There are not many countries left on this planet still off the international tourist radar. Kyrgyzstan is one of them. Search it on booking.com and you will find barely any results. The inner Asian country is beautiful beyond belief, but due to its lacking touristic infrastructure, you really have to pack wisely.
Normally I am not a big fan of packing lists. Any person with common sense knows what to pack for a week in the Caribbean’s or New York. Kyrgyzstan is different. Different because it essentially boils down to: You won’t have what you didn’t pack. Big stores are rare and limited to a handful of bigger cities. There is no H&M, Zara or Primark either, where you could easily stock up some basic shirts or underwear. Hotels virtually don’t exist outside the capital, and I doubt there exists a word for laundry parlor in Kyrgyz.
Things are changing in Kyrgyzstan, but change is slow. So if you plan to visit the country (if you are still in doubt, read my list of 20 amazing experiences to have in Kyrgyzstan) these are the items you should definitely pack for Kyrgyzstan:
Note: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. I do not recommend products I have not reviewed thoroughly myself.
There are so many beautiful mountains, hills, and treks around Kyrgyzstan, you’d need more than a lifetime to see them all. Packing a pair of very comfortable hiking shoes (above your ankles) is more than recommended. Mountains reach up to 7,000 meters of altitude and more and even the capital is located 700 meters above the sea level. Walking sticks might be a good idea as well.
2Big backpack or easily carriable suitcase
You will probably be moving around a lot. Porters don’t exist in Kyrgyzstan and if you don’t carry your luggage, nobody else will. So having it all in a big backpack or duffle sack kind of suitcase will be a good idea. Most tours are by car, but they won’t be able to park directly in front of each yurt camp, etc.
You will be hiking a lot. Having a small daypack along to store some water, photo gear, etc. will make your hikes to much more enjoyable. Pack a waterproof cover and look for a very light-weighted one, since you will notice every single Gramm in the high altitudes. Personally, I am traveling with a special backpack to store my photography gear and laptop. Found one I am very satisfied with (Here is the link).
If you are girl, you might want to check out this super helpful guide to the best backpack for women, as I am honestly am not an expert in that particular area. ;-)
Kyrgyzstan and western hygiene standards don’t go together. Everything will be somewhat dirty. Absolutely don’t eat anything that wasn’t cooked (or isn’t hot anymore). Kyrgyz love to prepare salads hours in advance and leave it standing on the table, same applies for cookies, bread and basically any other food stuff you will find on most (rather overloaded) dinner tables.
Only drink tea (out of clean!!! china) or bottled water and skip the rest. Absolutely don’t try Kumus (fermented horse milk) or any other non-boiled drink you will find at every street corner. That being said:
- Bring strong anti-diarrhea medicine
- Bring Hand Sanitizer
There are steripens and sterilizing tablets for water, but truth be told a lot of the fresh water you find in the many rivers and streams is not exactly very clean, often very sandy or chalky.
Other than that you really should take a well-stocked travel pharmacy bag along.
- Band-Aid (plaster)
- one-way syringes
- something against a cold
- a simple fever Thermometer
- Blister Plasters
The next pharmacy might be a two hour’s drive (or a day’s ride away). Best ask your doctor what you need.
5Emergency phone & GPS
In Kyrgyzstan, you won’t have any signal in the mountains. Your mobile phone is almost worthless. So you really need a fall back for an emergency situation. A Satellite Telephone with a Prepaid SIM card might be a smart investment!For occasional hikers, a GoTenna might be a lovely & cheaper alternative. It allows you to write text messages even if you don’t have a signal. (Find out more about the GoTenna here)
6Pack Toilet paper for Kyrgyzstan
Western standard toilets are a rare sight in Kyrgyzstan. Usually, there is just some sort of outhouse with a hole in the ground. There usually will be some Russian toilet paper that is remarkable stretchable despite its sandpaper-like structure. So bringing toilet paper is a good idea. As there is a high chance of getting diarrhea, wet toilet paper/ or wipes might be a good idea. The latter you will be able to find at one of the few big supermarkets.
7Emergency charging devices
Almost all big towns in Kyrgyzstan are on the electricity grid these days. So in hostels and guesthouse, you will be able to recharge your electronic devices. Yurt camps are a whole different matter. Most will have an electric aggregator, but usually no standard fuse boxes (electric devices are connected directly). Mostly they only switch on the aggregator between 8 and 10 pm.
So depending on your travel route, having a solar powered charger, extra batteries for your camera and external charging devices for your mobile will be a live saver. If you travel by car, you should also consider bringing an adapter for the car. Make sure it has enough power for your charging devices. This is the one I bought (from Aukey) and I am very satisfied with it (see picture above).
Back alleys in small towns will be unlit at night, while yurt camps won’t have any or very few lights. For Kyrgyzstan you really should pack a small flashlight is recommended (the Outlite A100 High Powered Tactical Flashlight did the job for me).If you do a lot of hiking or plan to stay in a lot of yurt camps, packing some more powerful lights is recommended. Even in summer it will be dark after 8 pm. (if you are romantic, you might want to pack a candle or two!)
July is, generally-speaking, the warmest and best travel time for Kyrgyzstan. But that really doesn’t mean it won’t rain. In fact, you should count on a little rain. Having a good rain jacket, maybe waterproof pants, and water repellent shoes is recommended, especially if you plan to spend time in the mountains or in the high areas. You should also consider packing your items in plastic bags, as water can seep through. If you are doing a bus tour, a light rain jacket will probably suffice. Or better yet, a poncho (I really like this one and recommended it elsewhere already)
It is possible to experience all four seasons in one day in Kyrgyzstan – even in July. Especially in the mountains, nights will still be very cold (actually close to the freezing point or even below above 4,000 meters), but in the lower plains temperatures can also rise above 30 or even 40 degrees. So pack very versatile and think in layers. An equal mix of short and long-sleeved tops and trousers is recommended.
Also, skip the pretty and aim for functionality and fast-drying stuff. It can be damp, wet and naturally you will also sweat a lot on hikes. Fast-drying also comes in handy if you plan to wash your clothes. Kyrgyzstan is somewhat Islamic, but clothing for modesty will be a vain effort as you will notice very fast. There are plenty of mosques around the country, but none worth visiting (save that for Uzbekistan or Iran).
11A towel and a wash cloth
Most (but not all) guesthouses will supply you with a towel, while you won’t find them in all yurt camps. These days there are countless companies offering fast-drying synthetic travel towels (I am very satisfied with these here)
As functioning and warm showers (let alone bathtubs) are rare in Kyrgyzstan, you should also consider packing a small wash cloth.
Hair dryers are not available either, but power is a problem as well. I always pack a small travel hair dryer, but if you go backpacking, I wouldn’t bother.
I have been to countless 6-star luxury hotels around the world. Too often we take shampoos, conditioners and body lotions from major high street labels as granted. If you are lucky, you will find a sliver of soap around a Kyrgyz sink. The (again) rare big supermarkets have basic toiletries in stock, but I’d recommend you to pack your own stuff because searching for them might take a little longer than expected. Shampoo, toothpaste, and deodorant are a must.
Sun protection with a high sdf value (I love Neutrogena) is also highly recommended, as the sun above 3,000 meters will be verrrrrrry intense.
13Instant coffee and milk
Are you addicted to your vanilla frappuccino with chocolate sprinkles? Well then, prepare for the Betty Ford Clinic. Outside the capital Bishkek, you will not be able to find fresh coffee at all. Unsweetened milk also doesn’t exist (despite the abundance of cows), and either way you shouldn’t drink it unboiled.
So if you don’t want to spend your vacations drinking low-quality coffee, absolutely pack whatever instant coffee you favor. Also do bring some milk powder along, as this is even rarer to find than coffee.
I found these brewing bags online and used them to great success (and MUCH envy from fellow travelers). I admit that they are not that cheap, but you will thank me when you are enjoying a rare steaming fresh cup ;-). Here is a link to the Honduras Coffee mild version.
Much like in the rest of Asia, putting off your shoes whenever you enter a house or a yurt is required of you in Kyrgyzstan. If you are prone to cold feet, better bring along some house shoes or warm socks. In some places, you can buy local felt house shoes, though I wouldn’t call these touristic offers abundant.
As showers (if there are any) tend to be less hygienic than you’d want them to be, bathing shoes might be a good idea (Do consider Teva style sandals; can double as them).
15A knife and a cup
Cups with a handle don’t exist in Kyrgyzstan, glasses are very rare and finding a serviceable knife on your table will be a lucky day. While you will survive without packing a pocket knife and a travel cup, it will not hurt to have them along. If you plan to go on multiple day hikes, there is no way around them anyway.
Do remember to not store the knife in your hand luggage! ;-)
Kyrgyzstan has a very rich wildlife (especially birds). It will be a rare day you won’t see an eagle or falcon circling above you. If you want to take a closer look, having binoculars along is a must. I am using a small and light-weighted one from Vanguard. Am very satisfied with it, though I am aware that there are both cheaper and more expensive binoculars.
17Spices & instant food
This might be a very weird item on a packing list, but it is still something I wish I had packed on my first trip to Kyrgyzstan. Basically, all Kyrgyz food tastes the same. Salt, pepper, dill and garlic are the only spices they seem to use. If you want some variety, bring something along to spice up the simple fare.
Also, you might want to bring along some instant food. After 4 weeks of eating the ever same soup (broth with a potato, a carrot and a piece of meat) and some version of minced meat with onions 2 times a day, eating a 50 cent box of instant mashed potatoes tasted like heaven. I even once had a small box of instant Spaghetti Bolognese and, then and there, I was sure I found the formula for luck. (On shorter trips you will probably not mind at all).
18A sleeping bag liner
Not all yurts and hostels will provide you with fresh linens (or rather what most Europeans would consider freshly laundered). Sometimes having a sleeping bag liner will ensure a better sleep. If you are not sensitive about it, you can skip wasting luggage space with a sleeping bag liner, while you would probably take it along anyway if you plan to sleep in your own tent.
19A travel pillow
Depending on how well you sleep, you really should consider packing a travel pillow. I personally found the pillows provided in most yurts to be too small and too hard for me (mostly stuffed with felt), but I know that a lot of my friends can basically sleep on the blank floor without much trouble. I really like this one – it can be a real lifesaver on the plane.
There are few places on this planet with a more stunning nature & landscape than in Kyrgyzstan. So you really should pack plenty of photo gear. A telephoto lens will be needed if you want to capture the wildlife. Make sure you have waterproof packing and basic cleaning utensils, as life on the road will be rough.
Also, make sure you have enough memory cards as you will not find a shop outside Bishkek that carries them (same applies to about any other photo gear).
Now you might call me crazy when I propose bringing along a warming bottle, but bear with me. Yurts, especially in high altitudes, won’t be exactly warm and cozy at night. Oftentimes the bed will be quite damp and chilly. Also remember that in traditional yurts you will actually sleep on the floor (though felt mats are used as a buffer).
Sometimes you will find a stove in the yurts, but the heat will only hold for a very limited time. On my first trip to Kyrgyzstan I improvised a warming bottle from a standard water plastic bottle (gotta be careful; never fill boiling water into a plastic bottle). Was the best idea I ever had and I soon even convinced our guide to its benefits.
22A small hand mirror
Mirrors are very rare in Kyrgyzstan. You won’t find one in most yurt camps and even in guest houses I often did not find one. Shaving without a mirror was quite a challenge, but I also saw that many of my fellow tourists in Kyrgyzstan did altogether without this daily morning routine.
23Travel washing paste
On a long trip, you might want to wash some clothes. As there are no hotels or washing saloons, it basically boils down to convincing some of the locals to wash your stuff (like the landlady of your guest house) or do it yourself the old fashioned way. I always pack some washing paste along. Works like a charm for underwear and t-shirts.
Last tips for your Kyrgyzstan packing list
So that’s it. That is my “little” packing list for Kyrgyzstan. I kept it very specific with a little explanation. I didn’t write a lot about clothing, because that really depends on the kind of activity you are planning and when you are coming. I am sure you will be able to work things out. If not, do ask me in the comments below.
I also recommend you to back very wisely. As I said in the beginning: you probably won’t have what you didn’t pack, as there are no shops selling high-tech gear AT ALL. Backpackers certainly should keep it down to the basic necessities and probably know the routine anyway. On the road, every single Gramm matters – doubly so since you are facing extremely high altitudes.
Note that this Packing list for Kyrgyzstan contains affiliate links. While I tried to choose items I really like, I still have to point out that I earn a small commission from each sale. It helps me support this blog.