Often referred to as the “Switzerland of Central Asia”, Kyrgyzstan certainly lives up to this moniker with its soaring mountain ranges, glistening glaciers and vertiginous pine forests. If it feels like you’re on top of the world, that’s because you’re not far off.
Despite its ubiquitous natural beauty and considerable size, few people can point to this landlocked nation on the map, and sadly, even fewer actually visit.
This is due largely to Kyrgyzstan’s geographical isolation, but also because it has been out in the cold politically – since gaining independence from the USSR, the country has remained well under the influence of neighbouring Russia.
Visitor numbers are increasing, but a short tourist season, an underdeveloped infrastructure and poor air links remain obstacles for all but the intrepid traveller. However, those who do make it here are guaranteed an experience they won’t have to share with the crowds.
Although mountains dominate, Kyrgyzstan’s landscapes are surprisingly varied: snow-capped peaks eventually give way to open plains and shimmering lakes. It really does look like Switzerland in places, but elsewhere the countryside can conjure up images of Scotland, Kashmir and even the Middle East. The mountain vistas alone are reason enough to visit and no trip to Kyrgyzstan would be complete without trekking up at least one of its impressive summits.
For less active visitors there are a handful of beaches to speak of and, in the small window that passes as summer, holidaymakers can be found bathing on the shores of lakes such as Issyk Kul. Located in the Tian Shan mountains, this is a summer resort for the brave – the water here is bracing, to say the least.
It’s not all about the landscapes, though. In fact, a big draw for tourists is the prospect of staying with the country’s semi-nomadic shepherds, who live in yurts and eke out traditional lives in this harsh, unforgiving and unremittingly beautiful country.