Why you should visit Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian Switzerland

  • Endless trekking opportunities in Central Asia's Switzerland

    Trekking the superb alpine Keskenkija Loop

    Unless you’ve got a good grasp on geography, you’ll be forgiven if you don’t know about Kyrgyzstan. In fact, a common response to travelers telling tales from their visits to this wonderful country is "What-i-stan?" or "That’s a country?" or "How do you spell it?" Yet, the word is getting out, Kyrgyzstan is Central Asia’s version of Switzerland: green, alpine and an outdoor-lover’s dream.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Trekking the Heights of Alay

    Trekker on the epic Heights of Alay route

    Sandwiched between the Pamir and Tian Shan ranges, Kyrgyzstan is a land of mountains, with 80% of its terrain made up of the vertical. Bordering China, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, it’s a trekking and climbing wonderland. Routes, like this multi-day Heights of Alay trek, will challenge and thrill anyone with a penchant for mountain walking.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Tup River Valley, Jyrgalan

    Overlooking the Tup River in the Jyrgalan Valley

    Verdant river valleys, like this one along the Tup River on the Keskenkija Trek in eastern Kyrgyzstan, offer trekkers an unspoiled and empty paradise that sees few visitors, while at the same time offering a burgeoning tourist infrastructure, as well as visa-free access.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Wildflowers galore

    Enjoying fields of wildflowers on the alpine Keskenkija Trek

    The flower fields of Kyrgyzstan rival those anywhere in the world. The high mountains are covered in wildflowers in June and July. In fact, in some places, there aren’t even any trails or paths to take around them, they just carpet the entire plateau!

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Atop the Sary Mogul Pass

    Tackling the Sary Mogul Pass on the Heights of Alay trek

    High passes connect the valleys, and some, like the challenging Sary Mogul Pass, at 14,120 feet, will literally and figuratively take your breath away. Community based tourism projects have marked the routes, employed guides and porters, and made access to the mountains of Kyrgyzstan much easier.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Atop the Jiptick Pass

    Endless views from the Jiptick Pass

    The epic Heights of Alay trek in western Kyrgyzstan offers sweeping vistas and multiple pass crossings, staying over 10,000 feet for the entire trek. The Jiptick Pass is usually the first pass tackled by hikers, and can have snow on it even in the middle of summer.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Open spaces are a Kyrgyz norm

    Descending a pass on the Heights of Alay trek

    There are few travelers on the high mountain routes, even in the summer "high" season, and you’re often rewarded with endless views all to yourself, usually crossing into different valleys and types of terrain each day.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • World's best campsite

    Beautiful alpine camp below the Sary Mogul Pass

    You can free camp anywhere in Kyrgyzstan. In fact, many of the Kyrgyz are nomadic herders, moving their animals and yurts up into the high pastures during the warmer months. You’re guaranteed a sublime view and a flowing stream just about anywhere you pitch.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Another world's best campsite

    High alpine camp on the Keskenkija Trek

    The high pastures are known as jailoo, and are the perfect spot to pitch a tent, looking out on the surrounding mountains and valleys below,. They're also prime spots chosen by nomads as their summer grazing grounds.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Lone yurt under the high Pamir

    The High Pamirs rise over a lone yurt along the Pamir Highway

    You might not have any other tourists around you, but you also might be not be alone. Kyrgyz set up their yurts in these sublime spots, although there is always plenty of room for visitors. This yurt has a magnificent view of the High Pamirs, home to Peak Lenin, which is 23,406 feet, marking the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Yurts feature prominently on the Kyrgyz landscape

    Yurt camp in the Tian Shan Mountains

    There are yurts along many of the mountain and hiking routes, and you’ll be warmly welcomed at all of them. In some places, community based tourism yurts have sprung up, offering hikers meals and a place to sleep, making trekking without a tent or stove possible.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Some yurts are posh!

    Upscale yurt stay, colorful and comfortable

    The interiors of yurts are often quite regal, padded with colorful carpets and rugs, heavy wool blankets, and wood burning stoves, ensuring a warm night even at altitude.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Freshly baked nan beckons tired trekkers

    Baking fresh nan bread over an open fire

    Kyrgyz hospitality dictates that guests are served tea, a variety of dairy products ranging from fresh yogurt or freshly churned butter to hard cheese balls known as kaymak. All are served with nan flatbread, baked either in a tandoor-style oven or else out over an open fire.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Horses are the way to go

    Horses crossing the Tup River

    An ancient proverb says that "Horses are the wings of the Kyrgyz," and in the 19th century, there were said to be some two million horses in Kyrgyzstan. There are still summer games held across the country today where locals gather to show off their horse riding prowess.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Horses can handle every type of Kyrgyz terrain

    Horses riding over the Jyrgalan Pass

    Horses are used to everything from crossing rivers to going over high passes. Locals today have gotten involved in guiding horse treks for visitors, or just acting as porters for carrying food and equipment on multi-day journeys.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Kyrgyz boys are natural riders

    Kyrgyz boys are naturals, learning how to ride from an early age

    Kyrgyz boys master riding techniques from a very early age, even as young as three, and it’s common to see kids even without their fathers galloping across the high pastures or crossing river valleys by themselves.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Verdant Jyrgalan

    Verdant valleys in beautiful Jyrgalan

    The steep valleys of beautiful Jyrgalan, a former economically depressed coal mining area in eastern Kyrgyzstan, now have the country’s first horse trekking program for visitors, as well as the the country’s first "freeride" skiing program, where horses take skiers and their gear up into the mountains, and then leave them to plunge downhill in wild backcountry powder on their own.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Beautiful Toktogul

    Dramatic color contrasts along the Toktogul Reservoir

    It’s not just the mountains that are beautiful in Kyrgyzstan. Toktogul is a hydroelectric dam and reservoir surrounded by arid, yet stunningly colored rainbow mountains, on the road from Bishkek to Jalalabad.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Fields of sainfoin

    Summer sainfoin fields

    Even just outside of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, you’ll find multi-colored fields of sainfoin, a perennial herb of the legume family, growing with the arrival of summer.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • Men with kalpaks

    Kyrgyz men with kalpak hats

    The locals provide plenty of color as well. Kyrgyz men wear some of the coolest hats you’ll ever come across. These long felt hats called kalpak are made of white sheep felt and decorated with symbolic designs. Dating back to the mid-1400s, the four sides of the hat represent earth, air, fire and water.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

  • The Kyrgyz national hat

    Kyrgyz kalpaks, a national symbol

    Kyrgyzstan even celebrates the hat with a national holiday. National Kalpak Day is held every year on March 5, and celebrated with nationwide singing and dancing. The hats are highly revered, make for great souvenirs and are yet another unique feature of this captivating country.

    Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis