Kazakhstan Polygon Autumn Tour

Sep 4, 2024
Sep 7, 2024
4 days


Heard of Chernobyl? You know, possibly the most famous accident in recent history, so disastrous that it’s almost unbelievable. Well this is Kazakhstan’s answer to Chernobyl – but it was done on purpose. The test site at Semeypalatinsk, or the Polygon, is where the Soviet Union did the majority of their nuclear testing, performing 456 nuclear tests between 1949 and 1989, with a total of 2,500 times the power of the bombs dropped at Hiroshima. The area used to be closed off, but is now open to those with permits.

Although our tour is centred around exploring the test site and surrounding areas, including the atomic lake – Lake Chagan, we’ll also visit Kazakhstan’s Soviet industrial north. We’ll see Temirtau which is host to the largest chimney in the world and the largest open coal mine in the world, before ending the tour in futuristic Nur Sultan, formerly known as Astana, formerly known as Akmola, formerly known as Tselinograd, and soon to be something else.

View the full itinerary

This tour can be done as it is, but it is also the start of a 5 Stans Tour , for anyone wishing to see some more of Central Asia while you're here, which starts with the Nomad Games in Astana.

If you like the look of this tour but the dates don't work for you, or you'd like to do part of the tour, please get in touch and let us know. All our tours are able to be split into smaller sections, we're always scheduling new tours and your dates might work for one of them, or we can always organise an independent tour.


Accommodation in twin share at roughly 3 star hotels/guesthouses, breakfast included

Permits for Polygon Test Site Area

Transport as per itinerary, including internal flight between Almaty and Semey

Entrance fees to most sites (as per itinerary)

SAIGA guide and local guides



Visa fees if necessary

Visa support if necessary

Meals other than breakfast

Transport to and from the start and end of tour

Personal expenses such as souvenirs or any optional activities

PCR Tests and any other COVID related expenses

Kazakhstan Polygon, Saiga Tours
Kazakhstan Polygon, Saiga Tours


Explore the other worldly area of the Polygon

See for yourself the famous Atomic Lake

Urb-ex in the almost abandoned town of Kurchatov

Day 1Wed Sep 4
Astana, Kurchatov
  • Today we will spend the day driving from Astana to Kurchatov, across the Kazakh Steppe, with plenty of stops along the way.
  • Kurchatov is a formerly closed city, named after Igor Kurchatov, the founder of the Soviet nuclear programme, where the headquarters of the nuclear testing was based. Most of the town is derelict now as there is no employment to sustain the town’s population, providing an opportunity to explore the old Soviet apartment blocks.
  • The accommodation tonight will also be a very Soviet experience.
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Day 2Thu Sep 5
Kurchatov, Atomic Lake, Kurchatov
  • This is when we will see the nuclear sites themselves. Our first stop is the famous atomic lake. This lake was made by an explosion 25 times greater than Hiroshima. While it might look like the lake was an interesting consequence of the testing, it was in fact an intentional side effect, as the experiments were designed for earth-moving purposes to artificially create lakes, harbours and canals. Unbelievably, locals fish in the lake, despite warnings by authorities that it is hazardous.
  • In the afternoon we’ll check on the Chagan abandoned airbase. During the Cold War this was home to one of the Soviet Union’s main air force bases for the deployment of long-range bombers carrying nuclear weapons. The location is interesting as it’s on the Chinese border. Part of the reason for its location was the rising tensions due to the Sino-Soviet split.
  • Heading back to Kurchatov, we'll have another fun night in this partially abandoned Soviet city.
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Day 3Fri Sep 6
Kurchatov, Astana
  • This morning we'll farewell Kurchatov to continue exploring.
  • We’ll then continue on to more of the nuclear test site – known as the Polygon . 456 Nuclear tests were conducted here, and the effects can be witnessed first-hand with the destroyed surroundings and large craters caused by the explosions.
  • We’ll explore the bunkers used by those performing the tests and the epicentres of the explosions.
  • We'll return to Astana, arriving in the evening.
  • Overnight in Astana.
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Day 4Sat Sep 7
Astana, End of Tour
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