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  • Overview

    Surrounded by Kyrgyz Ala-Too Range, the KyrgyzRepublic in Central Asia is an adventurer's paradise. Containingsome of the highest mountains in the world, with 23 peaks over16,404 feet (5,000m), Kyrgyzstan is often referred to as the'Switzerland of Central Asia'.

    The challenge of climbing these remote mountains haslong been an irresistible lure for mountaineers, although for mostof the 20th century the area was off-limits to foreigners outsideof the Soviet Union. Ala-Archa National Park includes 20 glaciersand 50 peaks and offers dozens of horse trekking, hiking, climbing,and skiing possibilities.

    The mountains are also home to lakes, including LakeIssyk-Kul, which at 113 miles (182km) long and 37 miles (60km) wideis one of the largest alpine lakes in the world; the less touristySong Kul; and Jeti Oguz, which has some spectacular mountainformations and thermal springs. Another popular attraction inKyrgyzstan is the walnut forests of Arslanbob.

    Among this abundance of natural splendour lies thecapital city of Bishkek, famous for being one of the greenestcities in the world thanks to its profusion of trees and parks. Theancient city of Osh near the Uzbekistan border is allegedly 3,000years old and is full of historical diversions. Osh is also knownfor its market along the Silk Road and is one of the oldest andlargest in central Asia.

    The Kyrgyz, the country's largest ethnic group, aretraditionally nomadic herders originating from Siberia in the 13thcentury. Their nomadic habits continue today as families herd theirsheep, yaks, and horses back up to the mountain pastures () every summer where they live in round hide tentsknown as yurts.

    The tradition of horse riding is part and parcel ofthe Kyrgyz culture and numerous festivals and games are centred onthis activity. Hospitality is another key function of their way oflife and visitors will find it difficult to pass by without aninvitation to share in a drink of fermented horse milk (an acquired taste.

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Kyrgyzstan's climate is extremely diverse due largely to itsmountainous landscape. Most of the country is temperate with littlerainfall and lots of sunshine, but the south-western FerghanaValley area is subtropical with very hot summers. Generally thelowlands average lows drop to 21°F (-6°C) in winter (December toJanuary) and climb to 75°F (24°C) highs in the middle of summer(June to August), while the highland mountainous areas range from54°F (12°C) summer highs to lows of -22°F (-30°C) in winter,sometimes even lower. Snowfall in winter is heavy.

    Manas International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated 16 miles (26km) north west ofBishkek.
    Time: GMT +5.
    Getting to the city: Bus 153 travels regularly between the airport and Bishkek. Taxisare also available.
    Fascilities: Facilities include cafes, a currency exchange office, shops,left luggage facilities, a business centre and duty-freeshopping.
    Website: www.airport.kg
    Money:

    The official currency is the Som (KGS), which is divided into100 tyiyn. US dollars are the easiest foreign currency to exchangeat banks and official exchange offices. Major hotels in Bishkekusually accept credit cards, but Kyrgyzstan is predominantly a casheconomy. ATMs are often hard to come by; Bishkek has plenty, butthere are a only few in Osh and Issyk-Kul. Travellers exchangingmoney in Kyrgyzstan should note that they'll get a better exchangerate by changing larger bills, and that many counters will notaccept dirty or or wrinkled notes.

    Language:

    Kyrgyz is the official language followed closely byRussian, which is understood and spoken by almost everyone inKyrgyzstan.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. European plugswith two circular metal pins are in use.

    Entry Requirements:

    US citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period ofintended stay in Kyrgyzstan, and do not require a visa for amaximum stay of 60 days.

    British citizens must have a passport that is valid for theperiod of intended stay in Kyrgyzstan. Holders of British passportsendorsed 'British Citizen' do not need a visa for a stay of up to60 days. British passport holders with other endorsements canusually obtain a visa on arrival, but this should be confirmedthrough official sources.

    Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for theperiod of intended stay in Kyrgyzstan, and do not require a visafor a maximum stay of 60 days.

    Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for theperiod of intended stay in Kyrgyzstan, and do not require a visafor a maximum stay of 60 days.

    South African citizens must have a passport that is valid forthe period of intended stay in Kyrgyzstan. A visa is required.

    Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for the periodof intended stay in Kyrgyzstan, and do not require a visa for amaximum stay of 60 days.

    US citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period ofintended stay in Kyrgyzstan, and do not require a visa for amaximum stay of 60 days.

    New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for theperiod of intended stay in Kyrgyzstan, and do not require a visafor a maximum stay of 60 days.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    Most foreign nationals can obtain a visa on arrival inKyrgyzstan. Note, however, that it is not possible to apply for avisa from within the country if the visitor entered under the visawaiver agreement. If the visitor is likely to spend more than 60days in the country, it is highly recommended that a visa isapplied for and obtained prior to arrival in Kyrgyzstan or uponlanding at the airport in Bishkek. Visa extensions under thesecircumstances are possible. NOTE: It is highly recommended thatyour passport has at least six months validity remaining after yourintended date of departure from your travel destination.Immigration officials often apply different rules to those statedby travel agents and official sources.

    Travel Health:

    There is a small risk of malaria from June to November inKyrgyzstan, mainly in the areas bordering Uzbekistan andTajikistan, but most cases are in areas rarely frequented bytourists and a generous amount of bug spray should be sufficient toward off the disease. Medical care and medical supplies are limitedand it may be difficult to find someone who speaks English.Comprehensive medical insurance is advised, which should includeair evacuation. Update regular vaccines including themeasles-mumps-rubella (MMR), varicella (chickenpox),diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis and polio vaccines, as well as theyearly flu shot. Some travellers may at risk of contractinghepatitis A and B, typhoid, yellow fever and rabies (when cominginto contact with animals); and should therefore seek theappropriate vaccinations and take the necessary medicalprecautions.

    Tipping:

    Tips of 10% will occasionally be included in bills.

    Safety Information:

    Visitors are often a target for muggings and theft, mainly inthe cities, but also occurring in the rural areas. It is thereforenot advisable to display wealth, take unofficial taxis or publictransport, or walk in unlit areas at night. There is a low threatof terrorist activity particularly in the south west. The politicalsituation is tense due in part to continuing high levels ofcorruption and crime, and all demonstrations should be avoided.Tensions also exist over recognition of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek bordersand most governments advise against travel to the Ferghana Valleyarea, as well as along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. While major citiessuch as Bishkek and the Issyk-Kul region are fairly stable, thesituation could deteriorate rapidly in any area of the country.Avalanches and mudslides in mountainous areas are common in thespring with the snow melt, and this leads to frequent road closuresand disruption to transport. There is often a high risk ofearthquakes.

    Local Customs:

    Identification should be carried by travellers at all time whilevisiting Kyrgyzstan. Although Kyrgyzstan is a secular state, mostKyrgyz people are Muslim and visitors should respect local customs,particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. Dress isconservative. It is bad etiquette to take photos of people,particularly women, without their permission. Shoes must be removedwhen entering a yurt (nomad's tent), and refusing an offer of kumys(fermented horse milk) might cause offence. Homosexuality isfrowned upon.

    Business:

    Generally most people speak Russian and most business is carriedout in Russian in Kyrgyzstan; translators are available. Businesshours are Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm.

    Communications:

    The international dialling code for Kyrgyzstan is +996. Citycodes for Bishkek and Osh are (0)312 and (0)322 respectively.Mobile coverage is fairly widespread and local SIM cards are easyto purchase. Internet is accessible and free wifi is available inhotels and cafes in major tourist areas.

    Duty Free:

    Adults over 18 may bring the following into Kyrgyzstan withoutpaying duty: 200 cigarettes or 250g tobacco products, 3 litres ofalcohol (if over 21 years), and perfume for personal use.

    Useful Contacts:

    Kyrgyzstan Embassies:

    Kyrgyzstan Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 4499822.

    Kyrgyzstan Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 79351462.

    Kyrgyzstan Embassy, Washington DC, United States (responsiblefor Canada): +1 202 449 9822.

    Foreign Embassies in Kyrgyzstan :

    United States Embassy, Bishkek: +996 (0)312 551 241.

    British Honorary Consul, Bishkek: +996 (0)312 584 245.

    Canadian Honorary Consulate, Astana, Kazakhstan (alsoresponsible for Kyrgyzstan): +7 (7172) 475 577.

    South African Embassy, Astana, Kazakhstan (also responsible forKyrgyzstan): + 7 7172 925 326.

    Australian Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible forKyrgyzstan): +7 (495) 956 6070.

    Irish Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible for Kyrgyzstan):+7 (495) 937 5911.

    New Zealand Embassy, Moscow, Russia (also responsible forKyrgyzstan): +7 (495) 956 3579.

    Kyrgyzstan Emergency Numbers : Emergencies: 103 (Ambulance); 102 (Police); 101(Fire)
    Kyrgyzstan