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Organised Tours and Independent Travel

The extent to which you choose to pre-book your trip depends on the kind of experience you are after, your available time and budget and the degree of comfort and predictability you require. It is possible to book as little or as much of your trip as you choose, anything from taking an escorted tour to travelling completely independently, with your own transport if you prefer-jeep, bicycle or horse. Most people's travel arrangements fall somewhere between the two.

Most group tours combine Kyrgyzstan with neighbouring Uzbekistan and/or China, but you can always opt for the exclusively Kyrgyzstan tour in order to explore the country in much depth. Our travel agency can organise an individual tour exclusively based on your preferences and set up a program in line with your preferences, budget and time availability. Those wishing to travel completely independently should have plenty of time, lots of patience and build significant flexibility into their schedule as everything takes time to organise in Kyrgyzstan. While transport along the main routes (Bishkek to Karakol, Naryn or Osh) is fairly reliable, if you wish to visit the wilder areas of Suusamyr valley, Tash Rabat, Lake Song Kul, the petroglyphs at Siymaliytash or travel the Naryn to Jalal-Abad road, bus services are irregular and very full, or non-existent. To reach these areas independently you will need to negotiate a deal with a local taxi, which can be time consuming, and besides, without knowledge of Kyrgyz or Russian language a real problem. However, if you have limited time, you might always consider hiring a car and driver through a tour operator in Bishkek, that we can also organise.

Independent travel nowadays is safer and easier than ever before with the growth of locally-owned tourist facilities that are blossoming throughout the country. Areas, which until 1998 could only be visited laden down with camping equipment or hoping to trespass on local hospitality, now welcome travellers in a series of village-based and nomadic family stay arrangements. Some places also offer transport, guide services and horse rides of anything from two hours to three days and the chance to see local handicrafts being made. The family in homestays will often need a day's notice to arrange horses and guides. Unfortunately, major travel agents will not be involved in arranging these kind of stays so you would need to make your own research that might be time-consuming,  but you would have the satisfaction of knowing that every much-needed penny you spend will go direct to the host family.

For the least inconvenience, contact either a foreign-based or home-based tour operator (latter are always better since they know the country well and have direct contacts with hotels, guides, transport…) who will advise on an itinerary and arrange your trip. Having a Kyrgyz guide to provide explanations and translations will greatly enhance a trip. Travel agencies like can book transport, accommodation and both foot and horse-back trekking and hire out equipment.

In organising your trip direct, therefore, you will need to be crystal clear to avoid misunderstanding. For the best results, have a good idea of your itinerary before contacting travel agencies for prices. Most problems are due to a lack of clarity about precisely what is to be included, resulting in price increases en route. Pay particular attention to this. Careful and thorough planning with travel agencies will not only improve your own trip but help to increase an understanding of the market and pave the way for future independent travellers. It would help the cause of extending tourist revenue to local people if visitors also insist on using guides and food from the locality rather than from Bishkek.

Our company's vision is to introduce visitors to the traditions, lifestyle and hospitality of the Kyrgyz people. We try to accommodate visitors in yurt camps in areas of stunning beauty around Lake Issyk Kul, Lake Song Kul and Jeti-Oguz.

The camps we offer for accommodation would be hidden far from the more crowded tourist areas. Each camp is run by people from the nearby village, has a live-in local guide and horses, and an English- or German-speaking interpreter. The camp at Ak Say on the southern shore of Issyk Kul has a kayak and some camels, while at Temir Kanat, in the hills above Bokonbaeva, there is a man who hunts using an eagle. Local handicrafts are sometimes available for sale.

Kyrgyzstan is great country to visit indeed. But as alsways, the time is never sufficient when it comes to have the whole country covered. Many visitors to Kyrgyzstan have just a couple of weeks to spare. Despite travel around the country being fairly slow, this allows a reasonable amount of the country, and a fairly wide variety of landscapes, to be visited.

Starting in Bishkek, a fortnight would be enough time to travel along the north coast of Lake Issyk-Kul, stopping overnight in Tamchy or Cholpon-Ata before reaching Karakol. From here, a short 2- or 3-day trek could be made into the valleys south of the town. Return west along the south shore of the lake, possibly spending a night in Tamga or Barskoon en route to Kochkor. At Kochkor, arrange transport to Song-Kol Lake the next day, spending a night or two there in a yurt, horse-riding or walking around the lake in the daytime. From Kochkor head south to Naryn and meet up with pre-arranged transport over the Torugart Pass to Kashgar in China, stopping at Tash Rabat along the way and perhaps spending an extra day here to hike up to the ridge above Chatyr-Kol Lake. An alternative route from Kochkor that returns to the Bishkek starting point might be to hike north to the Suusamayr valley after visiting Song-Kol (or return to Kochkor to find transport here) and head west along the valley through the villages of Chaek and Kyzyl-Oi to loop around at the western end to reach the Chui valley and Bishkek.

Another circular route through Kyrgyzstan that requires a little more time, say three weeks, is to follow the above itinerary as far as Naryn and then to travel the rough road west to Kazarman, perhaps visiting Saimaluu-Tash (late July to early September only). From Kazarman, arrange transport south to Jalal-Abad and spend a night here before continuing to Osh. Then spend a night or two in Osh, visiting sights in the city and around, before flying back to Bishkek or continuing east over the Irkeshtam Pass to Kashgar and China.

A further possibility is to miss out Lake Issyk-Kul altogether and travel due south from Bishkek towards Osh, making a detour west of the main trunk road towards Lake Sary-Chelek and/or on to the east to visit the Arslanbob region, before continuing south to Jalal-Abad and Osh.
There will be other visitors, passing through Kyrgyzstan as part of a longer overland route, who have a little more time at their disposal and can probably afford to be more flexible. Traversing Kyrgyzstan between Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan and China to the east, or Tajikistan to the south, allows much to be seen with a carefully planned route.

A month in the country should allow time to visit most of the places mentioned above. The best approach is to work out where you most want to go and, given the time available, try and plan the most obvious route connecting them. Kyrgyzstan does not have a very comprehensive or well-maintained road network, nor does it have a flawless public transport system, but with a spirit of adventure and a bit of luck you should get there eventually. Much time can be saved on circular tours by flying one-way; flights between Osh and Bishkek are inexpensive, regular and reasonably reliable.