For all intents and purposes, Kyrgyzstan is basically two countries combined into one. I don’t mean ethnically or linguistically, although the country is diverse, I mean logistically and terrain-wise.
To the north is Bishkek, Issyk Kul Lake, Karakol, and everything in between, and to the south, separated by mountains as high as 4000 meters, is Osh, the Alay Valley, and the Alay Mountain Range.
Unless you fly, traveling from Bishkek to Osh is a difficult, long, and arduous journey. Here I will help with you the logistics.
Bishkek to Osh by Airplane
There are daily flights between the two main cities of Kyrgyzstan. Prior to the War in Ukraine, the cheapest way was with Air Manas, the Kyrgyz low-cost carrier. However, their aircraft is leased from Russia, and due to the sanctions, it is now stored away.
Air Manas is no longer an option as of March 2023.
Air Kyrgyzstan flies between Bishkek and Osh. They have 2 or 3 flights per day and you can find their schedule here. Booking online is theoretically possible, but I haven’t been able to get past even their flight search engine. My advice is to book in person at one of their offices in Bishkek.
Another option is Tez Jet. They also fly 2-3 times daily and their schedule is online here. Their online booking system works and a ticket between Bishkek and Osh costs 3550 KGS / 37.5 EUR. Book here.
The final option I’ll share with you is an airline company called AviaTraffic. They fly from Bishkek to Osh twice daily and a ticket costs 3200-3400 KGS / 33.7-35.8 EUR. You can buy a ticket online here.
Bishkek to Osh by Cargo Bus
I haven’t done this myself and I can’t provide a first-hand experience. I learned about this option from this blog. Sounds to me like a fun way to travel between the two cities, also a bit cheaper and overnight. You be the judge.
Bishkek to Osh by Minibus or Shared Taxi
The journey takes around 14, but up to 17 hours. It is a grueling travel experience. That’s why I decided to break it up into three parts.
If you want to just get directly to Osh, then go to the Osh Bazaar (this one is in Bishkek, don’t mind the name. It’s confusing, I know) early in the morning and you’ll find shared taxis or minivans waiting to fill up. A ticket should cost around 1750 KGS / 18.5 EUR and not more than 2000 KGS.
It kind of depends on your bargaining skills and if you’re taking the front seat. The front seat is the best one and usually costs more.
The precise point where taxis gather is just south of the Osh Bazaar. It’s on Maps.me and here’s the location on Google Maps.
It’s mostly shared taxis that go between Bishkek and Osh. One driver and 4 passengers. Sometimes there are minibuses with 1 driver and 7 passengers.
Splitting the Journey between Bishkek and Osh
If you don’t fancy being stuck in a car for 14+ hours on winding roads and sometimes quite dangerous conditions, then you might want to split the way to Osh into 2 or 3 sections. That’s what I did and I’ll share my two cents on how to do it.
Toktogul is on the other side of the high mountains that make the road from Bishkek to Osh so long, arduous, and dangerous. This is precisely why it’s a perfect stop to break up the journey.
It’s about 6-7 hours of driving, including the fabled Töö Ashuu pass and its namesake tunnel that some report as pitch dark, but is actually light enough (maybe it’s a new thing, who knows).
If you want to travel only to Toktogul do not go to the market shared taxi area!
Instead, go to the Western Bus Station at the corner between Jibek Jolu Avenue and Kuliev Street. This is the precise location.
I asked the taxi drivers around the Bus Station for help and they played dumb, saying there was no shared taxi going to Toktogul and offered me a private transfer instead.
Do not fall for this. Go to the location I linked above in the morning and then ask.
The price for a seat in a minivan was 700 KGS / 7.5 EUR. Do not pay anything more than 900 for this, bargain if they say a price that’s too high.
The views on the way are spectacular, especially on top of the mountain passes and as you descend down into the valleys and the meadows. We only made one short stop for a toilet break and some snacks, so most of my photos are from behind the dirty minivan windows.
You can spend the night in Toktogul. It’s a tiny town with little to do, but the lifegiving Toktogul Reservoir is only 5 km from the city center.
From the bus station where the taxi from Bishkek will drop you off, walk down the main city street Abdi Suyerkulova Ulitsa to find accommodation. There’s no need to book anything in advance – it’s much more expensive online and these places are rarely sold out.
I stayed in Rahat Guesthouse. It was basic but cheap and cozy. The hosts were helpful with the timetable for the minibuses to Osh and Jalal-Abad for the next day. These change frequently, so ask when you’re there. There’s usually just one, max 2 minibuses going to Jalal-Abad every day.
I had enough time left in the day to go to the reservoir and admire the views. If for some reason you’re running late, there are taxis willing to take you to Kara-Suu (the village closer to the Reservoir) and back.
This up-and-coming rural tourism destination in Kyrgyzstan must be your second stop on the way from Bishkek to Osh.
To get to Arslanbob, take an early morning minibus headed to Jalal-Abad and get off at Bazar-Korgon. It should take around 5 hours unless your minibus breaks down and leaves you in the middle of the road…speaking from experience.
You may or may not get a discount since you’re not going all the way to Jalal-Abad, so ask at the Toktogul bus station.
From Bazar-Korgon take a minibus/marshrutka to Arslanbob. They depart every hour to every two hours and leave when full.
When I say full, I mean fully full. If you can find a spot to sit, you’re one of the lucky few.
In Arslanbob you should have no trouble finding a place to stay in the high season. The city has transformed into a hiking and rural tourism mecca and there are at least 40 guesthouses partnering in a Community Based Tourism (CBT) type of organization. You can find most of them on Maps.me.
I was there in early November and most of them had closed for the winter season. Still, all it took was to ask a few people on the street who called the host of CBT 6 – Ibrahim.
He came, picked us up (I had met another solo traveler in Toktogul and we were now traveling together), and drove us to his guesthouse.
For 500 KGS / 5.25 EUR per person, per night, breakfast and dinner included it was a great deal.
I advise you to stay at least two nights in Arslanbob. You’ll arrive in the late afternoon and won’t have time to visit the interesting places.
A quick note about Arslanbob – most people there are ethnically Uzbek, they’re more conservative and their lifestyle is quite different from what you might observe elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan.
The Small Waterfall
It’s not very small, to be honest, it’s just shorter than the Big Waterfall. It’s about 25 mins on foot from the center of Arslanbob. In the high season (June-August) there are food and souvenir stands, but in November there was nobody.
The Big Waterfall
The Big Waterfall is some 6 km from the center of Arslanbob, but you’ll be climbing about 700 m. up. It takes 2 hours to reach the viewpoint where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Arslanbob on one side and the waterfall on the other.
The Walnut Forest
Branded as the world’s largest walnut forest, this area just next to Arslanbob is full of legends. From Alexander the Great taking walnuts from Arslanbob back to Europe to Red Army soldiers sawing off trees for wood which they exchanged for weapons with Britain.
One thing is certain – the walnut forest is the lifeline of Arslanbob.
To enter the forest, walk about 30 min to the east of Arslanbob. There are trails inside the forest you can follow leading to viewpoints on top of hills. In November the whole area was covered in snow and some parts were very hard to go through.
Onwards to Jalal-Abad and Osh
To complete the journey from Bishkek to Osh, get a marshrutka from Arslanbob in the morning back towards Bazar-Korgon (1h, 100 KGS / 1.05 EUR). There you’ll have to change to another minibus to Jalal-Abad (0:45h, 80 KGS / 0.85 EUR).
Some people decide to spend a day in Jalal-Abad, but the overwhelming consensus is that it’s a boring city without much to do.
That’s why I advise you to take the next minibus towards Osh. They are very frequent and take about 1.5 hours (140 KGS / 1.5 EUR).
Voila, you’re in Osh!
How to travel from Osh to Bishkek
The reverse journey is pretty much all the same.
There are daily flights with the airlines mentioned in the first section and you can of course split the trip by stopping in Arslanbob and Toktogul but the most popular way to travel is by a shared taxi.
To get a shared taxi in Osh go to Zainabetdinova Street. The drivers park there looking for passengers. Cars leave when full as early as 6:00 and as late as 21:00.
I do not recommend the overnight journey – these are some really dangerous roads that require the driver’s full attention and light goes a long way in helping.
Also, the views are simply unmatched. Travel during the day!
Parting Words and Onward Journeys
As you see, traveling between Bishkek and Osh is a journey. But a journey that allows you to visit unique and remote places like Toktogul and Arslanbob and explore the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Don’t fly between Bishkek and Osh! Travel the smart way!
From Andijan, there is a 6-hour train going all the way to Tashkent.