Bishkek and Osh Iiternational airports host regularly scheduled international flights year-round, while Tamchy's Issyk-Köl International Airport sees summer service only. Rumour has it that Karakol International Airport may reopen as soon as 2019, but for now no concrete details are available.
Airports & Airlines
Bishkek’s Manas International Airport is the main hub with relatively inexpensive international connections:
FlyDubai (via Dubai)
S7 (via Novosibirsk)
China Southern (via Urumqi)
Air Astana (via Almaty or Astana)
Uzbekistan Airways (via Tashkent)
Aeroflot (via Moscow)
Osh International Airport is also increasingly well linked via Istanbul, Dubai and various Russian cities.
On the lake's Northern Shore near Tamchy, Issyk-Köl International Airport's schedule seems to change by year, but often includes some combination of Uzbekistan Airways (via Tashkent), S7 (via Novosibirsk) and Qazaq Air (www.flyqazaq.com/en) via Almaty.
Departure tax is included in the price of a ticket.
To & From China
There are two land routes to Kashgar in Xinjiang, China, where the official time zone ('Beijing Time') is GMT plus eight hours, though unofficial 'Xinjiang Time' is GMT plus six hours, ie the same as Kyrgyzstan in summer.
Both routes are fiddly and essentially take a very long day, sometimes two, so start early and bring food and drink. Both are scenically inspiring (the Torugart route more consistently so) and cross high mountain passes. Beware of intense cold and potential road closures when snowbound in winter.
Both borders close at weekends and public holidays. Be careful if travelling on Fridays in case there's a delay or road closure (landslide, unexpected holiday) meaning you're stuck until Monday.
On the Chinese side, both routes involve crossing well over 100km between inner and outer frontier posts through a restricted border zone within which bicycles must be put on a vehicle. Hitching through Irkeshtam is officially no longer allowed, so expect to pay a Chinese taxi to cover the distance if you haven't hired a vehicle for the whole trip.
The main route is via Irkeshtam and Sary-Tash. Shared taxis depart from and arrive to Osh's new bridge taxi stand. Arrange a seat a day or two in advance.
Doing the trip in sections works out much cheaper – typically under US$35, albeit highly variable depending on how many other travellers cross that day and share the taxi or van cost between Chinese border posts. Crossing independently you get the added bonus of a night in Sary-Tash, with its beautiful clear-weather views of Alay Valley mountainscapes, plus the views between there and Osh which the through-bus typically passes at night.
From Sary-Tash hitch or share a taxi (per person/car 300/1500som) for 73km to the main Kyrgyz border post. Either leave around 7am to reach the border just after 8am or start the afternoon before and sleep at one of the basic cafe-wagons (bed 100som to 200som) right beside the border compound. Either way walk past the queue of trucks and get your passport stamped, then after that's checked, arrange a ride with the next passing truck for the following 7km. Leave your bags in the truck for the first two passport checks, but say goodbye at the upper Chinese customs station. Here your passport is checked but not stamped while your bags, camera, computer, iPad, books etc are very extensively searched for anything suspicious (films watched, photos checked, files opened).
Once a decent number of travellers have been thus checked, their passports are collected and given to an approved taxi driver who will drive you the whopping 140km to the main Chinese border station. This costs 550 Chinese yuan per car, and if you're alone you might have to pay for the whole vehicle.
You get stamped into China at a big, airport-style complex. There's no bank but there is usually a moneychanger lurking just after customs offering a not unreasonable US$1=Y6. A taxi to Wuqia minibus/shared taxi station costs 5 Chinese yuan. Or walk 3km – down a long grand avenue then right on Yingbin Lu. Minibuses to Kashgar (23 to 33 yuan) take 1½ hours.
The Torugart Pass to Naryn is used by Bishkek–Kashgar and Bishkek–Artush sleeper buses, but foreigners are not allowed to take those services and can only use this border by using agency transfers on both sides. Your name needs to be on a stamped passenger manifest (Chinese side) and a passport copy must be sent to the Kyrgyz agent. Such bureaucracy makes this route disproportionately expensive – the cheapest offers we found for groups were around US$120 per head. Alone you'd be asked nearly US$500. There are several ways to find other travellers or pre-arranged groups to join:
- In Bishkek, consult the notice board at NoviNomad.
- In Naryn, ask CBT or Kubat Tour.
- In Kashgar, seek out fellow travellers at the Pamir Youth Hostel or Kashgar Old Town Youth Hostel and/or ask agencies Silk Road Tours or Old Road Tours whether they have groups you can join.
Cyclists need to have agency-arranged vehicles organised on the Chinese side (where riding is not allowed) and a border permit allowing them to ride under their own steam on the Kyrgyz side: this is subject to some strict rules about not deviating from the main road before the inner frontier post.
The whole Kashgar–Naryn route (typically nine to 12 hours) is scenically delightful, if weather conditions oblige, though the mesmerising views of high-altitude lake Chatyr-Köl tend to be slightly marred by power lines.
To & From Kazakhstan
The back-door route into Kazakhstan via the Karkara Valley is open in summer, but there's no cross-border public transport. Coming from the Kazakhstan side, take a Kegen-bound marshrutka, then a taxi for the last 28km to the border. Pre-arranged with CBT Karakol, a pick-up from the border costs US$60 per car to Issyk-Köl. Hitchhiking is possible if you have tents and are prepared to wait a day or two.
Regular minibuses run from Talas city across the Aisha Bibi border to Taraz, Kazakhstan.
To & From Uzbekistan
Most travellers will cross at Kyrgyzstan's Fergana Valley town of Dostyk, headed for Andijan in Uzbekistan. A shared taxi from Osh to the border is around 200som. All other crossings are generally only open to Uzbek and Kyrgyz nationals.
To & From Tajikistan
Kyzylart is the main border crossing for travellers, into the Tajik Pamir, but there's no public transport and you'll need a GBAO (Gorno-Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast) permit along with your Tajik visa.
Other borders into Tajikistan's Fergana Valley towns at Kulundu and Batken are reportedly open to third-country nationals, but very few visitors make it as far as Kyrgyzstan's Batken oblast to try.
It is not possible to travel here by sea.