Why you need to visit the World Nomad Games

The World Nomad Games are a biennial event showcasing nomadic sports, culture, and lifestyle. They’re a spectacle to behold. Read on to find out why you should visit the World Nomad Games at least once.


Headless goat polo! Eagle hunting! #Yurtlife!

The World Nomad Games promises all of the epic nomadic action you’ve only ever seen on National Geographic. But, as we all know, promises and reality are not always one and the same.

If you’re like me—that is to say, overly skeptical—you might be a little dubious. The Games sound like they could be intriguing, but they could also be a huge tourist trap. I thought the same before attending the 2016 World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan, and went in expecting the least and planning to only stay for a couple of days.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Horseback archer at the 2016 World Nomad Games - Are the 2018 World Nomad Games worth the trip? - Lost With Purpose

Are the World Nomad Games worth the trip? Heck yes they are.

My expectations: An overblown, painfully touristic cultural show.

What I got: An ever-surprising, action-packed, Central Asian festival.

Each day was filled with masterful stunts on horseback, insanely photogenic everything, and hospitable nomads delighted to show off their culture. I was satisfied, to say the least.

But don’t just take my word at face value: here are 5 reasons you need to visit the World Nomad Games.


The World Nomad Games event is one of the most epic displays of nomad culture on earth. Here's photographic proof of why you need to see the World Nomad Games in 2018.


5 reasons you need to visit the World Nomad Games

1. They’re not a tourist trap.

Okay, the World Nomad Games are intended to attract tourists and boost tourism in their host country. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be drowning in a sea of obnoxious foreign tourists!

Kyrgyz tourists at the 2016 World Nomad Games

I spy with my little eye… plenty of Kyrgyz tourists!

There were far more Kyrgyz people than foreigners at the World Nomad Games in 2016 and 2018. Spectator and performer alike were excited to show off their culture, and oh were they a sight to behold.

A bossy old Kyrgyz man wearing a traditional hat

Plenty of nomadic families rolled in to set up yurts near the event. Men and women donned traditional clothes. Many a spectator were on horseback. Young, aspiring eagle hunters wandered through the crowds with tiny eaglets in tow.

Men with phones on horseback at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Spectators on horseback

Talk about the best seats in the house!

Spectators and eagles at the 2016 World Nomad Games

Make room for the eagle, man.

It’s entirely possible you’ll enjoy watching the crowd more than the actual events!

2. You’ll see all kinds of crazy things hard to find elsewhere in the world.

Let’s be real. Where else can you see sports involving headless goat carcasses, horseback wrestling, mounted archery, long-distance racing, and eagle hunting all in one place?

Kok buru in Kyrgyzstan

Headless goat sports, anyone? This popular nomad sport is known as kok buru in Kyrgyzstan.

Horseback archery at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Women doing archery at the World Nomad Games

What about massive yurt camps filled with people in nomadic garb?

Old women in traditional Kyrgyz clothes

A Kyrgyz nomad girl in traditional clothes at the World Nomad Games

Random camels wandering around?

Camel at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

And most importantly, endless quantities of nomad noms?

Free nomadic food at the 2016 World Nomad Games

I was invited into this yurt to come check out the food… which all turned out to be free!

How about event venues in jailoos, soaring alpine pastures, surrounded by mountains?

Yurt camp in a jailoo at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

This will do just fine.

Or sports arenas on the shores of one of the largest lakes in the world?

Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan

As will this.

No, your television does not count.

3. The World Nomad Games are cheap. 

It seems a bit odd that such a big event would be so cheap to see, but that’s the truth!

To start, there’s the fact that in 2016 and 2018 the World Nomad Games were free to attend. Yes, free!

The free shuttle at the 2016 World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

The free shuttle

The only events you needed tickets for were the opening and closing ceremonies. Everything else was ticket-free. There was a free shuttle system to the major venues, and people were all too happy to treat you to all kinds of delicious (and usually free) goodies in the cultural camp.

Free homemade plov

Free plov, made right there on the spot!

On top of that, Central Asia is a relatively cheap place to travel in for both backpackers and traditional holiday goers. You can have…

Don’t believe me? My budget report for Kyrgyzstan is proof.

4. The World Nomad Games will only get better.

At the 2016 and 2018 World Nomad Games there were yellow-clad volunteers galore, ensuring attendees had as smooth an experience as possible. They spoke a variety of languages, from English to Russian to Kyrgyz to French, were happy to show people around (and translate!), and were well informed about the schedule… when possible.

A volunteerand a Kyrgyz spectator at the 2016 World Nomad Games

This friendly volunteer, Sergei, took us around and introduced us to locals all throughout the various camps.

But, to be honest, being well informed was easier said than done. A definitive schedule was the only thing missing from the World Nomad Games… and it led to a lot of confusion.

Is this kok buru match between Russia and Kazakhstan or America and Kyrgyzstan? Are the eagle speed trials today or tomorrow?

International flags at the World Nomad Games

Participants from 40 countries attended the games in 2016. Who knows how many countries there will be in 2018?

Part of it was due to a bit of bad weather at the start, and part of it was… well, typical Central Asian planning (or a lack thereof).

Paper signs on buildings at the 2016 World Nomad Games

Very official: taped paper signs on one of the sporting halls.

In the end, it wasn’t a big deal—there was always something interesting going on, though it wasn’t always what you expected. On the positive side, volunteers were constantly surveying attendees on how the event could be improved. Expect much improved organization and infrastructure in the future!

5. They’re epic. (Do you need any other reason?)

I’ve touched on this already, but it needs to be said again.

I won’t even bother trying to put words to this. Just take a look at these photos and see for yourself:

Young girls at the opening ceremony of the 2016 World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Young girls in costume at one of the (free) opening ceremonies

A Kyrgyz yurt

A yurt camp representing a specific region of Kyrgyzstan at the 2016 World Nomad Games

A yurt camp showing off the culture of the Talas region of Kyrgyzstan.

Kok buru at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Smoke effects at the World Nomad Games

Getting lost in the haze at one of the opening events

Nomads cooking borsok, a Kyrgyz fried dough snack -

Cooking up some borsok, a popular Kyrgyz snack made from fried dough squares.

A performing woman riding a horse in Kyrgyzstan

Women in traditional clothes

Talk about (Kyrgyz) bling!

Two men preparing a sheep carcass

These guys insisted I come back the next day to barbecue the sheep with them.

A yurt camp at the 2016 World Nomad Games

Mountains in Kirchin Gorge, the backdrop of the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

But really, how beautiful is this?

When are the next World Nomad Games? 

So far, Kyrgyzstan has been the only country to host the World Nomad Games. However, the 2019 WNG are supposed to be held in Turkey.  You can stay tuned for more information using the World Nomad Games website and Facebook page.

And, of course, keep on watching my blog! I also want to check out the next World Nomad Games. Maybe I’ll see you there? 😉


Want more beautiful Kyrgyz goodness? Don’t miss my photo essay of our problematic horse trek to Song Kul lake.

The World Nomad Games event is one of the most epic displays of nomad culture on earth. Here's photographic proof of why you need to see the World Nomad Games in 2018.

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Alex Reynolds

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

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45 thoughts on “Why you need to visit the World Nomad Games

    Corry says:

    Looks amazeballs!! Will definitely go in 2018. Sidenote, when you are photographing locals, do you ask their permission first to get up close and personal or do you max zoom creepily from afar? Cos most locals I try to photograph are so shy and always hiding from me! Thanks

    Sebastiaan says:

    It definitely is. If you go, we’ll probably see you there.
    We always ask permission if we’re up close. Some photos are inevitably taken from afar, but when we can, we ask for permission. Luckily the people at the festival were all to willing to pose for a photo or two.

    Elsa says:

    I am planning to go to Kyrgysztan in September for it
    As you said you met with one of the volunteer there
    Do you know any volunteer organization who i can be contacted with for this event?

    Talgat says:

    You can contact me: [email protected]
    I have been a volunteer at World Nomad Games as a translator for International SMI/

    Farenexus says:

    Excellent article World Nomad Games now on my bucket list for this year. Hope to visit here soon with my friends.

    KC says:

    Hi do you know how I can go about obtaining tickets for the opening ceremonies?

    steffani a cameron says:

    Hey, thanks a lot for this post. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve been sending it to. I’ll be there in September of this year (I think the dates are 3rd to 9th) and your post is a huge reason why. I’m travel blogging at http://fullnomad.com, and will be probably staying in Kyrgyzstan for a month or six weeks, since it looks ridiculously cheap. If you have any other tips, lay ’em on me, but thanks for this. 😀

    Alex says:

    Always a pleasure to hear I’ve inspired someone’s travels! Hopefully I’ll run into you at the WNG this year, I also am planning on going. Not sure if I’ll be in Kyrgyzstan as long as you, though!

    Dan says:

    Enjoyable read. The tiny eaglets bit got to me. Fantastic photos, can’t wait to meet people that insist we barbecue a sheep with them! Myself and three friends are going this year. Looking forward to it.

    Alex says:

    Pretty sure no one can resist the fluffy goodness that is wee eaglets. May your WNG adventure be filled with adorable eaglets and damned tasty sheep barbecue!

    Selim says:

    It looked so amazing that I’m planning to go this year. Wanted to ask you if we need a travel agency or not and if it is worth staying 5 days around the games or 3 days is enough. Thought may be we can use the rest for sight seeing and see more of the nomadic life of Kyrgyzstan


    Alex says:

    Great to hear! No, you don’t need a travel agency – just make sure book a place to stay in Cholpon Ata ahead of time (things get full). You can figure everything else out from there.

    As for the amount of time, yes, I think 3 days is enough to see a healthy variety of things. I’d recommend going in the middle of the festival so that you can be sure everything is going on already. Last year they took a day or two to really get the fun events started.

    Itchy Feet says:

    Thank you for the post – both my husband and I are intrigued by the event, the people and the landscape. So, I am now investigating the possibility of attending the games in 2018 and other sights in the central Asian region.

    May need to get back to you after some research if I have any questions.

    Alex says:

    That’s what I love to hear! Hope your planning is going well 🙂

    Tumar says:

    You can contact me for more information will happy to help you
    [email protected]

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