When I was planning our around the world trip, I read a Lonely Planet travel book that lists all countries from A-Z and Kyrgyzstan caught my eye. It may be the smallest of the “stan” countries, but the warmth and hospitality of its people and striking natural beauty intrigued me. It was also a bonus that it’s VISA free.
After travelling there I can attest to the fact that Kyrgyzstan is an outstandingly beautiful country and its people are incredibly kind. It’s a country for the adventure seekers out there. Hiking, horse trekking, 4x4ing in the Tian Shan mountains…there’s plenty of outdoor activities to choose from.
Day 1: Bishkek
Bishkek, is the capital city of Kyrgyzstan and home to the Manas International Airport. We stayed here for one night to organize all of our belongings before we set off into the wild. Bugu Hotel is exactly what we needed after our flight. The central hotel has a modern interior and excellent amenities, such as air conditioning, a rain shower, flat screen tv with HDMI cord, and free breakfast. It’s also great value for what you get. We paid $60 USD for one night. Next door to Bugu is a cute trendy café, Mocco Coffee Bar, where we drank lattes and worked on our computers.
We set out into the city to grab a bite to eat and buy SIM cards. We were between the companies O! and Beeline. We decided on O! since it was close by, but later regretted it as our SIM cards stopped working after one week even though we paid for two weeks. We also later realized that O! has 3G whereas Beeline has 4G! About halfway through our trip we changed to Beeline SIM cards.
Next we checked out Mystic Spa, which had good reviews on TripAdvisor. The massages were an excellent price and started from $17 USD for a one-hour classic massage. We booked the 90-minute honey massage and were satisfied with our treatment.
We finished off our night with Netflix, a bottle of wine, and some snacks.
Day 2: Kochkor
The next day we arranged transportation to Kochor, the starting point of our 3-day horse trek to Song Kol Lake. Our hotel quoted us the prices of $80 CAD for the 2.75 hour drive, but we knew we could get it for cheaper. If you go to the bus station you can barter with the drivers there. There are shared taxis, which you can buy a seat and wait for it to fill up with other passengers, or you can buy out the whole taxi. We were able to negotiate to buy out the whole taxi for $52 CAD.
We stayed at Guesthouse Nur, which is a lovely homestay in Kochkor. We had a home-cooked Kyrgz meal and a good night’s rest. The price was $22 USD for a private room for two people.
Day 3 & 4: Song Kol Lake
Song Kol is an alpine lake surrounded by high mountain pastures where shepherds graze their livestock and live in yurts. It's situated at 3016m and can be reached by either hiking or horse trekking.
The scenery as we rode our horses through the mountains and valleys is something we’ll never forget. Once we saw our first glimpse of Song Kol Lake at the top of a mountain on Day 2 of our horse trek, we couldn’t believe its striking beauty. If you’ve never ridden a horse before, have no fear. The horses are friendly and are well trained. If you’re a more experienced rider, your guide will let you trot and gallop through the meadows! We saw herds of horses, cows, and sheep running through the hills. Each yurt camp we stayed at also had a friendly dog and kitten to play with.
Since most of the trek is around 3000m in altitude there are some comforts you’ll have to give up.
We booked our tour with Kyrgz Riders since they take you to authentic nomadic yurt camps, rather than the more commercialized yurts. The owner of the company, Aman, is very friendly and speaks good English. We were able to combine our Song Kol Lake horse trek, visit to Tash Rabat, and 4x4 to Kel-Suu into one package. We paid $400 USD per person for the 5-day tour which included all meals. Bring cash!
Day 5. Tash Rabat
On the third day we dropped our horses off at a yurt camp along the lake where a 4x4 vehicle and driver were waiting for us. Our next destination was Tash Rabat, a 15th century stone historical inn along the Silk Road, an ancient network that connected the East to the West. After staying the last two nights in shared yurts, we were delighted to have our own room at the yurt camp nearby.
Day 6 & 7: Kel-Suu
The next morning, we had a long 7-hour drive ahead of us. To our surprise it went by quickly as we were excited to discover the Tian-Shan mountain range. Kel-Suu is on the border zone between China and Krygyzstan, so you need a permit to be able to drive through the area. Kyrgyz Riders organized the permits and we just needed to have our passports ready at the two border crossings.
Kel-Suu is a bright blue glacial lake located inside a canyon, however we were unlucky as the lake had a rare dry spell during August and was almost completely dried up! Our tour agency let us know of this beforehand, but we were happy we chose to go anyway. It was completely stunning in the region and one of best parts of our stay in Kyrgyzstan. Once we arrived at our yurt camp, we decided to rent horses for the trek up to the lake. We were happy with our decision since there’s a river you must cross to get there. We would recommend going to the lake in the morning to have the best light.
Jyrgal's Yurt Camp is set in a remote area and offers private yurts. At night time it gets a bit chilly, so the owners light up the stove inside to keep you toasty warm. Once it got dark, we stepped outside and saw the brightest stars we’ve ever seen in our life. The arid conditions, high altitude, and remoteness make for great star gazing.
We only stayed one night in Kel-Suu, but wished we stayed for more!
Day 8 & 9: Issyk-Kul Lake
On the last day of our tour we were dropped off Bel-Tam Yurt Camp in Bokonbeyo. We chose this yurt camp as it was situated right along Issyk Kul Lake, the second largest alpine lake in the world. However, by this point we were ready to stay in a guesthouse or hotel, since we had spent the last 4 nights in yurts. The lake is a must see, but we would recommend staying in a place with amenities such as a hot shower that you’ll likely desire after a psychically demanding tour.
Day 10: Bishkek
After 7 days of Kyrgz cuisine, we couldn’t stop day dreaming about North American fast food. We were ecstatic when we found out Bishkek had a KFC. Once we arrived at our hotel we ran out the door as fast we could. We stuffed our faces with tons of fried chicken and it felt as satisfying as dining at a Michelin Star restaurant. It was finger lickin' damn good.
I went a little overboard and organized a 5-hour spa package at Mystic Spa. I got a 2-hour massage, facial, and shellac manicure & pedicure. Each treatment was excellent and a great close to our eventful trip.