Southern Kazakhstan Tour

Aug 2, 2022
Aug 7, 2022
6 days


For any Soviet lovers out there, or urban exploration nerds, we’ve got some really special places to show you that are just completely unknown by the outside world. Starting in Shymkent, of course we’ll take you to the ancient cities of Otrar and Turkistan, before heading to some former Soviet mining towns that are a bizarre time warp. Soviet architecture at its best, left to decay over decades, it’s like stepping back in time, but to an eerie version. Most modern Kazakhs have never even heard of these places and there’s basically no information on the internet about them, so it really feels like you’re off the map.

Returning to civilisation, the tour ends in the trendy former capital of Almaty, where you’ll see the vast contrast between ancient Kazakhstan, Soviet Kazakhstan and modern Kazakhstan.

View the full itinerary


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

Transport as per itinerary

Entrance fees to most sites (as per itinerary)

SAIGA guide and local guides



Visa fees if necessary

Visa support if necessary

Some activities, eg. treatments at sanatorium (as per itinerary)

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


Soviet urban exploration: Abandoned factories and mining towns

Feel the seclusion at a Caravansarai in the middle of nowhere

Visit two of the oldest cities on the Silk Road - Turkistan and Otrar

Explore the exciting fast paced former capital Almaty

Day 1Tue Aug 2
  • Meeting in Shymkent at lunch time.
  • Drive to Otrar, an ancient, abandoned town on the Silk Road, that existed from as early as the 5th century B.C. right up until the 18th century A.D and is now a well-preserved archaeological site.
  • Next stop is the ruins of Sauran, a large city surrounded by walls, which for a time was the capital of Ak Orda and the largest city in Kazakhstan. The city was a major player on the Silk Road, having strong diplomatic relations with world powers, but like Otrar, Sauran saw its decline alongside the Silk Road itself.
  • In Turkistan, we’ll find the mausoleum of Khawaja Ahmed, which was instructed to be built by Amir Timur in 1389 but was never finished as building was stopped upon Timur’s death.
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Day 2Wed Aug 3
Turkistan, Kentau, Achisay, Zhanatas
  • Make sure you wear some comfortable shoes and get ready for some nostalgia, as we explore several semi-abandoned old industrial towns. Kentau, Achisay and Zhanatas are old Soviet monogorods (mining towns), but with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of centralised planning, the towns have bowed to market forces and largely depopulated.
  • Best of all for us, there are still plenty of Soviet murals, awesome public art, old Palaces of Culture and the usual 1950s Khrushchevka apartment blocks. Exploring these towns will be like entering a time machine, and any lovers of Soviet nostalgia, or those partial to a bit of urbex, will be in heaven.
  • On the road between Ashysai and Zhanatas, we’ll stop by an old caravanserai by itself in the middle of the Kazakh steppe.
  • We’ll spend the night in Zhanatas, a town which has probably had very few if any foreign travellers.
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Day 3Thu Aug 4
Zhanatas, Bayzhansay, Taraz
  • Today we’ll take the abandoned Soviet feel to the next level, stopping in Bayzhansay, a completely abandoned Soviet town. There is now no one living here and the town can be extremely eerie. It is this type of town that encapsulates the demise of the Soviet Union and its economic model.
  • In the afternoon we’ll head to Taraz where you’ll have the rest of the day to explore. Taraz is over 2000 years old, but is also a modern city and one of the fastest growing in Kazakhstan.
  • There are several easily accessible things to do in Taraz including the Aisha-Bibi Mausoleum, the Kali-Yunus bathhouse, and Abdykadyr Mosque just to name a few. Others might wish to just stroll in the local park, or otherwise relax at a local café or chaykhana (tea house).
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Day 4Fri Aug 5
Taraz, Almaty
  • It’s a 500km drive from Taraz to Almaty, so we’ll need to make sure we’ve got some good trivia questions and stories to tell. We’ll stop on the way for a few rests and lunch, before we arrive in the largest city in Kazakhstan, and until 1997, its capital. As is becoming increasingly common in Kazakhstan, Almaty was formerly known as Alma-Ata and before that Verny.
  • We’ll check into our hotel for the next two nights, then head out to start exploring Almaty. We will will take in such famous sites as the Green Bazaar, the Arbat and Panfilov Park, named after the 28 Panfilov Guardsmen from Almaty, who died during the Battle of Moscow in 1941, which is right next to Zenkov Cathedral. A Russian Othodox Church, its claim to fame is being the largest wooden structure in the world constructed with only joins, and no nails.
  • If you like to have a night out of any type, whether it’s fine dining, a cosy bar, a noisy pub or even the ballet, Almaty is the city you’re going to want to do it in.
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Day 5Sat Aug 6
  • Today we’ll drive to a few of the destinations not within walking distance.
  • We'll pass Old Square and Republic Square, the two places where the Kazakh Parliament used to take place before moving to Astana in 1997. These are also where we recently saw fatal riots in January 2022, along with the images of the destroyed city hall and presidential residence.
  • We’ll show you Medeo, the highest ice-skating rink in the world.
  • Driving out to the suburbs of Almaty, we'll make a stop that isn't on other tour itineraries, and in fact most people in Almaty aren't even aware of this gem of Soviet history. Hidden in amongst medium density housing, there's a park which is now home to all the unwanted Soviet statues that were moved from their original places throughout the city and dumped unceremoniously here. Our favourite is the giant Lenin which used to be in Old Square, removed from his plinth and just standing flat on the ground with no sign or plaque to be seen.
  • Back in the city centre, we’ll take a ride on the Almaty metro. One of only two metros in Central Asia (the other being in Tashkent), it has just nine stations, so is largely useless to most people. However, like many metros in the former Soviet world, the stations themselves are ornately decorated, sparkling clean, and well worth a look at.
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Day 6Sun Aug 7
Almaty, End of Tour
  • Last day of the tour.
  • Transfers to Almaty airport for onward travel, or if you wish to stay longer in Kazakhstan please let us know and we can help you out with organisation or advice.
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