Kyrgyzstan is a nation defined by its natural beauty, joyously unspoilt mountain scapes, stark craggy ridges, and rolling summer pastures (jailoos) are brought to life by semi-nomadic, yurt-dwelling shepherd cultures. Add to this a well-developed network of homestays, and it is easy to see why Kyrgyzstan is the gateway of choice for many travellers in Central Asia. As can be expected in a country where the vast majority of attractions are rural and high altitude, the timing of your visit is crucial. Summer is ideal with hikes and roads generally accessible. Midsummer also sees Kazakh and Russian tourists converge on the beaches of never-freezing Lake Issyk-Köl. From October to May, much rural accommodation closes down and the yurts that add such character to the Alpine vistas are stashed away. So think twice about a winter visit unless you have come to ski.
Unitary parliamentary republic
The nation\'s largest ethnic group are the Kyrgyz, a Turkic people, who comprise 72% of the population. Other ethnic groups include Russians (9,0%) concentrated in the north and Uzbeks (14,5%) living in the south. Small but noticeable minorities include Dungans, Uyghurs, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Ukrainians and other smaller ethnic minorities. The country has over 80 ethnic groups.
Kyrgyzstan is one of two former Soviet republics in Central Asia to retain Russian as an official language, Kazakhstan being the other. It added the Kyrgyz language to become an officially bilingual country in September 1991.
Islam is the dominant religion of Kyrgyzstan. 80% of the population is Muslim while 17% follow Russian Orthodoxy and 3% other religions. The majority of Muslims are non-denominational Muslims at 64% while roughly 23% are Sunni, adhering to the Hanafi school of thought. During Soviet times, state atheism was encouraged. Today, however, Kyrgyzstan is a secular state, although Islam has exerted a growing influence in politics.