Tien Shan mountains, mountain lake, peaks, Big Almaty Lake, Kazakhstan
Big Almaty Lake, Kazakhstan

Unexplored by mass tourism and one of the most economically successful countries in Central Asia, Kazakhstan is a mystery for many. And this is truly surprising considering that it’s the ninth biggest country in the world. Vast and intriguing, Kazakhstan is framed by Russia on its northern border and China to the east, rewarding curious visitors with a plethora of wonderful attractions, as well as modern hotels, elegant restaurants, and high-class travel options. Kazakhstan’s economic prosperity has as source the country’s oil reserves and abundant natural resources. 

Reflection of a Russian orthodox church in water, in Almaty, Kazakhstan
Orthodox church in Almaty, Kazakhstan

The country’s name translates as “land of the wanderers”, a land blessed with diverse landscapes, a fascinating history, and an incredibly rich culture. The scenery is often dramatic, the cities are mind-boggling due to their futuristic architecture, and the locals are incredibly friendly. So, what are you waiting for? Visit Kazakhstan right now, before the tourist crowds find out about its spectacularity. 

New centre of Astana capital city of Kazakhstan with landmark Baiterek tower at sunset
New centre of Astana capital city of Kazakhstan with landmark Baiterek tower at sunset

Know before you go

The visa situation for Kazakhstan depends on your residence country. Some nationalities can visit Kazakhstan without a visa for 14 days, 30 days or 90 days, while most Europeans receive their two-week visa upon arrival. Prices for accommodation, food, and entrance fees are reasonable. However, the journeys to some of the best attractions in Kazakhstan might turn out to be very expensive due to the high taxi rates and lack of public transportation alternatives.

View of the Nurzhol Boulevard and President's Palace Acorda
View of the Nurzhol Boulevard and President’s Palace Acorda

The best time to visit is in spring and autumn unless you don’t have a problem with extreme summer temperatures (up to 40°C) or merciless winter temperatures (down to -43°C). 

Considering the country’s massive surface, your best choice to get around Kazakhstan is to rent a car. Public transportation is not very helpful, and when it is, it will certainly leave its mark on your budget. For trips within cities or between towns, visitors usually use the marshrutka or buses. However, the most comfortable option is the train, especially for long-distance journeys. 

A typical yurt (temporary house) in the colourful Tien Shan Mountains in Kazakhstan
A typical yurt (temporary house) in the colourful Tien Shan Mountains in Kazakhstan.

Urban Kazakhstan

Many travelers who visit Kazakhstan decide to start their fantastic journey of exploration with a visit to Almaty, the country’s capital until 1997. Even though the current capital of Kazakhstan is now Nur-Sultan (Astana), Almaty remains the biggest city in the country, as well as Kazakhstan’s trading and cultural hub. The city surprises with modern architecture and stunning mountain views. 

Reflections of the Russian Orthodox Church in Almaty, Kazakhstan
Reflections of the Russian Orthodox Church in Almaty, Kazakhstan

The boulevards are decorated with cool fountains and parks, while the streets are lined with trendy cafes, colossal malls, and posh nightclubs. Even though it’s a modern metropolis, Almaty has kept much of its Soviet-era architecture. Two of the most important attractions in Almaty are the Zentov Cathedral and the Panfilov Park, home to one of the tallest wooden building in the world.

Astana, the country’s new, shiny capital, keeps up with the dynamic and modern rhythm of Almaty inviting visitors to discover a contemporary metropolis adorned with futuristic architecture on the background of the country’s northern steppe. Many of the contemporary buildings in Astana have been designed by British architect Norman Foster. The most admired one is the transparent, tent-shaped Khan Shatyr that houses shops and entertainment venues, as well as a beach resort and boating river. 

Visitors are often in awe with the Bayterek Tower too, a splendid observation tower and exhibition space that reaches an altitude of 97 meters, as well as the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a pyramid-shaped building where you’ll find a museum and an opera house.

Old central asian muslim cemetery in Kazakhstan
Ancient muslim cemetery

Wild Kazakhstan

Many travelers choose to visit Kazakhstan for its natural wonders. The country is adorned with beautiful, yet, at times, startling scenery. The lofty mountains are dressed from head to toes with what may very well be haunted forests, surreal glaciers and lakes embellish the valleys of the Tien Shan, and the steppe and desert take your breath away due to their endless immensity and overwhelming silence. However, at times, the desert’s silence is shattered by the Singing Barkhan’s peculiar singing sound. 

Herd of horses on an Alpine meadow, Tian Shan mountains, Kyrgyzstan
Horses graze on the bank of a mountain river on the background of snow-capped peaks. Central Asia

The vastness of Kazakhstan is at first overwhelming. Hiking and mountain biking are a popular choice for adventurers due to the country’s rugged landscape and gorgeous mountain ranges. The best season for outdoor fun is between June and September when the weather will make things easier for you. The Tien Shan Mountains cover an area of over 1,500 km and lure climbers and trekkers with mighty peaks like the Pobeda Peak (7,439 m) and Khan-Tengri Peak (7,010 m). Divided by the gorgeous Inylchek Glacier and hugging the beautiful Mertzbakher Lake in the middle, these summits promise unforgettable adventures.

Kazakhstan is home to the unique Lake Balkhash, one of the largest lakes in the world, whose waters are a weird and intriguing combination of half saline, half fresh water. More wonderful lakes are nestled among the peaks of the Northern Tien Shan Mountains, about 300 km east of Almaty. The Kolsai Lakes, also known as the “pearls of the northern Tien-Shan”, include three wonderful lakes blessed with crystalline waters where the surrounding forests and snow-capped peaks often admire their reflection.

Mountain and steppe pastures in the Tien Shan
Mountain and steppe pastures in the Tien Shan. The Issyk-Kul region Kyrgyzstan

A trip to the Kurgaldjino nature reserve in the north of Kazakhstan impresses visitors with the chance to admire pink flamingos, while a journey to the pine forests, sand dunes, and salt-marsh beds of the Naurzum nature reserve intermediates memorable encounters with rare creatures, like hisser swans and grave eagles. Southern Kazakhstan houses the Aksu-Zhabagly biosphere reserve where visitors have a chance to admire 239 species of birds, 47 species of animals, and 1,400 species of plants. For more gorgeous birds, visit Ak-Zhayik Reserve too, a wetland area where you’ll spot beautiful birds, such as flamingos, ibis, pelicans, and spoonbills.

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