A detailed list of all my favorite things to do and the most important tourist attractions in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan might just be one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Even though Kyrgyzstan has so many places to visit, the landlocked country in Central Asia sees hardly any tourists (only 1,2 million stays according to official statistics; my hometown, Munich, has ten times that amount). But let me tell you, there are just so many beautiful things to do in Kyrgyzstan.

I really cannot fathom just why it is so unpopular. Probably a lot of people fear the “-stan”. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan – the whole region isn’t exactly known for its uneventful history. 

A traditional yurt camp in Kyrgyzstan near a mountain lake
A picturesque yurt camp near Song Kol Lake

That being said, Kyrgyzstan stands in stark contrast to many of its neighboring countries. It may not be a very rich country, but its people are extremely hospital, the criminality is very low (except bribery) and the political situation is also totally stable. The only thing the country is lacking (yet) is a good touristic infrastructure.

But let that not shy you away. I visited the country (see my itinerary here) and I’ll share my favorite 20 things to do in Kyrgyzstan with you. There are not many tourist places in Kyrgyzstan, so be prepared for a wild adventure!

1. Horse riding

Horse riding in Kyrgyzstan over a high mountain mass among a beautiful blooming meadow.
Me riding a horse across a wild lavender meadow

The Kyrgyz people follow a long, long nomadic tradition. I did not find any official statistics, but I bet there are twice as many horses in the country as people (and yet again twice as many cows, goats, and sheep). If you have not ridden on one of the beautiful Kyrgyz horses, you have not been in Kyrgyzstan at all.

2. Staying in a yurt

A traditional yurt close to Son-kul lake in Kyrgyzstan
Inside a traditional yurt in Kyrgyzstan. You actually sleep on felt mattresses on the ground.
Inside a traditional Kyrgyz yurt (where you still sleep on the ground)

Number two on any list of things to do in Kyrgyzstan should be staying in a traditional (!!) yurt. In summer they pop up like mushrooms all over the country. All of them are family-run, so you will have the unique opportunity to get in contact with the nomadic traditions. In recent years, the yurt camps have started to cater to the whims and wishes of western people, so it actually is getting harder to find one, where you still sleep and dine on the ground.

3. Watch a game of Ulak Tariysh or Odarysh

A game of Ulak tarish. The horse game is Kyrgyzstan's national game and fun to watch
Kyrgyz men competing in a game of Ulak Tariysh

Ulak Tariysh is the Kyrgyz national game. Much like Polo (which is actually derived from the horse games of central Asia), it is played by two teams of 6 riders each…..and one grizzly beheaded sheep carcass. Almost every village will have a team or two, and matches are held every week. Special matches are held on Independence Day (31. August). Seeing the unbelievable skill of the Kyrgyz riders in action will be well worth your time.

A game of ordarysh. The wrestling game is done on horseback. Whoever falls down first, loses. Definitely put this on your list of things to do in Kyrgyzstan
Two youths wrestling on horseback (Odarysh)

Odarysh is another national game in Kyrgyzstan. It is pretty much like wrestling – only you do it on horseback. Having seen it, I got not the slightest clue how these guys can cling to the saddles the way they do. The goal, you have to know, is throwing your opponent off the horse.

Apart from Ulak Tariysh and Odarysh there are a couple of other national games. Archery, Falconry, tug of war, and quite a lot of other unique sports that are still practiced throughout the nation!

4. Be amazed by Tash-Rabat

The Silk Road caravanserai Tash-Rabat close to the board to china in Kyrgyzstan
The Silk Road caravanserai Tash-Rabat

Tash-Rabat is an ancient Silk Road caravanserai that survived the ages almost unscathed. It is located in an utterly beautiful valley in the far south of the country (only a couple of kilometers away from the Chinese border). Here you will get a tiny glimpse into the life on the Silk Road you will not be able to get anywhere else in the world. If you want to know more about this spectacular site, make sure to read my article about Tash-Rabat.

5. Visit Kyzyl-Oi

Sweeping red mountains in the Kyzyl-Oi distric in Kyrgystan. Not many come here yet, making it a perfect thing to do in Kyrgyzstan
Red mountains painted by the gods in Kyzyl-Oi

Kyzyl-Oi means ‘Red Valley’, and the name was not given lightly. The small town is located at the bottom of a breath-taking gorge towering over you with red clay. But actually, the clay is sometimes browner, and sometimes even yellow. So your vista will constantly be crowded with the most amazing shades and hues, creating an almost surreal feeling.

Kyzyl-Oi in Kyrgyzstan shrouded in early morning mist
Early morning above the valley of Kyzyl-Oi

Many interesting rock formations have been created due to rains and winds over the eons. Absolutely grab a local guide to show you around. There are just so many things to do here, that a week would probably be not enough for a passionate hiker. Personally speaking, I’d say that Kyzyl-Oi is, in fact, one of the best tourist attractions in Kyrgyzstan.

6. Visit Son-Kul Lake

Son-kul lake with two yurts standing near its shore in Kyrgyzstan
Reeds near the shore of Son-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan. Many birds breed and live in the dense foilage
The marshlands of Son-Kul lake are full of birds (so bring your binoculars)

Son-Kul (sometimes Song Kol or Song Köl) is one of the highest mountain lakes in the world. With a length of 29 kilometers, the amazing lake is located at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters. In summer the shore will be sprinkled with yurt camps and grazing animals. It is also known for its rich birdlife, making it a paradise for ornithologists.

7. See Jeti-Oguz

The Seven Bull rock in Jeti-Oguz Kyrgyzstan. Red clay has been weathered down forming these impressive rock formations
The towering hills of Jeti-Ögus

The town of Jeti-Ogus or Jeti-Ögus is one you will not forget so fast. Its name translates to seven bulls because of the more than impressive red rock formation towering above the town. I cannot stress enough how very beautiful it is! Absolutely put it on your list of things to do in Kyrgyzstan. It might just be the most famous place in Kyrgyzstan.

The former house of yuri gagarin near Jetti Ogus in Kyrgyzstan.
The houses where Yuri Gagarin is said to have trained near Jetti Ögus

But there is more. If you follow the river further upwards, you will enter the most beautiful valley. In fact, the valley looks a bit like taken straight from a movie about Heidi. Further up in the mountains you will find a small settlement consisting of 4 houses. Yuri Gagarin is said to have trained here. Certainly a special place – not sure if I would call it one of the top tourist attractions in Kyrgyzstan ;-)

8. Wildlife experiences

An eagle circling above the mountains of Kyrgyzstan
An Eagle flying high above the Kyrgyz mountains

Kyrgyzstan’s nature it almost unspoiled. There are so many uninhabited mountain regions that it’s possible to see virtually untouched nature. You will have no problem at all spotting an eagle. In fact, they seem to be so common, that you will have to be blind to not see one.

Beyond the western shore of Issyk-Kul, you will find a snow leopard rehabilitation center. If you got the time, you should definitely stop by to see the fantastic animals. Tracking them down in the wild, however, might be a tiny bit too difficult.

A group of wild bactrican camels resting near the shore of a mountain lake in Kyrgyzstan
A group of Wild Bactrian camels

Kyrgyzstan has a lot of half-deserts and smaller desert regions. Here you will have the unique possibility to see wild Bactrian camels. It feels utterly unreal to stand amongst a flock of 30 or so.

A marmot looking out for eagles in the high mountains of Kyrgyzstan
A marmot high in the Kyrgyz mountains

Other than that you will be able to see many birds of prey, maybe deer, maybe Marco Polo sheep and quite possible Marmots. My, how I like these cute little fellows! Oh..and you will see horses….plenty of horses!

9. Bath in the Issyk-Kul Lake

The beach of the Issyk-Kul lake. Of all the things to do in Kyrgyzstan this suprised me the most. Never thought you could actually see beaches like in italy here.
The beautiful beach of Issyk-Kul Lake

Issyk-Kul is the second largest mountain lake in the world, only rivaled by Lake Titicaca in South America. It may not be as high, but it is just as stunning. It is surrounded by high mountains on all sides, so there are plenty of hiking and horse riding opportunities for you.

The beach in Tamshy, Kyrgyzstan. Located at the issyk-kul lake, many locals come here in summer
Locals on the beach of Issyk-Kul on a warm summer day

BUT, unlike its cousin in South America, you can go swimming in Issyk-Kul. The water is surprisingly warm and you have the most beautiful beaches. It somewhat looks like in Italy – only without the crowd and mountains some 6,000 meters high in the background. Simply amazing!

10. Swim in the Tuz-Kol salt lake

You have probably heard of the Death Sea, a sea so salty that no fish live in it, so salty that you don’t need to swim to stay buoyant. Well then, Kyrgyzstan has its own version – Tuz Kol, one of the most peculiar points of interest in Kyrgyzstan. Located close to the Issyk-Kule Lake, Tuz-Kol is almost as salty as the Dead Seas. Especially the salty mud is said to have healing properties and quite a few locals come here to enjoy the warm waters.

11. Go hunting with eagles

Me hunting with eagles in Kyrgyzstan
Me holding a proud Kyrgyz eagle

Eagles are the national bird of Kyrgyzstan. Unlike in many other countries in the world, they are quite abundant in Kyrgyzstan. Ever since the dawn of history, the Kyrgyz people used eagles to hunt. Actually, eagle hunting is even a competitive sport in the country. Since there are so many eagle men, you should definitely go visit one!

12. Visit famous Karakol

The russian orthodox church in Karakol Kyrgyzstan. If you are looking for things to do in Kyrgyzstan, this should be on your list.
The orthodox church of Karakol

Karakol is the fourth largest city in Kyrgyzstan and quite the teeming city. Like most cities in Kyrgyzstan, it is not very old. It dates back to 1869 and was founded by the Russian military as an outpost. Even today the city feels very Russian. Definitely, drop by to visit the orthodox church.

The horse and animal market in karakol is a wonderful thing to see in Kyrgyzstan. Only held on Sundays
The gigantic cattle market of Karakol

Your main highlight, however, should be the animal market. Every Sunday half the country seems to converge on the bazaar to sell their livestock. Horses, goat, sheep, and cows are being offered to those willing to buy them for their meat or breeding capabilities.

13. See the Burana tower

The famous Burana Tower, quite close to the capital Bishkek. Of all the things to do in Kyrgyzstan, this is what most tourists will cover.
The famous minaret known as the Burana Tower

The Burana Tower is the remains of an ancient minaret dating back to the 9th century. It is all that remains of a huge city the so-called Karakhandis established on the fertile plains. It is one of the very few architectonic highlights of the country.

14. Go hiking beyond Kyrgyzstan’s tourist attractions

hiking in the high mountains was my favorite thing to do in Kyrgyzstan
Me, perched on a rock outcrop above Kyzil-Oi

This item on my list of things to do in Kyrgyzstan is kind of trivial: with so many mountains in the country, there is no way around hiking. Much as I loved riding over the rolling hills, hiking connects you way deeper with the landscape.

Hiking in the beautiful mountains of Kyrgyzstan

And my, what a landscape it is. I have honestly never seen more beautiful mountains than in Kyrgyzstan. People always ask about famous places and the best things to see in Kyrgyzstan, but I am not sure if that is actually the right question. The country as a whole is just so beautiful that you can basically go hiking everywhere and see spectacular things. Get a local guide so he can show you the points of interest if needed.

15. Visit Talas

A yurt in the oblast of Talas in Kyrgyzstan
Traditional Yurts in Talas

Talas is an enchanting region in the northwestern part of Kyrgyzstan. It’s not far from Bishkek, and the border to Kazakhstan is also quite close. Here’s a blog about Talas Kyrgyzstan you will enjoy.

16. Watch the making of felt

A family making felt on the streets of kyrgyzstan. This is actually the traditional way - rolling it over and over for hours.
A local family making felt on the streets

If you have ever stayed in a yurt or visited a local family, you will have noticed huge felt tapestries adorning walls and lining the floors. Many Kyrgyz people are wearing the traditional felt hats, so you should definitely take the opportunity to visit one of the many felt making centers scattered across the country. If you ever see a family rolling a strange round parcel around on the main street, definitely stop. They are making felt :)

17. Eat Beshbarmak

Beshbarmak is the national food of Kyrgyzstan. Traditionally eating with the fingers of the right hand, it tastes a bit like Spaghetti Bolognese
The Kyrgyz national food Beshbarmak

Beshbarmak is Kyrgyzstan’s national food. Translated as “Five Fingers”, it is basically horse meat with noodles (though you will find it with any other kind of meat as well!). A true Beshbarmak banquet will feature a table almost bursting with foodstuff. Definitely, eat it in a yurt for the most authentic experience.

19. Hike the Alamedin Gorge

The Alamedin Gorge near Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan
Horses grazing in Alamedin Gorge

Only a couple of kilometers away from Bishkek you will find a beautiful mountain gorge called Alamedin. Many locals come here because of the (rather ancient) Russian spa, where you can soak away in healing Radon water. As a western tourist, you should probably concentrate on the beauty of the valley, as the spa is in a decrepit condition.

19. Get in contact with the Kyrgyz people

An old Kyrgyz woman in her traditional headdress. She is specialized on embroidery and felt making
An old woman wearing the traditional Kyrgyz costume

Last, but certainly not least, you really should get in contact with the Kyrgyz people. They are a mountain people and somewhat reserved. So don’t expect them to greet you with wide-open arms and a “hi, how are you, where have you been, come in, have a cup of tea, where are you from”. But if you take your time, if you are truly interested, you will be able to explore a true treasure trove of stories and experiences. You will also get to experience the fabled Kyrgyz hospitality – so definitely give it a try!

Other things to do in Kyrgyzstan

Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.

High alpine mountains with wild lavender in the foreground. Kyrgyzstan at its best.
Wild lavender fields in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Regular readers will already know that I really like the numbers 20: 20 things to do in Cusco, 20 things to in Paris, and now 20 things to do in Kyrgyzstan. In reality, there are obviously so much more places to explore and things to see in a country as diverse and beautiful as Kyrgyzstan.

Most people, however, will only have a limited amount of time, so endless list serves nobody. So, given enough time, you could possibly go exploring the Soviet past. The southern shore of the Issyk-Kul lake is home to the most fantastic rock formations AND some of the highest mountains on this planet.

You don’t need to be afraid to run into tourist traps because frankly there are no other tourists to speak off. Security is, by and large, no issue. At least I did not encounter any. Human Rights Watch is a bit more critical about Kyrgyzstan, but I guess those concerns will not affect you as a tourist.

Kyrgyzstan is largely unchartered territory. If you see something awe-inspiring (which happens virtually 10 times a day) stop the car, get out and enjoy it. Take a hike if necessary – I doubt you will regret it. Definitely bring along a map (don’t count on your internet connection) and have a guide book along.

I can utterly recommend the Bradt Travel Guide to Kyrgyzstan.
In fact, I have been chatting with one of the authors before my trip, so do give it a try. Still, it is certainly not the only fish in the pond, so here are some more recommendations I found very helpful.

Where to stay in Kyrgyzstan

Usually, I like to close my articles with recommendations for accommodations. From personal experience, I know how utterly hard it is to find honest, non-sponsored opinions on the web, so I feel the need to share mine. For Kyrgyzstan, I am having a very hard, hard time. Mainly because I have no found a single hotel, guesthouse or yurt camp I could really recommend.

They were, with one exception, all abysmal by western standards. No electricity, no running water, no warm water, no toilet, shared bathroom, and stale food were the common characteristic of most of them. Personally, I did not mind so much because I was here for the stunning nature and that’s the traditional way of it.

Many people I know, however, would mind. So taking your own camping gear might actually be a good idea to be on the safe side.

The pool of the Hyatt Regency in Bishkek Kyrgyzstan. The only true luxury hotel to speak off
The pool of the Hyatt Regency in Bishkek

But there is one hotel I can recommend. You will most probably arrive in the capital Bishkek. Absolutely consider staying at the Hyatt Regency (here’s a link where I booked the hotel; you can see prices and more pictures). It is, frankly speaking, the only hotel with a western luxury standard in the whole country.

You cannot imagine how blissful I felt diving into its perfect pool after 3 weeks on the road. It’s certainly not the cheapest hotel, but then again all other accommodations in Kyrgyzstan will cost you 10 US-Dollar a night, so there is room for some expenses ;-)

So that’s it. That has been my list of the 20 best things to do in Kyrgyzstan. Hope you found the information helpful. If there are any questions, just let me know in comments below.

20 amazing things to do in Kyrgyzstan. You cannot miss these outstanding tourist attractions when you visit the almost forgotten country in Inner Asia. Looking for other points of interest in Kyrgyzstan - this travel guide will tell you. Click fo more.


    • Heya Mega,
      you really should go. Kyrgyzstan is just beyond lovely. A country where it is impossible to hold your camera still. Just remember to go in summer, as it can be extremely cold in winter!

  1. I’m also from those people who would love to visit Kyrgyzstan. And not only Kyrgyzstan but all of those countries ending with ”stan”. All of those things in that list are awesome. The yurts are actually looking very nice. Well, it’s not a luxury hotel with a pool, but I believe the experience is far more amazing.

    • Tho sleeping in a traditional yurt is hm..less romantic than it sounds. No heating, no toilet, no bath room..it’s..well..just like a normal tent…just bigger and with worse insulation :P

  2. hi Norman,

    Great article! I am glad you have really enjoyed the country. But I have to strongly disagree with you one one point “Hyatt is the only hotel with a western luxury standard in the whole country.”

    If you check any reliable global internet travel sites such as tripadvisor or booking.com you can clearly see which hotels have top guest ratings. You can absolutely be sure that those ratings are coming from all people from around the world. Hyatt’s guest rating in booking.com is 8.3 (very good). But there are other western standard hotels that have higher ratings than Hyatt like Golden Tulip (8.5), Smart Hotel Bishkek 8.8 (Faboulous), Damas International Hotel (9.0 Superb), Solutel Hotel (9.6 Exceptional). These are the ones I would recommend.


    • Hey Talgat,

      thank you for your input. First of all, I know that many people rely on tripavisor ratings. But these people obviously wouldn’t read my blog in the first place (cuz they ended up on tripadvisor). All the hotels you recommended may be decent, but none of them has a pool worth its name or a good restaurant.

      Also, the good rating of Soulhotel is based on 96 reviews. It is also, despite only average service, interior design, location and, placed at the top on most booking sites. Which means the good rating is probably bought with a very high share for the booking sites & low prices to warrant such a good position.

      This industry is rigged to the core. Unlike what you may think, ratings on most “internet travel sites” are anything but reliable – especially if you are looking for true luxury. It’s quite common that agents from booking sites will call a hotel, promising them a better placement in the search, if they will offer a discount, lower they rates or simply pay money.

      When I say, the Hyatt is only hotel with western luxury standard in Kyrgyzstan, I meant it. That’s my personal opinion, and I really cannot offer my readers anything else. Checking ratings on booking.com and then telling my readers which hotel is the best, would mean my blog is totally superfluous. I want to share my opinion, which is based on more than 30 years of luxury traveling – not superficial research ;-)

  3. Hi Norman,

    Thanks for the great article, we’re planning to go this July, but still wondering how. We are coming from Georgia or Baku Azerbaijan and probably flight is the best way. We would like to rent a car, but is that possible or is a driver must? We would also like to visit Uzbekistan, but do you know if this is doable via land or is the flight again the best option? How about train connections, how are those in Kyrgyzstan? And last question: have you been to Turkmenistan? :)


    • You could perfectly rent a car for Kyrgyzstan and drive around yourself – as long as you got a map & know where u are staying. But the road system is not all that complicated. You should be a good driver though, as some roads are a bit challenging.

      As the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is frequently blocked (they really don’t like each other all that much), I do recommend taking a flight. Renting a car and driving around Uzbekistan is not a possibility – or well it is, but it will be quite a bureaucratic nightmare to get that approved by the government.

  4. Hey Norman,
    Thank you for the article but as you said that theirs a lot of places in Kyrgyzstan worth visiting can u send me the information? I’m going to study medical their for 5 years so yeah.. I’ve a lot of time to enjoy the beauty of this country. I’m from India and I’ll be studying in Kagma University Bishkek.
    Thank you. :)

  5. Thank you very much for this incredible article! I am currently working in Azerbaijan and will be hading out to my Central Asian adventure in a couple of days. I will be taking the cargo ship across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan and enter Kyrgyzstan via train from Tashkent.
    Your article has definitely given me a good idea of what to expect and I slowly start thinking that I won’t have enough time to do everything I want, blimey!

  6. I’ve been searching for unusual places to go to with an unique or different approach to tourism and you nailed it with this, the pictures are perfect and the text was really capturing, not too many unnecessary details, just a good short comment is always sufficient with eye-capturing pictures like yours! Going to read more of your travel guides since this one was the actually the best one i’ve ever read, no doubt.


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