An equestrian adventure that follows in the footsteps of the Silk Road caravans. From green high-altitude pastures to canyons with vertiginous red walls, through a salty desert of yellow clay to magnificent high-altitude lakes. A real 18-day expedition on this horseback trail into deep Kyrgyzstan, crossing the Ala Too massif from North to South.

Discover the true soul of the eternal nomad while journeying through different habitats, discovering the lifestyle of the generous and welcoming hosts and the locals that you'll meet along the way.

During the equestrian trail, horseback riders stay in tents, yurts or local guesthouses, the accommodation is authentic and most tourists sites are avoided. The journey is accompanied by a backup vehicle, mountain guides/grooms and a French/English/Russian speaking guide/interpreter. An adventurous nature and a good level of fitness is required to fully enjoy this horseback riding adventure vacation.

If the full 18 day expedition is too much or you do not have enough time then you might want to consider doing just half the trek which can be booked as the Tien Shen Mountain trail.

Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.

Review received from LM of London on 08/09/2022

Ride Summary
Fantastic holiday, I am absolutely delighted
What was your overall impression of the holiday
Overall impression
Unicorn Trails sales staff

Riding tour leader

Additional Comments
Helene was an amazing guide, she cares a lot about the horses and also taught us a lot about edible plants and about the stars
Horses and Tack

Additional Comments
Really happy to see beautiful healthy horses at AsiaRando, as opposed to other tourists groups we encountered on under age and malnourished horses
Meals

Accommodation

Miscellaneous

Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
I was aware the weather would be very changing, and the ride sometimes difficwith some passages to do on foot
Was there anything you should have known and were not told? YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
The drop of temperature at night was more than expected
What could we do to improve this ride?
How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced?
6
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
YES
Any other comments:
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback. Glad you had a great time! :)

Day 1 
Bishkek airport – Rot Front – Kizil Suu: Welcome at the airport and mini-bus transfer to the base camp in the village of Rot Front (approx 1.5 hours). Altitude 1,100m. Rest in the morning at the foot of Ala Too range. Afternoon transfer to the valley of Kizil Suu (approx 1.5 hours), to meet the horses. Riders can chose their horses for the duration of the ride. Spare horses travel with the group so riders can change if wished
Overnight in a tent.

Day 2
Kizil Suu – Keuk Bel: Today's ride is to the extraordinary canyon of Konorchok, sculpted by erosion in the crumbly red rock. Here the micro-climate is very dry, only a few occasional snow falls every ten years! Out of the canyon, the ride heads up to Keuk Bel valley, over a 2500 m pass.
Overnight in a tent.

Day 3
Keuk Bel – Kerkebess: Riding South on the mountain side, one can see Issyk Kul lake more than 100 km away. The ride goes through the Kerkebess pass (3600m) and its lovely little lakes. As the ride heads downward, the weather gets warmer on arrival of the camp at the crossing of two valleys.
Overnight in a tent.

Day 4
Kerkebess – Agoutchouk: Ride to the Kochkor valley up to Agoutchouk village and the freedom of galloping through fields full of flowers. Arrive at the guesthouse in time for tea and a warm welcome from the host before settling into the comfortable overnight accommodation, complete with a sauna.
Overnight in a guesthouse with sauna.

Day 5
Agoutchouk – Tcholoï valley: Through a semi-desert landscape , the group rides to the Chong Touz salt mines. After a visit in these deep and fascinating mines, ride through a clay and salt desert before reaching the Tcholoï valley with it's magnificent small lake.
Overnight in a tent.

Day 6
Tcholoï valley – Tchioulek valley: The trail starts by ascending through magnificent views, to the pass (3800m). After a quite fast descent , the group will camp in the Tchioulek valley.
Overnight in a tent.

Day 7 
Tchioulek valley – Klemche: Head through the high pasture steppe (jaïloo in Kyrgyz), to the Tchioulek pass (3200m). Camp for the night in Klemche valley. Klemche means green sward in Kyrgyz. This is the winter "home" of the horses.
Overnight at a local farm.

Day 8 
Klemche – Son Kul lake: Ride through two magnificent valleys, crossed by strong streams, and then through Tiuz Ashuu pass (3200m). The route follows the North side of the lake where there are some excellent chances of good galloping. The group is welcomed to the warm hospitality of the yurt camp. Son Kul Lake, (3016m), is considered the pearl of Kyrgyz jaïloos. The wide, brilliant, steel colored expanse of the lake appears majestic, quiet and transparent, looking like a huge bowl of pure mountain air surrounded by hills. Water and sky seem to meet here. At night, one imagines that you one can touch the stars.
Overnight in a yurt.

Day 9 
Son Kul lake - Djildizbek’s yurta: After a short but beautiful ride to Djildizbek's yurtas, riders can watch the national horse games: the Ulak Tartish (or Buzkashi) which is played on horseback with a dead goat! The rest of the day is spent being a part of the local daily life. Watch the shepherds milking the cows and the mares, making « kumiss » (fermented mare’s milk), gathering horses, sheep, goats, (sometimes yaks), preparing traditional dishes, mainly with meat and milky products.
Overnight in a yurt.

Day 10
Son-Kul – Kiz-Art: The group leaves the kindness and hospitality of Djildizbek’s family to head in a 25km ride through the Uzbek pass (3400m), crossing wild valleys, down to Djumgal river to Kiz-Art to meet another friendly family. 
Overnight in a guesthouse with sauna.

Day 11 
Kiz-Art – Koum Bel valley: Mount the horses for some nice gallops along the fields above Kizart before arriving at the entrance of the majestic valley of Koum Bel where the group camp for the night.
Overnight in a tent.

Day 12 
Koum Bel valley – Ceok valley: After a steep ride, cross the Koum Bel pass (3600m) and down through the lovely Ceok valley, dotted with yurtas and herds of horses. Some of the horses in our stable were born in this valley, they are good mountain horses, very sure and brave.
Overnight in a guesthouse.

Day 13 
Ceok Valley – Karakol Valley: Travel through the bottom of the Sandik Range, crossing Buchuk pass (3400m) with its magnificent Panorama of the Ala Too range, with peaks up to 4500m high. Continue along Karakol river until reaching the camp site.
Overnight in a tent.

Day 14
Karakol valley – Ai Teke: Cross the Karakol river and ride up to the jailoo of Ai Teke, passing hundreds of herds, horses, sheep, yaks along the way. It sometimes seems that time has been turned back in these timeless settings.
Overnight in a tent/yurt.

Day 15
Ai Teke – Shamsi: A day of ups and downs: + 600m in 2 hours and – 1800m in 4 hours! The route crosses the Shamshi pass (3600m) in the morning, which brings the trail  back to the Chuy valley. Set up the camp along the riverside.
Overnight in a tent.

Day 16
Shamsi – Rot-Front: A short stage with the ride reaching the entrance of the Shamsi valley by midday. Say goodbye to the horses and after lunch, transfer to the guesthouse in Rot Front village.
Overnight in a guesthouse.

Day 17
Rot-Front - Bishkek: Transfer to Bishkek and a chance for sightseeing around the capital with its museums, or souvenir shopping in the bazaars.
Overnight in a hotel.

Day 18
Return flight.

This itinerary should be taken as a rough guide. Depending on the weather (mainly pass condition) it could sometimes be slightly modified without affecting its quality. We plan overnights in yurtas and under tents, but it can be modified, as nomad people are, by definition, mobile. In case of overnight in yurta, you can prefer the privacy of your tent.

Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.

Horses & Riding

The horses used for the tour are local mountain horses. They are a mix of all breeds that exist in the country and are all bred in the mountains. They vary in height from 13.3hh-15.3hh and are quiet, very surefooted, extremely fit and adapted to the altitude and mountainous terrain.



There are approximately 45 horses available to choose from for riding with total of 54 horses on the establishment. Depending on the group size there will be spare horses available during the trail.



The saddles used on ths ride are local McClellan type saddles with a cushion added for more comfort. The riding style is best described as close to western riding.



The terrain is mostly mountain tracks and the average distance per day is 25km, the riders should be reasonably fit and adventurous and prepared for long days in the saddle. Due to the landscape the main pace is walking but there will be the possibilty for nice canters as soon as the terrain allows it.



The riding time is divided into two parts each day, one in the morning starting around 10am until 1pm and one in the afternoon from around 2/3pm until 5/6pm.



There are no riding hats available onsite, clients are requested to bring their own.


Rider requirements

• Riders must have a secure seat at walk, trot and canter.
• Riders must be able to mount and/or dismount unaided.
• Maximum weight 100kg, minimum age 10 years, maximum not defined (depends on health and skills).
• Walking alongside your horse is required from time to time, the duration depends on the weather conditions and group size.
• Experience over steep/rough terrain is not required, but recommended.
• The daily riding hours can go from 3 to 8 hours (average), a regular riding practice is recommended to be fit enough.
• Fit and adventurous nature.
• The riders are asked to: catch, groom, saddle, feed horses and set up their own tents. Someone will be on site to help at all times.

Weight Limit

The weight limit for this ride is 220 lb/100 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.

There are four types of accommodation used during this trail:



Guesthouses (houses of local people), where the guests will share one or two rooms, sleeping on comfortable mattresses on the floor. Some of the guesthouses have access to a sauna which can help to relax after a long day in the saddle;



Yurts (traditional round tents),where again the group will share one room (one yurt), sleeping on mattresses on a carpet floor;



Tents (usually set up near a water source, a river, spring etc.), usually a three pax tent is shared between two people, it might be possible to have a single tent on request depending on availability.



Please note it is not possible to have a single accommodation in guesthouses and yurts. Mattresses are provided for each night. 



Please Note: There are no toilet facilities on some nights.



Nights in Bishek will be spent at a local hotel (standard hotel conditions).



The food served on this trail is local but has been somewhat adapted to foreign taste. Meal timings depend on the size of the group and weather conditions. For example:



Breakfast: porridge or semolina, tea, coffee, jam, chocolate pasta, bread, cookies.

Lunch (cold): vegetable salad, cold dish based on potatoes, rice, noodles, with meat (without for vegetarian clients), sauce, fruit juice, cookies, dried fruits.

Dinner: hot meal on a different basis than lunch (can be a soup, local ravioli etc), tea, coffee, jam, bread, cookies.


Vegetarian or other dietary requirements within reason can be accommodated with advance notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests before booking.

Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip.

NB: Be sure to check the COVID status of the country you plan to visit including entry procedures

If you are visiting Kyrgyzstan, your passport should be valid for six months from the date you arrive.

Passport and Visa requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country.

Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate should you need a visa.

In the UK the British Foreign Office gives advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/kyrgyzstan

In the US: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Kyrgyzstan.html

In Canada: https://visaservicescanada.ca/countries/kyrgyzstan

Climate Summary

The climate doesn't change much during summer but there are some differences between the beginning and end of the trail season.

In June the mountains are green and thunderstorms are common in the evenings. In July the weather is quite the same but a couple degrees warmer.
In August the climate becomes dryer and by the middle of the month it can get very hot in the valleys (up to 40 degrees Celsius).
In September the landscape slowly turns brown and rain can turn into snow at altitude but will melt during the day. The temperatures during the day vary from 15 to 40 degrees Celsius in the valleys and from -5 to +20 degrees Celsius in the mountains.
At night the temperature varies between -5 to +20 degrees Celsius.

The air is usually very dry which helps with the mosquitoes, they are normally only spotted in one or two camp locations.

Climate Chart

Health

COVID: Be sure to check the latest COVID regulations for travelling in any country you visit.

There have been several cases of anthrax in Kyrgyzstan, mainly in the south of the country, due to insufficient measures to vaccinate animals.

Medical facilities in Kyrgyzstan are not as developed as those in the UK. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 103 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Please refer to your country’s latest health guideline for travel in Kyrgyzstan and contact your own GP for up to date advice on vaccinations and prophylaxis prior to travel.


Health (ride specific)

You must notify us of any medical condition that might require a special attention, blood pressure, allergy, prosthesis, or any other medical condition. It is very important, in the mountains any condition can get dangerous if not acknowledged by the guide.
No special vaccines are mandatory.
Recommended pharmacy:
• Wide spectrum antibiotic
• Anti-dhiarreic (ercefuryl, nifuroxazide).
• Anti-allergic medicines if you are predisposed to allergies
• An arnica-based ointment
• Plasters + disinfectant spray
• "Second skin" plasters against blisters
• Collyrium, (it's also useful during a long travel in the dry atmosphere of a plane). There are excellent plants-based collyriums that relieve your eyes when you have been exposed to a strong luminosity or the wind.
• Biafine or Bepanthen cream, very useful against dry skin
• Antalgics like aspirin or paracétamol
• An ointment against sun burns
• Sun cream (at least 35+)
• Pills to purify drinking water (not mandatory)

Electricity

In Kyrgyzstan the supply voltage is 220V. If the appliance is a single voltage rated appliance, it will need to operate at the same voltage as the supply voltage of the country i.e. 220V. If this is not the case it should be used alongside a voltage transformer or converter to allow the appliance to work safely and properly.

Mobile, WiFi and charging

It is possible to charge any electronic devices every evening with the a back up vehicle, 12v cigar lighter or 220v (European type). During the ride cell phone coverage is available almost every day for a couple of hours, the internet is also available then. If using a go please ensure you have the group's permission to be filmed.

Packing List

• Sleeping bag (that can handle temperatures of at least -10°c)
• Your pharmacy
• Sunglasses
• Lip stick (with UV protection)
• Hat (safety riding helmet and soft hat)
• Bottle for water (a plastic bottle can be used, coke, mineral water.)
• Torch and batteries, chargers (possibility to charge every night with 220v)
• Swiss knife (or other...)
• Personal toilet accessories
• Towel
• Camera
• Jumper, polar sweater, warm jacket, wind stopper for high passes where it can be snowing or hailing
• Warm day clothes and socks
• Warm night clothes and socks
• Trekking shoes, riding boots (no smooth sole!), sandals (stirrups are wide enough for trekking shoes)
• Swimming suit
• Gloves

Your personal belongings needed for the day (max. 8kg) are put in your horse's saddlebags (which are provided).
Your hosts will provide a comfortable mattresses for every night, as well as waterproof capes adapted to the local saddlery.

Programmes

This is a 18 day/17 night programme with 15 days riding available on set dates from June to mid August.

Departure Dates

2024: 13, 18 Jun; 2 (Full), 12, 21 (Full) Jul; 2 (Full), 2, (Full), 10 (Full), 21 Aug

Pricing
No single rooms available (on some or all nights). Riders must be prepared to share with someone of the same sex.

It might be possible to have a single tent on request but no single accommodation is allowed in guesthouses and yurts.

No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
202418d/17n15double pp1,945
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
202418d/17n15double pp2,229
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description US $
202418d/17n15double pp2,559
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
202418d/17n15double pp25,765
Wildlife

During the trail we might be able to spot local wildlife like marmots, deer, ibex, eagles or bearded vultures.

Other Country Information

The modern nation of Kyrgyzstan is based on a civilisation of nomadic tribes who moved across the eastern and northern sections of present-day Central Asia. Following a brief period of independence after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution toppled the Russian empire, the territory of present-day Kyrgyzstan was designated a constituent part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1924 before the region achieved the status of a full republic of the Soviet Union in 1936. Kyrgyzstan became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.

What Kyrgyzstan (or 'Kyrgizstan') lacks in gracious buildings and fancy cakes, it makes up for with nomadic traditions such as laid-back hospitality, a healthy distrust of authority and a fondness for drinking fermented mare's milk. It is perhaps the most accessible and welcoming of the Central Asian republics but Kyrgyzstan has a secular constitution. Most Kyrgyz people are Muslims. Homosexuality was legalised on 1 January 1998. However, homosexuality is not often discussed or recognised publicly. You should take care over public displays of affection.

Kyrgystan is five hours ahead of GMT and they use the metric weights and measures system, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. There is approximately 1.6 kilometres in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.

The international dialling code for Kyrgyzstan is +996.

Travel Summary

Meeting-point (getting there):
Bishkek Manas International Airport (FRU)
Transfer:
Transfer is included from meeting point and will leave at 08h45am. Please book flights to arrive into Bishkek early.
Please note you will have to arrange your own accommodation if arriving in Bishkek the day before, we can help with this.
Flights can depart any time on the last day.
Flight Guide:
London to Bishkek from £460pp return
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