Trekking in Kyrgyzstan: A How-To guide For The Keskenkija trail in Jyrgalan

Jyrgalan. You’ve probably never heard of it, but soon it will become a well-known name among the adventurous. the time to travel to the village of Jyrgalan is now. This is the supreme off-track trekking destination in Kyrgyzstan and with the new Keskenkija loop trail recently marked by yours truly, believe me, it’s an epic hike you won’t want to miss!

We first concerned this rugged and unspoiled country back in 2013 and we had hopes of getting far off track. Both to our dismay and our relief, Kyrgyzstan had a well-trodden traveler trail. It was hard to get away from it with so numerous outstanding options within easy reach.

? NOTE: For any inquiries about Jyrgalan, the Keskenkija loop trail or other experiences and activities in the area, please feel totally free to contact us with any questions. We will answer as soon as possible.

But for those who crave the unknown, have a thirst for adventure and want to find a slice of mountain paradise all to themselves, we have a secret, but it won’t be a secret for long. If you want to get off the beaten path in Kyrgyzstan, then Jyrgalan ought to feature at the center of your schedule and for the ultra-intrepid, the Keskenkija loop trail is waiting for you with spectacular views and challenging, high altitude mountain passes.

Here’s my how-to guide for trekking the Keskenkija loop trail in Jyrgalan, Kyrgyzstan.

Read More: Trekking in Jyrgalan, Kyrgyzstan – Our Experience marking The new Keskenkija Trail

Just some of the wonderful scenery you can find on the Keskenkija Trek
Planning, packing & Preparing

In this section I’ll fill you in on the price, the logistics, what to pack and what to expect on this amazing loop trek. it all seems daunting at first, but once you hit the trail and you breath in that fresh Kyrgyz mountain air, you’ll know it was worth all of the planning, plus the DMO (tourist office) in Jyrgalan, makes planning this trek a breeze.


There are three ways to hike the Keskenkija Loop:

1. Hiking on foot independently. 

Cost: Free. Be aware that there are places where the trail still isn’t marked very well, so always have your eyes open for red arrows and alway try to follow the most apparent path. Plus, make sure to have a map and a compass with you.

2. Hiking on foot with a guide. 

Cost per day: Trekking guide is 2,000som ($28.75, Kyrgyz speaking), 2,500som ($36, Russian speaking), 3,000som ($43, English speaking). For two or much more people, add another 700som ($10) / person / day.

3. Hiking on foot with a guide, pack horse and cook.


Cost per day: Trekking guide is 2,000som ($28.75, Kyrgyz speaking), 2,500som ($36, Russian speaking), 3,000som ( $43, English speaking). For two or much more people, add another 700som ($10) / person / day.

Pack horse – 1,300som ($18.50).

Cook – 1,500som ($21.50).

Meals – 350som ($5) lunch, 350som ($5) dinner, 300som ($4.30) breakfast and snacks.

Equipment rental if necessary: 1,000som ($14.40) for backpack, tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat.

Total: 6,800som ($97.70) per day for 1 person, including equipment rental. This trek takes 4 days, for a total of 27,200som ($391), roughly $100 / day.

Note: For 2 trekkers, the total cost increases by $150, making the total price $550 for a 4 day trek for 2 people. For 3 people, the cost is decreased even more. For 4+ trekkers, much more pack horses would need to be hired.

If you want an English speaking guide, note that you will need to inform the tourism office (DMO) in Jyrgalan ahead of time.

*Please note that these prices are all approximate at the moment as the Destination marketing office (DMO) are working on finalizing the rates. once these are finalized, we’ll update this article!

I personally think that because this trail is so new (we literally just plotted it out on June 15, 2017), it’s best to have a guide with you. If you choose this option, you then need to decide whether you will pack your own food, cooking and camping gear, or if you will hire equipment and have the guide cook for you.

Having a guide for the new Keskenkija trail is a good idea in our opinion

What to Pack

The camping equipment for rent in Jyrgalan is in very good condition. We had a brand new RedFox tent and two sleeping bags that had just come out of the packaging. The sleeping mats were old-ish, but that doesn’t matter. Keep in mind that if you don’t have a pack-horse, you will be carrying all of your gear on your back, so lightweight items are key.

When camping in the mountains, the weather can change in an instant.even during the spring / summer months. It’s essential to be prepared for all conditions. When trekking in June, Nick slept in a +4°c comfort level sleeping bag, and I slept in a 0° comfort level bag. Our tent was 4-seasons and we slept with our warm clothing on.

If you will be packing your own equipment for the trek, here’s my recommended list of items to bring. even if you’re hiring gear, you’ll still need to pack your own clothing and personal belongings:

Comfortable backpack. You’ll be wearing this each day so make sure you have a pack that distributes the weight correctly and fits you comfortably. A proper trekking, top loading pack would be best, but we trekked with our Osprey Farpoints and they were comfortable and got the job done. If you’re packing your own food, the weight will add up rapidly and while the Farpoint would still work, it would be wise to choose a bag with better support.

Lightweight tent (3 or 4 season). A durable tent that can deal with the elements is important on this trek, and on any trek. You might have rain, hail, snow or if you’re lucky, pure sunshine! A four season tent is best, but a three season will do if you have a warm enough sleeping bag.

Lightweight sleeping bag. A sleeping bag is the most essential thing you’ll pack. If you’re too cold at night, you’ll be miserable and exhausted from having no sleep. A lightweight sleeping bag is essential (unless you have a pack-horse). Nick is a “hot” sleeper and was fine in a +4° bag, while I was comfortable in a 0° bag. even so, we slept with our warm clothing on at night. I would suggest a 0° comfort level sleeping bag at minimum.

Sleeping mat / ground mat. A mat will make your sleep much more comfortable, but it will also help to keep you warmer at night as it raises you off of the ground.

Trekking poles. These aren’t necessarily a must-have, but to help with river crossings, slippery slopes and uneven terrain, they come in useful for sure.

Headlamp. When the sun goes down, there is no light available. You’ll want one for the evening and those late-night restroom breaks.

Water bottles. I say bottles plural because although there are various water sources available, they are a bit spread out in some places. It’s a good idea to have two, 2L bottles on you. There is also very limited shade on this 4 day trek, so it’s essential that you drink a lot of water to avoid heat stroke and dehydration.

Steri-Pen or water purification tablets. The water along the trail is clear and clean, but there is livestock nearby so it’s a wise idea to purify the water. A UV purifier such as a Steri-Pen cleans the water quickly, while purification tablets take 30 minutes to an hour.

Sturdy hiking shoes and sandals. during the day you’ll want to wear a comfortable, durable hiking boot. If your shoes are new, or don’t fit properly, you’ll end up with blisters which can completely destroy your trek. ideally your hiking shoes will be waterproof. In the evenings, you’ll want to take your boots off and put on a pair of sandals. I wear Merrells, Nick wears Keens. 

T-shirt for during the day. even though it can be amazing at night, it’s typically warm and sunny during the day (in the spring / summer). A thin, long sleeve t-shirt will also keep the glaring sun off your arms.

Thermal baselayer top. For those amazing evenings, either around camp or for sleeping, you’ll want as numerous layers as possible. We always have our baselayers with us.

Lightweight fleece top. Layers are essential when trekking and while you probably won’t need your fleece during the day, you will want to have it for the cold evenings at altitude.

Windproof / waterproof jacket. If it’s raining, you’ll want to toss this on, but otherwise, it can help against the wind and add another layer for evenings.

Down jacket. A should when trekking in the mountains. Make sure to keep your down jacket dry and don’t wear it if it’s raining. You’ll want to wear the jacket in the evening around camp to keep you warm. We wear synthetic down jackets and they do the job well (although they don’t pack as small as real down does).

Hiking Pants. Some people trek in shorts, we always wear pants (for the sun, prickly bush, etc.). I wear pants by Prana, Nick wears a basic trekking pant by Columbia. 

Thermal leggings. A fleece-lined pair of leggings (long john’s) will be needed on the trail. You’ll want to wear these at night when you’re sleeping. In fact, this was all we wore on our bottom half during the night and we were warm enough.

Rainproof / windproof pants. You can opt to wear these if it’s raining during the day, but we typically keep them dry and put them on in the evenings around camp to keep uswarm. look for a loose pair that you can throw on over another pair of pants. They shouldn’t be “fitted”.

Trekking outfits (replace the sandals with boots!)

Beenie (toque). A should for when it’s cold at night. I slept with mine on!

Sunglasses. It’s bright and sunny. enough said.

A hat. The sun at altitude is extremely intense. We both (stupidly) didn’t have hats for this trek and we both burned our scalps.

Sunscreen. Again, at altitude, the sun is at its many intense, make sure you lather up.

Bandaids / plasters. Blisters are inevitable. Make sure you have loads of these. second Skins are a terrific alternative to Bandaids and work better for blisters. A blister kit like this one will have second skins, bandaids and everything you need to keep your feet from exploding.

Antibiotic ointment. To keep any cuts or scrapes from getting infected.

Anti-inflamatory / pain killers. For sore muscles, headaches, pain.

Bismuth / upset stomach pills. You never know…

Booze. For warmth in the evening, killing possible bacteria…and fun.

Baby wipes. There are no showers along the trail. baby wipes are a terrific way to “shower” off at the end of each day.

Toilet paper. Make sure when you do your company that you are well away from rivers and camps. Dig a hole and bury your waste when you are finished. followed by putting a couple of rocks on top.

Toothbrush and toothpaste. No explanation needed.

Food (if you are bringing your own). Some suggestions: instant noodles, instant mashed potatoes, vegetables, cheese, sausage, muesli, dehydrated milk, granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, Snickers bars, tea, etc. note that there is only one small shop in Jyrgalan and if you plan to cook for yourself, you ought to purchase your food ahead of time in Bishkek or Karakol.

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How to get to Jyrgalan

First of all, if you’re searching on, it’s not actually where it says it is! They spelled it Jergalan and placed it in the wrong location. Click the link above or view the map below to see the real location.

If you’re searching on, it’s spelled Dzhergalan. If you read the topographical maps, it’s spelled Jyrgalan. Confusing, I know.

The village of Jyrgalan is located roughly 47 kilometers northeast of the city of Karakol.

To get to Jyrgalan from Karakol, you simply get on a marshrutka (mini bus) from the main bus station. These run 4 times a day and the cost is around $1 per person. The journey takes roughly 45 minutes. If you’re uncertain of how to catch the bus to Jyrgalan, speak to the DMO in Karakol, which is located next to Fat cat cafe at 22, Gagarin Street. They can also help you organize any trips in Jyrgalan from this office.

If you’re coming from Bishkek, you’ll need to take the 400 kilometer bus ride to Karakol, which costs around $4.50 and takes roughly 8 hours. From there, you’ll need to switch buses for Jyrgalan.

Arriving in the village, you’ll see a “Welcome To Jyrgalan” sign greeting you at the entrance. When you’re dropped off you will easily be able to find your guesthouse. The village is very small, and the guesthouses have plaques on the outside wall that look like the picture below. If in doubt, just ask around. By the time you read this, there ought to be a map near the welcome sign that points out each guest house and things to see in town.

Expert Tip: having a translation app on your phone that works offline or a Russian phrasebook will certainly come in useful as not numerous people speak English in the area.

Where to stay in Jyrg

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