Last updated: 05.12.2018
Welcome to the Overlanders’ Guide to Kyrgyzstan. Here you’ll find info on road conditions, routes, paperwork, borders and a bunch of extra tricks and tips to help you on your way.
Kyrgyzstan is a small, landlocked country in Central Asia bordering China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It was once part of the USSR and became fully independent in 1991. It’s one of the ‘least known’ about countries in the world and many of its people still live a nomadic way of life, living in yurts in the high mountain pastures during summer and the plains in winter.
What you’ll find on this page
- What to see
- Road conditions and police
- Finding fuel, food and water
- Vehicle repairs
- Camping and accommodation
- Visa, insurance, money and paperwork
You’re not exactly spoiled for routes in Kyrgyzstan, which makes plotting a course relatively straightforward. Dependent on where you’re planning on entering and exiting from, the main overland routes will take you to the centre of Kyrgyzstan (Song Kol Lake - see below) and then either directly north to Bishkek and onto Kazakhstan, or to Karakol and a north east border to Kazakhstan.
If you’re heading south to Tajikistan then you can take the south border over No-Man’s-Land and head south for the Pamirs. Or you can go west to miss the Pamirs and head straight for Dushanbe.
Deciding whether to exit Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan at the Bishkek or Karakol border is a big question. The decision will largely come down to when you’re crossing (Karakol border is only open mid-May to October), if you fancy off-roading (Karakol) or if you need to visit Bishkek for a visa.
If it helps with your decision making, the Karakol border heads to Kazakhstan’s Charyn Canyon and Kaindy Lake (must visit destinations). If you go to Bishkek and cross, you will need to ride all the way east anyway to see them.
Kazakhstan’s Charyn Canyon is worth the visit. You can camp right here
If you’re overlanding through Kyrgyzstan, then it’s likely you’re entering from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan or Kazakhstan. All three countries have easy borders. The trickiest is the south-east border crossing between Tajikistan, which heads to Sary-Tash in Kyrgyzstan. The border itself is fine, it’s the no-man’s land between the two countries that’s a pain when wet. It’s a high-altitude mountain pass (it can get cold and snowy in winter).
Check out our map below for a breakdown on borders.
What to see
Specifically for overlanding, the region surrounding Song Kol Lake is the best place to ride, drive and cycle. The road turns from dusty track to beautiful green valleys, before you finally reach the high peaks and head over the pastures surrounded the pearly blue lake.
When you leave the lake, you’ll notice two routes on Maps.Me both heading east to the main road, which will lead north to Kochkor. Take the southern route for prettier views. The coordinates to head for are 41.733146, 75.428781.
We have compiled a Top 5 things to see and do in Kyrgyzstan, which includes horse riding, living like a nomad and top hiking spots.
Road Conditions and police
In general, the road conditions are better than Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. And the off-roading is far easier than in the Wakhan. The main roads are in good condition throughout the country. The only thing to be careful of is police. The roads often open up and it’s very tempting to speed, but police linger around every corner with their speed guns. They are there to catch you. But that doesn’t mean they’ll pull you over for no reason and try and extort money. We have heard of a few cases from fellow travellers, who were stopped and heavily fined for speeding. One guy even paid 200 USD. That’s outrageous, even by Kyrgyz standards. If weren’t speeding, hold your ground and don’t give in. If you were speeding, don’t pay more than £5.
Finding Fuel, Food and Water
There is no serious issue with fuel, food and water in Kyrgyzstan. Just make sure you check and bookmark fuel stations on Maps.Me if you’re heading off-piste. If you’re cycling, then you may want to carry extra water through some parts as rivers are harder to come by. Same goes for food. Locals will stop for you if you get stuck, but expect to be force fed horse milk.
MuzToo in Osh is perhaps the most well-known overlander workshop in Central Asia. They work on 4x4s, cars and motorcycles and have accommodation. You can order spare parts from there, work on your own bike with their tools or employ one of their mechanics to do the work.
The manager, Oibek Sadykbaev, is a good guy and will look after you. You can get in touch with MuzToo by visiting www.muztoo.ch, but it’s best to contact Oibek at [email protected] or his personal website www.centralasiacarrental.com. The MuzToo coordinates are 40.50327, 72.83200
If you’re after a place to stay in Osh while you work on your bike, then the ESAL Hotel is a short drive away (£1 by taxi), very close to the best Italian and western style restaurant in town and one of the best hotels in Osh. We’re not affiliated with them, but ended up spending two weeks there as we waited for parts for our bike from the UK. Dorm rooms are 6USD or you can get a private double room with ensuite toilet and bathroom for 22USD a night. The owner, Daniel, speaks excellent English and is incredibly helpful. And the WiFi is fast. You can find our review and the location on iOverlander next to MuzToo. The coordinates are 40.50808, 72.81799
Camping and accommodation
You can camp freely in Kyrgyzstan, but hotels and hostels are incredibly cheap. You’ll find camping and hostel options on iOverlander and Maps.Me. One type of accommodation is a must in Kyrgyzstan though, and that’s staying in a yurt with nomads. Song Kol is a fantastic place to do that.
Visa, Insurance, Money and Paperwork
Kyrgyzstan is the easiest ‘Stan’ country to visit. Many nationalities, including Brits, don’t even need a visa. A bunch of countries (including the USA and entire European union) get 60 days visa-free in the country. Just buy your own personal insurance in the UK and go for it!
If you have any questions, comments or anything to add to this page (or even if you just want to say hey) then please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you! Drop us an email at [email protected]