Interested in a relaxing vacation outside the hustle and bustle of popular tourist destinations?
Kyrgyzstan can fit that bill. Situated in Central Asia and roughly the size of Nebraska, it is known for having a rich cultural heritage, stunning mountainous landscapes, and hospitable people. This hidden gem of a country offers many opportunities to explore natural wonders and take in their breathtaking beauty. Visitors to Kyrgyzstan enjoy experiencing the country’s numerous cultural and historical landmarks and participating in adventurous activities.
Bishkek is the capital city and is a fantastic place to begin an exploration of Kyrgyzstan. Home to just over one million residents, this city offers an interesting vibe that includes a blend of Chinese, Persian, Turkic, Russian, Mongol, and Indian cultures. From food to architecture, the influence of those countries is apparent. To make the most of a visit to Kyrgyzstan, be sure to add the following experiences to an itinerary.
Bishkek: Plan on at least one full day to experience this vibrant city, known for its friendly inhabitants. Stroll through Ala-Too Square, the main square of the city, to see the many landmark structures and monuments. While here, step inside the State Historical Museum and learn about the rich history of Kyrgyzstan. Before the day ends, meander over to the Osh Bazaar for some shopping. This massive bazaar features a multitude of mobile vendors and brick-and-mortar stores selling nearly everything a person could want to buy. This is a fabulous place to sit back and absorb the vibrant local culture.
Lake Issyk-Kull: Spend the day relaxing at this iconic body of water, the world’s second-largest alpine lake. This crystal-clear water is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and offers a tranquil and picturesque setting. While here, choose from many activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing, or simply breathe and mentally capture the picturesque scenery. Also in this area are several hot springs that are worth some time to relax and unwind.
Cholpon-Ata region: Near Lake Issyk-Kull, view the many ancient petroglyphs. These date back thousands of years and provide a glimpse into the country’s rich history.
Ala Archa National Park: Take a day trip from Bishkek for some outdoor fun. Hiking, trekking, and mountaineering are some of the recommended activities. Additionally, the park boasts stunning mountain scenery, including the towering peaks of the Tien Shan mountain range.
Osh: Visit this city to see the UNESCO-listed Sulayman Mountain historical site. This sacred mountain is believed to have been a place of worship for thousands of years and is now a popular pilgrimage site for locals and tourists alike. Being one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, the unique culture begs to be experienced. While here, visit their bustling bazaar and compare it with the one in Bishkek which bears the same name.
Yurt Camp: Choose to stay in a yurt camp or at least walk through one. Yurts are traditional nomadic dwellings made of felt and wood, still used by many locals in the countryside. Not only are these camps interesting to visit, but they also offer fun activities such as horseback riding and eagle hunting.
Karakol: Travel to this ancient Silk Road city and experience the area’s history. This charming town is located on the eastern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul and is home to several historical sites, including the Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral, built in 1895. This town also serves as a gateway to the nearby Tian Shan Mountains, making it a popular base for treks and expeditions.
Talas: Learn about the legendary conqueror, Tamerlane, while visiting this city. Believed to be the conqueror’s birthplace, a visit to the museum dedicated to his life and achievements is warranted. While here, make sure to see the many ancient ruins and monuments in the area.
Traditional Kyrgyz activities: Take a class from a skilled master to learn the traditional activities of falconry and horseback archery. These unique pastimes are still popular among the locals and offer unforgettable experiences.
National Dish: Taste the country’s national dish, Beshbarmak. Translated as “five fingers”, it is named accordingly since this hearty meal is traditionally eaten using only the hands, without the use of utensils. Made from horse and sheep meat, the stew is served over noodles with an onion sauce.
By Lisa Osborne Blalock
Footloose Travel & Tours