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Kyrgyzstan

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Kyrgyzstan (Кыргызстан, formally the Kyrgyz Republic (Кыргыз Республикасы) is a Central Asian country of incredible natural beauty and proud nomadic traditions. Landlocked and mountainous, it borders Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the southeast. Annexed by Russia in 1876, it achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It has the most liberal tourist visa policy in Central Asia and one of the more progressive post-Soviet governments in the region. It is called the Switzerland of Central Asia.

Regions

Due to the presence of several mountain ranges, Kyrgyzstan can also be divided into northern and southern regions. The northern (and cooler) region consists of Chui, Issyk-Kul, Talas, and Naryn oblasts. While the southern (and warmer) region contains Jalalabad, Osh. and Batken. The southern half of Kyrgyzstan is also part of the Fergana Valley, a fertile agricultural region shared by Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.

Cities

  • Bishkek — the national capital and largest city by far.
  • Balykchy — the western gateway to Lake Issyk Kul.
  • Jalal-Abad — a good bet for visiting a Ferghana Valley town, as it is significantly safer and easier to get to than Osh or destinations further southwest.
  • Karakol — a gem at the remote east end of Issyk Kul.
  • Kochkor — just south of Balykchy, serves as a launch pad for treks up into the Tian Shan Mountains.
  • Naryn — right up in the Tian Shan, near Lake Song Kul, the gateway to the entire southeastern region, its ruins, mountains, and high alpine lakes.
  • Osh — Kyrgyzstan's second largest city, a fascinating, 3,000 years old, wildly diverse, Ferghana Valley market town home to Central Asia's biggest and busiest outdoor market.
  • Talas — a northwestern town just north of Besh-Tash National Park
  • Tokmok — dwarfed by nearby Bishkek, but still large by Kyrgyzstani standards, Tokmok is right by the ancient Burana Tower and the ruins of an ancient Silk Road capital, Ak-Beshim.

Other destinations

  • Lake Issyk Kul — pearl of Central Asia, an enormous, crystal blue high alpine lake up in the Tian Shan Mountains.
  • Lake Song Kul — Issyk Kul's little cousin, far more remote, and many would say more beautiful as well.
  • Lake Kul Ukuk
  • The caravanserai of Tash Rabat — a well-preserved 15th century stone caravanserai near Naryn.
  • Burana Tower — all that remains of the ancient Silk Road capital of Balasagun, a massive minaret standing alone on the step.
  • Ala Archa National Park — gorgeous Tian Shan high alpine landscapes within easy striking distance of Bishkek.

Understand

History

The ancient Scyths inhabited much of present day Kyrgyzstan. With their disappearance the Kyrgyz people moved from Siberia. The Kyrgyz are descendants of tribes from the Tuvan region of Russia, which migrated to the area now known as Kyrgyzstan in the 13th century, during the rise of the Mongol empire. In 1876 the area was incorporated into the Russian empire and later the Soviet Union. With the tsarist annexation came numerous Slavic immigrants that displaced many of the Kyrgyz and planted crops on their pasture lands. During World War I, many Kyrgyz refused to support the tsarist troops and many were massacred.

Following the creation of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan changed dramatically as industrialization took over and brought factories, mines, and universities. The Soviet influence on Kyrgyzstan was strongly felt and many of the pre-Soviet traditions and cultures were lost and are only being recently rediscovered. In addition, ethnic minorities were deported to Kyrgyzstan, including Germans, Kurds, Chechens, Poles, and Jews. In addition, Ouighur and Dungan Chinese Muslims settled in Kyrgyzstan. This mix of populations makes Kyrgyzstan one of the most ethnically diverse populations in Asia.

On August 31, 1991 after unrest in various regions throughout the Soviet Union, a coup in Moscow against the regime of Mikhail Gorbachev failed. This move against the central government motivated the Kyrgyz power structure to declare independence from the Soviet Union. Also during that time the only non-communist party backed president was elected in the Central Asian region, a physicist named Askar Akayev.

As for President Akayev, it became evident that non-party affiliation did not guarantee honesty. The executive branch’s power increased through suppression of opposition and the President secured immunity from prosecution for himself and his family. After several years of questionable elections, in March 2005, massive groups of protesters from around the country converged on the capital, causing Akayev to flee into exile in Russia.

The leader of the Tulip Revolution, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, formed an interim government and served as president and prime minister until later that July when emergency elections were held. Bakiyev ran for the office of President and won, but was unable to gain parliamentary approval of his cabinet until five months later. After several attempts to resolve a constitution, Bakiyev declared in 2007 that all previous versions of the constitution were illegal, and instituted a modified constitution from the Akayev era. He then dissolved parliament and called for an early election to reform the parliamentary structure. The President’s own party gained the majority and the U.S. State Department expressed deep concern about the conduct of the elections, citing several issues including widespread vote count irregularities and exaggerations in voter turnout. Some of the current problems that Kyrgyzstan faces today are universal throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States, namely lack of political freedom, widespread corruption and negative influences on democracy.

Climate

The climate varies regionally. The south-western Fergana Valley is subtropical and extremely hot in summer, with temperatures reaching 40°C (104°F). The northern foothills are temperate and the Tian Shan varies from dry continental to polar climate, depending on elevation. In the coldest areas temperatures are sub-zero for around 40 days in winter, and even some desert areas experience constant snowfall in this period. The best time to visit northern Kyrgyzstan is from June to September, though the foothill cities like Bishkek are very hot (up to 35°C). Most beautiful for hiking in the low mountain areas is between April and June, when the mountain slopes are flushed with blooming flowers. March to October is ideal for southern Kyrgyzstan. From October high mountains passes can be closed.

Landscape

Entirely mountainous, dominated by the Tien Shan range; many tall peaks, glaciers, and high-altitude lakes. Highest point: Jengish Chokusu (Pik Pobedy) 7,439 m. The mountains are beautiful for hiking.

Culture

Kyrgyzstan has a wide mix of ethnic groups and traditional cultures, with the Kyrgyz being the majority group. It is considered there are 40 clans that represent the 40 rays symbolized by the 40-rayed sun on its national flag. The traditional poem is the Epic of Manas, the name of the epic's eponymous hero, and is approxiamtely longer with 500,000 lines.

Get in

Citizens of all countries, including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, may apply for tourism, business and group tourist types of visa for 30 or 90 days online through the Kyrgyz Republic eVisa system.[1] Evisa holders must arrive via Manas International Airport, Osh International Airport and Ak-jol checkpoint on the Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan border.

Citizens of currently 45 countries: [2] can enter Kyrgystan without a visa for 60 days. For 20 further countries you can get the visa at the Manas airport in Bishkek upon arrival: [3]

By plane

The main hub for Kyrgyzstan is the Manas airport in Bishkek, but also Osh Airport is increasingly well linked with great flight offers. Both airports have regular services to the international hubs in Istanbul and Moscow. In addition there are several flights a week to regional hubs in Tashkent, Ürümqi and a weekly service to Dubai. For more information see the Bishkek#By plane or the Osh#By plane section. Other destinations close to border include Almaty in Kazakhstan or Tashkent in Uzbekistan, both a 5 hour drive away.

By train

Trains to Bishkek depart from Moscow and other stations in Russia a few times a week (3714km, trip takes more than 3 days) going through Kazakhstan (Kazakh transit visa is required for those who need it). Details can be found at poezda.net [4] or rzd.ru [5] (the second one available only in Russian and contains current ticket prices which were about €100 in 2008 for "plackartniy" class). On the train it is forbidden to carry portable stove fuel cans.

By car

Driving in Kyrgyzstan is by Western standards dangerous. However, the government has invested very heavily in reconstructing a core network of roads that now rival the highways in many western nations. The principal highway from Bishkek to Osh is an engineering marvel through the mountainous region. Further, the highway from Osh to the Chinese border at Irkeshtam and from the village of Sary Tash to the Tajikistan border is being reconstructed in stages to international standards. Many other highways are likewise being rehabilitated as funding permits. In addition, the maintenance roads that feed into the core network are being improved as funds become available. Likewise, maintenance is being privatized on an experimental basis. This is not to say that driving in the Republic is easy. But given the limited economic resources progress is being made.

In the cities and outlying areas locals have become used to missing road drain covers, dry dusty roads (where water tankers sometimes sprinkle water to keep dust down) and generally bad roads that are not effectively maintained.

If you get stopped by the police it's likely to cost some money.

From Kazakhstan, the road from Almaty to Bishkek is the busiest. The border at Kegen may be more difficult to get across. Frequent and obvious smuggling happens in this border and it's quite obvious that the immigration and the border guards are in cahoots with the smugglers. Visa on arrival is not possible here and if coming from Kazakhstan, make sure you have at least a double-entry/multiple entry visa for Kazakhstan in case of troubles with Kyrgyz border officials.

Watch out for mini buses pulling out too.

Journey times:

  • From Kazakhstan to Bishkek - from Almaty which takes 5 hours and from Taraz which takes 5 hours.
  • From Uzbekistan to Bishkek, the road goes through Kazakhstan and drive would take more than 10 hours, and to Osh in the south
  • From Tajikistan to Osh the road from Khudjant (Tadjikistan) and through Batken (Kyrgyzstan) further to Osh. The road is one of the most difficult to drive. The main road goes through the Uzbek enclaves but there is also an alternative way around the enclaves. If taking a taxi, remind the driver to go around the small bit of Uzbekistan. There is also a road from Khorog to Osh.
  • From China there two passes - Irkeshtam leading to Osh and Torugart leading further to Naryn.

By bus

Minibuses between Bishkek and Almaty operate from many of Bishkek bus stations, including Almatenskaya Station. There is also a bus between Osh and Kashgar.

Get around

Flights

There are several daily flights between Bishkek and Osh. There are also a few flights a week between Bishkek and Jalal-abad and Batken. The flights are operated on local airlines using 30-40 year old soviet planes. On the other hand, the mechanics and pilots are well trained how to operate these old beasts.

By train

The only domestic rail link is the summer-only train between Balykchy (Western edge of Issyk Kul) to Tokmok through to Bishkek. It's a scenic route but the train takes at least twice as long as a taxi and it's half the price. You may meet a lot of interesting folks, mostly pensioners, that need the 40-80 soms they would save by taking a mini-bus or taxi. Otherwise, there is ca one train per day to the Kazakh border (and onward to Russia).

Buses and taxis

Minibuses (marshrutkas) and shared taxis are the most common and accessible option for traveling within Kyrgyzstan. They're amazingly inexpensive and congregate at every village center or bus station. You can also arrange a private taxi by purchasing all the seats at the bus station or contacting a taxi firm directly.

The prices for mini-buses are set and straightforward, but it won't generally leave until it is full and you may find yourself holding a child in your lap. With shared taxis you will be quoted a price for one seat and if you have significant luggage you should expect to pay for an extra or partial seat. You should negotiate prices, but as a foreigner you will likely pay more than a local.

Biking

Kyrgyzstan is popular with long distance bike treks, particularly around Issyk Kul and passes through the southern mountains to Tajikistan.

Wintersports

Heliskiing in Kyrgyzstan is a secret Tipp for Freeriders all over the world. Eurosolutions is organized by Germans and provides different Packages of Freeriding. Heliskiing [6]

Hitchhiking

The concept of free rides is not really understood here. Particularly if you happen to be a foreigner. Most drivers will expect you to pay a small sum of money for gas. Either you can try to explain that you do not want to pay, the Russian phrase Bez deneg can be used. Alternatively you can just pay the sum.

If the driver is asking for too much money you can always haggle! As a rule of thumb you should either pay the same price you'd pay for the bus or lower.

Horseback

This is the real way to see Kyrgyzstan by the saddle of a horse. There are several tourist agencies that can make it happen for you, as the Kyrgyz are famous horsemen dating back to the days of Genghis Khan. It is said that all Kyrgyz are born on a horse, although with growing urbanization that seems to be less common.

Driving

Tourists renting a private car and driving in Kyrgyzstan is virtually unheard of and not recommended. The roads are in poor shape, police are highly corrupt, auto insurance doesn't exist, and hiring a taxi is too easy and cheap to make this an option. Long-term foreign residents frequently drive, but many opt to use a driver.

Talk

The languages of Kyrgyzstan are Russian and Kyrgyz, a Turkic language related to Uzbek, Kazakh, and, of course, Turkish. Kyrgyz is more common in rural areas whereas Russian is the urban language of choice, and it's not uncommon to meet ethnic Kyrgyz people in Bishkek who cannot speak Kyrgyz. English, while becoming more popular, is still rarely spoken, so in order to effectively communicate one must at the very least learn a few basic words (yes, no, please, thank you, etc.) in Russian or Kyrgyz, depending on the location. If you are lost completely, try to ask young people, especially students.

Like most of the rest of the former Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which can present a problem for Western travellers. However, the characters are not too hard to learn and once that is done you'll find that many of the words are familiar. For example, "ресторан" transliterated into the Latin alphabet is "restoran," which means "restaurant." But be careful as Cyrillic is used for Kyrgyz as well as Russian.

See

  • The capital Bishkek offers bazaars and Soviets monuments and architecture.
  • Al-Archa National Park with mountain peaks of over 4,000m is located just a half hour drive from Bishkek.
  • Kyrgyzstan's only World Heritage Site is the Sulaiman-Too mountain in Osh. The city of Osh itself also boasts a bazaar, mosques and Soviet architecture.
  • Issyk Kul in eastern Kyrgyzstan is surrounded by mountains and is the world's second largest alpine lake.

Do

  • Wander around Osh Bazaar - Traditional Eastern market in Bishkek selling everything from spices to dishwashers.
  • Buy cheap Chinese goods in Dordoi Bazaar - The largest market in Central Asia, situated 20 minutes north of Bishkek.
  • Swim, sail and sunbathe in Issyk Kul - The world's second biggest high altitude mountain lake.
  • Stay in a yurt near Tash Rabat - Ruins of a Caravansarai in Naryn Oblast.
  • Live like a nomad in Song Kul - High altitude mountain lake less visited than Issyk Kul and ideal for seeing traditional semi-nomadic Kyrgyz life in action.
  • Hike or climb in Altyn Arashan - a secluded valley a 2-hour vehicle ride from Karakol.
  • Expedition to the peak Lenine, 7134m - south of Osh city.
  • Horseback riding near the Toktogul - 3 days of adventure on horseback.

Buy

Money

The official currency is the Kyrgyzstani som (written as 'сом' in the Kyrgyzs Cyrillic alphabet or sometimes abbreviated as с). The ISO international symbolisation is KGS. Banknotes are available in 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 5000 som denominations. Coins are available in 1, 3, 5 and 10 som denominations.

Changing money is relatively straightforward. Banks will accept a variety of major currencies, while the money-changing booths that are ubiquitous in urban areas will typically only deal with US dollars, British pounds, euros, Russian rubles, and Kazakh tenges. Note that neither banks nor money changers will accept any foreign currency that is torn, marked, excessively crumpled, or defaced in any way, so be sure to carefully check any notes you intend to bring into the country for defects.

Credit cards and ATMs

Like other countries in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is overwhelmingly a cash economy. Credit cards are rarely used. ATMs are common in Bishkek, and there are a scattering of ATMs in other towns. Many accept Visa but only Kazkommerts bank accepts MasterCard, Maestro, and Cirrus, and their ATMs are few are far between. You can withdraw US dollars or Kyrgyz som at many ATMs.

Costs

Kyrgyzstan is probably the cheapest country in Central Asia. A street snack is as little as half a US dollar. A full decent dinner is about US$5. Sleeping is cheap in budget home stay accommodations. Mid-range hotels are US$30-60 for a double room.

Eat

Kyrgyz food is the product of a long history of pastoral nomadism and is overwhelmingly meat-based, which means that virtually all of the traditional dishes contain meat. If you are vegetarian you can, however, ask for vegetarian food and in many cases will receive a tasty vegetarian meal without much hassle, or you can purchase your own fresh fruit, vegetables, and fresh bread from one of the many small stands or food bazaars that are ubiquitous in every city. While people from the West are programmed to think of large vegetables as desirable, small and flavourful is the rule here. the same approach is valid for pistachios and almonds as well. Washing vegetables before consumption is recommended.

Besh barmak (literally: five fingers, because the dish is eaten with one's hands) is the national soupy dish of Kyrgyzstan (Kazakhs would probably disagree). For preparation, a sheep or horse is slaughtered and boiled in a large pot. The resulting broth is served as a first course. The meat is then divided up between those at the table. Each person in attendance receives the piece of meat appropriate to their social status. The head and eyes are reserved for guests of honour. The remaining meat is mixed in with noodles and, sometimes with onions, and is traditionally eaten from a large common dish with the hands, although nowadays more often with a fork or spoon. If you can land an invitation to a wedding, you'll most likely get a chance to eat besh barmak, although you can also find it in traditional restaurants. Kyrgyz people like soupy food in general, those foods that are served as a kind of pasta in Russia such as pelmene, they prefer as soup.

Most other dishes encountered in Kyrgyzstan are common to the other countries of Central Asia as well. Plov or osh is a pilaf dish that at a minimum includes julienne carrots, onion, beef or mutton, and plenty of oil, sometimes raisins. Manti are steamed dumplings that normally contain either mutton or beef, but occasionally pumpkin. Samsa are meat (although sometimes vegetable or cheese) pies that come in two varieties: flaky and tandoori. Flaky somsa are made with a phyllo dough while tandoori somsa have a tougher crust, the bottom of which is meant to be cut off and discarded, not eaten. Lagman is a noodle dish associated with Uyghur cuisine, but you can find everywhere from Crimea to Ujgurs. Most of the time it is served as soup, sometimes as pasta. The basic ingredients of lagman (plain noodles and spiced vegetables mixed with mutton or beef) can be fried together, served one on top of the other, or served separately. Shashlik (shish kebabs) can be made of beef, mutton, or pork and are normally served with fresh onions, vinegar and bread

Almost all Kyrgyz meals are accompanied by tea (either green or black) and a circular loaf of bread known as a lepeshka. The bread is traditionally torn apart for everyone by one person at the table. In the south of Kyrgyzstan, this duty is reserved for men, but in the north it is more frequently performed by women. Similarly, tea in the north is usually poured by women, while in the south it is usually poured by men.

At the end of a meal, Kyrgyz will in some cases perform a prayer. Sometimes some words are said, but more often the prayer takes the form of a perfunctory swipe of the hands over the face. Follow the lead of your host or hostess to avoid making any cultural missteps.

Drink

Drinking is one of the great Kyrgyz social traditions. No matter if you are served tea, kymys, or vodka, if you have been invited to a Kyrgyz person's table to drink, you have been shown warm and friendly hospitality. Plan to sit awhile and drink your fill as you and your host attempt to learn about each other.

Drinking tea

When offered tea, you might be asked how strong you want it. Traditionally, Kyrgyz tea is brewed strong in a small pot and mixed with boiling hot water to your desired taste. If you want light tea, say 'jengil chai'. If you want your tea strong and red, 'kyzyl chai'. You might notice that they don't fill the tea cup all the way. This is so that they can be hospitable and serve you lots of tea. To ask for more tea, 'Daga chai, beringizchi' (Please give tea again). Your host will happily serve you tea until you burst. So once you've truly had your fill and don't want to drink any more, cover your tea cup and say, 'Ichtym' (I've drunk). Your host will offer a few more times (and sometimes will pout if you say no), this is to make sure that you are truly satisfied. Once everyone at table has finished drinking tea, it is time to say, 'Omen', and hold your hands out palms up and then brush the open palms down your face.

Vodka

When entering a local store, you might goggle at the amount of vodka on display. Introduced by the Russians, vodka has brought much joy and sorrow to the Kyrgyz over the years. Most vodka you will find for sale was made in Kyrgyzstan and can provide travellers with one of the worst hangovers known, mainly if you are stupid and buy one of cheaper ones. But for approx. €2 you can have good Kyrgyz vodka, e.g. Ak-sai. Some professional vodka drinkers say that this is because foreigners don't know how to properly drink vodka. To drink vodka in the right way, you need to have zakuskas (Russian for the meal you eat with vodka). This can consist of anything from simple loaves of bread to full spreads of delicious appetizers. Quite common are sour or fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and of course meat.

First, find someone to drink with. Only alcoholics drink alone. Second, choose your vodka: The more you spend, the less painful your hangover. Third, choose your zakuska, something salty, dried, or fatty. This is so that the vodka is either absorbed by the food or repelled by the fat. Fourth, open your bottle... but be careful, once you open it you must drink it all (a good vodka bottle doesn't have a cap that can be replaced). Now, pour your shots. Fifth, you will toast! You must toast! Toast your friends, toast their futures, toast their sheep, toast their cars. Sixth, drink! Drink it all! Now chase it with a zakuska and repeat until you can't see the bottle or it is empty.

If you are drinking with locals it's not problem to skip a round. They would just pour you a symbolic drop and when they are clinking glasses you have to use your right hand and slap sparing partners' glasses slightly instead of your glass.

Traditional drinks

The Kyrgyz for generations have made their own variety of beverages. At first, these drinks might seem a bit strange, but after a few tries they become quite tasty. Most are mildly alcoholic, but this is just a by-product from their fermentation processes.

In the winter, Kyrgyz wives brew up bozo, a brew made of millet. Best served at room temperature, this drink has a taste somewhere between yogurt and beer. On cold winter days, when you are snowed in, five or six cups gives you a warm fuzzy feeling.

In the spring, it is time to make either jarma or maxim. Jarma, a wheat based brew, has a yeasty beerlike quality but with a gritty finish (it is made from whole grains after all). Maxim, a combination of corn and wheat, has a very sharp and zesty taste. It is best served ice cold and is a great pick me up on hot days.

Summer sees yurts lining the main street selling kumys (Кумыс), fermented mares milk. Ladled out of barrels brought down from the mountains, this traditional drink is one of more difficult to get used to. It has a very strong and pungent foretaste and a smoky finish. Kumys starts off as fresh horses milk (known as samal), the samal is then mixed with a starter made from last year's kumys and heated in a pot. The mixture is brought to just before boiling and then poured into a horse's stomach to ferment for a period. A local grass called 'chi' is then roasted over a fire and cut into small pieces. Once the milk is finished fermenting, the roasted chi and milk are mixed in a barrel and will keep for the summer if kept cool.

Tang is another drink thought to be useful for the health and good for hangovers. It is made from gassed spring water that is mixed with a salted creamy yogurt called souzmu.

Other drinks

Kyrgyz have their own cognac distiller, which produces excellent, albeit highly sweet cognac, with the preferred brand being "Kyrgyzstan Cognac", which the locals sometimes call Nashe Cognac, meaning "our cognac".

You can also find an excellent selection of not so excellent local and imported beers as many Kyrgyz have been taking to drinking beer versus harder spirits. Locally produced beers include Arpa, Nashe Pivo, and Karabalta. Arpa is highly recommended by beer connoisseurs. While being considered a common person's beer, its style is somewhat similar to an American Pale Ale (less hoppy than its Indian counterpart). Due to the fact that Kyrgizes prefer more vodka than beer (actually, half litre of each costs the same), beer is staying in tubes for longer time. Regular cleaning service is not common. Bottled beers are better, except their strange habit to pour all the beer into the glass at once.

There are also a multitude of bottled waters (carbonated or still) from various regions of the country. Especially popular with southerners is the slightly saline "Jalalabad Water".

Sleep

Many private citizens rent out their flats to foreigners and a fairly luxurious flat could be agreed for quite low price a week. Noting that the average salary is US$200-300 in 2014, now it could twice as big, you may think you are paying excessively. Look for cable TV, toilet and bath and clean quarters. More adventurous visitors may wish to stay in a "yurta," for example in Bishkek it costs from US$8 a night in "yurtadorm". It is not that special to stay in a yurt in Bishkek, but it can be more interesting to do so in more rural areas. These are boiled wool tents used by nomads. Some tourist agencies in Bishkek will arrange this sort of stay, but be prepared to truly live the lifestyle of the nomad which includes culinary delicacies which may seem foreign to the western palette.

For those wishing to have home stays arranged in advanced there with the Community Based Tourism (CBT). They can organize home stays in most cities and villages in Kyrgyzstan. They can also arrange yurt stays and trekking. While many such organizations keep the majority of payment for themselves, CBT Kyrgyzstan claims that between 80 to 90% of payment will go to your host family. Amenities will vary between homes and locals, but overall some great travel experiences can be had such as, being invited to an impromptu goat feast, or enjoying fermented mares milk with nomads.

Learn

For those who are interested in learning Kyrgyz or Russian languages - there are universities you can go and there is a private school called the London School. The London School in Bishkek offers pretty cheap individual lessons for about US$4/hour and home stay/cultural programs.

Work

Kyrgyzstan's greatest export is its people departing for Russia, Kazakhstan, and even Europe for better opportunities. There are few opportunities for foreigners, except with development organizations, that generally hire off-shore. There are also few opportunities to teach European languages, as many Kyrgyz that studied abroad have returned with near fluency and will charge much less than you.

If you wish to volunteer, there is a very active and diverse NGO community that would appreciate your assistance.

Stay safe

Kyrgyzstan is a safe country compared to western Europe.

Fights and assaults generally only focus around nightclubs and bars, just as in any other large city. There is to date no indication that Bishkek is particularly dangerous to foreigners. As for other cities in the Kyrgyz Republic, there is little evidence.

In the past there have been occasional reports of corrupt policemen searching tourists' bags in order to steal money. These incidents should be reported to the embassy. Since citizens of many countries do not need a visa anymore, tourists cannot legally be bothered by corrupt policemen stating that something is wrong with their visa or registration.

Bride kidnappings, or Ala Kachuu, are an unfortunately common and cultural practice in Kyrgyzstan's countryside, whereby a woman is kidnapped and forced to get married. In 2007, the American Embassy reported that two American women were bride kidnapped in the remote areas of Kyrgyzstan.

Corruption

Corruption is a serious issue in Kyrgyzstan, and the locals are ultimately convinced that the police are not to be trusted. In the past some officers stopped cars and asked for a bribe.

Stay healthy

Your biggest risk in Kyrgyzstan are car wrecks and accidents while crossing the street or falling into a hole in the sidewalk. You should also exercise caution around stray animals and avoid approaching dogs.

Food and drinking water safety vary substantially by region. Kyrgyz claim the national drink, Kumys, is extremely healthy and will cure you of innumerable ailments.

Note that in some villages they don't have electricity all the day. Therefore restaurants there might serve you quick-heated, pre-cooked meals or the meat was not stored in a fridge before it was prepared. The latter can cause food poisoning or parasite-borne illnesses because they don't always cook the meat long enough. Therefore try to eat only meals that were prepared the same day.

Cope

A popular local source of information for tourists is the regularly published ex-pat run Spektator [7] magazine which features tourism and culture articles focusing on Kyrgyzstan and the wider Central Asian region.

Respect

Western norms of respect are standard. Though nominally a Muslim country the Kyrgyz people are highly westernized. No special dress codes are in effect. Although standards of dress in Bishkek are Western and often revealing, in the south of the country women would be advised to dress more conservatively or risk attracting unwanted male attention. Evenings can be charged as alcohol intoxication can be quite prevalent at this time. Proceed with caution.

Connect

See the Connect section of the Bishkek article.


Exercise a high degree of caution

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Areas south and west of Osh, the Fergana Valley region, and areas along the borders of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

In June 2010, violent clashes were reported in Batken, Jalal-Abad and Osh oblasts, leaving over 350 people dead and more than 2,000 injured. The security situation remains volatile and unpredictable, and incidents of violence and unrest may occur.

Use only officially recognized border crossings in this area, as landmines may be present in uncontrolled border areas. Check if border posts are open before travelling there.

Terrorism

Heightened tensions throughout the region, together with increased threats globally from terrorism, may put Canadians at greater risk. Maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times. Exercise caution, particularly in commercial and public establishments (such as hotels, clubs, restaurants, bars, schools, places of worship), at outdoor recreational events, and in tourist areas frequented by foreigners.

Border crossings

Border crossings with Kazakhstan and Tajikistan are currently open. Uzbekistan land border crossings are open for citizens of other countries including Canadians and closed for Kyrgyz citizens. Kazakhstan border crossing points with the Kyrgyz Republic may be closed or restricted without warning. 

Border areas near Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are mined.

Crime

There is a high rate of violent crime and foreigners have been targeted. Organized gangs are common. Robbery, mugging, and pickpocketing occur frequently near major hotels, bars, parks, and on public transportation. Remain vigilant and ensure that your personal belongings and documents are secure. Do not show signs of affluence and avoid carrying large sums of money.

Robberies have been committed by men in police uniforms. If approached, ask to see police credentials. Men posing as “meet and greet” airport facilitators lure unsuspecting foreigners into cars and demand money. Make prior arrangements with your contacts and ask for identification upon arrival. Do not leave with anyone who does not show identification.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations occur and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. They can lead to significant disruptions to traffic and public transportation. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Public transportation

Avoid public transportation as it is unsafe and unreliable.

At night, call a reputable taxi service in advance before leaving popular restaurants and places of recreation, as foreigners have been specifically targeted leaving such venues.

Use only officially marked taxis, pre-negotiate fares, and do not share a ride with strangers.

Road travel

Drive defensively, as traffic accidents are a common cause of death and injury. Roads are poorly maintained and inadequately lit, and traffic regulations are often ignored. Buy gas in the cities of Bishkek and Osh because there are few gas stations outside those cities.

Roads to Tashkent are hazardous in winter.

Air travel

Air travel is limited. Unannounced delays and flight cancellations are common in winter due to poor weather conditions. Reservations on regional airlines are not always respected. Confirm flights with your airline prior to departure.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

Police can arrest visitors who do not carry identification. Keep a legally certified copy of your visa and registration with you at all times, and your passport and visa in safekeeping facilities. Leave a photocopy of your travel documents with a relative or a friend at home.

Do not walk or travel alone, especially at night.

Tourist facilities are not highly developed.

Emergency services

Dial 101 for fire emergency services and 102 for police.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Central Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like hepatitis A and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Central Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Central Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, malaria, and tick-borne encephalitis.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever is a viral disease that typically causes fever, bleeding under the skin, and pain. Risk is generally low for most travellers. It is spread to humans though contact with infected animal blood or bodily fluids, or from a tick bite. Protect yourself from tick bites and avoid animals. There is no vaccine available for Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever.


Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in Central Asia, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Laws

Penalties for drinking and driving are strict.

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Homosexual activity is legal but is not widely accepted by Kyrgyz society.

Photography of military installations or government buildings may result in a penalty. Seek permission from local authorities before taking photographs.

An international driving permit is required.

Religion

Although the Kyrgyz Republic is a secular country, Islamic practices and beliefs are closely adhered to, particularly in rural areas. Dress conservatively, behave discreetly, and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities.

Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship is not legally recognized, which may limit the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services. You should travel using your Canadian passport and present yourself as Canadian to foreign authorities at all times. Consult our publication entitled Dual Citizenship: What You Need to Know for more information.

Money

The currency is the Kyrgyzstani som (KGS). The economy is primarily cash-based. Canadian currency and traveller’s cheques are not widely accepted. Declare foreign currency upon entry. You cannot leave with more than was brought in. Convert Kyrgyzstani soms into euros or U.S. dollars before leaving the country, as you will not be able to do so after departure. Automated banking machines are widely available in Bishkek but may be limited in rural areas. Credit cards are accepted in major hotels, some restaurants, and most banks. Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, use credit cards with caution. Leave copies of your card numbers with a family member in case of emergency.

Climate

The Kyrgyz Republic is located in an active seismic zone.

Avalanches and landslides are common in mountainous areas, especially in the spring. They can be hazardous and block road access.

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