Lonely Planet Writer

Get off the beaten path on a new trail that helps independent trekkers explore Kyrgyzstan

New routes on a recreational trail system in Kyrgyzstan will further open up the region to independent travellers, making it simpler for trekkers to navigate the incredible mountains, lakes and pastures of the Central Asian country on their own.

A trekker hikes along a lake in Kyrgyzstan.
Spring melt water creates temporary ponds along the Terim-Tor Bulak valley near Jyrgalan village. Image by Stephen Lioy

Discover Kyrgyzstan, with the support of USAID, has completed the initiative to mark a trail system to connect a nearly 300km span between trekking hubs Kochkor and Karakol, and the border to neighbouring Kazakhstan just beyond.

A person hikes on high hills in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.
Overlooking a panorama off the Jyrgalan Pass trek. Image by Jarryd Salem

The 20 individual routes, which cover over 800km of marked trails, enable independent travellers to explore the diversity of Kyrgyzstan’s mountainous landscapes and see authentic local culture. Many of the high-altitude jailoo pastures that link the Issyk-Kol region’s mountain valleys are home to yurt camps in which nomadic shepherds live through the summer to graze livestock, and in which travellers can engage with local lifestyles and sleep in remote yurt homestays.

The plains in Kyrgyzstan with a ger in the distance.
Sunset on the Issyk-Kul Panorama trek near Bokonbaevo. Image by Maksim Anosov

While Kyrgyzstan is already a popular travel destination for independent trekkers, lack of information on available routes has, in the past, limited tourists to a small number of popular routes radiating from Kochkor and Karakol. These new trails, which complement existing options, traverse mountain passes over 4000m and the many small alpine lakes that dot the Kyrgyz countryside.

A hiker walks through a field with purple flowers in Kyrgyzstan.
Descending on the Jyrgalan Passes track. Image by Nicholas Wharton

The new routes are centred around four central trekking hubs, two of which are already popular bases for adventure travellers and two of which are growing backpacking destinations. Information on trekking routes and hire of outdoors equipment, horses, and mountain guides are available from Discover Kyrgyzstan or at local destination management organization (DMO) offices in Kochkor, Bokonbaevo, Karakol, and Jyrgalan.

The sun sets in Kyrgyzstan.
Sunset over Issyk-Kol as seen from the Kok-Jar pass near Karakol. Image by Nasiba Nurmatova

The initiative is the result of a partnership between the national Discover Kyrgyzstan destination marketing organization and regional DMOs to encourage growth in the tourism sector, with support by the USAID Business Growth Initiative project. The initiative is expected to continue throughout the summer in other regions of the country, with routes in Naryn and Osh regions project for completion in July and August.

By Stephen Lioy