Kyrgyzstan’s biggest draw is its remote, dramatic natural beauty, perfect for adventurous eco-tourists and outdoor fanatics. Exploring the mountain ranges and steppes, and meeting the hardy nomads who’ve roamed the land with their herds for millennia, can be done on horseback, on foot or by four-wheel with the help of an experienced, professional tour company. Hiking, trekking, mountaineering, canoeing, mountain biking, and rock-climbing are all popular, and an overnight stay in a traditional yurt is the highlight of any visit.
The country has a long history as part of the Silk Road, the ancient route from the Terracotta Warrior city of Xian, China to Arabia and the West, which once saw an endless procession of traders loaded with silks, spices, and other treasures bound for palaces and mansions thousands of miles away. UNESCO has a special interest in the caravanserai settlements along this seemingly endless, unmarked road, with several in Kyrgyzstan on the World Heritage list. Following the Silk Road as it winds through the high peaks, past historic towns and across the southern valleys is a fascinating journey back in time.
Kyrgyzstan is the perfect destination for an escape from the 21st century to go back in time to a simpler era where humans interacted with the environment instead of destroying it. EcoTrek, part of the Kyrgyz Workers Association, organizes multi-day guided hikes and horseback tours, including a yurt homestay in a traditional tribal village in the mountains of Lake Issyk-Khul. Alp Tour Issyk Kol takes its provisions a step further, with guided climbs as well as daily transportation to the winter skiing areas around Karakol.
For guided eco-exploration of many of Kyrgyzstan’s spectacularly remote regions, Ecotour offers homestays in nomadic villages boasting solar-heated water and hydroelectric lighting. Tian Shan Travel concentrates on guided adventure expeditions on foot in the stunning mountain range along with group tours. For kayaking and canoeing along the rushing Ching-Kemin, Chuy, Naryn and Kekemeren rivers, Silk Road Water Center is the outfit to contact.
The sport of mountain biking takes on new meaning here, with five-day guided trips to Barskoon through the Juuku Pass and into the Ara-Bel Valley. Guides and Porters Association is a recently-formed cooperative of highly-experienced guides using French, English and German interpreters, and top-notch rental bikes, making sure cyclists get the best out of this unique experience. For travelers looking for slightly more comfortable sightseeing, Munduz Travel operates group and individual tours by four-wheel dive and jeep, based around Batken which include a night in a yurt.
One of Central Asia’s most unrivalled experiences takes travelers along the iconic Silk Road, through stark, bare mountains and across the rolling steppes of Kyrgyzstan. Silk Road Adventures is the leading provider, giving plenty of choices for short guided tours from Bishkek to the 19th century Burana Tower, the only remaining structure of the great caravanserai city of Balasagun, or longer trips to more remote regions along the route. Bishkek itself was once a major stopping point on the Great Silk Road. Another company to consider is Intrepid, with its Mountain Kingdoms of Kyrgyzstan tour taking inquisitive minds off the beaten path through some of the country’s most dramatic topography.