The Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan may not be the most popular tourist destination in the world, but for those who make the trek there, it is a trip with memories to last a lifetime.
In 2019, Kyrgyzstan received nine million foreign tourists, showing that the tourism industry is becoming more and more important to the country. The best things to do in Kyrgyzstan involve getting into nature and checking out the stunning mountainous landscapes.
Vistas such as Ala Archa Gorge, Chon Kemin National Park (which is home to rare snow leopards), and the pristine waters of Lake Issyk Kul are unlike anywhere else in the world.
Make sure you stop in cities such as Bishkek and Karakol to check out the local culture, especially the food.
Millions of people travel to Kyrgyzstan each year, so it has to be somewhat safe for visitors. However, it’s always good to do your own research before you book a plane ticket to fly anywhere.
This travel guide will give you detailed information on traveling to Kyrgyzstan. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know, including detailed information about crime.
Is Kyrgyzstan Safe to Visit in 2023?
Kyrgyzstan is challenging to visit, but it is possible to travel there as long as you take the right precautions.
Travelers are at risk of getting caught up in civil unrest and conflict or being the victim of violent crimes. Certain areas are more dangerous than others, so you need to be careful to avoid them.
Many countries are wary about advising their citizens to travel to Kyrgyzstan. New Zealand tells its citizens to exercise increased caution in most of the country and avoid non-essential travel to certain regions.
Other countries are a bit more relaxed. The United States tells travelers to exercise normal precautions, but to avoid certain regions, especially along Kyrgyzstan’s borders.
Common problems that countries warn about in their travel advisories for Kyrgyzstan include:
- Bag snatching
- Armed robbery
- Drink spiking
Many travelers pass through Kyrgyzstan without encountering even one of these problems. However, all of these are present in the country. It is good to be aware of them so you can take the right precautions.
The crime rate in Kyrgyzstan is fairly high, and crimes often affect foreigners. Kyrgyzstan’s delicate political situation contributes to the danger travelers might experience.
The country has ongoing border disputes with some of its neighbors, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Occasionally, these frozen disputes erupt into violence. In September 2022, a four-day war erupted that killed an estimated 51 civilians and displaced 130,000 people.
Avoid border areas as clashes could happen at any time. Civil unrest is also a regular occurrence in Kyrgyzstan. In 2022, protests over a planned border deal with Uzbekistan were suppressed by the government.
The Kyrgyzstan government is developing a reputation for more brutal suppression of dissent, so it’s a good idea for foreigners to stay away from any demonstrations.
Terrorism is also a concern in Kyrgyzstan, although only in certain regions such as the area southwest of Osh. The city and the area around it have long been a hub for radical Islamist activity.
In May 2023, Kyrgyz officials killed a gunman suspected of terrorist activity. There have been attacks targeting buildings associated with foreigners, such as embassies, in the past.
While terrorist attacks in Kyrgyzstan are not frequent, they do occur, so it is good to have some precautions in place.
Be careful in crowded areas, especially around potential targets such as government buildings, religious sites, and areas frequented by foreigners. Be extra careful in areas after a terrorist attack as there might be copycat incidents.
Crime in Kyrgyzstan
The high level of violent crime in Kyrgyzstan is cited by most countries when they issue travel warnings for the area. Unfortunately, Kyrgyzstan has a high crime rate. Crimes, including violent crimes, often affect tourists.
Some crime statistics can give you a better insight into the nature of the problem. According to World Bank data, the homicide rate in Kyrgyzstan as of 2018 was 3 incidents per 100,000 people.
This was a sharp drop after the peak homicide rate in 2010, which was a whopping 17 incidents per 100,000 people. The statistics show that Kyrgyzstan is making some progress when it comes to curbing violent crime.
However, the rates of other violent crimes in Kyrgyzstan are concerning. The most common violent crime affecting foreigners is robbery.
The robbery rate is 10.4 incidents per 100,000 people. Robbers often target foreigners because they perceive them as more lucrative targets than locals. The official rape rate is 4.8 incidents per 100,000 people.
However, the actual rape rate is probably much higher as the country is deeply patriarchal and women aren’t encouraged to report when they are victims of that crime.
Women are often victims of other violent crimes such as kidnapping. 1 in 3 marriages in rural Kyrgyzstan still occur as a result of “bridal kidnapping,” when groups of men kidnap an unsuspecting woman and force her into marrying one of them.
The official kidnapping rate is just 0.3 incidents per 100,000 people, but bridal kidnapping incidents are rarely reported since they are so deeply normalized in certain parts of Kyrgyz society.
Some foreign women have been victims of bridal kidnapping before. Other crime statistics in Kyrgyzstan are also showing hopeful trends. In 2022, local news posted that according to Numbeo, Kyrgyzstan was the 36th most crime-ridden country in the world.
Today, the site reports that Kyrgyzstan scores a 55.93 out of 100 on the crime index, which is a moderate value. The crime people are concerned about the most in Kyrgyzstan according to Numbeo’s survey is corruption and bribery, which people report is prevalent.
Other causes of concern include assault, hate crimes, and muggings. Violent crimes are more of a concern than petty theft, although theft and property crimes are also prevalent.
The rates of property crimes are higher than the rates of violent crimes. For example, the burglary rate is a whopping 28 incidents per 100,000 people.
Rates of petty theft such as pickpocketing are harder to track, but they are likely even higher. There are a few reasons why Kyrgyzstan has such a high crime rate. One is the prevalence of organized crime.
According to the Organized Crime Index, Kyrgyzstan is the second-worst Central Asian country in terms of organized crime.
These groups are behind crimes such as human trafficking, drug trafficking (Kyrgyzstan is one of the most important stops on the Eurasian drug route), and racketeering. Kyrgyzstan has a high level of corruption, and state actors such as policemen are often working with criminals.
This creates a culture of impunity that allows criminals to operate freely. Societal factors, such as high poverty rates and high addiction rates, contribute to the high rate of petty crimes.
Most crime in Kyrgyzstan primarily affects locals. However, foreigners need to be on their guard as well, especially against property crime.
Although violent crime is definitely a concern in Kyrgyzstan, the most common crimes you will encounter are forms of petty theft. The UK government warns its citizens about pickpockets, which are the most typical types of petty criminals operating in Kyrgyzstan.
Pickpockets operate usually in crowded areas that are popular with tourists. In Bishkek, this includes areas such as Osh Bazaar and other open air markets.
When traveling around Kyrgyzstan, be on your guard in markets, airports and intercity train and bus stations, and on the minibusses people commonly use to get around. Make sure you take precautions while in Kyrgyzstan to secure your valuables against pickpockets.
Make sure that your important possessions, including your passport and ID, are secured at all times.
Invest in a bag that is secure, such as a cross-body bag, fanny pack, or money belt. Thieves will sometimes snatch shoulder purses, so if you have a shoulder strap bag, hold on to the straps as you walk around town.
Besides petty theft, foreigners visiting Kyrgyzstan have to take precautions against more violent forms of robbery. The Australian government warns about the risk of violent robbery against foreigners, including its citizens.
The danger starts when you reach the airport as robbers will pose as meet-and-greet drivers. Always verify if someone is being sent ahead to meet you that they are who they say they are.
Another common ruse robbers use to lure unsuspecting foreigners is to pose as police officers or off-duty police officers. They ask travelers to come with them to verify something or pay a fee, then rob them.
If a police officer stops you, ask them to come with you to the nearest police station so you can verify their identity before going anywhere else. Some robbers use more direct methods and mug their victims in the street.
According to the New Zealand government’s travel advisory, robbers often hang around locations they know are popular with foreigners, such as hotels, popular expat bars, and public transportation terminals.
Avoid carrying lots of cash or flashing a lot of valuables that might single you out as a traveler even more than you already stand out by virtue of being a foreigner. Since most robberies occur at night, limit your movements after dark.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Certain parts of Kyrgyzstan are too dangerous to visit. Avoid areas near the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border, including the disputed Fergana Valley, due to the risk of violent border clashes, smuggling, and landmines.
Avoid traveling to the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border for many of the same reasons as this border is also disputed.
Parts of the border have unmarked landmines. Avoid traveling to Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces due to the risk of unrest and violent crime, including terrorism.
Things to Consider
Here are a few additional travel tips for visiting Kyrgyzstan:
- Only use official checkpoints when entering Kyrgyzstan by land. Many land borders are mined, and minefields are not marked. Border crossings can close with no notice, so always research ahead of time.
- Always watch your drinks. Criminals often spike drinks of unsuspecting victims and then rob or assault them. Never leave drinks unattended and never accept food, drinks, gum or cigarettes from strangers.
- ID checks are common in Kyrgyzstan. Always carry your passport or a certified copy. You could pay a penalty if the police stop you and you don’t have a passport to show.
- Natural disasters such as earthquakes, avalanches, and landslides occur in Kyrgyzstan. Always check local news for alerts, especially before heading out on hikes or other outdoor adventures.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few other questions travelers to Kyrgyzstan will probably want to know the answers to before going:
How safe is Kyrgyzstan for tourists?
Kyrgyzstan is a place where tourists need to exercise a lot of precautions. Tourists are often targeted for crimes, both violent and non-violent.
Plus, there is a risk that you might get caught up in violent demonstrations or clashes if you wander into the wrong place at the wrong time. That being said, millions of people travel to Kyrgyzstan each year with no problems.
What are the risks in Kyrgyzstan?
There are risks of armed clashes and landmines if you wander along the border regions, both of which can be deadly. Elsewhere, there are high risks of being assaulted and robbed, especially at night.
Is Kyrgyzstan safe for girls?
Many women travel to Kyrgyzstan alone and have a great time. Foreign women are safer than many local women. While foreign women may have to deal with sexual harassment and unwanted attention, Kyrgyz girls are often forced into marriage and are otherwise victims of violence.
Is it safe in Bishkek Kyrgyzstan?
Bishkek is mostly safe for travelers. However, there is a high rate of street crime. Hold on to your valuables, especially in crowded areas such as markets, and avoid going out at night.
What to avoid in Kyrgyzstan?
Avoid wandering around in unfamiliar areas at night in Kyrgyzstan. The crime rate increases drastically after dark.
So, Is It Safe to Visit Kyrgyzstan?
A lot of dangers await unsuspecting travelers to Kyrgyzstan, from petty theft to armed border clashes. However, that is only for the “unwitting” traveler.
As long as you do your research and take basic safety precautions, your trip to Kyrgyzstan should be a rewarding experience. So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip today!