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Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan: Crossing Mountains and Camping in Yurts

Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan holds an ancient nomadic culture. Key to this nomadic culture, is the horse. For more than 2000 years, the Kyrgyz people have relied on horses for transport and labour, and, still to this day, horses are seen as an integral part of life in the Kyrgyz mountains. It’s even said that Kyrgyz people can ride before they can walk. As such, one of the best ways to explore Kyrgyzstan’s stunning landscapes and nomadic culture is to hit the mountains on horseback.

For centuries, nomads and Silk Road merchants alike have traversed these mountains. There are no paved roads or large buildings; just epic valleys, grazing animals and a few yurts. We were to be trekking on horseback from the small village of Kyzart to Song Kul lake, the second largest lake in Kyrgyzstan. Many Kyrgyz nomads stay at Song Kul during the summer months, as they bring their herds to the high pastureland here for grazing.

Our journey was to take two days, and we’d be staying at yurt camps in the mountains en route. I was excited to see how these people live and to learn about the nomadic culture here in Kyrgyzstan.

Horse Trekking in Kyrgyzstan: Kyzart to Song Kul Lake

The horses had been brought to our homestay in Kyzart and were already saddled up and waiting by the time we’d finished breakfast. I’d already identified the horse I wanted to ride – a bay stallion with a voluminous, wavy mane. One of the guides told me the horse’s name was Torozar and asked me to mount.

Horses in Kyzart, Kyrgyzstan
Grey horse in Kyzart, Kyrgyzstan
Lauren Pears riding a horse in Kyrgyzstan
Me and Torozar

We set off. Our journey saw us through lush green meadows, towering peaks and glistening rivers; a beautiful location to ride a horse. Even though I hadn’t ridden properly in a few years, I quickly picked it up again and thoroughly enjoyed the ride through the valleys. Luckily, Torozar was pretty obedient, so I would often ask him to stop so that I could take some photos of the scenery.

Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan
Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan
Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan
Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan
Landscape in the Kyrgyz mountains
Landscape in the Kyrgyz mountains
Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan

We rode for about 6 hours, stopping halfway to relax by a river. Needless to say, when we arrived at our yurt camp, we were famished and so eagerly tucked into a late lunch. An entire spread had generously been laid out for us, with bread, pastries, fruit, sweet treats and a delicious soup.

I soon learned that Kyrgyz people are incredibly hospitable, going out of their way to ensure you’re comfortable and feeding you to within an inch of your life. A girl from the family even sat by the kettle, ensuring that nobody’s teacup was ever empty.

The yurts look pretty basic from the outside, but inside they’re beautifully decorated with colourful rugs and prints. The basic structure of a yurt comprises of latticework made from bamboo or wood to make the walls, with curved poles that bend inward to support the structure. The yurt is then covered with animal skin, often felt, for insulation and to keep out the elements.

Yurt camp in Kyrgyzstan
Yurt camp in Kyrgyzstan
Lunch inside a Kyrgyz yurt
Lunch inside the yurt

We spent the evening relaxing at the yurt camp and enjoying the beautiful scenery around us. Our horses grazed nearby, while other livestock and dogs roamed around. We even found two tiny puppies!

At nightfall, we were treated to another incredible meal before our host family laid down mattresses and copious amounts of blankets for us to sleep in. While the sun was scorching during the day, we were up at 2500m here in the mountains and so the temperature plummeted after sunset. Luckily, the yurts were surprisingly warm so I slept very well indeed.

Lauren Pears holding a puppy in Kyrgyzstan
Lauren Pears and Cynthia Bil in Kyrgyzstan
Horses grazing in Kyrgyzstan

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast of porridge, we set off again on our horses. We still had a fair amount of ground to cover before reaching Song Kul, and, to reach it, we would be trekking up a staggering mountain pass. As we climbed higher and higher, the views became more and more astounding. Although, I have to admit that I was slightly nervous to be sitting on a horse that was climbing up the side of a mountain! Torozar seemed to know what he was doing, so I clung to his mane and let him climb at his own pace.

Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan
Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan
Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan
Mountains in Kyrgyzstan

I have to say, I was quite relieved when we reached the top of the pass. We dismounted our horses to let them have a break after their climb, while we gazed at the unmatched views of the mountains around us. They truly were a spectacular sight.

Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan
Mountains in Kyrgyzstan
Tian Shan Mountains

We continued onwards towards Song Kul Lake, reaching our second yurt camp in the mid-afternoon. It is arguably quite fortunate that Song Kul is difficult to access, as it’s very peaceful, and I worry that too many tourists would ruin the tranquillity and way of life here.

Song Kul was a glistening blue lake, whose waves gently lapped against the shoreline. A few people from my group braved the cold and went for a swim, and the horsemen took some of our horses into the water to be cooled down after the trek. The valleys surrounding Song Kul were impressively green, with a few yurt camps and many herds of cows and horses dotted around the area.

Song Kul Lake
Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz horseman at Song Kul Lake

We went exploring for a while, walking along the lake and appreciating the crisp, clear air. I befriended our camp’s resident puppy, who kept running off with my shoes, clearly thinking it was a hilarious game. It began to get pretty cold as evening fell, so we huddled up in one of the yurts to enjoy copious amounts of tea, before falling asleep under a thick pile of blankets.

Puppy at a yurt camp in Kyrgyzstan
Song Kul Lake
Horses grazing at Song Kul Lake
Buckskin horse grazing at Song Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan

A few tips for horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan

  • Pack for all kinds of weather. During the trek, we experienced scorching sun, cold weather and rain. The mountains have no weather forecast and can be very unpredictable, so I recommend to pack a lot of layers and rainproofs so you’re prepared.
  • Stay hydrated. While riding, it’s easy to not drink water. I was guilty of barely drinking any water during the entire first day, even though the sun was very hot.
  • Wear sun protection. Sitting on a horse at high altitude is a recipe for sunburn. Wear long sleeves if you can and a sun hat wouldn’t go amiss.
  • Bring a torch. The yurt camps do not have outdoor lights. You can imagine the difficulty of navigating to the toilet in the middle of the night without a torch.
  • Bring wet wipes. There’s really no chance of a shower at the yurt camps! If you can brave the cold of the lakes and streams to wash yourself, then go for it, but I personally just opted for wet wipes.
  • Prepare for a sore butt! Long days in the saddle really aren’t kind on your body! I woke up on the morning of day 2 with a sore butt and stiff legs – the experience completely outweighs this though.

I did this horse trek as part of a tour organised by Kyrgyz Nomad and Journal of Nomads. The guys at Journal of Nomads documented our trek, which you can watch below!

Thank you for reading! If you found this post useful, I’d be grateful if you would consider using the affiliate links below when planning your travels. I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This will help me to keep this blog running. Thanks for your support – Lauren.

Hotels – Booking.com
Hostels – Hostelworld
Cheap flights – Skyscanner
Travel insurance – World Nomads
Outdoor gear – Decathlon / GO Outdoors
Cycling gear – Chain Reaction Cycles

Alternatively, you could buy me a coffee to say thanks!

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  1. Thanks for all the info, very informative.
    Just wondering about the Privacy policy page. How do you avoid having very similar Privacy content on all the PBNs? I see there are a handful of plugins and a few websites that create a free policy, but I am worried of leaving a footprint through this one page.

    1. Hi Ahmad,

      Sorry, I’m not quite sure what you mean? I used a plugin to create my privacy policy, and I don’t have a PBN, just this one website.

  2. I had no idea Earth even had a place called Kyrgyzstan. How informative! I loved reading about your experience, and that puppy is so cute!

    1. It does indeed! I didn’t know about it until about a year ago either! There’s nothing better than cute puppies 😉

  3. I don’t know what I’m more excited about: the puppies, landscape or horses. All seem like they added to a wonderful experience. I’ve never given much thought about visiting Kyrgyzstan but lately I’ve been seeing great things about it. Have fun!

  4. I never knew that I wanted to go horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan until now! This sounds like it was such a wonderful experience (minus the sore butt thing) and the pictures only confirm. And the puppies. That helped convince me too.

  5. What a grand adventure! Horses, endless landscape and skyline vistas, yurts and doggone it (sorry) those puppies!!! Too cute.

  6. This looks so awesome!! I would totally do this- but like you said, sore butt!! Ha i am not sure I could get back on after I got off!

  7. You already had me at yurts and horseback riding, but then… PUPPIES! This has to be the most adorable adventure ever 😍 Those views are absolutely spectacular, you must have really felt like you were the only people left on earth. Great post.

    1. Thanks Erica! Yes we did feel very isolated at times in the mountains which was nice. I love how everyone in the comments is mentioning how adorable the puppies are 😅

  8. This sounds like so much fun! I haven’t been on a horse since I was a kid. The yurt does look really basic from the outside but the inside looked really cozy. And those puppies!!! How adorable 🙂

    1. It was fun – you should go riding again! And yes the yurts were incredibly cosy inside. Very fun to sleep in 🙂

  9. This sounds like a classic way to see the country-side in Kyrgyzstan! Were the saddles English or Western style? They look unique. Do you need much riding experience?
    The scenery looks amazing and riding around on horseback must give you the opportunity to gaze all around and take it all in. Fiona grew up with horses around her house and is very keen on horses, but sadly I have a slight fear of them! I suspect I would give this a go if we ever visit Kyrgyzstan.

    1. The saddles were Western and you do not need any riding experience – some of the people on my tour had never ridden a horse before! The horses are pretty laid back and will keep you safe. But yes, you should definitely give it a go if you visit Kyrgyzstan 🙂

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