Best of Kyrgyzstan
10 days, 9 nights: Bishkek (2 nights) - Chunkurchak (1 night) - Cholpon Ata (1 night) - Karakol (2 nights) - Chon Kemin (1 night) - Almaty (2 nights)
Available tour dates: 20-29 March, 2020 (free 8 spots) | 20-30 March, 2021 (free 10 spots)
Day 1, Friday
Arrive in Bishkek in the morning. Transfer from airport to Hyatt hotel in central Bishkek. Some time to rest. In the afternoon we will meet for a walk in central Bishkek, having a look at the Fine Arts museum, and further stopping at nearby Oak Park, Parliament, the Lenin statue, the White House (Presidential Palace), the central Ala Too square, and then have a welcome dinner in town, in a fine Kyrgyz restaurant. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!
Overnight at Navat hotel, Bishkek, two nights. Brunch, dinner.
Day 2, Saturday
A late breakfast at our hotel. We will then go to the main square of town, to have a look at the Nawruz festivities: this is Kyrgyzstan’s largest and most colourful celebration, largest than any other religious or lay holiday. We will have lunch in a restaurant on the main square. Some free time to enjoy the festivities on your own. In the later afternoon we will go to an artist’s studio to make our own felt rugs! Asel, the artist, uses silk and felt in her work. It will take us about 90 minutes to do the ala-kiiz (as it’s called in Kyrgyz) and then another 90 for her to make it look good!! In the evening we will go out for dinner.
Overnight at Navat hotel, Bishkek, second night. Breakfast, lunch.
Day 3, Sunday
After a late breakfast we head to Bishkek’s micro districts to the south of the city, to learn more about the socialist modernist utopia of the 1970s. We will enter a private person’s home, drink some fabulous local tea, eat old-style cookies and jam, and then have a walk in the micro district - where kindergarten, shop, canteen, school, and everything required was within a stone’s throw from every person’s home. We will also see some very interesting communist mosaics and murals. Then we head south, and enter the mighty Tien Shan mountains. We will check in at our ultra comfortable mountain lodge, where we will have lunch. For those interested, let’s have a peaceful forest walk, and listen to a Manaschi (reciter of the world’s longest oral poem). Or just enjoy the fire in your cabin. Dinner around the fire.
Overnight at Supara, Chunkurchak, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 4, Monday
After an early breakfast we are off east, driving through the fertile Chuy valley. Our first stop will be the Burana tower, the sole remain of a once large tenth century trading town along the Silk Road. Burana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will also have a look at some of the road’s curious bus shelter designs - these are among the Soviet Union’s most interesting (abandoned) bus stops! Then we continue to Issyk Kul, the world’s second largest high altitude lake (after Titikaka in South America). Balykchy is a desolate, windswept place, and it never (almost) rains there. We will also stop at an abandoned Soviet amusement park. Then a short drive and we are at the Aurora Sanatorium, once used by the Soviet political elite. We will have our rooms on the last floor, where once very famous Soviet citizens used to take rest. Do not expect luxury at this sanatorium! But expect to be taken back in time, to the era of 1980s socialist chic. The sanatorium’s grounds include the best kept garden along the shores of Issyk Kul. Dinner at the sanatorium restaurant.
Overnight at Aurora Sanatorium, Cholpon Ata, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 5, Tuesday
After a simple but hearty breakfast (expect freshly baked bread, a fried or boiled egg, cheese, jam and tea), we will continue by road to Karakol, a former Russian military outpost from the days of the Great Game. We will stop to have a look at a cemetery, one of the most interesting Kyrgyz spaces, and lunch in a local Balkar village. The Balkars are people from the Caucasus, exiled to this very place in the harsh winter of 1944. In Karakol will check in at our cozy family-owned hotel, have some time to rest, and then head out to have a look at Karakol’s sights: the nineteenth century wooden Dungan (Chinese Muslim) mosque, built without nails by Chinese Muslims in the Russian empire, the wooden Russian church from the same period, and some of the town’s imperial Russian architecture - from the days of the Great Game. Dinner at a Dungan (Chinese-Muslim) home.
Overnight at Green Yard Hotel, Karakol, three nights. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 6, Wednesday
We get up early, have breakfast, and we hop in a convoy of modern 4WDs that will take us close to the border with China. In fact we get so close that we need special border permits to visit. We drive across a 3800m-high pass, which will be covered in snow. For the pass we will switch in vintage 1960s and 70s heavy Soviet army trucks. Then we switch back to our 4WDs and head down to the abandoned town of Inylchek. Inylchek was once a community of 15,000, but the collapse of the USSR put an end to the ambitious plans to open mines and factories here. Inylchek is one of the most spectacular, eery places you can come across on this planet. It truly feels like the end of the world, or the end of the Soviet Union at least. A short drive beyond the town, where the road ends, brings us to a lovely open air hot mineral pool - you are welcome to take a dip if you feel like it. We will take our picnic lunch there. The entire valley may look barren, but there is actually a lot of history and heritage in those mountains. Let’s explore them together. This is the place where the Soviet Union literally ended. A bit downstream and you end up in China. In the afternoon we will head back across the mountains to Karakol. Dinner at our hotel.
Overnight at Green Yard Hotel, Karakol, second night. Breakfast, dinner.
Day 7, Thursday
Let’s eat breakfast at our hotel, and then depart to back west, along Issyk Kul’s southern shore. Our first stop will be the village of Barskoon, to visit the workshop of a local inventor. He makes yurts using machines he built himself. Let he take us on a curious tour around his workshop! Then Kaji Say, a secret scientific outcrop of the Siberian Academy of Sciences. Nearby was located a top secret torpedo testing facility, and a curious closed for the public Soviet Army Chief of Staff sanatorium. The entire shore was beyond limit for ordinary citizens. We will drive to pretty Skazka canyon, where we will take a picnic lunch (if the weather allows). And then we will head to the valley of Chon Kemin, where we will stay at the Ashu guesthouse, one of the most charming lodgings in Kyrgyzstan. For those interested, we will have a cooking lesson, and then dinner with what we just cooked.
Overnight at Ashu Guesthouse, Chon Kemin, one night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 8, Friday
After an early breakfast we head to the nearby border checkpoint with Kazakhstan. We cross, and we enter the endless Kazakh steppe. We will stop at Tamgaly, Central Asia’s most interesting petroglyph site (is in the UNESCO World Heritage list). Only two hours away from Almaty, but completely devoid of tourists - last year less than 7000 people visited the site (that’s less than 20 a day!). We will have a look at the Bronze Age petroglyphs and then the remarkably preserved Scythian burial mounds. Lunch out in the steppe. We will drive to Almaty, and check in at the Novotel hotel, in rooms overlooking the city and the Tien Shan mountains. We will take a gourmet dinner on the highest floor of the hotel, in the highest restaurant in town.
Overnight at Novotel, Almaty, two nights. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 9, Saturday
After a stunning breakfast, we will head out to explore Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital. We will start with Rahat, the most famous Soviet chocolate factory, then Green Bazaar - a stunning market, where you can find (and sample!) produce from all over Central Asia, and the wooden imperial Russian cathedral, where we will try to get permission to climb the bell tower and ring the church bells! Lunch in a nearby Jewish restaurant. Afternoon at leisure: you are welcome to visit next door’s Arasan Spa, one of the world’s best spa centres. Or rest in the hotel. Or take a walk in this beautiful green city. We will try and see if we can catch a play or performance at the Opera House tonight. We will have our farewell dinner in a lovely Russian restaurant, housed in a nineteenth century wooden imperial style house.
Overnight at Novotel, Almaty, second night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Day 10, Sunday
Breakfast and transfer to airport for your flight home or where the heart takes you. End of tour.
Available tour dates:
20-30 March 2021
* Accommodation in Central Asia’s best, most atmospheric hotels: from a cosy, warm guesthouse, to one of Soviet Union’s most unique sanatoriums, to a Ritz Carlton.
* Transport with a new, comfortable bus on the main sections of the road, and 4WDs for the bumpy detours. And not least, great drivers!
* Driver and guide lodging and food.
* An unusual, knowledgeable and curious guide.
* All meals according to programme: 11 breakfasts, 8 lunches, 9 dinners in carefully selected places.
* Border permit to Inylchek, for which we apply in three separate places: the Regional border force detachment command, the Regional government, and the Regional police. A real Soviet-era bureaucratic experience!
* Vintage Soviet cars and trucks up one of the highest (and most spectacular) motorable passes in Central Asia. We will go far up and beyond other tourist trails.
* Clearing of the high mountain pass from snow.
* Renting of a vintage Soviet train.
* One of Central Asia’s best folk bands for a private concert onboard a train.
* All taxes and fees.
* Bottled water, refreshments and sweet treats while on the bus and while exploring sights.
* A comprehensive information pack with maps, literature, useful knowledge and gifts.
* Tips for pretty much everyone but guide and driver.
* All activities according to the program: yurt making, singing, visits to various homes, and more.
* Entry tickets to all sights that are ticketed.
* And much, much more.
- Tour of Bishkek, including Bishkek’s curious socialist-era microdistricts.
- Visit to the Fine Arts Museum in Bishkek.
- Visit to two UNESCO Sites: the Burana tower in Kyrgyzstan and the Tamgaly petroglyphs in Kazakhstan.
- A private train ride across the picturesque Boom Gorge.
- A stay at one of the former Soviet Union’s most unique sanatoriums.
- Tour of Karakol’s Great Game era heritage.
- Dinner with a Dungan family.
- Visit to Central Asia’s second largest animal market.
- An adventurous ride on 4WD and 6WDs in the heart of the central Tien Shan mountains.
- A swin in a lovely wild mineral pool.
- Visit to an abandoned Soviet industrial town.
- Visit to a yurt maker, and the building of a yurt.
- A tour of Almaty’s most beautiful sights.
- A private play in Central Asia’s only underground theatre.
- Tasting Central Asia’s best wines.
- Central Asia’s best food.
Price does not include:
- International air fares.
- Medical and travel insurance.
- Personal expenses such as phone calls, laundry, internet, drinks apart from those included.
€3380 per person, €470 single supplement.
The cost is per person sharing double or twin room.
We accept payment by bank wire, credit card and cash (cash is only in our office in Sofia, Bulgaria!).