Kazakhstan Travel Guide

Kazakhstan_main

The world’s ninth-biggest country is the most economically advanced of the ‘stans’, thanks to its abundant reserves of oil and most other valuable minerals. This means generally better standards of accommodation, restaurants and transport than elsewhere in Central Asia. The biggest city, Almaty, is almost reminiscent of Europe with its leafy avenues, chic cafes, glossy shopping centers and hedonistic nightlife. The capital Astana, on the windswept northern steppe, has been transformed into a 21st-century showpiece with a profusion of bold futuristic architecture. But it’s beyond the cities that you’ll find the greatest travel adventures, whether hiking in the high mountains and green valleys of the Tian Shan, searching for wildlife on the lake-dotted steppe, enjoying home-spun hospitality in village guesthouses, or jolting across the western deserts to remote underground mosques.

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Fast navigation:
Top experiences in Kazakhstan:

Almaty | Kok Tobe | Kazakhstan Museum of Arts | Medeu & Chimbulak | Big Almaty Lake | Sunkar Falcon Centre | Astana | Nurzhol Bulvar | Bayterek | Lake Burabay (Borovoe) | Charyn Canyon | Karkara Valley | Tamagaly Petroglyphs | Altyn-Emel National Park | Aysha Bibi & Babazha-Khatun Mausoleums | Shymkent | Sayram | Sayram Ugam National Park | Aksu-Zhabagyly National Reserve | Turkistan | Otrar | Baykonur Cosmodrome | Beket Ata | Magistau Canyons | Magistau Necropolises | Shelpak-Ata & Sultan-Epe

Destination facts and practical information:

Climate | History | People | Religion | Food & Drinks | Visa to Kazakhstan | What to pack | Map of Kazakhstan

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Top experiences in Kazakhstan

001 - Almaty

Almaty

This leafy city with a backdrop of the snowcapped Zailiysky Alatau has always been among the more appealing Russian creations in Central Asia. Today Almaty’s new rich have expensive suburban apartments, large SUVs, glitzy shopping malls, Westernstyle coffee lounges, expensive restaurants, dance-till-dawn nightclubs and new ski resorts to help them enjoy life to the full.

This is Kazakhstan’s main transport hub and a place many travelers pass through. Stay a few days and you’ll find that Almaty is quite a sophisticated place – one for enjoying green parks and excellent museums, shops and markets, and for eating, drinking and partying in Central Asia’s best selection of restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs. And great mountain hiking and skiing are right on the doorstep.

The downtown area stretches roughly from the Green Market in the north to Respublika Alany in the south. South of here is the new business district along streets like Al-Farabi. Some people find a lack of distinctive landmarks on Almaty’s long, straight streets confusing. Keep in mind that the mountains are to the south, and that the city slopes upward towards them.

002 - Kok tobe

Kok Tobe

This 1100m hill on the city’s southeast edge is crowned by a 372m-high TV tower visible from far and wide, and affords great views over the city and the mountains, plus an assortment of attractions at the top. The easy way up is by the smooth cable car, which glides up in six minutes from beside the Palace of the Republic.

At the top you’ll find assorted cafes and restaurants, craft shops, a roller-coaster, a minizoo, a children’s playground – and life-sized bronze statues of the four Beatles, placed here on the initiative of local fans in 2007. The work of Almaty sculptor Eduard Kazaryan, this is claimed to be the world’s only monument showing all the Fab Four together. You can sit beside a guitar-strumming John on the bench.

003 - Museum of Arts

Kazakhstan Museum of Arts

This is the best art collection in the country, with Kazakh, Russian and some Western European art and a room of top-class modern Kazakh handicrafts, with much explanatory material in English. Particularly interesting are the room on Russia’s Mir Iskusstva movement and the large collection of paintings by Kazakh Abylkhan Kasteev (1904–73). Kasteev’s clear portraits, landscapes and scenes of Soviet progress (railways, collective farming) obviously toed the party line but his technique is fabulous.

004 - Chimbulak

Medeu & Chimbulak

These are Almaty’s winter-sports playgrounds in the Malaya Almatinka valley. The facilities were comprehensively upgraded for Almaty’s hosting of the 2011 Asian Winter Games. Medeu, about 15km southeast of central Almaty, at an altitude of 1700m, is a scattering of buildings around the huge Medeu ice rink. Chimbulak, further up the valley at 2200m, is Central Asia’s top skiing centre. The two are connected by road and a cable car installed in 2011. Medeu is always several degrees cooler than Almaty, and Chimbulak is cooler still. Except in summer, rain in Almaty means snow and zero visibility at the higher elevations.

005 - Big Almaty Lake

Big Almaty Lake

The picturesque turquoise lake, 1.6km long, rests in a rocky bowl at 2500m altitude and is a good birdwatching spot, especially during the May migration. Border guards are often present around the lake so it’s not advisable to walk along its east side (this path eventually leads to the Kyrgyzstan border), though a ramble on the west side is usually acceptable.

006 - Sunkar Falcon Centre

Sunkar Falcon Centre

Falconry farm “Sunkar” offers excursion in falconry farm and falcon show. You will enjoy a spectacular show with specially trained hawks – hunting with them is one of the most unique features of the Kazakh way of life. Viewers get information about the history of falconry, the biological features and the way of life of the hunting birds. “Sunkar” also keeps hunting dogs and caged wolves and is worth a look any time, but the real attraction is the entertaining display of trained raptors in flight at 5pm daily except Monday.

007 - Astana

Astana

The country’s new capital has risen fast from the northern steppe and is already a showpiece for 21st-century Kazakhstan. It is scheduled to go on rising and spreading into a city of more than one million people by 2030. Its skyline grows more fantastical by the year as landmark buildings, many of them by leading international architects, sprout in a variety of Asian, Western, Soviet and wacky futuristic styles. Several spectacular structures are open to visitors and it’s hard not be impressed by the very concept of the place.

Astana was just a medium-sized provincial city known for its bitter winters when President Nazarbaev named it out of the blue in 1994 as Kazakhstan’s future capital. It formally took over from Almaty in 1997. The old center north of the Ishim (Yesil) River, right bank, lives on as a commercial and services center. South of the river (left bank), governmental and business buildings are going up, and also cultural, sports, leisure and shopping centers, hotels, a university and eye-catching residential developments. Some have dubbed Astana the “Dubai of the steppe”.

008 - Nurzhol Bulvar 1

Nurzhol Bulvar

This central showpiece boulevard of Kazakhstan’s new governmental and monumental zone is a 2km line of gardens and plazas leading east from the KazMunayGaz building to the presidential palace and flanked by a sequence of large and imaginative buildings. Bus 21 runs here from the train station via Zhenis, Abay, Saryarka, Turan and Kabanbay Batyr, stopping on Konaev near the Bayterek Monument. Returning, catch it heading west on Konaev.

009 - Bayterek

Bayterek Monument

Nurzhol bulvar’s centrepiece is the 97m high Bayterek monument, a white latticed tower crowned by a large glass orb. This embodies a Kazakh legend in which the mythical bird Samruk lays a golden egg containing the secrets of human desires and happiness in a tall poplar tree, beyond human reach. A lift glides visitors up inside the egg, where you can ponder the symbolism, enjoy expansive views and place your hand in a print of President Nazarbaev’s palm while gazing eastward towards his palace. The egg-domed National Archive stands just west of the Bayterek.

010 - Lake Burabay

Lake Burabay (Borovoe)

Lake Burabay (formerly Borovoe), 240km north of Astana, is the focus of Burabay National Nature Park, a picturesque 835-sq-km area of lakes, hills, pine forests and strange rock formations that has given birth to several Kazakh legends. Accommodation and other facilities here are continually improving, but schemes for a massive lakeside resort have not yet come to fruition. The small town of Burabay stretches about 2.5km along the lake’s northeast shore. On the main road here, the park’s Visitor Centre & Nature Museum  contains a diverse display of stuffed wildlife from Kazakhstan’s national parks, two ATMs, and souvenir shops selling a park map. Included in the museum ticket is an adjoining outdoor zoo with two Przewalski’s horses, several deer (including three maral) and various eagles, bears, wolves, argali sheep and yaks in small enclosures. A well-made walking path parallels the road for 9km from the lake’s southeast to northwest corners via Burabay town.

Heading west from the town it’s 4km to picturesque Blue Bay. The most celebrated Burabay legend links Zhumbaktas, the Sphinx-like rock sticking out of the lake here, with Okzhetpes, the striking 380m-tall rock pile rising on the shore behind it. While Abylay Khan’s army was fighting the Zhungars back in the 18th century, the story goes, a beautiful princess was captured and brought to Burabay, where many Kazakh warriors wanted her as a wife. The princess agreed to marry the first warrior who could shoot an arrow to the top of Okzhetpes. All failed, hence the name Okzhetpes, which means “Unreachable by Arrows”. The distraught princess then drowned herself in the lake, thus creating Zhumbaktas (Mysterious Stone).

011 - Charyn canyon

Charyn Canyon

The swift Charyn (Sharyn) River has carved a 150m- to 300m-deep canyon into the otherwise flat steppe some 200km east of Almaty, and time has weathered this into some weird and colorful rock formations, especially in the branch canyon known as the Valley of Castles. This is no Grand Canyon, but it’s worth a trip. April, May, June, September and October are the best months to come: it’s too hot in summer.  Don’t try to swim in the river, which is deceptively fast.

012 - Karkara Valley

Karkara Valley

The beautiful, broad valley of the Karkara River is an age-old summer pasture for herds from both sides of what’s now the Kazakhstan–Kyrgyzstan border. From Kegen, 250km by road east of Almaty, a scenic road heads south up a valley to Karkara village, and then to the border post about 28km from Kegen. The border reopened from June to October 2013 after being closed for several years, and it is likely that it will open again for a similar period in future years. From the border the road veers west towards Tüp and Lake Issyk-Köl in Kyrgyzstan.

From late June to late August, mountain tourism companies maintains a summer base camp at 2200m on the Kazakh side of the international border. Primarily a staging post for treks and climbing expeditions to the central Tian Shan, the camp offers tent accommodation to all comers, with hot showers, a cafe and a bar.

013 - Tamgaly

Tamagaly Petroglyphs

The World Heritage–listed Tamgaly petroglyphs are the most impressive of many petroglyph groups in southeastern Kazakhstan. Set in a lushly vegetated canyon in an otherwise arid region near Karabastau village, 170km northwest of Almaty, they number more than 4000 separate carvings from the Bronze Age and later, in several groups. The varied images include sunheaded idols, women in childbirth, hunting scenes and a big variety of animals, and are best seen in the afternoon when most sunlight reaches them. The canyon was a ritual site for nomadic peoples from at least 3000 years ago. Don’t confuse Tamgaly with Tamgaly Tas, which is a smaller and more recent petroglyph site on the Ili River.

014 - Altyn Emel 1

Altyn-Emel National Park

Though expensive to visit, this large, 4600-sq-km national park stretching northeast from Lake Kapshagay is worth it if you like beautiful desolation and unusual natural and archaeological attractions. It’s famous for the Singing Dune, which hums like an aircraft engine when the weather is suitably windy and dry, but archaeology fans will be absorbed by the Terekty petroglyphs and the 31 Besshatyr burial mounds, which are one of the biggest groups of Scythian tombs known anywhere. In spring and early autumn you can hope to see rare goitred gazelles (zheyran), argali sheep and wild ass (kulan).

015 - Aysha-Bibi Mausuleum

Aysha-Bibi & Babazha-Khatun Mausoleums

In Aysha-Bibi village, 16km west of Taraz on the Shymkent road, are the tombs of two 11th- or 12th-century women, legendary protagonists of a local Romeo and Juliet tale. The Aysha-Bibi mausoleum, though heavily restored in 2000–2002, is probably the only authentically old building around Taraz. Made of delicate terracotta bricks in more than 50 different motifs forming lovely patterns, the building looks almost weightless. The story goes that Aysha, daughter of a famed scholar, fell in love with Karakhan, lord of Taraz, but Aysha’s father forbade them to marry. The lovers swore a secret pact and Aysha eventually set off for Taraz with her companion Babazha-Khatun. Aysha collapsed from exhaustion/sickness/snake bite; Babazha-Khatun rushed to Karakhan, who raced to his beloved just in time to marry her before she expired. Karakhan had her tomb built on the spot, later adding Babazha-Khatun’s mausoleum, with its unusual pointed, fluted roof (this building was totally rebuilt in 2000–2002).

016 - Shymkent

Shymkent

Southern Kazakhstan’s most vibrant city, with bustling bazaars and a lively downtown, Shymkent has more of a Central Asian buzz on its leafy streets than anywhere else in the country. The Mongols razed a minor Silk Road stop here; the Kokand khanate built a frontier fort in the 19th century; Russia took it in 1864; and the whole place was rebuilt in Soviet times. Little more than 100km from Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent, today Shymkent is a thriving trade centre and also produces cement, cigarettes and phosphates and refines oil – and brews two of Kazakhstan’s best beers, Shymkentskoe Pivo and the Bavarian-style microbrew Sigma. Its population is about 65% Kazakh and about 14% Uzbek.

017 - Sayram

Sayram

About 14km east of Shymkent, the busy little town of Sayram was a Silk Road stop long before Shymkent existed and dates back possibly 3000 years. Kozha Akhmed Yasaui was born here and Sayram is a stop for many pilgrims en route to his mausoleum at Turkistan. Sayram’s population today is almost entirely Uzbek.

Most of the main monuments can be seen in a walk of about one and a half hours starting from Sayram’s central traffic lights. Take the eastern (slightly uphill) street, Amir Temur, and then the first (narrow) street on the right after 300m. About 120m along, in a fenced field on your right, is the circular, brick-built Kydyra Minaret (Khyzyr Munarasy), about 15m high and possibly dating from the 10th century. You can climb up inside to view the Aksu-Zhabagyly Mountains away to the east. Return to the central crossroads and continue straight ahead, passing the bazaar on your left. Just after the bazaar, on the right, is the 13th-century Karashash-Ana Mausoleum, where Akhmed Yasaui’s mother lies beneath the central tombstone. Continue 250m, passing the modern Friday Mosque on your right, to the large Mirali Bobo Mausoleum, where a leading 10th century Islamic scholar lies buried. Now turn back towards the central crossroads but turn into the first street on the left, marked Botbay Ata Kesenesi. The high bank on your right along here is part of the old city walls. Fork right after 180m, and the street ends at a larger street, Yusuf Sayrami. To your right is a double-arched gate erected in 1999 for Sayram’s official 3000th birthday. Head left along the street and in 90m you’ll reach a green and yellow sign marking the spot where, according to legend, Kozha Akhmed Yasaui’s mentor Aristan Bab handed him a sacred persimmon stone received by Aristan Bab from the Prophet Mohammed (notwithstanding the five-century gap between the lives of the Prophet Mohammed and Akhmed Yasaui). About 250m past this spot, turn left into a cemetery to the three-domed Abdul-Aziz Baba Mausoleum, whose occupant is believed to have been a leader of the Arabic forces that brought Islam to the Sayram area in AD 766. Pilgrims come here for help in averting the “evil eye”. From here return to the central crossroads.

018 - Sayram ugam

Sayram Ugam National Park

This mountainous park abutting the Uzbek border immediately southwest of the Aksu-Zhabagyly reserve is less well known than its neighbour, but offers similar attractions and is generally cheaper to visit. A travel programs provides homestays in the villages of Kaskasu, Dikankol and Tonkeris, in beautiful foothill country where grass-lands meet wooded foothills, and in the main access town Lenger. Good outings include horse or 4WD trips to the western end of the spectacular Aksu Canyon from Tonkeris, foot or horse daytrips into Kaskasu Canyon from pretty Kaskasu village, and the highlight two-to-three-day camping trip by foot or horse to beautiful Susingen Lake from Kaskasu or Dikankol. This high-mountain lake empties at the end of June when the ice blocking its outlet melts, and does not fill again until the winter freeze.

019 - Aksu-zhabagly

Aksu-Zhabagyly National Reserve

This beautiful 1319-sq-km patch of green valleys, rushing rivers, snowcapped peaks and high-level glaciers, abutting the Kyrgyz and Uzbek borders, is the oldest (1926) and one of the most enjoyable and easiest visited of Kazakhstan’s nature reserves. Sitting at the west end of the Talassky Alatau (the most northwesterly spur of the Tian Shan), it stretches from the edge of the steppe at about 1200m up to 4239m at Pik Sayram. The main access point is the village of Zhabagyly, 70km east of Shymkent as the crow flies.

0191 - Aksu-zhabagly

The diversity of life in this area where mountains meet steppe is great for botanists, birders and nature lovers in general. Some of Kazakhstan’s best nature guides are based locally, making this also a good base for visiting other regional attractions including the Karatau mountains (rich in endemic plants), steppe lakes, deserts and historical/cultural sites like Turkistan and Otrar. The famous, bright-red Greig’s tulip is one of over 1300 flowering plants in the reserve. It dots the alpine meadows, and is quite common even in villages, from mid-April to early May. Wildlife you may see includes ibex, argali sheep, red marmots, paradise flycatchers, golden eagles and Tien Shan brown bears (about 90 inhabit the reserve; chances of sightings are best in spring). About eight snow leopards are also thought to be here. You can visit at any time, but the best weather is from April to September.  For birders and botanists, April and May are favorite.

020 - Khoja Yasawi Mausoleum

Turkistan

At Turkistan, 165km northwest of Shymkent (an easy day-trip), stands Kazakhstan’s greatest architectural monument and most important pilgrimage site. The mausoleum of the first great Turkic Muslim holy man, Kozha Akhmed Yasaui, was built by Timur in the late 14th century on a grand scale comparable with his magnificent creations in Samarkand, and has no rivals in Kazakhstan for man-made beauty. Turkistan was already an important trade and religious centre (under the name Yasy) when the revered Sufi teacher and mystical poet Kozha Akhmed Yasaui came to live here in the 12th century. Yasaui was born at Sayram, probably in 1103, underwent ascetic Sufi training in Bukhara, then lived much of the rest of his life in Turkistan, dying here about 1166. He founded the Yasauia Sufi order and had the gift of communicating his understanding to ordinary people through poems and sermons in a Turkic vernacular, a major reason for his enduring popularity. Yasaui’s original small tomb was already a place of pilgrimage before Timur ordered a far grander mausoleum built here in the 1390s. Timur died before it was completed and the main facade was left unfinished – today it remains bare of the beautiful tilework that adorns the rest of the building, with scaffolding poles still protruding. From the 16th to 18th centuries Turkistan was the capital of the Kazakh khans.

021 - Otrar

Otrar

About 150km northwest of Shymkent lie the ruins of the town that brought Chinggis Khan to Central Asia. Much of the rest of Asia and Europe might have been spared Mongol carnage if Otrar’s Khorezmshah governor had not had Chinggis Khan’s merchant envoys murdered here in 1218. In reprisal for the envoy outrage, the following year Chinggis’ forces mercliessly trashed Otrar, which until then had been one of the most important Silk Road towns in the fertile Syr-Darya valley. It was rebuilt afterwards but eventually abandoned around 1700 after being trashed again by the Zhungars (Oyrats). Today it’s just a large dusty mound, known as Otyrar-Tobe, 11km north of the small town of Shauildir, but archaeologists have exposed some interesting sections: a now partly reconstructed bastion and piece of city wall, the pillar stumps of the main mosque, low walls of the 14th-century Palace of Berdibek (where that other great pillager, Timur, died, en route to conquer China, in 1405), a few residential areas and a bathhouse. In its heyday Otrar spread over nearly 10 times the area of the mound itself. Three kilometers west of Otyrar-Tobe is the Aristan-Bab Mausoleum, the tomb of an early mentor of Kozha Akhmed Yasaui. The existing domed, brick building here dates from 1907 and is a stop for pilgrims heading to Turkistan.

022 - Baykonur 1

Baykonur Cosmodrome

The Baykonur Cosmodrome, a 6717-sq-km area of semidesert about 250km northwest of Kyzylorda, has been the launch site for all Soviet- and Russian-manned space flights since Yury Gagarin, the first human in space, was lobbed up here in 1961. In fact the cosmodrome is 300km southwest of the original town of Baykonur, but the USSR told the International Aeronautical Federation that Gagarin’s launch point was Baykonur, and that name also stuck to the real site. The military town built to guard and service the cosmodrome, formerly called Leninsk, has now acquired the name Baykonur too. The Kyzylorda–Aralsk road and railway pass between the town and the cosmodrome, some of whose installations are visible (the whole site stretches about 75km north). The town’s train station is called Toretam.

0221 - Baykonur 1

Since the collapse of the USSR, Kazakhstan has leased the cosmodrome and town to Russia until 2050. Baykonur today has nine launch complexes and sends up astronauts from many countries, including space tourists, as well as unmanned spacecraft. Following the end of the USA’s space shuttle program in 2010, it’s the world’s only launch centre for human space flight apart from China’s Jiuquan.

0222 - Baykonur

Visitors to the cosmodrome and Baykonur town require advance permission from the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and the only practicable way in is through a well-connected travel agency. Launch dates are known three to six months ahead and you need to start the paperwork at least one month in advance, but better two months.

023 - Beket ata

Beket Ata (Pilgrimage)

Beket-Ata, 285km east of Aktau, is an underground mosque to which the clairvoyant and teacher Beket-Ata (1750–1813) retreated in the later part of his life, ultimately dying and being buried here. A Mangistau native, Beket-Ata studied in Khiva (Uzbekistan) and on his return he is believed to have set up four mosques, including this one where he founded a Sufi school. Every day dozens of pilgrims – and hundreds on holidays – make the bumpy journey across the deserts to pray and receive Beket-Ata’s inspiration. The underground mosque (three caves) is set in a rocky outcrop overlooking a desert canyon.

024 - Magistau canyons

Magistau Canyons

The stony deserts of the Mangistau region stretch 400km east from Aktau to the Uzbekistan border. This labyrinth of dramatic canyons, weirdly eroded, multicoloured rock outcrops, mysterious underground mosques and ancient necropolises is only beginning to be explored, even by archaeologists. A minor branch of the Silk Road once ran across these wastes, and sacred sites, some with strong Sufic associations, are located where people buried their dead or where holy men dwelt. The underground mosques may have originated as cave hermitages for ascetics who retreated to the deserts.

025 - Magistau Necropolises

Magistau Necropolises

All of Kazakhstan is dotted with picturesque cemeteries or necropolises set outside villages and towns, and Mangistau has a notable concentration of them: locals boast the figure 362. Many of these date back to nomadic times, when tribes would bury their dead at special sites. Fascinating carvings adorn many of the older stone monuments – the commonest forms are the kulpytas, a carved stone column; the koitas, a stylised ram; the koshkar-tas, a more realistic ram; and the sarcophagus like sandyk-tas. One of the most interesting necropolises is Koshkar Ata, at Akshukur, beside the main road 15km north of Aktau. Its skyline of miniature domes and towers resembles some fairytale city, and just inside the entrance is a fine old koshkar-tas.

026 - Shakpak ata cave mosque

Shalepak Ata & Sultan Epe

Shakpak-Ata is perhaps the most intriguing of all Mangistau’s underground mosques – a cross-shaped affair with three entrances and four chambers, cut into a cliff close to the Caspian coast. It’s 133km north of Aktau and 37km northwest of the village of Taushik – the final 11km, north from the Taushik–Fort Shevchenko road, is down a stony, bumpy track. Shakpak-Ata probably dates back to the 10th century, and its walls are adorned with deeply incised Arabic inscriptions, sculpted columns, weirdly weathered niches and drawings of horses and hands. The cliff is peppered with burial niches, and there’s a necropolis of similar age below it, with more than 2000 tombs.

The signposted turning to Sultan Epe, another underground mosque and necropolis pairing, is 7km past the Shakpak-Ata turning on the Taushik–Fort Shevchenko road. You first reach the Kenty-Baba Necropolis, 7km from the road, with two towerlike mausoleums and other carved monuments. Sultan Epe is about 1km beyond, on the edge of a deep canyon. The necropolis – tomb of holy man Sultan Epe, considered the protector of sailors – is rich in carvings, while the underground mosque, of similar age to Shakpak-Ata, comprises several small rooms and low passages.

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Destination facts and practical information

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Climate

Kazakhstan, a vast country of Central Asia, has a markedly continental climate, with very cold winters almost everywhere, while summers are warm in the north and definitely hot in the south. There are no obstacles which could protect the country from cold air masses of polar or Siberian origin, while in summer the hot winds from the deserts of Iran can blow. Central Asia becomes very cold in winter and very hot in summer, because of the huge distance from the oceans, so that both the highest and coldest records are noticeable: in the north the temperature can reach -50 °C (-58 °F) in winter, as well as 40 °C (104 °F) in summer, while in the south it can go from -35 °C (-31 °F) in winter to 45 °C (113 °F) in summer. Clashes between different air masses can give rise to strong winds and dust storms, especially in spring and in the south, while in winter, northern winds can cause blizzards, but without great snow accumulations, due to the scarcity of precipitation.

The distance from the sea is also the cause of the climate aridity, in fact, the country is almost entirely covered by steppes and deserts; the northern area (roughly above the 50th parallel) is the rainiest part, where precipitation exceeds 300 millimetres (12 inches) per year, mainly because of afternoon thunderstorms that occur in summer, while in the centre and south, it comes down to around 150/200 mm (6/8 in) per year, and even to around 100 mm (4 in) in the area of the Aral Sea. Snow, in the long winter months is quite common, but it’s often light and not abundant. There are approximately a hundred days with snow each year on the plains in the far north (see Petropavl), about 60 days in the central region, and about 20 days in the southernmost part.

The mildest area in winter is the south-west, along the coast of the Caspian Sea, where the average in January goes from -6 °C (21 °F) in the northern coast (see Atyrau), to -2 °C (28 °F) in the east coast (see Aktau), to almost 0 °C (32 °F) near the border with Turkmenistan; there’s also a small portion in the south-central part of the country, near the border with Uzbekistan, where the average is about freezing as well. In general, at a given latitude, the winter temperature decreases as you proceed towards the east.

The summer temperatures are more uniform, and vary mainly depending on latitude, as well as on altitude (but most of the country is flat): in July, they range on average from 19 °C (66 °F) in the far north, to 25 °C (77 °F) in the centre-south, to nearly 30 °C (86 °F) in the far south.

As mentioned, even precipitation varies from north to south: the northern part, the rainiest, is occupied by the Kazakh steppe (or Kirghiz steppe), while the central and southern regions are semi-desert or desert. However, precipitation rises again in the southeastern mountainous area.

Most of Kazakhstan is covered by plains, or at most by hills at an altitude below 500 metres (1,600 feet). The only mountainous areas are: in the south and south-east (near Kyrgyzstan and China), the Tian Shan, which also includes the highest peak of Kazakhstan, Khan Tengri, 7,010 metres (22,999 feet) high, and in the east (near China and Mongolia), the Altai Mountains. In the mountains, precipitation is more abundant than in the plains, in fact they are often covered by forests, although it depends on slope exposure (for instance the Charyn Canyon, closed among the mountains, is arid). At high altitudes, above 3,500 metres (11,500 ft), there are large glaciers.

History of Kazakhstan

History

Kazakhstan has been inhabited since the Paleolithic. Pastoralism developed during the Neolithic as the region’s climate and terrain are best suited for a nomadic lifestyle. The Kazakh people was a key constituent of the Eurasian Steppe route, the ancestor of the terrestrial Silk Roads Archaeologists believe that humans first domesticated the horse (i.e. ponies) in the region’s vast steppes. Central Asia was originally inhabited by the Scythians.

The Cuman entered the steppes of modern-day Kazakhstan around the early 11th century, where they later joined with the Kipchak and established the vast Cuman-Kipchak confederation. While ancient cities Taraz (Aulie-Ata) and Hazrat-e Turkestan had long served as Important the way-stations along the Silk Road connecting Asia and Europe, true political only evolved with the Mongol invasion of the early 13th century. Under the Mongol Empire, the largest in world history, Of the emergent Kazakh Khanate (Kazakhstan).

Throughout this period, traditional nomadic life and a livestock-based economy continued to dominate the steppe. In the 15th century, a distinctartments identity from to emerge among the Turkic tribes, a process which was consolidated by the mid-16th century with the appearance Of the Kazakh language, culture, and economy.

Ideally, the region was the focus of ever-increasing disputes between the native Kazakh emirs and the neighbors Persian-speaking peoples to the south. At the height of Khanate would rule parts of Central Asia and control Cumania. The Kazakhs nomads would raid people of Russian territory for slaves until the Russian conquest of Kazakhstan. By the early 17th century, the Kazakh Khanate was struggling with the impact of tribal rivalries, which had too divided the population into the Great, Middle and Little (or Small) hordes (jüz) . Political disunion, tribal rivalries, and the diminishing importance of overland trade routes between East and West weakened the Kazakh Khanate. Khiva Khanate used this opportunity and annexed Mangyshlak Peninsula. Uzbek rule there lasted two centuries until the Russian arrival.

In the 17th century, Kazakhs fought Oirats, a federation of western Mongol tribes, including the Dzungar. The beginning of the 18th century marked the zenith of the Kazakh Khanate. During this period the Little Horde participated in the 1723-1730 war Against the Dzungar, following their “Great Disaster” invasion of Kazakh territories. Under the leadership of Abul Khair Khan, the Kazakh won major victories over the Dzungar at the Bulanty River in 1726, and at the Battle of Anrakay in 1729.

Ablai Khan participated in the most significant battles against the Dzungar from the 1720s to the 1750s, for which he was declared a “batyr” (“hero”) by the people. The Kazakh suffer from the frequent raids against them by the Volga Kalmyk. The Kiyan Khanate used the weakness of Kazakh jüzs after Dzungar and Kalmyk raids and conquered present Southeastern Kazakhstan, including Almaty, the formal capital in the first quarter of the 19th century. Also, the Emirate of Bukhara ruled Shymkent before the Russians took dominance.

People of Kazakhstan

People

Ethnic groups are among the population and ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan are 23.7%. Other groups included Tatars (1.3%), Ukrainians (2.1%), Uzbeks (2.8%), Belarusians, Uyghurs (1.4%), Azerbaijanis, Poles, And Lithuanians. Some minorities such as Germans (1.1%), Ukrainians, Koreans, Chechens, Meskhetian Turks, and Russian political opponents of the regime had been deported to Kazakhstan in the 1930s and 1940s by Stalin. Some of the largest Soviet labour camps Gulag) existed in the country.

Significant Russian immigration even connected with Virgin Lands campaign and Soviet space program during the Khrushchev era. In 1989, ethnic Russians were 37.8% of the population and Kazakhs held a majority in only 7 of the 20 regions of the country. 1 million Germans in Kazakhstan, most descendants of the Volga Germans deported to Kazakhstan during World War II. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, most of them emigrated to Germany. Most members of the smaller Pontian Greek minority have emigrated to Greece. In the late 1930s thousands of Koreans in the Soviet Union were deported to Central Asia. These people are now known as Koryo-saram.

The 1990 are marked by the emigration of many of the country’s Russians and Volga Germans, a process that was in the 1970s. This has made African Kazakhs the largest ethnic group. Additional factors in the increase in the Kazakh population are higher birthrates and immigration of Ethnic Kazakhs from China, Mongolia, and Russia. 

Religion

According to the 2009 Census, 70% of the population is Muslim, 26% Christian, 0.1% Buddhists, 0.2% others (mostly Jews), and 3% Irreligious, while 0.5% chose not to answer. According to its Constitution, Kazakhstan is a secular state.

Islam is the largest religion in Kazakhstan, followed by Orthodox Christianity. After decades of religious suppression by the Soviet Union, the coming of independence witnessed a surge in expression of ethnic identity, partly through religion. The free practice of religious beliefs and the establishment of full freedom of religion led to an increase of religious activity. Hundreds of mosques, churches, and other religious structures were built in the span of a few years, with the number of religious associations rising from 670 in 1990 to 4,170 today.

Food_Beshbarmak

Food & Drinks

In the national cuisine, livestock meat can be cooked in a variety of ways and is an usual served with a wide assortment of traditional bread products. Refreshments often included black tea and traditional milk-derived drinks such as ayran, shubat and kymyz. A traditional Kazakh Dinner referred to a multitude of appetitors on the table, followed by a soup and one or two main courses such as pilaf and beshbarmak. They also drink their national beverage, which consists of fermented mare’s milk.

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Visas & Permits

Citizens of EU states, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, the USA and some other countries can normally obtain tourist visas without a letter of invitation (LOI) at Kazakhstan consulates or embassies.

For most other visas you must obtain a LOI before applying, available through most travel agencies in Kazakhstan and Central Asia travel specialists in other countries, normally for US$50 to US$100. Registration is required if you are staying in Kazakhstan more than five days. Special permits are needed to visit areas close to the Chinese border and are only available through tour firms taking you to these areas. Processing can take up to 45 days. 

What to pack

In winter: for Astana and the north, cold weather clothing, synthetic thermal long underwear, fleece, parka, wind jacket, gloves, warm boots. In the southernmost cities, like Shymkent and Aktau, you can wear lighter clothes during mild days, while it’s useful to bring a scarf for the wind.

In summer: for Astana and the north, light clothing, T-shirts, but also long pants, light jacket and sweater for the evening and for cooler days; raincoat or umbrella.  For the vast southern plains (Ustjurt Plateau, Turkestan, Shardara), lightweight clothes, loose fitting and made of natural fabric, scarf or desert turban, a sweatshirt for the evening. For Almaty, Shymkent, the Caspian Sea, Baikonur, the Aral Sea and Lake Balkash, light clothes, sun hat, scarf, a sweatshirt for the evening. In the southern mountains (Tian Shan), at intermediate altitudes, light clothes for the day, sun hat, sweatshirt and jacket for the evening, hiking shoes; above 3,000 metres (10,000 ft), sweater and warm jacket for the evening; above 4,000 metres (13,000 ft), down jacket, hat, gloves, scarf. In the mountains of the north-east (Altai), the cold starts at lower altitudes: at 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) you already need clothes for spring and autumn, like sweater and jacket. For women, it is best to avoid shorts and miniskirts, especially outside the big cities. 

Map of Kazakhstan

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Top experiences in Kazakhstan:

Almaty | Kok Tobe | Kazakhstan Museum of Arts | Medeu & Chimbulak | Big Almaty Lake | Sunkar Falcon Centre | Astana | Nurzhol Bulvar | Bayterek | Lake Burabay (Borovoe) | Charyn Canyon | Karkara Valley | Tamagaly Petroglyphs | Altyn-Emel National Park | Aysha Bibi & Babazha-Khatun Mausoleums | Shymkent | Sayram | Sayram Ugam National Park | Aksu-Zhabagyly National Reserve | Turkistan | Otrar | Baykonur Cosmodrome | Beket Ata | Magistau Canyons | Magistau Necropolises | Shelpak-Ata & Sultan-Epe

Destination facts and practical information:

Climate | History | People | Religion | Food & Drinks | Visa to Kazakhstan | What to pack | Map of Kazakhstan

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