Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in 2 weeks (15 days): an introduction to Central Asia – by AKHighlights: Altyn Emel, Issyk Kul, Jeti Oguz
This is in my opinion the ideal itinerary for a trip to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in 2 weeks (15 days).
We have already been 4 times to Kyrgyzstan with my girlfriend and during one of those travels we took the time to visit Kazakhstan as well starting by Almaty. Kazakhstan is huge to cover but from what I have heard and read the main spot to see is definitely Altyn-Emel National Park. Besides Almaty (which is in this itinerary), we also went to Astana but I wouldn’t consider it a must-see and it would take one extra day so I removed this destination from the trip itinerary.
– Hire a good driver for the wild parts of the trip (e.g. Song Kul, Jeti Oguz) and rely on serious taxi drivers in between cities. The roads and the traffic can be quite dangerous so I would really not advise to drive yourself.
– If you have time to relax, Issyk Kul is the perfect place to spend a few days (many locals as well as people from neighbouring countries like Kazakhstan and Russia spend their summer holiday on the lake in resorts).
Step by step
Day 1: Almaty, Kazakhstan
We went to the Old Square and then to Kok-Tyube (Green Peak) where you can see a nice panorama of the city and the Tien-Shan Mountains.
Days 2-4: Altyn Emel National Park, Kazakhstan
The next day we left early in the morning for a 2-day tour of Altyn Emel National Park. The steppes were breathtaking with an amazing impression of space and wild arid nature all around. We saw antilopes and wild donkeys. In the evening we slept a in farm. The night was so clear that you could see an infinity of stars - not your average night sky in a polluted city like Amsterdam where we live.
Days 5-6: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Although it may not look like the most beautiful city at first, Bishkek definitely has a unique charm with its beautiful mountain surroundings and large green avenues that go through the city.
For a good quick lunch with traditional Kyrgyz/Central Asian food (Shashlik, Lagman, Plov, Manti, you name it), I would recommend Fakir.
Days 7-9: Lake Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan
We went by taxi to Issyk Kul in the morning which took us about 3 hours from Bishkek.
On the way you go through the beautiful Boom Gorge (canyon). The road is quite narrow and scary at times but everything went well.
We arrived in Kapriz (Caprice) early in the afternoon and chilled on the beach on the shore of Issyk Kul. The weather and water were quite warm yet the air was breezy and refreshing. On the other side of the lake we could admire the snowy Tien Shan mountains.
The next day we got up early and took a taxi to visit the Grigoriev and Semenov Gorges (canyons). Try to check the weather beforehand: it was raining that day and we were very lucky to be able to visit everything because roads can quickly become slippery.
Days 10-11: Karakol & Jeti Oguz, Kyrgyzstan
The next morning we went to Karakol by taxi. We visited the city briefly and had lunch there.
We then we headed to the very famous Jeti Oguz Gorge ('Seven Bulls' in Kyrgyz) where you can see beautiful red sandstone rock formations (photo).
On the other side you also have the 'Broken Heart'. Make sure to continue after this to reach the magnificent mountain valley that is deeper in the Jeti Oguz Gorge (about 1-2 hours drive after the red mountains).
Days 12-14: Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan
After spending the night back in Karakol we got up very early (about 5AM) to go to Song Kul (or Song Kol Lake).
We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and walked around the lake until sunset. We slept in a yurt which was a really nice experience: everything is quiet around, you can only hear the wind blowing and the horses going on a night stroll, strictly guarded by shepherd dogs.
The next day we did some (gentle) horse riding around the lake. After lunch there was a game of Ulak Tartysh going on, which is a traditional Central Asian/Turkish sport very similar to polo but where the ball is replaced by the carcass of a sheep.
Song Kul is so beautiful and calming, a place where you truly feel close to nature, that we were actually thinking of staying one more day there but unfortunately we had to get back to Bishkek to return to Amsterdam. And so we did.