This small country located in Central Asia doesn’t draw crowds (yet); however, more and more adventurous travelers are deciding to venture to Kyrgyzstan. One of the most adventurous things to do, of course, is to go horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyz people used to be nomadic (some of them still are). They would get around by horse, moving according to the climate, and set up their yurts – big tents that can be assembled and dismantled quickly – wherever they could.
Horse trekking has always been part of their culture and tradition. To this day, if you leave the capital – Bishkek – it is likely you’ll see several locals riding horses in the countryside. Don’t be surprised to see six-year-old kids on massive horses either. Yeah, it’s in their blood!
Now, it’s possible for tourists to go horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan to get a taste of the nomadic life so instilled in their culture.
Do I have your attention yet? Are you ready to go horse riding in Kyrgyzstan? I have put together a guide based on my experience that will explain what it’s like and answer any other questions you may have. Is it dangerous? Is it expensive? How long does it take? Where do you go?
Keep on reading to learn everything you need to know about horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan!
How to Go Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan
If you are visiting Kyrgyzstan you’ll soon find it offers amazing landscapes, where you can admire jaw-dropping lakes in this country. Since it is part of the culture to get around by horse in Kyrgyzstan, more and more travel agencies propose horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan to tourists. A horse trek is one of THE things to do in Kyrgyzstan.
The Kyrgyzstan trekking tours usually take three or four days. You trek along a lake in small groups (3 to 5 people) with a guide, usually a young guy in his early 20s, who speaks English.
The guides might look young, but again don’t worry. They learned how to ride horses right after they learned how to walk! They already have a lot of experience.
Before you go on your horse tour in Kyrgyzstan, your guide will teach you how to “control” your horse: how to turn left, turn right, stop, go, gallop, etc… It’s not that easy at first, and you may need to practice a bit.
Moreover, like humans, each horse has its own character! Some of them are docile, and other ones are disobedient to say the least. Anyway, after a few minutes of testing out your new friend (your horse!), you’ll leave your starting point (usually a village next to the lakes) with your group and guide, ready to explore the countryside of Kyrgyzstan on your mount.
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My Guided Horse Trekking Experience
Do you need riding experience to ride a horse in Kyrgyzstan? Hell no!
Most tourists horse riding in Kyrgyzstan don’t have previous riding experience, and they get by very well. But be aware that horse trekking is physical exercise. Yes, you stay seated on your horse, but you need strength in your arms, thighs, and abs to control the horse correctly.
You’ll probably sit stiffly for a few days after. So while you don’t need horse riding experience, you’ll have a better time if you’re in good physical condition.
When you go horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan, you don’t spend the whole day riding the horse. You usually ride 3 to 6 hours per day, about the time you need to go from one point to the next. You can admire the landscapes from your horse, and every now and then, you’ll pass by tourists who decide to enjoy the landscape by foot!
With the rest of the day at your leisure, these tours still leave you plenty of time to relax, enjoy the landscape by foot, and take lots of pictures. The landscapes are probably the best part of the whole experience: the wonderful lakes, eyes wide open, from your horse. Experiences like this are rare, so make the most of your time in Kyrgyzstan.
After a few hours, you’ll get to your first stop, a camp in the middle of nowhere. In this camp, you’ll find a small local community (about 5 to 10 people), and a few yurts. This is where you’re going to sleep. The horses can rest, and you’re greeted by the locals “living” there.
The locals are used to tourists now and are happy to earn additional income. That said, most of them don’t speak English at all (but they’re very nice!). In my experience, the locals didn’t even know “Hello!” or “Thank you!“.
They will show you your yurt for the night. Inside the yurt, there are mattresses, blankets and a fireplace. At the camp there a few other yurts for the locals.
In your free time, you can go to the lake and take pictures, spend some time next to the horses, and observe the daily life of the locals, fishing for dinner, cooking, etc. You can also play with the young locals there, often skipping rope, playing tug of war, soccer, and volleyball…
For dinner, people gather in one of the yurts to eat. Meals are taken sat on the floor around a low table. You’re going to experience Central Asian food, such as plov (rice-pilaf dish with vegetables and sometimes an egg, which is very common in Central Asia), lagman (noodles and meat in a soup), bread, cheese, and freshly caught fish.
After you eat dinner, you’ll probably be tired, and it’ll be completely dark outside anyway. But forget a single or double room. You’ll sleep with the group you’re horse trekking with, and sometimes the guide, which means 4 to 8 people in one yurt.
The locals will sleep in the other yurts. You might sleep on a mattress, though most likely on a blanket on the floor. And the locals will provide you with warm blankets because it’s cold at night! Oh, and if you want to pee before going to sleep, you go to the small cabin, two minutes away from the camp.
Forget your western standards though. The toilets are a hole in the ground in a cabin. I don’t need to get into the details…
After a good night of sleep, you’ll wake up reinvigorated, and ready to ride your horse again. First thing first though; breakfast with the crew, and then let’s go! Sorry, you won’t take any showers at the camp. They have a shower, but with little to no water at all. And needless to say, it’s cold water.
Don’t worry though; you’ll enjoy a good shower after the horse trekking. Anyway, back on your horse, you’ll spend a few hours horse trekking and enjoy the scenery before you arrive at the next camp.
Again, you’ll be greeted warmly by the locals, with some leisure time too. The locals will prepare a feast for their guests, and you’ll sleep rolled up in a warm blanket.
After a few days, it’ll be time to go back to your starting point before heading back to the capital, Bishkek.
Is Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan Safe?
Yes, it is safe to go horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan, but you need to know a few things. When you go horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan, you’re usually at high altitude. Most of the time at an altitude of 3000 meters (10000 ft.). While 3000 meters is not that high, you can clearly feel the difference if you’re not used to it.
You may run out of breath really fast, and some backpackers do get altitude sickness with symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and nausea… The locals are used to the altitude but not us, and you’ll quickly realize that if you play with them!
All of the travelers get tired pretty fast, but not them!
You are also going to be trekking in rural areas, so it is best to get travel insurance before traveling to Kyrgyzstan. Of course, make sure it covers horse riding.
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Another thing you need to know. The locals hosting the tourists are very nice and will make some amazing food. However, it will probably give you the runs. Indeed, for some reason, almost all the travelers fall sick and diarrhea can last several days. Nothing too important, but be prepared…
Last but not least, after spending some time on your horse, your guide will probably give you more freedom, but that doesn’t mean you should be too confident. Several tourists fell off their horses and were severely injured. Again, stay vigilant, and don’t forget to get travel insurance!
Where to go Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan?
Kyrgyzstan is a country offering breathtaking landscapes: mountains, beautiful lakes, and valleys galore. It’s possible to go horse trekking pretty much everywhere in the country once you leave Bishkek, the capital, or Osh, the second biggest city in the country.
You can go to Arslanbob and enjoy the biggest walnut forest in the world from your mount. You can also spend a few days horse trekking in Chong Kemin National Park, and enjoy the endless valleys there.
Alay Valley, in the south of the country, is also a great place to go horse trekking along beautiful rivers. Sary Chelek Biosphere reserve is another great spot to go horse trekking along beautiful lakes. Tash-Kurgan, a town in southwest Kyrgyzstan close to Tajikistan offers beautiful rivers.
But the two most popular spots to go horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan are Song Kul lake and Issyk Kul Lake. If it’s your first-time horse trekking, then you should probably pick one of those two spots because of the treks last three days.
Costs of Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan
The price for horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan varies depending on where you wanna go horse trekking, but above all how long you’re going to go horse trekking.
As I said above, you will probably enjoy horse trekking along Song Kul lake or Issyk Kul lake for three days. If you want to spend some time along Song Kul lake, you need to go to Kotchkor or Kyzart first.
Kotchkor is a small town located four hours away from Bishkek by marshrutka (min van), and Kyzart is in the same area, but a bit further. You’ll pay $4 for the ride.
In both towns, you’ll find several travel agencies selling tours. This is when your negotiation skills come in handy. The bigger your group, the better the price. Usually, the price per day includes a guide, horses, food, and accommodation in the yurts, which will cost anywhere between 2000 and 2500 soms per day (30 to 37$).
If you want to admire Issyk Kul, you need to go to Karakol first, 7 hours away from Bishkek. The ride costs $6, and there you have other tourist agencies for the tours. It’s a bit more expensive, more like 2500 to 3000 soms per day (37 to 45$).
The standard tours last three days, but you can go horse trekking for a full week, or even two weeks, if you want to! But again, don’t forget you need to be in a good physical condition!
It’s also possible to buy horses. I don’t see the point in buying a horse, but you can do it. Head to the market in Karakol in spring to buy one. They cost between $1500 and $2000 USD. With your own horse, other challenges may arise, so I hope you have experience!
You will probably still have to hire a guide. Plus, where do you bring the horse? How do you feed it? Can you sell the horse before you leave the country? Sounds like a headache, to be honest! Forget this headache, just rent a horse with the guide.
Tips for Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan
What to pack for Horse Riding in Kyrgyzstan?
Cover up! As we said earlier, you’re at high altitude and it’s cold up there. Actually, it’s nice during the day but after the sunset – and especially at night – it’s freezing (around -5°C!). Bring riding boots if you can or comfortable running shoes. Wear several layers and don’t forget to put on warm gloves.
Don’t take too much with you. Before starting your adventure, the locals will ask you to bring the minimum with you, and they’ll keep all the unnecessary stuff you have at the village (you’ll get your stuff back after the trekking!).
The horses are going to carry your stuff, and they can’t take too much, so take a few comfortable and “efficient” pairs of clothes. The locals provide the blankets, and you’re going to sleep in yurts. But if needed, bring a good sleeping bag and a tent.
To know what to pack for Kyrgystan in general, check out our comprehensive Kyrgyzstan Packing List.
Best time to go Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan
When should you go horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan? From May to September, definitely. Otherwise, it’s way too cold! Remember you’re in the mountains! July and August are probably the best months, but this is also the high season, which means you won’t be the only Westerner horse trekking in the country…
Horse riding in Kyrgyzstan is a fantastic experience. All of the people who rode loved the time they had! Since it’s getting more and more popular, we highly suggest you go now! Prices are skyrocketing and it’s getting harder to visit Kyrgyzstan peacefully without passing by dozens of other groups.
If you want to experience the backcountry of Kyrgyzstan without the horses, check out our guide for trekking in Kyrgyzstan!
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About the Author:
Rooben, Travel Blogger and Freelance Writer
Roobens is a black travel blogger from Paris, France. After working at a comfortable job for a few years, he decided to leave his hometown to travel on his own. His blog focuses on solo travel as a black man. You can follow his blog here! Check out his Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest too!