The mountainous central Asian country defined by its natural beauty is considered by some as the ultimate under-the-radar travel destination. Our guest blogger Norman from Années de Pèlerinage tells us why he thinks everyone should visit…
Kyrgyzstan might just be the most beautiful country in Inner Asia. Sweeping landscape, high mountains, and beautiful wildlife are so commonplace, your eyes will start hurting from all the natural highlights. Yet, so very few tourists come to the landlocked country as many have never even heard of it. To change all that, here are 10 reasons why you absolutely need to visit this amazing country.
The landscapes are breathtaking
Kyrgyzstan is a land of utter beauty. Everywhere you look, you’ll see the breath-taking mountains, valleys and lakes. As Kyrgyzstan is only very sparsely populated, the landscape is virtually untouched by man. You’ll see the occasional flock of sheep or goat, but other than that it will be you and nature. In a way it really looks a bit like the Austrian alps (just compare it to Vorarlberg). The only difference: The mountains are twice as high, there are 10 times as much wild animals and everything is sprinkled with flowers!
Sleep like Genghis Khan
There is no denying that Kyrgyzstan has a long nomadic tradition. A tradition that is still pretty much alive. Sure, the Russians started building cities in the 1930ies, but the people still cherish their old way of life. In summer you will see yurts shooting up like mushrooms all over the countryside. The sturdy round tends can be rented. You should definitely stay at least one night and sleep on the ground like Genghis Khan once did!
There are more than 400,000 horses in Kyrgyzstan. That is the official number at least. In reality, it feels like there are twice as many horses as people living in the Inner Asian country. As a tourist you can hire a guide and climb the impressive mountains on horseback. How cool is that? Never rode a horse before? Don’t worry, the locals are very good at teaching you how to do it!
The sheer diversity of the country
More than 90 Percent of Kyrgyzstan are covered with mountains. What sounds monotonous as hell, is actually one of the most diverse countries on this planet. Some of the mountains reach up to 7.000 meters of altitude and beyond, while others present you with otherworldly rock formations – it’s a geologist’s dream. It’s not hard to capture mountains with 5 different colours on one picture, easily a good enough reason to visit Kyrgyzstan on it’s own!
The beautiful beaches
Beaches? In a landlocked country? Yes, you heard that right! Europe isn’t the only place on this planet where beautiful mountains meet blue water. The Issyk-Kul lake has long been a favourite among the locals. Its blond beaches stretch for miles and miles, with snow-capped peaks providing a picture-book background. Despite the high altitude, the water is pretty warm (around 20-23 Degree Celsius) and in summer temperatures can rise up to 30 degrees Celsius and more.
Kyrgyzstan is home to an uncounted amount of birds. Over 360 different species are said to breed and life in the country. But it’s not just sparrows and finches. Hiking through the high mountains, you will have no hard time spotting falcons or even majestic eagles soaring above your head on their hunt for marmots and other abundant alpine animals. Those audacious enough to climb even higher yet, will have to chance to see snow leopards and Marco Polo sheep, while in the lowlands rare camels found a still undisturbed habitat.
Unique games and spots
All over Europe (baring perhaps Scotland’s highland games) you will find the same sports: Soccer, tracks and fields, racing and so on. Few authentic sports remain, usually more an oddity than a nationwide passion. The heart of Kyrgyzstan’s sport tradition is still beating, and it is beating fast. Most popular among them is Ulak Tarish. A horse game, much like polo, played by two teams competing over (and now it gets grizzly) the decapitated carcass of a sheep. You will find playing fields all over the country and games every week.
Hiking to the top of the world
The highest mountain in Kyrgyzstan is called Jengish Chokusu and boast a staggering height of 7,439 meters. Now there is no need to climb that high into the famous Tien Shan mountain range (even though you can!), but you definitely shouldn’t visit Kyrgyzstan without going at least one hike. Since you can basically start from your doorstep, you will have no problem finding suitable destinations. When in doubt, visit Kyzyl-Oi. The red and yellow hills will convince even the laziest walker to take that extra step.
The lack of tourists
You will have a hard time finding a country as beautiful as Kyrgyzstan without a crowd to match that beauty. Only on a rare day, you will meet a fellow tourist on a hike. Most of the time it feels like you were the only human being within a radius of 100 kilometers. Finding accommodations can be a problem, as there are almost no hotels either. On a more positive note, you will not find the typical souvenir stands and other of mass tourism. Camping is possible (and in fact recommended), as is sleeping in the yurts.
It’s super cheap
The national currency of Kyrgyzstan is called Som. One hundred Soms are approximately 1,50 US-Dollar. One thousand (or the equivalent of 15 US-Dollar) will buy you a stay at a good guesthouse or yurt camp, including breakfast and dinner. A decent meal at a restaurant will start anywhere around 200 som. Maybe the best: Hitching a ride is very common among locals, and many will offer to take you for a small sum. You will probably need less than 20 US-Dollar per day for seeing the utter beauty of the country. What a small price to pay!
All words and images by our guest blogger Norman. Norman has been exploring the remote corners of this world for more than 30 years. When he is not traveling, he is writing about it from Munich for his blog Années de Pèlerinage.