Arslanbob: the beautiful walnut forests of Kyrgyzstan
This post is about Arslanbob. On my first trip to Kyrgyzstan in 2014 I was mesmerized by Arslanbob. This little Uzbek village north of Osh in the scenic Babash Ata mountains is famous for its large walnut forests, scenic waterfalls and friendly homestays.
Arslanbob is one of the best places to visit in the south of Kyrgyzstan to get a sense of rural village life. On my second trip I made sure to include Arslanbob again in my Kyrgyzstan itinerary and enjoyed it just as much.
Why visit Arslanbob Kyrgyzstan
Although tourism has increased in Arslanbob, the peaceful and quiet village has kept its charm. Friendly homestays give a warm welcome and you don’t need to go far to enjoy the picturesque rural sceneries. The backdrop of the snowy peaks of the Baba Atash mountains make it even more spectacular.
Arslanbob is rewarding for any tourist. Whether you just want to relax and soak up the village life or whether you want to do adventurous hikes. It’s all possible in Arslanbob.
Arslanbob felt quite different from other places in Kyrgyzstan. This is no surprise, because the people are mostly Uzbek and more conservative. The landscapes are also quite unique. With its walnut forests it’s more lush and more green.
Things to do in Arslanbob Kyrgyzstan
Visit the small Arslanbob waterfall
There are several waterfalls within the Arslanbob valley. The small waterfall is the easiest to visit by a leisurely 40 minute walk from town. It is very popular with local tourists and in the weekends quite busy.
Its popularity is a bit of a mystery for me as it certainly isn’t the most beautiful thing you will see in Arslanbob. However it is a nice stop on the way to the panoramic viewpoint and the walnut forests.
How to get there: take the path to the right that lies north of the CBT office and beyond the mosque. Then walk past the river to the steep hillside.
If you continue the path beyond the small waterfall you can walk to a panoramic viewpoint from where you have a spectacular view over the village with the Baba Atash mountains in the backdrop.
The small waterfall might have been a bit of a dissapointment, but this viewpoint certainly is not. It certainly is worth the 1.5 hour hike from Arslanbob. It is easy to combine with the walnut forests that are another 20 minute walk away from the viewpoint.
Walking through the walnut forests
Arslanbob has some of the largest natural walnut forests in the world. They are among the top things to do in Arslanbob where life revolves around this precious nut. Especially in autumn when hundreds of residents set up their tents nearby the forests for the one month harvest season.
The proud residents will tell you that walnuts come from Arslanbob and that it was Alexander the Great that brought some nuts with him to ancient Greece. From there it spread through gardens and orchards throughout the world.
The forests are a pleasant place for hiking or horseriding. Through the local CBT you can organize a one day tour into the forests on horseback. You can also walk through the forests by yourself. In the autumn it’s busy, because of the harvest season. Otherwise it is a very peaceful and quiet place.
Hiking to the large waterfall
Another easy and scenic hike in Arslanbob is the 2 hour walk to the big waterfall. The first 1,5 hours is a gentle hikek as you go through the village and past the riverbed. The views get better the higher you get.
The last 30 minutes is a steep climb over a rocky path for the best view on the large waterfall.
How to get there: From the CBT office keep following the same road north towards the mountains.
Hiking around Arslanbob
Besides easy day hikes, there are also several multi day hike options. One very popular trek is the 4 day holy lake loop. Other multi day treks include the petroglyphs of Saimaloo Tash and the village of Ortok.
You can hire guides, porters and cooks from the CBT in Arslanbob. If you are planning to do multi day hikes in Kyrgyzstan it is best to bring your own camping gear, but in case you don’t it is also possible to rent.
The market in Arslanbob is the heart of the city and if you want to meet friendly locals this is the place to be. No matter how much tourists Arslanbob sees nowadays, people are still happy and curious to talk to you. Expect a lot of welcoming smiles at the bazaar.
It is also a great place to buy walnuts or to try hot samsa’s fresh from the tandoor oven.
Walnut oil factory
The CBT can organize a small tour to a local walnut oil factory including a tasting of local bread with walnut oil. Quite delicious and interesting to see how it is being made. You will see the old way of doing things and the newer way as the factory was sponsored with a new machine. The quality is excellent.
Village life in Arslanbob
One of the best things to do in Arslanbob is very simple. It’s walking around town to enjoy the village life. Even if you are not into hiking and trekking Arslanbob is a great place to be.
The spectacular views are everywhere and making some short walks in the village itself can already be very rewarding.
Arslanbob Travel tips
Where to sleep in Arslanbob Kyrgyzstan
Accomodation options in Arslanbob are mostly organized through the CBT that has a large network of excellent homestays. Staying with a local Uzbek family is a great way to get to know the village.
Most likely, Hayat from the CBT office will allready greet you at the bus station. Otherwise visit the nearby CBT office. There is a lot of information about everything there is to do in Arslanbob.
He does have a bit of a monopoly when it comes to organizing activities and accomodation in Arslanbob. Therefore, prices are a little bit inflated, but still very reasonable. Expect to pay around 10 dollars a night including breakfast and dinner.
I stayed in Fatima’s homestay just beside the Arslanbob market. A very friendly family and delicious food.
Where to eat in Arslanbob Kyrgyzstan
There are some local restaurants in the bazaar. A good one is at the bridge next to the river that has excellent shaslyck with bread.
However, the best food is available in your homestays. Expect delicious home cooked dishes like plov (rice with carrots and meat) or dimlama (vegetable meat stew). It’s in my homestay that I had some of the best local food in Kyrgyzstan.
When to visit Arslanbob Kyrgyzstan
The best time to visit Arslanbob Kyrgyzstan is from May till November. This is peak season for hiking and trekking. If you want to see the walnut harvest in action come in Autumn. October is when the walnuts literally fall from the trees and the villagers are busy gathering them.
Winter is very cold and sees lots of snow. Although this is not a good time for hiking it is a good time when you want to go skiing and are looking for a snowy winter destination.
How to get to Arslanbob Kyrgyzstan
From Bishkek: take a shared taxi to Bazar Korgon (8 hours). In Bazar Korgon there are marshrutka’s to Arslanbob every hour (70 som, 2 hours).
From Osh: take a shared taxi or marshrutka from the new bus station to Bazar Korgon (3 hours, 120 som). Sometimes there are no direct marshrutkas from Osh to Bazar Korgon and you need to change in Jalalabad. in Bazar Korgon there are marshrutka’s to Arslanbob every hour (70 som, 2 hours).
Arslanbob also makes a great sidetrip when travelling between Bishkek and Osh.
Sustainable travel in Arslanbob
Although Arslanbob is still an off the beaten path destination, tourism is increasing. Where possible, I can recommend staying in a homestay for an authentic cultural experience. You might want to bring a small book with pictures of your family to break the ice. Visiting Arslanbob sustainably will help preserve the pristine beauty of this remote village in Kyrgyzstan and support the local community.
Leave no trace principle: Arslanbob is famous for its natural beauty, and it’s crucial to keep it that way. To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter that you can refill at your accomodation. At last, use biodegradable and eco-friendly personal care products to minimize pollution of water sources.
When exploring the area around Arslanbob, stick to designated trails when they are there, avoid disturbing wildlife or picking plants, and leave no trace of your presence. Ensure you take all your trash back with you and dispose of it responsibly. Even better, is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.
Respect the culture: Besides environmental concerns, it is also important to be sensitive of the community’s way of life. Kyrgyzstan is an Islamic country with a nomadic culture that is just opening up to tourism. Therefore, learn about the local customs and traditions beforehand and be mindful of your behavior.
People will appreciate it, if you dress modestly. Learning a few basic phrases in Kyrgyz or Russian, can go a long way in building meaningful connections and to learn more about the local culture. Not everybody is happy to have their picture taken. When in doubt, ask permission.
I highly recommend staying in a homestay for an authentic cultural experience. You might want to bring a small book with pictures of your family to break the ice.
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