We had an evening flight from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to Osh where we would start our Pamir Highway and allocated a day for traveling from Alamaty to Bishkek.
There are several options for the Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan border crossing from Almaty. Here are those options listed from most expensive to cheapest:
- There is a daily flight at 6pm from Almaty to Bishkek, if you book well in advance it’s as low as $75. Once we settled on our plans for our trip and checked prices it was about $200.
- Our hostel offered a private transfer for $150 door to door, taxis are not able to cross the border.
- Taxi/ Shared Taxis: Taxis will only take you to the border. Shared taxi is part of Central Asia culture so you’ll find taxis waiting near the bus station with signs for where they’re heading.
- Private mini buses also called marshrutka (Russian for fixed route vehicle): A faster alternative to the bus, they have fixed fares and no fixed timetable. They leave whenever they are full and you are also at the mercy of the driver should he decide to pick up some friends or cargo along the way.
- Buses: This is the cheapest option. We read that cross region buses are more prone to break down and are used often by small town traders to transport goods so there is a high likelihood that you’ll ride with boxes, bags, and livestock (dead or alive).
Despite the very appealing nature of the regional buses we opted for the Marshrutka from Almaty to Bishkek for the Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan border crossing. This was a relatively easy experience. We took an Uber to the Sayran Bus station and found the ticket counter (Kacca). A filled Bishkek marshrutka was just pulling out as we arrived and we were told that the next one would depart in about 20 minutes. The tickets were 1,500 Kzt, $4.50.
With 20 minutes to spare we checked out an area of the bus station where they seemed to be filming a movie.
We made friends with one of the guys working the movie and he told us they were filming a “business film about Kazakhstan in 1991 when it got independence and started business.”
We enjoyed speaking with him so much we very nearly missed our bus.
We ran to Gate 1 where our bus departed from only to learn that there are two sets of gates 1-7, the Bishkek marshrutka departed from gate 1 on the other side of the station. After a panicked run across the station we did make it as they started loading. Below is the sign for “Bishkek”
A tip we would give for others who attempt this- do go directly to the bus if you happen to be early. Seats are allocated first come first serve so all the front seats were taken. Here we are crammed in the back row, four deep.
It was a surprisingly comfortable ride once we got out of Almaty traffic. Along the way we saw life along a Kazakh highway which includes road side fruit vendors, cafes,mosques, and stations. The Tianshan mountains were visible for most of the looming over each city along the way.
We also got to watch Kazakh drivers play chicken with each other as they made maneuvers to pass us on the one lane highway. As we approached closer to Kyrgyzstan, the buildings gave away to open fields with full mountain views. We also passed a large wind farm.
As you approach the border crossing, there is a long queue of cars waiting to pass. The marshrutka pulled over and everyone went out taking their luggage with them. Most buses have their passengers crossing foot to clear customs and then meet on the other side.
Here are a few photos at the border crossing. There is not a visa requirement to enter Kyrgyzstan but they did want to see the entry card that was stamped when we entered Kazakhstan. The whole process took about 20 minutes.
Our plan was to exchange our Kazakh currency for Kyrgyzstan currency to take a Kyrg taxi to the airport. Upon crossing the border there is a large crowd of drivers making offers. We spotted the currency exchange and saw that it was closed so started pantomiming/ slow asking if anyone would accept Kazah dollars.
Based on our research a taxi from the border to the Bishkek airport should be about $20-30, one of the drivers offered to take us for 5,000kzt which is about $15 so we jumped at that offer. This is the car we got for 5,000kzt.
Our driver Almas was so excited to be driving us, he immediately started Face-timing his brother and then his sister in law as he navigated the car out of the parking lot. Neither picked up so he proceeded to continuously Face time them while driving for about the next 30 minutes.
We also made a pit stop for gas. The gas station was a woman crouching on the side of the road with two plastic bags. Once we parked she came over and started siphoning gas into the tank for 4 liter bottles she carried on her bag.
You can also see a video of her in action here.
Shortly before arriving to the airport Almas finally reached his sister-in-law and then promptly put her on the phone with Jesse. She is married to an American and spoke very good English. She said that Almas told us that all the taxis were fighting over us. She wanted to confirm the price and see if we needed help with our luggage (Almas had told her we had a lot of luggage). Jesse said “no thank you” and complimented her on her very good English, which she was very happy to hear!
We flew from Bishkek to Osh on Air Manas, our ticket was $35 each. The drive would have taken about 10 hours and we had heard was pretty scenic so we kept an eye out the window during the flight and were treated to these mountain views.
We opted to save our driving time for the Pamir Highway where we have heard have some pretty epic views. We set off today and will be on the road in the Pamirs for the next 9 days crossing into Tajikistan!