Kyrgyzstan: 10 tips for a road trip off the beaten track

Our top tips for planning your trip to Kyrgyzstan: the complete guide

Le Kirghizistan est un petit pays montagneux d’Asie centrale, à la fois préservé et authentique. C’est la destination de voyage idéale pour un road trip hors des sentiers battus. Avec ses paysages spectaculaires, ses yourtes traditionnelles et sa culture nomade riche, le pays promet une expérience inoubliable pour les voyageurs en quête d’aventure.

Vous trouverez dans cet article de blog nos 10 meilleurs conseils pour préparer votre voyage au Kirghizistan : la meilleure saison, les hébergements, les circuits possibles et quelques contacts de confiance pour louer un 4×4 ou partir en trek au lac Song Kol. Si tu prépares un voyage en van, 4×4, à moto ou à vélo au Kirghizistan, notre livre Explore Kirghizistan te sera d’une aide  précieuse.

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Hello! Nous c’est Olivia & Victor, les auteurs des guides OunTravela.

Au fil des années, notre passion pour l’aventure nous a conduit à créer des guides de voyage originaux vendus dans plus de 70 pays dans le monde. Notre mission est de diffuser une philosophie de voyage basée sur l’aventure, la liberté, l’improvisation et l’exploration. Nos guides inspirent les voyageurs à explorer les chemins oubliés de ce monde à la rencontre du sauvage et des civilisations.

On espère que cet article, basé sur notre propre expérience, vous sera utile.

Bonne lecture !

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kyrgyzstan, a landlocked country in the middle of central asia

In full transparency!

In this article, you’ll find links to some of the accommodations we’ve tried out on our many trips to Kyrgyzstan, as well as some of the items we’ve used on our road-trips that we’ve kept in our luggage ever since. The links are affiliated, which means we earn a small commission, but you won’t pay more. Please note, there is no obligation to buy – but by clicking on these links, you can support us if this article was useful to you!

#1- When to go to Kyrgyzstan?

This is without doubt the first question to ask when planning a trip to Kyrgyzstan: which season to choose? Because whether it’s summer, winter, or the spring-fall shoulder seasons, it won’t be the same trip at all!
Spoiler alert: the best season is from mid-June to mid-September!

Summer (July-August)

Due to its continental and mountainous climate, summer in Kyrgyzstan is fairly short and concentrated in July-August. It’s rather dry and warm, especially in the valleys where temperatures hover around 25-30°C.

Advantages. This is the best time of year to enjoy the mountains and Kyrgyzstan’s natural beauty, as it’s when the weather is at its best: sunny days and cool nights. Be careful in the mountains, though: it can be cold even in the middle of August, and there can be snowfalls. It’s best to be equipped and prepared! This is also the time of year when you can meet nomads and sleep in yurts.

Disadvantages. This is the peak tourist season. Let’s face it, Kyrgyzstan isn’t a very touristy destination, but let’s just say there will be more crowds at the most popular sites and excursions, like Lake Song-Kul or Ala-Kul. Prices for rentals and activities are also higher at this time of year.

Spring (May-June) and autumn (September-October)

It’s our favorite time of year. It is possible to travel to Kyrgyzstan during the shoulder seasons (spring and autumn), but with a few precautions.

Advantages. It’s the low season and you can take advantage of interesting promotions, whether on plane tickets, car rentals or activities. In many cases, the mountains are still (or have already been) covered in snow, making for sumptuous landscapes. Note thatin spring, the meadows are green and covered with wild flowers. It’s also during this period that the nomads make their transhumance, so you may be lucky enough to witness a yurt assembly/disassembly, and see the nomads arrive in the mountains with their herds. In autumn, the sun-scorched grass gives the Kyrgyz plains their sublime orange hues.

Disadvantages. Beware of the weather: it can be very cold, especially in the evening. Mountain passes may be snow-covered, limiting access to certain areas. Please note thatfording can be very difficult in spring due to melting snow.

Winter (November to April)

Winter, from November to April, is best avoided due to extremely cold temperatures and difficult travel conditions. Roads and mountain trails are blocked by snow, making travel dangerous. You really need to be well equipped, as temperatures can drop below -20°C. However, this is the right season to go skiing or organize a horse trek with a specialized guide like Timur.

col de tosor in the snow
trail to the tosor pass in the heart of the tian shan mountains
view from el col tosor in the heart of the tian shan mountains
hot spring after the Tosor pass in the heart of the Tian Shan mountains

#2- How do I get to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia?

The first piece of good news is that the country offers VISA-free access to over 60 nationalities, including French, Belgian, Swiss and Canadian nationals. You have the right to stay in the country for 60 days, free of charge and without having to apply for a visa beforehand. All you need is an up-to-date passport.

By plane

Kyrgyzstan is completely landlocked in the middle of Central Asia. The quickest way to get there is by plane. The country has two airlines from Europe: Turkish airlines and Pegasus (there was also Aeroflot, a Russian airline, before the war in Ukraine). In both cases, there is usually a stopover in Istanbul, Turkey. There are no direct flights from Europe. There are regular off-season promotions, and you can find cheap plane tickets if you look hard enough, especially on search engines like Kayak.. The round trip costs between 400 and 600 euros, but special offers are available for less.

Overland on the Silk Road

If you have the time, then the best solution is undoubtedly to follow the mythical Silk Road from Europe to Central Asia. There are many itineraries, but they change regularly according to pandemics or other geopolitical events. We’ll keep you up to date with live news in our facebook group or in our article on border crossings. Here are the three main routes:

Europe – Turkey – Georgia – Russia – Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan: In 2024, you can easily obtain a Russian transit visa in Tbilisi, Georgia, and cross Russia to Kazakhstan in 2-3 days.

Europe – Turkey – Georgia – Azerbaijan – Kazakhstan : Since the Covid pandemic, Azerbaijan’s land borders have been closed, so it’s not possible to enter Azerbaijan to take the Baku-Aktau ferry.

Europe – Turkey – Armenia – Iran – Turkmenistan – Uzbekistan – Kyrgyzstan: This itinerary is possible in 2024, but you’ll need a carnet de passage en douane to cross Iran and a guidebook to cross Turkmenistan. Many travellers take the Pamir route in Tajikistan before arriving in Kyrgyzstan. Please note that the Tajik-Kyrgyz border only partially reopened in 2023 (for tourists only). As the relationship between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan has not yet fully calmed down, it may well close again.

Europe – Russia – Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan: In 2024, this route will be impossible, as passage through Eastern Europe is blocked due to the conflict in Ukraine.

When you enter Kyrgyzstan or any other country in the Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus), you will be issued a TIP (temporary import document) for a period of 6 months to 1 year, which means that your vehicle is authorized to remain within the borders of the customs union for up to 12 months. You don ‘t need a logbook. On the other hand, since 2015 you have had to pay an ecotax. This ecotax is equivalent to around 500 som for a motorcycle, 1,000 som for a car and 2,500 som for a truck. For more information, see our article on border crossings in Kyrgyzstan.

#3 – How do I get around Kyrgyzstan?

Discover Kyrgyzstan by 4×4, van, motorcycle or bicycle

Without the slightest hesitation, the ideal way is to rent a car, a 4×4, a van, a motorcycle or even a bike. This will enable you to be independent and go at your own pace. You should be aware that there is very little public transport, and above all that it only allows access to the most touristy sites. In short, if you want to travel off the beaten track, this is the best solution! Beware, the roads are not in very good condition and quickly turn into dirt or gravel tracks. It’s best to choose an off-road vehicle (4×4, trail bike or ATV) and have good track driving experience.

We have selected the best 4×4, van, motorcycle and bike rental agencies for you. By contacting them on our site (via a contact form), you’ll have direct access to the price and can ask them any questions you may have!

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Discover Kyrgyzstan by public transport

Marshrutkas

These small, crowded buses are the preferred means of transport for locals. It’s economical and authentic! Marshrutkas serve bus stations and small towns. So if you want to get off the beaten track, you’ll quickly be limited.

Group cabs

Shared cabs (7-8 seats) are a great way to discover the country. The driver waits until his cab is full before leaving, and you share the total fare with the other passengers. Compared with marshrutkas, prices are a little higher, but it’s still faster and more comfortable.

Discover Kyrgyzstan by hitchhiking

Of course, it’s the cheapest way to travel! If you have time and want to meet Kyrgyz people, it’s ideal! Locals regularly hitchhike, so all you have to do is wait at the side of the road and wave before a car (often a truck) stops. The driver may ask you to pay a contribution depending on your destination.

#4 – What travel guides and maps will help you prepare for your trip to Kyrgyzstan?

There are very few guidebooks on Kirghizia. The country has only recently opened up to tourism, and many travelers still prefer to use a travel agency. These agencies will offer you ready-made excursions, but if you really want to organize and personalize your trip, there’s nothing better than using a good travel guide and setting off on an adventure.

For backpackers looking for a succinct, lightweight book, Petit futé is the best choice. Here you’ll find all the main tourist attractions as well as a few good addresses. There is also a Lonely Planet Central Asia, but this covers several countries. As a result, there is very little information on Kyrgyzstan itself, and the book is not very up-to-date. If you speak English, we recommend the Bradt, which is much more comprehensive. For those of you familiar with the backpacker’s guide, there is no backpacker’s guide to Kyrgyzstan.

For those wishing to get off the beaten track and explore the country in greater depth on their own, we recommend our Explore Kyrgyzstan guide. This guide contains over 300 pages of detailed maps, photographs and practical information for adventure-seeking travelers. The book lists the country’s 24 most beautiful trails, as well as over 80 sites of cultural interest (mosques, caravanserai, petroglyphs, etc.) and natural interest (trekking, hot springs, etc.). It is aimed at all itinerant travelers by 4×4, van, motorcycle, bicycle or even horseback. For those who love beautiful photography or are also looking for information on the country’s culture, history and geography, this is a beautiful book full of fascinating anecdotes and stories.

 

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