Driving in Kyrgyzstan was one of the best things we did in the country. We drove for about two months in there as well as in the neighbouring Uzbekistan in order to produce a documentary and a book about the nomadic culture in Central Asia.
To have a good car – it has to be a good car in Kyrgyzstan – allowed us to go effectively everywhere. Even the remotest places, such as the Kol Suu Lake, where people usually go with a tour guide, we managed to go by ourselves.
We know it can be a bit scary to rent a car in some countries – specially countries that you don’t easily find information about, or when you find it, it is mostly scary stories of people falling down from cliffs or being blackmailed by corrupt police officers. We, too, read this information on the internet when planning our road trip in Kyrgyzstan. However, as we later found out, renting a car with a reliable company – get a good 4×4 – and stick to the rules and you will have nothing to worry about.
Where to rent a car in Kyrgyzstan and which one we did
We rented a 4×4 Toyota Sequoia, perfect for Kyrgyzstan’s landscape. The country has 90% of it covered by mountains and plenty of dirt roads, so you really want an appropriate car. The car was huge – we even slept on it a few nights – and was very comfortable to drive. In fact, for a long distance trip, it was perfect. On a few occasions, Ti drove non-stop for almost 10 hours and had no body pain or any other issues. The car also gave us a lot of security when driving through awful dirty roads and we barely felt the endless bumps of the roads.
We rented our car with Travel Land, a Kyrgyzstan travel agency based in Bishkek. They were extremely professional with us and we can’t recommend their services any better. Travel Land has more than 6 years in the market and the people from there – Artem, Noor and Dennis – gave us all the support we needed for driving in Kyrgyzstan.
Their cars are all full insured and well maintained. They also explained us everything about road signs, cultural aspects of driving in the country as well as the do’s and the don’ts. As they told us, for example, car insurances in Kyrgyzstan don’t cover a few things such as damaged wheels, glasses broken by stones, any problems that happen off the main roads, drink and driving – thank God for that! And other things too.
The team from Travel Land know their country very well and want you to have a great experience to come back. They were very frank and straight forward with us and this helped us greatly in finding the right information we needed. They also made themselves available 24/7 over the phone, which was wonderful.
Is it safe to drive in Kyrgyzstan?
Well, that depends of which motorway you will be driving as well as which car you will rent, let alone how good of a driver you are. However, in general, yes. Driving in Kyrgyzstan is safe.
An important note, though, is about the condition of the roads .
As Artem from Travel Land emphasised, Kyrgyzs’ roads are not well marked on the maps yet. So, even though your GPS points you in a direction, don’t trust it 100%. “Always trust your eyes, if you feel it’s not safe, don’t go. Every now and then, there are unfortunate accidents because tourists drive through places they shouldn’t”, he told us.
If you are not sure about something, ask the locals, they are super friendly and will surely advise you on these matters.
Speed limit, petrol and other details about driving in Kyrgyzstan
The speed limit on the roads are 100km/h on a motorway and 60km/h in the city. In front of schools it drops to 40km/h – be attentive to road signs and don’t have this information as a rule. Make sure about that once you are there. Though, it’s mostly like that. Just pay extra attention when driving in front of schools, as you will face a penalty if you drive above 40km/h.
Petrol stations are spread all around the cities, villages and in most motorways. On dirty roads leading “nothing to nowhere” though, you will find it more difficult to spot a petrol station. Therefore, plan yourself ahead and always leave the tank full before going through more remote areas.
For this and other travels, we use a brilliant offline GPS called Maps.me. This app has been saving us since long ago – even when travelling by bike, trekking or on road trips – and we can’t recommend it more to download it! Also read about other apps every traveller should have in here.
What about police corruption in Kyrgyzstan?
One of our biggest concerns about driving in Kyrgyzstan was to find corrupt officers who would try to get a payoff. We read many stories about it on forums on the internet. In spite of our fear, we didn’t have problems. In fact, the treatment we had from police officers was quite the opposite. We saw many police patrolling the roads, but they never stopped us and when they did, was to ask where we are from or to wish us a safe journey.
We were charged a penalty once, but as the officer showed us, we were indeed over the speed limit, so we were happy – ok, happy is not the word, we were ok – to pay it. I don’t know if we had this perception because we are tourists, but the reality is that we didn’t have problems with corrupt police in Kyrgyzstan at all.
We had the same experience in Uzbekistan: lot’s of police and checkpoints on the roads, but no one blackmailed us or anything like that. We also received a penalty for speed limit in there – we didn’t see a school sign telling us to slow down to 40km/h – and the officer stopped us. He showed us a picture of our infraction and, because we didn’t understand everything he was saying, he called someone who spoke perfect English to help us. We had to pay nonetheless.
Crossing the Kyrgyzstan – Uzbekistan border by car
Leaving and entering Kyrgyzstan by car was super easy. Our friends from Travel Land had done all the necessary paperwork, so we would have everything in order to continue our road trip to Uzbekistan. They alerted us, however, about a diplomatic tension between the two countries, explaining we would most probably have problems to enter Uzbekistan – as everyone on this route has. And, man… they were right!
On the way over there, already on the Uzbek side, they made us wait for three hours. No one was really explaining us anything. Then, someone told us we needed to pay a fine because our windows were tinted. He said we needed a special insurance for Uzbekistan. It was ridiculous, very stressful and foreseen by Travel Land.
We knew we were being cheated, but it was midnight and we couldn’t use our phones to call Travel Land. There was not much we could do. Because we didn’t have enough cash, we got away with paying “only” the tinted window penalty – around 15 dollars.
On the way back to Kyrgyzstan, when we were on the Uzbek side again, we had the same issue: now five hours waiting and no consideration at all from anyone. This time, at least, no one tried to charge us anything and there we went happily back to Kyrgyzstan.
The Travel Land Kyrgyzstan travel agency:
As well as car rental, the Travel Land offers many other services for travellers in Kyrgyzstan, such as horse trekking, day trips, guided tours and much more. If you are looking for a travel agency in Kyrgyzstan, have a look on their website or get in touch with them through this email.
We also know other travellers who did business with them, just as us, had just positive experiences. If you do go for them, please let us know your experience too!
Have a safe journey and enjoy Kyrgyzstan, one of the most beautiful countries on the planet!