Kyrgyzstan's alpine sceneries, unspoilt mountain tracks, nomadic traditions, Soviet-era architecture attract more and more tourists year by year. Many started to refer to Kyrgyzstan as the"Switzerland of Central Asia". The strong tourism network starts to build here, as this is by far the easiest country to enter in Central Asia in terms of the visa regime.
The Kyrgyz Republic is a landlocked country in Central Asia covering 198.500 square km. It neighbors Kazakhstan to the north, Tajikistan to the southwest, Uzbekistan to the west and China to the East. About 80% of the land is mountainous, that's why the nomadic lifestyle is part of the culture and the valleys are densely populated. The capital of the country is Bishkek with a population of around 970.000 people. Kyrgyzstan is divided into 7 regions and every one of them bears touristic significance. Generally, the country is divided into two parts by mountain ranges: north and south. The north has been influenced by Russia while the southern culture is more influenced by Uzbek traditions. Kyrgyzstan is in the GMT(+6) time zone.
The population of the country is about 6 million people. Kyrgyzstan is a mosaic with its diverse ethnicities, however, the Kyrgyz are the main ethnic group (72%). The other ethnic groups are Uzbeks, Russians, Dungans, Uyghurs, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Ukrainians, Germans. An interesting fact about Kyrgyzstan's population is that half of it is under 30.
The most widely practiced religion is Islam for almost 88% of the population. The constitution, however, allows freedom of religion. Only 0.3% of people in Kyrgyzstan are not affiliated with any kind of religion. Kyrgyz people consider themselves Sunni Muslim, however, they don't have strong ties to the religion. Most of the major Islamic holidays are celebrated, but they don't practice Islam daily.
The official language of the country is Kyrgyz, which is a Turkic language but written in Cyrillic script. So it will be easier to recognize some words if you know the Cyrillic alphabet. It's closely related to Kazak and mutually intelligible with Kazak and Uzbek. Russian is the second official language of the country. You can easily learn some basic words like "rahmat"-thank you or "salam"-hello.
Best Time to Visit
Generally the best time to visit Central Asian countries are spring and autumn. Kyrgyzstan is not an exception, as it also has very hot summers and cold winters. Though the climate in the country varies a lot also, because of the differences of altitude in mountains and vallies. July and August are extremely hot, but this is the season when the famous bazaars are lively and the weather in mountainous areas is perfect. And most importantly the roads are accessible if you intend to hike.
If you decide to visit Bishkek in mid summertime, be ready for 29°C to 34°C temperature. So if you decide to visit the north of the country the most suitable time is from June to September, March and October are perfect for southern Kyrgyzstan.
Do you need a Visa?
Kyrgyzstan was the first country in Central Asia to reduce visa restrictions. Travelers from 70 countries can enter Kyrgyzstan without a visa. The duration of your stay depends on your citizenship. You can find the list of the countries and duration od stays here.
Citizens of all other countries can apply for an e-visa or get the visa upon arrival in Manas International Aiport. With an e-visa, you can enter Kyrgyzstan through Manas or Osh international airports and Ak Jol checkpoint on the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border.
Money in Kyrgyzstan
The national currency in the country is the Kyrgyz sum (KGS). It is the main currency throughout the country, so you will be asked to pay in sums. There might be some hotel and tour companies that use US dollars or euros. Banks and money exchange booths can be found in the cities. The major currencies will be available -euros, US dollars, rubles, also British pounds, Chinese yuans, Kazakh tenge, etc.
Kyrgyzstan has a large cash-based economy, so credit cards are not widely accepted. You can find ATM's and dispense money with your visa card, MasterCard and Maestro (rarely). You can find ATMs at Manas airport, a lot of them in Bishkek and major cities. In any case, we advise having cash on you. Also make sure to bring new banknotes, not blemished or damaged
What to Eat in Kyrgyzstan?
Kyrgyz food is usually meat-based. Kyrgyz people don't eat pork, so the meat is usually lamb, also beef, chicken, turkey or goat. The every-day dishes include lagman, which is hand-pulled noodles in a broth of meat and vegetables. It is the national dish of Uyghur and Dungan ethnic minorities. You can also try manti (meat or pumpkin-filled dumplings), which is another popular dish in Central Asia. The Russian type of dumplings (pelmeni) are also very common. Ashlyam-foo (cold, spicy soup with meat and vegetables), samsa (meat, potato or pumpkin-filled pastries baked in tandoor), Uzbek plov (rice served with fried carrots and onions topped with meat). Lagman and manti are popular in the north and plov is more common for the south.
The traditional Kyrgyz cuisine includes dishes made during holidays or special celebrations. BeshBarmak is a dish typical for nomadic people which is made with lamb, oromo is a steamed pie filled with meat, potatoes or some other vegetables, borsok-fried little squares of dough. And, yes, Gulchitai or Kazy Karta, which are dishes with horse meat. They use not only the meat but also the traditional drink- kumis, which is fermented horse milk.
Where to stay in Kyrgyzstan?
If comfort is a must for you while traveling, you should try staying in the major cities during your trip, like Bishkek, Osh and Karakol. International standard hotels are found only in Bishkek. The other cities often have establishments left from the Soviet period.
But if you're ready to experience the real nomadic adventures waiting for you then staying in yurt camps is a must-do for you in Kyrgyzstan. The best locations are known to be near the Lake Song Kol and Issyk Kul.
Homestays are also popular due to the Community Based Tourism (CBT) organizations operating in the country. They arrange homestays in smaller towns and villages with or without meals. Camping options are also easy to find, as there are many travelers who try to climb the high peaks of Kyrgyzstan's mountains.
The price of accommodation is usually more expensive in Bishkek compared to other parts of the country. Outside of the big cities, you can stay in guesthouses or yurts. A private room in a guesthouse might cost 19-25 USD and staying in a yurt will be a bit cheaper like 10-15 USD. Of course, these prices might vary depending on the meals you will get.