Figuring out visa requirements and arranging how to get to and from international airports can be one of the most stressful parts of international travel. Thankfully, getting through Manas International Airport in Kyrgyzstan is quite easy these days for citizens of the European Union, America, Canada, Japan, and several other countries (www.kgembassy.org). Citizens of 44 countries can currently travel to Kyrgyzstan visa free, making the only required travel documents for Kyrgyzstan a valid passport! As an added bonus, those who enter Kyrgyzstan visa free can travel for as long as 60 days in country.
If your country is not on the visa free list, it will fall in one of two groups: 1) those that can go through a simplified visa procedure (meaning you will be able to obtain an invitation letter easily in your home country) and 2) those that need to get visa support in Kyrgyzstan to visit. If your country falls within this second group, you will need certain documents to travel to Kyrgyzstan which you will have to get via a sponsor in Kyrgyzstan who will provide you with visa support. Your sponsor will obtain an invitation letter for you that will allow you to procure your visa. Typical visa support runs anywhere between $75-$100. Besides things like a valid passport, invitation letter, and visa, there are really no other travel requirements to get into Kyrgyzstan.
ESCAPING THE AIRPORT
Ok, let’s get down to the juicy stuff. You’ve touched down in Kyrgyzstan, made is past passport control, hefted your luggage off the conveyer belt, and coasted through customs. Now comes the gauntlet of taxi drivers waiting just outside customs to “help” you get to Bishkek.
If you’ve been wondering, “Do they steal in Kyrgyzstan? Do I have to worry about pickpockets?” In general, stealing is not rampant in Kyrgyzstan, but when it comes to taxi drivers, the ones waiting for you just outside customs will probably try to rip you off. This is probably the worst kind of “thievery” you will experience in Kyrgyzstan.
So trust me, stay far away from these taxi drivers; they will practically assault you as make your way out of the airport, even going as far as grabbing your bags and dragging them out to their vehicle. Do NOT let them! These guys are aggressive and overpriced. Once you shrug them off, things get a lot calmer.
Public Transit Options to Get to Bishkek from Manas Airport
If you want to rough it and take public transit into the city, once you walk outof the glass doors leading outside, turn to the right and 20-30 meters away there will be a place to grab a minibus called a marshrutka into the city. It is extremely cheap, but also very hectic. Make sure you are diligent about hanging onto your purses and wallets. Again, people that pickpocket and steal in Kyrgyzstan are pretty rare, but not unheard of so just take basic precautions to keep track of your stuff. One other thing to be aware of is that these marshrutkas do not run all the time, only during daytime hours.
Taxi Options to Get to Bishkek from Manas Airport
There are a lot of taxis that will sit outside the airport waiting for a fare. To use one of these guys, just walk up to them and negotiate a price into the city.The going rate these days (March 2015) is around 500-700 som ($8-12), but be aware that these prices can fluctuate a little as the som fluctuates. If someone tells you it will cost $40 to get into the city though, feel free to scoff and walk away.
Manas Airport actually has their own taxi service called ManasTaxi Service amazingly enough. If you use one of these taxis, they will meter your trip into the city. Their official logo is a checkered symbol in the shape of a plane and they will be easy to find once you step out of the airport.
Private Pick-Up at Manas Airport
If you do not want to deal with the hassle of negotiating with taxi drivers, you can contact a travel agency in Kyrgyzstan ahead of time and they can arrange an airport pick-up for you through a local travel company. Going this route will be more expensive (anywhere from $25-50), but also gives you some nice benefits. For example, many of these companies employ English speaking drivers that will not only get you to the city, but even help you take care of some necessary errands such as buying a sim card for your phone, driving you to a good place to exchange money, showing you where decent grocery stores are, etc.
GETTING FROM BISHKEK BACK TO MANAS AIRPORT
If you are staying at a hotel in Bishkek, the most stress-free way to get to the airport is to have your hotel arrange a taxi for you. However, if you do this, make sure to confirm the price of the taxi with the hotel desk before actually getting in the taxi to make sure your driver does not jack up the price on you.
If you are not staying at a hotel and need to arrange your own taxi, there are several taxi services you can call:
1) Manas Taxi Service: they currently have a flat rate of 400 soms to get you from Bishkek to Manas Airport. Manas Taxi’s phone number in Bishkek: +996 312 693 000.
2) Namba Taxi: this is one of the largest taxi services in Bishkek. You can ask for your ride to be metered. Namba Taxi’s phone number in Bishkek: +996 559 976 000.
3) Ydacha Taxi: this is another one of the largest taxi services in Bishkek. You can ask for your ride to be metered. Ydacha Taxi’s phone number in Bishkek: +996 312 443 344.
As long as you are armed with the right information, getting to and from Manas Airport is fairly pain-free. If you book a tour through a travel agency in Kyrgyzstan, not all, but many of the tours include airport pick-up and drop-off as part of the tour price. Your travel agency can also either help you take care of any required travel documents you may need to get into Kyrgyzstan or point you in the right direction of who to contact regarding visa support. So, whether you are an independent traveler or working with a travel agency in Kyrgyzstan, getting into Kyrgyzstan and to and from the airport is extremely doable.
Photos by Vlad Ushakov, photo by Ryan Gaddis, photo from source: airliners.net