Kyrgyzstan (Tien-Shan)

Good variety of paddling with reasonable road access in most areas. Rivers range from steep low volume single-day creeks to medium-volume short multi-day runs.

When to go

July and August are the hottest months, and due to the glacier coverage they are also the time of year when rivers are at their highest. Depending on what water levels you want, the paddling season runs from late June (very high) to mid-September (dropping off).

How to get there

Fly into either Bishkek (Kyrgyz capital) or Almaty (in Kazakstan, but very close to the border). Aeroflot via Moscow is probably the most kayak-friendly carrier.


Local public transport would be a real struggle, especially as most rivers are in sparsely populated areas. Most of the Russians who paddle this region drive a car down themselves. If you're flying in, it's probably best to hire a vehicle and a driver. For a small group, a 4x4 (usually a Lada Niva) would be ideal.


The local language is Kyrgyz which is very similar to Russian. It is worth remembering that if you hire a driver, they will often be Russian, and communication may be a problem. Don't expect anyone local to speak English.


Is reasonably mild. The paddling season is the Kyrgyz summer, so during the day the sun's generally shining (although expect some rain). You will need to pack warm gear, and a good snug sleeping bag. You will probably spend most time between 1500-3000m altitude: during the night it will often drop below freezing.


You will need to take camping gear. In the larger centres there are plenty of hostels, but you are unlikely to spend much time there if you want to be paddling.


Although there are ATM machines in Bishkek (which take both Visa and Maestro), you'll rarely find them outside major cities. Travellers cheques are a real no-go too - you will only be able to change them at the banks in Bishkek, and they charge an 'admin' commission. Dollars cash is easiest. Large denomination notes will get the best exchange rates, and make sure your notes are printed recently and in good condition - they wouldn't accept notes older than 1994 when we were there, and certainly not torn or marked notes.