With a new visa on arrival available for many people now for a period of 15 days, Kazakhstan is positioning itself to become a hot new destination for tourists looking to explore Central Asia. However, being the world’s largest landlocked country means there’s a vast expanse waiting to be discovered. So to make the most of your time in Kazakhstan, here are our top 5 picks for must see places.
This where most people will fly into when they arrive in Kazakhstan. Almaty, the former capital and easily the most modern and cosmopolitan city in all of Central Asia, is an essential jumping off place for your journey into Kazakhstan.
With a stunning mountainous backdrop, cool new cafes, great bars and some awesome restaurants, Almaty is definitely worth a few days of your time. It has a cool mixture of modern and old Soviet-style architecture, and some beautiful parks. If you want to escape the city, you can head up to Shymbulak and Medeo, just 20 minutes from the city centre. These places are particularly spectacular in the winter when you can go skiing with kebabs galore and even attempt ice skating at the world’s highest outdoor skating rink.
4. Aktau and the Mangystau Region
Aktau sits on the eastern edge of the Caspian Sea and while you may not think of Kazakhstan as a beachside destination, Aktau offers just that! It has wide streets and becomes very lively in the summer, with easy access to Turkey and even irregular ferries to Baku. The biggest attraction of this region however is the geological sites found throughout the Mangystau Region.
Places such as Sherkala and the Valley of the Balls showcase some of the most amazing and strangest desert scenery in Central Asia. All of this is reachable from Aktau and is best done on a tour.
While many don’t see Astana as anything special, we love it! It is one of the most bizarre cities you will go to. Surrounded by absolutely nothing, the new capital city has been built up from Kazakhstan’s oil money and desire to become a developed and modern country. The architecture in Astana is reason enough to go, with buildings like Bayterek Tower, known as “the Chuppa Chup” and the Khan Shatry Entertainment Center (the world’s biggest tent), making Astana look like it’s straight out of a science fiction movie. Astana is definitely worth a day or two of your time!
2. Aral Sea
While not usually a big tourist attraction we think the Aral Sea is a must. What used to be one of the world’s largest lakes, has now almost completely dried up due to a bunch of bad Soviet irrigation projects in the 60s. There is still some life out there though, and you can experience local homestays with fishermen, and experience some of the most untouched parts of Kazakhstan as well as seeing old Soviet relics such as the Ship Graveyard.
While it may seem out of the way, if you’re looking for one of the most unique and off-the-beaten-path experiences in Kazakhstan, then get yourself over to the Aral Sea!
1. Baikonur Cosmodrome
Currently the world’s largest and most important launch site for manned space craft (only one of two in the world), Baikonur is the origin of the Soviet space programme and current home to the Russian space programme. If you’re interested in outer space, or Soviet stuff, or just love excitement, then Baikonur should be high on your bucket list, with loads of Soviet rockets to explore. The most exciting thing about Baikonur is that they sometimes still have live launches! The schedule is released a few weeks in advance and you need to get special permission to come (as the base is on lease to Russia till 2050 from the Kazakh government), but if you apply early enough then you might see one thing nearly no one ever does.