Experience for yourself the legend that is Central Asian hospitality, with stays in local homes and guesthouses, and plenty of home cooked meals. Stay overnight in yurts at beautiful Son-Kol, where nomadic herdsmen watch over their flocks of sheep and goats. Travel round the shores of Issyk-Kul, the largest alpine lake in Asia and second largest in the world. Enjoy hikes through canyons and to waterfalls in Jeti-Oguz, Baskoon and the ‘Valley of the Fairytales’
Yurts, mountains, canyons, waterfalls, alpine lakes, Soviet history, legendary hospitality – these are just the tip of the iceberg on this special Kyrgyzstan expedition. Starting in Bishkek, take the adventure to the next level with three days at the famous World Nomad Games, a spectacle quite literally worthy of Steven Seagal – or perhaps it is the other way around. This unique annual event celebrates the nomadic heritage of Central Asia with a slew of competitive sports you never knew existed: horseback ‘goat polo’, stick wrestling, bone-throwing, eagle hunting and more. It largely takes place near the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, with the dramatic Ala-Too mountains as a backdrop. Suffice it to say this is an Intrepid adventure that more than lives up to its name.
Breakfast Included: 11 Lunches Included: 6 Dinner Included: 6
Welcome to Kyrgyzstan! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm on day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
If you arrive early, spend some time exploring Bishkek. You'll notice a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere as you stroll around town. The centre of the city is Ala-Too Square, which was known as Lenin's Square in Soviet times. Lenin used to stand in his concrete overcoat in the middle of this square, proudly gesturing towards the mountains. For those interested in their Soviet memorabilia, a larger-than-life Mikhail Frunze can be found still sitting on a bronze horse facing the train station, though his name plaque has been removed. You can also visit the museum built over Frunze's birthplace. A nice place to watch the world go by is Dubovy (Oak) Park, where there are a few open-air cafes great for soaking up the atmosphere over a drink. The century-old oaks here and all along Freedom Avenue make Bishkek one of the greenest cities in Central Asia.
Make the 300km drive to Son-Kol, one of the largest lakes in the country, which will take most of the day. Stop in Kochkor for lunch (you will return here to stay for the night en route to Issyk-Kul later in the trip). This beautiful alpine lake is considered a sacred place for many Kyrgyz people and one of the best summer pastures for nomadic herders.
Tonight you will stay in your first yurt of the trip. Yurts, made of felt and tarpaulins on a round frame, are the traditional dwellings of the Kyrgyz people. Sleeping arrangements are on a multi-share, mixed-gender basis with mattresses on the floor. It can get very chilly in the evenings, so there's a stove for heating and plenty of blankets. There are no bathroom facilities inside the yurts. Outdoor toilets are to be expected. All meals are included during our stay here. Those daring enough for an invigorating morning splash can use the lake nearby.
Enjoy a full day of exploring your beautiful surroundings by the lake. An uphill hike leads to ancient petroglyphs and a beautiful panoramic view over the lake (if the weather allows). Wander along the shore or relax at the campsite. Your camp is usually near a number of nomad camps, and hopefully it will be possible to visit them while here – it's a fantastic opportunity to see local life up close. Enjoy your second night in a yurt this evening.
Leave the lake behind and make the 130km drive to Kochkor. Say hello to our friend Fatima, the representative of a local cooperative that trains women in local crafts and allows them to support their families. Pay a visit their workshop and tuck into a tasty lunch. Today there's also the chance to explore a small local market and stock up on snacks and fruit for the next few days. Tonight the accommodation will be a guesthouse or homestay with shared bathrooms.
Begin the trip around Issyk-Kul, driving the 185 km from Kochkor to Tamga (approximately 3 hours). At 170 km long and 70 km wide, Issyk-Kul is the second largest alpine lake in the world after Lake Titicaca. Despite its altitude of 1600 m, the water here never freezes in winter owing to its depth, its slight salinity and its thermal source water. With the Ala-Too mountains in the background and some beautiful natural sights just off shore, it's no wonder this is such a popular holiday spot for both locals and visitors. The drive will take you past the Skazka (Fairytale) Canyons where there'll be a stop for a short walk. After lunch in the village, drive to the nearby Barsakoon Valley for a hike to the waterfalls. There is also a bay nearby that's good for swimming. The village is full of charming Russian-style wooden houses on quiet streets. Retire to a homestay tonight, where accommodation may be multishare, with shared bathrooms. After dinner, kick back, relax and take in the sunset from the lakeshore.
Continue around Issyk-Kul (220 km, approximately 4–5 hours total driving time). Along the way, there will be stops to take in the views and stretch your legs at scenic spots before arriving at the main resort town of the region, Cholpon-Ata. Among these stops is Jeti-Oguz Valley, where an army truck takes you to the starting point for a hike through a forest to a waterfall. After lunch in Karakol, there's time for some breif sightseeing - check out the Holy Trinity Cathedral, made entirely of wood, and the unique Dungan Mosque. From Karakol to Cholpon-Ata (130 km) you will see some ancient burial mounds from the Sakha (Scythian) period. Arrive in Cholpon-Ata and settle into your accommodation.
This will be your base for enjoying the World Nomad Games over the next three days. There may be some free time to enjoy the beach before heading to the Hippodrome for the spectacular opening ceremony of the games this evening. As well as seeing the parade of competing nations, be treated to a spectacle of dancing, horseback riding, traditional costumes and music. The stadium can seat up to 10,000 people and will also host horseback events as part of the games.
World Nomad Games
Immerse yourself in as much World Nomad Games action as you can over the next two days. Head to the Kyrchyn Jailoo (summer pasture), where the cultural, hunting and archery events will take place. There's a multitude of things to choose from, from storytelling competitions to cultural performances. For many visitors, the events at Kyrchyn are the best part of the World Nomad Games. To host all the events and display the very best of Kyrgyz culture, more than 200 yurts are set up on the pasture, representing each of the country's regions.
Back in Cholpon-Ata there's the chance to see Kok-Boru, the national sport of Kyrgyzstan. Played on horseback and using a headless goat carcass, it's often referred to as 'goat polo'. Competition is fierce, as a version of the sport is played in many neighbouring countries; if Kyrgyzstan makes the final you can be sure of a packed stadium. Another intriguing local sport is mas-wrestling, a kind of tug of war with a stick. Eurasian nations will feature heavily in all competitions here, but there could be a surprise competitor from Europe or the US who is bound to get plenty of encouragement from the locals.
Bid farewell to your nomad friends from around the world as we leave Cholpn-Ata today. First, stop off at the petroglyphs near the town - ancient rock carvings of animals and daily life. Then, continue on to Tamchy for lunch and to meet our friend Baktygul, who is proud to have felt rugs she has made on display in the British Museum. (The total driving distance to Kemin is around 120 km). There will be some free time to explore the village and a chance to try your hand at bread making. Tonight's accommodation is a local guesthouse.
Drive from Kemin to the 11th-century Burana Tower, one of the few monuments this old in the country. Lunch will be in nearby Don Aryk, where you'll meet Mukan. This retired school principal, along with his son Ulan, now shares Kyrgyz horsemanship traditions with travellers. Afterwards, drive back to Bishkek (the total driving distance is approximately 120 km today). The remainder of the day is free, so perhaps go for a stroll around the city to see some sights.
Enjoy some exploration of the nation's capital. Check out Osh market, Ala Too Square, and the main Russian Orthodox Church. There's free time this afternoon for your last minute shopping or sightseeing. In the evening, bid farewell to your fellow travellers over an optional final dinner in a local restaurant.
Your trip concludes after breakfast today. There are no included activities today so you are free to depart at any time.