Trek the Tian Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Hike the most spectacular mountain range in Central Asia and sleep under the stars

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Trip Ref #10040

Trek the Tian Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Hike the most spectacular mountain range in Central Asia and sleep under the stars

DURATION

9 nights

LOCATION

Kyrgyzstan

ANNUAL LEAVE

7 days off work

SEASON

Jun—Sep

GROUP SIZE

Up to 10 people

MEETING POINT

Manas International Airport, Kyrgyzstan

ACCOMMODATION

Classic

Hotel · Guesthouse · Yurt · Wild camping

OVERALL RATING

4.8

Based on 21 reviews
DIFFICULTY

Challenging

The terrain is rough, uneven and completely magnificent, so you should be comfortable walking up to 8 hours/22 km a day.

Hike dramatic, red sandstone canyons and swim in the pristine water of the Issyk Kul high alpine lake

Experience the legendary hospitality of the Kyrgyz semi-nomadic shepherds and spend a night in their yurt

Cross the epic Jukku Pass (3800m) - a spectacular climb surrounded by glaciers and meet Aitbek, one of the last remaining Eagle Hunters in Kyrgyzstan

Day 1

Welcome to Kyrgyzstan

Check into your hotel in Bishkek, the cultural hub of Kyrgyzstan, and meet your fellow adventurers. If you arrive early enough, join for lunch and then head into the city on foot with your guide to explore the huge Osh Bazaar before sitting down for a traditional Kyrgyz feast.

Day 2

Issyk Kul Lake

Hiking

3hrs · 7km · 400m up · 400m down

Driving

7hrs

Take a scenic road trip across the vast Kyrgyz plains to the city of Karakol at the foot of the Tian Shan Mountains. Leave the car behind you and hike through the red sandstone Konorchek Canyon, stopping for a picnic lunch with a serious view. Journey on to the northern shore of Issyk Kul Lake, the second-largest mountain lake in the world. Visit the unique Dungan Mosque and settle into your cosy guesthouse for the evening.

Day 3

The 7 Bulls

Hiking

7-8hrs · 18km · 825m up · 725m down

Rise early for a visit to the wooden Orthodox church of Karakol, or just enjoy a lazy start to the day. Cross the pasturelands that lay above the lake and head to the valley of Jety Oguz, or ‘the seven bulls’ - 7 red stone cliffs from where you'll hit the trail. See your first yurts, home to Kyrgyz semi-nomadic farmers and shepherds and get your own taste of the local culture as you bed down in one for the night. Learn about the age-old traditions still employed, but expect an exchange - they are just as curious to know about your lives too.

Day 4

Jailoo Kyzyl Suu

Hiking

8hrs · 22km · 1000m up · 1100m down

Cross the Jailoo Kyzyl Suu, and join the Jukkuchak Valley, a path previously used by explorers in the 1930s on their way to Chinese Turkestan. Either way you’ll be back in time for dinner at your first wild camping spot.

Day 5

The Jukku Valley

Hiking

6hrs · 17km · 720m up · 150m down

Leave the foothills of the mountains behind and ascend the beautiful Jukku Valley, flanked on both sides by Tian Shan pine trees. As you hike the landscape will change fast as you journey deeper into the mountains, ending at 2600m above sea level. Keep your fingers crossed for clear skies as shooting star spotting is a must from your wild camping spot.

Day 6

Jukku Lake

Hiking

6hrs · 18km · 820m up · 250m down

Venture further and higher into the Jukku Valley, which was once trafficked by caravans heading to China along the ancient Silk Road. Set up camp at around 3140m above sea level in a serene spot on the shores of the first Jukku Lake.

Day 7

The big one: The Jukku Pass (3640m)

Hiking

6-7hrs · 12km · 750m up · 200m down

Climb to the top of the incredible Jukku Pass. It’s a long day with a lot of up and down, but the view from the top makes every step worthwhile. Once on the other side of the pass, it continues to rise gradually and you'll be glad to reach camp on the Arabel Syrt around lunchtime. Fuelled up on a hot meal, those who want can walk up to the plateau at 4000m for an unforgettable panorama of the surrounding snowy peaks before bunking down in your tent. Sleeping at 3680m, you’ll be sure to feel the cold tonight and will probably welcome the never-ending cups of tea that are passed around.

Day 8

The Arabel Syrt

Hiking

1-2hrs · 5km · 70m up · 50m down

Cross the ‘syrt’ (elevated flatland) of Arabel - a unique ecosystem of highlands dotted with crystalline lakes. After a few kilometres, cross a bridge over the river to find the vehicle waiting to drive you back to Issyk Kul Lake. There may be time for a short hike to the Barskoon Waterfalls en route (if your legs still have the appetite for more) before ending the day at Tamga where tonight's guesthouse and a hot shower await.

Day 9

The Great Aitbek

After an early breakfast, drive back to Bishkek along the dry south shore of the high altitude Issyk Kul Lake. There’ll be time for a swim before visiting Skazka Canyon, with its many shades of red and yellow. Stop to meet Aitbek, one of the few remaining ‘berkutchy’ (Kyrgyz eagle hunters) and learn how he trains his golden eagle before returning to Bishkek and a final group dinner.

Day 10

Head for home

Wave goodbye to Kyrgyzstan and head back to the airport in time for your flight home.

Included

Guides

Expert, English-speaking guides

Accommodation

2 nights in a hotel, 2 nights in a guesthouse, 1 night in a yurt, 4 nights wild camping

Meals

Munch on tasty food throughout

Transfers

To and from the airport and everything in-between

Porterage

Pack horses to carry your overnight luggage

Equipment

All the camping equipment you'll need

Permits

All permits and entry fees

Not Included

Flights to and from the meeting point

Travel insurance

Personal expenses

Visas where required

Day 1

Hotel · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 2

Guesthouse · Twin or triple share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 3

Yurt · Multi share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 4 – Day 7

Wild camping · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 8

Guesthouse · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 9

Hotel · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 10

Departure day

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

What is the food like?

Traditional Kyrgyz food revolves around meat and various dairy products. The preparation techniques and major ingredients have been strongly influenced by the nation's ancient, nomadic way of life, so many of the cooking techniques are conducive to the long-term preservation of food. If you get the chance, be sure to join in with the cooking and learn more about the local specialities.

During the trek, breakfast will comprise of porridge, eggs, soups and sausages. Lunch will likely be a packed lunch of a sandwich and various other local treats, such as dried fruits and nuts. Dinner will always be hot and usually a combination of stews, noodle dishes and soups.

As the local economy is traditionally based on animal rearing and breeding, vegetarianism is still largely unheard of, however, your host can arrange this if requested. For other dietary requirements, please check with your host. For other dietary requirements (including vegan and gluten-free diets, which are difficult to cater for on this trip), please check with your host

What is the accommodation like?

Bishkek

In Bishkek you'll stay at the Navat Hotel or a hotel of similar standard such as Hotel Evropa or Hotel Damas. You'll stay in twin-share rooms by default.

Guesthouses on trek

In Karakol and Tamga, you’ll stay in small family-run guesthouses in either twin or triple rooms. These are basic but clean with shared facilities.

Traditional Yurts

The yurt camp in Chong Kyzyl Suu valley is owned by a local family, with 3 yurts available for guests whilst the family sleep in an old Soviet-style wagon. You'll be sharing a yurt with up to six people. There is a wooden latrine and one banya (Russian style bathroom/sauna). There is electricity, but no plugs. Meals are taken in the wagon with the family, or outside next to the river.

Wild Camp

On days 4-7, you’ll camp in wild locations in twin-share tents. You'll need to put up and take down your own tent. There will also be a tent for group meals and a toilet tent for larger groups.

Upgrades

For solo travellers looking for their own space, an optional private room and tent can be booked for an extra charge, see Optional Extras for the price . Please request this at the time of booking (this is subject to availability). This is available on all nights, except for the night in the yurt.

The Area

map

Logistics

Starts

Manas Airport

11:00 on Day 1

Ends

Manas Airport

Depart anytime on Day 10

Transfers

Airport transfers are included for arrivals at any time on or before day 1, and at any time on or after Day 10 (provided you have supplied your arrival and departure details in advance). There will be a welcome briefing at the hotel in Bishkek at 11:30 on Day 1 so please aim to arrive by then if possible.

Travel options

There are regular flights to Kyrgyzstan from major airports across the UK and Europe, usually with a brief stopover.

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What do I need to bring?

Bags

  • Soft (ideally waterproof) overnight duffel bag or rucksack for the horses to carry (60-80 litres)
  • Daypack (25-30 litres litres) with rain cover (or bring drybags)
  • Waterproof liner or drybags for main duffel bag/rucksack

Clothes

  • Mid-weight down jacket
  • Waterproof and windproof jacket with hood
  • Waterproof and windproof trousers / overtrousers
  • Breathable wicking layers
  • Fleece jacket or similar
  • Thermals (wool/merino is best)
  • Warm hat
  • Gloves
  • Buff or neck scarf
  • Lightweight trousers/shorts/skirts T-shirts
  • Underwear & socks
  • Swimwear
  • Suitable UV-blocking sunglasses
  • Sunhat
  • Something to sleep in
  • Waterproof hiking boots (worn-in)
  • Gaiters (optional - for early June and late Sept/Oct trips only)
  • Sandals / Crocs

Sleeping

  • Cotton or silk sleeping bag liner
  • Sleeping bag (3/4 season, down to -5°C Comfort Rating): available to rent also (see Optional Extras)
  • Travel pillow or pillowcase
  • Thermarest or sleeping mat (optional - basic foam mats are provided but you may want to bring your own Thermarest for additional comfort)

Other

  • Trekking poles (optional but recommended)
  • Universal travel plug adapter
  • Power bank or solar charger
  • Passports (and visas)
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Ear plugs
  • High SPF suncream and lipbalm (SPF 50+ recommended)
  • Personal first-aid kit (inc. blister treatment)
  • Personal items (biodegradable toiletries, sanitary wear etc)
  • Toilet kit (toilet paper, biodegradable bags)
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Alcohol hand-gel
  • Headtorch or torch
  • Reusable water bottle x 1-litre and/or hydration bladder/pouch
  • Water purification tablets or treatment system
  • Quickdry travel towel
  • Biodegradable wet-wipes
  • Energy bars and snacks (optional, local snacks provided)

Sleeping bag rental

Payable Before Departure

Sleeping bag rental

Double or Twin Room in Bishkek (per room)

Payable Before Departure

Double or Twin Room in Bishkek (per room)

Single Room in Bishkek (per room)

Payable Before Departure

Single Room in Bishkek (per room)

Optional Private Room and Tent Upgrade

Payable Before Departure

Optional Private Room and Tent Upgrade

Airport Transfer One Way

Payable Before Departure

Airport Transfer One Way

- Heetan(September 2022)

If you're looking to get off the beaten track, this is the trip for you. We hiked through varied scenery and spectacular landscapes without seeing another group of tourists. The guides together with the support staff were excellent. Highlights of the trip were hiking up to the Jukku pass and camping under the stars. Definitely recommended.

- Clare(September 2022)

Fabulous trip - amazing scenery - not to be missed

- Emily(September 2022)

Incredible

- Jeremy(September 2022)

The scenery and culture of Kyrgyzstan were outstanding and the experience of trekking with packhorses in the mountains is something I'll never forget. The whole trip was perfectly planned and managed by our two local guides, driver and horsemen. The walking was quite challenging (as rated) and went from an altitude of just over 2,000m to 3,700m so a good pair of lungs is needed. But the effort was rewarded by spectacular views and great experiences. Thank you MBA for another very memorable and innovative holiday!

- Andrew(September 2022)

Well run trek. Will definitely book with MBA again.

- Yaxin(August 2022)

Outstanding trip, fantastic itinerary, and such a fun and happy vibe. The length of the days were perfect and there’s a real no one left behind mentality. We were super well looked after (Mirs is an absolute dream of a guide) and saw and did so much. Highly recommend this trip!

- George(August 2022)

Trip to Tian Shan mountains was an unexpectedly beautiful experience. Well planned daily schedule with a few visits to main attractions of major cities, but still plenty of time to enjoy stunning Kyrgyz mountains. I mostly enjoyed camping days by the glacier rivers. Local guides took care of all details (delicious local dinners included!!), making whole trip unforgettable!

- GEORGE(August 2022)

Trip schedule was well planned, having a couple of days for city tour and meeting with locals but still allowing enough time to trek and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes of Kyrgyz mountains, without rush. Food and accommodation, exceeded my expectations. Thanks to our wonderful local guides, who took care of all necessary details, whole trip was an unforgettable experience!

- Lydia(August 2022)

This trip exceeded my expectations in all ways. The views were amazing (canyons, mountains and the milky way), the group was great and I felt safe and well looked after for the whole of the trip thanks to our wonderful guide Mirs :) The route we took was clearly well thought through and whilst the uphills were uphill, they were very manageable and the group took plenty of rests - the best being a siesta in the sun! I thoroughly recommend this trip and wish I hadn't already done it so I could go back and do it again!

- Roxana(August 2022)

One of the best trips I ever had! Our guides were Mirsaid and Stas. Mirs is the kindest sweetest person, best guide I ever had!!! The landscape is absolutely stunning! I enjoyed very much our wild camping nights next to streams and lakes. It was so peaceful! Stas cooked really tasty food every night! We learnt a lot about Kyrgyzstan and culture and traditions. Every day was really well planned and organised and everything went smoothly. I would definitely visit Kyrgyzstan again!

We've crunched the numbers to work out the total carbon footprint of this trip, and plant enough trees to suck 2x as much back out the atmosphere.

What's the number?
It works out on average at 386kg of CO2 emissions per person, including all local transport, accommodation, food, activities, guides, staff and office operations.

The only thing it doesn’t include right now is flights and travel to the destination. We do make an overall estimate across all our customers separately, but as we don’t book flights, have customers from all corners of the world, and no way of reliably knowing their travel plans, we simply can’t include an individual number in the figure on display here. We’ve got a goal for 2022 to fix that, so that when you book, there is a way to measure and mitigate the carbon emitted by your flight too.

But what does the number mean?
Yep, hard to picture eh? To give you an idea:

  • Driving 1000miles/1609km would be approx. 281kg of CO2 in an average car (or 140.5kg per person if there was 2 of you in it).
  • A return economy class flight London - New York would be approx. 1,619kg (1.66 tonnes) per person.
  • 10 trees in a temperate forest are estimated to remove approx. 250kg of CO2 from the air in a period of 5-10 years.

What are we doing about it?
Our trips are relatively low-carbon by design, and we're working with all our hosts to develop long term carbon reduction plans. For every person booked with us since 2016 we’re planting enough trees to suck at least 2x more carbon out the atmosphere than is emitted by their trips. All native trees, as part of amazing projects that are re-foresting degraded land, tackling the biodiversity crisis and supporting local communities at the same time. We go further than that too, also funding re-wilding projects worldwide to help protect important keystone species from extinction. See the reforestation and re-wilding schemes we support. See our carbon action plan.

Want to know more?
Amazingly, no international travel company has ever publicly published their carbon measurements before, as far as we know. We believe that must change, quickly. So we’re openly sharing the method we used in the hope that other companies will be able to more easily follow suit and build on what we've done so far. You'll find it all here.

This trip is suitable for trekkers of average fitness. You should feel comfortable walking for up to 8 hours a day/22 km although most days are 6-7 hours and up to 18 km. The terrain is largely undulating and you will be walking at a steady pace. The Jukku Pass (3640m) is the most challenging section and you will climb over 750m, with plenty of time to stop and rest your legs. You will also have horses carrying your overnight kit so will only need to trek with a small rucksack of essentials.

Sure can! Over 50% of our travellers travel solo, it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.

Your host will provide you with boiled water while trekking, but we advise that you also pack a filtration system of your own (e.g. Saywer or Steripen) or water purification tablets (e.g Aqua Tabs or Micropur) to ensure that the water is fully treated.

The trekking season in the Tian Shan is short and we only schedule departures when the temperatures are at their mildest and all the mountain passes are in use. Kyrgyzstan gets surprisingly little rain and has over 300 days of sunshine a year.

In the summer, the mornings are usually clear, but the afternoons can be hazy. Even in summer, there can be occasional snowfalls above 3000m and the Arabel Syrt can be wet and marshy as a result of meltwater. At lower altitudes (around the tree line) summer temperatures usually range from 16-28°C and it can feel very hot during the day. In the highlands, the temperatures range from 8-12°C. Night times will feel cold and the higher camps temperatures may hover only a few degrees above freezing or even dip below zero.

Bishkek and the lowland areas around Lake Issyk-Kul will be hot in the day and mild in the evenings.

Tips are not included in the trip cost. These are entirely at your discretion but there is an expectation to tip for good service. Your guide will help with advice, however, we suggest the following as a guideline per person:

  • Horsemen, driver and assistant: 70-200 KGS ($1-3 USD) per day.
  • Guide: 200-350 ($3-5 USD) per day

Of course, you are free to tip more or less and the amount should be reflective of your perception of service and quality - a tip is not compulsory and should only be given when you receive excellent service.

Absolutely. Your host can look after any luggage you don't need while trekking.

We recommend checking out the country specific information here and also talking to a travel nurse.

For current advice about travelling in Kyrgyzstan, have a read of the UK Foreign Office pages here.

Our recommended travel insurance provider is Campbell Irvine.

Travel insurance is compulsory on all of our adventures. Your insurance should include adequate protection for overseas medical treatment, evacuation/repatriation, your baggage and equipment and the specific activities involved on your adventure.

Your insurance policy should also include specific Covid-19 cover, including cancellation and curtailment cover if you, your travel companion or a close relative are diagnosed with Covid-19.

We fully endorse Campbell Irvine as their insurance offers all of the above, so get in touch with them or call on 020 7938 1734 to get your insurance sorted. We suggest that you book travel insurance as soon as you book your adventure, just to cover you for any last minute life changes. We know you’re an active lot and injuries do happen!

We automatically convert prices from the local currency that a host receives to your chosen currency. We update our exchange rates on a daily basis so this does mean that prices displayed on the site are subject to currency fluctuations, which is why you may see them change over time.

If you wish to change the currency you pay in, head to the bottom of the page.

All of our group adventures are specially designed for adults to enjoy (18+) as we want these adventures to bring together outdoorsy people who are truly like-minded. Children can be accommodated on some private departures.

You're in good company. Our adventures are typically made up of a mix of solo travellers and small groups of two or three friends who simply love adventure, pushing themselves and meeting awesome like-minded people. See here for more info about our lovely bunch of Much Better Adventurers.

Want to book a private trip? Just tap ‘Private Group’ in the dates and prices tab.

Your trip is led by carefully curated local hosts and expert guides. See here for more info about the guides we work with.

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