Homestays are the bedrock of accommodation in rural Kyrgyzstan, with bed and breakfast (B&B) rarely costing more than 700som. There's an approximate rating system of one, two or three edelweiss, but even some of the best options are likely to have an outside toilet. The lowliest will have a long drop and bucket-water bathing.

Yurtstays – easiest to arrange for tourists around Son-Köl and Tash Rabat but increasingly prevalent elsewhere – work on a homestay basis, with mats on the floor and shared long drop somewhere nearby. There are also private tourist yurt-camps where you might get a bed and some privacy, and even a sit-down (but still outside) toilet. The latter cater mostly to groups on pre-arranged tours, but are open to anyone if there’s space.

Bishkek, Osh and Karakol now have a range of backpacker-style hostels that are a huge step above the makeshift apartment-hostels of the last decade. Surviving Soviet-era hotels can often prove horribly decrepit or only half-heartedly reconstructed. Such places are sometimes useful as crash-pad options and have an atmosphere of accidental nostalgia, but with midrange and high-end hotel options increasingly more available in the main cities (Bishkek, Osh, Jalal-Abad and Karakol), these have become increasingly less relevant. When staying at cheaper local hotels, double-check whether a price quoted is per room or per person. If the latter, it may mean a random stranger plonking his backpack on the bed beside you, dormitory style.

Home Sweet Yurt

Nothing gets the nomadic blood racing through your veins like lying awake in a yurt at night under a heavy pile of blankets wondering if wolves will come and eat your horse.

Yurts (boz-uy in Kyrgyz) are the archetypal shepherd shelters – circular homes made of kiyiz (multilayered felt) stretched around a kerege (collapsible wooden frame). The outer felt layer is coated in waterproof sheep fat, the innermost lined with woven grass matting to block the wind. Long woollen strips secure the walls and poles. The interior is richly decorated with textiles, wall coverings, quilts, cushions, camel and horse bags, and ornately worked chests. Floors are lined with oro kiyiz (thick felt) and covered with bright carpets (shyrdaks or ala-kiyiz).

Look up: the central wheel-like tunduk that supports the roof is none other than the design depicted in the middle of Kyrgyzstan’s national flag, with the four main sections representing the four seasons of the year.

Learn more with Celestial Mountains' online yurt website: www.yurts.kg.

In authentic jailoos (summer pastures) very few people speak even a word of English, and they may be limited in Russian, so two useful phrases to learn in Kyrgyz are:

  • *** boz ui kaisy jerde? (Where is *** yurt?)
  • Men ushul jirge jatsam bolobu? (May I stay here tonight?)

Adventure-minded travellers with a bit of Russian or Kyrgyz might find a more authentic (but also more basic) experience off the tourist trail. When you see just a single yurt the chances are that it doesn't generally accept tourist stays, though if you say hello you might find yourself invited for tea, kymys or sheep's-head snacks. Larger encampments will more often be willing to accept guests for overnight stays, where you can expect true hospitality but not exactly customer service. Having goodies to share (chocolates, biscuits, sausage etc) is useful for any such occasions.