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How to travel in Kyrgyzstan

If you enjoy trekking, horseriding and camping, then Kyrgyzstan is most certainly for you. Here you can find nomadic traditions, central Asian mystique, Soviet-era trappings and a few spectacular prehistoric and Silk Road sites. Travelling in Kyrgyzstan is generally safe, also for solo women travellers (of course, you need to follow some general safety rules like everywhere in the world).

Location: Landlocked in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, China to the east and southeast, Uzbekistan to the west and Tajikistan to the southwest.

Population: around 6 million

Capital: Bishkek

Language: Kyrgyz, Russian. In the capital you hear mostly Russian, in the villages Kyrgyz language. If you can speak Russian it’s not a problem to travel here, younger generation can generally speak at least basic English as well. Of course, you can always use body language, and don’t forget – smile gets you further!

People: Super friendly, helpful and curious. It’s not rare to get invited to local home/yurt for a tea or lunch.

Kyrgyzstan-Map

Kyrgyzstan on the map. russiasperiphery.blogs.wm.edu

Currency/prices: Currency used in Kyrgyzstan is the som (KGS). 1 € = 84 som (Febr ’18). Compared to Estonia the cost of living in Kyrgyzstan is rather cheaper: transportation is very cheap, groceries a little cheaper (alcohol, tobacco and sweets much cheaper), accommodation is also a little cheaper, even though rental prices are quite similar.

SIM-card: To get a local number is fairly cheap depending on the service provider. I paid around 120 som including internet for a week, but depends which offer you choose and it is possible to recharge your SIM-card in special payment automats at the mall or even at local village shops where the cashier will call the service provider and the SIM-card is recharged. It is possible to buy a SIM-card almost everywhere, from the stores or from the sellers on the streets.

Visa: Check your country here: https://caravanistan.com/visa/kyrgyzstan. For Estonians Kyrgyzstan is visa free for 60 days.  Then, plan A, you have to buy a visa or, plan B, cross the border of one neighbouring country, for example, it is easiest to go to Kazakhstan (30 days visa-free). Kazakhstan is only 30 minute bus ride away from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Crossing the border is easy and if you wish you can just return and get your another 60 days visa-free in Kyrgyzstan!

Food: Traditionally Kyrgyz people eat a lot of meat, including horse meat. In bigger cities cafes and restaurants offer traditional food as well as sushi and pizza. In bigger grocery stores you can find almost everything you need, except whipped cream (Check the story: here). A daily must have (in the local families) is a lot of white bread called “nan” with jam. It is possible to get fresh vegetables at the markets (bazaars) all year around.

Transportation

Plane: The main airports are Bishkek, Karakol or Osh Airports.

Marshrutka: Marshrutka aka minibus is the most common and also the cheapest means of transportation in Kyrgyzstan. Prices vary depending on the distance, for example, driving form Bishkek to Karakol will cost you 400 som (approx 5€). Keep in mind that marshrutkas will not start their journey before all seats are taken! This is the case with shared taxis as well and might mean waiting a couple of hours. Marshrutkas are also public transportation in Bishkek, ticket is 10 som (after 9pm 12 som), trolley bus ticket is 8 som. You have to pay for the ticket when entering marshrutka and directly to the driver, when taking the trolley bus you have to pay when you get off and you won’t get any tickets in return. Even though there are special bus stops in the city, then more often you just need to ask the driver to stop. Also when you want to catch the bus you should wave the driver that he would pick you up. Very useful webpage and a app is 2GIS (www.2gis.ee), which works fe in Bishkek and also in Kazakhstan cities Almaty and Astana. 2GIS works perfectly offline as well and after entering your destination you can check the exact buses you need to take to get there. Includes info about bars and places where to eat.

Shared taxi: Between bigger cities you can also take a shared taxi, which is more expensive than a marshrutka, but more comfortable and faster.

Accommodation: What ever you are looking for you can find: fancy hotels, laid back hostels, comfortable homestays, camping is allowed almost everywhere (not in national parks), Couchsurfing is active. Mostly you are able to find a place in a hostel for 4-6€.

Nature: Kyrgyszstan is covered with mountains: 90% of the country is mountanious, 85% are higher than 1000 m and 40% higher than 3000 m from the sea level. There are countless small mountain lakes, many rivers and glaciers, numerous hiking trails to discover. Highest peak is Jengish Chokusu: 7439 m. They mine uranium and gold.

Climate: Four seasons. Spring generally lasts from March to May, summer from May to September, autumn from September to December and winter from December to Februrary (and repeat :D). Kyrgyz weather is mainly described as continental climate, which means that summers are hot and winters cold. Due to big differences in height from the seal level weather can be quite contrasting in different parts of the country. The temperatures in lower regions can go up to 40 degrees (Celsius) in the summer and during winter some regions experience degrees under -30. Make sure to have different layers of clothes! On average, there are 245 sunny days per year in Kyrgyszstan! 

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Some wild berries can be found at local bazaars

 

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