Republic. Gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Head of state:
President Almazbek Atambayev since 2011.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Joomart Otorbayev since 2014.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Round two-pin continental plugs are standard.
Sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is blessed with gorgeous mountain scenery almost everywhere you look. The fact that the country is so little known is mostly down to its isolation and a lack of awareness of its very existence – Kyrgyzstan has only been a country in its own right for two decades or so.
Kyrgyzstan’s landscapes are surprisingly varied, with snow-capped peaks, pine forests and glaciers giving way to open plains and gleaming blue mountain lakes. In places the country really does look Switzerland, whilst elsewhere it can remind one of Scotland, Kashmir and even the Middle East. The mountain vistas alone are reason enough to visit - a visit to Kyrgyzstan would be wasted without trekking to at least one of them and, as there so many locations to chose from, trekking can be done virtually anywhere in the country.
Visitor numbers are increasing gradually, although a short tourist season and the relative difficulty of reaching the country have ensured that it is unlikely to ever become a mainstream destination. What this means is that those adventurous travellers who do make the effort to come are guaranteed a unique and unforgettable experience.
Last updated: 28 February 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Demonstrations on political and socio-economic themes occur both in central Bishkek and in other parts of the country. You should avoid all demonstrations.
Independent Kyrgyzstan’s first two Presidents were deposed: Akaev in the 2005 Tulip Revolution and his successor Bakiev in a bloody coup in April 2010. In June 2010 inter-ethnic violence erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan, leaving more than 400 dead and over 100,000 displaced. Interim President Roza Otunbayeva oversaw a constitutional referendum and parliamentary and presidential elections before handing over power voluntarily to President Almazbek Atambaev in December 2011
Muggings (sometimes violent) and theft occur regularly. Foreigners can be targeted. Following widespread unrest in 2010, there continue to be small incidents involving criminals, mostly after dark. Take care if you go out after dark.
Keep large amounts of money hidden at all times and be wary of strangers offering help or being over-friendly. Be particularly aware of your surroundings when using currency exchange offices.
There have been reports of thefts carried out by uniformed police officers and gangs. Avoid walking alone at night and don’t travel in unofficial taxis.
Passenger lists on aircraft are not always kept confidential. There have been cases of people being met by name from an aircraft and subsequently robbed.
Take care if you travel to the Oblasts (Provinces) of Osh, Batken and Jalal-Abad. While there has been no widespread violence since 2010, ethnic and political tensions continue to exist.
Tensions exist over recognition of the Kyrgyz/Uzbek borders. There have been a number of security incidents in this region and several gunfire exchanges. You should only use officially recognised border crossings in this area; there is a risk that uncontrolled Kyrgyz/Uzbek border areas may be land-mined. Check in advance which border posts are open.
The Kyrgyz-Tajik border is disputed. Localised violence erupts occasionally and the border can be closed at short notice, particularly near the Vorukh enclave. Tajik and Kyrgyz security forces clashed in this area on 11 January 2014 leaving 8 wounded, and a Tajik civilian was killed in an exchange of gunfire on 10 July.
There are frequent power cuts throughout the country. There are gas shortages in southern Kyrgyzstan.
You should avoid flagging down taxis. Use telephone taxi services, which are more reputable and have English-speaking dispatchers. Wherever possible use main roads when travelling in and around Bishkek and avoid large crowds even if in a vehicle.
Avoid using local buses and mini-buses as they are not always properly maintained and are notorious for pick-pockets.
You can drive in Kyrgyzstan using a UK Driving Licence or an International Driving Permit. Service stations are limited outside the cities of Bishkek and Osh. Make sure you take all you need for your journey.
Take extra care when driving as many cars are not safely maintained and do not have rear seatbelts. Many roads are poorly maintained with road works or damaged roads often not clearly signposted. Roads outside the capital are often blocked by snow in winter.
All Kyrgyz airlines are banned from operating services to the EU because they do not meet international safety standards. You should avoid travelling with any Kyrgyz airline.
The International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
In 2009 the International Civil Aviation Organisation conducted an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Kyrgyzstan.
Trekking in Kyrgyzstan often involves travelling to very remote areas. There is a high risk of avalanches, landslides and rock falls. Adequate insurance, including for any activity at high altitude, is essential. If you’re trekking or mountaineering, be vigilant and be prepared to adapt your plans to reflect local conditions and advice. Use a reputable trekking agency, let someone know your estimated return time and don’t trek alone. In remote areas, mobile phone coverage is extremely limited, and any medical facilities basic.