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When to visit

With its tough, continental climate Kyrgyzstan is very much a seasonal destination. Unless travelling to the country for purposes of business most visitors tend to come between May and October. For those whose interest is primarily in outdoor pursuits, the peak trekking season is a little shorter, between early June and mid- September. The period from mid-July to late August is by far the busiest with overseas visitors, partly because of the climate and partly as a result of this being the main European summer holiday season.

Given complete freedom of choice in deciding when to come, it really depends on exactly what the visitor wishes to do and where they want to go. For trekking, the higher the altitude, the shorter the season, tends to be the general rule, and so those wishing, to do high altitude treks in the Central Tien Shan are realistically limited to July and August. Lower-level treks are usually possible between June and September, although snow is always a possibility at passes above 3,000m at virtually any time of year.

The south of the country has a warmer climate in general and the low-lying Fergana Valley can be very hot during the summer months. Even Bishkek can be unpleasantly muggy in August. If these are the prime destinations to be visited it makes sense to time a visit for spring or autumn.

If no high altitude hiking is to be attempted, coming slightly out of season has its benefits. The northern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, particularly Cholpon-Ata, can become very crowded in August, mostly with Kazakhs rather than European visitors; however a visit in late September or early October is a wholly different matter, with few tourists, blue skies, turning leaves and a light dusting of snow on the mountains. It is too cold to swim at this time however. Early autumn is actually a very beautiful tune to be in Kyrgyzstan, especially if visiting southern destinations of modest altitude, such as the Lake Sary-Chelek region and Arslanbob, which has its walnut harvest at this time of year. Nights may be quite cold but there are warm days with clear blue skies.

Spring is a little less certain, as it can take time for winter snow to thaw completely, and late snowfall can mean that many passes and even parts of the main Bishkek-Osh highway are under snow until mid-May. The months of April, May and June have the highest amount of rainfall, and this coupled with melting snow can sometimes pose risks of landslides and avalanches. Because of this, trekking conditions at the end of the season are usually a little more reliable than those at the beginning.

Holidays and festivals may also have some bearing on the timing of a visit. Novruz, the ancient, Zoroastrian-influenced festival that is celebrated throughout central Asia on 21 March, is well worth witnessing, although this is rather too early to see the country at its best. Horse games tend to take place during high summer, especially around Independence Day at the end of August, and special festivals thatinvolve horse sports, Kyrgyz crafts and music are staged at upland jailoos (meadows) during July and August for the benefit of visitors and locals alike.