Kazakhstan & Kirgizistan

  • Group Trip Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

    This trip, which combines Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, offers an impressive variety of impressions. The modern, almost fashionable former capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty, is really the exact opposite of the Soviet look-a-like capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. In general, it can be stated that Kazakhstan breathes progression while Kyrgyzstan seems to be in doubt between progress and traditions.

    But there are similarities as well. Everywhere, outside the cities, nature is of a Central Asian beauty. From deserted steppes in Kazakhstan to majestic mountains in Kyrgyzstan. Everywhere, cities included, the people are friendly and sincerely curious about you and your stories. And always, even in the tiniest villages, you can enjoy lovely food. Prepared with love and care by your hosts.

    The Kazakh part of this trip is really passing through virgin tourist areas. You could easily consider yourself to be a modern Marco Polo. In Kyrgyzstan, tourism is a bit more developed; but not at all till the level that it can claim to be a touristic hotspot. In other words, you are an innovator, who will be followed by the mass in the coming years. This has to happen as this part of the world has too much to offer.


    From 20 July to 6 August 2018 (18 days)


    € 1,795 per person

    This price includes:
    ✓ Accommodation in hotels / bed & breakfasts / yurts on double sharing basis
    ✓ Breakfast
    ✓ Lunches / Dinners (except in Almaty and Bishkek)
    ✓ Entrance to museums
    ✓ All excursions as indicated in the program
    ✓ Two days of rafting
    ✓ All transportation by comfortable (mini) bus

    ✓ Professional guidance by Eastward Travels, before and during the trip
    ✓ Services of an English speaking guide
    ✓ Visa support (if necessary)

    This price does not include:
    ✓ Flight from Europe to Almaty. Approximate costs € 500
    ✓ All personal expenses like phone bills, insurances, medical costs, extra luggage etcetera.
    ✓ Tips to drivers and hotel staff
    ✓ Visa (if needed)

    Group size

    Maximum 12 persons

    Flight details

    This trip will start in Almaty. It is, therefore, important, to be in Almaty on 20 July 2018. It is best to check out UIA (Ukraine), Air Astana or Aeroflot as they normally have the best offers to Central Asia.

  • Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan – Day by Day

    Day 01: Departure from Home Day 02: Arrival in Almaty, sightseeing Almaty
    Day 03: Bolshoe Almatinskoe Lake Day 04: Almaty to Altyn-Emel
    Day 05: Altyn-Emel Day 06: Altyn-Emel to Charyn-Chundja
    Day 07: Charyn-Chundja to Karakol  Day 08: Karakol to Altin Arashan (return)
    Day 09: Karakol to Joty Oghuz & Bokonbaevo Day 10: Bokonbaevo to Song Kul
    Day 11: Song Kul Day 12: Song Kul to Chon Kemin
    Day 13: Chon Kemin (rafting) Day 14: Chon Kemin (rafting)
    Dag 1y: Chon Kemin to Bishke Day 16: Bishkek to Ala Archa (return)
    Day 17: Bishkek to Almaty
     Day 18: Back Home

    Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan in Detail

    Day 01 – Departure from Europe

    You can depart from anywhere in Europe (or the USA or elsewhere). There are flights to Kazakhstan, almost always with a stop on the way, from all over the world.

    Day 02 – Arrival in Almaty, sightseeing

    It is only a short trip from the airport to your hotel in the city centre of Almaty. After check-in you can relax till midday before you will meet your local guide. In the afternoon you will discover the history, culture and architecture of the former Kazakh capital. One of the highlights, without any doubt, is the Ascension Cathedral, the second largest wooden building in the world. You will also visit the Museum of Musical Instruments, and have plenty of time to wander through the city centre. You might be somehow surprised that Almaty has a luxurious, almost mondain, appearance. The locals, as it seems, enjoy themselves, the city and the superb climate. There are terraces all over, where you can pleasantly wine and dine.

    For those interested in sport and speed skating, an excursion to the Medeo skating ring might be an extraordinary experience. There were times, not even that long ago, when this skating ring was the fastest on the planet. Nowadays, there are other – indoor – ones that have overtaken Medeo. But it still exists. Just outside the city. Even if you do not care at all about speed skating you very well could still enjoy this excursion. Simply, because the location is nothing but astonishing. Afterwards, you will visit Kok Tebe to enjoy the views over the city. And then, it is all up to you. You can return to your hotel, but you might as well head for a terrace, a cafe or a restaurant.

    Day 03 – Bolshoe Almatinskoe Lake

    Almaty is surrounded by mountains, one of the reasons why the inhabitants are always proudly talking about their city. Today you will drive to Bolshoe Almatinskoe Ozero (translated as ‘Big Almaty Lake’). The lake is situated at an altitude of 2,511 metres, but still only 30 kilometres away from the city. Therefore, it is only a short drive. If you feel energetic, you could opt for a walk around the lake. It seems to be a realistic goal as its length is only 1.6 kilometres and its width not more than 1. Alternatively, you could go for a swim in the, rather cold, water.

    On your way back to will visit ‘Hawks Nursery’, a kind of trainings centre for birds of prey. Among others, hawks and eagles are trained for the hunt, a typical Central Asian tradition. In the coming days you will find out more about this. The evening you can spend according to your own wishes and desires.

    Day 04 – Almaty to Altyn-Emel

    National Park Altyn-Emel is located approximately 200 kilometres northwest of Almaty. This park is yet another example of how splendid the nature is in this country. It really does not require a lot of fantasy to compare this park with the Grand Canyon in the USA. The most striking difference? Here you will be surrounded by emptiness, silence and most probably you will be simply alone. The most fascinating about this park are the ‘Singing Sands’. Named so, because the sounds this dune produces are very similar to the sounds of an organ. Though only in dry weather. There are actually two dunes, with a length of 4 kilometres and a height of maximum 120 metres. Another specific feature is that the dunes, in spite of everlasting strong winds, do not move. They are exactly at this very place for thousands of years. It is truly a miraculous place.

    Day 05 – Altyn-Emel

    Today you will drive and walk through Altyn-Emel. It is mainly steppe, the very typical Kazakh landscape, that you will traverse. But a steppe is not without highlights, as you will surely acknowledge by the end of this day. Besshatyr, the Kazakh Stonehenge, is a complex of five royal tombs, most probably dating from Scythian times. And in Tamgaly many old petroglyphs can be found. These rock paintings will tell you the history of this part of Kazakhstan, with Indian, Buddhist and Turkish influences.

    Day 06 – Altyn-Emel to Charyn Chundja

    There are approximately 300 kilometres between Altyn-Emel and Charyn-Chundja, which could be covered in four hours. But there is no reason to hurry, as the nature in Charyn National Park is inviting you to discover it. So, you will have ample time to walk around. Somewhere in the park you will be offered a picnic. While you will end this day in the hot springs of Chundja. The night you will spend in a modern and fashionable spa resort! 

    Day 07 – Charyn-Chundja to Karakol (Kyrgyzstan)

    Crossing a border in Central-Asia is not quite the same as a European border, as the Central Asian states did not yet sign their version of Schengen. Without delay it is a five hours drive before you will reach the Kyrgyz town Karakol. There is a wooden orthodox church here and a mosque made out of stones. For the rest, it is mainly end-of-the-world territory. You might spot differences between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan though.

    Day 08 – Karakol to Altin Arashan (reurn trip)

    No bus today, but instead a Russian military vehicle. The best way to reach Altin Arashan (Golden Spa) canyon. This is one of the most beautiful canyons in this part of Kyrgyzstan, mainly due to an abundance of Tian-Shar firs. Actually, they are everywhere. Here, you can bath in a hot spring, have a picnic or simply wander around for hours. At the end of the day, you will be driven back to your hotel in the very same vehicle.

    Day 09 – Karakol to Joty Oghuz and Bokonbaevo

    Today you will head for the Joty Oghuz Canyon, famous for its red rock formations. One of these is called ‘Seven Bulls’, or Joty Oghuz in Kyrgyz language. Once again, nature shows her beauty. These red colours will surely impress you. There are nomads living in this part of Kyrgyzstan, the reason why you occasionally see a yurt. You might be lucky enough to be invited for a glass of Kumis (horse milk) by one of the nomads. Though not necessarily a culinair delight, it would be rude to refuse a toast with a nomad. So switch off your taste, smile and enjoy.
    Dinner will be served in Bokonbaevo, where you will also spend the night.

    Day 10 – Bokonbaevo to Song Kul

    Before departure, you will visit the famous ‘Eagle Hunters’ of Bokonbaevo. Somehow depending on the mood of the eagle and the eagle hunter you will be shown how the hunt is done. Eagle hunters treat their eagles with great care and respect. In order to be in the best shape, once the hunting season starts, they do not allow the eagle to be distracted too much. For them it is of the utmost importance that the eagle will rest in summer. But there are days, that the eagle needs to practice, and it might as well be today. In any case, you will see the eagle on the arm of the hunter. This is for sure.

    Then you will head for Song Kul. The second largest lake of the country, at an altitude of more than 3,100 metres. Another brilliant drive awaits you. Nature (has it been said before?) is simply extraordinary, and today is not an exception. Every summer many nomads are living around Song Kul, as the meadows are green and juicy here. It is a superb place to hike and to be. The evening and night you will spend with the nomads.

    Day 11 – Song Kul

    Yesterday you already experienced the beauty of the area. And the friendliness of the nomads. Today you will have the chance to find out much more about them. Just by wandering around and shaking hands with them. But even if you don’t feel like doing this, you will learn a lot about the nomadic lifestyle, as they will show you some of their games and sports:
    ✓ Kok-boru (also know as Ulak Tartish). A popular game where two teams play a sort of polo with the carcass of a goat or calf. 
    ✓  Oodarysh (bring down in Kyrgyz language). A kind of free wrestling. Rules of the game? It is not allowed to break the opponent’s fingers or to poke in his eyes. For the rest, it is simply rough.
    ✓ Kyz-kuumai (catch the girl). Both a man as a woman are on a horse. While the man tries to catch the woman, the woman tries to chase him away or catch him with her lasso.
    After all these nomadic traditions it is logical that you will eat a traditional nomadic dinner. And sleep in a traditional nomadic house, the yurt. 

    Day 12 – Song Kul to Chon-Kemin

    And again you will be surprised how fantastic nature can be. The road from Song Kul to Chon-Kemin passes through a canyon that is, without any exaggeration, stunning and breathtaking. Just as the more than 3,200 metres high Kalmak Asha Pass is. On your way you will also visit Kochkor, a tiny village where families occupy themselves with knitting Kyrgyz carpets. If you wish, you can contribute to the process and knit part of it yourself. You will also visit a small museum, where you will learn about the nomadic history of this part of the country. In Chon-Kemin you will spend the night with a Kyrgyz family.

    Day 13 and Day 14 – Chon Kemin (rafting)

    Today and tomorrow you will go rafting on the Chon-Kemin river. This means that you will be challenged, as the rivers in Kyrgyzstan are not made for relaxing. Surely, there are quiet parts that will enable you to enjoy the magnificent mountains. But, regularly, you will have to battle with the rapids. These are labelled level 3 and 4, sufficient to please every adrenaline junkie, but at the same time not too extreme. In fact, this whole rafting exercise can be perfectly compared with the landscape and the trip. Somehow out of your comfort zone. The night you will spend at the river side. In a tent. 

    Day 15 – Chon Kemin to Bishkek

    It is only two hours from Chon Kemin to Bishkek. On the way you will stop at the Burana Tower (a minaret dating from the eleventh century) and the open air museum Balban, where warriors made out of stone are exhibited. After check-in, you will have the whole afternoon to discover Bishkek. Sufficient time to see Pobeda (Victory) Square, Duboviy Park, Central Ala-Too Square, the Historical Museum and the National Theatre. But the highlight of Bishkek is the colourful, noisy and vivid Asian Market. The perfect place to experience the other, crowded, side of Kyrgyzstan. 

    Day 16 – Bishkek to Ala Archa (return trip)

    Ala Archa Gorge is a park, only 45 kilometres from Bishkek, that could only be visited by VIPs in Soviet times. Nowadays, it is a popular destination for anyone who loves nature. The park offers great hiking possibilities, from short and easy to long and strenuous. Your guide knows his way around here and will kindly invite you to participate to discover the park with him. At the end of the day you will be driven back to your hotel in Bishkek. 

    Day 17 – Bishkek to Almaty

    After your last Kyrgyz breakfast you will head for Almaty, the city where it all started. Including formalities at the border the trip will last approximately four to five hours. Once in Almaty you can explore the city on your own. There is still plenty to see and to do, if you feel the need to discover more. Alternatively, you could simply head for a sunny terrace and a cold Kazakh beer.

    Day 18 – Back Home

    Today you will leave by plane from Almaty and fly back home.

  • Tourism in Kazachstan and Kyrgyzstan is really something that is only just starting. Except for the two big cities Almaty and Bishkek, and to a lesser extent Karakol, there are hardly hotels. Instead you will find yourself back in guest houses and homestays. Perhaps the biggest plus of this is that you will almost automatically get to know the locals and be integrated into their life. Especially because the families are all very hospitable and they all know how to cook well. Naturally, all the places where you will stay are clean and comfortable.

    Below you will find an overview of the hotels that we are offering during this trip. All these hotels are subject to availability. In case they are full you will be offered a similar alternative.

    Almaty: Golden Palace Karakol: Hotel Karagat Bishkek: My Hotel
    Groepsreis Kazachstan en Kirgizie Groepsreis Kazachstan en Kirgizie Groepsreis Kazachstan en Kirgizie


  • Visa

    A useful new regulation in 2006 entitles tourists from most countries (including the EU, Australia and the USA) to obtain a 30-day visa on arrival at the airport without the need for a letter of invitation (LOI).

    Health & Safety

    Tajikistan is a safe country, though some factional fighting spilling over from nearby Afghanistan (as well as local warlordism) still occurs in Tajikistan. Visitors should keep abreast of the security situation and not take any unnecessary risks. After sunset, it is not advisable to walk around outside alone; and generally do not travel unaccompanied to rural areas. Of significant concern is the inability of Tajikistan’s law enforcement entities to provide adequate and immediate assistance. Lack of manpower, low salaries, and inadequate training all contribute to a lack of professionalism among law enforcement entities. If you are the victim of a crime, consult to your embassy. Your embassy may be able to help you locate stolen items or to renew your passport.

    Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal, but you may be breaking local law too. In some places it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Tajikistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

    The number of items that can be exported may be limited. It is illegal to export or possess unprocessed stones and metals and jewellery without a hallmark (mark of authenticity). Even if travellers have a receipt confirming legal purchase of such items at a store in Tajikistan, the items must be declared upon departure.

    The health care system in Tajikistan is significantly underdeveloped, with severe shortages of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anaesthetics, and antibiotics. Elderly people are at great risk. Most medical personnel are not qualified, adding on a significant concern. Do not drink tap water. There is no working purification system, and outbreaks of typhoid and cholera (rarely) are common. Other preventable endemic illnesses are hepatitis A, rabies, poliomyelitis and tick-borne encephalitis. There are, during the hot season, a few pockets where malaria can occur. In the Pamir mountains, the risk of altitude sickness is substantial. Health insurance and medical evacuation insurance are recommended.


    Northern, central and southern Tajikistan sizzle in summer (June to September), with temperatures over 40°C. Unfortunately this is the best time to visit the mountains. Spring (March to May) brings mild temperatures but frequent heavy showers. April is the best time to visit southern Tajikistan in bloom. In winter (November to February) temperatures in Dushanbe hover near freezing, while temperatures in the Pamirs plummet to between -20°C and -45°C. The Anzob and Shakhristan passes between Khojand and Dushanbe are generally closed from late November to late May, though the new tunnel under the Anzob pass should keep the road to Penjikent open year-round. March, April, September and October are probably the best times to visit. The best time of year for trekking is September. The Pamir region is best visited in July to late September, though the Pamir Highway technically remains open year-round. During early summer (June and July), melt water can make river crossings dangerous in mountainous areas.

    Costs & Money

    The Tajik currency is called somani (TJS). Make sure you have plenty of new US dollar notes, as there are no ATMs in the country (except in Dushanbe). Credit cards along the Pamir Highway are not very useful either.

    Books about Central Asia

    There is a wealth of writing on Central Asia and the Silk Road. The list below is far from complete, but on the other hand, if you would read all of them before travelling to Central Asia, you can consider yourself to be well prepared.

    The Great Game – Peter Hopkirk
    Probably the most popular book on Central Asia, and rightly so, this is the ultimate Great Game book. Reads like a spy novel, only that it actually all happened. A similar, equally gripping book by the same author is Setting the East Ablaze, about the Bolsheviks plot to bring communism to India through Central Asia. Be aware though that the author is British, and he does a good job of painting the Brits as heroes, while other nations get to fill the role of villains.

    The Turks in World History – Carter Vaughn Findley
    Factual history that manages to excite? In 230 pages, Findley manages to present the complete history of the Turkic people from their appearance in the Central Asian steppes up to the victory of Erdogan in Turkey. Essential reading that ties together the whole area in a way no other history has managed, through the prism of the Turkic people who now rule Central Asia and Asia Minor.

    Religions of the Silk Road – Richard Foltz
    Concise and very well-written, this books takes you on a journey through time, explaining why Central Asia was (and is) one of the most multicultural places on Earth. Fascinating all the way, from Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism to Buddhism and Islam.

    Central Asia in World History – Peter Golden
    The best general introduction to the area’s history. Not an exhaustive, all-you-need-to-know-and-more history, but a readable broad overview that will explain a lot without confusing.

    Eastern Approaches – Fitzroy MacLean
    If you like your history more exciting, try Eastern Approaches. One of the best action books ever written, MacLean relates his adventures as a spy in Central Asia, complete with incredible Rambo-behind-enemy-lines style commando raids and high-level political negotiations.

    The Silk Road in World History – Xinru Liu
    Everything you always wanted to know about the Silk Road, this is the benchmark book on this chapter of the history of the region. For a different take on the same material, two other books you can check out are The Silk Road: a New History, and Life along the Silk Road.

    The Empire of the Steppes – Ren Grousset
    Pretty dry (it’s from the 30′s) but it remains the classic work on the steppe empires of old and its nomadic rulers. Contains what is probably still the best portrait of Ghenghis Khan.

    Journeys on the Silk Road – Joyce Morgan & Conrad Walters
    The story of Aurel Stein and the archaeological treasures buried in the desert of Xinjiang. Peter Hopkirk’s Foreign Devils on the Silk Road covers similar terrain, but focuses more on the race for treasure and the devious tricks Western nations played to get their hands on the spoils, while Journeys looks more at Stein in particular and the historical treasures themselves. Both are good books, depends whose style you prefer.

    Turkestan Solo – Ella Maillart
    One of the most adventurous women of all time, Swiss Olympian Ella Maillart’s escapades put many of today’s adventurers to shame. Turkestan Solo, her equestrian adventure through Soviet Central Asia in the 1930′s, lets you travel back in time while keeping the adrenaline pumping.

    The Way of the World – Nicholas Bouvier
    One of the best books to come out of the travel writing genre of ‘young Westerner goes to far off land looking for adventure, finds himself instead’. Insightful, and just beautifully written. Recommended to every 18-year old looking to get inspired.

    Shadow of the Silk road – Colin Thubron
    Colin Thubron uses beautiful, poetic prose to sketch his overland journey from China to Turkey. He records some interesting meetings and generally interweaves the narrative with a lot of history. He gets very poetic and pondering at times, though. More focused on Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is his 1994 book The Lost Heart of Asia.

    The Road to Oxiana – Robert Byron
    The classic. Byron, eccentric British scholar with a ridiculous knowledge of architecture, visits the Middle East, Persia and Afghanistan and remarks on its people and buildings.

    Silk road to Ruin – Ted Rall
    A different kind of travelogue, contemporary and heavily drenched in acrid sarcasm. Cartoonist Ted Rall travels Central Asia and mocks everything that comes his way.

    Great Games, Local Rules – Alexander Cooley
    The most recent and up to date overview of Central Asia’s regimes and their stance towards each other and the bigger powers surrounding them: China, Russia, and the USA. Written by a recognized expert on the matter, this is the one to get for an informed view of present-day politics in the region.

    The new Central Asia: Geopolitics and the Birth of Nations – Olivier Roy
    This one is quite a heavy read, tracking the political history and the birth of the Central Asian nations after the Communist collapse. In a similar vein is Eric McClinchey’s Chaos, Violence, Dynasty: Politics and Islam in Central Asia.

    The Oil and the Glory – Steve LeVine
    The number one book on the nasty business of oil politics around the Caspian Sea. Great read by a seasoned journalist who knows the players and was there when it all took place. Another good book on the same topic is Lutz Klevemann’s The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia.

    Everyday Life in Central Asia – Jeff Sahadeo
    A series of essays grouped around topics such as community, gender, the nation state and religion, giving a good insight into contemporary life in the region. This all has little to do with politics, but at the same time, the book is really revealing in showing what people are thinking, making it a unique read all the same.


    The musical links with neighbouring Uzbekistan are strong and they share their musical shashmaqam repertoire. The Tajiks use Persian-derived texts, but the instrumental music is just the same as in Uzbekistan. While the music of the plains and river valleys is closely related to that of the Uzbeks, in the mountainous south of Tajikistan there’s another more popular style known as falak, which literally means ‘celestial dome’, performed at weddings and other ceremonies and at the nowruz spring festival. The leading performer is conservatoire trained Davlatmand Kholov. He is a fine singer and particularly a good instrumentalist on the gudjat and the sutar and setar. In the Pamir mountain region of Badakshan there is also a rich variety of music including folk poetry and Persian influenced ghazals (poetry form) and praise songs.

    Food & Drinks

    Yak yogurt
    Tangy, strappy and surprisingly tasty; you’ll find it in select homes in the Pamir region.

    Yak meat
    Anything aside from bread and potatoes in the Pamir region is reason for celebration. Yak is surprisingly edible and is the meat of choice served to honored guests.

    Kurtob (or Kurtab)
    Refreshing rustic dish composed of alternating layers of strips of bread and yogurt mixed with onions, tomatoes and coriander or parsley. Ask the women at the Pamir Lodge in Khorog to whip up a batch. It’s a godsend after eating only potatoes and bread for days on the Pamir Highway.

    Nahud sambusa
    Good luck finding these chick pea samosas called out in the Central Asia Lonely Planet. Ask all the old ladies at each of the major markets in Khorog and Dushanbe, and perhaps you will succeed in finding one. But, be warned, they are somehow difficult to find.

    Gandush kuga
    The search for the elusive nahud sambusa at the Shah Mansur Green Bazaar in Dushanbe yielded this murky bean porridge-like soup topped with fresh herbs. Not quite what we asked for, but good enough for those going meatless.


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