- 6 million
- Kyrgyz, Russian
There aren't many square metres of Kyrgyzstan that aren’t covered by mountains and rolling pastures (called jailoos), so if you’re after late-night action and crazy hook-ups with other wacky backpackers it may not be the place for.
If not though, try to memorise the spelling and get researching, because this Central Asian country may just change the way you travel for good. This is a country where there is little in the way of an infrastructure for visitors – about the only tourists you’ll find are the Russians who drop their towels on the shores of Lake Issyk-Köl in the summer.
Instead you’ll get around as the locals do, enjoying hanging out with families at their homestays. This is a chance to experience Kyrgyz life, stay in a yurt and sample traditional meals. In between, hike in the Tian Shan mountains, see the alpine lakes and go horse riding. If you want to observe an ancient ritual, rock up in March when Nowruz, a celebration of winter’s end, takes place. The highlight is the playing of the Kyrgyzstan national sport, kok-buru. Basically two teams of horsemen compete over a goat carcass, trying to get it in their goal at one end of a playing field. Yep, it’s gruesome.
There are some cities dotted around, but they’re generally just a place to regroup before heading out into the wilderness again. As far as adventures go, it doesn’t come much better than this undiscovered gem.