The long journey is too long for some. Flying from Bishkek to Osh is the quickest and easiest way, but you will miss out on much of the beautiful mountain sceneries on the way. The views are certainly worth the long and sometimes uncomfortable drive by car. For those doing a Pamir highway tour the road from Bishket to Osh is a great extension of your Pamir highway itinerary.
You will cross two high mountain passes and several scenic valleys that are characterized by Kyrgyz nomadic culture. Yurts dot the pastures where horses graze and families sell Kymyz along the road.
If you are into slow travel there are some interesting stops as well, including some spectacular side trips to mountain lakes and rural villages. And if you simply want to break up the long trip from Bishkek to Osh there are beautiful places to do so.
This post is a travelguide about the best ways to get from Bishkek to Osh, possible sidetrips and stops along the way and where to sleep and eat.
From Bishkek to Osh by plane
The quickest way to travel from Bishkek to Osh is by plane. Air Manas, Air Kyrgyzstan and Tez Jet have daily flights between the two cities. The flight takes about an hour and costs between 30 and 50 US dollars.
From Bishkek to Osh by shared taxi
The best and most scenic way to travel from Bishkek to Osh is by shared taxi. The journey takes between 11 – 13 hours and costs between 20 and 30 dollars.
From Bishkek shared taxi’s to Osh gather south of Osh bazaar or at the Western bus station. There is no fixed schedule and taxi’s leave when full. It’s best to make an early start when there are more passengers and taxi’s fill up quicker.
The best seat is the front seat, but this is difficult to get, unless you are the first person. However, this means you might have to wait a while before the taxi fills up. If you want to leave quickly and want to join an almost full shared taxi the best seats are already taken.
Sometimes it helps to pay the driver a bit more for the front seat in which case the passenger who already claimed it is asked to take a back seat. There are at least 3 people in the back seats so this can be a bit uncomfortable.
The scenery is worth all the trouble though. One moment you are on a snowy mountain pass while one hour later you will see green pastures and deep blue mountain lakes in alpine meadows.
The shared taxi experience
I have done the journey between Bishkek and Osh by shared taxi three times now and I would do it again. Everytime I enjoyed the beautiful landscapes on the way and the company of interesting people.
Random strangers are packed like sardines for the coming 10-12 hours. The uncomfortable silence in the beginning only needs a small icebreaker and you won’t be the first person to make friends for life on a shared taxi drive. If you don’t speak Russian, there will be a language barrier, but its surprising how far you can get with Google translate.
Together you will have some scary moments on your journey. People in Kyrgyzstan drive like crazy and will only slow down for the occasional herd of sheep or horses blocking the road.
The first truly hair raising experience is the 3200 meter high Too Ashuu pass with the almost 3 kilometer pitch dark and poorly ventilated Too Ashuu tunnel. A place where you don’t want to think about what happens when your car breaks down.
On my first trip in October we were in a snowstorm on the Too Ashuu pass. We passed by trucks and cars that couldn’t make it up with the steep hairpin turns. Our driver wasn’t impressed even though we couldn’t see more than 10 meters ahead of us. You can imagine the surprise when we finally got out of the tunnel to see the sun shining and the amazing views into the Suusamyr valley below.
The second mountain pass, seemed like peanuts after the snowstorm on the Too Ashuu. The Ala Bell pass is also at 3200 meters, but has no tunnel. Only spectacular views which remain for the rest of the way as you pass by the Karakol lake and the Naryn river.
From Bishkek to Osh by Cargo bus
The cheapest way to travel from Bishkek to Osh is by cargo bus. The journey takes between 14 – 15 hours and costs less than 15 dollars.
The cargo busses run overnight services between the cities and take passengers as well. They leave between 4 to 6 pm from the Kerben section at the Dordoi market. Most cargo busses have sleeping beds allowing you to lie down.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this option because of safety concerns driving at night and because you still miss out on the beautiful scenery along the way. You can read the experience of Sandy feet on the Cargo bus from Bishkek to Osh.
Where to stop on the way from Bishkek to Osh
Once you have crossed the Too Ashuu pass and survived the 3 kilometer long tunnel you will descend into the Suusamyr valley. If there is one place that embodies Kyrgyz nomadic culture this is it. Horses that roam the green summer pastures annd yurts that dot the colourful and spectacular landscapes.
It is not only one of the most beautiful parts on your journey from Bishkek to Osh, but also the place where you can get the best Kymyz. This local drink of fermented mare’s milk is popular throughout Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. If you drive through the Suusamyr valley you will see small tables next to the road where people sell kymyz in reused plastic bottles.
The quality of Kymyz in the Suusamyr valley is so good that there is even a kymyz health retreat. The Baytur Kymyz resort attracts people from all over the central asian region that come here to drink Kymyz all day long. If you were to believe the locals Kymyz can cure and prevent an impressively long list of diseases.
The Suusamyr valley is only 4 hours from Bishkek and gets surprisingly few visitors. The views are definetly beautiful enough to stay for a day or two. Either sleep in one of the yurts next to the road, the Suus lodge or head to Suusamyr village that is a 13 kilometer detour from the road for the Baytur Kymyz resort.
How to get there: Shared taxi’s to the Suusamyr valley are rare. It’s better to first take a shared taxi to Kara Balta from where you can find a shared taxi to Suusamyr village.
Toktogul is a typical Kyrgyz town about 5 hours from Bishkek famous for the Toktogul reservoir. The deep blue colours of the water contrast with the red, brown and green mountains in the back. The views on this part of the journey never fail to amaze.
The beautiful surroundings near Toktogul make this a great stop to break the long journey from Bishkek to Osh. There a number of friendly accomodation options where you can stay the night. From Toktogul town you can organize trekking and horseback trips around the reservoir.
How to get there: From Bishkek shared taxi’s to Toktogul leave in front of the Kazakhstan hotel. You can also go to the Western station, but then drivers might ask you to pay the full fare to Osh.
Tash Komur & Sary Chelek lake
Tash Komur is a typical Kyrgyz industrial town with lots of dilapidated Soviet buildings that were built when the Soviets developed the coal mines around this city. It’s location next to the Naryn river doesn’t make this a bad place to stay, but the main reason to stop here is because it is the gateway to the Sary Chelek lake that stands out for its exceptional natural beauty.
Unfortunately I didn’t make it to Sary Chelek, but after stories from others it has a firm place on my bucket list for the next time I visit Kyrgyzstan. The lake in the Sary Chelek Nature Reserve is great for trekking and hiking. It’s only a small detour from the Bishkek to Osh road and definetly a sidetrip to consider.
How to get to Sary Chelek lake: From Bishkek take a shared taxi to Tash Komur. In Tash Komur there is only one bus per day (around noon) that goes to Arkit. This bus originates from Osh where it leaves at 7 AM.
From the park entrance at Arkit it is an easy 15 kilometer hike to the lake where you can camp if you have your own camping gear. It’s also possible to charter a taxi from Arkit to the lake and back so you can make it a daytrip. The CBT in Arkit can arrange homestay accomodation as you probably need to stay there at least one night to catch the 6 AM bus to Tash Komur and Osh.
Arslanbob is another small, but worthwhile sidetrip on the road from Bishkek to Osh. The Uzbek village of Arslanbob is famous for its walnut forests that are some of the largest in the world. The backdrop of the Baba Atash mountains make it a picturesque town where you can take it easy exploring village life or do some hiking.
How to get there: From Bishkek take a shared taxi to Osh, but ask to get out at Bazar Korgon. There are frequent marshrutka’s to Arslanbob (2 hours). From Osh you can also take a mini van to Bazar Korgon.
Uzgen is very close to the border with Uzbekistan and the similareities with the cities in the Uzbek Fergana valley are striking. The mausoleums and mosques in Uzgen are modest, but worth a quick stop on your way to Osh.
Where to eat on the way from Bishkek to Osh
There are several restaurants on the road from Bishkek to Osh. Most shared taxi drivers make a stop somewhere between the Ala Bel pass and the toktogul reservoir where there are some good quality restaurants.
There are also restaurants with basic Kyrgyz food in the Suusamyr valley and Tash Komur. If you want to try Kymyz ask your driver to stop in the Suusamyr valley where it is sold next to the road.
Accomodation on the way from Bishkek to Osh
There are several places along the way where you can stay the night. If you want to sleep in a yurt, the best place is the Suusamyr valley. In other places you will find guesthouses and homestays.
Safety on the road from Bishkek to Osh
Let me be honest that traveling from Bishkek to Osh has a certain risk involved no matter whether you fly, drive or cycle. All Kyrgyz airlines are on the EU blacklist for not meeting safety standards and people in Kyrgyzstan drive like crazy.
Although the road is in a good condition, you will have some scary moments. The Too Ashuu pass tunnel is notorious for its lack of light and ventilation and the Ala Bel pass sees snow all year round. In my experience drivers are careful on the mountain passes, but once they can speed they certainly do so and accidents are common place.
This is the reality for most of Kyrgyzstan though and I travelled between Bishkek and Osh three times without any problems. When arranging your shared taxi in Osh and Bishkek you might want to take into account the driver as well as the state of the car. Choose a driver and car that you feel comfortable with.
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