Kyrgyzstan, Asia - Stein Travel
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Dominated by towering mountains and breathtaking natural beauty, the Kyrgyz Republic in Central Asia is not a well known travel destination, despite the fact that it is one of the most welcoming republics in the region.

Kyrgyzstan boasts some of the highest mountains in the world with 23 peaks over 19,685 feet (6,000m), and is often referred to as the 'Switzerland of Central Asia'. The challenge of climbing these remote giants of nature has long been an irresistible lure for mountaineers, although for most of the 20th century the area was off-limits to foreigners outside of the Soviet Union. Ala-Archa National Park includes approximately 20 glaciers and 50 peaks and offers dozens of horse trekking, hiking, climbing and skiing possibilities. The mountains are also home to lakes, including Lake Issyk-Kul, which at 105 miles (170km) long and 43 miles (70km) wide is the second largest alpine lake in the world after Lake Titicaca in South America; the less touristy Song Kul; and Jeti Oguz, which has some spectacular mountain formations and thermal springs. Another popular attraction in Kyrgyzstan is the walnut forests of Arslanbob.

Among this abundance of natural splendour lies the attractive capital city of Bishkek, famous for being one of the greenest cities in the world thanks to its profusion of trees and parks, while the ancient city of Osh near the Uzbekistan border is allegedly 3,000 years old and is full of historical interest. Osh is also famous for its lively market, which is reputedly one of the most colourful in all of Central Asia.

The Kyrgyz, the country's largest ethnic group, are traditionally nomadic herders having originated from Siberia in the 13th century. Their nomadic habits continue today as families herd their sheep, yaks and horses back up to the mountain pastures (jailoo) every summer where they live in round hide tents known as yurts. The tradition of horse riding is part and parcel of the Kyrgyz culture and numerous festivals and games are centred on this activity. Hospitality is another key function of their way of life and visitors will find it difficult to pass by without an invitation to share in a drink of fermented horse milk, or kumys, an acquired taste by anybody's standards.

Information & Facts


Generally most people speak Russian and most business is carried out in Russian in Kyrgyzstan; translators are available. Business hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm (March to October).


Kyrgyzstan's climate is extremely diverse due largely to its mountainous landscape. Most of the country is temperate with little rainfall and lots of sunshine, but the south-western Ferghana Valley area is subtropical with very hot summers. Generally the lowlands average 21-24°F (-6°C to -4°C) in January and 61-75°F (16-24°C) in July, while the highland mountainous areas range from 46-54°F (8-12°C) in summer and 7°F to -4°F (-14°C to -20°C) in winter. Snowfall in winter is heavy.


The international dialling code for Kyrgyzstan is +996. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the UK). City codes for Bishkek and Osh are (0)312 and (0)322 respectively. Mobile coverage is fairly widespread in populated areas, and local SIM cards are easy to purchase.


Identification should be carried by travellers at all time while visiting Kyrgyzstan. Although Kyrgyzstan is a secular state, most Kyrgyz people are Muslim and visitors should respect local customs, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. Dress is conservative. It is bad etiquette to take photos of people, particularly women, without their permission. Shoes must be removed when entering a yurt (nomad's tent), and refusing an offer of kumys (fermented horse milk) might cause offence. Homosexuality is frowned upon.

Duty Free

Adults over 16 may bring the following into Kyrgyzstan without paying duty: 1, 000 cigarettes or 1, 000g tobacco products, 1.5 litres of alcohol and 2 litres of wine, and perfume for personal use.


Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. European plugs with two circular metal pins are in use.


There is a risk of malaria from June to November in Kyrgyzstan, mainly in the areas bordering Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but most cases are in areas rarely frequented by tourists and a generous amount of bug spray should be sufficient to ward off the disease. Visitors are recommended to drink bottled water only. Medical care and medical supplies are limited and it may be difficult to find someone who speaks English. Comprehensive medical insurance is advised, which should include air evacuation.


Kyrgyz is the official language followed closely by Russian, which is understood and spoken by almost everyone in Kyrgyzstan.


The official currency is the Som (KGS), which is divided into 100 tyiyn. US dollars are the easiest foreign currency to exchange at banks and official exchange offices. Major hotels in Bishkek usually accept credit cards, but Kyrgyzstan is predominantly a cash economy. Few ATMs are often hard to come by: Bishkek has plenty, while tehre are a few in Osh and Issyk-Kul. Travellers exchanging money in Kyrgyzstan should note that they'll get a better exchange rate by changing larger bills, and that many counters will not accept dirty or or wrinkled notes.

Passport Visa

Most foreign nationals can obtain a visa on arrival in Kyrgyzstan. This visa is valid for one month, and costs between USD 40 and USD 100. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.


Visitors are often a target for muggings and theft, mainly in the cities, but also occurring in the rural areas. It is therefore not advisable to display wealth, take unofficial taxis or public transport, or walk in unlit areas at night. There is a low threat of terrorist activity particularly in the south west. The political situation is tense due in part to continuing high levels of corruption and crime, and all demonstrations should be avoided. Tensions also exist over recognition of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek borders and most governments advise against travel to the Ferghana Valley area, as well as along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. While major cities such as Bishkek and the Issyk-Kul region are fairly stable, it is advised that the situation could deteriorate rapidly in any area of the country. Avalanches and mudslides in mountainous areas are common in the spring with the snow melt, and this leads to frequent road closures and disruption to transport.

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