Much Better Adventures

Adventures / Wild Hikes

Trek the Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan

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

Location

Kyrgyzstan

Fly To

Manas International Airport

Perfect for

Intrepid trekkers of average fitness who are up for a wild and remote adventure in a spectacular mountain range.

Difficulty

Challenging

Why it's much better

  • Hike the dramatic red sandstone canyons and gorges of Konorchek & Skazka
  • Wild swim in the pristine water of Issyk Kul high alpine lake
  • Share a bowl of kumys with Kyrgyz semi-nomadic shepherds and spend a night in their yurt
  • Cross the Jukku Pass (3800m), a spectacular climb, surrounded by glaciers
  • Meet Aitbek, one of the last remaining Eagle Hunters in Kyrgyzstan
  • Wild camp under the stars in vast alpine meadows, pastures and mountain passes
  • Ease your tired legs with a soak in mineral-rich hot springs

What's Included

  • Guides Expert, English-speaking local guides
  • Accommodation 5 nights in a guesthouse, 1 night in a yurt, 3 nights wild camping
  • Meals All your food
  • Transfers All airport transfers
  • Permits All permits and entry fees
  • Equipment All camping equipment
  • Porterage Pack horses to carry overnight luggage
  • Happiness Guaranteed We're so confident that your holiday will be your best yet, we actually guarantee it
  • Feel Good Vibes We mitigate 4x the carbon emitted by all our travellers and support important conservation projects

Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!

Bishkek, a cultural hub of Central Asia, is the starting place for your adventure. Dense with Soviet brutalist architecture, countless city parks and the huge Osh Bazaar you won’t be short of things to do if you arrive early. For those who do, there’s the option to join a walking tour with your guide. Or, just arrive at the hotel tonight to meet your fellow adventurers and hear about the journey ahead over your first traditional Kyrgyz feast.

Day 2: Canyon Hiking and journey to Issyk Kul Lake

Today starts with a road trip as you journey through vast plains making your way towards the city of Karakol at the foot of the Tian Shan Mountains. As you enter the Ala Too Mountain range, you’ll head for a hike through the red sandstone Konorchek canyon, stopping for a picnic lunch. Next you’ll journey to the northern shore of Issyk Kul Lake, the second largest mountain lake in the world, and settle into your cosy guesthouse for the evening.

Approx 3 hours trekking

Day 3: Pasturelands and the 7 Bulls

You'll have an early rise this morning if you're keen to visit the wooden Orthodox church of Karakol and the Dungan Mosque. Next it’s trekking boots to the ready. Your first proper day in the pasturelands above the lake should be an easy warm up to your hiking expedition. You’ll eventually arrive to the valley of Jety Oguz, meaning ‘the seven bulls’ in Kyrgyz language, referring to the 7 red stone cliffs overhanging the picturesque village. Another night in a small local guesthouse tonight.

Approx 4.5 hours trekking / 12km / Ascent 450m / Descent 300m

Day 4: To Chong Kyzyl Suu

Prepare for a long day today. You'll trek from the rock formations of Jety Oguz across vast ‘jailoos’, the Kyrgyz term for summer pasture lands. The landscape starts to change dramatically and you’ll begin to see many yurts dotting the landscape. These yurts are lived in by Kyrgyz semi-nomadic farmers and shepherds. You’ll get your own taste of local culture as you also bed down for the night in one of these traditional yurts. Learn about the age-old traditions that are still employed here and expect an exchange: the locals are curious and just as keen to know about your lives too.

Approx 6.5 hours trekking / 17km / Ascent 650m / Descent 650m

Day 5 : Valley Hopping

Another day of rolling hills as you head up and down vast open valleys. You’ll 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. For those with fuel left in their legs, there’s the choice to continue further and jump into the natural hot springs. You’ll be back in time for dinner at your first wild camping spot.

Approx 7.5 hours trekking / 20km / Ascent 800m / Descent 800m

Day 6: Among the Tian Shan pine trees

Leaving the foothills of the mountains behind, you’ll head to the beautiful valley of Jukku, flanked with Tian Shan pines. The landscape will change a lot today as you really get deep into the mountains, ending the hike at 2660m above sea level. Keep your fingers crossed for clear skies tonight as shooting star spotting is a must from your wild camping spot.

Approx 6.5 hours trekking / 18km / Ascent 660m / Descent 100m

Day 7: The Big One: Jukku Pass (3640m)

Today’s the tough one. Climbing over 1000m today, you’ll get to the top of the Jukku Pass at 3640m. Once over the pass there is a steady incline before arriving at the ‘syrt’ (elevated flatland) of Arabel. It’s a long day of up, up and up but the views from the top make every step worthwhile. Sleeping at 3715m, you’ll be sure to feel the cold tonight and will welcome the never-ending cups of tea passed around.

Approx 7 hours trekking / 15km / Ascent 1055m / Descent 100m

Day 8: The Arabel Syrt

It's your last full day in the mountains. Today you'll cross the Arabel Syrt, a unique ecosystem of highlands dotted with crystalline lakes. The crossing of the syrt is pretty spectacular; the surrounding glaciers are close enough to explore from the side. It's worth making sure your eyes are peeled for ibex, foxes, bearded vultures and even wolves too. We’ll end the day with a quick transfer to Tamga, where your night's guesthouse and hot shower awaits.

Approx 6 hours trekking / 20km / Ascent 100m / Descent 50m

Day 9: Back to Bishkek along Issyk Kul

After an early breakfast, you’ll drive back to Bishkek along the dry south shore of Issyk Kul Lake. There’ll be time for a swim; this high altitude lake, with surrounding views of mountains, is sure to provide a unique wild swimming experience. You’ll also visit the Skazka canyon, with its many shades of red and yellow, before stopping off to meet Aitbek, a ‘berkutchy’ (Eagle hunter). He is one of the few genuine Kyrgyz eagle hunters and you’ll learn how he trains his golden eagle for the hunt. Heading back to Bishkek we’ll have a final group dinner and say goodbye to our local team.

Day 10: Transfer to Manas International Airport

Bid goodbye to Kyrgyzstan and head to the airport for your flight home.

Please Note

All our adventures take place in wild places. Things can go wrong in wild places. Your perfectly planned itinerary may change a bit (or a lot) if the weather turns, someone gets hurt, or a volcano erupts. Usually though, changes make it all the better.

Accommodation

Guesthouses

You will stay in small family-run guesthouses. These are basic but clean and you will share either twin or triple rooms. They will usually have shared facilities instead of private en-suites. Depending on the group size you may also stay in a yurt on these nights that are part of the same property.

Most of the guesthouses are run and owned by local families and at some, you may get the chance to join in with the cooking (optional!) and learn a bit more about their local specialities.

Yurt

The yurt camp in Chong Kyzyl Suu valley is owned by a family. There are 3 yurts for the guests and one old Soviet-style wagon that the family sleep in. There is one wooden latrine and one banya (Russian style bathroom/sauna). There is electricity in the yurts but no plugs, only light. Meals are taken in the wagon with the family, or outside next to the river.

Wild Camping

Camp is usually set up next to a family's yurt so that we can purchase some products from them (bread, milk, kumys etc). You will be sleeping in pairs in 3-man tents so there is plenty of room. There will be a tent used for group meals and a toilet tent for larger groups.

Private Room/Tent Upgrade

For solo travellers looking for their own space, an optional private room and tent can be booked for $155 USD per person (subject to availability). Please request this at the time of booking.

Location

Few places are as fascinating as the region of Central Asia, which has been inaccessible to most people until very recently. At its heart lies Kyrgyzstan, a country of spectacular views and where 90% of the land is mountainous. Traditionally inhabited by semi-nomadic, yurt-dwelling shepherds this nation is defined by its natural beauty. High alpine lakes and dramatic ridges has given the country the title 'Asian Patagonia' - which makes a lot of sense to us!

Meeting Point

Start Point

Manas Airport

Your adventure begins at Manas (Bishkek) Airport. Airport transfers are included if you arrive on the start day, so please let your host know your flight times.

Finish Point

Manas Airport

Your adventure ends at Manas (Bishkek) Airport on Day 10. Airport transfers are included, so please let your host know your flight times.

Please note, transfers are only included if you arrive or depart on the start and end days of the trip. If you would like to arrive early or extend your stay, your host can arrange airport transfers for an extra cost.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are not included in the trip price:

  • Travel insurance
  • Personal expenses
  • Alcoholic drinks

This trip is for trekkers of average fitness. You should feel comfortable walking up to 8 hours a day, covering approximately 20km. The terrain is largely undulating and you will be walking at a steady pace. The Jukku Pass is the most challenging day as you will climb over 1000m, but there will be 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 for that day.

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

This trip will run with a minimum of 4 people and a maximum of 16.

Traditional Kyrgyz food revolves around meat and various dairy products. The preparation techniques and major ingredients have been strongly influenced by the nation's historically nomadic way of life, so many of the cooking techniques are conducive to the long-term preservation of food.

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, like dried fruits and nuts. Dinner will always be hot and will be 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. Your host can arrange this if requested however. For other dietary requirements (vegan included), please check with your host.

The trekking season in the Tian Shan is short - we only schedule departures when the temperatures are at their mildest, so all 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 afternoons can sometimes be hazy. Even in summer, there can be occasional snowfalls above 3000m. 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 at the higher camps temperatures may hover only a few degrees above freezing.

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

We’ve teamed up with the guys at World Nomads to offer insurance designed for adventurous travellers across 140 countries that includes overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. To get yours sorted, click here.

We suggest that you book travel insurance as soon as you book the trip, just to cover you for any last minute life changes. We know you’re an active lot and injuries do happen!

Our group adventures are adult only. However, if you would like to bring children along this can be arranged by requesting a private trip with the host. This trip is suitable for children from age 14 only.

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

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

Horsemen: 70-200 KGS ($1-3 USD) per day Driver: 70-200 KGS ($1-3 USD) per day 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.

Many destinations require a visa and for your passport to be valid for 6 months minimum. Up to date advice for UK citizens can be found here.

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 FCO pages here

Bags
Soft overnight duffel bag or rucksack for horses to carry
Daypack (35+ litres)
Waterproof liner for kitbag/rucksack or drybags

Clothes Light down jacket
Waterproof jacket
Waterproof trousers
Breathable wicking layers
Fleece jacket or similar
Thermals (merino best)
Warm hat
Gloves
Buff or neckscarf
Lightweight trousers/shorts/skirts T-shirts
Underwear & socks
Swimwear
Sunglasses
Sunhat
Something to sleep in
Hiking boots (worn-in)
Sandals

Sleeping Cotton or silk sleeping bag liner
Sleeping bag (3/4 season rated down to -5°C ideally)
Travel pillow or pillowcase
Thermarest or sleeping mat (foam ones are provided but pack yours if you have a preference)

Other
Universal travel plug adapter
Power bank or solar charger
Passports (and visas)
Travel insurance documents
Ear plugs
Suncream
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 x1 ltr
Quickdry towel
Biodegradable wet-wipes
Energy bars and snacks (optional, local snacks provided)
Water purification tablets or treatment system

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Dates & Prices

Bespoke trips only

There are currently no planned group departures. Please contact this host to request a quote for a custom trip.

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