The road from Bishkek to Osh and everything in-between
The road from Bishkek to Osh is a very popular route for both locals and tourists. It is a good trip to see some of the interesting sights Kyrgyzstan has to offer. In addition, Osh is a good starting point to travel further down to Tajikistan or to cross the border to the Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan.
If you travel this route you can choose between renting a car, hiring a driver or using public transport. If you drive yourself note that the 600 km drive is doable in one day but you will be on the road the whole day (10-12 hours) and you'll arrive in the night. Roads are bad at times and traffic can be demanding, so be careful. Furthermore you miss out some nice spots to see if you rush through. So we advise to plan at least two to four days for your trip. This also applies for going with public transportation. It is possible to do it in one day but it will be exhausting.
Either way how you choose your transportation here is a suggestion for the route and the stops.
The capital is an interesting city with quite some sights to offer. The city is a good point to get familiar with Kyrgyzstan and “arrive” in the country. Plan to stay here one or two nights. If you need anything, here is the place to get prepared for your further trip. For more about the capital read our Bishkek City Guide.
Here is a selection of sights:
- Visit the State Historical Museum with its different exhibitions.
- Stroll around and feel the city at the Ala-Too Square with its fountain and the big statue of Manas.
- Buy fresh goods at the main market in town, the Osh Bazaar.
- Make your way to the exciting Dordoi Bazaar with its Chinese goods being send all over Central Asia.
- Take a day trip to the Ala-Archa national park to see the mountains and go hiking.
Finding an accommodation in Bishkek is easy. There is something for every budget like hostels or big hotels. Most of them are in the city centre. But also around the Western Bus Station are some good options available.
It is a lively city with some good restaurants with local as well as international food like Turkish or American. You will also find lots of coffee shops or even vegetarian/organic diners which is a rarity in Central Asia. Here are some recommendations:
- Navat: A restaurant with local cuisine and a stylish terrace to enjoy in Summer.
- Slim fit: A coffeeshop specialised in healthy food with good smoothies.
- Sultan: A good Turkish restaurant with all the favourites like Adana Kebab or Lahmacun.
- Manty Bar: A restaurant specialised in Manti (Central Asian dumplings) and Lagman (uigur noodle dish), Shisha is also available.
- Supara: Yurt complex a bit outside of town where you can dine proper in different yurts or outside in Summer.
Bishkek to Toktogul
Leaving Bishkek you drive along little towns on the way to the Tör-Ashuu pass (3586m). Leaving the M39 in southern direction you enter a canyon. The road gets more narrow and curvy the closer you get to the pass. When the weather is nice, you'll have some nice photo spots on the way. Shortly before the top of the pass you drive through a tunnel. It is not a pleasant tunnel but you have no choice but going through. Going down again the road gets bad, so drive slowly. After that you enter the Suusamyr Basin which is a nice high altitude plateau with good views on mountains and green meadows. In summer there are yurt camps next to the road selling goods. You have to conquer another pass on that day which is the Ala-Bel Pass (3184m). After that you enter another canyon/valley with beautiful a forest and river scenes. It is worth making a stop here at one of the little restaurants next to the street and have a snack or just sip a cup of tea. Sitting cross-legged in the shade on wooden pedestals is how the local enjoy their break. After another 30 minutes you will reach Toktogul reservoir. This would make a good stop to sleep overnight.
From the western Bus Station in Bishkek, shared taxis leave in the direction Toktogul. Look out for labeled taxis or just ask around where the taxis for Toktogul are leaving and who is going. You might have to wait a couple of minutes or even hours until the car is full. It won't leave before that except you pay for the remaing seats. Some drivers stop for a short break. You can always ask for a short photo stop. If you need to go to the toilet, just ask for 'twalet'.
Enjoy the afternoon in Toktogul Town. The town itself is not very special but is an authentic Kyrgyz town. In the centre there is a real local bazaar which is nice to visit or for lunch. The people are very friendly and are happy to see foreigners. Try some of the street food there. Otherwise head down to the lake to take a stroll or drive to the south shore to have a tea at the tea houses next to the road with a nice view over the lake. But be aware it is another 70 km to get there (1 hour).
There are some options in Toktogul Town but nothing fancy. Ask locals for mechmankana/mechмейманкана (hotel). On the south shore of the lake you will find a big hotel complex which would also make a good stay. In that direction there is also a camping ground with yurts/cabins in summer.
If you are looking for a restaurant/cafe, there are a few options next to the market. If you do not understand the menu, ask for Samsa, Manti or Lagman. These are the most common dishes. Otherwise you can also buy some bread, cheese and sausage at the market and have a picnic.
Toktogul to Arslanbob
Leaving Toktogul Town takes you along the shore of the water reservoir. In spring look out for street vendors near the town Kara-Jygach. They sell rhubarb which is enjoyed in Kyrgyzstan raw and said to be very healthy. You can also spot a little house that looks like a Kalpak, a traditional Kyrgyz hat. On the south shore of the lake you'll have really nice photo spots. Take your time to get the perfect photo of the lake and the mountain scenery in the back ground. Afterwards it gets up again before entering the gorge of the Naryn River. The next 70 km you'll be driving along the turquoise river and have dozens of good spots for pictures. Enjoy this part of the trip, one of the most beautiful ones. After reaching Taskomur you will want to speed up a bit and make your way through Kochkor-Ata and Bazar-Korgon up the mountain to Arslanbob for the night. Note that the last ATMs are at Kochkor-Ata/Bazar-Korgon. You won't find an ATM in Arslanbob.
From the main road to Osh (M41), marshrutkas leave to Osh. This is the cheapest option to get there. Be aware that you might have no seat and have to stand the whole trip. Marshrutkas take as many people with them as possible so it can be packed. The bus makes one stop in Taskomur where you can go to the toilet and get some snacks. If you want to go continue to Arslanbob, you'll have to change the marshrutka in Kochkor-Ata. From there another marshrutka takes you up the mountain to Arslanbob.
This little mountain town is very nice. It lies directly underneath the 4000m high mountains of Babash-Ata. There is lots to do here, if you like outdoor activities. There is a small waterfall to visit and the highlight is the biggest walnut forest with magnificent trees. You can also do day or multi day trekking here. The town is good organised for tourists so just go up the hill from the main square and you will find the CBT (community based tourism) office with of information of what to do in Arslanbob (hiking, horseback riding, skiing in winter) or contact Hayat here. It is advisable to stay at least one or two nights in Arslabob to enjoy this part of Kyrgyzstan.
The best options are the many homestays in Arslanbob. Just ask at the CBT office (Hayat) and they will organise your stay. There are three different options possible: 1 edelweiss (rudimentary, toilet outside), 2 edelweiss (with toilet outside) or 3 edelweiss (with bathroom inside).
If you stay at a Homestay, your dinner/breakfast is usually included. If you are looking for a restaurant, there is not much available. At the main square there is a Turkish cafe (kebap, rice).
Arslanbob to Osh
The road from Arslanbob to Jalal-Abad is not very spectacular. The roads are paved but traffic gets busier and busier the closer you get to Osh. Jalal-Abad is not really worth to make a stop. Shortly before Osh, you'll enter the Fergana Valley, meaning that the mountains disappear and the grassy hills and valleys are predominant. This scenery is very different from the landscape before but not less beautiful. Make a stop in the city of Uzgen. You can visit the bazaar which is framed by tiled towers. The main sights are the brick minaret from the 11th century and the related mausoleum-complex. After this short stop make your way to Osh.
The marshrutka from Arlsanbob leaves early in the morning for Osh. It is about an 4-5 hour drive. They will stop at the bus station a bit outside of the city centre. Take a taxi from here to your hotel/hostel of choice.
The old silk road city of Osh has a very special charm. It is not exactly a pretty city but it is very vibrant and lively. Probably, you won't see many tourists here. A rocky hill (Suleiman Too) marks the centre of the city and is to be seen from everywhere. It is a good point to get some orientation.
Here are some sights to visit
- Visit the Suleiman Too with its different sights which is an important muslim pilgrimage because Prophet Mohammed prayed there.
- Next to Suleiman Too is the cave museum which shows the religious and historic development.
- Near the entrance of the Suleiman Too you will find the three storey yurt which contains a little exhibition and a gift shop.
- The Bazaar gives you the feeling of the old silk road so this is a must to see while in Osh.
- On Sunday mornings outside of Osh, an Animal Market takes place. Sheeps, horses and goats are traded and it is a busy spectacle (almost men only). The place is east of the city on the A370 next to a big petrol station but the best way is to ask at the hotel/hostel.
In Osh you also find different places to stay like the Ethno Hotel Osh. From Homestays to Hostels to Hotels. Most of the Hotels gather around the entrance of the Suleiman Too or near the Bazaar at the Navoi (Alayskaya) road. If you can, avoid the Peking Hotel.
You will find many little cafes and restaurants in the city centre. If you had enough of the local food, you will find also some international cuisine.