The largest and best known of the Central Asian Stans, Kazakhstan is increasing in popularity as a destination for people who like to get away from the major tourist routes. Although more well-known than neighbouring Turkmenistan or Kyrgyzstan, it still well and truly counts as “off the beaten path” travel.
We’ve put together a few quick easy bits of travel advice for your next journey.
The vast majority of people who travel to Kazakhstan are eligible for 30 days visa free as a tourist. You can read more about the visa situation on our visa page .
Getting in and out
Most people who arrive in Kazakhstan will fly to Almaty Airport. Almaty is the country’s largest city and usually the first port of call for people travelling to Kazakhstan. There is also Astana airport, in the capital and second largest city.
Astana airport is modern and efficient, while Almaty airport is currently undergoing renovations due to how extremely overcrowded it has become in recent years, because it is simply just so much smaller than it needs to be.
There are many land border crossings, since Kazakhstan is the worlds 9 th largest country and borders China, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. So there are plenty of options of land borders that you might want to cross if you’re visiting a neighbouring country on the same trip.
Turkmen land borders
- Temirbaba - The only border crossing between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan is closed to foreigners. Only locals living in the border region can use this crossing.
Uzbek land borders
- Karakalpakstan (UZ), Beyneu (KZ) - Not a particularly common route for tourists to take, this crossing is right up in the north west of Uzbekistan, between Nukus/Aral Sea in Uzbekistan, and Atyrau in Kazakhstan.
- Chernayevka (UZ) – Zhibek Zholy (KZ) - The vast majority of people going between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan by land will take this border crossing. It’s just a 30 minute drive from the centre of Tashkent, and once across the border you’re about an hour and a half away from Shymkent. It’s very easy to find cars between these cities, or there are trains running multiple times a day.
- There are a handful of smaller border crossings near Tashkent including: Serke/Turkistan, Konsbayeva/Yalama, Kaplanbek/Saryagash. These are all smaller than the main crossing at Zhibek Zholy so therefor will have smaller queues and shorter waiting times, but also less infrastructure and not as many options for transport.
Kyrgyz land borders
- Kordai (KZ), Ak-Zhol (KG) – this is the main border crossing between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Located between Almaty and Bishkek, this is also the busiest border crossing in Central Asia. It is easy to get transport to and from this border going in both directions to either Bishkek or Almaty.
- Kegen (KZ), Kensu (KG) – Known as the Karkara crossing, this is for the more adventurous, being a quite remote crossing in the east of the country. The border used to close over winter but is now open all year round, though over colder months chances of delays are likely. It is open only during daylight hours.
- Aisha Bibi (KZ), Chongkapka (KG) – Located between Taraz and Talas, this route is common for those travelling from Bishkek to Tashkent overland. Also the most common route from Bishkek to Shymkent.
- Other crossings include Ak-Tilek (not open to foreigners), Alatau (not open to anyone), Kenbulun and Syptai Batyr.
Russian land borders
- Zhanaul – Between Atyrau and Astrakhan, this is a big and generally smooth border crossing. Also a major railroad border crossing.
- Taskala – Between Uralsk and Saratov. Very basic, but easy-going. No problems reported so far.
- Mashtakov – Between Uralsk and Samara.
- Dimitrovo – Ilek: Between Uralsk and Orenburg.
- Zhaisan – On the main road from Aqtobe to Orenburg. If you are taking the train here, take notice, you will need a double entry Kazakh visa. Better to take the bus!
- Kairak – Alimbetovka: On the main road from Aqtobe to Orsk.
- Podgorodka – On the main road from Kostanay to Chelyabinsk. Further south is a railroad border crossing, on the Kostanay-Magnitogorsk line.
- Kazancevskoe – On the main road from Petropavlovsk to Chelyabinsk.
- Isilkul – Roslavka: International road and rail border crossing between Omsk and Petropavlovsk. Operates at night. After 6pm, Petropavlovsk is connected to Omsk only by shared taxis.
- Karaagash – On the main road from Pavlodar to Omsk.
- Oktyabrskiy – International rail and road border crossing between Pavlodar and Barnaul.
- Zhezkent – International rail and road border crossing between Semey (Semipalatinsk) and Rubtsovsk.
- Shemonaika – International road border crossing between Ust-Kamenogorsk and Rubtsovsk that works 24/7. Roads are fine, and you avoid the busier Semey (Semipalatinsk) border crossing.
Chinese land borders
- Khorgos, Nur Zholy – The main border crossing between Kazakhstan and China, and also the home to the biggest economic zone along the border. For those who want to pay a brief visit to China without the need for a visa, you can do it at Khorgos. You can enter the market and they even have a great foodcourt.
- Bakhty, Tacheng – A small border crossing between North Kazakhstan and Xinjiang.
- Dostyk, Druzhba – The Alashankou is a main border crossing for passenger rail and road travel. By train, count on 8 hours at the border. China and Soviet railroads use different gauges, and the wheels of the train need to be changed.
- Kalzhat, Dulata – This crossing is not open to foreigners.
See and Do
The capital of Kazakhstan is Astana. This city was purpose built in the north of the country. It is extremely cold in winter so it’s best to visit Astana from April until October, although even April and October can experience snow.
Astana is famous for its modern unusual architecture. Many of the world’s best architects were given carte-blanche to build a futuristic city and Astana was the result. A day is usually enough to see what Astana has to offer.
The former capital of Kazakhstan and still the biggest city, Almaty is cool. Considered the cultural capital, Almaty needs a few days to properly experience this great city. Full of restaurants and cafes, museums, and theatres, hiking in summer and skiing in winter, Almaty rivals any European city for liveability. Almaty is all about just being there and getting a feel for it, as opposed to ticking off specific must-see sites.
The southern capital of Kazakhstan and less than an hour to Tashkent in Uzbekistan, Shymkent is not a city that you would usually visit for itself. It is however a good jumping-off point from which to visit the Silk Road sites of Turkestan and Otrar. Southern Kazakhstan is also notorious for its abandoned mining towns, so for those interested in Urbex this is the place to be.
Probably the most famous natural attraction in Kazakhstan, Charyn Canyon was formed millions of years ago and is actually very similar to the Grand Canyon in the US. Located about a 4 hour drive from Almaty, Charyn Canyon can be done as a day trip from Almaty, however it’s best done as a two day trip and including Kolsai and Kandy Lakes, with an overnight in Saty, or nearby.
Kolsai and Kaindy Lakes
Probably the second and third most famous natural attractions in Kazakhstan. In 1911 an earthquake caused landslides creating lakes that previously had not existed. Wonderful hiking opportunities are on offer, or you can just sit with a drink and enjoy the views. Kolsai Lake is easily reached with any normal car, and there is a carpark a couple hundred metres away from the edge of the lake, lined with shops and cafes. Kaindy Lake on the otherhand requires a 4x4 for the last several km, and from the carpark still requires either a hike, a marshrutka and then a hike, or a horse ride.
Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site Polygon
The Polygon Nuclear Test site in north eastern Kazakhstan is something very different altogether. This is the location which experienced the most nuclear tests on earth – 456 in total. This has resulted in a moonscape and otherworldliness that exists in few other places on earth. Coming here to learn about the Soviet Nuclear programme is an experience that should be on anyone’s list.