How to plan the best horse trek in Kyrgyzstan
Whether you are an experienced rider or a complete beginner, spending a few days on a horse is a total must when you go to Kyrgyzstan. You will get a chance to meet with nomadic families, share glimpses of their daily life in a yurt, and explore some of the most breathtaking landscapes of Central Asia. Plus, organizing your own horse trek is very easy and can be done once you are in Kyrgyzstan, which is one of the only countries in the region that does not require a visa!
Why a horse trek in Kyrgyzstan?
All Kyrgyz people used to be nomadic and horse riding has been a crucial part of their culture for centuries. Nowadays, horses are used for work, transportation, milk (and its fermented version known as Kumis), sometimes meat, but also for sports like the Nomad Games (horse races, mounted archery, etc.) and some families still live a semi-nomadic lifestyle.
Besides, Kyrgyzstan is the perfect destination for an authentic horse trek because they have a well-developed network of community based tourism opportunities. Many nomadic families have turned to the tourism industry to earn additional revenues and are happy to share their day to day with foreigners looking for a genuine experience.
Several organizations run tours with partner families and guarantee a fair share of the profits. The three main ones are CBT, Jailoo and Sheperd’s life.
Where in Kyrgyzstan?
One of the highlights of a visit to Kyrgyzstan is to see the lake Song-Kol, located at an altitude of 3016m. Although you can go horse trekking almost anywhere in Kyrgyzstan, Song-Kol is the go-to area for the ultimate experience.
The most convenient departure city is Kochkor where you will find branches of the three major community based tourism oganizations. You can reach Kochkor from Bichkek by taking a mashrutka (minibus). It costs about $2 US per person and takes about 2 ½ hours.
Depending on your schedule, they will present different options. If you’re a beginner it is recommended to choose between two and three nights treks. Even if it might seem long, you will only ride between 3 and 5 hours per day, which leaves you plenty of time to relax and enjoy the surroundings.
Cost of a horse trek in Kyrgyzstan
Once you reach Kochkor, you can ask for a quote to each organization (which I did) for a departure the next day. They will arrange everything for you. I personally chose Sheperd’s life because they had the best rates (similar to Jailoo) and the staff was very friendly. I was completely satisfied with their services that’s why I can recommend them without a doubt! CBT was much more expensive, and the employee at the office was not showing any enthusiasm in presenting the different options so I excluded that one right away.
The price depends on the number of people joining the trek as some costs are per person, and some are shared. Here is an example of what I paid (in Soms, the currency of Kyrgyzstan):
- Horse rental: 700 per person per day
- Night in a yurt: 400 per person per day
- Breakfast: 200 per person per day
- Dinner: 300 per person per day
- Tour guide: 1380 per day to be split
- Transportation to the trek departure point (about 1 ½ hour from Kochkor) and back: 1660 per person
We were 3 to do the tour together so, all-included, we paid a total of 9000 soms ($130 US) for 4 days/3 nights. You also have the option to add the lunches to that price or to bring your own.
What it’s like
If you choose to ride 4 days, the itinerary starts in Jumgal where you pick up the horses and head to the valley of Klemche for the first night. The next day, you cross a mountain path and ride towards the lake Song-Kol and follow the waterside for a little while before stopping in Tuz-Achu for the second night. On day three you ride near the lake and sleep in Tulpar Tash. Finally, you return on day four by crossing the mountains on a different trail and ride down towards Jumgal to return the horses and head back to Kochkor in the afternoon.
For your meals, you will experiment the central Asian classics like Plov (pilaf rice with vegetables and meat on top) and Laghman (noodles and meat in a soup) as well as crepes and traditional bread for breakfast. Although it is not considered a refined cuisine, it was always tasty and plentiful.
Regarding the comfort, you should be opened to a lack of traditional western comfort. You will sleep on some blankets (you can have a lot to make some sort of a mattress, you can bring your own sleeping bag) and the toilets will be a hole on the ground hidden by 4 wooden boards located at about 100m from the camp. But this shouldn’t refrain you in any way from going on a horse trek because it is a truly authentic experience in the perfect setting. Kyrgyzstan is becoming increasingly popular so you should go now before prices go up and it all becomes more touristic.
And what about a horse trek in Mongolia instead?
If you have been to Mongolia and are wondering if Kyrgyzstan will be similar, the answer is no. The landscape is very different, with higher mountains and varied scenery. Besides it is much faster to move within the country and public transportation and activities are cheaper and easier to organize. If you are hesitating between Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, you should know that horse treks in Mongolia cost around $100 US per person per day, if you book it locally. The cost can go down to about $70 per day if you join a big group. I have been to both and even though I had a good time in Mongolia, I would recommend Kyrgyzstan over Mongolia anytime. (Plus you usually get better and more comfortable riding equipment when trekking in Kyrgyzstan)