This is a route for the landscape lover. Desert, valley, mountain, forest, lake and steppe are all packed together in the small Zhetisu area. Learn more about the history and culture of Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, while being hosted in small villages in the most beautiful part of their country.

This itinerary starts in Almaty and finishes in Bishkek, although you could do it in reverse just as easily. If pressed for time, a shorter version of this loop would leave out Kazakhstan, and start and finish in Bishkek.

From Almaty, there are two ways to start exploring what tour operators often call “the Golden Ring of Zhetisu”. One route goes east directly, past the wild apple forests of Talgar and the kurgans of Esik, straight to Charyn Canyon and the Kolsai lakes. The other option is to detour north, to the Altyn Emel national park, for a 2- or 3-day wildlife safari in search of ibex and kulan.

Cross the boarder at the Karkara valley, stopping over at San Tash before reaching Karakol, on the eastern side of Lake Issyk-Kul.

There's lots to explore here from the Seven Bulls at Zheti-Oguz and the sandstone Fairytale Valley to Barskoon where you can learn how to build a yurt or ride a horse to one of the nearby waterfalls.

Stop off at Song Kol lake before heading to Suusamyr valley as your journey winds down, following the M41 through the outskirts of Bishkek to finally arrive in the centre of the nation’s capital.

Key information

Destinations Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan
Activity Active, Horseback Riding, Nature & Wildlife, National Parks, Culture, Cities, Museums & Galleries, History
Physical Level Mild

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