Kyrgyzstan’s attractions are varied and compelling, although they’re mostly concentrated on the wild beauty of the land rather than the acres of ancient ruins, glorious palaces and massive medieval religious edifices. Sightseeing involves a journey back in time to a lifestyle as old as modern humanity and a respect for nature at its most imposing and unspoiled.
Tash Rabat Caravanserai
A major stop on the Silk Road, the 15th century Tash Rabat Caravanserai is almost an afterthought nowadays, with few tourists making it to the spectacular surroundings. The well-preserved ruins overlook the Tian Shan Mountains and if you’re based in Osh, a local tour guide will know the best way to get to this atmospheric landmark.
Address: Naryn Province, Kyrgyzstan
Huge and brilliant-blue, the saline lake of Issyk-Kul is the second-largest glacial lake in the world, stretching a full 113 miles along a valley in the northern Tian Shan Mountains. Surrounded by towering, snow-capped peaks, the lake itself never freezes in spite of the icy winter temperatures and is perfect for a refreshing swim during the summer months. Over two millennia ago, the area was home to an ancient metropolis, with excavations still ongoing. The region also contains the Issyk-Kul Biosphere Reserve with its unique ecosystems and indigenous flora and fauna.
Address: Eastern Kyrgyzstan
National Historical Museum
Set in the capital’s Ala-Too Square, the National Historical Museum is a good place to begin your exploration of this iconic country. The permanent exhibitions display the political and natural history of Kyrgyzstan from the Bronze Age to the present day, with highlights including fabulous golden treasure from Shamshyn Tomb in the Chui Valley, 2,000-year old nomadic personal adornments, jewelry, ancient stones with runic lettering, and traditional handicrafts from over a century ago.
Address: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
The fabulously rich 10th century Silk Road city of Belasagun was the capital of the Eastern Khanate until the Mongol invasion. Now in ruins, the city was lost in time by the 15th century. Its massive minaret, known as the Burana Tower, is one of Kyrgyzstan’s most important monuments, and the eerie balbali sculptured stones surrounding the landmark were carved between the 6th and 10th centuries as grave markers. A small, on-site museum displays archaeological finds from along the Silk Road.
Address: near Tokrok, Kyrgyzstan
Petroglyphs of Saimaluu-Tash
Translated to the "Place of Embroidered Stones," the Saimaluu-Tash petroglyphs are located in a narrow canyon on the slopes of the Fergansky Mountains, overlooking the Fergana Valley. The fantastically-carved and painted designs on the basaltic rocks are the largest collection of mysterious artwork in Central Asia, and there are about 90,000 different designs, with the oldest dating back to the early Bronze Age. The images represent both humans and animals, as well as hunting and village scenes, religious rituals, demons, gods, the domestication of wild animals, and migration scenes.
Address: near Kugart Pass, Kyrgyzstan
Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain
Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain looms over the city of Osh, dominating the Fergana Valley at the crossroads of several of the most important Silk Road routes. Sulaiman-Too’s five peaks have been revered for over 1,500 years and hold ancient cave temples and other places of worship, including two 16th century mosques. The heights are a center for mysterious petrogylphs depicting scenes of ancient life as well as elaborate geometric forms. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the holy mountain is still visited by pilgrims seeking longevity and cures for headaches, back pain and the inability to conceive.
Address: near Osh, Kyrgyzstan
Set in the Eastern Kyrgyz Mountain Range, the dramatic, arid Konorchak Canyons stretch for 125 miles across the heights which were formed 1.5 million years ago by volcanic action. Wind and water erosion has sculptured the original plateaus into fantastic pierced stone pillars soaring over 1,600 feet above their bases. The vast moonscape contains an extinct volcano, with its slopes holding huge, fossilized seashells and the sparse vegetation of the region grows to sizes unusually large for the species.
Address: Eastern Kyrgyz Range, Kyrgyzstan
Set in the heights of the towering Tian Shan range, Lake Son Kul is Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest lake. Unlike Issyk-Kul, its location on a 9,600 ft plateau is difficult to reach and freezes in winter. During the late spring and summer, however, its shores and surrounding meadows are used by the nomadic sheep-herding tribes around Naryn, Kochkor and Al Bashi. Weird stones and stone circles suggest the region has been used as summer pastureland since the dawn of humanity. The air is fragrant with the scent of herbs and diverse bird species and animals including lynx, leopards and wolves spend their summers on the plains backed by the snow-capped peaks.
Address: Tian Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan