What makes Kyrgyzstan so enticing for travelers looking for something fresh is that the country feels largely untrampled by tourists. It fact, large parts of the country feel untrampled by anyone at all save the occasional wandering nomad and horses. Some alpine lakes can only be reached on foot, some hot springs tucked away in the mountains, by horseback. Outside the cities, signs are few and far between (as well as gas stations sometimes) in this country where 90% of the terrain is blanketed with mountains and 70% of the roads are dirt and gravel. This makes much of Kyrgyzstan’s landscape feel raw and ready to be explored. It’s a little bit like America’s Wild West, minus the gun fights and saloons.
Here are some destinations you can explore using one of these means:
A breathtaking destination located outside of Karakol is the Arashan Gorge which houses secluded hot springs tucked away in the mountains. The steaming waters are enclosed by wooden, lockable sheds for visitors to enjoy a nice soak. Travelers can reach the hot springs via a 16km trek or horseback excursion.
Kel Suu is a high altitude alpine lake (3600m, 11,800ft) formed by the rumblings of a strong earthquake. It’s located in a remote region near the Chinese border and the “road” is only accessible by 4×4 vehicles from July to August. Expect to trek the last kilometer up to the lake. Sheer mountain rock rings the perfectly turquoise lake. Its depth is unknown.
Located in the Jalalabad Province, Arslanbob’s most popular attraction is its wild walnut forest. These ancient walnut groves, that were famous even during the time of Alexander the Great, are the single most massive natural location of walnut growth in the world (11,000 hectares, 27,000 acres) and produce 1,500 tons of walnuts each year. Horseback expedition tours are available, but you can also explore the forest on foot.
The village of Jeti-Oguz is famous for its rock formations. The name “Jeti-Oguz” actually means “seven bulls” and earned the name from the 7 large, red mountain peaks that bear a resemblance to 7 angry bulls. There also a nearby waterfall you can visit by foot or horseback.
Song Kul is another of Kyrgyzstan’s high altitude alpine lakes (3,000m). The mountain pastures surrounding this lake are said to be the most beautiful in the country. The road to Song Kul is accessible by 4×4, horseback, or for the physically fit, foot or bicycle. Housing is available in yurt camps run by friendly Kyrgyz families. It’s a perfect weekend or long-term excursion for those looking for some peace and quiet without having to bring their own tent.
ALA-ARCHA NATIONAL PARK
This national park is a local getaway for people that want to escape the cacophony of Bishkek 40km to the north. Kyrgyz and Russian families grilling meat and having picnics are common sights in the summer in the lower, flatter section of the park. Otherwise, Ala-Archa is a fantastic place to go hiking or mountain climbing. There are 20 glaciers, 50+ mountain peaks, 2 rivers, numerous trails, and an alpinist cemetery. It’s possible to cycle or horseback through parts of the park as well.
These destinations are mere samplings of all the possible excursions you can take in Kyrgyzstan. What is your outdoor sport of choice? Whether it is bicycling, trekking, horseback riding, or jeep trips Kyrgyzstan has more than enough excitement to satisfy even the most demanding of travelers. With remote landscapes that range from the austere to lush always with the dramatic backdrop of snowcapped mountains you will find yourself breathless from more than just the altitude!
Photo by Sergey Kalachev, Pavel Kosenko, www.mountpix.livejournal.com