drive up to the valley, a long drive over gravel roads through some of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen, added to the drama.”
Click here to read the blog by Emma who traveled to Alaiku to test new tourism products being developed by one of our partners.
2. Kel Suu.
An expedition to Kel Suu feels like an escape act. An escape from the hyper-connected hustle and bustle of our modern lifestyle. As you drive the rough, rambling roads towards Kel Suu keep a keen eye peeled and you may be greeted by some of the locals - chunky marmots, villainous vultures, and hairy yaks. One of the most remote destinations in Kyrgyzstan, Kel Suu's flawless, barely touched by man landscape feels like it's at the edge of civilization. The lake and the surrounding area create an ideal place for stargazing, day hikes, and late night stories around the bonfire.
Kel-Suu means “coming water.” The recently discovered lake earned this name because the normally turquoise waters occasionally drain entirely, leaving an otherworldly dry lake bed in their stead. As of early June 2019, the lake has still not filled meaning it is unlikely there will be water this season. Regardless, whether the lake has water or not, a journey to the area is well worth your time. Riding a horse, to the edge lake, through the valley, will make you feel as though you've entered a fairy-tale.
Private taxi - Economy : from 350$ (roundtrip)
Private taxi - Comfort: from 375$ (roundtrip)
1. Pamir Highway.
After spending a considerable amount of time trying to single out the perfect destination along The Pamir Highway, we decided it’d be akin to a crime to choose just one. Every inch, every detour, every view along this breathtaking roadway is worth seeing. The meandering mountain roads, phantom-white mountain peaks, and stunning landscapes guarantee an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime. Your voyage along the second highest international highway in the world (4,655m) with detours to Lenin Peak base camps, numerous alpine lakes, and ancient fortresses is sure to amaze and please your inner adventurer.
Visit one of the Lenin Peak base camps, practice some bird watching, hike, go on multi-day treks, check your pulse as you drive on road hugging cliffs.
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